Since Moscow’s invasion in February, areas it has taken control of have been unexpectedly shut off from the rest of the nation, and connection with those left behind is frequently sporadic.
People from three of the Kremlin-captured regions shared bleak descriptions of the hardships and toxic environment of suspicion that the people living under Russia’s new government had to endure.
To protect them from any retaliation, all of their names have been changed, and AFP was unable to independently confirm their stories.
Kherson in southern Ukraine succumbed to the invading forces in the early stages of the conflict, becoming the first significant city to be seized by Russia.
The crucial area on the Black Sea coast is now the target of a massive counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces.
25-year-old Oleksandr works as a teacher in a village near Kherson.
“Liberating the city is one thing; liberating Kherson as a whole is quite another. Deep beyond the front lines, the Russians have constructed defensive fortifications “He informed AFP.
“We still hold out hope, even if we know it won’t happen today.
“The area’s highways are studded with several checkpoints, and bombing attacks can constantly be heard.
“Many helicopters and planes pass over the area, and there are many military in the cities of Kherson and Nova Kakhovka.
“The situation in Kherson is pretty gloomy. There is absolutely no medicine left, and numerous old individuals have passed away from lack of care.
“It’s agony for the old.
“If I had to sum up the circumstance in one word, I would choose ‘tough.
The public sector has completely collapsed. The only thing the military and the new authority will ever tell us is that they are here to stay.
The ruble is not moving around. No passports are being granted because no one needs them.
Russian passports are already being issued, and the ruble has been designated as the region’s official currency.
“Hyrvnias are in use, but there are significant issues with cash.
Despite the fact that there is limited delivery of humanitarian supplies, there is adequate food for everyone.
“There are a lot of individuals left without jobs, and frequently, just unskilled laborers are left.
“Early on, many with wealth and successful careers in technology or communications left. Nothing continued.
“During the early stages of the occupation, many activists were abducted. There were sizable anti-occupation protests, but they ceased after a month because there is no internet or contact.
“And I don’t know if all the activists are in hiding, have been abducted, or have died.
“The Russians believe you are a Nazi if they hear you speaking Ukrainian. If you have Ukrainian emblems on your body, you are in trouble. They scan social media and tattoos. I am aware of some individuals who have had their tattoos removed.”
In the eastern town that Russian forces captured in the first few days of July, Antonina, 52, resides with her husband and adult daughter.
“The town is without government, gas, water, or power. We are unable to take a shower.
“Humanitarian aid is extremely scarce, and there is still a lot of bombardment.
“Nobody has the money to leave, so I’m not sure if it’s really an option. Salaries haven’t been paid in a while.
“Some communities, like Svatove, which is a one-hour drive away, still have internet service.
“People who can go there once a week to make personal calls and calls for their neighbors who are unable to travel.
Some people offer to take a private bus to Ukraine for $600 or $700 per person via Russia and Belarus, but many people don’t believe them because they worry that they’ll just end up in Russia.
Teachers Andriy and Tetyana are from Balakliya, which is in the occupied territory of Kherson in the northeast, and have lived there since the beginning of March.
From the occasional interactions she has with her parents, their daughter Anna, who resides in Ukrainian territory, revealed their experiences.
“My parents carried on teaching online during the early stages of the conflict. The internet was then turned off.
After that, they made a call to their students to assign homework. The call was then disconnected. They are still classified as teachers, but they are no longer compensated.
“Many folks have moved on. At first, it was still a possibility. It’s not now.
“My parents informed me that there are now only two households left in their four-story building.
Some of the residents choose to embrace the new (Russian-installed) rulers rather than caring about the nation they call home.
“They occasionally irritate my parents by informing them that they will have to start teaching Russian going forward.
“My parents remain serene. Patriotic activists were abducted and sometimes slain at the start of the occupation. Everyone is now quiet.