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Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in 2014, Russia has used physical and psychological torture against Ukrainians. First, in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions and Crimea, and after February 24, 2022, in the newly occupied regions.

With the first liberation of cities by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the media also reported on the facts of torture and the creation of entire torture chambers by the Russian army, where the occupiers tried to beat information out of local residents by all available means: from severe physical assault to electric shocks and even sexual violence.

Nine circles of occupation hell

According to a UN report of March 15, 2024, the practice of torture of civilians and prisoners of war by the Russian army is widespread and systematic. Residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine suffer the most from it.

According to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, from February 24, 2022, to June 10, 2024 6,000 Ukrainians – 3,800 civilians and 2,200 military – were victims of torture. During this time, prosecutors and investigators discovered 160 Russian torture chambers in the de-occupied territories. All the figures are not final, as the scale can only be truly assessed after the liberation of all Ukrainian territories.

Russian torture chamber in Balakliya, Kharkiv region. Prayer words are scrawled on the wall.
Photo: Ihor Klymenko, Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine

According to the victims’ stories, the occupiers used both physical and psychological torture. A 32-year-old resident of Kherson, who was helping protesters against the Russian occupation during the full-scale invasion, was taken hostage by the Russian military. They tortured him for 17 days, threatening to rape his wife and take his young child to an orphanage.

He was released only after the family paid UAH 100 thousand, but before that, they forced him to record a video of the alleged transfer of funds to support Russia.

Other victims of torture also reported various methods of torture, including nails being hammered into joints, blunt force trauma, starvation, and detention in freezers.

In addition to targeted injuries, people were also held in cramped basements with little or no food, completely unsanitary conditions, and often virtually no water. The new arrivals were even forbidden to sleep for a certain period of time and punished for sleeping.

Most of the survivors of torture by the Russian army report significant deterioration in their mental and physical condition. 

Russian captivity kills

In March 2024, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission interviewed 60 Ukrainian soldiers who had been released from captivity and prepared a report based on the data. According to the report, 58 of the 60 interviewees testified to ill-treatment in captivity.

“In almost every interview with Ukrainian prisoners of war, it was stated that they were tortured by Russian servicemen and officials in detention, using beatings, electric shocks, threats of execution, torture by prolonged exposure to uncomfortable positions, and mock executions. Sexual violence was perpetrated against more than half of the prisoners of war,” stated Danielle Belle, Chief Monitor of the HRMMU.

In addition, the executions of 32 Ukrainian prisoners of war were also documented.

Those who spent more than a few weeks in captivity and were transferred to more organized facilities also reported unanimously about torture and ill-treatment in other situations, such as daily cell inspections, walks in the courtyard, and during the showering of prisoners.

In these situations, guards often beat prisoners of war, electrocuted them with stun guns, forced them to stand for long periods of time in uncomfortable positions that caused pain, and sometimes exposed them to the cold, forcing them to walk outside in winter without clothes or shoes. In some places, during certain periods of internment, prisoners of war were forced to stand still in their cells all day, every day.

Most of the released Ukrainian prisoners report severe weight loss, mental and physical health problems, serious injuries, and the development of chronic diseases.

As of January 2024, Russia held about 8,000 Ukrainian POWs.

Russia continues to use the same methods that the Soviet Kremlin was so fond of. However, neither then nor now should this become the norm in the modern democratic world. 

It should be understood that these are not accidental acts of cruelty by individual Russian soldiers but part of Russia’s state policy based on intimidation and terror.