Kherson torture center was pre-planned by the state, lawyers say
Standing outside a Russian detention center in Kherson days after the city was liberated, Ihor, 29, was still shivering as he recalled what he had endured inside.
“I was held here for 11 days and all the while I heard screams coming from the basement,” said Ihor, who asked CNN not to reveal his last name for his protection. “I was stabbed in the legs with a taser, they use it as a greeting. One of them asked why I was brought in and two others started punching me in the ribs.
“People were tortured, they were beaten with sticks in their arms and legs, cattle prods, even hooked up to batteries and electrocuted or submerged in water,” he added.
Kherson was the first major city and the only regional capital that Russian troops were able to occupy since the start of the invasion. Moscow’s armies took control of the city on March 2, 2022 and occupied it for several months before being forced to withdraw in early November, after a months-long offensive by Ukrainian forces.
The detention center in which Ihor was being held was part of a network of at least 20 facilities that Ukrainian and international lawyers say was part of a calculated Russian strategy to extinguish Ukrainian identity.
“These detention centers are linked, they follow very similar, if not identical, behavior,” Wayne Jordash, head of the Mobile Justice Team, a collective of international investigators supporting Ukraine’s attorney general’s office, told CNN.
The investigation revealed that Russian forces were following a very specific plan in several occupied areas, with clear patterns that point to Moscow’s overall plan to occupy Ukraine.
“The first step, essentially, is to detain and, in many cases, kill a category of people qualified as “leaders”, meaning those who could physically resist the occupation, but also those who might be culturally resistant to it,” Jordash said.
“The second stage is a kind of screening process where the population that remains outside the detention centers is subject to constant monitoring and screening so that anyone suspected of being involved with “leaders” or to have been involved in the organization of any type of resistance is also then identified and either deported to Russia, or held in detention centers and tortured.
Jordash said these methods were used not only in Kherson but in other areas occupied by Russian forces, such as the Kiev suburbs of Bucha and Borodianka. However, he added, the long occupation of Kherson allowed Russian forces to go even further.
“The third stage [is] the extinction of permanent identity,” he said. This may include the removal of the Ukrainian curriculum from schools and the confiscation of items considered pro-Ukrainian such as flags or T-shirts in the colors of the country. [is] locked so that any traces of Ukrainian identity can be removed,” he explained.
Ihor’s account of the torture he suffered while in detention matches the findings of the Mobile Justice Team and the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office. The kind of behavior he says he was coerced into also aligns with the overall efforts to eradicate Ukrainian identity described by Jordash.
“We were forced to learn [the] Russian anthem. If you wanted to have a cigarette or a candy, you had to sing their anthem,” Ihor said when he took CNN to the center where he was being held on November 23, 2022. “When they opened the door, you had to shout: ‘Glory to Russia! Glory to Putin! Glory to Shoigu!’ Sergei Shoigu is Russia’s Defense Minister.
“We were beaten if we didn’t,” added Ihor.
He was not alone. Another inmate CNN spoke to, Archie, who also didn’t want us to reveal his last name for security reasons, said he was tortured at the same facility.
“They beat me, electrocuted me, kicked me and beat me with truncheons,” Archie, 20, recalled. “I can’t say they starved me, but they didn’t give me much to eat.” Archie said he was lucky to be released after nine days and being forced to record a video saying he had agreed to work with the Russian occupiers.
Ukrainian and international investigators also said they discovered financial links linking these detention centers to the Russian state.
“These detention centers have financial ties to the Russian state,” Jordash said, citing documents discovered by investigators. “These financial documents, they show that the civil administration is funded by Russia and the civil administration is funding the detention centers, so you have very clear patterns and very clear connections.”
CNN was unable to independently review the documents cited by the investigation.
Jordash said these were only preliminary results of the investigation, explaining that more evidence of Russian war crimes was still being uncovered and processed.
He also said the recently released results are a useful indicator of what is happening in the territories currently occupied by Russia, or what would have happened if Moscow succeeded in taking full control of Ukraine.
“For me, what’s interesting about Kherson is that you really see the microcosm of the overall criminal plan, what would have happened to [the rest of] Ukraine,” he explained. “What is horrifying, as much as torture… = is the thought of what would have happened if Russia had succeeded in successfully occupying large areas of Ukraine.”
For Jordash, a greater Russian occupation would have led to an “unprecedented” number of detentions, as well as cases of torture and murder.
“This criminal plan which involves the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, at its very core you see it moving into a more final and destructive phase, which seems to suggest that in the absence of success in the original plan, the plan turns into one of physical destruction, more death, more destruction and potentially genocidal intent,” he said.
CNN has contacted the Russian government to comment on the accusations made by Ukrainian and international investigators, but has not yet received a response. Russia has repeatedly denied all accusations that it committed war crimes during what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Despite Moscow’s denials, CNN teams on the ground witnessed the brutal results of the Russian occupation of not only Kherson but places like Bucha, Irpin and Borodianka, uncovering evidence of torture and indiscriminate killings of civilians. ordinary. In January, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of a “litany of violations of international humanitarian law”, and earlier in the week UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the invasion of Ukraine by Russia had triggered “the most massive violations of human rights that we are experiencing”. [through] Today.”
“It triggered widespread death, destruction and displacement,” continued António Guterres.
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