Tortured Ukrainian Women Forced to Chant ‘Glory to Putin!’

While Russian authorities have repeatedly claimed to be “rescuing” Ukrainian civilians in the territories they seize control of, those who survived Russia’s occupation of Kherson say troops systematically tortured civilians—sometimes to death.

Thirty four people interviewed by Human Rights Watch after Russian forces withdrew from the area last November described a slew of torture sites throughout the region, according to a new report released Thursday. Their accounts are just the latest in a rapidly growing list of war crimes allegations that include rape, torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and a genocidal campaign to wipe out the Ukrainian identity.

Agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service were present for much of the torture, survivors said, and the violence went hand in hand with an attempt to force victims to embrace their new “Russian world.”

“Every day we could hear torture, we could hear screams. The worst was when we were forced to sing the Russian national anthem. We had to stand at attention and yell, ‘Glory to Russia!’… When someone sang… we had to clap for him. If we didn’t applaud [loudly enough], they’d take us from our cell and beat us again,” Leonid Remyga, 68, the chief doctor at a local hospital, told HRW investigators.

Olha Strohan, 53, described a similar scenario. She said she was abducted and beaten by Russian forces trying to hunt down her husband. While in captivity, she said, she watched guards force other female captives to chant “Glory to Putin!” and sing patriotic Russian songs, threatened with beatings if they did not do as they were told.

Others described being electrocuted.

“They placed electrodes on my ear and between my fourth finger and my pinky. It lasted for two hours, with breaks. I sat on a stool. They demanded information about… activists in 2014… In the interrogations after that they… threatened to kill me. They’d say, for example, ‘We’re going to take you away, shoot you, and no one will find you.’… They also said, ‘Now we’re going to put an electrode on your dick and electrocute you,’” said Roman Baklazhov, who spent 54 days in captivity.

Another survivor, Serhiy Ihnativ, described threats of rape and mutilation at the hands of masked Russian soldiers.

“They started to beat me on the legs, on my ankle bone, and I fell. They said, ‘We’re going to rape your girlfriend in front of you, and cut your balls off,’” he told HRW.

Some survivors said they’d literally watched in horror as other captives were tortured to death.

“We heard screams, as if someone was being beaten. Then he was thrown into the cell with us with his hands tied… He screamed loudly to be untied. He was beaten and said something about electroshock. We realized he was the farmer Oleh Kovalyuk from Miroliubovka,” said Serhiy Urodlivichenko. “He died after 20 minutes. We called the guards and said that he had died… They took the body away the next day. That is, his body lay in the cell for a day.”

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