HRW: Russian forces ran ‘torture center’, committed war crimes against Kherson residents News
HRW: Russian forces ran ‘torture center’, committed war crimes against Kherson residents

Human Rights Watch Thursday released a report documenting the unlawful detention and torture of Kherson residents by Russian forces, which took place during their occupation of the Ukrainian city between March and November 2022. The report details numerous war crimes committed by Russian forces, including the willful mistreatment, torture, and killing of civilians and captured combatants.

The report draws on interviews of Kherson residents, including 12 former detainees and 10 family members of detainees, as well as prior HRW interviews on torture in the Khersonska region. In three reported cases, that torture resulted in the deaths of detainees.

The HRW report alleges numerous war crimes committed by Russian forces, and spells out Russia and Ukraine’s legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions, including, among many things, prohibitions against torture and requirements to investigate alleged war crimes. Interviewees described civilians being abducted for engaging in “actual or suspected” support for Ukraine, or for being veterans of the 2014 Ukrainian security force operations in the Donbas region. HRW asserts that these descriptions, and testimony from other witnesses, amount to violations of the Geneva Conventions.

HRW details that former detainees “consistently reported similar forms of abuse, including severe beatings with sticks and rubber batons, electric shocks, threats of death or mutilation, and use of painful stress positions.” Adequate medical care was allegedly denied to detainees.

One woman stated that Russian forces held her hostage until her husband surrendered the next day, and interviewees reported consistent abuse of detainees and their relatives during searches and arrests. Multiple individuals described humiliating episodes in which they were forced to shout pro-Russian slogans, sing Russian songs, and applaud the singers, with beatings doled out to those who did not applaud loud enough. Serhii Chornousov, a 41 year-old physical education teacher, recounted a ten-minute beating of another detainee, also named Serhii, which he believes killed him.

The report notes that “nearly all of the torture cases documented recently” occurred in a single pretrial detention center on Teploenerhetykiv Street, although detainees were also held in makeshift centers in places like a municipal administration building, a village school, and an airport hangar.

The report comes as the latest in a long string of accusations against Russian forces alleging war crimes and human rights abuses over the course of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ICC recently issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection to the forced deportation of Ukrainian children, while human rights organizations continue to flag the numerous abuses perpetrated by Russian forces, including forced conscription and “indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks” against civilians. In the past week, a disturbing video has circulated online appearing to show Russian troops beheading a Ukrainian prisoner of war, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likened to the war crimes committed by ISIS and called on world leaders to respond.