Russians tortured Ukrainians to death, carried out mock executions, hardly fed them at school in Kherson region. Report on Bilyayivka torture chamber

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For five months, the Russians illegally held and tortured at least 20 Ukrainians at a school during the occupation of the village of Bilyayivka in Kherson region. Four of these people died: two due to torture during confinement, two more after release. People were given almost no food and water, the Russians carried out mock executions and threatened with castration. 

Torture chamber at the Bilyayivka school. Photo: Serhiy Kochmarskyi / ZMINA 

Yelyzaveta Sokurenko, coordinator of the war crimes documentation department at Human Rights Centre ZMINA, told about this during a briefing on August 31. She presented the organization’s report based on the testimonies of victims about Russian torture at the school in Kherson region during the occupation. 

After the village of Bilyayivka, Beryslav district, Kherson region, was liberated, a Russian torture chamber was discovered in the premises on the second floor of the Bilyayivka educational complex “General education school – preschool educational institution (nursery-kindergarten) I-III grades”. There, the Russians illegally held at least 20 Ukrainians for five months, from the beginning of April to the end of September 2022. 

We interviewed 12 victims, five relatives and witnesses. Three victims refused to be interviewed,” Sokurenko said. 

She reported that the Russian military, as well as “LPR” and “DPR” fighters, had brought people from the surrounding villages to this torture chamber. Four residents of Bilyayivka, three residents of Liubymivka village, two men each from the villages of Shevchenkivka, Petrivka, Khreshchenivka, and Trudoliubivka, as well as one each from the villages of Novovoznesneske, Osokorivka, Mykhaylivka, Zolota Balka, and Myrolyubivka were detained. Most of the detentions were accompanied by physical violence and threats. 

Four of those illegally held are no longer alive: two died during confinement due to torture, according to the testimonies of other prisoners. Two more died after release: one committed suicide, the other – an elderly man – died of natural causes. But in both cases, it can be considered a consequence of torture and ill-treatment,” says the human rights activist. 

The victims said that the main reason for their detentions were accusations of spotting fire and cooperating with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But there was almost no evidence of this. The torture chamber was arranged in a technical room on the second floor of the school, which was not suitable for holding people. The headquarters of the Russian military was located in the educational institution. 

Yelyzaveta Sokurenko / ZMINA 

The approximate size of the room was 6 by 3 meters, there were no windows, lighting or a toilet. It was cold in the room – people were tearing pieces of wallpaper from the walls to plug the cracks in the walls. And it was incredibly hot in the summer, there was no air in the room. On average, from 8 to 13 people stayed in the room at the same time during the entire period. At the same time, they did not know in which settlement they were. For the entire period, illegally detained Ukrainians were never taken out to shower. 

According to the testimonies of the victims, they were hardly fed. They were given liquid soup, which they had to drink from a cut-off plastic bottle, or stew in cans, sometimes bread. The situation with drinking water was critical – Ukrainians were given a five-liter bottle for everyone once every 1-2 days. According to them, some even tried to drink their urine. 

All detainees were subjected to psychological violence, there were two cases of mock execution and castration threats. The Russians physically tortured 12 people, in particular, with electric shocks connected to the genitals. 

Sokurenko notes that the confinement conditions in the torture chamber themselves are ill-treatment. But given the psychological and physical violence committed by the Russians, it can amount to torture. 

The victims witnessed the death of two men – Oleh Kovalyk and Dmytro Zhuravliov – after torture. The Russians took the bodies of both men to an unknown destination. Both men are considered missing. Their relatives are looking for the bodies or any information on their possible whereabouts. 

Other victims who went through the torture chamber complain, in particular, about significant weight loss (from 14 to 36 kg), vision impairment due to constant stay in the darkness, cardiovascular system problems, etc. 

Read the report at the link in Ukrainian and English. 

Watch the briefing here.