Kherson Residents Tell of Torture, Abuse During Russian Occupation

KHERSON, Ukraine – Residents of the southern city of Kherson spoke of torture and killings by Russian soldiers during Moscow’s nine-month occupation of the Ukrainian city, as world leaders grappled with the fallout from a missile crash in neighboring Poland amid a wave of Russian strikes across Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Russia unleashed one of the largest barrages of the war, firing 96 missiles at Ukrainian cities after it was forced to withdraw from Kherson last week in a major blow to Moscow.

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Ukrainian air defenses shot down 77 missiles and 10 Iranian drones, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

A rocket has landed in a Polish village near the Ukrainian border, killing two farm workers and sparking fears of a wider fire.

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Senior NATO officials said Wednesday that the missile was likely a Russian-made weapon fired from a Ukrainian air defense system, and that there was no evidence it was aimed there intentionally. Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Wednesday that Ukraine was defending itself and blamed Russia.

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Preliminary US assessments also indicate that the missile that fell in Poland was from a Ukrainian air defense system, according to two senior Western officials, while President Biden said at the G20 summit in Indonesia that there was little it was probably launched from Russia.

A residential building in Kyiv that was hit by fragments of a missile during a Russian barrage on Tuesday.


picture:

Sergey Korovaini for The Wall Street Journal

Preliminary US assessments indicate that the missile that fell in Poland was from a Ukrainian air defense system.


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CASPER PEMPEL/REUTERS

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

As investigations into the origin of the missile continued, repair teams in Ukraine worked to repair infrastructure damaged in Tuesday’s attack, which left about 10 million Ukrainians without electricity. The rockets also hit residential buildings near Kyiv’s government district and cut communications across the country.

The head of Ukrainian transmission system operator Ukenergo told a Ukrainian news program that the coming days would be difficult, warning that emergency shutdowns were needed to stabilize the grid.

Russia has increasingly targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as it faces setbacks on the battlefield. During their retreat from Kherson, Russian forces cut off electricity, heating, water and cellular reception in the city.

Meanwhile, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that Russian troops were strengthening defensive lines on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River, which has become the new front line in the south after Russia’s withdrawal. Ukrainian forces shelled Russian positions on the east bank of the river and in the Kinburn Spit area on Tuesday, according to the Southern Operations Command.

Less than a week since jubilant residents welcomed the return of Ukrainian troops to Kherson, residents took stock of the occupation.

Russians detained and abused people in Kherson during the city’s occupation, residents say.


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VALENTIN OGIRENKO/REUTERS

Vitaly Shevchenko, 66, said Russian soldiers shot his neighbor several times in the chest after he insulted one of them.

Mykola Makarenko said he knew from the start of the occupation that he was likely to be a target. He served in the Ukrainian army fighting Russian-backed forces in the east of the country in a conflict that has been ongoing since 2014.

The 44-year-old man said he could not flee Kherson because a friend of his had seen his name on a list of wanted men at a Russian checkpoint. He spent the following months visiting various friends, moving every few weeks and avoiding Russian checkpoints. In August, however, the Russians stopped the car in which Makarenko was traveling and detained him.

Over the next 16 days, Mr. Makarenko said he was tortured by Russian soldiers, who broke his jaw and four of his ribs and scratched the letter Z on his leg with a knife.

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

Since the capture of Kherson, Mr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had found evidence of hundreds of war crimes. The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected such accusations.

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


picture:

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” months after the occupation began. On August 23, an unmarked sedan pulled up outside her home and three Russian soldiers began searching for Ukrainian symbols and weapons.

Then they put her in the car with them. On the way, she said, they put a bag over her head. She thinks they took her to a local jail, but she’s not sure.

For 11 days, Ms. Naumova said she was held in solitary confinement and repeatedly questioned about her bank card transactions. The soldiers demanded to know who else was publishing anti-Russian blogs from Kherson.

While they were looking for her phone, she saw a conversation she was having with a Ukrainian newspaper. She grabbed the phone and quickly wiped it, she said. In response, the soldiers tied her hands behind her back, doused her with water and attached wires to her fingers, but did not run any electricity.

They told Ms Naumova, 67, that they would not beat a woman her age, but made loud noises around her and shouted at her before moving her to the basement. A soldier once slapped her, she said.

After 11 days, she was taken to a room and forced to write an apology to everyone she had offended, saying she was sorry for criticizing the Russian military and that Crimea was Russia. She had to record it five times before they were satisfied, she said. She is then taken away, but her passport remains.

Write to Ian Lovett at [email protected] and Isabel Coles at [email protected]

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