For 10 days, Alesha Babenko was locked in a basement and regularly beaten by Russian soldiers. Bound, blindfolded and threatened with electric shocks, the 27-year-old pleaded for them to stop.
“I thought I was going to die,” he told The Associated Press.
In September, Babenko and his 14-year-old nephew, Vitaliy Mysharskiy, were arrested by Russian soldiers who occupied his village of Kyselivka in Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson. They had been taking photos of destroyed tanks and sending them to the Ukrainian army.
Seated this week on a bench outside his home, Babenko was visibly shaken as he recounted the trauma of being thrown into a car, driven to the city of Kherson and interrogated until he confessed.
As violence escalates in Ukraine, abuses perpetrated by Russia have become widespread, according to the United Nations and human rights groups. The situation is particularly concerning in the Kherson region, where hundreds of villages, including the main city, were liberated from Russian occupation in early November. It was one of Ukraine’s biggest successes in the nearly 9-month-old war, dealing another stinging blow to the Kremlin.
The U.N. says it is attempting to verify allegations of nearly 90 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions in Kherson, and is trying to understand if the scale of abuse is larger than already documented.
Ukrainian officials have opened more than 430 war crimes cases from the Kherson region and are investigating four alleged torture sites, Denys Monastyrskyi, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, told state television.