“The Nine Circles of Hell”: Survivors Reveal Shocking Details of the Methods Putin’s Torturers Use in Ukraine

“I heard how a female soldier was raped for three days. I don’t know what happened to her.”declared a survivor of the Prymorska detention center 145in the region of Zaporizhzhya. The horrifying testimony is part of an extensive report of the international human rights organization based in Denmark, Dignity, that reveals hitherto unknown details of systematic torture in Ukraine under Russian occupation since February 2022.

The title of the investigation “Nine Circles of Hell”arose after an interview with a survivor who was imprisoned in Colony 90 of Pivnichna, in the region of Kherson. The prisoner could not bear any more torture and, in despair, he asked to be killed. His torturer first authorized the execution, but then, referring to Dante’s Inferno as an allegory, said: “Wait! It’s too soon. You have not yet traveled the seven (sic) circles of hell”. Apparently, the torturer meant “nine circles of hell.”

The report is a detailed account of horrifying findings describing Russian war crimes through 152 documented cases of torture.

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The pit where the bodies were found. Photograph by the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office.

The study explains that shortly after the invasion, the Ukrainian authorities lost effective control of the entire state police and prison system in the eastern and southern territories of Ukraine. These institutions included 111 prisons, 100 police stations, and hundreds of social institutions such as mental hospitals.

Even in times of peace, places of detention are heavily guarded institutions with a high risk of human rights violations, but under the Russian occupation these places of detention were left completely in the shadows, leaving detainees under the absolute power of the forces. russian navies.

dignity ukraine torture
The sewage pit where Oleg was held. After the liberation, the body of another person who was murdered was found in it.

In addition to the prisons that passed into Russian hands, this investigation covers the network of clandestine detention centers such as makeshift torture chambers. In these locations, the report documents numerous violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, including torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, intentional killings, and military attacks.

In fact, much of the information collected points to possible violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law, evidencing alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The researchers affirmed that although for protection and security reasons most of the testimonies appear anonymously, the organization has detailed information to share with the Justice if a process against Putin and senior officials advances.

dignity ukraine torture
A cell at Izium central police station that Russian forces used to detain people, September 23, 2022. 2022 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch

Documented torture methods include physical torture such as beatings, electric shocks, suffocation with masks or gas bags, and generally inhumane prison conditions. Psychological torture is also common: drills and threats of execution or threats of very serious violence against prisoners and their families.

The foreign student Gusein Abdullayev, was arrested by Russian soldiers at the checkpoint when he was trying to leave the city and took him to the pre-trial detention center in Mariupol, Region of Donetsk, where he was tortured daily for 20 days to make him confess that he was a member of the Azov Battalion.

They took me to a torture chamber. It was a small room, there was an iron chair and an electric shock torture machine. They knocked me down and tied my hands. They started asking me questions. First they exerted psychological pressure trying to force me to admit that he was a soldier of the ‘Azov Battalion’. I insisted that he was a student… ”, he recounted but they did not believe him.

“They attached the machine to my big toes and started to deliver painful shocks. They wanted me to confess that I was in the military… Every day they tortured me”, he added.

Abdullaiev’s testimony was key because it revealed that as a general rule: “The electric torture lasted between 20 and 30 minutes, and the beatings lasted an hour. The torture was repeated three times a day. Sometimes I lost consciousness, they poured cold water on me and continued to mistreat me…”

With him they were in captivity Sergei Nazarov, Major of the Mariupol Ministry of Emergency Situations; Edik Krostovemployee of one of the factories and Alexei Lustova volunteer.

Ukraine Nine Circles of Hell
The cover of the 64-page report “Nine Circles of Hell” by the NGO Dignity

The report also collects chilling testimonies in the Prymorska detention center no. 145, in the Zaporizhzhia region. Like other prisons, this institution was also used to detain civilians.

