Ukrainians describe the horrors of the occupation of Kherson


© Reuters. Aliona Lapchuk shows a photo of her husband Vitaliy, who she says was tortured and left to die by Russian forces in Kherson at the start of the war, in an interview with Reuters in Krasne in the Mykolaiv region, Ukraine November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Mur


By Jonathan Landay and Tom Balmforth

KHERSON, Ukraine (Reuters) – Residents of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson refer to the two-story police station as “The Hole.” Vitalii Serdiuk, a retired person, said he was lucky to escape death.

“I persevered,” said the retired medical equipment repairman as he recounts his ordeal while being held captive in Russia, two blocks from where he and his wife live in a small Soviet-era apartment. .

The green-roofed police building at 3, Energy Workers Street, is the most famous of several locations where, according to more than half a dozen locals in the newly recaptured city, people have been questioned and tortured during the nine months of the Russian occupation. Another is a large prison.

Two residents living in an apartment complex overlooking the courtyard of the police station said they saw bodies wrapped in white sheets being carried out of the building, stored in a garage and then thrown into vehicles. garbage to take away.

Reuters was unable to independently verify all of the events described by Kherson residents.

The Kremlin and the Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to questions about Serdiuk’s account or those of others Reuters spoke to in Kherson.

Moscow has denied allegations of abusing civilians and soldiers, and accused Ukraine of orchestrating such abuses in places like Bucha.

On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights office said it had found evidence that both sides tortured prisoners of war, which the International Criminal Court has classified as a war crime. A United Nations official said Russia’s abuses were “quite systematic”.

As Russian security forces retreated from large swaths of territory to the north, east and south, evidence of abuses grew.

Those held at Kherson include those who spoke out against the Russian occupation, residents, like Serdiuk, believed to have information on the location of enemy soldiers, as well as underground resistance fighters. suspects and their associates.

Serdiuk said he was hit in the leg, back and torso by a Russian official with a baton and was electrocuted by a Russian official with a wire in the scrotum when he demanded to know the whereabouts and unit of his son, a Russian official. soldier in the Ukrainian army.

“I didn’t say anything to him. ‘I don’t know’ was my only answer,” the 65-year-old said in his apartment, which is lit by a single candle.

‘Remember! Remember! Remember!’ is a continuous response.”


Grim recollections of life under occupation in Kherson were followed by unbridled joy and relief when Ukrainian soldiers retook the city on Friday after Russian troops withdrew across the Dnipro River.

Two days later, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said investigators had uncovered more than 400 Russian war crimes and found the bodies of both servicemen and civilians in the Kherson areas liberated from occupation. of Russia.

“I personally witnessed five bodies being brought out,” said Oleh, 20, who lives in an apartment complex overlooking the police station. “We could see the hands hanging from the sheets and we understood these were corpses.”

Speaking privately, Svytlana Bestanik, 41, who lives on the same block and works in a small shop between the building and the station, also recalls seeing inmates carrying bodies out.

“They would bring the dead out and throw them in a truck with the garbage,” she said, describing the stench of decomposing bodies in the air. “We have witnessed sadism in its purest form.”

Reuters journalists visited the police station on Tuesday but were forbidden to go outside in the courtyard, surrounded by a wall of barbed wire, by armed police officers and a soldier say the houses. Investigation is gathering evidence inside.

One officer, who asked not to be named, said that up to 12 people were held in small cages, a account corroborated by Serdiuk.

Neighbors said they heard the screams of men and women coming from the station and said that whenever the Russians showed up, they wore their hoods all but their eyes. surname.

“They go to the store every day,” says Bestanik. “I decided not to talk to them. I was too scared of them.”


Aliona Lapchuk said she and her eldest son fled Kherson in April after a horrific ordeal at the hands of Russian security agents on March 27, the last time she saw her husband Vitaliy.

According to Lapchuk, Vitaliy has been an underground resistance fighter since Russian troops captured Kherson on March 2, and she became worried when he didn’t answer her phone calls.

Soon, she said, three cars painted with the Russian “Z” sign arrived at her mother’s house, where they lived. They brought Vitaliy, who was badly beaten.

The soldiers, who identified themselves as Russian troops, threatened to break her teeth when she tried to scold them. She said they confiscated their cell phones and laptops, then discovered weapons in the basement.

They brutally beat her husband in the basement before dragging him out.

“He didn’t come out of the basement; they dragged him out. They broke his cheekbone,” she said, sobbing in the village of Krasne, about 100 kilometers west of Kherson.

Lapchuk and her eldest son, Andriy, were hooded and taken to the police station at 4, Lutheran Street, in Kherson, where she could hear her husband being interrogated through the wall, she said. She and Andriy were later released.

After leaving Kherson, Lapchuk wrote to everyone she could think of trying to find her husband.

On June 9, she said she received a text from a pathologist telling her to call the next day. She knew right away that Vitaliy was dead.

She said his body was found floating in the river, showing pictures taken by a pathologist where the birthmark on his shoulder could be seen.

Lapchuk said she paid to bury Vitaliy and has yet to see the grave.

She believes that her husband has been betrayed to the Russians by someone very close to them.


Ruslan, 52, who runs a beer shop opposite the police station where Serdiuk is being held, said that at the start of the occupation, daily Russian-made Ural trucks would stop in front of the gray door.

Detainees would be thrown from behind, he said, with their hands tied and their heads covered with bags.

“This place is called ‘Yama’ (Pit),” he said.

Serhii Polako, 48, a merchant who lives across the street from the station, echoed Ruslan’s account.

He said that a few weeks after the occupation, the Russian National Guard deployed at the site had been replaced by men driving vehicles with the letter “V”, and that’s when the screams began. head.

“If there was a hell on earth, it was there,” he said.

About two weeks ago, he said, the Russians released those held in the fort in apparent preparation for their withdrawal.

“Suddenly they cleaned up the place and we understood that something was going on,” he told Reuters.

Serdiuk believes he has been betrayed by an informant who is the father of a Ukrainian soldier.

He said Russian security guards handcuffed him, put a bag over his head, forced him to stoop and pressed him to a vehicle.

At the station, he was put in a cell so cramped that the occupants could not move while lying down. On some days, inmates received only one meal.

The next day, he was hooded, handcuffed, and taken down to an underground room. He said the interrogation and torture lasted about 90 minutes.

His Russian interrogator knows all the details of him and that of his family, and says that unless he cooperates, he will arrest his wife and phone his son to he could hear both of them screaming while being tortured, Serdiuk said.

Two days later, he was released without explanation. His wife found him outside the store where Bestanik worked, barely able to walk.

(Tom Balmforth reporting from Krasne, Ukraine; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Philippa Fletcher)

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