Ukrainian investigators allege that Anton Polyakov targeted former participants of the war in eastern Ukraine during the occupation of the village of Pisky-Radkivski in the Izium district.
Ukrainian investigators allege that Anton Polyakov targeted former participants of the war in eastern Ukraine during the occupation of the village of Pisky-Radkivski in the Izium district. © Gaelle Girbes/Getty Images

Case Launched Over Torture of Former ATO Participants

Summons describes how men were beaten, electrocuted with stun guns and branded with a hot iron before being subjected to forced labour.

Saturday, 28 October, 2023

A Russian military officer has been summoned for a preparatory hearing in a case involving the torture of residents of a village in the Kharkiv region in an attempt to extract information about Ukrainian military personnel. 

Anton Polyakov, known by his call sign Moryachok, is a 42-year-old from the Altai Krai region of the Russian Federation. Ukrainian investigators allege that he targeted former participants of the war in eastern Ukraine during the occupation of the village of Pisky-Radkivski in the Izium district.

According to the investigation, Polyakov commanded the 30th Motorised Rifle Brigade of the Central Military District of the Russian Federation, which was stationed in Pisky-Radkivski last year. Russian military forces controlled this village for nearly six months, from April to the end of September 2022. 

Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the village was home to approximately 2,000 residents. It is located on the border of the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, about 160 kilometers from Kharkiv.

The Borivska community website recorded how residents of Pisky-Radkivski endured a "torture chamber in the village… constant searches, and intimidation, keeping people in a state of constant fear and helplessness" during the 164-day occupation. Ukrainian armed forces liberated the village as part of a counteroffensive on September 25 last year. Local residents had been killed or wounded and numerous . residential buildings destroyed or damaged. 

According to the investigation, on around May 6-7, Polyakov ordered the detention of villagers who had participated in the war in eastern Ukraine in the areas occupied by Russia, particularly in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, known as the anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). He threatened them with death and oversaw the actions of subordinates who interrogated and subjected civilians to torture.

At 10am one morning, Russian soldiers took a 59-year-old victim, identified as K, from his home. He had previously fought in the ATO zone between 2018 and 2019. The man's house was searched and he was electrocuted with a stun gun before having his hands tied behind his back with wire and a bag placed over his head. K was then transported in the back of a Ural vehicle marked with the letter Z to a cellar beneath a house on Parkova Street. His captors demanded information about Ukrainian military personnel he associated with and local residents who assisted the Ukrainian armed forces. K was beaten and assigned the identification number “three” and ordered to respond to that name.

About an hour later, a group of Russian military personnel arrived at the home of a 50-year-old victim identified as A. He had also served in the ATO zone from 2018 to 2021. The Russians followed the same pattern: they searched the house, interrogated him, electrocuted him using a stun gun, placed a bag over his head and put him in the Ural vehicle alongside victim K. The men were thrown into the same cellar, and A was ordered to respond to the identification number “two”.

Russian military personnel systematically tortured these men; they were beaten with sticks and subjected to electric shocks. Both victims were branded with a hot iron on their legs. Polyakov allegedly visited the house where the torture was taking place and ordered his subordinates to interrogate the victims about their cooperation with the Ukrainian armed forces. The men were beaten again with sticks wrapped in insulating tape. They were kept in a pit approximately 2 metres deep and wide for seven days.

Later the men were taken to the village of Rubtsi, located about 12 kilometres from Pisky-Radkyvski. There they were held in a shed for a month, forced to clean the streets and dig trenches. After that, the men were released.

Around May 13, Russian military personnel came to the residence of another civilian resident of the Pisky-Radkyvski village. The man was not at home but on searching the residence, the Russian soldiers  found a chevron emblem of the Ukrainian armed forces. The military instructed other villagers to contact the homeowner, instructing him to come to their location in the village’s daycare centre. The victim, identified as D, arrived at the centre to be met by the accused, who came out threatening him with a weapon. He ordered the man to get into a blue VAZ car and instructed his subordinates to take the victim to the same cellar located in a house on Parkova Street.

There they showed the victim the chevron they had found at his home. The Russians ordered him to place his hands on the table and struck his fingers with a hammer in an attempt to extract information about Ukrainian military personnel. When they did not get the desired information, Polyakov's subordinates beat the man with a stick and threw him into the cellar, assigning him the number 13. According to the investigation, the cellar held between four to six people.

About a week later, Polyakov arrived at the house and ordered them to take the man out of the pit. The armed Polyakov questioned D about whether he had told Russian military personnel everything he knew, threatening to personally kill him if he lied. Polyakov then released the victim but ordered him not to leave the premises and to appear immediately when summoned.

Ukrainian police investigators informed Polyakov about the charges against him in absentia in April this year and declared him wanted. During the pre-trial investigation, they were unable to determine his whereabouts. It is likely that he is in the Russian Federation.

The materials of the Dzerzhynsk District Court of Kharkiv state that during the pre-trial investigation, the victims recognised the Russian commander in photographs.

This case was sent to court in July and is currently at the preparatory stage. During a hearing on October 16, it was revealed that the attorney assigned to Polyakov from the Regional Centre for Free Legal Aid, was currently abroad due to family circumstances. Therefore, the attorney requested a remote video conference or a replacement for the defence attorney. The court decided to instruct the Centre for Legal Aid to assign a different attorney, who is expected to be at the next hearing on November 2.

If Polyakov is found guilty under Article 438, Part 1 of the criminal code of Ukraine, he faces a sentence of eight to 12 years in prison, to be served after his arrest.

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