Tanya Lukashuk described how Vyacheslav Lukashuk, her son, was captured and beaten by Russian forces for one week for writing pro-Ukrainian graffiti in Kherson city.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
A line for water, bread and food in Kherson on Monday, after the retreat of Russian soldiers.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
A makeshift charging station in Kherson city on Monday.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Residents of the newly reclaimed city of Kherson on Monday described months of brutality and mistreatment by Russian forces, including the theft of vehicles, beatings and detention for anyone suspected of opposing the nearly nine-month occupation.
In interviews, they described how the Russians rounded up residents, whether for their political views or because they were suspected of belonging to a partisan underground group.
At an open-air street market selling essentials like painkillers and toilet paper that were missing from shops, many residents offered stories of acquaintances detained, with some saying they’d heard of torture.
Vyacheslav Lukashuk, 27, a lanky handyman, said he had wound up face down on the floor of his living room after about a dozen soldiers burst into his home and beat him. They ended up holding him for seven days.
“All I did was write, ‘Glory to Ukraine’ in spray paint on a bus stop,” he said.
The worst abuse occurred in the first minutes, he said. A soldier slipped a plastic bag over his head and clasped it around his neck to suffocate him, and other soldiers kicked him and beat him with rifle butts, he said.
“They just flew in and started beating me,” Mr. Lukashuk said. “I said goodbye to my life at that moment.”
Mr. Lukashuk in Kherson on Monday. He said he had wound up face down on the floor of his living room after about a dozen soldiers burst into his home and beat himCredit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
After he was taken to a jail, Mr. Lukashuk said, other detainees told him they were tortured with electrical shocks, and he could hear screams in the evenings. Mr. Lukashuk said that he was not tortured during his detainment, but that he did confess and apologize for the pro-Ukrainian graffiti — a confession that was posted online along with those of other residents who admitted to pro-Ukrainian activities or views, in an apparent effort to shame or humiliate them.
Mykhail Tkachov, a dealer at a lot that sold new cars and traded used vehicles, said Russian forces had claimed to be there for the residents’ protection but frequently stole from them, particularly targeting vehicles.
Mr. Tkachov said he and his colleagues had scattered an inventory of almost 200 cars across courtyards and street parking places around the city in the first days after the Russian Army arrived. But the Russians detained one of the dealers, and he revealed the locations and handed over the keys.
“People lived like shadows,” afraid to make their presence known, Mr. Tkachov said, while the Russian soldiers made themselves at home.
“I saw eight of them sitting in a cafe right on this street,” he said. “They drove up in civilian cars without license plates, obviously stolen from somebody.”
Serhiy Karasenko, selling home-pickled cauliflower, cabbage and tomatoes at a market stall, said Russian soldiers made off with his car last week, just before fleeing the city. He now carries his wares to the market by taxi. His car, he said, is “gone. I won’t see it again.”
Mr. Tkachov said some people’s cars were stolen at Russian checkpoints. Soldiers took them, ostensibly after finding problems with the Ukrainian registration documents, like a car not registered to the driver. The company-owned car of a friend, he said, was confiscated.
“It’s a business car,” Mr. Tkachov said the man told the soldiers. But he said the soldiers responded, “It’s our business now,” and took the car.