Following one of the war’s bloodiest battles, three Ukrainian troops who claim to have been injured and captured by Russia before being released, accused their captors of torturing and using psychological pressure.
Following Russia’s February 24 invasion, the soldiers, who were part of a group that fought for weeks from a large steelworks in the southern port of Mariupol, claimed during a news conference in Kyiv that their captors tried to force them to confess to atrocities against civilians.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the trio’s claims that they were taken prisoner by Russian soldiers. The Russian defence ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Ukraine has already charged Russia with war crimes, but Moscow has denied the allegations.
According to Vladyslav Zhaivoronok, who lost a leg, ‘I was questioned even before I was given antibiotics after my limb was amputated. The men who were present were tortured. Some had needles inserted into their wounds, others were tortured with water, and still others received inadequate care’, he elaborated.
The three men were exchanged for Russian POWs. Although the precise date of the exchange was unknown at the time, Ukraine declared in June that Russia had released 144 prisoners. Zhaivoronok served in the Azov Regiment of the National Guard. Azov included members with far-right and ultranationalist backgrounds.
After weeks of combat from the steelworks’ tunnels and bunkers, hundreds of Azov forces surrendered in May. On August 2, the Russian Supreme Court declared the regiment a terrorist organisation, despite the fact that the Azov inmates had not yet been charged formally.
Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a ‘special military operation’ to demilitarise its smaller neighbour and protect Russian-speaking minorities. Ukraine and its Western backers accuse Moscow of waging an imperial conquest war.