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Russia Is torturing and starving Ukrainian POWs

U.N. Panel Says Russian War Crimes Are Widespread

The New York Times

March 15, 2024

In a report headed to the Human Rights Council in Geneva next week, an investigative commission outlines the ongoing torture and starvation of Ukrainian prisoners.

Demonstrators gathered in Kyiv last year to call attention to Ukrainian prisoners of war.Credit...Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Reporting from Geneva.

Two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, United Nations investigators say they have uncovered new evidence of systematic and widespread torture of Ukrainian prisoners held by Russian security forces.

A United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Friday detailed a range of what it described as Russian war crimes, including summary executions, sexual violence and forced transfer of Ukrainian children into Russia.

The commission paid special attention to “horrific” treatment of Ukrainian prisoners by Russian security services at detention centers in Russia and occupied Ukraine.

The commission will deliver a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva next week, detailing accounts of torture from four locations in Russia and seven in occupied Ukraine, strengthening previous findings that the use of torture had become widespread and systematic.

“We are concerned at the scale, continuation and gravity of violations and crimes that the commission has investigated and the impact on victims,“ Erik Mose, chairman of the three-person panel, said in a statement.

“Victims’ accounts disclose relentless, brutal treatment inflicting severe pain and suffering for almost the entire duration of their detention,” the commission said, adding that this resulted in long-lasting physical and mental trauma.

The commission, set up in 2022, said it had previously expressed concern over arbitrary arrest and ill treatment by Ukrainian authorities of people suspected of collaborating with Russian authorities. But in this report, its fifth, the commission recounted only two new cases of Ukrainian aggression, in addition to three previously reported ones.

They included the experience of a Ukrainian woman who said she was detained and hit repeatedly by men in Ukrainian military uniforms who carried out a mock execution before releasing her.

“We are concerned at the scale, continuation and gravity of violations and crimes that the commission has investigated and the impact on victims,” said Erik Mose, right, the chairman of the three-person panel.Credit...Martial Trezzini/EPA, via Shutterstock

United Nations human rights monitors who have access to Ukrainian detention centers have also described abuse of Russian soldiers taken prisoner by Ukraine. The rights monitors said that beatings and ill treatment of these soldiers occurred mainly at the initial moment of capture and that cases of torture were sporadic.

Mr. Mose said the commission had written to Russian authorities 23 times requesting information, meetings and better access, but had received no response. The Russian authorities have yet to comment on the report’s allegations of torture.

Russian guards told one prisoner “welcome to hell,” the commission said, describing brutal admissions procedures that included beatings and electric shocks. Torture was reportedly carried out “everywhere”: in cells, corridors, courtyards and the bathhouse.

“I lost any hope and will to live,” a former prisoner told the panel, saying he begged his inquisitors to kill him after undergoing repeated beatings that broke a collarbone, knocked out teeth and left him with a gangrenous foot, unable to stand. After release, the commission said, the former prisoner had undergone 36 hospitalizations as of January.

Former prisoners said that in Russian detention centers in occupied Ukraine, torture was carried out by the Russian military, but prisoners held in Russia were tortured by Russian special forces units known as Spetsnaz, and that interrogations were led by agents of Russia’s main intelligence service, the Federal Security Bureau.

The commission said it had interviewed former Spetsnaz members who said torture and ill treatment of prisoners appeared to be encouraged or, at a minimum, tolerated by their commanders, quoting one general as instructing them to “work harshly with no pity.”

Ukrainian military prisoners were tortured for information about their units and the Ukrainian armed forces, but the report said the torture was also used to intimidate and punish. Prisoners described conditions in some of the prisons where they were held as “inhuman.”

There was little food, resulting in acute hunger that drove some to “eating worms, soap, paper and remnants of dog food,” the commission reported.


Nick Cumming-Bruce reports from Geneva, covering the United Nations, human rights and international humanitarian organizations. Previously he was the Southeast Asia reporter for The Guardian for 20 years and the Bangkok bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal Asia. More about Nick Cumming-Bruce

A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2024, Section A, Page 7 of the New York edition with the headline: U.N. Investigators Detail Vast Russian War Crimes.

Copyright 2024 The New York Times Company


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