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.

Russian invaders turn Kherson oblast culture centre into torture chamber for ‘unreliable’ Ukrainians

Halya Coynash
At least five Ukrainian civilians are known to be held and almost certainly tortured at Odradivka, with the Russians having tortured at least two of their victims, including a Ukrainian Orthodox priest to death over recent months

From left Oleksiy Hrinko, Oleksandr Herchovsky and Denys Shum CJI montage from social media photos

From left Oleksiy Hrinko, Oleksandr Herchovsky and Denys Shum CJI montage from social media photos

At least five Ukrainians, abducted by the Russians over the past five months, are believed to be held in a makeshift prison in the building of the House of Culture in occupied Odradivka, a village in Kherson oblast.  It is near certain that Oleksandr Herchakovsky; Oleksiy Hrinko; Denys Shum, Ivan Shteli, and his brother Anton Shteli, are being subjected to savage torture, as are other civilians held prisoner by the Russians.

The Centre for Journalist Investigations [CJI] initially learned of the Russia’s torture chamber from a resident of Kherson oblast who spoke to them on condition of anonymity.  The Odradivka House of Culture dates back to Soviet times when such buildings were constructed on a grandiose scale.  The building’s basement is, accordingly, huge with multiple rooms which the Russians are using to hold civilians in solitary confinement. Some of the hostages face horrific torture, with the Russians trying to force them to collaborate.  It is this source who told Oleh Baturin from CJI that the above-named civilians, whose abduction was earlier reported, are held there, as well as at least one other man from Hornostaiivka whose name is unknown. 

CJI have also received confirmation of this Russian ‘prison’ from some other residents of Odradivka or neighbouring villages   “I know that in our House of Culture in Odradivka there is a basement where the Russian military bring ‘unreliable’ people and torture them.  The Russians have on several occasions threatened to throw others into the basement if they didn’t like something”, one person said.  He added that there are constantly Russian soldiers in the House of Culture itself.

Three young men from Hornostaiivka were seized back in November 2023 with the CJI’s source providing the first possible information as to their whereabouts since then.  Ivan and Anton Shtepi, who are 22 and twins, were reportedly seized at the beginning of November 2023.  There is no official information as to the grounds for their ‘detention’, however CJI’s sources report that they were accused of directing the Ukrainian Armed Forces to Russian positions, with the Russians threatening to put them on ‘trial’.

23-year-old Denys Shum was abducted at around the time, with the Russians seemingly accusing him of helping Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

Friends of 40-year-old Oleksandr Herchakovsky have told CJI that Russians burst into the Herchakovsky family home on 14 March 2024.  They beat Herchakovsky and carried out a ‘search’, although it is unclear what they were looking for.  They told Herchakovsky to take warm clothes and took him away, without any explanation.  The CJI’s sources say that as far as they have been able to ascertain, he was seized by Russia’s FSB [security service].

43-year-old Oleksiy Hrinko was abducted on 22 March 2024 from the settlement of Liubymivka, Kakhovka raion  His wife has turned to social media, pleading for help in finding Hrinko who was taken away with a bag over his head in the middle of the afternoon. 

CJI has learned that the Russians burst into many homes in the Liubymivka area on 22 March.  They were purportedly looking for ‘saboteurs’ since the Ukrainian Armed Forces had destroyed a storage place holding Russian ammunition, etc. in a former preschool building that the Russians are occupying.  This is standard Russian behaviour after any successful attack on the invaders’ forces or collaborators, with anybody likely to fall victim.  It seems that Hrinko had already faced one armed search before, in 2023.  It is known that he tried to leave occupied territory but was stopped at a Russian checkpoint and badly beaten. 

At least two Ukrainians have been tortured to death after being seized by the Russians.  On 13 February 2024, Father Stepan (Podolchak), a 59-year-old priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and head of a church in occupied Kalanchak (Kherson oblast) was taken from his home, barefooted and with a bag over his head.  Two days later, on 15 February, his wife received a phone call, telling her to come to the morgue to identify her husband.  There is every reason to assume that he was tortured to death because of his refusal to transfer his newly built church and its congregation, into the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarch. 

28-year-old Ruslan Rusnak, who had earlier served in Ukraine’s Armed Forces, 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.  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”.

In September 2023, 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.   Similar conclusions have been reached by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine . It 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.  

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. The number of make-shift ‘prisons’, like that at Odradivka, that the Russians are using now to hold and torture Ukrainian civilians in occupied parts of Ukraine is likely to be very high.

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