Ukraine alleges torture in village near Russian border | World

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KOZACHA LOPAN, Ukraine (AP) — In a damp basement behind the local supermarket, metal bars wrap around one corner of the room to form a large cell. A dirty sleeping bag and quilts show three places to sleep on polystyrene sheets for damp earth floor insulation. In the corner, two black buckets served as toilets.

A few yards (yards) outside the barred cell, three dilapidated chairs stand around a table, cigarette butts and pumpkin seed pods strewn on the floor around them.

Ukrainian authorities said it was a makeshift prison where Russian forces abused detainees before Ukrainian troops marched through the border village of Kozacha Lopan during a major counteroffensive in the region of Kharkiv this month. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than 10 such “torture chambers” had been discovered in the area 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 lies less than two kilometers (just over a mile) from the Russian border, was recaptured by Ukrainian forces on September 11.

In a statement published on his Telegram channel on Saturday, the Kharkiv region prosecutor’s office, in whose jurisdiction Kozacha Lopan is, said that the room seen by AP journalists had been used as a torture cell during the occupancy of the area. He said the Russian forces had set up 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 press release states that an investigation is underway.

Footage released by prosecutors showed a Russian TA-57 military phone with extra wires and alligator clips attached. Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of using Soviet-era radiotelephones as a power source to shock prisoners during interrogations.

In his nightly address to the nation on Saturday, Zelenskyy mentioned another location, Kozacha Lopan station, where he said “a torture chamber and electric torture tools were found.”

Viacheslav Zadorenko, head of the Derhachi municipality to which Kozacha Lopan belongs, told AP reporters on Sunday a half-basement of the station, where he said interrogations were carried out.

Members of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, or DSNS, checked on Sunday for unexploded ordnance and booby traps, but found none.

A sandbag barrier stood outside the stairs leading to two small rooms. The first room was furnished with three tables and many stairs, a faded icon of the Virgin Mary on one table, two books on another, including a novel by Russian literary critic and philosopher Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky.

Jumbles of wires and cables littered the floor, a small fridge stood in one corner. In a narrow adjoining room, a row of wooden cupboards lay open and mostly empty, and a mattress lay on the top bunk of a bunk bed, a pair of flip-flops discarded, and shoes on the floor.

It was impossible to independently confirm what happened in the chambers.

Zadorenko, who is himself from Kozacha Lopan and whose mother remained in the village during the fighting, said Russian forces tortured residents, limited communications from those living there and took away their documents, including his own mother.

“She couldn’t evacuate and leave, they knew she was my mother so they kept her. Some of the physical torture was done to her and she was under psychological pressure,” he said.

“People went through difficult times, many residents whose fate is unknown until today, many residents died, many people were forcibly evacuated to the Russian Federation,” he said. added.

Burial sites have been discovered in some areas where Russian forces have been pushed back, including in the town of Izium, where Ukrainian officials say more than 440 graves have been discovered near the town’s cemetery. Zelenskyy said they contained the bodies of civilian adults and children, as well as soldiers, showing signs of violent death, some likely due to torture.

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

The team also recovers bodies from the battlefield, which lie where they fell in agricultural fields or inside burnt-out tanks. The Russian army has been pushed back across the border into Russia after occupying the area for months. But artillery shells are still whistling through the air, fired from inside Russia and landing with echoing blasts and billows of black smoke on Ukrainian territory.

Despite the shelling, a small group of soldiers meanders along a rutted 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 could be shells coming from Russian territory,” Vitalii said.

The dead Ukrainian is lying on his back with a bulletproof vest and helmet, 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 heading further along the track towards a charred Russian tank. It only takes one member of the team to remove the body bag containing the remains of the Russian found inside.

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

All along this border zone, where fierce fighting raged, the villages bear the devastating scars of the war: bombed and burnt houses, roads dug with bomb craters, crushed cars lying on the side of the roads.

Residents who fled at the height of the fighting have returned to see what has happened to their homes.

All that remains of Alina Orobchenko’s house in the nearby village of Prudyanka are four broken and burned walls. The entire house she lived in for 30 years has been turned into a mess of burnt, twisted rubble. Nothing was salvageable.

“It’s really hard to decide what to do next, it’s impossible to plan for the future,” the 47-year-old teacher said as she made her way over broken tiles and piles of masonry.

“We have already cried all our tears,” Orobchenko said. “But now we know we have to overcome this and move on with our lives.”

Outside the blackened and shattered front windows, her pink and red roses bloomed among the weeds and rubble.

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