Voices from a torture chamber in Kherson. How Russians tormented Ukrainians

18 MARCH 2023

On 16 November, the Security Service of Ukraine reported finding another of the Russian occupiers’ torture chambers in Kherson in a basement of the former UkrAgroPromProekt facility at 15 Pylypa Orlyka Street. 

This torture chamber is one of the scariest filtration camps in the city, where the occupiers held locals in inhumane conditions because they had refused to collaborate with the Russians. 

Ukrainksa Pravda.Zhyttia tells the stories of Kherson residents who managed to survive after being in the Russian torture chamber.

Oleksandr, a law-enforcement official 

(the name has been changed at the person’s request)

Oleksandr was diagnosed with concussion, three broken ribs, multiple haematomas and hand injuries after his Russian captivity. He has been treated, but his rib bones did not fuse

properly because he was not provided with medical assistance in time, and it causes unbearable pain now. 

Torture has messed up the motor skills of his hands and fingers, and being beaten with electric current has affected his facial muscles. Because of the torture, Oleksandr cannot feel the little finger and thumb of his left hand: the nerve endings of his fingers are burned from a “call to Putin” [as one of the types of torture was called – ed.].  The doctors do not know whether the sensitivity will come back.

“I was taken into captivity on 1 September because of my professional activities and released on 11 September. The occupiers threatened to imprison me for 7 to 15 years, accusing me of extremism and terrorism,” Oleksandr recounts. 

The Russians, in their opinion, tortured Oleksandr with a manifestation of “humanity”: they removed his handcuffs and instead put ties on his arms and legs.

“The occupiers said that if they connected the electricity now, the handcuffs would cut off my hands. During the electric shock, the Russian soldiers stood on my body. The electric current provoked convulsions so strong that I threw them off myself,” Oleksandr recollects.

Oleksandr was released without explanation, as was his colleague with whom he was detained. However, after his captivity, the occupiers constantly called him and asked ironic questions.

They asked me how I was doing, if I was okay, and where my friend was, and why they couldn’t reach him,” Oleksandr says. 

The occupiers were watching Oleksandr. He was afraid that he would be taken to the torture chamber again. Moreover, in order to intimidate him, the Russians announced the alleged start of a mobilisation wave.

None of his relatives knew about Oleksandr’s whereabouts, although they searched for him through the commandant’s office, and the district police departments had no information either. The prisoners note that in this torture chamber, not only were no parcels brought to the prisoners but no information was provided to the prisoners’ relatives.

Viktor Biletskyi, a soldier from the 406th Separate Artillery Brigade

  Photo: Viktor Biletskyi’s private archive 

Viktor was taken from the city’s central Ushakov Avenue. While being taken, they kicked him, asking whether he had served and whether he had any contacts with people who had been in the ATO [the ATO or Anti-Terrorist Operation is a term used from 2014 to 2018 by the media, the government of Ukraine and the OSCE to identify combat actions in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts against Russian military forces and pro-Russian separatists – ed.]. His home was searched, and they took away photos showing him taking the oath of allegiance. Russians also seized his phone where they found the Nadzor Kherson Telegram channel which specialises in transmitting coordinates to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

According to Viktor, he was interrogated because of this channel every day, as he communicated with the administrators. He claims that he was forced to confess to adjusting fire on the Antonivka Bridge because artillery attacks by the Ukrainian army had become more frequent. Hence, the Russians needed to blame these losses on someone.

“I said I was doing conscript service, because I understood that if I said I was on a contract, I would be there for a long time. When they found the contract I had hidden during the search, they ordered that I be handcuffed to a pipe and said: ‘You have been killing our children for eight years.’,” Viktor recounts.

In the first few days, Viktor’s hands were tied and handcuffed, but then his arm began to swell, so one of his hands was handcuffed to a radiator pipe. For almost three months, he sat in the same position on a chair. Viktor was taken to the torture chamber on 7 August and released along with all the other prisoners on 22 October 2022.

“The worst thing was when they discovered I served in the artillery. After that, terrible days began for me there,” Viktor recalls with horror.

