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.

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Russian invaders torture former Ukrainian defender to death in occupied Kherson oblast

Halya Coynash
Although it took the Russians a week to admit Ruslan Rusnak's death, it is likely that he died, as the result of torture, within hours of being seized and 'interrogated'
Ruslan Rusnak Photo from his Facebook page
Ruslan Rusnak Photo from his Facebook page

28-year-old Ruslan Rusnak died on 20 November, just hours after he was seized by the Russians in occupied Hornostaiivka (Kherson oblast) and taken to the occupation police station.  Reports appeared almost immediately in Russian sources, however it was only on 28 November that Ruslan’s family were officially informed of his death, with the Russians claiming that he had died “of an ulcer”.

His death was first reported by the Telegram channel Astra which explained that the occupation police station had come under drone attack on 13 November.  The Russians had, purportedly, suspected that Rusnak provided Ukraine’s Armed Forces with the station’s coordinates.  Judging by the later interrogations of the young man’s family, this was the excuse for seizing and torturing the young man, who had earlier defended Ukraine in Donbas.  It does not, however, make a lot of sense when the same coordinates could easily be found on the Internet.

Rusnak was seized and taken to the occupation station in the morning of 20 November.  By the following day, Astra and other Russian media were reporting that he had died by 16.00 on the day of his seizure.  The reports suggested that this was after a so-called ‘interrogation’ lasting many hours.

After the first reports appeared, Rusnak’s family asked people to not circulate reports from Russian media without confirmation and said that they believed that Ruslan was alive.  On 29 November, citing Ruslan Rusnak’s family, the ZMINA Human Rights Centre reported that the Russian military had, over the past week, interrogated Ruslan’s family and friends, andhad carried out ‘checks’.  The family say that the Russians were trying to find proof that Ruslan had been involved in directing the Ukrainian Army’s fire.  . 

The family was officially informed on Tuesday, 28 November, that Ruslan was dead.  The Russians claimed that this was due to a burst ulcer.  His family dismisses this, saying that he had no ulcer. They also report that virtually his entire body was covered in bruises.

Russia’s systematic use of torture  

In September this year, Dr Alice Edwards, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, stated that she had heard multiple accounts, describing the same types of torture used by the Russians.  Such accounts from witnesses, and other research, led her to conclude that such treatment by the treatment by the Russians was of a systematic nature, and that this was part of Russian state-endorsed policy. 

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, created by the UN Human Rights Committee soon after Russia’s full-scale invasion, has made similar findings, outlined in two reports.  The Commission found the Russian armed forces’ use of torture to be widespread and systematic, and reported that it had, in some cases, resulted in the death of the victim.  

All of the methods described in such reports have been seen and reported here in both occupied Crimea and Donbas since 2014.  Virtually all of the Kremlin’s Ukrainian political prisoners and hostages held in occupied Donbas have confirmed, once released or at least given access to independent lawyers, that the ‘confessions’ they were videoed giving were tortured out of them. 

As of November 2023, Ukrainian investigators had identified 11 ‘torture chambers’ used by the Russian invaders merely in those parts of Kherson oblast which have now been liberated. 

Ukrainian military medic Yuriy Armash was held for several months in another such ‘prison’ in Nova Kakhovka which, unfortunately, remains occupied.  His account, both as a victim, and as a medic who was taken to treat other victims when the Russians had ‘gone too far’.  It is probably thanks to Armash that the number of fatalities from such horrific torture was not greater.  Armash and others, like 60-year-old Viktor Maruniak have described appalling torture which is the most shocking as, on many occasions, the Russians clearly did it for ‘entertainment’.


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