Ukrainian POWs claim they were tortured in a Russian prison.
Former Ukrainian hostages claim they were tortured, including repeated beatings and electric shocks, while being held at a detention center in south-western Russia, committing major violations of international humanitarian law.
In interviews with the BBC, a dozen ex-detainees released in prisoner exchanges claimed physical and psychological mistreatment at the Pre-Trial Detention Facility Number Two in Taganrog by Russian officials and guards.
The accounts, gathered over several weeks, depict a regular pattern of excessive brutality and ill-treatment at the institution, which is one of the locations where Ukrainian prisoners of war have been detained in Russia.
Among their claims are:
In daily inspections and interrogations, men and women at the Taganrog site are frequently beaten, often in the kidneys and chest, and given electric shocks.
Russian guards constantly harass and coerce captives, some of whom have allegedly provided false confessions that have been used against them in courts.
Captives are often malnourished, and those who are injured are not provided with adequate medical care, with reports of captives dying at the institution.
Although the BBC was unable to independently verify the claims, details of the tales were shared with human rights organizations and, where feasible, corroborated by other inmates.
The Russian government has refused to allow any other organizations, including the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to visit the facility, which was used exclusively to house Russian captives prior to the war.
Several requests for comment from Russia’s defense ministry went unanswered. It has previously stated that it does not torture or abuse hostages.
Prisoner swaps between Ukraine and Russia are a rare diplomatic triumph in the war, with over 2,500 Ukrainians released since the conflict began. Human rights groups think that up to 10,000 detainees remain in Russian custody.
According to Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman and one of the individuals participating in the swap negotiations with Moscow, nine out of ten former detainees alleged they were tortured while in Russian custody. “This is the biggest challenge for me right now: how to protect our people on the Russian side,” Lubinets explained. “Nobody knows how we can do it.”
Short grey line for presentation
Artem Seredniak, a senior lieutenant, had already been detained in Russia for four months when he and nearly 50 other Ukrainians were transported to Pre-Trial Detention Facility Number Two last September. They traveled for hours in the back of a truck, blindfolded and bound to each other by their arms, like a “human centipede,” according to Seredniak.
He remembered an officer greeting them upon their arrival in Taganrog, saying, “Hello fellas. Do you have any idea where you are? You will rot here until the end of time.” The prisoners stayed mute. According to Seredniak, they were escorted inside the premises, fingerprinted, had their clothes removed, were shaved, and made to shower.
Guards at the center hit them in the knees, arms, or “anywhere they wanted” at every step, according to Seredniak. “It’s referred to as’reception.'”