Denys, a local resident

“It struck the Zahublenyi Svit (Lost World), where the Russian military had a bathhouse. It was posted on the Telegram channel Kh**ovyi Kherson (F**king Kherson). My cellmate Danylo uploaded a video of the strike, and the administrators did not crop the balcony out of the video and published it. The Russians used the video to figure out who filmed it,” Viktor says.

In addition to the Telegram bot, Danylo also sent the video to his classmates’ private chat group.

One of the participants in this chat was Denys, Danylo’s classmate.

“They found the chat group on my classmate’s phone and tortured him to find out who lived where,” Denys recollects.

He did not have time to escape. His house was also searched, he was constantly asked where the Ukrainian flag was, and his apartment was robbed. On 4 September, Denys was taken away with a bag on his head and his hands handcuffed behind his back. 

PHOTO: Denys’ classmate Danylo and volunteer Victoriia were in the same cell as Viktor Biletskyi. After their experience, they are best friends. From left to right: Victoriia, Danylo and Denys 

“I’m telling the truth, it’s all true!”

Beatings are a classic method in Russian torture chambers. Denys recalls that some prisoners were beaten with pipes, and others with chairs. Viktor says he was also beaten on the heels and legs with wooden sticks.

Law enforcement officer Oleksandr learned who exactly was in charge of the torture chamber on Pylypa Orlyka Street.

“One of the leaders was a colonel nicknamed ‘Sedoy’ (Grey-haired). I heard about him personally on several occasions. He was present during interrogations. I could see his outline through the bag and smell an incredible trail of scent when he entered the office – so I knew it was him.”

According to Oleksandr, the colonel, aka Sedoy (Grey-haired), took great pleasure in torture.

“When Sedoy found a wire, he would rejoice like an evil child: he would say, ‘Look what will happen now’ and beat me on the body. A kind of office worker with BDSM inclinations. One day he poked me under the shoulder blade with a taser, discharged it, and asked: ‘Well, how do you like it?’,” Oleksandr recalls.

It happened that Sedoy threw a bag over my head, blocked my breathing until I started to suffocate, and then let go. It was just a game for him,” Oleksandr says.

The man says that the gas mask was used on his cellmate and ATO participant: “They pulled gas mask over his head with the valve closed so that air could not enter” [that is why the torture is called “elephant” – ed.].

 First photo: a gas mask found in the torture chamber. Second photo: the place where torture took place. Source: SSU Telegram channel

The same fate befell Danylo, Denys’ friend and Viktor’s cellmate.

They put a gas mask on Danylo and electrocuted him to make him suffocate faster, but as soon as he started to lose consciousness, they took off the gas mask. They did not let him die: they wanted him to suffer,” Viktor says.

Oleksandr was forced to lean his head against the wall so that his body was at an angle, with his legs spread as wide as possible and his hands cuffed behind his back [this method of torture is called “stretching” – ed.]. 

The man recalls that the Russian soldier stood to the side, methodically hitting him between the elbow and shoulder in the middle of the shoulder muscle. After some time of such torture, there comes a moment when the prisoner feels only blows, and the acute pain is dulled. However, the effect of the torture overtakes him in a few hours: the muscles become stony, “the arm is actually black” from the beating, and it is impossible to even lift it up. 

Oleksandr says that during this torture, they [Russians – ed.] were able to have conversations with the prisoner on abstract topics. The man recalls that the Russian military often accused Ukrainians of not reacting to the events in Donbas and the torture that took place there, so the people of Ukraine, according to the Russian occupiers, should be held responsible. Then the investigators would leave, leaving the prisoner in the same position to stand under the supervision of one guard for an hour and a half:

Your legs are shaking, no one talks to you at all, as if they have lost interest in you, they work according to a method, give you time to come to, then everything starts all over again,” the man recalls.

A standard method of torture used by the Russian military against prisoners was electric shocks using a TA field phone, also known as a tapik among torturers. All prisoners were tortured in this way by screwing bare electric wires to the prisoner’s fingers or genitals. In addition to bare wires, terminals were also attached, most often to the earlobes or little fingers. For better current conductivity, prisoners were poured with water.

