Lesson on Torture from the Kharkiv Police


43-year-old Yakov Strogan from Kharkiv is married and has a stable job.  He became a father several months ago. No reason to believe that suddenly, on 15 August, 2010, his life would turn into hell.

It all began near the entrance to his apartment block. Witnesses say that a neighbour didn’t share something with Yakov and started a fight. The short skirmish resulted in the neighbour falling on broken bottles (which he and his friends had smashed) and cutting his back.  That might have been the end of the incident, but proved not to be.

At night Yakov Strogan was visited by some people who called themselves police officers and demanded that he open the door. He refused and the police officers broke the electricity box, leaving the flat in darkness. They then tried to break the lock and bash down the door. The people involved in this kept changing. Yakov called the police, but was told by the operator that the police had already gone there. 

At 6 a.m. the next morning, he opened the door to two men in plain clothes who identified themselves by their first names, as Oleksandr and Anton. They burst into the flat and took Yakov to the Kyivsky Police Station where it transpired that they had not only arrested him, but had also removed his wife’s telephone.

Then far worse things happened. The police officers first asked Yakov to write a statement confessing to having tried to murder his neighbour and having inflicted knife wounds. When he refused, they decided to “persuade” him in the forest. The Head of the department agreed to his subordinates’ initiative and even instructed them to drop into his place, pick up a “transformer”.

They took Yakov to the forest, when one of the men put on complete camouflage clothes and almost all wore masks. They took out a case with knives and asked Yakov to either sign the statement, or choose the knife that he had supposedly used to wound his neighbour. They said they’d release him after that. He refused.

They then took off his outside clothing, put red ribbons on his wrists and over them handcuffs. They were first chained in front, then from behind. He was put on the ground, one officer sat on his back, and another began twisting his arms and pressing down on his neck. He lost consciousness several times. They revived him with water each other, continuing to demand that he sign the confession. He refused.

They then dragged a device out which they called a transformer, but that basically gave him electric shocks. He lost consciousness four or five times.  The last time, they poured spirits down his throat seriously scalding his throat, oesophagus and stomach lining.

Yakov kept warning them that he has a heart condition and only one kidney.  He thinks this finally stopped them from anything further.

They then took him to a flat where they held him for four days. During that time they rang his wife and demanded that she pay 10 thousand dollars. They told her to bring the money to a lawyer who would meet her near the police station. She promised to find the money. On 19 August the meeting took place between Ms Strogan and a police officer, but the latter was disappointed, since she hadn’t been able to find the money.

The police released Yakov so that he could look for money for them, but he decided to find. The couple approached the Internal Security Department of the Police and then the Prosecutor’s Office asking for a criminal investigation to be initiated. He had a medical examination where they suggesting hospitalizing him. He refused, fearing for his life and health in the district hospital, suspecting that they have an unspoken arrangement with the police.

On 29 October the Prosecutor of the Kyivsky District refused to initiate a criminal investigation, though he has still to receive a document confirming this.

Yakov Strogan turned to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group which called a press conference at which lawyer, Aigul Mukhanova stated that they were taking on the case, and warned that if anything happened to Yakov or his family, it would be clear who to look for.

She says that they are first looking into whether this is part of a pattern for extortion, and notes that many of the details Yakov has given would be impossible to make up. One such example is the use of ribbons to hide bruising under the handcuffs.

She stresses to members of the public that if such a hideous thing happens to them, they should get in touch with KHPG immediately.  They might have been able to do something if Ms Strogan had contacted them straight away.

The prospects, she believes, in Ukraine are not good with it very unlikely that the prosecutor will initiate a criminal investigation and that the case will get to caught. There will be attempts over a couple of years and then the case will go to the European Court of Human Rights.

She hopes, of course, that the Prosecutor will take up the case and that those responsible will be punished.

From reports at KHPG and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

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