But while most of the locals have fled or been slaughtered, it has left the soldiers with little option but to turn to killing innocent zoo animals and eating them just to stay alive.
The claim comes from volunteers at the Yampil Zoo in eastern Donetsk.
And the discoveries made by returning Ukrainians in the area are grim.
A volunteer rescue worker, arriving 10 days after liberation to save the animals, found skeletons and pieces of flesh strewn along the zoo grounds.
They said: “Many animals were eaten by the orcs [local slang for Russian invaders].”
Among the animals eaten, according to local officials, were two camels, a kangaroo, a bison, some piglets, birds and several wolves.
Other animals at the zoo which have yet to be found, but were previously alive there, are bears, camels, antelopes, and wild boars.
Any animals found still alive are being taken to the city of Dnipro for re-homing.
Yampil, home to around 11,000 people – according to the 2021 census – was liberated in September.
When news broke, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the special units which returned the area back to Ukraine.
It is now thought that these units were the first ones to enter the zoo, too.
He said: “I especially want to commend the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade and the 54th Mechanized Brigade for their constant bravery and heroism in the Siversk and Bakhmut directions.
“As well as servicemen of 214 Separate Rifle Battalion of the SOF and 103rd Separate Territorial Defense Brigade for the liberation of Yampil.