The Ukrainian villagers caught in war's crossfire

The village of Mala Rohan was one of the first places captured by the Russians when they invaded in February, but after a month in enemy hands it was taken back by Ukrainian forces. Senior International Correspondent John Irvine was told of the horrors endured by residents during the month of occupation.

The first thing our Ukrainian army guide showed us was the rusting carcass of a large armoured personnel carrier. He said it could carry up to 30 Russian soldiers. We have no way of knowing how many died when the vehicle was hit by Ukrainian artillery.

What really surprised us about the hulk was its position, on the very edge of Kharkiv. It’s proof of just how close the Russians got to Ukraine’s second city in the early days of the war.

Heading north towards the Russian border we soon arrived at the village of Mala Rohan, which the Russians captured on the second day of the war.

Yuri was one of the few villagers who opted to stay in Mala Rohan.

Just over a month later the Ukrainians took it back. Mala Rohan is now a piggy-in-the-middle village, caught in the crossfire.

The vast majority of the 2,000 or so people who call it home fled when war came to their doorsteps. But a few stayed put.

One of them is 72-year-old Yuri who took us to see his bomb-damaged house and the tiny bunker in which he and his wife hide when Russian shells come in.

He points to the remnants of the roof on his carport and says a mortar shell landed on it. He told me that afterwards he counted 72 holes in his Lada, which was parked underneath.

A Russian helicopter which, while on the ground, was destroyed by Ukrainian tankfire.

We meet another villager who refused to leave. I asked Sergei how the Russians behaved when they occupied Mala Rohan.He said he knew of some Ukrainians who took shelter in the school basement, into which a Russia soldier had gone and opened fire with his machine gun.

“The soldier then took a girl to the second floor. I don’t need to spell out what he did to her,” he added.

Mala Rohan is at the northern end of a 300-mile long battlefront. This is turning into a largely static, grinding war and it’s likely this village, stuck in the middle, will continue to suffer.