They poured water on my fingers. It felt like my fingers were about to break or tear from the current,” Viktor says.

The Russian invaders had their own terminology: among the “electrophoresis” and above-mentioned “calling Putin”, there was also “massage”: beating with truncheons, and the expression “legs are burning” means that the occupiers would beat their legs.

While I was there, I have probably never heard so many expressions in my entire life: ‘I’m telling the truth, it’s all true!’ The most interesting thing is that this noise was practically in the centre of the city in broad daylight. The screams could be heard regularly for three to four hours, and the windows in the torture rooms were open wide,” says Oleksandr.

Psychological pressure was an important aspect of the torture methodology. According to the prisoners, the Russian military often threatened to take them to the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR). The Russians intimidated the prisoners by saying that the death penalty had been introduced in the DPR, so they would be sentenced to the highest penalty when they were brought to trial. 

Viktor says that they also exerted psychological pressure with the help of relatives with whom they had no contact. 

They said that my mother had died,” Viktor says. 

He said that the prisoners were forced to learn the Russian national anthem in the first weeks of the torture chamber’s existence. Then they cancelled this “ritual”, saying that the prisoners were criminals who were not worthy of being Russian people. 

The occupiers combined psychological pressure with physical pressure. Viktor said that the Russian military showed a video of a Ukrainian soldier being castrated on their phone and threatened to do the same to him. 

The Russian military took a girl for interrogation. They ordered her to take off her T-shirt and bra. They tried to put terminals on her nipples and shock her. And then, with such disgust, as if she were some kind of monster, they ordered her to get dressed. And they poured hot tea on my friend and me and said it was acid,” Denys says. 

The prisoners were also starved to death. 

When you don’t eat for three days, then you don’t care if you are not fed for a week or more. When I was taken to the hospital, I weighed 50 kilograms, and before captivity, I weighed 90 kilograms with a height of 170 [cm – ed.],” Viktor recalls.

The occupiers were particularly cruel to representatives of the territorial defence, the Armed Forces of Ukraine and ATO/JFO [in 2018, ATO was renamed to Joint Forces Operation zone – ed.] veterans. An ATO participant who was one of the prisoners said that the Russian military connected electrical wires to his testicles. Viktor is also aware of this fact. 

The guy from the 2nd cell was connected to the current by his scrotum and ears. This is the so-called ‘Сall to Biden’,” he says.

The torture was unbearable. According to the prisoners, some prisoners thought about suicide. In order not to go crazy, prisoners left inscriptions on the cell walls with appeals to God or reminders of a loved one. 

When someone was tortured, I would take a cross and start praying for that person. I also prayed for myself, thinking that they would come again and torture me,” Denys says. 

 Inscriptions on the walls of the torture chamber left by the prisoners: “I live for her,” “God give me strength,” “Lord God save and preserve,” “Pray to God for us.” Photo materials: Telegram channel “Kherson: War Without Fakes”.

Almost every prisoner, if they survived, was affected by the consequences. For the guy who was in the cell with Oleksandr, torture and kicking caused a pneumothorax (accumulation of air in the pleural cavity). The man confirms this information and says that the guy was just lucky. 

He was saved by the fact that it had already happened at the end when they were releasing him, so he was already taken to the hospital from home,” Oleksandr admits.

There were cases when captives were tortured to death. Oleksandr says that two cells away from him, a service station worker had been chained to a radiator and kept in the torture chamber for about one-and-a-half months. Viktor says that the man was tortured for having weapons in his basement.

He was brutally tortured, and the man eventually started to suffocate, as we could hear from the noises. Then the military brought a bag and took the body out,” Viktor recalls.

Torture chamber horrors

There were five of us in my first days there. Later, the occupiers turned this building into a torture chamber, and many more people were brought there. A total of 20,” Viktor recalls.

The boy was placed in a cell marked with ‘1’ opposite a torture room. Some prisoners called it the ” jolly” room because of the sounds coming from it.

The Russian military placed a 24-hour surveillance camera in each room, through which the duty officer monitored the captives’ compliance with the “torture chamber regulations”.

According to Oleksandr and Viktor, there was another torture room on the second and third floors of the UkrAgroPromProject building.

