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110 days in the torture dungeon — Anti Terrorist Operation (ATO) member talks about torture in the Kupiansk temporary detention center

Iryna Skachko

Kupiansk regional police department. © Anna Chernenko/ Public Radio

Vadym  Kutsenko served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and resigned before the end of 2022. In February, he came to Kupiansk on business. Here he got caught in a full—scale war and occupation. Soon he was denounced and ended up in the infamous Kupiansk detention center at the Kupiansk district police department. We have already written about this torture center. According to the SBU [Ukrainian Security Service], the Russian occupation forces jailed about 400 Ukrainian citizens illegally, even though cameras were designed for a maximum of 140 people.

 — I used to serve in the ATO, but on 21 December 2021, I was discharged for health reasons. On 8 January, I went to Zaporizhzhia to a hospital and received treatment. Then, on 10 January, I went to Kupiansk to register at the labor exchange and replace my invalid passport. I stopped at the former father-in-law's country cottage. I was delayed because the labor exchange is an institution where nothing is decided in one day. And so it happened that I met the 24 February at a dacha in the village of Hlushkovka near Kupiansk.

Vadim could no longer leave because he would have been detained as a participant in the ATO at the very first checkpoint. Therefore, he stayed at the cottage. He took care of the garden. They came for him in May.

— A white "Sable" with the letter Z arrived, and the “Niva” was the same ... They immediately hit me on the head with a gun butt. The mark is still visible. I was put face down in the grass. I didn't count the boots, but one guard was lying next to me. Six others turned over everything possible: the house, the kitchen, the cellar, the barn, and the attic, except for the bee hives. They didn't find anything. They tied my hands so that for a month and a half, there were dark marks and swollen hands.

On the way, the Russians stopped at two more addresses, broke the doors with a sledgehammer, and looked for someone. All this time, Vadym stayed with his hands tied and a bag on his head.

— They brought me to the Kupiansk district police department. They put me first in the tenth cell. The reception was “wonderful”: a heating pipe. It was a metal-plastic pipe (a little longer than a meter) and an officer's belt with a buckle. It was the beginning. In the next couple of days — electric shock. It was easy to guess where the clamps were attached ... One on the ear, the second below the stomach. The sensations were such that I did not see anything for a day and a half. Other prisoners were hung from behind by handcuffs. There was a turnstile in one of the cells, and they hung on the bars. It shook so that the guys lost consciousness. There was constant swearing and terrible screams. I had never heard such screams as in the first days of my stay there. The guards were from Luhansk: Zhenya and Vitaliy. They were second-grade, even for the Russians, and very evil people. No words can describe them...

— Were you interrogated? What were they trying to find out?

— They asked about weapons and why I served. Why did I serve? I felt it was necessary. These were the questions, no others. Where are the weapons? Which of the ATO soldiers do you know? They knew I was an ATO soldier because someone betrayed me.

— In what conditions were you kept?

— I was in cell number 10. It was for two people, but there were nine of us. Me, Vitya, Maksim... Some guys were there for curfew violations for 10-15 days. Some were kept for a month. Yura Zhivitsa was a lieutenant colonel. He graduated from our rocket school [the Kharkiv University of the Air Force named after Kozhedub]. He has been retired since 2005, but he worked in the military. He, too, suffered greatly while serving five days. They demanded from him some kind of flash drives [with databases of Kupiansk conscripts]. However, he destroyed those flash drives. They beat him hard, and he almost died. After that, military doctors came and treated those on the verge. But there were cases when the guards forgot to close the “feeding troughs” [windows for feeding], and we saw how they carried out people. They could not take them out unnoticed, like a box of matches: four or five pulled bodies on a sheet ...

Vadym Kutsenko was kept by the occupiers in the Kupiansk TDF for almost four months © Oksana Komarova

— You were in the hospital before the war. Did you manage to maintain your health in captivity? Were there any medications?

There was a young nurse. She didn’t even know the names of the pills: which one for what. She was about 26 and spoke Ukrainian, most likely from the Kupiansky district. They didn't give me medicine. There was nobody to visit me. If the father-in-law hadn’t been ill… The attendant would say: “Well, If you die, you die, we’ll take you out and throw you away, and that’s it.” Sometimes you could ask for something from your cellmates who had visitors. But even then, they [the guards] kept those medicines and did not give them away. So you never knew whether they would come or not, whether they would give the pills.

—Were you tortured all the time, or just the first few days while in captivity?

— Two or three times.

— And then just kept behind bars?

