Oksana Minenko is a Ukrainian 44-year-old accountant living in Kherson. She claims she was tortured and repeatedly held by the occupying Russian forces.
She said that her husband, a Ukrainian soldier died while defending Kherson’s Antonivskyi bridge during the first-day full-scale warfare. According to Minenko, Russian forces placed her hand in boiling water and pulled her fingernails out. They then beat her so severely that she required plastic surgery.
Minenko said, “One pain became another,” while speaking at an emergency humanitarian aid center in December. Minenko was afflicted by scarring around her eyes after an operation she claimed to have done to fix the damage. “I was a living body.”
According to interviews with over a dozen victims and members of Ukrainian law enforcement as well as international prosecutors supporting Ukraine, the methods used to torture occupants by Russian forces include electric shocks to the genitals, beatings, and various other forms of suffocation.
Some people claimed that prisoners were held for up to two years in cramped cells with no sanitation and inadequate food or water.
Reuters was unable to verify individual accounts of Minenko or other Kherson residents, but these statements are consistent with the information provided by international human rights experts and Ukrainian authorities about detention conditions. This includes detainees being bound and blindfolded, beatings, electric shocks, and injuries including forced nudity, severe bruising, broken bones, and sexual violence.
According to Andriy Kolenko, chief prosecutor for war crimes in the Kherson region, “This was done systematically, exhaustingly” in order to get information on the Ukrainian military, and suspected collaborators, and to punish anyone critical of Russian occupation.
Reuters asked questions about alleged torture, unlawful detentions, and other issues. The Kremlin as well as Russia’s defense ministry did not respond. Moscow has not denied war crimes and targeting civilians, despite declaring that it’s conducting a special military operation in Ukraine.
The most complete figures available on the extent of tortured and detained persons, provided exclusively to Reuters by Ukraine’s top war crime prosecutor, show that the authorities opened investigations into more than a thousand Kherson residents who were allegedly illegally held by Russian forces over their long occupation.
Members of Ukrainian law enforcement say that the scale of crimes now being committed in the Kherson area seems to be greater than those occurring around Kyiv’s capital. This is due to its prolonged occupation.
Yuriy Belovov, Ukraine’s most senior war crimes prosecutor said that authorities had identified ten locations in Kherson used for illegal detentions by Russian forces. He said that around 200 people had been allegedly tortured and physically assaulted at these sites, while another 400 were held illegally there. The Ukrainian authorities expect these figures to rise as they continue their investigation into Russia’s withdrawal of Kherson, the last Ukrainian regional capital that it had captured in its almost year-long war with its Western neighbor.
Belousov stated that authorities nationwide have launched a pre-trial investigation into the alleged illegal detention of over 13,200 individuals. He said that 1,900 investigations have been launched into claims of illegal detention and ill-treatment.
Russia accused Ukraine of war crimes, while the West has been accused of not paying attention to them. This includes allegations that Ukrainian soldiers executed Russian prisoners of war. In November, the United Nations stated that it found evidence of torture by both warring sides. A U.N. official said Russian abuse was “fairly systemic.” Kyiv previously indicated it would look into any allegations made against its military forces.
Minenko thinks her alleged torturers were motivated by her husband’s service as a soldier. Minenko said that Russian troops arrived at Minenko’s grave to fire their weapons and make mock their execution of him.
Minenko claims that three times in March and April, men wearing Russian military uniforms and their heads covered with balaclavas visited her house at night and interrogated and then took Minenko into custody. One time, they forced her to change and beat her. Her head was also covered and tied with ropes.
Minenko stated, “When you are being beaten and have a bag over your head, it is so sterile that you can’t breathe. You cannot do any defense.
The February Russian invasion of Ukraine by Moscow sparked Europe’s largest land war since World War Two. Russia began its occupation of Kherson in March and retreated in November, claiming it was in vain to continue wasting Russian blood.
Belousov stated that more than 7,700 of the more than 50,000 war crimes reports filed with Ukrainian authorities have come from Kherson. He said that more than 540 people are still missing in the area. According to Kovalenko (the regional prosecutor), some people were taken into Russian territory by force deportations. This includes children.
Belousov stated that authorities had found over 80 bodies. The majority were civilians and more than half of them died from gunshot wounds. Belousov said that there were hundreds more bodies of civilians in areas where Russian forces have withdrawn. This includes over 800 civilians from the Kharkiv area, which investigators had to dig deeper into since September’s retaking of a large tract of territory by Ukraine.
