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Tears of relief as Ukraine frontline families reunite

Olga Valkova had often cried since invading Russian forces seized the Ukrainian village of Troitske, cutting her off from her family and her country cottage.

On her return, the 64-year-old wept again, but now she was choking back sobs of joy as she passed out food to the Ukrainian soldiers who liberated her district.

And she could not hold back tears once again as she fell at last into the arms of her brother Leonid Kandaurov, 60, and his wife, her sister-in-law Lydia.

The reunion came six months and eleven days after their lives were turned upside down.

Troitske is a couple of rows of bungalows with vegetable patches, ducks and a fishing lake, nestled among northeastern Ukraine’s vast sunflower fields.

Before the war, Olga and her retired truck driver husband Alex Vashchenko, 65, would visit their white-walled dacha several times a month to tend their vegetables.

Its three rooms are built around a brick oven, above a root cellar to store crops, such as the measly onions that failed this year, untended during the occupation.

– ‘Weapons pointed’ –

On February 25, the second day of the invasion, the sudden Russian push on Kharkiv swiftly enveloped Troitske. 

Olga was not there, but her friend Anna Kryvonosova, 65, took up the story.

“For three days in a row, starting February 25, Russian armoured vehicles drove by along this street,” she told AFP.

“It was terrifying. Soldiers were on top of the armoured vehicles with weapons pointed at us, at our home. This was a real occupation.

“They entered our homes, checked our documents, searched everywhere … the closets, the basements. Everywhere, they searched everywhere.”

The day of their liberation was scarcely less intimidating. 

Sounds of explosions erupted from nearby town of Shevchenkove, and mysterious tanks appeared, swivelling their gun turrets to point at Troitske.

But the villagers were relieved when the infantry unit that marched in under cover from the tanks was the 92nd Brigade of the Ukrainian army. 

Anna’s husband Nikolai Kryvonosov is now free to greet visiting reporters with a toast from his stash of moonshine.

“To victory, so that Putin dies. Fuck him,” the moustachioed 67-year-old declared — in Russian — knocking back a shot of the nutty, volatile spirit. 

Russian forces used Troitske as a supply route and patrolled the area, but did not set up base within the small village.

Instead, they fortified a tractor workshop down the road, which is now bombed out and being repaired to become a Ukrainian checkpoint. 

Locals proudly recount how they called relatives in Kharkiv who reported the Russian position to the Ukrainian SBU security service.

Some of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin’s supporters defend his invasion by arguing there was a need to protect eastern Ukraine’s “Russians” from persecution.

The Kharkiv region is largely Russian-speaking, but the city itself resisted the Russian advance and the villagers in Troitske did not…

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