After Russia withdrew to Ukraine, the families were reunited


TSENTRALNE, Ukraine — Relatives hugging in the middle of the road. They shook hands and held back their tears. Others were sobbing outside their homes. Everyone wished for the same moment – to be reunited with their loved ones after the Russian troops left their villages in southern Ukraine.

During the Russian invasion in February, families were torn apart, some fleeing and others disbanded. Now many are seeing each other for the first time in months since Moscow’s latest retreat amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has retaken territory sandwiched between the regional capitals of Kherson, Mykolaiv and the Black Sea.

The largest retreat was from the city of Kherson itself, but in recent days troops have also retreated from nearby villages. The Associated Press visited four such villages this week and saw people reunited with loved ones.

“It’s just a blast,” Andriy Mazurik said. The 53-year-old woman left her mother in her home village of Tsentralne in April and ran about 30 kilometers (18 miles).

His mother did not want to go, but Mazurik has a son in the Ukrainian army and was afraid that the Russians would kill him. According to him, although the invaders confiscated people’s phones, Mazurik was able to talk to his mother and other relatives almost every day because they made secret calls.

“Thankfully, we were in touch every day… the relatives took the risk,” he said.

Although exact numbers are difficult to calculate, more than half a million people have left Mykolaiv and Kherson regions since February, according to local authorities. It is not known how many returned.

While some people, like Mazurik, had to walk a short distance home, others traveled across the country when they learned the Russians were gone. Soldier Igor was allowed to leave the fighting in the Donbass region to be able to meet his family.

Igor got off the minibus in the village of Vavilove and jumped to the ground, hugging his mother, who was waiting for him in the middle of the road. “I knew it would happen, that we would win and all our lands would be liberated,” Igor said, speaking on condition that only his first name be used, as is usually the case with Ukrainian soldiers, for security reasons.

Some villagers said they were surprised how quickly the Russians left. After Russia announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists in September, local residents said thousands more entered the area and bombarded the area with powerful mines.

Several people said that weeks before the retreat, Russian soldiers were stockpiling equipment and digging trenches, giving the impression that they would stay.

Although most people say that the Russians were left alone, living conditions under their occupation were deplorable: electricity, water and telephones were cut off. The collapse of bridges made it difficult to travel between villages to buy and sell food. Mines were hidden everywhere.

The Russians are gone, but these problems remain.

Oleh Pilypenko, the head of the administration covering the villages visited by AP, said that there have been at least a dozen accidents related to mines in recent days.

Addressing residents in each town on Sunday as local volunteers distributed food aid, Pylypenko warned people not to let their children play in abandoned ditches and promised to restore electricity, water and communications as soon as possible.

As winter approaches, aid groups have warned that it is important to restart these services quickly. Saviano Abreu, spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ukraine, said: “We must act quickly to avoid a humanitarian disaster during the winter months.”

Still, most of the people living in the villages said that they are not too worried about the future. They were glad that the Russians were gone.

Galina Voinova, a resident of Znamianka village, says: “It was the first night that I could sleep. Since February, he says he has been falling asleep to gunshots.

But the sufferings of occupation do not end for everyone.

According to him, the husband of Tatyana Pukivska was arrested by the Russians because they told him that he had given the coordinates of their positions to the Ukrainian army. The 41-year-old resident of Tsentralne said that he had not seen her since then, while wiping tears from his cheeks.

Her mother-in-law, standing nearby, wiped her eyes.

“Oh my God, this is terrible,” said Lesia Pukivska, holding up a photo of her son’s ID card. “I feel that he is alive and that he will go home. We are desperate if someone could help us.

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