One prisoner, a retired Ukrainian prosecutor, detailed the brutality of his captivity: “We were electrocuted, beaten in such a way that I don’t even want to count it… But it was hell. They put a bag over my head, took me to a torture chamber and made fun of me. We heard piercing screams every afternoon and during the night. Once the screaming suddenly stopped and then they brought the corpse of a man next to us. We had to sleep in his pool of blood.”

“At first, they asked why you didn’t go over to the side of the ‘young republic’, and then they were only interested in what material values ​​they could seize… I stayed there for 33 days. The hostages were guarded by Dagestanis, and all the rest were locals or employees of the Russian Federal Security Service. The soldiers of the Ukrainian Azov battalion were being held in one wing of the prison, and we were being held in the other.”

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Rope found in a torture chamber. Kherson police photo.

To Zaporizhzhia Oblast, the report reveals, the Russian occupiers brought with them instruments of torture, including Stalinist equipment from 1937.”The scale of the torture is so great that no human being can bear it. And in the end, even the one who doesn’t want to confess, ends up confessing”, affirmed a witness almost resigned.

After the release of Balakliyain KharkivUkrainian law enforcement authorities released official information about more than 40 people who were held in the basement of the local police station and in a neighboring building. According to the authorities, witnesses reported that various types of torture were used against civilians, including electric shocks.

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Orikhivska Colony premises no. 88. Photograph by the National Police of Ukraine

One of the 40 tortured was Oleksandr, who described how masked Russian soldiers tortured him with electricity, hit him over the head with a baseball bat, burned him and cut off his ear and nose with a knife. In addition, they forced him to sign a document in which he confessed to his cooperation with the Ukrainian armed forces. The torture was filmed for unknown reasons. Oleksandr believes that the videos could have been recorded to view later “for pleasure” or to have compromising material against fellow servicemen to blackmail them into complying with future military orders.

Another survivor of a makeshift clandestine torture center in the police station basement, but from Khersonrevealed: “His favorite entertainment was wires attached to ears or other parts of the body and electric shocks. It’s called ‘sunlight’. When the wires connect to the ears and supply electricity, apparently, the eyes can fall out.”

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Gas mask used to torture civilians in Kupiansk, Kharkiv region. The letter “Z” is used by the Russians as a symbol of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Photo by Dumka.media

Dignity researchers identified 12 official detention centers controlled by Russia where torture was committed:

1- Mariupol pre-trial detention center, Donetsk region

2- Pryazovska Colony no. 107, Zaporizhzhia region

3 – Starobilsk pre-trial detention center, Luhansk region

4- Kherson Pretrial Detention Center, Kherson Region

5– Holoprystanska Colony no. 7, Kherson region

6- – Dariivska Colony no. 10, Kherson region

7 – Pivnichna Colony no. 90, Kherson region

8- Snihurivska Colony no. 5, Mykolaiv region

9 – Veselivskyi Correctional Center no. 8, Zaporizhzhia region

11- Prymorska Colony no. 145, Zaporizhzhia region

12- Melitopolska Penitentiary Institution no. 144, Zaporizhzhia region

The research also ensures that the creation of makeshift torture chambers was one of the first administrative decisions of the Russian occupying power. The evidence of the existence of these places was found after the liberation of the occupied territories. “This was a routine practice in all places occupied by the Russian forces. The places of detention were mostly basements of private houses and official institutions such as police stations, schools, hospitals, railway stations,” the report details. In all these clandestine centers, the report asserts, torture was often accompanied by other human rights violations, such as extrajudicial executions.

The study was based on information and evidence of violations of international law collected in 121 interviews with victims and witnesses who suffered from Russian custody. The data collected was subjected to verification and corroboration to guarantee its veracity and only the conclusions that meet the criterion of “reasonable grounds to believe” have been included in it. More than disclaimer, the notice at the conclusion of the “Nine Circles of Hell” report is a reminder of the amount of testimony that has yet to be collected.

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