Channel NewsAsia

Ex-rebel Ukraine city slowly getting back on its feet

As the Ukrainian army encircles the pro-Russian strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk, the former rebel city of Slavyansk is recovering from months of intense fighting in its territory.

SLAVYANSK: As the Ukrainian army encircles the pro-Russian strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk, the eastern city of Slavyansk is recovering from months of intense fighting in its territory after the Ukrainian military took back the city from pro-Russian forces last month.

The statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin statue watches over Slavyansk, but much like Ukraine's recent turmoil, Lenin too has gone through dramatic changes. Today he is draped in the country's national colours. A month ago, he wore a different flag - the red, white and blue of Russia.

For three months, Slavyansk was in the hands of pro-Kremlin rebel forces. They controlled the roads in and out of the city threatening those who opposed them, like pro-Ukrainian activist Vadim Sukhonos - one of many taken hostage and kept under lock and key for ten days. "There were regular people, regular Ukrainians who were caught wearing Ukrainian emblems. And for this they were sent to jail cells. The treatment of those captured was very harsh and ruthless," said the city council deputy.

But time was against the pro-Russians rebels. After three days of constant shelling, the Ukrainian army finally broke their defences in early July, leaving parts of the city completely destroyed. In Semenovska, not a building was left standing and the main bridge was bombed.

In a desperate attempt to protect themselves, citizens like Lida have been forced to take shelter in underground cellars. The mother of three, who has lost everything, blames the Ukrainian forces for being too heavy-handed in their actions.

A feeling of shock permeates the city, with residents are still trying to come to terms with what happened. For now, at least, the situation seems to have calmed down.

"Even some people who supported the separatists are alright now - even after this nightmare they only say good things about the Ukrainian army. They understand that Slavyansk is Ukrainian. They thank the army for freedom," said Zoryan Shkiryak, spokesperson for the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

But Slavyansk is still mourning its dead and the memories and horror of what took place whisper from every destroyed building. The situation here is still tense and paranoia is rife. Some people are terrified that the rebels will return, while officials believe that some still remain in the city. Restoring stability to Slavyansk is just the first step but the scars left by months of fighting will take much longer to heal. 

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia