Even as Ukraine continues to secure the liberation of around 6,000 square kilometers of land in Kharkiv Oblast, evidence of numerous atrocities committed by the formerly occupying Russian Army is coming to light.
NV has compiled key facts of what looks like an echo of April’s shocking discovery of Russian atrocities in the Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel.
Police investigate Russian crimes in Kharkiv Oblast
Police, National Guard, Border Control Service, and the State Emergency Service are already engaged in recently-liberated areas of Kharkiv Oblast, Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Yenin said on Sept. 13.
According to Yenin, police investigations alone have already unearthed evidence of at least 40 Russian war crimes in the region.
“The invaders occupied this territory for a fairly long while, and made an effort to conceal the evidence,” said Yenin.
“We’re talking burning documents, burying bodies, and other such activities, currently being investigated by police detectives.”
Izyum councilman Maksym Strelnik echoed the sentiment: at least 1,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed in Izyum during the city’s Russian occupation.
“Just as they did in other occupied cities, the Russians sought to hide their war crimes…; at least 1,000 local civilians died due to the conflict,” said Strelnik.
“Unfortunately, we think there were many more victims, as we couldn’t provide them with medical care in time. Russian troops destroyed all healthcare facilities in Izyum back in March. Medicines were hard to get, the Russians looted every pharmacy in the city.”
The Russian military was engaged in deliberate killing of civilians. Here are some of the facts, already established by law enforcement:
Zaliznychne, near Chuhuiv, Kharkiv Oblast
Once Zaliznychne was liberated by advancing Ukrainian troops, locals told law enforcement officials that Russian troops killed their neighbors.
Police found four bodies, bearing signs of torture, on Sept. 11. Three of them were buried next to private homes, the other one – across the railway station.
Hrakove, near Chuhuiv
A Hrakove local Serhiy Lutsai told the police on Sept. 7 that Russian soldiers forced him to bury the bodies of two Ukrainians. Acting on this report, law enforcement officials have found two bodies with signs of torture and gunshot wounds at the back of their heads, buried near a private residence.
Preliminary investigation has concluded they were killed in March.
Journalists from German news outlet DW spoke with Lutsai, who told them pro-Russian troops ordered him to bury the corpses, threatening with weapons.
“They took me here; there were two dead people, two young men,” Lutsai said.
The bodies are currently being exhumed. According to Kharkiv Chief Police Detective Serhiy Bolvinov, the victims were tortured before getting shot – their ears were cut off.
Two more gravesites were found in Hrakove, where killed residents are buried.
Activists, volunteers, and locals share more fist-hand accounts
Even more reports of Russian atrocities are pouring in from volunteers and journalists, as they start talking with residents of liberated towns
Journalist Oleksii Kashporovskyi shares the account of Russian crimes in Bohorodychne, Donetsk Oblast
“The village was fought over, and our guys found bodies of our soldiers – beheaded and barefoot – along with half a dozen of killed civilians,” said Kashporovskyi.
Only two people remain in Bohorodychne – 60-year-old Mykola and his 93-year-old mother, Nina. Russian invaders killed Mykola’s brother Vasyl and his wife. Mykola buried both of them on a hill behind his house.
He told Kashporovskyi he set up a series of booby traps, hoping to take revenge on the Russian for the deaths of his family members.
“It was I who set those (grenade booby traps) up – to get those bastards!” Mykola told Kashporovskyi.
“They killed my brother! I’m a patriot, you see. This is my land. These bastards came and shot my brother. If it weren’t for my bedridden mother, I would have charged at them with a grenade in hand myself…”
Mykola’s mother said the Russians took almost all their chickens, as well.
After Balakliya, Kharkiv Oblast, was liberated, a Russian torture site was found in the city. It was a basement with handcuffs, blood stains, propaganda leaflets about “Ukrainian Nazis,” and detention cells.
Tata Kepler and Natalya Lelyukh are working to provided locals with medical care and humanitarian aid, across liberated Kharkiv Oblast.
“These liberated villages are just like what we saw near Kyiv in April: sheer terror, confusion, and rage,” Kepler described how people feel after six months of “fear, psychological pressure, and intimidation.”
“When we are around, people finally relax and start talking: imprisonments, torture, having to work for food,” Kepler said.
“Some were threatened with torture basements. Empty houses were occupied by Russian troops, and people had to talk in whispers. Many simply didn’t go out, living off their gardens instead. One man had his son taken away; he still has no idea what happened to him. He kept repeating ‘I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed.”
People couldn’t leave to anywhere but Russia “or to the Russian-Estonian border, for $500; with no certainty you’d be able to cross the border, or means to afford it, after everything you had was taken.”
“Seniors weren’t getting their state pensions; some were given RUB 10,000 ($167),” Kepler added.
“Most were forced to work for food. People from entire buildings were disappearing, nearby woods were ridden with land mines, roads had checkpoints.”
She noted the locals were cut off from any news of what’s going in Ukraine. People were told that Kyiv has fallen, and Ukraine considers them traitors now.
“Collaborators were reporting family members of Ukrainian soldiers, they’d show people photos of tortured POWs and say ‘this is your (son),” said Kepler.
Kepler and Lelyukh have documented numerous occasions where Russian troops would leave entire towns without any medical supplies.
“Amputees, people with broken bones, ascites, and dermatitis – all had to resort to homegrown treatments,” Lelyukh said.
“People are speaking Ukrainian and crying; they were without medicines for six months,” Kepler added.
She said her stock of sedatives and heart medicine was depleted completely, shortly after starting work in liberated Kharkiv Oblast towns.
In another post, she told a story of a man “enduring 32 days of torture in a basement,” with his friend getting hanged on a radiator.
“We weren’t allowed to open his casket during the burial; his name was Maksym Shelikhan,” Kepler relayed the words of the man, who wanted the world to know about his friend, murdered by the Russians.
Almost 80% of Izyum’s infrastructure was destroyed during the occupation, and locals were held captive, prevented from evacuating, and had gone through so-called “purges” – according to Strelnik.
“They were looking for Ukrainian veterans, territorial defense volunteers, businessmen, activists, and their family members,” the councilman added.
“If they found any, those people were immediately ‘arrested.’ We still don’t know what happened to these people, who were illegally imprisoned and tortured.”
In its report from Zaliznychne, CNN quoted Maria Hryhorova, who had to bury her neighbor and his friend after the Russians killed them.
“I noticed the door was ajar for several days,” said Hryhorova.
“As I was choking if they are alive or wounded, I realized their bodies were already cold, and saw two bullet holes on Kostyantyn’s forehead.”
Zaliznychne residents described the occupation as “horrific” to CNN journalists. As the semblance of normal life is beginning to return to the village, “the fear of Russian troops coming back still lingers in the air,” the report said.
Bolvinov told journalists that Kharkiv police is recording evidence of Russian war crimes “in almost every town.”