Conflicts & War

Survivors of Russian occupation in Kharkiv speak of torture, oppression

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Sep 17 (EFE).- A family from a recently liberated village in the Ukraine’s Kharkiv region has denounced in remarks to Efe cases of torture and book burning during the Russian occupation.

“If only I knew what would happen, I wouldn’t have come here,” Marina Rubezhanska says in a telephone conversation from the village of Malyi Burluk, located in the very northeast of the Kharkiv oblast. “Living under bombs would be much better that under Russian occupation.”

A resident of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, she thought it would be safer to stay in the village where both of her parents live.

Marina moved there days after the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, when Kharkiv became the target of heavy shelling and airstrikes.

The village soon found itself occupied by the Russians and life quickly became difficult for Marina and her family.

“The Russians were looking for former Ukrainian soldiers who took part in the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Donbas (the Donbas conflict that began in 2014),” says Marina.

Russian forces came to her father, the head of the village council, to get names, she adds.

According to Marina, the Russians wanted her father to collaborate with them and assist in running the village and in constructing a propagandized image of the situation for the Russian audience.

He refused to cooperate and was taken to a makeshift detention camp in a factory in Vovchansk, a town near the Ukrainian-Russian border.

“He was beaten repeatedly there, mostly to his head,” Marina says.

She adds that he was told they would shoot his “girls” or burn his house if he didn’t speak.

Marina’s father told her that he was kept in a large room with about 70 other people. Most of them were former Ukrainian soldiers. They were tortured by electrocution, had needles inserted under their nails and bones broken. Some were detained repeatedly, according to his accounts.

“We didn’t surrender!” Marina stresses.

She says her mother, a Russian-born librarian, refused to cooperate when the soldiers came to confiscate books written in the Ukrainian language.

“They were especially interested in the Ukrainian history books, which they call a ‘nazi’ ones,” Marina says, adding that her family managed to hide about 10 copies, as well as a Ukrainian flag that they concealed in a gas canister in a granary.

“The military police came to us and were looking hard but failed to find them,” she laughs. “It’s not that easy to find something in 2.5 tonnes of grain.”

The books the Russians did manage to confiscate were burned, she says.

Marina says her family did not try to receive money from the Russians, and did not hide their patriotic views.

“I always speak either Ukrainian or a local ‘surzhyk’ (a mixture of the Ukrainian and Russian languages) like my parents and grandparents did. Why should I change anything?”

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