Ukrainian police and prosecutors have identified four places in Kherson where they suspect Russian forces tortured people before the troops abandoned the city.
- The police, prosecutors, and experts based their findings on documents signed by the Russian forces that occupied Kherson soon after invading Ukraine
- Russia has rejected allegations of abuse against civilians and soldiers
- It said last week that Ukrainian soldiers had executed more than 10 Russian prisoners of war, adding it would bring to justice those responsible
In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, the prosecutor general’s office said the Russian forces had set up “pseudo-law enforcement agencies” in detention centers and a police building in the southern Ukrainian city.
The police, prosecutors and experts based their findings on documents signed by the Russian forces that occupied Kherson soon after invading Ukraine in February until pulling out this month, the statement said.
They also discovered objects in the buildings, including parts of rubber batons, a wooden bat, handcuffs and an incandescent lamp, as well as bullets found in walls, it said.
“Various methods of torture, physical and psychological violence were applied to people in cells and basements,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Moscow has rejected allegations of abuse against civilians and soldiers.
It has also accused Ukraine of staging such abuses in places that were previously occupied by Russia, such as Bucha, near Kyiv.
Reuters identified a police building in Kherson where, according to more than half a dozen residents, people were interrogated and tortured during Russia’s nearly nine-month occupation.
The Kremlin and Russia’s Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to those accusations.
Russia has also accused Ukrainian soldiers of abuses during the conflict.
Last week, Moscow said that Ukrainian soldiers had executed more than 10 Russian prisoners of war, citing a video circulating on Russian social media.
On Monday, the Kremlin said it would bring to justice those responsible for the killings.
Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s commissioner for human rights, dismissed the Russian accusations on Sunday.
“From separate pieces of the video of the incident involving Russian soldiers in the Luhansk region it can be concluded that, using a staged capture, the Russians committed a war crime — they opened fire on soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he wrote on Telegram.
“In this case, the Russian military personnel cannot be considered prisoners of war, but are fighting and committing perfidy,” he said.
“Returning fire is not a war crime. On the contrary, those who want to use the protection of international law for murder must be punished.”
Ukrainian authorities are evacuating civilians from recently liberated sections of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, fearing that a lack of heat, power and water — due to Russian shelling — will make conditions too unlivable over winter.
The move came as rolling blackouts plagued most of the country on Monday.
Authorities urged residents of the two southern regions — which Russian forces have been shelling for months — to move to safer areas in the central and western parts of the country, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Monday.
The government would provide transportation, accommodations and medical care, she added.
Those evacuations are taking place more than a week after Ukraine recaptured the city of Kherson, on the western bank of the Dnieper River, and surrounding areas in a major battlefield gain.
Since then, heading into winter, residents and authorities alike are realizing just how much power and other infrastructure the Russians destroyed before retreating or have damaged just in the past week.
Ukraine is known for its brutal winter weather, and snow has already covered Kyiv, the capital, and other parts of the country.
Russian forces are fortifying their defense lines along the Dnieper River’s eastern bank, fearing that Ukrainian forces will push deeper into the region.
In the weeks before Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive, Russian-installed authorities encouraged and helped tens of thousands of Kherson city residents to evacuate to Russian-held areas.
On Monday, Russian-installed authorities urged other residents to evacuate an area on the river’s eastern bank that Moscow now controls, citing intense fighting in Kherson’s Kakhovskiy district.
Russia has been pounding Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure from the air for weeks, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of Ukrainians without electricity, heat and water.
To cope with the power shortages, four-hour or longer power outages were scheduled on Monday in 15 of Ukraine’s 27 regions, according to Volodymyr Kudrytsky, head of Ukraine’s state grid operator Ukrenergo.
The latest available estimate is that more than 40 percent of the country’s energy facilities have been damaged by Russian missile strikes.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy repeated his calls for NATO nations and other allies to recognize Russia as a terrorist state, saying that its shelling of energy supplies was tantamount “to the use of a weapon of mass destruction”.
Mr. Zelenskyy also again urged stricter sanctions against Russia and appealed for more air defense aid.
“The terrorist state needs to see that they do not stand a chance,” he told NATO’s 68th Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Madrid in a video address.
‘Huge risks’ of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant shelling
Ukraine narrowly escaped disaster during fighting at the weekend that rocked Europe’s largest atomic power plant with a barrage of shells, some falling near reactors and damaging a radioactive waste storage building, the UN nuclear watchdog said.
On Monday, Russia and Ukraine traded blame for at least a dozen explosions at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, which has been under Russian control since soon after it invaded the country on February 24, but is across the Dnipro river from areas controlled by Kyiv.
Mr. Zelenskyy urged NATO members to guarantee protection from “Russian sabotage” at nuclear facilities.
The head of Russia’s state-run nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, said it had discussed Sunday’s shelling with the IAEA, and said there was a risk of a nuclear accident.
Whoever fired on the plant was taking “huge risks and gambling with many people’s lives”, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.
Reuters could not immediately verify which side was responsible.
The attacks also hit a cooling pond, a cable to one reactor and a bridge to another, according to an IAEA team on the ground, citing information provided by plant management.
“We were fortunate a potentially serious nuclear incident did not happen. Next time, we may not be so lucky,” Mr Grossi said in a statement late on Sunday, describing the situation as a “close call”.
“We are talking meters, not kilometers,” he said.
Repeated shelling of the plant during the war has raised concern about a serious disaster in the country that suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident, the 1986 Chornobyl meltdown.
Radiation levels remained normal and there were no reports of casualties, the IAEA said.
While there was no direct impact on nuclear safety and security systems, “the shelling came dangerously close”, Mr Grossi said.
At least four civilians were killed and eight more were wounded in Ukraine over the past 24 hours, the deputy head of the country’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said on Monday.
A Russian missile strike in the north-east Kharkiv region on Sunday night killed one person and wounded two, according to Kharkiv’s Governor, as it hit a residential building in the village of Shevchenkove.
One person was wounded overnight in the Dnipropetrovsk region, where Russian forces shelled the city of Nikopol and surrounding areas, Governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.
Nikopol lies across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
In the eastern Donetsk region — which Moscow partially controls — Russian forces shelled 14 towns and villages, the region’s Ukrainian governor said.
Heavy fighting was taking place near the Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, where a school was damaged.
In Makiivka — which is under Russian control — an oil depot was hit and caught fire, local Moscow-installed authorities said.