UKRAINIANS in a newly freed village have spoken of life under months of Russian occupation.

Houses and shops in Hrakove, south-east of the country’s second-largest city Kharkiv, lie in ruins, while its school is a bombed-out shell and its church is scarred by ­rockets and artillery – though its golden dome still gleams in the fading ­autumn light.

Only around 30 people remain, living in basements and gutted ­buildings, according to resident ­Anatolii Klyzhen.

Around 1000 lived there when ­Russian troops rolled over the ­border in February, occupying the small ­village soon after. However, those forces abandoned ­Hrakove last week as ­Ukrainian soldiers ­advanced in a lightning ­counter-offensive.

That blitz could be a turning point, setting the stage for further gains in the east and elsewhere – but it could also trigger a violent response from Moscow, leading to a new and ­dangerous escalation in the war.

There were no signs the Russian soldiers were about to leave.

“Nobody knew anything. They left very quietly,” said Viacheslav ­Myronenko, 71, who has lived in the basement of his bombed-out ­apartment building with three neighbours for more than four months.

The detritus of a fleeing army still litters the village: packs of empty ­Russian army food rations, ­abandoned crates with ­instructions for using grenades, a gas mask ­dangling on a tree and an army jacket trampled into the mud.

Just outside the village by the bus stop, a Russian tank lies rusting on a road pockmarked with craters from shells, with its turret and cannon blown off its body.

Feral dogs roam the mud-rutted streets and authorities warn of mines and booby-traps in the weeds.

“Before, the village looked ­really beautiful,” said Klyzhen, who spent 45 days living in his building’s ­basement while Russian soldiers ­occupied his now-wrecked apartment on the second floor.

Klyzhen eventually managed to flee, ­deciding to take his chances at checkpoints.

The Russian soldiers were ­frightened and paranoid, he said, and would check residents’ mobile phones for anything anti-Russian or that they thought might give away their positions.

Some people were taken away and he never saw them again.

“I figured I could die at home or die at the checkpoint,” the 45-year-old said on Tuesday.

But he made it through, and ­returned after Hrakove was retaken to see what remains of his home.

He found the windows blasted out and Russian army food packets, clothes and boxes strewn around.

In one room lay a pile of TVs that he thinks soldiers may have stolen.

After retaking the village, Ukrainian authorities removed abandoned Russian military vehicles and ­exhumed the bodies of two men who had been buried by the side of a road after being shot in the head, Klyzhen said. He thinks they were Ukrainian soldiers but he is not sure.

“They were killing locals, shooting them,” he said. “There was nothing good in here.”

A few weeks into the Russian ­occupation in Hrakove, Myronenko and his neighbours banded together to clear rubbish out of the basement of their apartment building and turn it into a shelter.

With their apartments destroyed, it remains their home.

They ventured outside to plant potatoes despite the incessant shelling, knowing they needed food to survive.

“Of course it was scary, it is very scary for everyone, when everything is shaking in here,” said one of them, 70-year-old Oleh Lutsai.

Leaving was not an option for him.

“I’m 70 years old, I was born here,” he said. “So why should I run away from here?”