NewsCaptured by Russia: Ukrainian volunteer's harrowing 64-day ordeal

Captured by Russia: Ukrainian volunteer's harrowing 64‑day ordeal

Sample photo; police officer on duty at a checkpoint in Kherson
Sample photo; police officer on duty at a checkpoint in Kherson
Images source: © PAP | Alena Solomonova

5:23 PM EDT, May 23, 2024

Police batons for beatings, electroshock devices, repeated humiliations, threats, and torture — that is how Ukrainian volunteer Oleksiy Polukhin remembers his stay in Russian captivity. Polukhin was captured while delivering humanitarian aid to Kherson and regained his freedom after 64 days.

The Ukrainian volunteer spent 64 days in Russian captivity. Hailing from Kherson, Oleksiy Polukhin ended up in the local pre-trial detention center No. 1 after being detained at a Russian checkpoint. This happened in May 2022. Russian soldiers were detaining people with pro-Ukrainian views.

I was taken to the district police headquarters, which used to be a sobering-up cell. They locked me in a cell on the second floor, and I slept on a bunk bed. I had access to a toilet and water. Before the occupation, the place had been renovated, so it was fairly clean. During the two months of captivity, I changed cells five times. The Russians interrogated me mainly at night in a separate room, Oleksiy told Onet journalists.

As he points out, during this time, he was interrogated five times. During the interrogations, the same questions kept coming up: about weapons, pro-Ukrainian people in Kherson, and where the Ukrainian counteroffensive would come from. The man consistently repeated that he did not know the answers to these questions.

They did not use force against me, but interrogations with beatings and torturing activists and prisoners of war were the norm in this detention center, summarised the Onet interviewee.

He was in Russian captivity. They called it "a phone call to Biden"

According to the man, he was continually humiliated and threatened with death. The situation worsened when the Russians realized that Oleksiy belonged to the LGBTQI+ community.

They forced me to wear a dress to an interrogation to humiliate me. The most common threats were that they would take me to the Donetsk People's Republic, where the death penalty is used, or exile me to Crimea — the Ukrainian recounts, adding: They were annoyed by the tattoos I got during the occupation — the Ukrainian flag and coat of arms. At the checkpoint, they threatened to cut off or shoot my hand.

According to Polukhin, the occupiers beat three Ukrainian defenders to death. They then gave him a rag and forced him to clean the rooms where the bloody interrogations took place. It was then that he saw the torture devices up close.

In the corner stood police batons used to beat our guys and a field telephone, a special electroshock device. They would attach wires to ears, noses, fingers, and genitals and wind it onto the phone handle. They called it "a phone call to Zelensky" or "a phone call to Biden," Oleksiy told Onet.

But it was not the end of the shocking events the Kherson residents participated in. Detained civilians experienced various humiliations and intimidations. The Russians gave me and five other prisoners knives and the Ukrainian flag, which they had previously removed from a building in Kherson. They ordered us to cut the fabric into small ribbons and eat them. It lasted five days. The refusal was tantamount to a death sentence — recounts the Ukrainian.

The testimony given by the captured Ukrainian volunteer helped identify 10 criminals among the Russian occupiers.

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