A Ukrainian man has claimed that he was tied up, beaten and shocked with an electric charge during the Russian occupation of his village.
But instead of Russian soldiers directly abusing him, Andrii Matiazh, 46, claimed it was local Ukrainian police officers who had switched allegiances.
“Someone tortured me,” he said at his home in Volokhivka, about six kilometers from Ukraine’s border with Russia.
“They were with the police before the invasion and then they turned to the Russian side.”
Ukraine has accused Russian troops of using torture in the areas they controlled, saying more than 10 torture chambers have been found in the newly liberated parts of the Kharkov region, in the northeast of the country.
But Mr. Matiazh’s claims illustrate an additional challenge.
Not only should the authorities investigate suspected war crimes committed by Russian invaders, including torture, murder and rape, but they should also be on the lookout for Ukrainian collaborators.
Over the past two weeks, the Ukrainian army has recaptured towns and villages all the way to the Russian border, including a number of border crossings.
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But they have yet to secure the peace, as the risk of Russian shelling at one of the border crossings on Sunday was deemed so great that Sky News was told it was too dangerous to visit.
However, we were able to spend time with Mr. Matiazh in his village further up the road, surrounded by fields and hills that surround the edge of this part of Ukraine and the entrance to Russia.
The slender man with a friendly smile lives with his wife and two of their three sons, ages 16 and 11. Their eldest son, 29, who bears the same name as his father, is in the military as part of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces .
‘I felt happiness and pain at the same time’
Andrii Matiazh junior took us to the simple one-storey house. It was just days after he was first able to go back to hug his parents in the wake of Russia’s withdrawal.
They tried to describe that moment.
“My Insides Are Turned Upside Down” [with joy]’ said his mother, Liubov, 46.
Her soldier’s son said, “I felt happiness and pain at the same time. You can’t understand these feelings. It’s too hard to describe.”
‘I was shaking for 30 minutes’
The parents had a frontline for the large-scale invasion of Russia on February 24, given the proximity of their village to the border.
“I saw fighter jets, helicopters, flying so low that they flew between yards,” said the mother.
“I was shaking for 30 minutes. My youngest child was in hysteria.”
They said Russian soldiers took charge in the nearest town, Vovchansk, while the people held responsible for the villages came from parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions that have been under Russian control since the first invasion of Moscow in 2014. .
Residents of their village were offered Russian passports, the couple said.
“We didn’t accept it, but the majority of citizens took passports,” Liubov said. “I believe they did that out of fear.”
The couple also claimed that Russian soldiers and their proxies would steal from property in the area.
It contributed to a climate of mistrust and abuse that hit the family hard just two days before Ukraine’s counter-offensive reached their territory earlier this month.
‘I had bruises’
The father said he was told to go to a building behind the courthouse in the local town.
He said five people working under the Russian occupation were involved, including a distant relative.
“They took me to the second floor. I got three or four punches in the face,” he said.
“Then they tied my hands behind my back, took off my shoes and socks, connected a metal cable with my little finger to my hands and to my foot. They put me down and started electrocuting me.”
He also said he was blindfolded.
At one point, a different type of load was used on his leg – he still has spurs on one thigh.
“The capillaries in my eyes collapsed and my eyes turned red. I had bruises. I didn’t even feel anything when they hit me in the face after the electricity,” said Mr. Matiazh senior.
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‘I knew our soldiers would come’
He said he was being questioned about a local theft that he had nothing to do with.
It took two hours before he was told he would be released, but had to return in a few days with information—a threat the father took to make him an informant or endure more torture.
At home, he and his wife discussed trying to flee, but they didn’t have enough money.
“I decided to hide somewhere in bushes, abandoned houses and wait for our soldiers. I knew our soldiers were coming,” he said.
He believes the counter-offensive that followed saved his life.
His eldest son said, “All the bad policemen have fled to Russia.”
When asked how he felt after hearing his father’s account of the torture and conditions in the village during the occupation, Andrii junior said: “Creepy and terrible.”
He wondered if his connection to the military might be one reason his father was being targeted, noting that several of his classmates had joined the police force and knew he was a soldier. “I’m not accusing anyone, but someone… has betrayed me,” he said.