There is little respite from the victory of Ukrainian forces in the recently liberated Kupiansk. Russian shells still struck its pock-marked streets, staining the horizon with plumes of black smoke.
Intense damage is visible on almost all buildings. A huge billboard with the image of a waving Russian flag stands next to the bridge that crosses the Oskil River in the city center, bearing the words: “We are one people with Russia!
For now, the Ukrainian military has chased Russian forces across the bridge and appears to be gaining momentum as it crosses the eastern banks of the river towards Lugansk, a key separatist territory controlled by Moscow. CNN saw Ukrainian infantry returning on foot from the east.
Yet inside this town, one of many in the eastern region of Kharkiv that have been liberated, are the telltale signs of a hellish occupation. A former police building was used as a sprawling detention center by the Russians, where up to 400 prisoners were held in its cramped, dark cells, with eight or nine prisoners per room, Ukrainian authorities told CNN . A brightly painted mural of a Russian soldier with a ‘Z’ on his armband standing next to an elderly woman waving the flag of the former Soviet empire can still be seen on one wall.
As authorities continue to investigate and clean up liberated towns in the Kharkiv region, they are finding increasing evidence of detention centers and cells used for torture.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that “more than 10 torture chambers” used by occupation forces have so far been uncovered in the area. “As the occupiers fled, they also dropped the torture devices,” he said.
CNN contacted the Russian government for comment but did not receive a response.
Kupyansk may have been recently liberated, but the city is a ghost town, littered with destruction and debris.
The very few remaining inhabitants huddle in its empty shell.