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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

"Better If They Shot Me" — New Details Revealed Of Russian Torture Of Civilians

Testimonies have been gathered from victims who had been detained by the Russian military near Kyiv in the early weeks of the war. Some were held in a pit, others had their hands beaten with hammer, others with an axe and rifle butt. Some never made it out alive.

Covered by flowers graves of soldiers who died defending Ukraine at the cemetery of Bucha, near Kyiv.

Fresh graves of servicemen who died defending Ukraine from Russian invaders at the cemetery of Bucha, Kyiv Region.

Irina Dolina

KYIV — In the early days of the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military moved quickly to the outskirts of Kyiv and began conducting searches and arrests there. Residents of three settlements — Dymera, Kozarovichi, and Katyuzhanka — have recounted to human rights activists in recent months how they had been detained, beaten, and tortured during the occupation.

These testimonies have formed the basis of the report "Unlawful Confinement and Torture in Dymer, Kozarovychi, and Katyuzhanka in Ukraine," released together by three human rights organizations, the International Partnership for Human Rights, Truth Hounds, and Global Diligence.

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Russian-language media Vazhnyye Istorii reports some of the most heinous parts of the findings (the names of the victims have been changed).


Here are excerpts of those testimonies.


Blindfolded with no bathroom

An employee of the Irpen Dam, Vladyslav, 29, was hiding in a cellar in Kozarovichi with his parents and younger brother in early March when Russian soldiers came to their house. They started to search the house and check their phones. They found a photo of the dam, which he had taken before the war began. They took his phone and documents, did not give them back, put a bag on his head, and took him away from the house.

Vladyslav was beaten severely: they threw him to the ground, hit his face, and demanded he admit that he was a spotter, i.e., that he reported the location of the occupants to the Ukrainian army. He denied the accusations.

For about seven to ten days, he was held in a warehouse on the outskirts of Kozarovichi. In a room one and a half meters wide and six to seven meters long, there were 10 people, mostly his fellow villagers. People could not lie down with their legs stretched out. The room was dark and freezing, and everyone had a cold. The occupants forbade them to talk to each other.

The Russian military did not let the detainees go to the bathroom: "Sometimes the guys would go under themselves. When this happened, the Russians didn't react at all. It quickly began to stink because the carpet was soaked with urine. They gave us a bucket for the toilet at the end of our stay. I asked to go to the bathroom three or four times, but I only went once ... All the time, we were tied up and blindfolded. By the end of my stay there, I stretched my bound hands forward because I couldn't stand it anymore.”

Hands beaten with a hammer

The prisoners were hardly fed. “The Russians gave water in a cork bottle or a mug and let you take a sip or two so that you didn't drink too much. I drank water three or four times during the entire time there, one or two sips at a time. They probably gave me food more often, but I only got waffles, although there were days when they didn't give me anything.”

The military took the detainees for interrogations. They tortured Vladyslav again during the interrogation and beat him with a hammer on his fingers because they found a couple of photos of Russian equipment on his phone. "He [a Russian] threw me on the ground, started asking who I worked for, and beat me after each question, without waiting for an answer, hitting my face. I was confused, and didn’t understand what he wanted from me.

After the blows, I felt my teeth crack. He asked about the "relatives of the Ukrainian soldiers" and so on. I said I didn't know. Then he kicked me, threw me on my back again, and started kicking me, and I tried to cover my body and face. He took my hands, which were tied... and began to beat my fingers. He threatened to cut my wrists. He hit my head hard, and I started screaming because it felt like my head would explode."

"Then I heard a gun coming from nearby, and he ran out for a minute. I stayed down, moved the bag from my eyes, and saw a puddle of blood and battered hands. He came back, picked me up, quickly dragged me to the cell, and threw me inside."

Other prisoners interviewed by human rights activists recalled the brutal beating and torture of the "dam worker."

Accused of espionage

Another prisoner held at the Kozarovichi depot was 60-year-old Aleksandr. The Russian military accused him of espionage for a text message sent to his brother in America, in which he reported that a Russian military unit had entered Kozarovichi.

He described the same conditions as Vladyslav - crowded conditions, lack of food and water, and the military's refusal to take prisoners to the bathroom. His hands were permanently tied during captivity, and his eyes were taped shut.

After a few days, the prisoners were transported to a foundry in Dymer. "One of the Russian soldiers explained this by saying, 'if we are left here, the special forces will kill us,'" Vladyslav recalls.

Natalia, 64, was captured by the Russian military on March 20 after finding her son's old quadcopter drone. She said her son had been using it to shoot video, but by then, it had been lying broken in the garage for five years.

"One of the Russians said that they use these drones to give coordinates to the Ukrainian army and kill their guys," Natalia recalls. They took her along with a neighbor who happened to walk into the yard at that moment. Natalia begged the military to let her go.

