The wounded arm of Mikhail Chindey in a cast is a painful reminder of the Russian occupation – Copyright AFP Juan BARRETO
“On the second day, my arm was broken,” said Mikhail Chindey, recalling his interrogation by Russian soldiers.
“One person held my hand and another hit my hand with a metal stick. They beat me for two hours almost every day.
“At some point I lost consciousness. I’ve lost a lot of blood. They hit me on my heels, back, legs and kidneys,” he said.
At the Raisin Hospital, Chindi began to walk cautiously.
His wounded arm, covered in a cast, is a painful reminder of Russia’s occupation of a city in eastern Ukraine.
The Russians arrested Chindi after Kyiv forces blew up a school near his home, killing and injuring “many” occupying troops, he said.
He was suspected of having passed the coordinates of the strikes to the Ukrainian military. His interrogators insisted that he reveal all communications he had with them.
“They put a bag over my head and took me somewhere,” the 67-year-old man told AFP. “When I saw the light again, I recognized this place: it was the police station in Izyum.
– torture chambers –
The Chindi case is just one of several stories of torture and arbitrary detention by Russian troops that have recently appeared in eastern Ukraine.
In a counter-offensive this month, Kyiv forces captured a number of cities, including Izyum, Balakleya and Kupyansk.
The head of Ukraine’s National Police said on Friday that more than 10 “torture chambers” had been found in formerly Russian-controlled parts of the northeastern Kharkiv region.
Ukrainian officials also said they discovered the mass graves after Russian troops retreated from Izyum.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has called the Kremlin’s forces “killers” and “tormentors.”
Chindi showed AFP the tiny wet cell where he said he was held for 12 days, along with seven other prisoners, until Ukrainian troops arrived.
Taped to the cell wall in the basement of the bomb-stricken police station was a rag from his jacket, which he used as a bandage.
According to him, other detainees were kept in a dozen cells located on two levels of the basement.
Chindi recalled that he saw about 15 people, and not one of them left without a beating.
“I could hear the screams of other people who were interrogated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” he said.
He added that one person died there.
On the first floor, a young officer from Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, arrived to investigate potential war crimes.
The office where he begins writing his report reflects the chaos. Folders, broken chairs, and overturned pieces of furniture are strewn across the floor.
In one room on the ground, on an old sofa and table, there are more than 100 Ukrainian passports.
“We have a lot of work,” said the man, who declined to give his name.
Investigators had to check everything, even digital fingerprints, to compare them with those found in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and other places where war crimes could have been committed.
He added that allegations of torture would be examined by investigators who arrived in Izyum on Sunday, and they were supposed to stay there for four to five days.
– “Bodies float on the river” –
Not far from Izyum is Kupyansk, where a panicked Marina Mikhailichenko is trying to escape the incessant bombardment of the ruined city, for which both sides are still fighting.
The 32-year-old woman said she was arrested and held for one week during the Russian occupation of Kupyansk because her brother is in the Ukrainian army. Eight more people crowded into her cell.
A volunteer from Kupyansk, nicknamed “Bronyk”, told AFP that the police are detaining and torturing anyone who has fought in the Ukrainian army since 2014 or had a pro-Kiev sentiment.
“I don’t know if people died from torture,” he said.
“But there were people who were injured. The locals saw bodies floating in the river.”
In Balakliya, Viktor Prilepov said that the Russians kept him in a cell at the police station for three days, with a sack over his head.
Prilepov, 68, was questioned about his son in the Ukrainian army, but he believes he avoided rough treatment because of “health problems.”
But others, he says, were not so lucky.