An elderly man walks by an apartment block that was destroyed by a Russian missile attack earlier in the month, on October 28, 2022 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
An elderly man walks by an apartment block that was destroyed by a Russian missile attack earlier in the month, on October 28, 2022 in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. © Carl Court/Getty Images

Torture in Vasylivka

Local men were subjected to electric shocks, beatings and mock executions during interrogation.

Tuesday, 23 January, 2024

Two Russian officers have been convicted and sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison for the brutal torture of civilians detained in Zaporizhzhia region.

Said Huseynov, 33, and 31-year-old Azamat Khasbulatov, from the Republic of Dagestan in the Russian Federation, were found to have organised the detention and tortured a number of men in he town of Vasylivka.

The men, serving with the Makhachkalinsky riot police unit of the Rosgvardia administration in the Republic of Dagestan, were amongst the forces occupying Vasylivka, captured in the first weeks of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian investigation established that Khasbulatov assumed the position of de facto deputy military commandant of the occupation administration, while Huseynov became his assistant. Khasbulatov ordered Huseynov and other subordinates to find prominent local figures who might interfere with the occupation policy.

On March 26, 2022, Russian soldiers, including Huseynov, carried out Khasbulatov's order and kidnapped Serhii Y, the headman of the village of Verkhnya Krynytsia, six kilometers from Vasylivka. That same day, the Russians kidnapped three more men from Verkhnaya Krynytsia, including two brothers. The fifth victim was detained a week later at a checkpoint in Vasylivka as he attempted to leave occupied territory and head to Zaporizhzhia. 

The Russian soldiers took all the detainees to the building of the Vasylivsky district police department, where they intimidated and tortured them in an attempt to make them cooperate. After their release from the torture chamber, all the victims left the occupied territory and so were able to testify to the court.  

Serhii Y, 48, said that at the beginning of the full-scale war, he and the villagers received Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition to organise their defence. But at a local meeting, the villagers decided to hide the weapons rather than use them. 

On the morning of March 26, armed Russian soldiers came to the mayor’s house, demanding he open the village council office and the local school so they could look for Ukrainian servicemen or clues as to their whereabouts. They also demanded lists of locals who had received weapons as well as prior participants in the war in eastern Ukraine. 

The mayor told them that he had destroyed all such documents.

The soldiers then pulled a hood over his eyes and took him to an abandoned farm outside the village, where they knocked him to the ground, beat and choked him, as well as staging a mock execution with a machine gun.

Serhii Y was then taken to the Vasylivska police station and put in a cell where the torture continued, including more electric shocks. Acid was poured on his hand and a needle was inserted under the nail of his little finger. 

The Russians forced the mayor to return to the village to pick up brothers Yevhen and Oleksandr Sh. They were all brought back to the Vasylivska police station and subjected to electric shock torture. 

The mayor was kept in the torture chamber for a week and then released. In April, Russian military personnel detained him for a further 12 days, after which the man left occupied territory.

In court, 41-year-old Yevhen Sh related how Russian soldiers had searched his home for weapons and beat him.  They demanded to know the location of Ukrainian soldiers and where weapons had been hidden. As the man was being taken out of the yard, he saw that his brother, 51-year-old Oleksandr, was being taken out of the neighboring property and put into a car with a bag covering his head. 

In the Vasylivska police station, the men were tortured with electric current, stun guns and rubber batons. Lit cigarettes were also extinguished on their backs.  

After some days of torture - and having been threatened that the Russians would kill his brother and rape his son - Yevhen agreed to cooperate. He was released and ordered to collect weapons hidden in the village and present them to the occupying forces the next morning, which he did. His brother and other detained villagers were then allowed to leave the police station, but the Russians did not let the village headman go.

The other victim,  37-year-old, Ivan M, is a former soldier who retired from military service in January 2022. When the full-scale war broke out, he was given an assault rifle and six packs of ammunition to be used for self-defence. When the villagers agreed to hide their weapons, Ivan M hid the AK-74 in his annex. 

Russian soldiers first broke into his home around March 19-20, 2022, beating him and searching for arms. The Russian military had a list of addresses of those who had received weapons, so Ivan realised that there was no point in resisting. He handed over his machine gun and was released. 

However, on the morning of March 26, the Russian soldiers broke into the victim's house again. They bound his hands and made him kneel while they searched his home and then took him to the captured police station in Vasylivka. 

There he was tortured, including with electric shocks to his ears and genitals which caused him to lose consciousness. Three days later on March 29, when the Russians released him, Ivan was unable to walk due to the effect of the torture.

During the investigation, Ivan identified the accused men as his torturers. