The Russians fled Chernestyna quickly, abandoned their positions in panic, and disappeared into the night to escape the Ukrainian advance. , says Oleksiy, a resident of this small village on the eastern edge of the Kharkov region. There, a sudden Ukrainian counterattack caused the Russian soldiers to flee without a fight and be left behind. Ammunition crates, propaganda newspapers, empty vodka bottles in trenches and foxholes.
But in Cherneschyna, as in many other towns and villages in the region, it was the Russians who fled when Ukrainian forces secured a bridgehead on the western bank of the Oskir River and liberated a series of settlements with lightning speed. It wasn’t just people. Dozens of villagers who sympathized with or openly cooperated with the invaders also joined the flight.
Three weeks later, the fighting in the region is still far from over. Artillery fire continues to intensify as Ukrainian forces advance into the neighboring province of Luhansk. But no matter what happens on the battlefield, life here and in the liberated towns and villages of eastern and southern Ukraine will never be normal until the reckoning is done between those who cooperated with Russia and those who resisted. We won’t be back.
According to Oleksi, a former mechanic who fled the fighting in Izyum, as many as a third of Cherneschina’s 700 inhabitants were collaborators or Russian sympathizers. A priest who served as a priest at the local St. Nicholas Church, which is affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate, was reportedly among those fleeing the advancing Ukrainian forces. “He rushed to Russia and stole some icons from the church,” laughs his 35-year-old Olena, Oleksiy’s wife.
As Russian troops and armored vehicles flooded towns and villages across the country, many people like Oleksiy and his family came out to greet the advancing Ukrainian soldiers with the blue and yellow flags they kept hanging. I waited for the moment I could. Despite being ordered by Russian soldiers to unload the clothesline. “We had no doubts. We knew that Ukraine would retake Chernestyna, so we waited,” says Olena. Her husband said, “Ukrainian soldiers saw us leaving the flag outside and said, ‘You guys are fearless.'”
But some choose to cooperate with the Russians out of greed, fear, or ideological convictions.
Oleksiy says Ukrainian security forces have not yet arrived in the village, but local police are already working hard to identify and detain suspected collaborators. A 30-year-old resident was arrested by local police on Wednesday in Horokhovatka village, a mile east. The man is suspected of providing food to the Russians and accused his neighbors of having pro-Ukrainian views of the occupiers. and local officials.
The man, who faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted, is one of hundreds of Ukrainian citizens currently facing criminal charges for providing assistance to the Russian military. As of Sept. 16, 1,358 similar cases have been opened across the country against individuals and local officials, according to Ihor Klimenko, head of the Ukrainian National Police.
Retribution is imminent in the liberated settlements against those suspected of collaborating with the enemy. In a Facebook post celebrating the liberation of the town and surrounding villages, the Borova city council claimed that a large number of Russian supporters had already been detained by law enforcement and moved to a village near Izmuske, the home of collaborators. I added that there is. And the self-proclaimed “elder” (Mayor) burned out “as a result of spontaneous combustion”. According to the Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center, the local physical education teacher and member of the local football federation called a community meeting in April in which he declared himself mayor of the village and called for a “referendum.” I started preparing for. Annexed the region to Russia.
The self-proclaimed mayor’s current whereabouts are unknown, but his name and information have already been made public on the Myrotvorets website, a database of people deemed “enemies of Ukraine” by the secret team behind the project. I’m here.
Meanwhile, a local telegram channel titled “TRATORS” has been busy releasing the identities of civilians and local authorities suspected of helping the occupiers of Borova and surrounding areas. A husband and wife from Radskivski village are accused of wearing St. George’s ribbons, a symbol of the Russian military now associated with its support for the invasion of Ukraine, and the Russian military will deploy vehicles in the backyard. During the first weeks and months of the occupation, many similar channels sprung up, some with tens of thousands of subscribers, and the identities of suspected collaborator and crimes committed. I documented my suspicions and posted them online.
In Cherneschina, locals said that all Russian supporters left in a hurry. “If they stayed here, they wouldn’t be here anymore,” Mikhail grinned. This young man in his 20s said that as part of a coordinated effort to eradicate “Nazis” and “Banderites” in the area, Russian soldiers would check him and other residents for nationalist tattoos. I am telling you what I was looking for. According to Mikhail, Vladimir Putin’s soldiers were detaining and torturing people in the basement of a local school, trying to extort information about the location and movements of Ukrainian troops.
In occupied Ukrainian territories, dozens of collaborators have already met their end at the hands of local partisans, sometimes acting in concert with Ukrainian special services, as military officials confirmed. , as Ukrainian forces liberate towns and villages in the eastern and southern parts of the country, some of the brutalized population may be tempted to mount a swift and extrajudicial reprisal of their own. has warned vigilantes may seek revenge for Russian war crimes.
The French now living in Ukraine have a clear historical precedent. As a student in France, I learned about short but violent episodes. sauvage emulation—The “Unofficial Purge”—Shortly after the country was liberated from German occupation in 1944, the French people made peace with their Nazi collaborators.member of Milis—The vicious Vichy French militia that helped round up the Jews Resistance— were summarily executed, while women who slept with German soldiers had their heads shaved and were paraded before mocking crowds. , sometimes trying to rehabilitate collaborators and Nazi sympathizers, the latest estimates say: purification At about 9,000.
Perhaps, to ensure that Russian war criminals and those who helped and enabled them are held accountable, the blame should not be placed solely on Ukraine. We need a process that is publicly accountable. Again, lest people take this matter into their own hands.