Inside Russian torture chambers: electroshocks, asphyxiation and beatings against the wall

It has been two weeks since the Ukrainian army managed to recapture 380 villages and towns in Kharkiv province. All east and south. Over 2,000 square kilometers of land. 150,000 people who were free again in their own country, Ukraine. And it is precisely these inhabitants, who endured six months of Russian occupation and deprivation, which begin to bear witness to what they endured under the yoke of the Kremlin.

“My sister and her husband were detained for 9 days. They were beaten and given electric shocks, lots of electric shocks. They picked them up at home, and took them to the police station. This is where they tortured people. It’s a few meters down the street, just past these two apartment buildings,” Inna explains, pointing to a few flat blocks.

Inna’s husband runs a coffee stall in Balakliya Central Market, although they have been without electricity for three weeks and can currently only sell instant coffee, which they mix with boiling water in a thermos flask. But electricity is not the least of the problems: there are no more Russians in Balakliya, and they only feel relief. Even if they have no light.

“During the occupation, Russian soldiers were in contact with the local population. They did not sit on the sidelines. They guarded the workplaces. They were everywhere, there wasn’t a single yard where there wasn’t a Russian soldier. And you had to be on good terms with them, because if you spoke badly to them, they could arrest you for no reason and take you to the police station. And we all knew what they were doing there,” she continues.

Inna’s sister Marina and brother-in-law Victor were unable to attend the 9/11 liberation of the city. They had to leave Balakliya after being tortured. “I know my sister was very sick, she couldn’t sleep or eat, she couldn’t go out on the street. Everything brought back memories of that time.”

PHOTO/MARIA SENOVILLA – Artemdetained and tortured by Russian soldiers for 46 days in Balakliya, looks into one of the rooms where he was beaten and given electric shocks.

To leave the city, which was under occupation, first they had to go to Kupyansk, then to the Russian border. They were allowed to cross without a problem. They then continued to Latvia, and from there they finally reached Ireland, where they are now refugees. “Marina is better now… with medication,” Inna said.

With a plastic bag over your head

The streets of Balakliya are slowly coming back to life, even though there is a lot of need. People crowd around cars carrying humanitarian aid from Lozovaya and other towns. Food is also being sent by train from the capital, Kharkiv. The workers rebuilt in record time the bridges and sections of railway that were destroyed during the 200 days of fighting and bombardment.

But it will take much longer to rebuild people’s souls and heal the invisible wounds left by the fear and psychological warfare to which the Russian soldiers subjected them. A terror that one feels while crossing each of the rooms of the Balaklia police station, used as a torture chamber by the Kremlin army.

Entering this place is one of the most unsettling experiences one can imagine. The signs of what happened there for more than six months are present in every corner, and the stench is unbearable.

It’s hard to believe that 32-year-old Artem survived Russian torture for 46 days straight. But with admirable fortitude, he guides us through each room of the Balakliya police station and explains what happened there.

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PHOTO/MARIA SENOVILLA – The plastic bags with which Russian soldiers covered the heads of Ukrainian citizens whom they tortured so that they would not recognize them

He doesn’t know how many soldiers there were in that place, as he was always carried from room to room with a plastic bag over his head. “There may have been 10 or 100, I’ll never know,” he said. He will also never know why he was arrested or why he was tortured for 46 days. He has no connection with the Ukrainian army and does not hold any political office. “I’m an ordinary worker, I worked as a sales clerk in a supermarket chain selling building materials,” he says, “and they never told me why they kept me there.”

The detainees were crammed into small, unventilated cells on the ground floor. They could spend days or weeks there. They could not communicate with their families, who lived in anguish at not knowing whether their loved ones were alive or dead. As you enter the cubicles, the smell gives you a slap in the face of reality that almost makes you dizzy. No one cleaned the facilities, and inmates were forced to live with filth.