According to Volodymyr Tymoshenko, Kharkiv’s regional police chief, and Jan. 2 post on Facebook, 25 other locations were also identified by Ukrainian authorities as being “torture camp” sites.
If they’re deemed serious enough, some of the thousands of war crimes alleged by Russian forces may be taken to international tribunals. An investigation has been opened by the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in Hague, into alleged war crimes committed against Ukraine.
According to Nigel Povoas (British lawyer), the lead prosecutor of an international-backed team that includes legal experts who are supporting Kyiv in its efforts to prosecute war criminals because of the staggering scale of detentions and tortures.
Povoas stated that there appeared to be a pattern of terrorizing and causing suffering in Ukraine. This reinforces the “impression of a larger, criminal strategy emanating from the leadership” for targeting the civilian population.
A 35-year-old Kherson man claimed that Russian soldiers beat him during five days of detention. They also made him wear a mask and gave him electric shocks to the ears and genitals. The current strikes and “it’s almost like a ball hitting your head” and then you go unconscious, said the Kherson man. He asked for anonymity out of fear of reprisals.
According to him, his captors interrogated Andriy about Ukraine’s military activities, which included the storage and use of explosives. They suspected that he was connected with the resistance movement. Andriy said that he had known people who were in the Ukrainian military or territorial defense forces, but he wasn’t one of them.
According to Ukrainian authorities, the office building in Kherson was one of the most important detention centers in the area. According to authorities, more than 30 persons are believed to have been detained in one room of the basement with a warren appearance. This was where they were tortured and held during the Russian occupation. Authorities said that an investigation is underway to determine the number of persons being held.
A December 2012 visit to the basement revealed that the atmosphere was suffused with human excrement, blocked-up windows, and visible signs of Russian torture tools such as plastic ligatures, metal pipes, and wires hanging from the ceiling, which were allegedly used for electric shocks. Authorities believe that the notches were made by the detainees to record the days they were held and also for messages. The other read “For her I live.”
A second location where people were allegedly tortured and interrogated was a building used by police. According to Ukrainian officials and over half a dozen Kherson residents Reuters interviewed, this is the same place.
Liudmyla Shumbkova (47), said that she was held at No. For most of their more than 50 days in detention, they were held at the site on No. The Russians inquired about her sister’s child because they thought he was part of the resistance movement.
Shumkova is a health lawyer and said that about half of the people in her cell were locked up with only a tiny window to let in light. They also had as few as one meals per day. Although she claimed she was not physically tortured, she said that she and other detainees suffered the same fate. She also shared a cell space with a female officer from the police. She said that men were subject to particularly severe torture. They screamed and it continued every day. This could go on for up to 3 hours.
The investigation continues to seek out those who are responsible for war crimes and the potential role of high-ranking military leaders. Belousov answered the question about whether criminal proceedings had been initiated against torture perpetrators. He said that more than 70 suspects had been identified and that 30 had been indicted.
Belousov didn’t identify the people but said that most suspects were lower-ranking military officers. However, some of them are “senior officers, in particular colonels or lieutenant colonels”, as well as top figures in pro–Russian Luhansk/Donetsk military/civilian governments. Reps from the pro-Russian Luhansk People’s Republic as well as Donetsk People’s Republic did not respond to queries about whether or not their forces had been involved in torture and unlawful detentions.
Questions about the alleged perpetrators were not answered by both Russia’s defense ministry or Kremlin.
A cold December day saw war crime investigators examine a Bilozerka village in the Kherson area. They found a Russian courthouse that authorities claim was used to torture and detain individuals. The school was also turned into a barracks by 300 Russian soldiers. This abandoned school, whose walls had been painted with the symbol of Russian support in wartime, was filled with Russian literature, bullets, and gas masks.
A small group of investigators collected DNA samples and took fingerprints at the courthouse. They had also placed yellow numbers in a garage adjacent to the courthouse as a way of identifying evidence. Two prosecutors stated that a desk chair was found on its side and littered with plastic ties. They also discovered a pouch and tube for liquid attached to it. These ties were allegedly used to give the sensation of drowning.
Questions about alleged torture methods were not answered by the Kremlin or the Russian defense ministry.