In a retaken border village, Ukrainians point to signs of Russian abuse of civilians

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Top Stories

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Luda Toryanyk, 58, walks across the railroad tracks in Kozacha Lopan, Ukraine, on Sunday. The village was retaken by Ukrainian troops on Sept. 11 after being occupied by Russian forces for more than six months. Toryanyk carries home bags of food that Ukrainian volunteers were distributing in the center of the village.

Jason Beaubien/NPR

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Jason Beaubien/NPR

KOZACHA LOPAN, Ukraine — This village used to be the last railway stop in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region before crossing into Russia. Passengers could exchange Ukrainian hryvnia for Russian rubles, grab a coffee and stretch their legs. Now, the customs post is blown apart. The high-ceilinged train station is pock-marked with bullet holes. The steel tracks in front of the platform are twisted from explosions. And Ukrainian police say they found a torture chamber in the station’s basement where Russians interrogated residents.

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Bedding and sleeping bags in a basement where Ukrainian authorities say they found a torture cell used during the Russian occupation, in the retaken village of Kozacha Lopan on Saturday.

Leo Correa/AP

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Leo Correa/AP

Fifty-eight-year-old Luda Toryanyk, who’s lived her entire life in Kozacha Lopan, says one local man was interrogated in the back of the post office for several days after trying to cross into Ukrainian-controlled territory to visit his hospitalized mother. And she says she saw him when he was released. “He lifted up his shirt and his back was black and blue with bruises,” she says. “He was beaten there for nothing.” Kozacha Lopan was one of the first places Russian troops took over when they invaded Ukraine in late February. But Ukrainian forces took back the village, and much of the Kharkiv region, in a swift counteroffensive this month. Since the Russian troops’ withdrawal, Ukrainian officials have reported finding evidence of alleged torture of civilians. And residents have described to NPR allegations of abuse under the nearly 200 days of Russian occupation.

Her son was detained Toryanyk says she watched her own son being marched to the train station by three Russian soldiers with guns in April. She says she waited outside the station, shivering in the rain, for two hours before they let him go. At first, her son downplayed the incident, she says, insisting to his mother that he had simply been questioned about some looting. They made him sit in a chair, he told her, with his hands bound with tape and a hood over his head. But she soon suspected that the incident was far worse than he was telling her and that he may have suffered abuse while in custody. “Later at night, when he screamed because of the nightmares, then I realized that he didn’t want to upset me and that’s why he hadn’t told me that he was beaten,” she says. She stayed looking after neighbors’ animals After Russian forces invaded, many of the village’s 4,000 residents fled either to Ukrainian-h …

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