Kherson Residents Tell of Torture, Abuse During Russian Occupation

KHERSON, Ukraine — Residents of the southern city of Kherson say they were tortured and killed by Russian troops during Moscow’s nine-month occupation of the Ukrainian city, while world leaders grappled with a missile crash in neighboring Poland amid a wave of Russian strikes. On Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Russia launched one of the biggest barrages of the war, firing 96 missiles at Ukrainian cities forced out of Kherson last week, in a major blow to Moscow.

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According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Air Defense Forces of Ukraine shot down 77 missiles and 10 Iranian-made drones.

A rocket landed in a Polish village near the Ukrainian border, killing two farmers and raising fears that the fire could spread widely.

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Senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said on Wednesday that the missile may have been a Russian weapon fired by a Ukrainian air defense system, and that there was no evidence that it was deliberately aimed there. Polish President Andrzej Duda accused Russia on Wednesday of saying Ukraine was defending itself.

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Preliminary US assessments also indicated that the missile that hit Poland came from Ukraine’s air defense system, two senior Western officials said, while President Biden said at the G-20 summit in Indonesia that it was unlikely to have been fired from Russia.

A residential building in Kiev was hit by rocket debris during Russian shelling on Tuesday.


Photo:

Sergey Korovainy for The Wall Street Journal

According to US preliminary estimates, the missile that fell on Poland was from the air defense system of Ukraine.


Photo:

KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed Russia late on Tuesday, saying Russian missiles had hit Poland, while the Russian government denied responsibility for the strikes.

As the investigation into the origin of the missile continued, repair crews in Ukraine were working to repair infrastructure that left nearly 10 million Ukrainians without power in Tuesday’s attack. Rockets also hit residential areas near the government district of Kyiv, disrupting communications across the country.

Ukraine’s electricity transmission system operator Ukenergo told Ukrainian news broadcaster that the coming days will be difficult, warning that emergency shutdowns are needed to stabilize the power grid.

Russia is increasingly targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as it faces setbacks on the battlefield. During the retreat from Kherson, Russian soldiers stopped receiving electricity, heat, water and cameras in the city.

Meanwhile, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian troops were strengthening their defensive lines on the east bank of the Dnieper River, which has become the new front in the south after the withdrawal of Russian troops. Ukrainian forces shelled Russian positions on the east bank of the river and in the area of ​​Kinburn Spit on Tuesday, according to the Southern Operational Command.

It has been less than a week since jubilant residents welcomed the return of Ukrainian troops to Kherson, and residents are taking stock of the occupation.

Residents say that when the Russians captured the city of Kherson, they arrested and abused people.


Photo:

VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS

Vitaly Shevchenko, 66, said Russian soldiers insulted his neighbor and shot him several times in the chest.

Mykola Makarenko said he knew he would be targeted since the beginning of the occupation. He served in the Ukrainian army and fought against Russian-backed forces in the east of the country in the ongoing conflict since 2014.

The 44-year-old said he couldn’t flee Kherson because a friend saw his name on a wanted list at a Russian checkpoint. He spent the next months with various friends, moving every few weeks and avoiding Russian checkpoints. However, in August, the Russians stopped Mr. Makarenko’s car and detained him.

Over the next 16 days, Mr. Makarenko said Russian soldiers tortured him, breaking his jaw and four ribs and scratching the letter Z on his leg with a knife.

“I’m waiting to see my family,” he said. “Then I will go back to the army and take revenge.”

After Kherson was retaken, Mr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had uncovered evidence of hundreds of war crimes. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied such accusations.

Kherson residents gathered in the city’s central square this week to get help.


Photo:

By Virginie Nguyen Hoang for The Wall Street Journal

Lina Naumova, a popular TikTok blogger, said she continued to post messages such as “Kherson will never be Russian” for months after the occupation began. On August 23, an unknown sedan stopped in front of his house, and three Russian soldiers started looking for Ukrainian symbols and weapons.

Then they put them in the car. On the way, they put a bag on his head. He thinks he was taken to the local jail, but isn’t sure.

For 11 days, Ms. Naumova kept herself in isolation and said that she was interrogated several times about bank card transactions. The soldiers demanded to know who else posted anti-Russian blogs from Kherson.

When they searched his phone, he saw a conversation with a Ukrainian newspaper. He picked up the phone and quickly turned it off, he said. In response, the soldiers tied his hands behind his back, poured water on them and attached cables to his fingers, even though he did not turn on the electricity.

They told 67-year-old Ms. Naumova that they would not beat a woman of her age, but before moving her to the basement, they shouted loudly around her. A soldier once slapped him, he said.

After 11 days, he was taken to a room and forced to apologize to all those he had offended, saying that Crimea is Russia and regretting his criticism of the Russian army. It took five tapings before they were satisfied, he said. Then they took him home, but kept his passport.

To write Ian Lovett at [email protected] and Isabel Coles at [email protected]

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