The second convoy talks about what Ukraine found in Russia’s wake: five vehicles riddled with bullets, two burned to ashes.
On May 4, Ukrainian officials said, this convoy was trying to leave the city when it was shot down by Russian troops. The bullet holes concentrate on some of the driver’s doors. Children’s clothes and toys are strewn around the vehicles. Ukrainian officials said four civilians, including a 13-year-old girl, were killed when Russian troops opened fire on the convoy.
CNN escorts from Kharkiv city’s territorial defense force said a tank shell hit one of the cars, explaining how its front end was bent beyond recognition.
A few steps from the road, in the nearby forest and hills, are the remains of a Russian convoy. In the trees are the remains of an armored personnel carrier, its tracks torn off by a rocket-propelled grenade, our escorts say. Sleeping bags, prayer books, grenades and rations litter the foliage where Russian troops slept just outside the village. Two Russian corpses were found there a few days earlier and have since been buried.
At the top of the hill is another rarer wreckage – the remains of a Russian T90M tank destroyed a few days earlier, apparently by a Swedish-supplied Carl Gustav recoilless rifle. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has released drone video of the tank destroyed in the apparent strike, showing the vulnerability of Russia’s newest armor to NATO handheld weapons. The tank’s turret has been dislodged and the ball bearings of its shells lie in the ashes.
The Ukrainian counterattack aimed at disrupting Russian supply lines continues. The Ukrainian General Staff said on Friday that the Russian forces “did not carry out offensive operations in the direction of Kharkiv. The main efforts were focused on preventing the advance of our troops into the settlement area of Vesele”, another village located less than an hour’s drive from Staryi Saltiv in normal times. The Ukrainians have taken over a number of villages in this area east of Kharkiv.
As Russian forces continue to retreat, three bridges in the Kharkiv region have been demolished, according to satellite images obtained by CNN on Friday. It seems likely that the Russian units destroyed the bridges in an effort to protect their supply lines against further Ukrainian advances.
Elsewhere in the Kharkiv region, the Russians appear to use artillery sporadically but with lethal effect. Thursday, the bombardment of the city of Derhachi killed two people, according to the local administration and destroyed the humanitarian center and medical facilities.
In a nearby village of Staryi Saltiv, residents seem less aware of the details of their occupation and liberation. A man, Viktor, is near a well, filling tin buckets because there has been no electricity or water on his street for weeks. Only three of its neighbors remain.
“What calm? My heart is about to pop out of my chest,” he said. “All around is exploding. There is a hole in the garden due to a shell impact. The roof has been pierced by a shell, the fence has disappeared. It is really difficult. We sleep with our clothes on. They land nearby. There’s nowhere to hide.”