Ukraine reports bodies, torture sites found after Russian retreat

On October 10, Ukrainian police discovered a room in a house in Piskiradkivsky, Ukraine, that was used by the Russian occupiers as a command center for prisoners.  June 6, 2022.  (Wojciech Grzedzinski of The Washington Post)
On October 10, Ukrainian police discovered a room in a house in Piskiradkivsky, Ukraine, that was used by the Russian occupiers as a command center for prisoners. June 6, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski of The Washington Post)

PISKIRADKIVSKY, Ukraine — In peacetime, neighbors didn’t think about this kind of house. With white brick walls and metal doors, it looks a lot like everyone else.

But when Russian troops arrived in the spring, it became a place that residents couldn’t see as they hurried past. Asking questions could make them scream at night, locals say.

Civilians and soldiers were tortured on Pakova Street, according to Ukrainian police investigators who are investigating towns and villages from which Russian troops hurriedly retreated last month. But the most obvious thing about this place is how unremarkable its horrors have become.

In at least five different provinces, Russian troops have left behind them an archipelago of torture, often in buildings where families live or children play.

Sershi Bolvinov, the chief investigator in the northeastern province of Kharkiv, said on Friday that his forces had recovered 534 civilian bodies in the eastern province of Kharkiv, mostly from the town of Izyum of a mass grave. Many had signs of torture.

In Lyman, 100 miles to the southeast, a key transport hub for Russian troops before Ukrainian forces recaptured them last week, the governor said another 39 “graveyards” had been found. It is unclear how many bodies were buried there or how they died. The youngest child was born last year.

Under Russian occupation, Ukrainians have learned that even the most mundane places can become stages of terror. Police found torture sites in the basement, living room and garden. In the Kyiv suburb of Butcha, men were abused and executed in the basement of a children’s summer camp. In Igyum, soldiers used kindergartens and medical clinics.

Bolvinov said his investigators found 22 sites used for torture in the Kharkiv region.

The house in Piski Radkivsky, a small village east of Izyum, was used as a base for about 10 Russian soldiers, including a commander, where they interrogated civilians and military prisoners, police said.

The uniform of the Ukrainian National Guard was still lying on the long grass. Investigators found a gas mask they believe was put on the detainees’ heads as they were beaten. One room had a dildo and a box of extracted teeth. The items have been sent for DNA analysis to determine if they have been used on site.

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The owner watched silently from the street. “We don’t know what to do with this place right now,” said Ivan, 40, who gave only his last name for fear of reprisals if the Russians returned. “This is our home.”

He held his one-year-old son in his arms, who had been staring at the house, and the strange man with a clipboard inside. One of the victims, Andrei Dimitriev, the janitor of the local school, was testifying to them, speaking in a monotonous and exhausting manner.

Dimitriev said he was arrested on the street by Russian soldiers and held for seven days in the damp basement of his house. There were five other men shivering with him in the dark, but he didn’t know them, and soldiers walking around the garden, afraid to hear them talking to each other.

Dimitriev recalled that the beatings were barbaric. Soldiers pounded his body with sticks and sticks. They are often drunk, their questions are off-topic, as if they themselves don’t fully know what information they are looking for. They accused him of being a member of the Ukrainian army, but he said he was not. The coat of arms they found among his belongings was a gift from a friend.

“No matter what you say, they just keep hurting you,” he said.

When he was done, the investigator handed him a pen, a now-worn ritual: a signature on another page, attesting to the war crimes suffered by ordinary people.

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Ukraine’s judicial system is now almost entirely dedicated to investigating them. But thousands of investigators across the country are struggling to keep up.

In Jiefang District, every street has a story. Victims often flee. Witnesses they find often say they do their best to ignore the horrors going on around them because they fear arrest.

On Parkova Street, neighbours locked their doors when they heard noises coming from the house. Parents tell their kids not to ask questions. “You don’t want to be on their bad side. It’s easier that way,” said Tatiana, 48. But her 9-year-old daughter won’t ignore it. At night, she would ask who was screaming. Tatiana didn’t know what to tell her.

Residents who spoke to The Washington Post said Russian troops occupied the house for two months, and most of the time they could hear shouting, swearing and gunfire.

One woman said she saw two men in civilian clothes being led into the house with bags over their heads. Ranked shortly after the shot. “It was just after noon,” she recalled. “I never saw them again.”

Serhii Korolchuk contributed to this report.

Ukraine war: what you need to know

Newest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Friday to annex four occupied parts of Ukraine after a referendum held widely denounced as illegal. Follow us here for live updates.

response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia in response to the annexation, targeting government officials and families, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine was applying for “accelerated accession” to NATO, in an apparent response to annexation.

In Russia: Putin announced a military mobilization on September 9. 21st to call up as many as 300,000 reservists to dramatically reverse his setback in the Ukraine war. The announcement led to the exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men serving in the military, and reignited protests and other anti-war behavior.

Fight: Ukraine launched a successful counteroffensive, forcing Russia to conduct a massive retreat in the northeastern region of Kharkiv in early September, as troops fled the cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned vast quantities of military equipment.

photo: Photographers for The Washington Post have been on the ground since the war began — some of their most influential work.

How you can help: Here’s how Americans can support the people of Ukraine, and people around the world have been giving.

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