IZIUM (Ukraine), Sept 21 — Alexander Glushko says he spent the last fortnight of the Russian occupation of his hometown of Izium in northeast Ukraine jailed by Russian soldiers in the dank ruins of a police station where he was tortured with electric wires.
He said he was also beaten during an earlier five-day stint in Russian captivity in May. When Russian troops withdrew from the town on Sept. 9 and 10, he wept with joy as he and other detainees were suddenly set free.
While the discovery of burial sites with around 450 bodies has triggered investigations, Glushko is one of the first to speak out about surviving torture he says he endured under Russia’s occupation of Izium.
A former serviceman who fought for Kyiv against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine from 2018 to 2020, he said he had been interrogated by Moscow’s forces in Izium about the whereabouts of Ukrainian territorial defence personnel.
“I had nothing to tell them. I started giving them disinformation. In short, I ended up like a vegetable,” the 53-year-old told Reuters.
He said he could neither stand up nor speak after detention and he was treated in Izium’s Central City Hospital for those conditions for one-and-a-half months.
Reuters was unable to independently verify certain aspects of Glushko’s version of events including the specifics of his torture.
Reuters visited the hospital, which lies near the police station. The doctor who treated Glushko was unable to speak to Reuters because he was operating on a patient, a nurse said. The hospital could not be reached for further comment by phone or email as there is no telephone or internet coverage in Izium.
Asked about Glushko’s account of torture, two neighbours, who did not give their names, said that he had been arrested twice and was in very bad physical condition when he was brought back by residents the first time.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Russia has consistently denied its troops have committed war crimes since its troops invaded Ukraine in February. On Monday, the Kremlin rejected allegations of such abuses in Kharkiv region, where Izium is located, as a “lie”.
Ukrainian officials say about 450 bodies – believed to be civilians – have been found in graves near Izium after Russian troops were forced out of Kharkiv region, some of which they had controlled since the first weeks of the war.
Of the 111 civilian bodies exhumed so far, four showed signs of torture, Serhiy Bolvinov, the head of investigative police in the Kharkiv region, told Reuters at the burial ground.
Ukrainian police are trying to ascertain what happened during the six months of Russian occupation as they slowly take back control of Izium and swathes of the northeast that were recaptured in a counter-offensive this month.
Bolvinov declined to comment on individual cases such as Glushko’s but he said numerous investigations were underway.
“We have registered cases of torture, illegal detentions and war crimes not only in Izium, but also in Balakliia, Kozacha Lopan and Vovchansk, Kupiansk and Shevchenkovo,” Bolvinov told Reuters, referring to other liberated settlements.
“We have information about the torture of civilians and illegal detention of civilians at places where Russian armed forces were located in Izium. We know these places,” he said.
Much more comprehensive forensic work was still needed to assess the cause and circumstances of death of the people whose bodies have been discovered so far, he said.
Russian officials have not responded to Reuters requests for comment on his statements.
Bolvinov spoke to Reuters on Monday at a cemetery on the edge of town where forensic experts are digging up graves containing 445 war dead to find out how they died. A grave of 17 Ukrainian soldiers was also found.
Left for dead
Glushko, who lives alone in an apartment in Izium, said he believed Russian troops came to his home in May because someone had tipped them off that he had previously served in the Ukrainian army against Russian-backed separatists.
After finding his military papers, the soldiers took him to a basement not far from the hospital with a bag over his head where they beat him for five days, he said.
His hands and feet were tied behind his back throughout the five days in a torture position known in law enforcement and security circles in the former Soviet Union as the “swallow”, and he was given no food or water, he said.
One of the Russian soldiers did surreptitiously give him water without the others seeing, he said, and he was eventually released by his jailors – and found by passers-by.
“They dragged me across the road and left me in the bushes. Maybe they thought I’d die,” he said.
As a result of the May episode, Glushko can now only walk with difficulty using a cane.
He said the second time they came for him, in August, he was at home, watching a DVD in a T-shirt and underwear. They took him to the police station in those clothes, with a bag over his head.
The second time he was arrested, he said he was only electrocuted so there were no marks left behind. He had a small scratch on his knuckles that had become infected from the dank of the cell. He had a bandage on his right arm on what he said was another infected wound.
After the Russians left, he and other detainees were released from the cells on Sept. 10 by an unknown individual, he said.
“I wept with joy at the first (Ukrainian) soldier I saw. I had already started to bid farewell to myself. I wept and said ‘brother, can I embrace you?” he said. — Reuters