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«The Russians made sure everyone could hear the screams»: Accounts of torture from liberated Balakliya

The Russian invaders in Balakliya set up a prison in the basement of the police department, where they tortured at least 40 Ukrainians who had served or had relatives serving in the military, says Colonel Serhii Bolvinov, the head of the Investigation Department of the National Police in the Kharkiv Oblast. City residents suspected of having pro-Ukrainian sympathies were violently interrogated in room No. 7 on the second floor. Electrical cables that were used to administer the shock are still hanging from the ceiling, report BBC, The Globe and Mail, and human rights activists who arrived in the newly liberated city.

As the journalists describe, one of the walls in room No. 7 is pierced by a cluster of bullet holes about a meter above a small black chair, suggesting that interrogators would shoot over the prisoners' heads as a means of intimidation. Colonel Bolvinov openly called this room a “torture chamber”. Documents found at the police station suggest that the torture was carried out by officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB). The first floor holds four small cells without windows. According to Bolvinov, even though the cells were designed to hold two detainees each, the occupants kept up to 10 men in one cell.

The women were kept in a separate cell - up to eight at the same time. In one of the men’s cells, someone kept track of their days in captivity starting from May 22, scratching marks on the wall next to the squat toilet. Locals recall that any comment seen as pro-Ukrainian led to days or even weeks of interrogation and torture.

The Russian torture chamber in Balakliya. The Lord’s Prayer in Russian (!) carved into the wall
The Russian torture chamber in Balakliya. The Lord’s Prayer in Russian (!) carved into the wall

The reporter of BBC cites Artem, who lives in Balakliya and spent 40 days as a prisoner of the Russian military. He was detained for keeping a photograph of his brother, who serves in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Artem shared that he’d been subjected to electrocution. According to Artem, the occupants disabled the ventilation system on purpose so that prisoners could hear the screams of their peers:

“They turned it off so everyone could hear how people scream when they are shocked with electricity. They did this to some of the prisoners every other day... They even did this to the women.”

Artem gave a detailed account of the endured torture. “They made me hold two wires,” he said. “There was an electric generator. The faster it went, the higher the voltage. They said, 'if you let it go, you are finished'. Then they started asking questions. They said I was lying, and they started spinning it even more and the voltage increased.”

Tatyana, the headmaster of a local school, corroborates Artem’s account. She spent three days in captivity and also heard the cries of prisoners in other cells.

The violence continued until the last hours of Balakliya's occupation, reporters say. On Tuesday, Ukrainian investigators exhumed the bodies of two men said to have been shot on September 7 as they drove through a Russian checkpoint at the edge of the forest outside the city.

Valentina Shepel had to identify the body of her son Pyotr, who had been killed on September 6
Valentina Shepel had to identify the body of her son Pyotr, who had been killed on September 6
The Globe and Mail

Valentina Shepel cries out after identifying her son Pyotr’s body:

“I want to ask Putin: why did he kill my son? Why did he bring his people here with all those scary weapons? Why didn’t anyone stop him yet? … I ask all the mothers who live there [in Russia] to confront this murderer.”

Balakliya is not the only liberated community in the Kharkiv Region to produce evidence of Russian troops torturing civilians. Thus, after the Russian military withdrew from Zaliznichne, Ukrainian law enforcement officers discovered the bodies of four locals with signs of torture.

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