— They just kept me. So you ask: “What for?” but they don't hear.

— You said, at first, there were LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic) people. And later? Rotation?

 — Later, the former employees of the local Kupiansk police branch started to settle, both investigators and guards. It was not the Lugansk people who called for interrogations. I just sat there, but the newcomers were interrogated. Many young people were broken. There was a guy who served in the National Guard, and he came for vacations. They tortured him with electricity. Those who gave interviews and preached the Ukrainian military to lay down their arms were released. Literally in 20 days. Even those who served in the ATO. Someone was a driver but spent a long time in isolation. But others served in the assault troops, and they were released! How so? It means their conscience was not clear.

— Did they force you to work?

— Young people painted bridges, the Russian flags ... And once they took me to work, but what kind of work could I do with the swollen hands? Others were carrying sandbags to cover embrasures. I did what I could and poured sand. Those who were younger were constantly taken to work, but ATO officers, as a rule, did not go out anywhere

— How long have you been in prison?

— 110 days. Vitaly and Maksim were taken out of our cell at four in the middle of the night. “Take your things and go!" We thought: “Maybe they will be released?” Only later we found out that the guys were alive and well. They suffered from fear while being taken to the prisoners' exchange and didn't know where they were taken.

—Tell me how you got free?

— We were transferred to another cell. For two days, the "feeding troughs" were closed entirely. We were left without food. Then, on the evening of the second day, the prisoners began to knock on the door. We thought, well, now we will get through — they will beat everyone. It has always been like this: if someone was guilty somewhere, everyone got it, especially when the first shift was on duty — those same Zhenya, Vitalik, and Vova. But no one came. In our cell, there were mostly people of my age, and those who were younger had health problems. Finally, however, sounder guys in cell three broke down the bunks and began knocking out the bars. They probably worked for three hours. All this time, there was only one thought: now the patrol will hear us, and we are done for. Then we heard them getting out.

They got out and climbed onto the roof of the TDF. They crossed the top to the second floor of the district police station. They broke the glass and went down the central staircase. There were old wooden doors in the temporary detention center. They broke those doors and found the keys. Cameras began to open.

Our documents were stored in the “duty room”. We began to sort through them and give them to others. Among us were many women, girls, and people whose business was “squeezed out”.

—They say there was a fire there?

—The guys who got out last set fire to everything they could. We thought they had no weapons in the TDF, but they found 20 machine guns with magazines. We believed that the Russians did not trust the locals and did not give them weapons. Only among the Lnrovtsy and Dnrovtsy (Luhansk and Donetsk fighters) always was one with a gun. It turns out they also had machine guns.

— Did you find all of it in the temporary detention facility?

—The boys found it, and then everything was set on fire: offices, documents, files.

— Were the Russians still in Kupiansk at that time?

— Yes. We didn't know what was going on. We did not know that ours had launched an offensive. We were afraid they would search for us with dogs. That was the only thought in our minds. So I returned to the cottage, and there were Russians all around. So I went to a friend’s, and we ate, but four people with machine guns came in: “Give us something to eat!”

— So, no one has checked your documents? Nobody cared that you ran away?

— No, They weren’t interested. My friend asked: “Where are you from?” — “Omsk ... Tomsk ...” — “Why did you join the army?” — "Conviction to be removed." And they kept saying, "You're rich." It was emphasized. They all said the same thing: “You are rich.”

Kharkiv Human Rights Group (LHPG) provides legal assistance to Vadym  Kutsenko. We hope the executioners, who tortured him and hundreds of other Ukrainians in the Kupiansk detention center during the Russian occupation, will be punished.

This publication is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Human Rights in Action Program, run by the Ukrainian Helsinki Group on Human Rights (UHSHR).

The views and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the US Government, or UHSHR. The authors and KHPG are solely responsible for the content of this article.

USAID is one of the world's leading development agencies facilitating the end of extreme poverty and supporting the movement of recipient countries to self-reliance and resilience. USAID also contributes to the national security and economic well-being of the United States. Its activity is a manifestation of the philanthropy of the American people. USAID has been partnering with Ukraine since 1992: during this time, the agency's total assistance to Ukraine amounted to more than 3 billion US dollars. USAID's current strategic priorities in Ukraine include strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health systems, and reducing the impact of conflict in the eastern regions. For more information about USAID's activities, please contact the Public Relations Department of the USAID Mission in Ukraine at tel. (+38 044) 521-57-53. We also invite you to visit their website: or the Facebook page:

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