Russian invaders torture abducted Kherson patriot into ‘confessing’ to surreal ‘abduction plot’
It is almost three months since Andriy Horshkov was seized by the Russian invaders from his home in Kherson. He has been held prisoner ever since, with the Russians having forced him to make a propaganda video in which he is seen ‘confessing’ to his abductors of taking part in a supposed plan to abduct Natalia Poklonskaya. The latter is a Ukrainian traitor who actively persecuted Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians during the first years after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Poklonskaya is undoubtedly facing serious charges in Ukraine, but there is every reason to assume that Horshkov was tortured into giving the supposed ‘interview’ for Izvestia.
Andriy Horshkov served in a police special force unit for five years, however left this in 2021. When Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he was one of many Kherson residents who tried to join the Territorial Defence forces. With Russian forces having swarmed Kherson, armed resistance was understood to be senseless, and like many others, Horshkov turned instead to working as a volunteer.
Horshkov was seized on 30 March in the flat that he was sharing with his cousin, Alisa. She has provided important information to the Media Initiative for Human Rights about the events that morning when around 15 Russian soldiers and FSB [security service] officers turned up in three cars. They had bags with them which were clearly mostly for plunder (including food and alcohol), rather than ‘evidence’. Andriy understood the danger he was in and, as they took him downstairs, he leapt out of a window on the second floor. On impact below, he hurt his arm, but was able to get up and run. The Russians had, however, stationed other men around the building and he was captured and forced into one of their vehicles.
A young man who tried to video what was happening was also beaten up, and had his phone taken away.
Alisa tried to find out from the Russian invaders where her cousin was. The Russians tried to get her to work for them, but swiftly reverted to threats when she refused, including telling her that she would be ‘deported’ to Russia.
Horshkov first sent an audio message to his mother on 3 April, saying that everything was fine and speaking in Ukrainian. The young man had known he was in danger and had earlier agreed with his mother that if he contacted her in Ukrainian, he was alright; if in Russian, things were banned. His second message, on 11 April, was in Russian. He wrote in it that his mother should not worry, that her niece was in Mykolaiv. This was a clear hint that Alisa was in grave danger and should immediately try to get out of Kherson. A third message wished his mother a happy birthday, but was also in Russian.
On 7 May, a video ‘interview’ was posted between Izvestia war correspondent Ivan Litomin and Andriy Horshkov, who was described as a member of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence with the nom de guerre ‘Batman’. It was widely reposted on pro-Kremlin channels, which are presumably unaccustomed to critically assessing the content of anti-Ukrainian propaganda.
The claim was that Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] were planning to “abduct” Natalia Poklonskaya “during her visit to the Kherson oblast”. Poklonskaya was identified as the deputy head of the Russian state body Rossotrudnichestvo (a post she held for all of three months), but is of interest to Ukraine because of her role as Russian-appointed ‘prosecutor’ of occupied Crimea.
We know from many other hostages who have since been released (such as Donetsk writer Stanislav Aseyev) about the torture methods used to obtain ‘confessions’, whether in direct form or, like in this case, under the guise of an interview. An additional, if more trivial, reason for scepticism is the sheer absurdity of Horshkov’s purported role and, in fact, the whole story. He had supposedly learned “from media sources that some businessman had announced a reward if she was delivered to the SBU”. He had purportedly been sent some addresses where she might possibly be and, seemingly with the help of a map (!), he provided information as to which appeared likely and which could be excluded (a hostel, for example, and a house that, he concluded, did not exist).
All of this is wildly absurd, and presumably not helped by Horshkov’s answer, when asked why he did it, that he was carrying out his civic duty. The ‘interviewer’ therefore gets involved, trying to imply that Horshkov was implicated in a plan to kill Poklonskaya. Horshkov once again reacts courageously, explaining that, as far as he understands, the point would be to detain Pokonskaya, who is facing criminal charges in Ukraine and put her on trial, not to kill her. That is where the ‘interview’ ends.
Horshkov throughout gesticulates only with his left hand, while his right arm is completely motionless and essentially not visible. His mother fears that he may no longer have his right hand.
After seeing this video, which at least confirmed that her son was alive, Horshkov’s mother sent a telegram pleading for more information. She received a brief response, stating that “your son was detained for committing crimes against the Russian forces. He is currently with all prisoners in the Sevastopol SIZO [remand prison]. Everything is OK with his health. I have no more information”.
There is, in fact, no proof that he is in Sevastopol, and there is every reason to fear that he is being ill-treated. The only hope is, that having shown Horshkov on a propaganda video, the Russians have acknowledged that he is in their custody and cannot simply kill him, as they did both Vitaliy Lapchuk and Denys Myronov, two other Ukrainian patriots seized by the Russians in Kherson.