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There is little respite in victory for Ukrainian forces in the recently liberated Kupiansk. Russian shells still hit its pockmarked streets, marring the skyline with plumes of black smoke.
Intense damage is visible on nearly every building. A huge billboard with an 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 army has chased Russian forces over the bridge and appears to be building some momentum pushing across the eastern banks of the river towards Luhansk, a key separatist territory controlled by Moscow. CNN witnessed Ukrainian infantry returning from the eastern side on foot.
Yet inside this city, one of several 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 vast detention center by the Russians, where at one point up to 400 prisoners were held in its cramped and 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 is still visible on one wall.
As authorities continue investigating and clearing liberated towns in the Kharkiv region, they’re finding more and more evidence of detention centers and cells used for torture.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday that “more than 10 torture rooms” used by occupying forces have so far been found in the area. “As the occupiers fled, they also dropped the torture devices,” he said.
CNN has reached out to the Russian government for comment but has not received a response.
Kupiansk might be recently liberated but the city is a ghost town, punctuated by destruction and debris.
The very few locals that remain huddle in its empty husk.