Life in the occupied Ukraine: repression and torture chambers

13 prill 2023 12:54

Artikulli i përkthyer.

Since 2014, Ukraine has been divided into territories occupied by Russia and controlled by Kyiv. On the map, it's all one country, but in reality, life under occupation is like looking through a glass darkly.

In February of 2014 the Revolution of Dignity – Maidan – had just ended, which forced President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country. Yanukovych was a Kremlin puppet and completely corrupt. He rejected the promised European integration, so Ukrainian society erupted in the biggest protest, Maidan.

Putin quickly ordered the troops to retake Crimea. Even though after the collapse of the USSR, Crimea became part of the independent Ukraine. However, the Black Sea Fleet of Russia had still remained in Sevastopol.

In order to distract the international community from Crimea, Putin sent his troops to the east of Ukraine, in the so-called Donbas region, where in spring 2014 he unleashed a bloody war at the heart of Europe. Putin took advantage of the weakness of the Ukrainian army and the general chaos in Ukraine, which at the time did not even have a president.

Ukraine managed to protect several cities - Odesa, Kharkiv, Sievierodonetsk, Sloviansk, Mariupol. However, such large and important cities as Donetsk and Luhansk, along with a large part of Donbas region. During the next years, Donbas was used a military base.

Although Crimea is considered part of the Southern Federal District of Russia, there were no official Russian banks, hotel chains, shops and restaurants, and Visa, MasterCard, Apple Pay, Google Pay, etc. do not work. Companies were wary of international sanctions and began to spring in Crimea only in the wake of the full-scale invasion in 2022, when sanctions were imposed on Russia.

Repressions ensued in Crimea. The main target was the indigenous people, the Crimean Tatars, and the Ukrainians, who left the peninsula under the threat of imprisonment. Many Ukrainians are banned from entering Crimea, and about 800,000 Russians have already occupied their apartments. Putin has employed one of Stalin’s favorite tactics: resettling Russians in those regions where it is necessary to "dilute" other peoples.

Tatars were repressed because their potential for a national uprising. Therefore, the total term of the victims of politically motivated persecution in Crimea during the full-scale invasion was 699 years and nine months. At least six Crimean political prisoners were tortured in 2022. In addition to torture, they suffered cruel and inhumane treatment. In particular, detainees are not provided with adequate medical care, and as a result of that, two Crimean political prisoners Konstantin Shiring and Dzhemil Gafarov died in February 2023. Also, on February 28, Russian security forces issued a "warning" to the Crimean Tatars regarding the ban on participation in "mass unauthorized events."

The situation in Donbas is much worse. Russia has created two quasi-states - the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics (LPR and DPR). Needless to say, these “states” are neither people’s nor democratic. 

The new installed government consisted not of local fighters or leaders, but of individuals imported from Russia. Gang wars have continued since the first years of the occupation, and local leaders kill each other frequently. They exploded in elevators, restaurants, cars, and even workplaces. The life of the Kremlin protégés was dangerous and short.

Nonetheless, these criminal elements have terrorized mercilessly the dissenting residents, which forced hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians left the occupation. 

A notable example is that of the 19-year-old Vladislav Ovcharenko, a native of Luhansk and a fan of the local Zorya, who was persecuted because of his civic position. On October 10, 2016, he and like-minded people burned the LPR flag. Later, he was photographed in the center of the occupied city with the flag of Ukraine near the stele "I love you, Luhansk," . He was captured and handed over to the "LNR MGB" (Ministry of State Security). A year later, he was convicted of allegedly spying for Ukraine and sentenced to 17 years in prison. Ovcharenko spent almost 15 months in captivity. He was eventually swapped in 2017 and left this harrowing account of his time in captivity: 

"They beat me with whatever was at hand. With a chair, hands, maybe with the butt of a machine gun, there was a lot. They didn't torture me with electric shock, but there were threats that they would tear off my fingers, etc. They beat me very hard. My back, legs, everything was black. They cut off my nails with a knife, they simply pulled them out. They drove a blade under the nail and simply plucked the nail," 

Once a cultural center, The Izolyatsia prison became a torture chamber. Ordinary pro-Ukrainian citizens were detained and tortured there, along with those who collaborated with the special services of Ukraine, and members of the DPR group itself.

Fake photos and doctored videos from Izolyatsia showed ISIS militants were allegedly fighting on the side of Ukraine along with Azov fighters. A BBC investigation using Wikimapia established the location of the shooting and thus debunked the fake materials.

Men from L/DPR became the first victims of the full-scale Russian invasion. In February 2022, men from the occupation were seized on the street and thrown straight to the front. It has led to a situation whereby streets of occupied Donbas are practically empty due to lack of men. 

It is impossible to know the number of people who support new quasi-states, because in nine years of occupation, any dissent has ended either in escape or in captivity with torture.

The whole world saw all the horrors of life under new occupation when the Kyiv region was liberated in April 2022. Rape, murders of civilians, torture, looting - in the territories occupied by Russia: in Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel. 

Time after time, Ukrainian law enforcement services have found torture chambers and mass graves, accounts of civilians taken prisoners simply because of their refusal collaborate with the new "authorities." Even Ukrainian children have ended up in Russian captivity. 

Detainees reported beatings, electric shocks, mock executions, and waterboarding, among other torture and mistreatment. Russian soldiers held people in degrading conditions in basements, pits, boiler rooms, and factories.

As of March 12, 2023, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine documented 73,779 war crimes committed by the Russian army.

The rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly have been restricted under occupation. Ukrainian television channels and radio stations have been disconnected and replaced with channels from the Russian Federation or self-proclaimed 'republics.' In Crimea, Russia has applied legislation penalizing a wide spectrum of expression deemed critical, and teachers have been pressured to endorse the occupation.

The whole truth about the life of Ukrainians under occupation will be known only after the liberation of all regions. Ukrainians who choose to remain under occupation are forced to forget their identity. Even the Ukrainian language is hostile to Russia. Those who speak Ukrainian in public are thrown into torture chambers, and sometimes are even publicly executed. Ukrainian authorities are set for a new offensive in the quest to liberate more territories. But unfortunately, with the liberation, more cases of torture, violence, and kidnappings will come to light. 

13 prill 2023

Daria Meshcheriakova