 Torture rooms on the second and third floors of the UkrAgroPromProject building. Photo: Security Service of Ukraine Telegram channel. The third photo shows the stairs leading from the basement to other floors. Photo: Kherson. War Without Fakes Telegram channel

When they were too lazy to take someone for interrogation to the second floor, where there were rooms for this purpose, they took these people to a separate room in the basement. There, they stretched the person on a bed frame, attached wires, switched on the current and ‘hit’ them,” says Oleksandr.

 One of the rooms in the basement of the UkrAgroPromProject building. Photo: Kherson. War Without Fakes Telegram channel

My classmate was 17 years old, and he came of age on 15 September in the basement,” Denys recalls.

The captives state that the age group of the prisoners was mainly between 16 and 60 years old. As Oleksandr states, there was “serious pressure” for the first five days, the first three of which were the most persistent, with mandatory “electrophoresis” [tortures with the use of electric current]. Then the pressure eased, and the prisoner was left in the cell indefinitely.

“You lie in the basement thinking whether they have forgotten about you or not. And every rustle is psychological pressure, and with every rumble and step, you realise that they might come for you,” Oleksandr recalls.

The man says their methodology was keeping the captives constantly on alert.

“It was inhuman conditions. Just a basement, concrete, bare walls and a light bulb. We slept on chairs all the time, trying to fall asleep in different positions,” says Denys.

The inside of a captive’s cell. Photo: Kherson. War Without Fakes Telegram channel

It was freezing in the basement, and some prisoners had been put in the torture chamber in the summer. Viktor and Denys say that the occupiers seized overcoats from 2017 “with labels still on them” during a robbery of a Ukrainian army warehouse and gave them to some prisoners instead of warm clothes only in the last week of their imprisonment.

They didn’t take us to the toilet, so we had shared a bottle with the girls for this purpose,” Viktor recalls.

If you needed more than just urinate, you had to wave your hands in front of the camera, and if the warden saw you, he could take you out. But this was a rare occasion,” says Oleksandr.

As Oleksandr states, a civilian bathroom with a toilet and a washbasin was in the same building on the ground floor.

They took one girl out once and gave her 40 or 50 seconds for the whole process,” Viktor recalls.

 Photos: Kherson. War Without Fakes Telegram channel. First photo: human waste products in PET bottles. Second and third photos: captives were taken to the toilet through this corridor

As he states, the military gave the prisoners bags for physiological needs, although no one used them. Some prisoners could not relieve themselves in such conditions, for example, as his cellmate for 17 days. Showering was out of the question. As a result, the captives did not have the opportunity to wash for three months.

The girl in the cell with me was called ‘Banderite scum’,” Denys recalls.

Women were treated as roughly as men, being tortured and beaten similarly. According to Viktor, he was sharing a cell with an ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] participant who had been captured for the second time. The first time was when the Russian National Guard was staying in the city. With the use of electric shocks, the girl was forced to “confess” that she was adjusting fire for a strike on their headquarters. They threatened to rape her and take her to the city of Donetsk.

The problems started when their periods came around. There were two girls with us, so we gave them our T-shirts,” says Viktor.

The occupiers wholly ignored the women’s needs. Denys, whose cellmate had been asking for pads for six months, tells a similar story.

Denys recalls that the doctor came to ask how everybody was doing when a man had died in his cell. Medical care was not provided. According to the prisoners, if a person was on the verge of death, the Russians tried to “make them last longer, so the person suffers further”.

A so-called doctor would come and say: ‘He’s not dead, so he’s fine,’” says Oleksandr.

The man knows that one of the detained young men in the neighbouring cell was shot in the leg, another had his arm broken, and no help was provided.

Some captives said that several people were injected with unknown substances. One of the victims said that he started to suffocate.

The girl was tortured and injected with something intramuscularly. I don’t know what it was and what reaction it caused because she suffered from being beaten,” Denys says.

There was a case when, after torture, a man became completely immobile. As the wardens shared with each other, he was taken to the city, just left at the entrance to the hospital, and that’s it,” Viktor recalls.

