On the Ground

Ukraine’s liberated town of Kupyansk endures Russian shelling, disinformation

As Ukraine’s counteroffensive makes slow progress in the south and southeast, it’s the Russians who’ve gone on the attack in the northeastern Kharkiv region. In recent days Russian forces have advanced by a kilometre or more towards the Ukrainian-held town of Kupyansk. FRANCE 24 correspondent Gulliver Cragg reports.

An explosion is seen in northeastern Ukraine, where the town of Kupyansk is facing frequent Russian shelling.
An explosion is seen in northeastern Ukraine, where the town of Kupyansk is facing frequent Russian shelling. © France 24 screengrab

Looking east from Kupyansk one can see, as well as hear, the artillery battles.

“Over there is the occupied Luhansk region, 15 kilometres away,” says Andriy Kanashevich, the head of the Kupyansk District Military Administration. “To the front line it’s 8 kilometres.”

"Their artillery is pounding our villages (...) We have the Oskil river here, the invaders probably want to get back that river, to make it the front line," he says.

In the early days of Kyiv’s counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region last September, Ukrainian soldiers stood triumphantly in front of Kupyansk’s administration building. But since then the town has been anything but peaceful, FRANCE 24's Cragg reports.

Kupyansk has been shelled regularly for months, lately every day, leaving some residents very afraid.

“I went up to one of our soldiers and asked what will happen to us? And he said ‘You’ll be a second Bakhmut’,” says Svitlana, an elderly resident.

The city authorities have relocated to a basement. They say they constantly have to fight Russian disinformation.

“They spread fake news to sow panic among the population,” says Vitaliy Kolesnik, an advisor to the mayor, while holding a smart phone. “Here’s a typical example: it says the city administration is evacuating ... when people read that, they think things must be really bad.”

Kupyansk Mayor Andriy Besedin admits it's a difficult time.

Yes, it’s tough. Yes, there’s a build-up of Russian soldiers and equipment, he says. But, we will deal with this, and little by little, we’ll reconquer all the occupied towns.

In this spirit of defiance, municipal workers are sprucing up the town’s main square.

“I don’t know if that was outgoing or incoming, I can’t tell,” says Alla, one of the workers, after a shell explodes in the distance. “Of course we’re worried, who wouldn’t be? But we still have to work.”

Click on the player to watch the full report from Kupyansk. 

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