Together with the neighbor, they were brought to the factory in Dymer, which the locals call the foundry (where they produce profiles for plastic windows). Natalya got hysterical while in captivity and asked the soldiers for her medicine for her blood pressure, but they refused.

Compressor room of the "Foundry" in Dymer

Vazhnyye Istorii

Better off shot

According to several prisoners, 65-year-old Bogdan and his 43-year-old son Denis were severely tortured. They were accused of carrying weapons. "They beat them all the time, broke ribs, hands, legs."

"The first day, I was beaten so badly I couldn't stand up,” tells Bogdan. “Every time they hit me, they asked where the weapon was. My son's upper jaw was completely knocked out. I already thought it would be better if they shot me than tortured me like that."

At different times in the compressor room of the foundry, there were from 22 to 43 people. According to the prisoners, there were people from Dymer and all nearby villages: Ivanovka, Kozarovichi, and Litvinovka. There was less than a square meter per detainee. There were barrels instead of toilets. The room had no windows, and the captives were always blindfolded. The only access to air and light was through cracks in the doors.

Huddled together

The prisoners slept on thin, dirty mattresses on the floor, huddled together to keep themselves warm in their sleep. There were few mattresses, so many slept on the concrete. According to one of the prisoners, one could only sleep on the floor for a couple of hours. Otherwise, it got too cold.

Sometimes the temperature in the room dropped to minus 12 degrees Celsius. They drank dirty water from a barrel. They sometimes brought soup in a bucket and sometimes porridge, which made detainees sick, but they were not given any medication. There were only a few spoons for everybody, and many had to eat with their hands.

Andriy, 52, was taken prisoner by Russian soldiers after a search of his house. The soldiers were looking for money, thinking he was cashing in by distributing humanitarian aid. During his captivity, one of the soldiers led him out for questioning: "He shot several times near my ear and asked if [I was] scared. I replied that I couldn't hear in that ear, and he said: "Bitch, you fucked up here, too..."

He hit me in the chest with the butt of his assault rifle, right in the middle. He asked about the army's positions, telling me that he knew everything about me, that I had been 'on the other side [for humanitarian aid] and therefore must know about the positions. I said I did not go to the military, but he did not believe me.

NKVD firing squad threats, teeth knocked out

According to Andriy and another detainee, this same serviceman repeatedly referred to the NKVD (the much feared former Soviet interior ministry) while yelling at the prisoners. One evening the Russians were celebrating something, drinking. The Russian serviceman came into the room with the prisoners and shouted: "Now it's going to be like the NKVD, bitch, who wants to go to the firing squad first?" Then he shot several times, and one of the bullets hit a barrel the detainees were using as a toilet - urine started flowing out of it. After the shots were fired, he asked: "Why don't you say anything?" and left.

Dmytro, 73, and his wife had been living in the basement for a month since the start of Dymer's occupation. On March 28, his wife asked him to go to the Red Cross to get medicine. On the way, he was detained by Russian soldiers.

"They told me: 'Take off your clothes.' I undressed. They asked, 'Why are you looking around?'" I said, "I'm going home to my wife," Dmytro recalls.

"I couldn't even get up when he hit me in the face with the butt of his gun. He knocked out my teeth and broke my lower jaw. They put a hat over my eyes, tied it with duct tape, tied up my mouth and nose with tape, lifted me [from my knees], took me into the store, put me on a crate, and tied my legs together. I sat there for 24 hours.”

A prisoner's pit in the forest near Katyuzhanka

Vazhnyye Istorii

Dumped in a pit

A day later, the Russian military took Dmytro and other detained Ukrainians to a dugout in the woods. Another day later, they were taken to a pit in Katyuzhanka. There were from eight to 13 civilians in the hole.

The pit was nine square meters in area and about two to two and a half meters deep. The prisoners were tied and blindfolded. One of them had scars on his hands from the ties four months after his release. There was no food or water. "It was cold in the pit; we were sitting on the wet sand. There were soldiers sitting upstairs, drinking. They said that they had come to change [our] government: 'You could negotiate with (former President Petro) Poroshenko and (former President Viktor) Yanukovych, but not with this one. "

Among those detained in the pit were two brothers: Ilya, 45, and Yegor, 37. The Russian military took them prisoners, thinking they were spies.

"They took us out of the car and started beating my brother and me," Ilya recalls. “One of them asked why we were aiming artillery, although we weren't aiming anything. They beat my brother with an axe. [...] One of the Russians told us [while we were in the pit] that some of us would go home, and they would take some with them. He said that they wouldn't let my brother go because he was supposedly a gunner, and they still had to think about me because I have a small child.“

On March 31, all prisoners were taken to a private house. The military told them not to leave the house until morning. When leaving, they took several detainees with them. One of them was Ilya's brother. There has been no information about him since

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