Inside the Russian use of torture chambers in Ukraine

Warning: This article contains descriptions that some readers may find disturbing.

Vitaly Oliia’s dramatic retelling of how he was captured by Russian forces and endured “inhumane conditions” is a byproduct of the war in Ukraine, now nearly seven months away.

Oliia, 40, told the Kiev Independent news site that he was subjected to several rounds of physical and psychological torture. The resident of Kozacha Lopan in Kharkiv Oblast – about 4 kilometers from the Russian border – was captured for his previous service in the Ukrainian army, leading to imprisonment in two separate locations.

After serving between 2017 and 2020, Oliia believes he was betrayed by an employee who specifically dealt with veterans affairs in the municipal government. He had already been a Russian proxy target for his military actions in Donbas.

He remembered being beaten hard on the back of the head and having his ribs broken. He was then dragged to a torture chamber at Kozacha Lopan train station, The Kyiv Independent reported.

Oliia said he was blindfolded and limited his hands before being kicked in the stomach by more Russians.

Then they pulled down his pants and underwear.

“I could feel them attaching something to my penis,” he said, adding that a wire had been wrapped around his right thigh — leading to an hour of repeated electrocution.

He reportedly lost consciousness for the entire duration. Each time he regained consciousness, the enemy continued to wreak havoc, the news site reported. Oliia said they poured water on his burns, causing him even more pain.

“It was indescribable,” he told The Kyiv Independent, “every inch of me was in agony.”

On Tuesday, the Office of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General posted on Telegram that prosecutors along with the Dergachy District Prosecutor of the Kharkiv Region conducted an inspection of two basement rooms in the village of Kozacha Lopan in Oliia.

“The occupiers have set up prisons in the basements of the train station and a local shop,” officials said, according to an English translation. “The Russian army has forcibly detained people and subjected them to torture and physical and psychological violence.”

The number of victims has yet to be determined. Law enforcement officers are reportedly collecting evidence “to bring justice to the Russian military”.

In another Telegram report a day later, officials said prosecutors from the Kharkiv region’s Kupyan District Prosecutor’s Office verified that a torture chamber was set up by Russian forces during the occupation.

Torture Chamber Russia Ukraine Prosecutors
A district police room allegedly used by the Russian military as a torture chamber for local residents was photographed on Sept. 13 in Balakliya, Ukraine. Balakliya was under Russian occupation for six months.
Oleksandra Novosel/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC”/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

“In a semi-basement room, they subjected people to physical and psychological violence,” the office reported. “In a cell that can accommodate four people, there were more than 20 in the Russian army. According to the victims, they took turns sleeping because there was no space.”

Oliia’s town was liberated on September 11, but the trauma continues.

“I never go beyond the next house, that’s enough for me,” he told The Kyiv Independent. “Day or night, if I hear a car approaching the road, I’m instantly alert.”

Ukrainian officials believe Russian troops have committed war crimes, most recently with the discovery of a mass grave in the reoccupied city of Izium, in the Kharkiv region.

The killing of civilians in Bucha was previously investigated after speculation that Russian officials may have killed their own officers to cover up possible war crimes. Ukrainian officials claim alleged war crimes will be returned “a hundredfold”.

News week contacted the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office for comment.

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