HRAKOVE, Ukraine (AP) — There’s not much left of Hrakove. Its houses and shops lie in ruins, its school is a bombed-out hull. The church is scarred by rockets and shells, but the golden dome above its blasted belfry still gleams in the fading autumn light.
Only about 30 people remain, living in basements and gutted buildings in this small village southeast of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, according to resident Anatolii Klyzhen. About 1,000 lived here when Russian troops rolled over the border in February, occupying the village shortly after.
Those forces abandoned Hrakove around Sept. 9 as Ukrainian soldiers advanced in a lightning counteroffensive. That blitz could be a turning point, setting the stage for further gains in the east and elsewhere — but it could also trigger a violent response from Moscow, leading to a new and dangerous escalation in the war.
There were no signs the Russian soldiers were about to leave. “Nobody knew anything. They left very quietly,” said Viacheslav Myronenko, 71, who has lived in the basement of his bombed-out apartment building with three neighbors for more than four months.