‘It Was Horror’: Ukrainians Share Grim Tales of Russian Occupation

With Russian soldiers pushed out of parts of the Kharkiv region, Ukrainian investigators have been overwhelmed with accounts of detentions, torture and missing relatives, as well as collaboration and property theft.

Oleksandr Avdeev looked on as the body of his son, Serhii, who was seized by Russian forces last month, was exhumed in Borova. [Ivor Prickett]

Russian troops spent weeks searching for Mariya, the 65-year-old common-law wife of a serving Ukrainian Army officer.

Twice, she said, they ransacked her cottage in a village outside the town of Balakliya, and when they did eventually detain her months later, they tortured her repeatedly under interrogation, using electric shocks and threats of rape.

The recapturing by Ukrainian fighters of much of the Kharkiv region a month ago is now revealing what life was like for thousands of people living under Russian military occupation from the early days of the war. For many there were periods of calm, but almost no food or public services. For those like Mariya, accused of sympathizing with or helping the Ukrainians, it was pure hell.

“In a word, it was horror,” Mariya said. “I thought I would not come out alive.”

Mariya at her ransacked cottage in Balakliya. She was held prisoner, beaten and tortured because her husband was in the Ukrainian army. [Ivor Prickett]