In addition to looking for law enforcement officers, military personnel, activists, volunteers or artillery fire adjusters, the Russian military took anyone who was suspected of committing “crimes”. The occupiers were finding more victims through the captives.

They targeted one person, got into their phone, and it was a chain reaction,” says Oleksandr.

Some Kherson residents had ended up in Russian torture chambers just for subscribing to certain Telegram channels or for posting pro-Ukrainian statements online. Prisoners said that one man was captured for singing Ukrainian songs and another for shouting “Slava Ukraini!” [Glory to Ukraine – ed.] from his balcony.

Oleksandr says that certain expressions would trigger the occupiers. Calling Russian soldiers “orcs” could get you beaten up.

Prison rules

Prisoners say that surveillance cameras monitored the cells round-the-clock. Each morning started with the overseers banging on the cell doors to wake their inmates up, shouting “Good morning fascists!” or “How are you doing, you fascists?”

By five in the morning the prisoners were required to sit on the chairs in their cells. Around eight or nine there was a shift change; the Russian military personnel interrogated and tortured their prisoners for the next nine hours, wrapping up by around five in the afternoon. Two hours later prisoners were fed and given some time to use the toilets; they could ask for permission to dispose of their waste during this time. Then lights out. People were rarely tortured at night.

Prisoners went to great lengths to try and figure out what time of the day it was; the lack of windows and the glare of relentless, round-the-clock lighting left them totally disoriented. They relied on the sound of passing vehicles: during the day there were many vehicles on the road, and during the night it was quiet.

Sometimes when an overseer brought them water or food the inmates would ask what time it was, though Denys said that sometimes the Russian military personnel would mock them, telling them to “use the sun” to find their bearings. These overseers – the so-called “curators” – would greet the inmates with foul language.

“They would enter the cells and said things like ‘Are you still alive, old piece of s**t?’ Once one of them kicked my cellmate with his foot, then asked him if he was hungry. Brought him canned meat and water. This was impossible to wrap your head around: one moment they try to break your fingers and the next they give you a meal and a spoon. It’s one and the same person, but their disposition completely transforms,” Oleksandr says, still baffled.

Prisoners carved marks into the walls of their cells to keep track of the passing days.

Counting the days spent in the torture chamber. Photo: Kherson. War Without Fakes Telegram channel 

“Breifings” were given whenever a new inmate was locked up in their cell. According to one of those rules, prisoners had to put an opaque bag over their head each time the so-called “curators” entered the cell; the bag could only be removed once the curators left and locked the cell door. Disobedience was punished.

“When they came to your cell they would bang on the door and shout: ‘Put your hats on!’ So you put the bag on. They found this entertaining,” Oleksandr says.

Former prisoners say that heating pipes ran between adjacent cells, and gaps in the walls allowed people in those cells to communicate, to ask their neighbour for small favours, like sharing their water or bread. However, the people Ukrainska Pravda spoke with say that this was very risky: the Russians could come any moment and punish them for the infraction.

Viktor recalls that early on, prisoners were forbidden to talk even to their cellmates.

“They said we couldn’t talk to each other and if the camera catches us doing it we’ll get our feet burnt,” he says. 

Sleep was strictly regulated, too. Prisoners were forced to sit on a chair and were not allowed to lay down to sleep.

“Those who were imprisoned early on would tell all the new arrivals to take every opportunity to sleep. So as we sat we tried to close our eyes whenever we could to steal a little sleep,” Oleksandr says.

Prisoners were subject to varying degrees of restriction on their freedom of movement depending on the charges levelled at them. Some people were chained, others had cable ties on their hands, others still were handcuffed. They only moved about if they could avoid being caught on surveillance cameras.

“If you move about too much, they’d come to your cell to bring you to your senses by kicking you in the back or in the legs with a bat,” Oleksandr recalls.

Photo on the left: Security Service of Ukraine on Telegram. The radiator that some prisoners were chained to. Photo on the right: Kherson. War Without Fakes Telegram channel. The cable tie used to bind one of the prisoner’s hands

Prisoners’ “diet”

Prisoners were fed once a day, unless they were being deliberately starved. The longest all 22 prisoners had to go without food was the seven days when the Russian overseers forgot about their prisoners against the backdrop of intensifying Ukrainian attacks.

