war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russians torture imprisoned 75-year-old Spanish volunteer seized in occupied Kherson

Halya Coynash
Russia only admitted to holding Mariano Garcia Calatayud prisoner in occupied Crimea after information became available about his whereabouts and the torture he had been subjected to

Mariano Garcia Calatayud Photo posted by CrimeaSOS

Mariano Garcia Calatayud Photo posted by CrimeaSOS

It was over a year after the Russian invaders abducted Mariano Garcia Calatayud [generally known simply as Mario] from occupied Kherson before Russia admitted holding him in Russian captivity.  It is also known that the 75-year-old Spaniard volunteer was subjected to savage torture, including the use of electric currents attached to his genitals.

Mariano Calatayud had been living in Kherson for eight years when the Russians invaded.  As well as trying to continue his voluntary work with children deprived of parental care, he took part in the daily rallies against the Russian occupation. The demonstrations in the centre of Kherson continued until the Russians began shooting at unarmed Ukrainians protesting their invasion.  In all areas that have fallen under occupation, the Russians immediately begin seizing civilians, often for no more than their open opposition to the invaders and pro-Ukrainian position. 

It was clear from the outset, and has now been confirmed by Moscow, that Caltayud was no exception and was seized on 19 March 2022 because of his opposition to the invasion.  For the first year after his seizure, Russia and its occupation ‘authorities’ had all denied any knowledge of the Spanish volunteer’s whereabouts and that his disappearance had anything to do with them. 

It was only in late April that Levante, a newspaper from Calatayud’s native Valencia, and CrimeaSOS reported that Russia had finally confirmed that the 75-year-old is in Russian detention.  Before that, Russia and the Russian-installed occupation ‘authorities’ had constantly denied any knowledge of Calatayud’s whereabouts.  This, however, became senseless after the release of Yevhen Yamkovy, a Ukrainian from Kakhovka, who had been held for a while at the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] No. 2 with Calatayud and Oleksandr Babych, the Mayor of Hola Prystan, whom the Russians have also been holding prisoner since March 2022. 

The letter sent from the military prosecutor of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet claimed that Calatayud had been “detained by security service officers” and that this had supposedly been “in order to check information about his involvement in actions aimed at causing damage to the security of the Russian federation during the special military operation”.  The letter, of course, asserted that this had all been in accordance with established procedure, and that he had been placed in a SIZO in occupied Simferopol.  The alleged measures ‘checking’ him, it claimed, had not been completed. 

This is another way of confirming that Russia is holding Calatayud prisoner without any grounds whatsoever.  No charges have been laid and he, therefore, has no status at all.  The same is believed to be true of Oleksandr Babych (and many other Ukrainian civilians whom the Russians are holding hostage).

Judging by the account that Calatayud gave to Yevhen Yamkovy, there may also have been another motive to the Russians’ actions – banal robbery.  Through the  torture, which Calatayud described, the Russians would seem to have been trying to force him to divulge the PIN code to his bank card.  In fact, Calatayud explained, the PIN code would have given them nothing since his Spanish bank automatically blocked his card if it wasn’t used for 48 hours. 

Calatayud, or Mario, is well-known in Kherson and his disappearance on 19 March was widely reported.  It was initially believed that he had been seized at one of the demonstrations against Russia’s invasion.  Calatayud told Yamkovy, however, that six Russians were waiting for him when he came out of a supermarket  in Kherson. He showed resistance and told Yamkovy that it had taken the Russians some time to overcome him.  At some point, they broke six teeth which he later had to extract himself as the dentist promised in the SIZO never appeared.  As well as being brutally beaten by his abductors, the latter also applied horrific electric current torture, attaching the wires to his genitals. 

The FSB in occupied Crimea often use other premises to torture their victims and only move them to a SIZO after admitting to their detention and getting them officially remanded in custody.  It is not clear when Calatayud was, in fact, taken to Crimea, but the situation was, in any case, different as Russia was not admitting he was in their custody and torture was still applied while he was imprisoned in SIZO No. 1.

Calatayud told Yamkovy that he had been bitten by a guard dog during the roll call held each morning in that SIZO  The dog had gripped the 75-year-old’s knee, with the young guard clearly finding this amusing and asking him, jeeringly, if it hurt.  When Calatayud was unable to endure the pain any longer and hit out at the dog, the guards used a Taser gun against him and electric shocks.

Yamkovy, who was released in April 2023, reported that Calatayud’s legs are swollen, which is likely due to high blood pressure, with this of major concern given his age.  Although he and Oleksandr Babych have not been tortured since they were moved to SIZO No. 2 [which Russia opened after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and huge increase in civilians it was abducting and imprisoning].  Although even the situation with food has improved, this is doubtless still relative.  Yamkovy has said that, since his release, he has seen photos of Oleksandr Babych before his abduction and notes that he is now very much thinner.  Mariano Calatayud was clearly strong and very active, but he is, nonetheless, 75 and Russia is evidently placing his health, and very likely his life, in danger.

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