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Ukraine

Tortured In Kiev: A Maidan Activist's Brutal Account

And Igor Luzenko is the lucky one. The other activist with whom he was abducted, beaten and interrogated didn't make it home alive.

Police take charge in Kiev
Police take charge in Kiev
Julia Smirnova

KIEV — Igor Luzenko was still very weak. He was lying in a private hospital in Kiev with an IV drip attached to his arm. His mother had made him tea sweetened with honey, and someone else had brought some homemade apple pie. On the table next to his bed was a letter from his young daughter and the English-language book Why Nations Fail about the role of political institutions in the wealth and development of nations.

The 35-year-old Maidan activist has blue eyes, and was speaking with a slight lisp – but that was because one of his teeth was knocked out. The length of his right arm is also completely blue from bruising, and his injured legs make it difficult to walk. But he and his family are happy that he’s alive.

One week ago, Luzenko and another man, Yuri Werbizki, were abducted. And Werbizki is now counted as one of the four casualties registered at the Kiev demonstrations whose names are known.

"I heard they needed cars to drive injured folks to the hospital, and gave them my number," Luzenko recalls. Late at night last Tuesday he was asked if he could bring a man from the Maidan to the doctor. The man was Yuri Werbizki; he had an eye injury. Around 4 a.m. the two men were at Octyabrskaya hospital in the capital. An eye specialist was examining Werbizki when Luzenko, who was waiting just outside the consultation room, noticed two powerfully-built men glaring suspiciously at him. They asked him if he and the man being examined were the ones who had just arrived.

Luzenko says he then used his cell phone to call a friend. "I thought the men would wait around for us outside, then attack and beat us up. I didn’t know that they wanted to grab us right there in the hospital."

"Like prisoners of war"

About five minutes later, seven to 10 men arrived, hit Luzenko over the head, and hurriedly carried him and Werbizki to a minibus. When Luzenko‘s friend arrived by car he saw a minibus and two hospital vans driving off.

"They were very professional," Luzenko says. "In the bus they held our heads and hands down."

A half-hour later they were in the woods somewhere. The two men were forced to their knees and beaten. "We were interrogated like prisoners of war. The abductors asked: Who are you? What were you doing on the Maidan? How much money are they paying you?"

When they learned that Werbizki was from Lviv, they dragged Luzenko some 10 meters away and let him alone for a while, guarded by two men. "They spent most of the time interrogating Yuri and they hit him particularly ferociously because he was from western Ukraine. They then moved on to me, but I could tell that they’d already vented most of their rage on Yuri."

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Luzenko in the hospital a week after his abduction (photo: Julia Smirnova)

The interrogation lasted somewhere between 40 and 90 minutes, he estimates. Then they were carried back to the minibus. "Yuri barely moved, just a little bit towards the end of the drive," Luzenko says.

The drive lasted around 20 minutes after which they were carried inside. The men put a bag over Luzenko’s head and bound his hands and feet with duct tape. He thinks the room was a garage because although he couldn’t see anything he could feel metal flooring and could hear a slide-down door. Then the interrogation started again. "They laid me down on my left side and beat me on my right side, sometimes with a wooden stick and sometimes with a metal rod," he says.

That lasted for about a half an hour. The same questions were asked again. Who was financing the Maidan demonstrations? What were the protesters’ plans? What exactly was the Automaidan movement? What was the Right Sector? "But they were interrogating us to put pressure on us, not really to get information," says Luzenko. The same thing was going on with Werbizki in a neighboring space: he could hear him screaming.

After the first round of torture, Luzenko lay on the floor for four to six hours. A man guarding him said several times: "You won’t be here for long, we’re going to take you to the police station soon."

Luzenko remembered that the previous day he’d heard that unknown abductors were driving off with demonstrators, beating them, then delivering them to the police. Except that in his case they didn’t turn him over to the police; there was a second round of beatings instead. "Then they set someone down beside me, maybe it was Yuri." They soon took the person away, however.

Anger spreads

The wounded Luzenko lay on the metal floor for a further one and a half hours before being dragged away to a car and dropped off at the edge of a forest. They forced him to his knees by a tree, saying: "Pray if you want to." And then, without a sound, they disappeared. He was subsequently able to make it on foot to a settlement of dachas less than a kilometer away.

It took Luzenko, who had leg injuries, nearly two hours to cover the distance. "It was tough to walk without fainting," he says. He sang to keep his courage up.

Werbizki had also been delivered to the forest’s edge, but was too injured to be able to stand. He died of hypothermia around 6 a.m. His body was found the next day.

Both cases are now being investigated, but Luzenko doubts the abductors will be found. "There’s a good chance they were from eastern Ukraine and connected either to the militia or the secret service," he ventures. The guards spoke Ukrainian but the bosses were speaking Russian, which is why he believes they came from the Eastern, Russian-speaking part of the country.

What happened to him makes Luzenko doubtful about the perspectives for conflict resolution in Ukraine. "The politicians think this is just about negotiating, but the reality is that it’s a terror campaign against individual citizens."

It is cases of violence such as this that are fueling Ukrainians anger, and bringing them out onto the streets. Many doubt that the powers-that-be really mean it when they say they are seeking peaceful resolution. Over the last few days, there were many similar reports of people being taken into custody and beaten by police. A video showing police abusing a naked demonstrator has caused outrage.

According to volunteers with the Euromaidan SOS association, which is gathering information about those arrested and missing, as of this week, 22 activists were missing in Ukraine. One of the founders of the Automaidan movement has been listed as missing since last Wednesday.

Even people the police merely suspect of being linked to demonstrators are being arrested. "On Sunday in Kiev, people were being arrested because they bought large quantities of food in supermarkets or car tires were found in their car trunks," says Alissa Novitshkova, a Euromaidan SOS coordinator.

There have been many cases in which the injured were arrested in hospitals; even people in critical condition have been dragged into the courtroom, she says. What such incidents do is make people who are not otherwise radical angry at the police and their unofficial accomplices.

"The hate for these people is so great that if there really is a transfer of power, prison would be the only place for them," says Luzenko.

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