“If they were in a good mood, they could give you food when they saw you. If they were in a bad mood, for example because of attacks or problems with their superiors, they didn’t feed the prisoners,” Viktor explains.

Some prisoners simply refused to eat. They say that after listening to people screaming in pain while being tortured they couldn’t really eat; they were in a state of constant shock. Other, physiological, considerations also led people to stop eating.

“People wouldn’t be allowed to use the toilet for weeks. Given the circumstances, I tried to eat as little as possible. When they asked if I was fed I said I ate two days ago. I just drank water. I was only given food twice in two weeks,” Oleksandr says.

Former prisoners say that the only food they were given was Russian canned meat, one tin split between two people. It stank of dog food. The tins had sharp edges, so the “curators” would hover over the prisoners while they ate, to prevent them from slitting their wrists. Viktor recalls that people’s shoe laces were confiscated, too [to prevent them from hanging themselves – ed.]. Several prisoners were given plastic plates and cutlery during their first days; they were not replaced for the entire duration of their imprisonment.

For a long time, prisoners were only given canned meat, though in late September they would sometimes get buckwheat porridge – unseasoned but hot, allowing prisoners to feel a little warmth. A week before they were released, prisoners were given some noodles, which they say looked like a gluey piece of dough.

“There were issues with water. Sometimes they would give us non-potable water from the heating system with some weird stuff floating in it. They’d throw us a vessel of some sorts and tell us to drink. We tried using our t-shirts and some rags to filter the water. My survival skills from travelling came in handy,” Oleksandr says.

Sometimes prisoners would be left without water for 36 hours. They would normally be given water every other day.

“When I was in the cell on my own, they wouldn’t give me a bottle of water: a guard would come in and put a bottle straight to my mouth so I could drink. Later on they’d just leave a bottle in our cell,” Viktor recalls.

Hierarchy: from FSB officers to traitors

The torture chamber on Pylyp Orlyk Street had its own hierarchy. The FSB was presiding over everything. Oleksandr was polygraphed for three hours by FSB officers who said they were from the Russian city of Tyumen.

Investigator who questioned Oleksandr was about thirty years old and even communicated politely, pretending that he was a dignified “officer”.

“I don’t use obscene language, I don’t use physical force, but if a person doesn’t want to cooperate, there are people who will be glad to do it,” the FSB investigator told Oleksandr, implying that his escorts would do anything at his command.

All the dirty work, including physical pressure, beatings, abuse — all this was done by the lowest ranks. Some of the escorts were from the occupied territories of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and some were local Kherson people who, according to Oleksandr, once worked in prisons.

“There were our guys from Kherson who worked in the pre-trial detention centre or in the zone, you could hear our ‘h’ [sound – ed.] in conversations, albeit they were speaking in Russian,” recalls Oleksandr.

He says that they navigated the city extremely well and quickly, knew the addresses and districts well, went to the site instantly, and the eight men, including Denys, were found within a few hours.

Often Kherson torturers, who were on a “probation period”, behaved more cruelly than Russian conscripts, who did not have to prove themselves.

Oleksandr said that if collaborators from Kherson showed loyalty to the prisoners, then they would soon become prisoners themselves. Often the torturers said where they were from.

“You can hear ‘sho’ [a way in which some Ukrainians say Ukrainian ‘shcho’ or Russian ‘chto’, meaning ‘what?’ – ed.], and they themselves said that some are from Crimea, and others from Donetsk. This is revenge. captured woman shouted that they are animals, but they did not deny it, they even claimed and said to us that we made them like that, they said, we bombed Donbas for 8 years,” Viktor notes.

Letter from the Prostokvashino cartoon 

“Beating or using an electric current is an effective factor that affects the outcome of the conversation. person says something that didn’t even happen, comes up with anythingjust to stop it,” Oleksandr says.

