Tortured by Kremlin-backed militants
Assertions that the men whose bodies have been brought to a Zaporizhya morgue suffered horrific torture are corroborated not only by the harrowing photos, but by tales of soldiers or civilians held captive by militants from the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic.
Nine bodies, probably Ukrainian soldiers, with signs of torture have been brought to the Zaporizhya morgue. A local source who wanted to remain anonymous has told Radio Svoboda the men had been taken prisoner by the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas. He provided over 100 photos to back the claims of torture. Radio Svoboda says that it is not showing most of them for ethical reasons. The photos were apparently taken by forensic medical specialists examining the body.
The source said that at least three of the men had been hanged, and almost all had their eyes gauged out. Many had had their limbs and knees shot out, with 9 mm. bullets probably from a Makarov pistol. There were also knife wounds.
Military recruitment offices confirm that 87 bodies of soldiers were brought to the Zaporizhya morgue at the beginning of September, and that a large number of bodies have been brought to the oblast. They say that they were all men who died fighting.
The morgue staff refused to provide any information about the number of dead or any signs of torture.
However Oleksandr Bukalov, head of Donetsk Memorial, a civic organization with considerable experience in identifying cases of torture, examined the photos. He believes it is very likely that these were prisoners who were subjected to torture. He stresses that a full forensic examination must be made, but from the photos he believes that the men were probably tortured and the injuries inflicted while the men were still alive. It is unlikely, for example, that the bullet wounds and other injuries to limbs were accidental.
“There is no rational explanation. Ukrainians in this conflict are upholding their dignity. Perhaps therefore the militants are trying to denigrate prisoners in that way”, Bukalov says.
Detained, beaten and tortured
New York Times has also just published material about the militants’ victims of torture, citing the example of Alexandr from Donetsk who was stopped by two men from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. He was told that if he didn’t go with them, they’d shoot him on the spot.
“Although few people dare to talk openly about what is happening in the Donetsk region, extrajudicial abductions and detentions have become commonplace. Since demonstrations against the government in Kiev began in March, the region has evolved into a strange secessionist state run by a collection of pro-Russian political and military types, among them former Communists and K.G.B. men who have brought with them more than a hint of old Communist and Soviet methods.
Rebels fighters, most of them untrained volunteers, operate checkpoints on the roads and often detain people. Residents and former detainees say most checkpoints have underground pits to keep prisoners, who are made to do chores and dig trenches.
In a routine that is reminiscent of the worst of the Stalin era, women in Donetsk now gather at the corner of the Security Service headquarters, the successor of the K.G.B., to try to learn the fate of their missing sons and husbands. Once a day a list is brought out with the names of those being held.”
Alexandr’s account of the torture he was subjected to can be read here.
Worse than demons in hell
On Aug 24, militants from the so-called Donetsk people’s republic [DPR] carried out a shameful ‘parade of prisoners’ through Donetsk. The action was in direct breach of the Geneva Convention on Treatment of Prisoners of War, and should probably be viewed as a war crime.
The same is true of the appalling treatment of Iryna Dovhan who was forced to stand at a Donetsk intersection, with a Ukrainian flag wrapped around her and a sign claiming that she was a spy and “kills our children”. The photo of a woman tormenting and then kicking her while a man with a rifle looked on was widely published.
Dovhan had been detained by the militants on Aug 24. She herself later explained that the public torment had been just a small part of the horror of that day, in which she prayed for death.
By the militants’ standards Iryna Dovhan was indeed a ‘traitor’. Since the fighting against militants, heavily armed and manned by Russia, began, she had played an active part in collecting up desperately needed food, blankets, medications and money and taking them to Ukrainian soldiers defending Donbas.
The elements of public humiliation used by the militants are yet another demonstration of the dirty tactics in Russia’s undeclared war. Vast amounts of money are spent, mainly although not only through the official Russian media on virulent hate speech and propaganda.
Victoria Herasimchuk interviewed one of the prisoners marched through Donetsk on Aug 24, . Oleh (who did not want his surname revealed for fear that his family would be targeted by the militants) was released on Sept 8, after being held captive for over three weeks. He was held in a pit, four metre squared, and was shot in the leg and has a torn ear. Those injuries, however, were not the worst thing that he had to go through.
Oleh is a soldier and was taken prisoner after being stopped at a checkpoint and betrayed by a woman who had worked as a cook where he was on training. He says that they were good friends back then.
He was taken initially to Makiyivka and initially taunted by a crowd, including women, then taken into a building and made to sit on a wooden chair. A huge Chechen guy came in and announced that he was a sniper. He took out a knife and threatened to cut bits of him off until he ‘confessed’. He said that he’d promised to bring his father the ear of a Ukrainian [using the term ‘ukrop’, literally dill, but an offensive term used for Ukrainians]. He took gardening scissors and cut off a piece of his ear.
They also beat him with rubber batons and used electric shocks, constantly also threatening to kill him. During one of the interminable interrogations, another bearded Chechen shot him in the foot “to stop him from running”, and threatened to shoot him in the knee and send him home a cripple.
He was then flung into a pit a few metres down. There was a strong smell of urine and faeces and he understood that he wasn’t the first person to have been held there.
He was held in the pit first for two days, given no food or drunk and forced to drink his own urine. They then took him out, got a doctor to dress his wound but then threw him back in the pit.
At some point he was able to see what was happening and reports a number of ‘robots’. These proved to be people detained by the militants on some pretext or other, and ordered to do 25 days physical labour for them, digging trenches, etc. There were between 8 and 10, with people being released and others brought in.
This is a small part of Oleh’s account of the torture and ill-treatment he endured. His account is only one of many.
Some we will never hear. The bodies of the first three known murder victims – deputy Volodymyr Rybak; student Yury Popravko and 25-year-old Yury Diakovsky were found in a river outside Slovyansk in April. They had all been subjected to horrific torture after being abducted by the militants (details here).. More bodies, sometimes in common graves have been found since then.