Ukraine reports finding bodies and torture sites after Russian retreat

One of the rooms of a house, used by Russian occupiers as a command center, where prisoners were being held, which was discovered by Ukrainian police in Pisky Radkivsky, Ukraine on October 6, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for the Washington Post)
One of the rooms of a house, used by Russian occupiers as a command center, where prisoners were being held, which was discovered by Ukrainian police in Pisky Radkivsky, Ukraine on October 6, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for the Washington Post)

PISKY RADKIVSKY, Ukraine — It wasn’t the kind of house neighbors thought about much in times of peace. With its white brick walls and metal gate, it looked a lot like the others.

But when the Russian forces arrived in the spring, it turned into a place the locals looked away from as they hurried past. Asking questions could lead them to be the ones whose cries ring out at night, residents said.

Civilians and soldiers were tortured on Parkova Street, according to Ukrainian police investigators combing through towns and villages from where Russian forces retreated last month. But what is striking about this place is how mundane its horrors have become.

In at least five different provinces, Russian troops left in their wake the remains of an archipelago of torture, often in buildings where families had lived or children had played.

On Friday, chief investigator for northeastern Kharkiv province Serhii Bolvinov said his forces recovered 534 civilian bodies in eastern Kharkiv province, most of them from a mass grave in the city. of Izyum. Many bore signs of torture.

In Lyman, 100 miles to the southeast, a key transport hub for Russian forces before the Ukrainian military recaptured it last week, the local governor said 39 more “burial sites” had been discovered. It was not known how many bodies were buried there, or how they died. The youngest was born last year.

Under Russian occupation, Ukrainians learned that even the most mundane places could become a scene of terror. Police found torture sites in basements, living rooms and gardens. In the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, men were abused and executed in the basement of a children’s summer camp. In Izyum, the soldiers used a kindergarten and a medical clinic.

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

The house in Pisky Radkivsky, a small village east of Izyum, served as a base for about 10 Russian soldiers, including a commander, and they interrogated civilian and military prisoners there, police said.

Ukrainian National Guard uniforms are still lying around in the tall grass. Investigators found a gas mask which they believe had been placed on the inmates’ heads as they were beaten. There was a dildo and a box of extracted teeth in one room. The items have been sent for DNA analysis to verify if they have been used on the site.

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

He was carrying his one-year-old son in his arms, and the child kept staring at the house, and the strange men with clipboards inside. One of the victims, the janitor of the local school, Andrei Dimitriev, gave them his testimony, and he spoke in a flat, exhausted voice.

Dimitriev said he was arrested in the street by Russian soldiers and held for seven days in the house’s damp basement. There were five other men shivering in the dark with him, but he didn’t know them, and with the soldiers milling about in the garden, they were afraid they’d be heard talking to each other.

The beatings were savage, recalls Dimitriev. The soldiers beat her body with sticks and wooden bats. They were often drunk and their questions were not focused, as if they themselves did not know exactly what information they were looking for. They accused him of being a member of the Ukrainian army, but he said he was not. The military badge they had found among his belongings was a gift from a friend.

“No matter what you said, they kept hurting you,” he said.

When he was done speaking, the investigator handed him a pen for what is now a well-worn ritual: the signature on another page testifying to the war crimes ordinary people have endured.

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The Ukrainian judicial system is now devoted almost entirely to investigating them. But the thousands of investigators deployed across the country are struggling to keep up.

In the liberated areas, every street has a story. The victims often fled. Eyewitnesses they find often say they did their best to ignore the horrors unfolding around them, for fear of being arrested themselves.

On Parkova Street, neighbors closed their doors when they heard noises coming from the house. The parents told their children not to ask questions. “You didn’t want to get on their bad side. It was easier that way,” says Tatiana, 48. But her 9-year-old daughter knows it. At night, she asked who was screaming. Tatiana didn’t know what to say to him.

Residents interviewed by The Washington Post said Russian forces occupied the home for two months and heard shouting, swearing and gunfire almost daily.

A woman said she saw two men in civilian clothes being led inside with bags over their heads. Shots rang out a short time later. “It was just after noon,” she recalls. “I haven’t seen them again.”

Serhii Korolchuk contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed decrees to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following referendums held that have been widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and their family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine was seeking an “accelerated ascent” into NATO, in apparent response to annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call up up to 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse the setbacks of his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of over 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and further protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine launched a successful counter-offensive that forced a large Russian retreat into the northeast Kharkiv region in early September as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large quantities of military equipment.

Pictures: Washington Post photographers have been in the field since the war began – here are some of their most powerful works.

How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.

Read our full coverage of the Russia–Ukraine War. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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