Until last week, a portrait of Vladimir Putin hung on the wall of the mayor’s office in the town of Shevchenkove. There was a Russian flag. Around a cabinet table, a pro-Kremlin “leader”, Andrey Strezhko, held meetings with colleagues. There was a lot to discuss. One topic: a referendum on joining Russia. Another: a new autumn curriculum for Shevchenkove’s two schools, minus anything Ukrainian.
Strezhko’s ambitious plans were never realised. On 8 September, Ukraine’s armed forces launched a surprise counteroffensive. They swiftly recaptured a swathe of territory in the north-eastern Kharkiv region, including Shevchenkove. Most residents greeted the soldiers with hugs and kisses. Strezhko disappeared. He is believed to have fled across the Russian border, along with other collaborators.