In Ukrainian villages east of the capital Kyiv where Russian forces have withdrawn, residents slowly begin to emerge from their hiding places and the new reality they face is nothing less than devastating.
CNN’s Clarissa Ward toured two villages occupied by the Russians for over a month. She stated that they had found “endless accounts of terror, executions, arbitrary arrests, and more.”
One of the local schools was taken over by Vladimir Putin’s invading army, used as a base, and left in disarray after being ransacked and plundered by troops.
Blood stains the main entrance, where the headmaster is left to wonder how such atrocities happened.
“We are for education. Education is the future. It is a shame that our occupiers did not understand this,” said the woman Lord. Why do you steal everything? This is a school.”
“Forgive us, we didn’t want this war,” said a blackboard in a visited classroom formerly occupied by the Russians.
Nearby is a local cemetery containing the bodies of six Ukrainian men that authorities say were executed on the first day the Russians arrived.
“We dug in too fast so they wouldn’t shoot at us,” one woman told CNN. “But there was shooting and heavy bombing.”
Among the dead were a pair of brothers, Igor and Oleg. Their mother survived, but is now in mourning.
“They were very good boys,” she said. “How do I want to see them again.”
One Ukrainian mother told Ward that her daughter was taken away on March 25. And after more than two weeks she does not know where she is, or whether she has survived the Russian invasion.
“They said they found information on her phone about their forces,” Mother Lord said. “They told me she was in a warm house. She was working with them and would come home soon.”
But as Ward revealed, “Victoria never came home.”
In the midst of certain danger of death, Ward reports that Ukrainian residents clung to each other, their sense of pride, as a woman found solace between the blue and yellow stripes.
“Keep it, keep it,” said the woman to Lord, showing the Ukrainian flag awarded to her husband during his military service. “We hid it.”
Now the flag can come out of hiding, with Russian troops withdrawing. The village was destroyed, but it is now free again.
Watch Ward on the ground saying:
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”