Torture in Captivity
Balakliya district resident Anatoliy Tutov has described to journalists from Dani-Info, a local media outlet, what happened during his detention when Russia occupied the Balakliya district (Kharkiv Region). A businessman, Anatoliy served as a deputy on the Balakliya district council: first, he stood for the All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Freedom); latterly he was elected as a candidate of the Ukrainian Association of Patriots or ‘UKROP’ (dillweed, to use its nickname).
Relatives needed regular medical care, so he and his wife could not leave them behind and remained in Balakliya (26,334; 2022 est.). For the first few months the invaders left Anatoliy and his family alone. In August, however, they came to pick him up. According to Anatoliy, the men were fighters of the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”. They searched his apartment, found and seized his savings, and then asked if he could guess why they were arresting him? “Because I belonged to the ‘Dillweed’ Party, apparently,” he replied.
Arrest and detention
After his unlawful arrest, Anatoliy says, he was given a vicious beating. The first day he was kicked, punched and hit with rods. When the disfigured businessman was brought back to the cell, the other prisoners tried to cheer him up: their captors would probably leave him alone the next day. However, Anatoliy was beaten up the following day, as well. His entire body, he recalls, was one big bruise. The ‘interrogations’ were conducted, he believes, by men from Ingushetia: they looked and talked like people from the small North Caucasian republic.
The first two times Anatoliy was ‘interrogated’, his tormentors asked him nothing — they just threatened and beat him. A uniformed soldier appeared at the third interrogation. He also looked like a North Caucasian but spoke with a pure Russian accent [Chechen, tr.]. He asked Anatoliy about the ‘Nazis’, his former Ukrop Party colleagues, and about life in general.
Then the soldier showed Anatoliy a photograph in which he could be seen, attending a funeral mass for those killed during the February 2014 Revolution of Dignity: Anatoliy was an organiser of the Euromaidan Protest, the soldier said accusingly, in Kyiv and elsewhere. The photos were taken, Anatoliy knew, by former policeman Oleg Kalaida, a turncoat who later joined the enemy.
If Anatoliy was silent or did not answer their questions, they beat and threatened him: they fired a hunting rifle next to him, put a knife to his throat and said they’d skin him alive.
Threats and torture
Those unlawfully detained were even beaten in their cell. A soldier often came to see them, said Anatoliy, kicked all the detainees and said this was his “favourite” cell. Anatoliy suffered a broken rib and numerous contusions of his internal organs.
At one of his regular interrogations, the soldier saw a cross hanging from his neck: “Are you a Christian, then?” I am, replied Anatoliy: I’ve been wearing that cross since I was born. The soldier began mocking him: I’ll turn you into a Muslim, he said. When Anatoliy refused to change his religion, he was beaten once more. This time he lost consciousness and only came round when his tormentor tipped a bucket of water over him.
There were various forms of mental and physical torture. Anatoliy was forced to jump and cry, “He who jumps not, is a Muscovite!” He was made to loudly sing the Ukrainian national anthem and to shout various patriotic slogans. If he fell down, they attached two wires to his body: “Lower you head, and you’re done for!” they threatened. The torture continued without stop for 90 minutes. Then the invaders demanded money. “Share what you’ve got with good people!” they said, pressing a knife against different parts of his body and threatening to cut them off.
There were times, Anatoliy admits, when he asked his tormentors to stop the mistreatment and kill him outright. His body was one big wound, and the slightest touch provoked an unbearable pain.
They introduced ‘stool-pigeons’ into the cell, who tried to wheedle information out of Anatoliy and his fellow prisoners.
The stream of unlawfully detained people was large and steady, he says. They didn’t just come from the town but from the surrounding villages as well. The detainees supported each other as best they could, to lessen their daily suffering if only slightly.
As we have noted before, Russian soldiers have often resorted to such forms of interrogation and torture in the various territories they temporarily occupy. This is evidence of a systematic approach. Their former detainees frequently recall being tortured with electric shocks and suffering physical and psychological violence (including mock executions).
As of 10 April 2023, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) has provided legal aid to the victims of such crimes in six hundred cases. Some cases (58) concern torture during detention; some (130) concern the search for Prisoners of War; 185 deal with civilian deaths and 227 cases are concerned with injuries sustained by civilians. Some victims are additionally receiving psychological and charitable support. The KHPG has also made 34 Submissions to various UN Human Rights agencies.
Our contact telephone numbers: Kharkiv — (+380-50) 505-1415 and (+380-50) 405-3015; Kyiv — (+380-50) 555-2795.