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Harrowing accounts of Ukrainians who were detained, questioned and tortured by Russian troops near Kyiv
After entering Kyiv, Russian soldiers detained locals, and held them prisoner for days, while violently beating and torturing them using hammers, axes and gunstocks
Date
03 Oct 2022
Harrowing accounts of Ukrainians who were detained, questioned and tortured by Russian troops near Kyiv
PHOTO: ALESSANDRA PRENTICE / REUTERS / SCANPIX / LETA

Within days after the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian army reached Kyiv and started searching houses and detaining locals. People from three communities — Dymera, Kozarovichi, and Katyuzhanka — revealed to human rights activists harrowing stories about detentions, beatings, and torture during the occupation. The report "Unlawful confinement and torture in Dymer, Kozarovichi, and Katyuzhanka, Ukraine," released by three human rights organizations, the International Partnership for Human Rights, Truth Hounds and Global Diligence LLP, was based on those testimonies. 

IStories summarized the most shocking parts of this report. (The names of the people involved have been changed).

"I felt my teeth crumble"

Vladislav, 29, who worked at the Irpen dam, was hiding in a cellar in Kozarovichi with his parents and younger brother in early March when Russian soldiers entered their house. They started to search the house and check mobile phones. They found a photo of the dam, which Vladislav had taken before the war. They took his phone and documents, which he never got back, put a bag on his head, and took him out of the house. 

Vladislav was violently beaten: they threw him to the ground, punched his face, and demanded he admit that he was a tipster, i.e., that he relayed information about the location of the occupants to the Ukrainian army. He denied the accusations. 

He was detained in a warehouse belonging to a company called "Sprinter K" on the outskirts of Kozarovichi for 7-10 days. There were about ten people, mostly from his village, held in a room that was one and a half meters wide and six to seven meters long, he recalls. They could not lie down and stretch out their legs. The room was dark, very cold, and everyone got sick. The occupants didn’t let them talk to each other.

Russian soldiers wouldn't let the detainees go to the bathroom: "Sometimes the guys would wet themselves. When this happened, the Russians didn't react at all. It quickly started to stink, because the carpet was soaked with urine. They only put a toilet bucket at the end of our time there. I asked to go to the bathroom three or four times, but I only went once. <...> Throughout this whole time we were tied up and blindfolded. By the end, I managed to stretch my tied-up hands in front of me because I couldn't stand it anymore.” 

Prisoners barely got any food: "The Russians gave us water in a bottle cap or in a mug, only let us take a sip or two so that we 'wouldn't drink too much.' I got to drink water three or four times over the entire time there, one-two sips at a time. They probably fed us more often than that, but I only got wafers, although there were days when they didn't give us anything at all.” 

The military took the detainees out for interrogations. While interrogated about a few photos of Russian equipment found on his phone, Vladislav was tortured again, his fingers beaten with a hammer. "He [a Russian] threw me on the ground, started asking who I worked for, and beat me, hit my face, after each question without waiting for an answer. I was confused, I couldn't understand what it was that he wanted from me. After he beat me I felt my teeth crumble. He asked about any "relatives-members of AFU" and so on. I said I didn't know. Then he kicked me, threw me on my back again and started kicking me, I tried to cover my body and face. He took my hands, which were tied... and started hitting my fingers. He threatened to cut my wrists. He hit me hard on the head and I started screaming because it felt like my head was going to explode. Then I heard a bomb noise coming from somewhere nearby, he ran out for a minute. I stayed on my back, moved the bag away from my eyes, saw a puddle of blood and my destroyed hands. He came back, picked me up, quickly dragged me to the cell and threw me inside." 

Other prisoners interviewed by human rights activists remembered the "dam worker” being brutally beaten and tortured.

Later, members of the military told Vladislav that he was beaten up by a "special forces" soldier, "because many of his friends died as a result of the shelling of ‘gravesites’ positions" in late February and early March (the Russian soldiers were stationed at the cemetery between Kozarovichi and Hlebovka). 

60-year-old Aleksandr was also held prisoner in a warehouse in Kozarovichi. The Russian military accused him of espionage after finding a text message he had sent to his brother in America, in which he reported that a Russian military unit had entered Kozarovichi. His testimony was similar to Vladislav's: crowded rooms, barely any food or water, and the military refusing to take prisoners to the bathroom. The entire time his hands were permanently tied and his eyes were taped shut with duct tape.

Within a few days, the prisoners were moved to another place, a factory or "Foundry" in Dymere. "One of the Russian soldiers said that 'had we been left here, the special forces would have killed us,'" Vladislav recalls. 

"I thought: I'd rather be shot"

Natalia, 64, was captured by the Russian military on March 20th after they found her son's old quadcopter. She says her son had been using it to shoot videos, but by the time Russians found it it had been lying broken in the garage for five years. "One of the Russians said these drones are used to provide coordinates to the AFU and kill their guys," Natalia recalls. They took her along with her neighbor, who happened to walk into the yard at that moment. Natalya begged the soldiers to let her go. She and the neighbor were taken to the "Viknaland" factory in Dymer, known among locals as the "Foundry" (where plastic window profiles are produced). Natalya had a breakdown while in captivity and asked the soldiers for her blood pressure pills, but they refused. She herself wasn't beaten at the "Foundry," but she could hear other detainees being tortured. 

