In Torske and other villages in the occupied eastern Donetsk region, most Russian troops hastily fled – but others were caught in Ukrainian onslaught.
The bodies of Russian soldiers lay scattered throughout recaptured villages as the battle for eastern Ukraine is intensifying and Kyiv’s forces try to advance into the Luhansk region.
Thousands of Russian soldiers have retreated from the front-line area in recent days, leaving behind major destruction. Bomb craters, burned-out vehicles and corpses are strewn along roads leading towards the eastern front.
After the Russian retreat from the village of Torske in the Donetsk region, Russian military uniforms were seen hanging in abandoned homes that soldiers had commandeered.
Russian soldiers had been dug in at positions in Torske just a few days ago, but they’ve now been replaced by Ukrainian troops patrolling the streets.
“It’s been terrible. There’s been no life. Our neighbours left and the Russian soldiers took over their houses,” Antonina, a pensioner in Torske, told Al Jazeera. “But when they left, they were running and panicking on the street.”
Dima, a farmer, described the quick turn of events as Russian forces fled his town.
“We were sitting in our basement for three to four days just surviving,” Dima said. “There was so much shelling, and then they fled into the forests.”
‘Most tense situation’
An elderly woman describing the Russian retreat said: “They were moving everywhere, driving on the road, lots of vehicles but I’m afraid to speak about it. When the Russians gave us humanitarian aid, there were about 700 of us, but many left for the Russian side just before the Ukrainian army liberated the village.”
Reporting from Torske, 15km (seven miles) east of the recently retaken strategic town of Lyman, Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford said areas surrounding the village were “pulverized by exploding shells”, leaving destroyed vehicles, some with bodies inside, lining the road to Kreminna, where Russian forces regrouped.
On a damaged bridge, the bodies of two Russians were hanging from the sides of a blown-up school bus and flies swarmed as the sound of explosions rang out in the distance.
The Ukrainian military on Sunday reported fierce fighting around the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka in Donetsk, where Russian forces have claimed some recent territorial gains.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not acknowledge any loss of territory but said “the most tense situation” on the entire territory of Ukraine had been observed around the two cities.
Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, continue to make progress towards Russian-held Kreminna and into the Luhansk region. Western weaponry has helped the Ukraine military win back more territory in the past month than Russian forces seized in five months.
The advance has undermined a claim from the Kremlin early this month that it had officially annexed Donetsk, neighbouring Luhansk and the southern regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson.
The four territories are a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014, and together are about 20 percent of Ukraine.
Under increasing pressure, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued reshuffling his military leadership, appointing a new general to lead the war against Ukraine after suffering a series of military setbacks.
Ukraine has recaptured more than 1,170sq km (450sq miles) of land in its southern Kherson region since launching the start of its counterassault against Russia in late August, its military said on Sunday.
Southern command spokesperson Natalia Humeniuk said Ukraine was making progress but a lot needed to be done to secure newly recaptured territory.
“Work is continuing on consolidation of territory, clearing it and conducting stabilising operations as the settlements we enter contain many surprises left by the [Russian] occupiers,” she said on Ukrainian national television.