Usually there were 5-6 people in the torture room. Oleksandr said that the prisoners did not see their torturers, sensing the presence of people only by their voices and movements, because the prisoners were not allowed to remove bags and packages from their heads. The escorts could give instructions: “Let’s go down to the wall!”, because the prisoner did not understand where he was being taken.

“I myself asked to be told where to go: left-right-stairs, because you stumble, trip over, fall. I went to the right. They sat me down. I sat on a chair. You realise that someone is sitting in front of you. There seems to be someone on either side of them: one, two, three. Everyone tried to give a push, to hit you,” says Oleksandr.

According to him, the interrogations were conducted by investigators who were Russian. They didn’t even hide their faces, they didn’t wear face scarves or balaclavas, unlike the escorts who brought food or beat them. Kherson torturers were afraid that they would be recognised.

“They took turns to ask the same question. It was like a letter from the cartoon Prostokvashino [a cult Soviet cartoon “Three from Prostokvashino” – ed.]. One asked questions, wrote something down, and left. After 5-7 minutes, another comes and asks the same question. I say that the answer is the same. He writes anyway. Then the third one comes,” Oleksandr says.

According to Viktor, if the prisoner stops answering questions or starts saying the first thing that comes to mind, then they electrocute you even harder.

“You can’t answer anything, because you don’t have enough time to think, and you can’t concentrate because of the pain. And they quickly ask questions, and there are a lot of these questions,” he says.

The prisoners unanimously claim that the investigators did not allow them to read the protocol, they signed it blindly. And under each document, they had to write in their own hand that “measures of physical or psychological influence were not applied” and “I have no complaints.”

The way to freedom

Viktor and Denys say that at the end of September, the FSB intended to send them to Ukraine-controlled territory as saboteurs. They planned to take the prisoners’ relatives in the city of Kherson captive if they refused to comply with the order. The FSB reversed the decision at the last moment.

The captives claim that before being released, they were forced to sign a document stating that “I do not change my political views.” And at the end, to add the inscription “Glory to the nation” or “Glory to Ukraine” written in their own hand.

“When they let us out, they said that we were going to be shot. They promised that they would blow up the car with a grenade, and instead of a grenade, a Russian soldier threw a firecracker to scare us,” says Denys.

People were taken to a field of apple orchards near the settlement of Dniprovske. When the former prisoners were released, they were ordered to walk to Mykolaiv, and threatened with death if they returned to Kherson.

Taking into account the fact that half of the people were dressed in warm Ukrainian Armed Forces overcoats, the prisoners came to the conclusion that this was a provocation by the Russian military with the aim of shooting them at the checkpoints. They took a roll call and it turned out that they released 19 prisoners, while one was taken to Skadovsk, as it became known later, on charges of involvement in the Pravyi Sektor [“Right Sector”, a Ukrainian nationalist organisation – ed.].

“As I remember now, there were apple orchards where there were still apples left on the trees. And everyone threw themselves at those apples. Because they were insanely hungry,” Victor recalls.

He was returned to the city by an ambulance, his condition was extremely serious, he lost consciousness. A passerby saved his life. He was taken to a hospital in Bilozerka, and later to a hospital in Stepanivka, where he was put on drips for 5 days.

Denys, together with his friend and classmate Danilo, as well as his cellmate Viktoria stayed with the residents of the nearest village.

“They fed us, changed our clothes and gave us 200 hryvnias. Our Ukrainians are very kind,” says Denys.

Given their lack of documents, the group came up with the idea of boarding the bus one person at a time to get lost in the crowd.

Despite the warning, all the prisoners decided to return to Kherson, where they waited for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the liberation of the city from the terror of the Russian occupiers. Only then did the former prisoners tell their stories.

Elina Konovaliuk for Ukrainska Pravda. Zhyttia 

Translation: Myroslava Zavadska, Olya Loza, Anton Strii, Artem Yakymyshyn and Theodore Holmes

Editing: Susan McDonald

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  1. Many more cockroaches should be issued arrest warrants for war crimes! Thousands…

    • Just from what we do know, the arrest warrants would number in the tens of thousands for those that took part in the horrific atrocities that have been detailed.

  2. Every Russian invader that directed or expedited rape, torture or murder must be hunted down, tortured and killed.

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