‘When will this all end?’: Kharkiv counts the cost as Russians pull out | Ukraine

SStanding atop the damaged roof of his house on the main road north of Kharkiv going to villages occupied by Russian forces until a few days ago, Konstantin Kharlamov, 53, had just two hours earlier observed a black smoke rise in the distance.

His friend Vitaliy, 41, the smell of heavy alcohol on his breath, said he also saw the explosion, perhaps just two miles away, on Lesya Serdyuka Street, towards his native village, Strilecha. The departure of the Russians three days ago gave him the opportunity to move to a safer part of Kharkiv after two and a half months of life under occupation. But he was now isolated because of renewed fighting.

Vitaliy cries in the damaged <a class=house of Kharlamov.” data-src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/63c5d24f33482a56bd6c626e48ddf25c491e5e3e/0_13_8192_4918/master/8192.jpg?width=300&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=bd7c0e0c58cba8f7911328c81244eafc” height=”4918″ width=”8192″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
Vitaliy cries in the damaged house of Kharlamov. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

The constant background noises and erratic crackles of thunder that filled the air and nervous Ukrainian soldiers at checkpoints amid burned trees, cars and strewn military detritus supported the testimony of the two men about unfinished business in the second largest city in Ukraine. Four people were reportedly injured in strikes around the Shevchenkivskyi region of Kharkiv on Monday and one person was reportedly killed in the liberated village of Tsyrkuny in the north of the country.

Vladimir Putin’s forces are pushed back, and the Battle of Kharkiv may join the Battle of kyiv in being a triumphant victory for Ukraine. The American Institute for the Study of War described it as effectively over on Friday and Ukrainian soldiers released a video on Sunday evening of them erecting a new border post on the nearby Russian border, a sign of their strength and their growing confidence. “Mr. President, we made it!” they wrote in a post on Facebook.

But there is also ample evidence in the outskirts of Kharkiv that the Russians intend to fight to retain offensive positions around this northeastern Ukrainian stronghold; their forces remained close enough to pepper the approaches to the city with artillery fire. Ukraine’s military called for calm when a fertilizer factory was hit on Monday, releasing red fumes, which authorities said were not hazardous to health.

People walk past a destroyed building in northern Kharkiv. Photograph: Ed Ram/The Guardian

Ukrainian General Staff officials said on Monday that the Russians were focused on “holding positions and preventing the advance of our troops towards the border”. If this is a Russian withdrawal, it is a combative withdrawal, as those who suffered so much in Kharkiv know well.

Vitaliy pointed to the rocket-shaped hole in three walls inside his friend’s shattered two-story house and simply asked with tears in his eyes, “When will this all end?”

“Only when Putin is dead,” replied Kharlamov, who moved in three days ago with his wife, Olga, 48. They sleep downstairs amid dust and broken glass.

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They were on the roof trying to protect it from the rain when the weather turned. “The rocket hit on the 50th day of war, but we left then because it was so horrible here,” he said. “I went to the supermarket one day and a rocket destroyed a house right in front of me. It was hell.

Their house is still without heating, electricity or running water. “We came back to try to save the rooms from the rain,” Kharlamov said. “Look what they did to us.”

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