Ukraine Alleges Torture At Village Near Russian Border

KOZACHA LOPAN, Ukraine (AP) – In a dank basement behind the local supermarket, metal bars cordon off one corner of the room to form a large cell. Dirty sleeping bags and comforters show three places to sleep on top of styrofoam sheets to insulate the wet floor. In the corner, two black buckets served as toilets.

A few yards outside the restricted cell, three dilapidated chairs stand around a table, cigarette butts and empty pumpkin seed shells littering the floor around them.

Ukrainian authorities say it was a makeshift prison where Russian forces abused detainees before Ukrainian troops swept the village of Kozacha Lopan in a major counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region this month. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said more than 10 such “torture chambers” have been discovered in the region since the hasty withdrawal of Russian troops last week. Claims of what happened in the room could not be independently confirmed.

Kozacha Lopan, whose edge is less than two kilometers (just over a mile) from the Russian border, was retaken by Ukrainian forces on September 11.

In a statement published on its Telegram channel on Saturday, the prosecutor’s office of the Kharkiv region, in whose jurisdiction Kozacha Lopan is located, said that the room seen by AP reporters was used as a holding cell torture during the occupation of the area. He said Russian forces had created a local police force that ran the prison, adding that documents confirming the operation of the police department and instruments of torture had been seized. The statement says an investigation is underway.

Quilts and sleeping bags are seen in a basement that Ukrainian authorities say was used as a torture cell during the Russian occupation, in the reclaimed village of Kozacha Lopan, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Quilts and sleeping bags are seen in a basement that Ukrainian authorities say was used as a torture cell during the Russian occupation, in the reclaimed village of Kozacha Lopan, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.

Leo Correa via Associated Press

Pictures released by prosecutors showed a Russian military TA-57 phone with extra cables and alligator clips attached. Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of using Soviet-era radio phones as a power source to shock prisoners during interrogation.

In his late-night address to the nation on Saturday, Zelenskyy mentioned another location, at the Kozacha Lopan train station, where he said “a room for torture and tools for electric torture were found.” AP reporters did not see this location.

Zelenskyy compared the Russians to the Nazis during World War II.

“And they will respond in kind, both on the battlefield and in the courtrooms,” he said.

Burial sites have been found in some areas where Russian forces were pushed out, most notably in the city of Izium, where Ukrainian officials say more than 440 graves have been found near the city’s cemetery. Zelenskyy has said they contain the bodies of civilian adults and children, as well as soldiers, showing signs of violent deaths, some possibly by torture.

Vitalii, a National Guard commander, said his team is searching the graves of possible abuse victims at the Kozacha Lopan detention center. He asked to be identified by name only for security reasons.

The team is also recovering bodies on the battlefield, which are found where they fell in farm fields or inside burned out tanks. The Russian army was pushed all the way back across the border into Russia after holding the area for months. But artillery shells still whistle through the air, fired from inside Russia and landing with resounding thuds and billows of black smoke on Ukrainian territory.

Despite the shelling, a small group of soldiers trudges down a wheeled mud track to where a dead Ukrainian fighter lies, spotted by a drone used to search for bodies and shallow graves.

“It’s a risk. We are always risking our lives and at any moment there may be some shell flying from the territory of Russia,” Vitalii said.

Emergency workers dig into the grave of a civilian during an exhumation in the newly retaken area of ​​Izium, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Ukrainian authorities discovered a mass burial site near the recaptured city of Izium which contained hundreds of tombs.  It was not clear who was buried in many of the plots or how they all died, although witnesses and a Ukrainian investigator said some were shot and others died from artillery fire, mines or attacks air
Emergency workers dig into the grave of a civilian during an exhumation in the newly recovered area of ​​Izium, Ukraine, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Ukrainian authorities discovered a mass burial site near the reclaimed city of Izium which contained hundreds of tombs. It was not clear who was buried in many of the plots or how they all died, although witnesses and a Ukrainian investigator said some were shot and others died from artillery fire, mines or airstrikes.

Evgeniy Maloletka via Associated Press

The dead Ukrainian is lying on his back in armor and helmet, with a cap underneath to block the sun. The body has been there for a long time.

They document the scene and lift the remains into a body bag before going further down the track to a charred Russian tank. It only takes one of the team members to take the body bag containing the remains of the Russian found inside.

Autopsies will follow and details of the sites are recorded and passed on to investigators looking into possible war crimes, Vitalii said.

Along this border area, where fierce battles were fought, the villages bear the devastating scars of war: bombed and burned houses, roads cratered by exploding mortar shells, wrecked cars on the side of the road.

In the days following the expulsion of the Russians, the local population has returned to see what remains of their homes.

“Three days before we decided to leave, it was like hell here” from all the shooting, said Larysa Letiucha, 56, in the nearby village of Prudyanka. “He was flying from everywhere. It was whistling and exploding. We hid in the basement and … our door was blown.”

He left with his family in April and returned to check on his property a few days after Ukrainian soldiers retook the village.

“I saw a horror. I still can’t get over it,” he said as he recounted his first glimpse of what was left of his home. “We were living here our whole lives. We were building it, renovating it. Our whole lives were invested here.”

Windows cave in and the roof leaks from where a patch is missing from an explosion. In the small house that his parents built on the same plot, the whole back part is missing. Shrapnel and trash litter the house.

“Our houses are comfortable even though we live in the village,” said Letiucha. “It’s a horror. I don’t even know when we’re going to renovate and rebuild all of this.”



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