The Torture of Ukrainian soldiers and imprisoned civilians

On 26 June 1987, the UN Convention Against Torture (and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) came into effect. At present, 173 States, including Ukraine and Russia, have signed and ratified the Convention.
Yevgeniy Zakharov26 June 2023UA DE EN ES FR IT RU

Катівня в Ізюмі, 19 вересня 2022 року. © Олександра Новосел / Суспільне Пыточная в Изюме, 19 сентября 2022 года. © Александра Новосел / Суспільне

A torture chamber in Izium, 19 September 2022 (Aleksandr Novosel / Suspilne)

Today is marked as the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. Below we present information about acts of torture committed by Russian forces in Ukraine since last year. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, torture by Russian forces of Ukrainian Prisoners of War and imprisoned civilians in the occupied territories has become a mass phenomenon.

Almost everyone detained by the invaders has been tortured: KHPG staff caring for the victims of Russian war crimes have observed this universal pattern. Elderly people, women and even children have all been tortured. It is only possible to establish the truth of this mistreatment, however, when people are liberated from detention and can return to parts of Ukraine under the control of the government, i.e., they are relatively few in number. The database of the Tribunal for Putin (T4P) has documented 538 such incidents (twelve affecting under-age victims). For comparison, we may note that the number of civilians in the T4P database who are listed as unlawfully detained or disappeared totals five thousand. And even this figure considerably understates the actual number of imprisoned civilians — a total of almost 20,000. It is very difficult to establish where people are being held.

The largest number of torture incidents in the T4P database (278, including six children) were recorded in the Kharkiv Region. Next, respectively, follow the Kyiv and Chernigiv Regions with 72 (two children) and 58 (three children) recorded incidents. There are 32 incidents each, recorded in the Kherson and Donetsk Regions; 23 (one child) incidents in the Zaporizhzhia Region. Cases of torture have also been recorded in the Sumy Region (18), and in the Mykolaiv (16) and Luhansk (6) Regions.

Прилад для катування струмом — телефонний апарат ТА-57. Фото з фейсбук-сторінки Харківської обласної прокуратури Прибор для пытки током — телефонный аппарат ТА-57. Фото с фейсбук-страницы Харьковской областной прокуратуры

An instrument of torture by electric shock: field telephone TA-57 (Facebook page of Kharkiv Region Procuracy)

Those at greatest risk of being held captive and tortured in the occupied territories are: [1] those who fought against the invaders in 2014-2021, [2] border guards, [3] rescue workers, [4] civil servants, local government staff and council deputies, and [5] those who are locally well-known (businessmen and women, public figures, journalists and, even, priests and pastors). To begin with they are held captive in premises unsuited for the purpose, which in itself qualifies as a form of torture due to conditions of detention. After the inmates were freed 25 such detention centres where people had been tortured were discovered in the Kharkiv Region: in Izium, Kupiansk, Balakliia, Vovchansk and other locations. Some of these torture chambers have been depicted and the testimony of their victims can be found in “Human Rights in Ukraine”, the KHPG website (see entries for Vovchansk, e.g., “The Vovchansk Engineering Works: A Dungeon on the Chechen Model”).

KHPG lawyers are currently representing the interests of 90 victims of torture: 13 women, 76 men and one boy. About twenty of the victims are 60 years old or more. Nineteen of the victims suffered sexual violence: 12 women, six men and one boy. After tracking down and questioning witnesses our lawyers established the identity of nine perpetrators who are now being charged and prosecuted. KHPG lawyers are working closely with the procurator’s office and the Security Service (SBU) investigative departments in the Kharkiv and Kyiv Regions.

In addition to legal aid and advice, the KHPG is also providing these torture victims with psychological, charitable and, in some cases, medical assistance. We are aiding and supporting the forensic investigation of these crimes, while KHPG psychologists are preparing an “amicus curiae” brief for the procurator’s office on the basis of the latest Istanbul Protocol guidelines for “investigating and documenting torture and ill-treatment”.

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