(Kupiansk) On the floor of the town hall of Koupiansk, in the north-west of Ukraine, Olena makes her way through the rubble and recovers a chair here, a computer screen there.
This is all that the Russians were good enough to leave in their retreat in September, accused by the Ukrainians of systematic looting, here as elsewhere.
The locality was occupied from February 27 to September 10, 2022.
Three days after the start of the war, the mayor, Gennady Matsegora, a member of the “Opposition Platform – For Life” party, had returned his city to the Russian army, in exchange for a cessation of hostilities.
The business cards of the city councilor, on the run in Russia, are still placed on his office on the second floor. Under the cabinet, a shattered portrait of Vladimir Putin.
“There, it is here that the one whom the Russian occupiers have appointed mayor has settled”, explains Olena, municipal employee with earrings bearing the image of the Ukrainian army, returning for the first time to her place. of work.
“Those who wanted to come back to work had to, on entering his office, wipe their feet on the Ukrainian flag, shout ‘thank you Russia, our liberators’ while being filmed,” says the young mother.
She was detained by Russian services for five days in March and refuses to give her last name for fear of reprisals against her relatives.
Hiding in her house after her arrest, taking refuge in her cellar at the height of the fighting in September, she found her home upside down.
“They took my microwave, my washing machine and something I can’t explain, my toilet tank, not the bowl, just the tank,” she told AFP.
Since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, tales of looting by Moscow troops have become commonplace in the liberated areas, raising questions about the possibility of systematic behavior, rather than occasional slips by soldiers.
The Ukrainian authorities are registering the complaints of individuals and professionals who are victims of these thefts, hoping that they can one day be hypothetically compensated, within the framework of war reparations paid by Moscow.
In April, the independent Belarusian investigative group Hajun Project revealed video recordings of a postal dispatch counter in the Belarusian border town of Mazyr, showing Russian soldiers queuing for three hours to ship, each in turn. , packages ranging from 50 to 500 kg domestically.
In Kupyansk, which for more than seven months was the de facto headquarters of the military-civilian occupation administration, the thefts seem to residents interviewed by AFP the lesser evil, compared to the risk of arrest and the accounts of tortures that marked this period of occupation.
“Not enough at home? »
At the city police station, housed in a temporary building, the original having been pulverized in the fighting, all the complaints of the inhabitants are nevertheless recorded.
But to deal with them, especially vis-à-vis insurance, it is still early and the means are lacking.
“The number of complaints after the occupation is enormous,” Oleksandr Guitselev, deputy head of the Kupyansk criminal police, told AFP, without being able to quantify them.
For damage to property, complaints are also recorded, without much hope of restitution.
“They mainly stole agricultural machinery, cars, cereals and household appliances,” he explains of the Russian soldiers.
In a farm, “they even took away pigs”, adds the police chief.
“They did every house and used themselves: television, screens, computers,” he continues. “And indeed, pieces of bathroom or radiators.”
” To do what ? I do not know. Maybe they don’t have enough at home? asks the Ukrainian policeman.