Ukraine reports finding bodies and torture sites after Russian pullout

One of the rooms of a house, used by the Russian occupiers as a command center, where prisoners were held, discovered by Ukrainian police in Pisky Radkivsky, Ukraine, on Oct. 6, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)
One of the rooms of a house, used by the Russian occupiers as a command center, where prisoners were held, discovered by Ukrainian police in Pisky Radkivsky, Ukraine, on Oct. 6, 2022. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post)

PISKY RADKIVSKY, Ukraine — It wasn’t the kind of house neighbors thought much of in peacetime. With its white brick walls and metal door, it looked a lot like the others.

But when Russian forces arrived in the spring, it became a place residents looked away from as they hurried past. Asking questions could lead them to be the ones whose cries echoed through the night, locals said.

Civilians and soldiers were tortured on Parkova Street, according to Ukrainian police investigators now combing towns and villages from which Russian forces hastily withdrew last month. But what is surprising about this place is how bland its horrors have become.

In at least five different provinces, Russian troops left behind the remnants of an archipelago of torture, often in buildings where families lived or where children played.

On Friday, the chief investigator of the northeastern province of Kharkiv, Serhii Bolvinov, said his forces had recovered 534 bodies of civilians in the eastern province of Kharkiv, most of them from a mass grave in the city of Izyum. Many showed signs of torture.

In Lyman, 100 miles to the southeast, a key transport hub for Russian forces before it was recaptured by the Ukrainian military last week, the local governor said a further 39 “burial sites” had been discovered. It was not clear how many bodies were buried there or how they had died. The youngest was born last year.

Under Russian occupation, Ukrainians learned that even the most mundane places could become a stage for terror. Police have found torture sites in basements, living rooms and gardens. In the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, the men were abused and executed in the basement of a children’s summer camp. In Izyum, the soldiers used a kindergarten and a medical clinic.

Bolvinov said his investigators have found 22 sites that were used for torture in the Kharkiv region.

The house in Pisky Radkivsky, a small town east of Izyum, was used as a base for about 10 Russian soldiers, including a major, and they interrogated civilian and military prisoners there, police said.

The uniforms of the National Guard of Ukraine are still lying in the tall grass. Investigators found a gas mask that they believed had been placed on the detainees’ heads while they were being beaten. There was a dildo and a box of extracted teeth in one room. The items were submitted for DNA analysis to determine if they were used on the site.

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The owner of the house watched silently from the street. “We don’t know what to do with this place now,” said Ivan, 40, who gave only his last name for fear of retaliation if the Russians return. “This was our house.”

She was carrying her one-year-old son in her arms, and the boy kept looking at the house and the strange men with clipboards inside. One of the victims, the local school janitor, Andrei Dimitriev, was giving her testimony, and he spoke in an exhausted monotone.

Dimitriev said he had been arrested on the street by Russian soldiers and held for seven days in the dank basement of the house. There were five other men shivering in the dark with him there, but he didn’t know them, and with the soldiers milling about in the garden, they were afraid they might be overheard talking to each other.

The beatings were savage, Dimitriev recalled. The soldiers beat his body with sticks and wooden bats. They were often drunk and their questions were unfocused, as if they themselves didn’t know what information they were looking for. They accused him of being a member of the Ukrainian army, but he said that he was not. The military insignia found among his belongings was a gift from a friend.

“No matter what you said, they just kept hurting you,” he said.

When he finished speaking, the investigator handed him a pen for what is now a widely used ritual: the signature on another page attesting to the war crimes suffered by ordinary people.

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Ukraine’s judicial system is now devoted almost entirely to investigating them. But the thousands of researchers spread across the country are struggling to keep up.

In the liberated zones, each street has a story. Victims have often fled. Eyewitnesses they meet often say they did their best to ignore the horrors unfolding around them, fearing arrest themselves.

On Parkova Street, neighbors locked their doors when they heard noises in the house. Parents told their children not to ask questions. “You didn’t want to get on her bad side. It was easier that way,” said Tatiana, 48. But her 9-year-old daughter wouldn’t ignore it. At night, she would ask who was yelling. Tatiana didn’t know what to say to him.

Residents interviewed by The Washington Post said Russian forces occupied the home for two months and heard screaming, swearing and gunshots most days.

One woman said she saw two men in civilian clothes coming in with bags on their heads. Shots rang out shortly after. “It was just after noon,” she recalled. “I never saw them again.”

Serhii Korolchuk contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, after organized referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration announced Friday a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials, and defense acquisition networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine is Application for “accelerated ascension” to NATOin an apparent response to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call as many 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse setbacks in his war against Ukraine. The ad caused an exodus of more than 180,000 peoplemainly men who were subject to the serviceY renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: mounted ukraine a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian withdrawal in the northeastern region of Kharkiv in early September, when troops were fleeing the towns and villages they had occupied since the first days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the beginning of the war. here are some of his most powerful works.

How can you help: Here are ways those in the US can support the ukrainian people as much as what people from all over the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive videos.

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