Several prisoners' testimonies mention 65-year-old Bogdan and his 43-year-old son Denis, who were tortured particularly violently. Both were accused of carrying weapons. "They tied my hands behind my back, put a hood over my head, and wrapped duct tape around the hood. They hit me with their hands while detaining me, and after taking me to the location they hit me in the knees with a gunstock, broke my toes and repeatedly hit me in the ribs. They also took me outside to be shot, but one Russian told them not to and they took me back," says Bogdan. "On the first day they beat me up so bad I couldn't stand up. They also beat me with tasers. In the compressor room they beat me for three days in a row, three times a day. There was a separate room for it in there. They used their feet, hands, gunstocks, tasers. Every time they hit me, they asked where the weapons were. My son's upper jaw was completely knocked out of place. They beat us together, they shot my son with a gun just above the ear (first they'd point the gun at the forehead and then they'd shoot in front of the ear), then they took my hood off, beat my son in front of me and said, “Don't you feel sorry for your son?" They did the same thing to my son afterwards." Bogdan says his leg and ribs were broken as a result of torture: "At some point I thought I'd rather be shot dead than tortured like that."

The compressor room of the "Foundry" in Dymer
The compressor room of the "Foundry" in Dymer

At various times, between 22 and 43 people were held in the compressor room of the "Foundry." And those weren't just people from Dymer. According to prisoners' testimonies, detainees also came from other nearby villages: Ivanovka, Kozarovichi, Litvinovka. Each detainee got less than one square meter of space. Barrels were placed to serve as toilets. There were no windows in the room, the captives stayed blindfolded all the time. Slits in the doors were the only source of air and light.

He shot near my ear several times and asked me if I was scared. I replied that I couldn't hear with that ear, and he said: "Bitch, you messed with me here too."
Excerpts from testimonies of civilians in the Kyiv region held captive by the Russian army

The captives slept on thin dirty mattresses that were simply thrown on the floor, huddling together to keep warm in their sleep. There weren't enough mattresses, so many slept on the concrete floor. One prisoner said that it was impossible to sleep on the floor for longer than a couple of hours, it simply got too cold. Sometimes the temperature in the room dropped to -12 degrees Celsius. They drank dirty water from a barrel. To feed the detainees, they sometimes brought a bucket of soup or porridge, which once gave all of them food poisoning, but they received no treatment for it. There was no cutlery, only a few spoons for everybody, so many had to eat with their hands. 

Andrei, 52, was taken prisoner by the Russian army after they searched his house. The soldiers were looking for money, thinking that he was earning some from delivering humanitarian aid. During his time as a captive at the "Foundry," one of the soldiers took Andrei for questioning: "He shot near my ear several times and asked me if I was scared. I replied that I couldn't hear with that ear, and he said: "Bitch, you messed with me here too." He hit me in the chest with the stock of his assault rifle, right in the middle. He questioned me about the AFU military positions, telling me that he knew everything about me, that I had been “to the other side” [to collect humanitarian aid] and therefore I must know about the positions. I said that I never got to where the military was stationed, but he wouldn't believe me.” 

The same soldier, according to Andrei and another detainee, mentioned the NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the Soviet secret police) on several occasions, when shouting at the prisoners. One evening the Russians were celebrating something and drinking. A Russian serviceman came into the room where the prisoners were and shouted: "It's about to become like the NKVD, bitch, who wants to go be executed first?" Then he fired a few times, and one of the bullets hit a barrel that the detainees were using as a toilet and urine started pouring out of it. After the shots were fired, he asked: "Why aren't you saying anything?" — and then he left.

"You could negotiate with Poroshenko and Yanukovych, but not with this one"

73-year-old Dmytro and his wife lived in their basement for a month after Dymera was occupied and never went out. On March 28 his wife asked him to go to the Red Cross to get medicine. On the way there Russian soldiers detained him.

"They told me: 'Take off your clothes.' I got undressed. They asked, 'Why are you looking around?'" I said, "I just looked around, I'm going home to my wife," Dmitry recalls. "One of them tells me: "Get down on your knees." I didn't even have time to get up before he hit me in the face with his gunstock. He knocked out my teeth and broke my lower jaw. They put a hat over my eyes, secured it with duct tape, taped my mouth and nose too, lifted me up [from my knees], took me into a shop, put me on a crate and tied my legs together. For 24 hours I just sat there.” 

The next day Russian soldiers took Dmitry and other detained Ukrainians to a dug-out in the woods. The day after, they moved them to a pit in Katyuzhanka. There were between eight and 13 civilians in that pit.

The pit in the forest near Katyuzhanka where prisoners were taken
The pit in the forest near Katyuzhanka where prisoners were taken

The nine square meters pit was about two and a half meters deep. Their hands were tied and they were blindfolded. One of them still had scars on his hands from the ties four months after being released. No one received any water or food. The soldiers said that if they wanted to go to the bathroom, they had to dig a hole. Dmitry and others got bedsores from sitting in the same place for two days. He said: "The pit was cold, we were sitting on wet sand. The soldiers were upstairs, drinking. They said that they had come to change [our] government: 'You could negotiate with Poroshenko and Yanukovych, but not with this one." 

Two brothers, 45-year-old Ilya and 37-year-old Yegor, were also detained in the pit. Russian soldiers took them, suspecting they were spotters. "They pulled us out of the car and started beating me and my brother," Ilya recalls. "One of them asked why we aimed artillery, although we didn't aim anything. They hit me on the head with a gunstock and hit my leg, too, I ended up with an open fracture. My brother was also beaten with the bottom part of an axe. <...> One of the Russians told us [while we were in the pit] that some of us would go home, but they would take some to Gostomel with them. He said that they wouldn't let my brother go because he was supposedly a spotter and that they still had to decide about me because I had a small child." 

The soldiers took some people out of the pit for interrogations and beat them. On March 31, all prisoners were taken to a private house. They put a splint on Ilya's broken leg and gave him a stick. The military told them not to leave the house until the next morning. Allegedly, they hung a grenade on the door and only removed it in the morning, before retreating from the city. They took a few people with them, including Ilya's brother. His fate remains unknown.

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