Ukrainians say their towns & villages are full of fear & short on essential supplies.
Kyiv, Ukraine – It wasn’t a knock, it was loud banging – at about 7:30 on a recent Saturday morning.
Taras opened the door of his two-bedroom apartment in Kreminna, a town in Ukraine’s southeastern Luhansk region that was taken over by Russia in late April, to see three gun-toting soldiers in camouflage.
“Do you have a garage on the corner?” the oldest of them, a redhead in his late 20s, asked Taras imperatively.
Without waiting for his answer, the soldier continued: “Open it up.”
He was talking about a group of three dozen garages built in the early 1980s, an area which had become an informal club, where men could have a drink, crack a joke and play backgammon or chess.
But to the Russian occupiers, the garages were a source of danger, a younger, less strict soldier told 53-year-old Taras on the way, and they needed to check each for arms and explosives.
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“They looked inside, checked the basement and left without saying a word,” Taras, who requested Al Jazeera withhold his last name because he “doesn’t want to be shot.”
They only thing of interest they saw and took away was a three-litre jar with cucumbers that Taras’s wife had pickled in vinegar and tomato juice.
Taras got lucky.
His neighbour had his sky-blue Lada Priora “confiscated” and was beaten and left bruised after he hesitated to hand over the car key for a split second.
On Monday, after the capture of the Luhansk region, media outlets in Russia aired interviews with residents of Lysychansk who thanked Moscow for “liberating” them and claimed Kyiv’s forces were inhumane.
But people spoke an international media organization to had rather different views.
They said Moscow appoints new officials from among Ukrainian turncoats or pro-Moscow separatists. Tens of thousands are deported to Russia, and those who remain are subjected to humiliation, torture, robbery – or arbitrary, extrajudicial killing. And it is only in the areas that Moscow plans to rule directly that occupying forces and officials are instructed to treat locals with at least a shred of respect.
“They don’t treat us like humans. They say they came to liberate us – from what? From our property? From our lives?” Taras told Al Jazeera via a messaging app.
“Liberation” is the key word the Kremlin uses when describing what it calls the “special operation in Ukraine”.
In Kremlin-speak, Ukraine had to be “liberated” from its “neo-Nazi” regime, and the eastern and southern Ukrainian regions where the majority of the population speaks Russian needed a “liberation” from “Ukrainian nationalists”.
In reality, in the occupied areas of Ukraine, Russia pursues three different policies.
The first one is being implemented in places such as Kreminna in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, known collectively as the Donbas, that had already been partially controlled by separatists since 2014, says Kyiv-based political analyst Aleksey Kushch.
“They use the scorched earth tactic here, a big population is seen as an unnecessary social burden,” he told Al Jazeera.
Moscow prefers to send younger residents of the Donbas to Russia to repopulate its regions with low birthrates, bad local economies, and excessive alcoholism and crime.
More than a million Ukrainians have been “deported” to Russia from the Donbas, including the city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said.
The restoration of plants and factories in occupied Donbas, Ukraine’s former industrial pillar, is of no interest to Moscow. Russia simply needs to declare the “liberation” of areas that would later become part of the separatist statelets – the so-called “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk known as DPR and LNR – that are fully dependent on Russia economically and politically, Kushch said.
A stark example of this strategy is the way Russia operates in Mariupol, a former industrial hub on the Sea of Azov that had a population of more than 400,000 before the war.