While the Russians are retreating from settlements in the Ukrainian Kherson region, residents are left with reminders of their presence.

Large swaths of destruction hit places like Velikay Aleksandrovka, a quiet shopping town that had been on the front line for months.

The Russians were pushed out by the Ukrainians in the first week of October, and there is evidence of fierce fighting everywhere.

With a strategic location on the Ingulets River that was prized by both sides, its three-story comprehensive school found itself at the center of the battle.

Among the obscene graffiti and the letter Z (a symbol of Russia’s war in Ukraine) is a defaced map of Great Britain

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The local fire chief Vladimir suggested that we go and see.

“Do you have a torch?” he said. “You’ll need a torch.”

We found a headlamp and turned on the cell phone light, then plunged into the darkness with the fire chief leading the way.

At the bottom of the steps we found a cell that was being used as a bomb shelter. There were obscene graffiti and the letter Z — a symbol of Russia’s war in Ukraineplastered walls.

Under the letter, Russian soldiers proudly indicated the date of the capture of the city – February 26.

John Sparks in Velika Alexandrovka, Kherson, Ukraine, where they find a Russian bunker in the basement of an occupied school
Children’s school playground, with traces of war

We realized that there was much more to this complex than just a bomb shelter. The basement of this public school was turned into a military base.

A dozen or more rooms were draped, and the ceiling and walls took on the effect of a marquee. It seems that the soldiers planned to stay in the underground compound to create a homely atmosphere.

“Everything was taken from people’s shops and houses. Curtains, carpets, pillows, they lived here,” Vladimir said.

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John Sparks in Velika Alexandrovka, Kherson, Ukraine, where they find a Russian bunker in the basement of an occupied school
The occupiers had a washing line at the school

Silk bed linen, perfumes are lavish luxuries

How many soldiers do you think lived here?

“I think at least 200,” said the fire chief.

We discovered several attached kitchens and dedicated dining rooms, and the complex has some items that looked surprisingly luxurious.

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In one cell we found bottles of perfume and silk bedding.

– Did the officers sleep there? I asked.

“Probably,” said Volodzka.

of John Sparks in Kherson
Sky’s John Sparks saw a message from the Russians saying ‘we’ll be back soon’

The members of this garrison made a hasty retreat, but they left a visual warning on the walls.

“We’ll be back soon,” said the message in large letters, an ominous threat left in the darkness.

The battle for Velika Aleksandrovka took place partly on the top three floors, and we discovered that the school had been turned into a fortress.

John Sparks in Velika Alexandrovka, Kherson, Ukraine, where they find a Russian bunker in the basement of an occupied school
The school was exhausted by the fighting

The classrooms were filled with sandbags, with slits like locks so the Russians could fire their weapons.

Bookshelves from the school library were rearranged as subversive walls, and Putin’s views on the world were repeated on the walls.

The picture of Great Britain and Ireland was defaced with the letter Z. At the bottom was drawn “Russia”. It seems that the Russians were not interested in learning English.

“It’s sad, isn’t it, that the school was destroyed,” I told Volodya.

“Of course, it’s sad, everything is sad. We want to win as soon as possible and start recovering,” he answered.

Yet the cost of recovery has reached a staggering figure – the Ukrainian government, along with the World Bank and the European Union, have put the cost of recovery at around $350bn (£300.9bn) – and the conflict continues.