Russian torture: State pre-planned Kherson torture center, say lawyers
Standing outside a Russian detention center in Kherson, days after the city was liberated, 29-year-old Ihor still trembles as he remembers what he endured inside.
“I was kept here for 11 days and during that time I heard screams from the basement,” said Ihor, who asked CNN not to give 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 what I was brought for and two more of them started hitting me in the ribs.
“People were tortured, beaten in the arms and legs with sticks, tied with cattle prods, even batteries and electrocuted or thrown into water,” he added.
Kherson was the first major city and the only regional capital occupied by Russian forces since the start of the offensive. Moscow forces captured the city on March 2, 2022, and held it for several months before being forced to withdraw in early November, following a months-long offensive by Ukrainian forces.
The detention center was part of a network of at least 20 other facilities that Ukrainian and international lawyers said were part of a calculated Russian strategy to extinguish Ukrainian identity.
“These detention centers are connected, they follow a very similar behavior,” Wayne Jordash, head of the Mobile Justice Team, a group of international investigators supporting Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office, told CNN.
The investigation found that Russian forces followed a very specific blueprint in several occupied territories, with clear patterns that point to a broader plan for Moscow’s occupation of Ukraine.
“The first stage is, essentially, the detention and, in many cases, the killing of a class of people labeled as ‘leaders,’ that is, those who might physically resist the occupation, but Even those who may be culturally opposed to it,” said Jordash.
“The second stage is a kind of filtration process where the population living outside the detention centers is continuously monitored and filtered so that anyone suspected of joining the ‘leaders’ or organizing any kind of protest suspected to be involved. They were then identified and either deported to Russia or detained in detention centers and tortured.
Zordash said these methods were used not only in Kherson but also in other areas occupied by Russian forces, such as the Kiev suburbs of Bucha and Borodyanka. However, he added, the prolonged occupation of Kherson allowed the Russian forces to advance even further.
“The third stage [is] Eliminating a permanent identity,” he said. This could include removing the Ukrainian curriculum from schools, and confiscating items deemed pro-Ukrainian such as flags or T-shirts in the country’s colors “indeed the population [is] Locked down so as to remove all traces of Ukrainian identity,” he explained.
Ihor’s account of torture while he was detained is consistent with the findings of the Mobile Justice Team and the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office. The kind of behavior he said he was forced to adopt is also consistent with the larger efforts to erase Ukrainian identity described by Jordash.
“We were forced to learn [the] Russian song. If you want cigarettes or candy you have to sing their song,” Ihor said as he took CNN to the center where he was 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 the Russian Minister of Defense.
“If we didn’t do it, we were beaten,” Ihor added.
He was not alone. Another detainee CNN spoke to, Archie, who also did not want us to reveal her last name due to security concerns, said she was tortured at the same facility.
“They beat me, electrocuted me, kicked me and beat me with sticks,” 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 forced to record a video saying he would agree to work with the Russian occupiers.
Ukrainian and international investigators also said they had uncovered financial ties linking these detention centers to the Russian state.
“Those detention centers have financial ties to the Russian state,” Jordash said, referring to documents uncovered by investigators. “These financial documents, they show that the civilian administration is being financed from Russia and the civilian administration is financing the detention centers, so you have very clear patterns and very clear links.”
CNN has not been able to independently review the documents provided by the investigation.
Jordash said these are only the preliminary results of the investigation, noting that more evidence of Russian war crimes is still being uncovered and processed.
He also said the newly released findings are a helpful indicator of what is currently happening in Russian-occupied territories, or what would happen if Moscow were to succeed in taking over Ukraine in its entirety.
“To me, the interesting thing about Kherson is that you really look at the microcosm of the whole criminal scheme, what would have happened to it? [the rest of] Ukraine” he explained. “What is terrible, as torture … = is to think what would have happened, if Russia had succeeded in its occupation of large areas of Ukraine.”
For Jordash, a massive Russian occupation would have led to “unprecedented” detentions, as well as cases of torture and killings.
“This criminal plan, which includes the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, at its core, you see it moving toward a more final, destructive stage, suggesting that the breakthrough plan absent in the original plan is a Turns into. Physical destruction, more deaths, more destruction, and potential genocidal intent,” he said.
CNN reached out to the Russian government for comment on the allegations made by Ukrainian and international investigators but has not yet received a response. Russia has repeatedly denied any and all allegations that it committed war crimes during its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Despite Moscow’s denials, CNN teams on the ground witnessed the brutal consequences of Russian occupation not only in Kherson, but also in places like Bucha, Irpin, and Borodyanka, uncovering evidence of torture, and indiscriminate killing of civilians. In January, Human Rights Watch accused Moscow of “violating international humanitarian law” and earlier in the week, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that Russia’s attack on Ukraine was “the worst violation of human rights Have done what we are living. [through] today.”
“It has unleashed widespread death, destruction and displacement,” Guterres added.