It was on the top floor, where the police offices were, that they were interrogated. “They would come into the cell and put a plastic bag over your head, and you knew what was going to happen,” Artem says. What was going to happen is that thehe session of electroshocks, humiliation and beatings was about to begin.

“They did this to our heads”, he said, touching a hole in the wall of one of the offices. When we look there, we see that there is not just one hole, there are dozens. The wires used to deliver the electric shocks are also strewn across the floor. As well as clothes, which were probably torn off during the torture sessions.

Complete control of the civilian population

So far, ten Russian torture chambers have been discovered in the liberated cities of Kharkiv. Along with Balakliya, the city of Izyum is another city that has experienced terror firsthand. And where most of the evidence was found. In addition to the torture chambers, a collective burial site was discovered, which shocked the whole of Ukraine.

In this Izyum makeshift cemetery – where there were several mass graves, as well as hundreds of unidentified graves – 447 bodies were exhumed. And more than thirty of them bore signs of torture.

“Many of the dead have no limbs left, others had their hands tied, shrapnel wounds, head and chest wounds, mutilated or castrated genitalia, broken ribs, stab wounds, penetrating gunshot wounds, and bodies with ropes around their necks were also found,” Kharkiv police chief investigator Sergey Bolvinov said over the weekend.

The UN has already officially declared that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine, and the evidence is only beginning to emerge. In all the liberated villages that Atalayar visited – Izyum, Balakliya, Shechenkove, Martove, Cherkasy… – the same stories are repeated: abuse of power by Russian soldiers, looting of houses, street arrests, passport control and cell phones, and a long etcetera of conditions that made life unbearable.

Annexation of occupied territories

With this evidence on the table, it is easy to imagine the psychological pressure and constant fear that Ukrainians in areas still occupied by the Kremlin army in Ukraine continue to live with today. Places like Kherson, Zaporiyia, Lugansk and much of Donetsk, where referendums are being held to ask citizens – tortured and scared – if they want to be formally annexed to Russia.

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PHOTO/MARIA SENOVILLA – Artem holds in his hand one of the wires with which Russian soldiers gave him electric shocks during the 46 days he was tortured in Balakliya

Referendums have no international observers and the process has been recognized only by the governments of North Korea, Syria and the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky has already said he will not recognize the results as valid, and other international leaders, such as the US leader, have also made statements about it. Biden said “the United States will never recognize Ukrainian territory as anything other than part of Ukraine.”

Referendums at the tip of the Kalashnikov

Voting started on the 23rd and will continue until the 27th, but the videos circulating on the web, showing how the voting process takes place, leave you speechless.

The Russian collaborators in charge of organizing the elections go from house to house to collect the votes. They do so in pairs, one carrying the plastic ballot box with the ballots and the other the list of names and addresses. And they are escorted at all times by two other Russian soldiers – armed to the teeth – who even observe how Ukrainians fill out the ballot inside their homes, where they are surprised by this particular election committee.

On various Telegram channels, through which more and more videos and testimonials are released, there is also talk that some people were visited up to twice. And although they explained that they had already voted, they were forced to cast their vote in the ballot box. Once again.

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PHOTO/MARIA SENOVILLA – A cell in the Balakliya police station, which the Russians used as a torture center during the occupation of this city in Kharkiv, Ukraine

A dantesque scene which perfectly illustrates the lack of guarantees and credibility of referendums which have no validity, and which only aim to provide new arguments to the Kremlin, which will now claim that Ukraine is attacking Russian territory in order to continue its war campaign.

Much like the original excuse that Ukraine was being invaded to “cleanse it of Nazis”, this excuse will fall on its own. All the more so today, when the international community is more concerned about the energy and food crisis that Putin has unleashed than about threats to press the nuclear button, and when countries like China – the most important partner of Russia – are beginning to express their discomfort with the continuation of an armed conflict that is turning the world upside down.

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Inside Russian torture chambers: electroshocks, asphyxiation and beatings against the wall

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