Just days after the southern city of Kherson was liberated after eight months of Russian occupation, accounts of beatings, torture and disappearances are emerging
Olena Naumova’s descent into two weeks of terror began in late August, when three Russian soldiers with automatic rifles banged on her door in the occupied city of Kherson. She said they ordered her to turn over her gun. She had no gun.
“‘Don’t lie,’” she said the Russians warned her. “‘We will shock you with electricity. We will break your bones. We will put construction foam in your body.’”
Stunned, Ms. Naumova, a kindergarten teacher who had posted some pro-Ukrainian videos, said she felt herself go weightless as the soldiers threw a plastic bag over her head and dragged her to a car. Then they took her to an underground prison where she said she was interrogated, beaten and forced to hear screams emanating from other cells.
As Kherson celebrates its fresh liberation after eight long months of Russian occupation, and as residents pour into its streets with bright smiles and shiny flags, disturbing accounts of torture and abuse at the hands of Russian soldiers are emerging as well, with people finally free to talk.
Several residents described being hauled off to underground torture chambers, sometimes just for posting patriotic poems. Others said they had witnessed random outbursts of violence, like Russian soldiers smashing young men in the face and sending them to the hospital — for no apparent reason.
Anyone suspected of belonging to a partisan underground group or spying on the Russians’ military positions was at grave risk, according to interviews with dozens of city residents as well as Ukrainian military officials.
Soldiers crashed through doors or plucked people off the streets in tactics that seemed to belong to authoritarian regimes from another era. It was all part of the Russians’ failed effort to turn Kherson, by force, into part of their motherland.
Ukrainian officials have said that the Russians kidnapped more than 600 people and many are still missing. Residents also reported disappearances and killings, consistent with war crime allegations documented in Bucha, Izium and other Ukrainian cities where Vladimir V. Putin’s troops swept in, leaving behind smashed homes and mass graves.