Buried phones, bribes and paranoia: Life under Russian occupation

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One couple buried their phones in the garden to keep them from being seized by the Russian invaders.

Others gave away their cars or paid bribes to get Russian troops to let them flee to Ukrainian-held land.

The accounts of life under occupation by those who managed to escape tell a tale of near-total paranoia and subjugation to the whims of soldiers and Kremlin appointees.

None are under full Kremlin control and all are enduring heavy fighting in the third month of Ukraine’s push back into captured lands.

But the pattern they paint does not easily fit with the version Kremlin media portray for their domestic audience.

The Russian-held plant — Europe’s largest — is near the scene of constant shelling and only has enough power to keep its six shut reactors from melting down.

– ‘No one feels safe’ –

The 56-year-old husband and wife said the Russians probably feared that locals would give their positions away to Ukrainian forces near the front.

“We would bury our phones. Everyone would do that. The ones that didn’t bury theirs in time -– all of them lost theirs.”

“They rifled through her bag, looking for her phone. That same day, my friend’s 12-year-old was walking down the street alone and was also stopped. They also searched her bag,” the 43-year-old realtor said.

– ‘Psychological pressure’ –

But those who escaped in the opposite direction said soldiers were ready to drive people up to Ukrainian positions — for a price.

“The Russians would take you out and then come back and take your belongings,” the 57-year-old resident of partially-recaptured Dudchany said.

“We later saw the soldiers driving around in that car,” he said.

“They were happy to drive you in that direction,” the husband said.

The phones that the Kachkarivka villagers buried all had to use Russian SIM cards and could only access sites approved by Moscow censors.

Kherson region native Nina Bezguba said she fled her village of Nizhni Serohozy when soldiers from Chechnya — a region under command of feared strongman Ramzan Kadyrov — flooded in two weeks ago.

“I would say 60 percent of the population is now Chechen.”

The realtor Mykhaylena said the occupation authorities were using their new powers to confiscate profitable businesses such as resorts and hotels in her Sea of Azov city.

But not everyone was giving up without a fight.

“But then we understood it was no use. They would just go up to farmers and threaten to burn down their equipment unless they gave them more fuel,” the Energodar native said.

zak/jbr/yad

Originally published as Buried phones, bribes and paranoia: Life under Russian occupation


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