When Russian soldiers left the village of Novyi Bykiv after a month of occupation, Natalia Samson returned to her house to find they had stolen her perfumes, jewellery, some wine, a scooter, a novelty cushion and a collection of old coins.
A few days later she ventured into the village school, where she works as the deputy headteacher, and discovered the Russians had taken most of the computers, the projectors and other electronic equipment.
In the headteacher’s office, an opened pair of scissors had been inserted into a plasma screen that was left behind, apparently in an attempt to ensure that what could not be stolen was instead destroyed.
“People saw them simply loading everything on to Ural trucks, everything they could get their hands on,” said Samson, shaking her head in disbelief. A dozen houses on the village’s main street had been looted, as well as all the shops. Other villagers reported losing washing machines, food, laptops and even a sofa.
Occupying soldiers are accused of systematically stealing items from Ukrainian homes. Photograph: Sviatoslav Medyk
Over the past week, during reporting from numerous places where Russian troops had occupied Ukrainian territory, the Guardian has collected evidence that suggests looting by Russian forces was not merely a case of a few wayward soldiers, but a systematic part of Russian military behaviour, across multiple towns and villages.
Reports of looting have prompted widespread outrage among Ukrainians, as well as among Russians opposed to the war.
“Those who fight like this are not regular army, but rabble,” wrote Vladimir Pastukhov, a liberal Russian political scientist who is a columnist for Novaya Gazeta. “Even in the Soviet and Nazi armies, looting was fought as much as possible, albeit not always successfully. In the Russian army … it is a form of additional motivation of the personnel.”
At one flat in Irpin, a town outside Kyiv that was partially controlled by Russian forces for part of the last month, one family returned home to discover that Russian soldiers had been living there.
They found discarded alcohol bottles, food wrappers and cigarette butts strewn around the apartment, large piles of faeces blocking the toilets and family photographs torn and thrown around the house. They also found that a lot of things had gone missing.
“They took away all the clothes – literally everything, male and female coats, boots, shirts, jackets, even my dresses and lingerie,” said one of the residents, who asked for the family’s names not to be used, but supplied photographs of the damage.
Footage appears to show Russian troops sending home items looted from Ukraine – video
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