Kherson detention centers: Russian troops tortured almost half of detainees, international human rights report finds

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

A chair is seen down the hallway of a building that Ukrainian civilians said had been used as a torture center by Russian forces in Kherson, Ukraine, on December 8, 2022.


Almost half of Ukrainians detained in Russian detention centers in Kherson was subjected to widespread torture, including sexual violence, according to a report published on Wednesday.

The report reveals an analysis of an initial pool of 320 cases of detention in Kherson across more than 35 identified detention centers. It is prepared by a Mobile Justice Teampart of the UK, EU and US sponsored Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA) and established by the international human rights law firm and foundation, Global Rights Compliance, to support Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG).

Of these victims, at least 43% mentioned explicit torture practices in the detention centers, citing sexual violence as a common tactic imposed on them by Russian guards, on both male and female detainees, with preliminary results showing that military personnel were most likely to experience torture in prisons. One of the authors of the report says those with families in the military were also targeted.

“A lot is just punishment, and in addition to punishment for (their family member’s) actual military service, it’s also punishment it appears to be a Ukrainian citizen in reality,” Anna Mykytenko, senior legal advisor and Ukraine country manager for Global It told Rights Compliance to CNN.

According to the report, at least 36 victims from the analyzed pool mentioned the use of electric shocks during interrogations, often genital electric shocks by Russian guards. Other victims mentioned threats of genital mutilation, and at least one victim was forced to witness the rape of another arrested by a foreign object covered by a condom.

“In relation to men, it’s more that the majority of crimes are sexualized torture, and it’s usually genital torture, so it’s a form of punishment (for being Ukrainian) and in a way excludes them from having children ,” adds Mykytenko.

The report adds that suffocation, waterboarding, severe beatings and threats of rape were other techniques commonly used against victims by Russian guards in the Kherson torture chambers, according to the specialist unit. Mykytenko says these patterns of rape and torture point to a Russian intent to eradicate Ukrainian identity.

“There is a kind of intention to destroy or eliminate Ukrainian identity because in some cases it can be seen that those who were caught or, sometimes almost chased, had Ukrainian flags or other state symbols,” she said.

Barrister Wayne Jordash, managing partner and co-founder of Global Rights Compliance, shared a similar view.

“The torture and sexual assault tactics revealed by the prosecution from the Kherson detention centers suggest that Putin’s plan to eradicate Ukrainian identity includes a series of crimes that amount to genocide,” he said in a statement accompanying the report. “At the very least, the pattern we are observing is consistent with a cynical and calculated plan to humiliate and terrorize millions of Ukrainian citizens in order to subject them to the Kremlin’s dictates.”

Mykytenko believes that some of the patterns seen in Kherson could ultimately be considered genocide, although she acknowledges that it is difficult to prove and requires further investigation.

“There are some indicators (of genocide),” she says. “Genocide is a very difficult crime to prove because of the particular intent. It’s rarely direct enough to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt this early, but we’re working to provide enough support to the DA’s office for them to determine if the evidence supports that conclusion.”

Mykytenko says these findings are just a preliminary analysis of some of the detention cases, which she says suggests that cases of torture may have been even more widespread than previously thought. She also says that Ukrainians in regions currently under Russian occupation may face harsher and more widespread torture.

“Based on the trends that we saw, the longer the occupation was, the more serious the crimes and the higher the number of crimes committed,” she explains, adding that Ukrainian advances on the front line also intensified the use of torture. “Given the liberation of parts of the Kherson region last year, I imagine there are some crimes committed in retaliation for that.”

“Also maybe this year with the ongoing counter-offensive,” she adds, warning that further investigation into all this is needed.

Russia has repeatedly denied allegations of torture and human rights abuses in Ukraine despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, researched, compiled and shared by international human rights organizations and news organizations. Russian officials have yet to comment on the report.

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