INSIDE A DESTROYED BUILDING IN MALA ROHAN. PHOTO: BEN C. SOLOMON
MALA ROHAN, Ukraine – A short drive outside of the besieged city of Kharkiv lies the small village of Mala Rohan. Once a peaceful working class farming village, it’s now littered with half eaten cans of food rations, spent ammunition shells and rusting destroyed tanks of retreating Russian soldiers. The collection of abandoned clothes, vodka bottles and human waste tells the tale of the lives of the Russian invading forces. It’s here that Russian fired a litany of ordnance into Kharkiv — Ukraine's second largest city, killing hundreds of civilians across the city.
VICE World News visited the town more than a month after its liberation. Since then, the leftover Russian heaps have largely been left untouched as shells still fly in and out of the village.For Ukraine, Kharkiv has been a source of some military success in recent days. After near constant attacks for the past 10 weeks, Ukrainian forces here are successfully retaking territory in the north and west of the city.
Mala Rohan is just one of the dozens of Ukrainian towns and villages across the country getting a moment to exhale. As residents around the area are returning back to their farms, they must now start their spring harvest under an anxious calm. While the Russian forces are gone, the sounds of their attacks are still booming in the distance. In this artillery position, Ukrainian military officials estimate that around 200 Russian soldiers around Mala Rohan were dug into trenches firing artillery, mortar and tank rounds into Kharkiv city. Around 20km from the city centre, many civilians told us they spent the month-long occupation hiding in their homes as Russian soldiers roamed their city and set up positions inside populated civilian areas. When they retreated, the destruction didn't stop. Ukrainian officials said that many of the ruined tanks were purposefully destroyed by the fleeing forces so that Ukrainians couldn't add to their fleet. Much of the village was booby trapped and mined. VICE News came across a leftover hidden grenade inside one of the abandoned makeshift bunkers.The Ukrainian military says it has now de-mined the village after Russian troops left “mined ‘gifts’” behind them. Farmers were tilling the land nearby and people were returning home. But in the near distance, shelling was still bashing down on both sides of the fight and the future of Mala Rohan and the many newly liberated towns like it are still uncertain.