© Reuters. Aliona Lapchuk shows a photo of her husband Vitaliy during an interview with Reuters in Krasne, Ukraine’s Nikolaev region, Nov. 15, 2022. She said she was tortured to death by Russian troops in Kherson at the start of the war. REUTERS/Mur
Jonathan Landay and Tom Balmforth
KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) – Residents of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson called the two-story police station a “hole”. Pensioner Vitalii Serdiuk said he was lucky to come out alive.
“I persevered,” the retired medical equipment repairman said of his ordeal in Russian detention, where he and his wife lived in a small Soviet-era apartment two blocks away. .
The green-roofed police building at 3 Energy Workers Street is the most notorious of several sites where people were attacked during Russia’s nine-month occupation, according to six locals in the recently recaptured city. Interrogation and torture. The other is a large prison.
Two residents who live in an apartment building overlooking the police station courtyard said they saw bodies wrapped in white sheets being carried out of the building, stored in a garage and then thrown into a garbage truck to be transported away.
Reuters could not independently verify all of the events described by residents of Kherson.
The Kremlin and Russia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to questions about the claims by Serdiuk or others Reuters interviewed in Kherson.
Moscow has denied allegations of mistreatment of civilians and soldiers, and has accused Ukraine of such abuse in places like Bukha.
On Tuesday, the U.N. human rights office said it had found evidence that both sides tortured prisoners of war, which is classified as a war crime by the International Criminal Court. A U.N. official said Russia’s abuses were “pretty systematic.”
As Russian security forces retreat from swathes of territory in the north, east and south, evidence of abuses mounts.
Those held in Kherson include opponents of the Russian occupation, residents like Serdiuc who are believed to have information on enemy soldier positions, and suspected underground resistance fighters and their accomplices.
Serdiuk said he was beaten with batons on his legs, back and torso, and that a Russian officer demanded to know the whereabouts and unit of his son, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, and shocked him with electrodes attached to his scrotum.
“I didn’t tell him anything. ‘I don’t know’ was my only answer,” the 65-year-old said in his apartment, where a candle was burning.
‘remember! remember! remember! ‘ is the constant response. “
Horrific memories of life under occupation in Kherson were recalled on Friday after Ukrainian soldiers retook the city after Russian troops withdrew across the Dnieper River.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said two days later that investigators had uncovered more than 400 Russian war crimes and found the bodies of soldiers and civilians in the Kherson region that had escaped Russian occupation.
“I saw five bodies removed with my own eyes,” said Ole, 20, who declined to give his last name, who lives in an apartment complex overlooking the police station. “We could see hands hanging from the sheets and we thought these were dead bodies.”
Svytlana Bestanik, 41, who lived on the same block and worked in a small shop between the building and the station, separately recalled seeing the inmates carrying the dead bodies.
“They would carry the dead out and throw them in the truck with the trash,” she said, describing the stench of decomposing bodies in the air. “We’re witnessing sadism in its purest form.”
A Reuters reporter visited the police station on Tuesday but was barred from the compound, which is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, by armed officers and a soldier who said investigators were gathering evidence inside.
As many as 12 detainees were kept in cramped cages, an official who declined to be named said, a claim confirmed by Serdiuk.
Neighbors recounted hearing men and women screaming from the station and said whenever the Russians showed up they put on balaclavas covering only their eyes.
“They come to the store every day,” Bestanick said. “I decided not to talk to them. I was too scared of them.”
Aliona Lapchuk said she and her eldest son fled Kherson in April after they were horribly tortured by Russian security agents on March 27, the last time she saw her husband, Vitaliy.
According to Lapchuk, Vitaly has been an underground resistance fighter since Russian troops took Kherson on March 2, and she became concerned when he didn’t answer her calls.
Shortly after, she said, three cars painted with the Russian “Z” logo pulled up at the mother’s house where they lived. They brought in Vitali, who had been beaten badly.
Soldiers claiming to be from the Russian army threatened to smash her teeth when she tried to reprimand them. She said they confiscated cellphones and laptops and then found weapons in the basement.
They brutally beat her husband in the basement and dragged him out.
“He didn’t come out of the basement; they dragged him out. They broke his cheekbone,” she sobbed in the village of Krasne, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Kherson.
She said Lapchuk and her eldest son Andriy were hooded and taken to the police station at 4 Lutheran Street, Kherson, where she could hear her husband being interrogated through the wall. She and Andre were later released.
After leaving Kherson, Lapchuk wrote to everyone she could think of, trying to find her husband.
On June 9, she said she received a message from a pathologist to call the next day. She knew immediately that Vitaly was dead.
His body was found floating in the river, she said, showing a photo taken by a pathologist in which the birthmark on his shoulder could be seen.
Lapchuk said she paid for Vitaliy’s funeral but has yet to see the grave.
She was convinced that her husband had been betrayed by someone very close to the Russians.
Ruslan, 52, who runs a beer shop opposite the police station where Serdiuk is being held, said that in the early days of the occupation, Russian-made Ural trucks parked in front of the gray front door every day.
Detainees would be thrown from behind, their hands tied and their heads covered with bags, he said.
“The place is called ‘Yama’ (the hole),” he said.
Serhii Polako, 48, a businessman who lives across the street from the station, echoed Ruslan’s account.
He said the screaming began when the Russian National Guard deployed at the site was replaced by vehicles with the letter “V” emblazoned on it weeks after the occupation.
“If there’s a hell, it’s there,” he said.
The Russians released those held on the space station about two weeks ago, apparently in preparation for their evacuation, he said.
“Suddenly, they emptied the place and we know what happened,” he told Reuters.
Serdiuk believed he was the father of a Ukrainian soldier who had been betrayed by an informant.
He said Russian security agents handcuffed him, put a bag over his head, forced him to bend over, and frogged him into a car.
At the station, he was locked in a small cell, where the people lay there unable to move. On certain days, prisoners only had one meal.
The next day, he was hooded, his hands bound and taken to the basement. He stated that the interrogation and torture lasted approximately 90 minutes.
Serdiuk said his Russian interrogators knew all the details about him and his family, and said unless he cooperated he would arrest his wife and call his son so he could hear them both under torture screams.
He was released without explanation two days later. His wife found him outside the store where Bestanik worked, barely able to walk.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth from Krasne, Ukraine; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Philippa Fletcher)