“I Was Dreaming of Finding a Jar, Breaking It To Cut My Veins”. The Story of a Man Who Survived Torture in the Kharkiv Region


In September, the Armed Forces of Ukraine began the liberation of the Russian-occupied territories of the Kharkiv Region. In a successful counteroffensive, the Armed Forces liberated parts of the region. After the general joy of liberation, all the horrors of the occupied territories were revealed: mass graves in Izium and torture chambers in Kupiansk and Kozacha Lopan. Towns and villages destroyed, hundreds killed, thousands injured – each is a testimony to the Russian war crimes committed on Ukrainian territory.

This is Valeriy from the village of Kunye in the Izium District, Kharkiv Region. He remained at home throughout the invasion and liberation. During all this time he survived shelling, abuse, captivity, and torture by Russians. He shared his story with journalists.

“I’ve been living in a cellar for the last six months,” was the first thing Valeriy said. In February, when the full-scale invasion began, he was asked to take care of the household, whose owner decided to leave. Valeriy agreed: “There were sheep, pigs, geese”

Then, the Russians came to the Kharkiv Region. They seized control of the region: “The road to Zaporizhia goes there, that’s how they came here. They stayed there for six months. The grain yard was full of tanks. Of course, those were spotted by drones or something. They were shelled. And they blamed the villagers. They were beating, stripping, and throwing them to the ground. They tortured them brutally. The people suffered so much, oh my God”.

Valeriy had his share of suffering. According to him, the worst thing was when a private military company entered the village [probably PMC Wagner, there is more than one eyewitness account of their presence in the Kharkiv Region]. Aside from allegations of cooperation with the Ukrainian military, two explosives were discovered on the farm he was taking care of. “For these explosives, I was confined to the basement, I do not even know for how long. They tortured me so much, I thought I was going to die.”

Valeriy was detained in spring. He was imprisoned in a basement, where he was tortured:

  • They undressed me, beat me, and said that we were turning them in. They waterboarded me, burned me.  

Valeriy showed the scars on his hands that have not healed yet

  • And what did they burn you with?
  • I don’t know, I had a bag on my head. They put a bag on your head, they put a pillowcase on the bag. They pour water on you, you stop breathing. Then they stop pouring, but it sticks and you still can’t breathe. I stayed like that for a day and a half in the basement. I was already dreaming of finding some jar and breaking it to cut my veins. Because I was out of patience. 

After torturing him, the Russians decided to release Valeriy. However, not without further humiliation: “They dressed me up in a suit, a pink shirt, a pack of Parliament [cigarettes] and let me walk so that everyone could see that I was released. They mocked me like that…”

Valeriy said that many locals went through that torture chamber in the basement. As it was the rule, all of them were accused of cooperation with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Russians accused people of passing on information about their troops, although they had taken away all the phones that could have been used to that end.  

  • Did everyone survive the basement?
  • They let everyone go, they were beaten badly, but they were released. Many people immediately ran away. They scared everyone, but still let them go. Everyone returned home. 2-3 days. 

But even out of the basement, people lived in fear, because the entire Izium District was occupied and constantly under shelling. Until the Ukrainian military liberated the Kharkiv Region:

  • During the night everything changed. Heavy shelling began, and I hid in the basement. When I stepped out to take a look at the house, there they were, waving at me: “We are here, we are Ukrainians!”. And I immediately thought: “How can it be?!”. But, hey, I was relieved. We did not think that this was going to happen. 

Right now, the liberation of Ukraine from the Russian invaders is in progress. Liberation is accompanied by the discovery of evidence of more Russian war crimes. We already know about numerous mass graves and torture chambers in different districts of the Kharkiv Region. The number of victims is still difficult to estimate. Law enforcement agencies, including foreign experts, continue to work on the ground. 

By the way, you can also read the accounts of prisoners from the torture chambers of Izium and Kozacha Lopana in the video from Bihus.Info. 

Anastasiya Usenko

In late February, Odesa chaplain Vasyl Vyrozub, together with the crew of the tug Sapfir traveled to Snake Island to retrieve the bodies of Ukrainian border guards believed dead. They were detained by the Russians near the island. After this, Vyrozub was held captive for two months, interrogated daily, tortured, and pressured to confess to cooperating with the Ukrainian Security Service.

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