‘Traumatised’ Balakliia bears the scars of Ukraine’s conflicts with Russian forces

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Russia’s Defence Ministry announced on Saturday that it is pulling back troops from two areas in Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region where a Ukrainian counteroffensive has made significant advances in the past week. The news came after days of apparent advances by Ukraine south of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, in what could become the biggest battlefield success for Ukrainian forces since they thwarted a Russian attempt to seize the capital of Kyiv at the start of the nearly seven-month war.

According to Ukrainian media only around one third of the population — mainly the elderly — stayed in the city during its occupation.

Now Ukrainian soldiers patrol the main street, while a few residents make their way around — for the most part on foot or by bike.

Although some buildings have escaped unscathed, many have either been destroyed or damaged.

Olexander Sidorov, an employee with a local electricity firm who battled to keep supplies going despite the conflict, told A Digital Journal: “We were happy to meet the Ukrainian forces.”

At the same time, he lamented the scale of the destruction.

Ukrainian officials on Saturday claimed major gains in a counteroffensive against Russian forces in the Kharkiv region, saying Ukrainian troops had cut off vital supplies to Izium.

Danylo Grygorenko, a volunteer aged 24, had brought in food and medical supplies for isolated residents.

He told the publication: “People are happy that it arrived, that people are back in their home (in Ukraine).

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Ukrainian forces did not acknowledge holding the city, reported CNN.

Earlier on Saturday, the British Defence Ministry told reporters it believed the Ukrainians had advanced as much as 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Kharkiv, and described Russian forces around Izium as “increasingly isolated”.

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