Russian guards 'kicked blindfolded Ukrainian prisoners around like footballs'
Russian guards blindfolded Ukrainian prisoners of war and then kicked them around like footballs, it has been claimed.
Artem Dyblenko said he was intrigued when he heard soldiers at the Pre-Trial Detention Facility Number Two, in the city of Taganrog, chatting about playing football.
‘What I didn’t know was that we would be the ball,’ the 40-year-old sergeant major in the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade said.
He described how he and some others were blindfolded and ordered to run before they fell and felt ‘constant kicks’, adding: ‘You did feel like a football’.
Mr Dyblenko is one of several former captives who spoke to the BBC after they were freed in prisoner swaps between Ukraine and Russia.
They alleged that men and women kept at the site were repeatedly subjected to beatings, electric shocks and intimidation.
More than one described the tradition of ‘reception’ when guards would use batons and metal bars to beat new arrivals ‘anywhere they wanted’.
Artem Seredniak, a senior lieutenant, had already been in Russian captivity for four months when he was part of a group of around 50 Ukrainians moved to Pre-Trial Detention Facility Number Two last September.
He said an officer welcomed them with: ‘Hello boys. Do you know where you are? You’ll rot here until the end of your lives.’
The 27-year-old accuses guards there of using an electric stun weapon to shock him in the back, groin and neck while questioning him about his role in the war.
Mr Seredniak told of how, on one occasion, he was taken to the basement where he saw a Ukrainian man in his 20s holding his hands in pain because officers had inserted needles under his fingernails.
He was also one of several former prisoners who accused the guards of leaving them under-nourished.
Portions were reportedly very small, with Mr Seredniak considering himself lucky to be given 300-400 calories a day. He said he dropped from his usual weight of 80kg to 60kg while he was there.
Similarly, Iryna Stohnii, a 36-year-old senior combat medic in the 56th Brigade, said everyone at the facility was ‘constantly malnourished’.
While doctors did visit the detainees, they ‘didn’t necessarily help’, Mr Seredniak added.
Mr Dyblenko told how no one came to treat one of his cellmates after he had a heart attack in September, following ‘constant physical abuse’.
The unnamed 53-year-old reportedly died three weeks later before his body was returned to Ukraine at the end of last year.
A 34-year-old senior sergeant in the regiment, Serhii Rotchuk, said guards believed Vladimir Putin’s ‘de-Nazification’ narrative and constantly came up with issues with his tattoos – a raven, the symbol of an infantry platoon and an emblem of the Jedi Order from Star Wars.
Mr Rotchuk claims he was placed in solitary confinement for two months after he refused to make false confessions about torturing Russian soldiers.
He told the devastating story of how one of his cellmates, a fighter in his 20s, broke a small mirror above the sink and tried to kill himself but others managed to save him and stop the bleeding with their hands.
Russian authorities did not respond to the BBC’s week-long investigation but they have previously denied torturing or mistreating captives.
The government has not allowed any outside bodies, such as the United Nations or the Red Cross, to visit the Taganrog site, which was used as a regular jail before the war.
Kris Janowski, a spokesperson for United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said using a jail to hold captives was a breach of human rights law already, as prisoners of war are supposed to be kept in special facilities.
In March, the OHCHR said Russia had ‘failed to ensure the humane treatment’ of prisoners, with ‘strong patterns of violations’.
Ukraine has also faced accusations of breaking international law in its treatment of prisoners of war but it has opened up its facilities to international bodies.
An investigator from the Ukrainian Media Initiative for Human Rights, Mariia Klymyk, said the Taganrog prison was ‘one the worst places for Ukrainian detainees in Russia’.
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