The Daily Telegraph

Watermelon­s, hugs and kisses as citizens greet their saviours

- By Joe Barnes

AS UKRAINIAN flags flew over towns in the north east of the country for the first time in months, overjoyed citizens have been greeting their liberators with hugs and kisses and handing them watermelon­s in some of the most joyous scenes since the war began.

The rout of Russian troops in the Kharkiv region has been a major cause for celebratio­n for many forced to endure occupation since the early days of the conflict.

Footage – some filmed by Ukrainian soldiers and some by residents receiving them – shows civilians shedding tears of joy after more than 40 towns and villages were liberated in a lightning push through Russian lines.

In the early days of the counteroff­ensive last week, tearful residents in Balakliya, in the south-east of the region, celebrated the moment they were freed from their occupiers.

“We have been praying for six months for you to come back to us. We couldn’t endure it anymore,” one woman said as she emerged from an apartment block, while another hugged and kissed Ukrainian troops.

The women offered the soldiers pancakes but were warned to take shelter amid fears of Russian air strikes in the area.

“We are here, everything is good now,” one soldier told them.

On the steps of Balakliya town hall, two women threw themselves at troops, as they were filmed celebratin­g the moment with their hands aloft.

As Ukraine’s forces pressed forward, and the Russian defences crumbled, more and more footage capturing various towns’ moment of liberation was shared online. In one clip, taken by what appeared to be a soldier’s body-cam, residents of Kozacha Lopan greeted the troops as heroes.

A woman can be seen reaching out to touch one soldier, as if she could not take in what was happening, while others gathered round to embrace him.

In other clips, Ukraine’s liberation forces are handed bouquets of flowers and even slices of watermelon through the windows of their vehicles as they roll passed tearful shows of gratitude by civilians. However, it was not merely the residents who were in a celebrator­y mood. Ukrainian troops posed proudly next to the yellow and blue of their national flag to show to the world that the invaders had been driven out of town.

In one video, Ukrainian troops wearing blue tactical recognitio­n armbands trample a Russian flag outside a fortified building in the town of Strilecha. The watermelon­s that were handed to them by grateful Ukrainians in an earlier video could be seen on the floor there.

Despite the joy, Western officials have expressed concern over what may be discovered in the towns liberated from Russian control.

Many residents in the Russianspe­aking region said their treatment by Moscow’s invading army had been humane, in contrast to their behaviour

‘I asked the Russians what they wanted of us; “we can either be here or we can be in jail”, they said’

in towns such as Bucha, where discovery of mass graves of torture victims has sparked internatio­nal outrage.

“They were not monsters, they were kids,” Olena Matvienko, a resident of Zalinznych­ne, told The Washington Post. She added: “I asked what they wanted from us and they said, ‘We can either be here or we can be in jail’.”

Ukrainian war crimes investigat­ors have been dispatched to the area to ascertain whether atrocities had been committed by the occupiers.

Maria Grygorova said she and two friends had buried two men allegedly shot in the head because they broke a 6pm curfew set by Russian forces. A further two bodies were collected by a team from Kharkiv, including the remains of a security guard who worked at an asphalt plant and was killed on a tower that was used by Russian snipers.

An investigat­or reportedly vomited as the remains were discovered and taken away from the scene.

 ?? ?? Ukrainian troops burn a Russian flag as they advance through the Kharkiv region
Ukrainian troops burn a Russian flag as they advance through the Kharkiv region

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