For the first time since their country was invaded in February, there’s real optimism in Ukraine that war with Russia will soon end, according to the contributors of the latest edition of the Sky News Ukraine War Diaries podcast.
This week, after months of stalemate, Ukrainian forces mounted a surprise counteroffensive, which they say has resulted in significant territorial gains in the fiercely contested Donbas region.
“Ukrainian forces have started the offensive operation in the northern part and on the east of the Kharkiv region. What Russians were trying to occupy for a few months, we managed to take back [in] five to six days,” says Ilyas, whose wife and two children are currently taking refuge in Poland.
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“It feels all the people here, around me, they have this ray of light in their lives because you see the operation moving on successfully,” he continues.
“And people are getting really motivated and inspired as well, and you feel everything is going back to normal at some point.
“I know at some point we will get some operational pause and it’s not going to be this all the time, but what we see now is an absolute miracle.”
“We know this war only going to end by victory to Ukraine.”
Backed by military aid from the US and Europe, Ukrainian forces say they have recaptured more than 6,000 sq km in the east of the country.
It’s a region familiar to military volunteer Seva. He’s originally from Dnipro, but for the last five months, he’s been running supplies to frontline soldiers in the Donbas.
Speaking from Poland, while returning from an assignment in Europe to collect a modified SUV for the frontline, Seva says last week was “pretty intense”.
“We have the occupied Kharkiv region, it’s a great success for us, and we hope that everything will move on in the same direction.
“It was really great when people were stopping by and showing the big finger [thumbs up], and wishing us victory, and wishing us to occupy our territories, and to win over Russia.
“So many people were smiling when I was passing in the car [SUV] and waving their hands. It was really a good, good, great feeling.”
But, despite this week military success, Kyiv resident Oksana found the news of alleged war crimes committed in recaptured territories distressing.
“Seeing the people who have been under occupation for almost half a year welcoming our soldiers is [both] just so heartbreaking and heartwarming.”
She says it reminds her of Bucha. In the early days of the war, Sky News verified two videos showing bodies on the town’s streets, including one with at least seven corpses on the pavement. Satellite imagery showed evidence of 45ft make-shift mass graves. Russia denied responsibility.
Oksana sees the similarities, though.
“You know reading the horrors that happened during the occupation, it’s like a lot of little Buchas in the Kharkiv region with torture chambers, with you know, all of the terrors that the Russian army brings to Ukraine.”
From the creators of Sky News’ award-winning series StoryCast, Ukraine War Diaries is a weekly podcast following those living on Europe’s new frontline, and those who have escaped it.
Producer: Robert Mulhern
Digital promotion and additional writing: David Chipakupaku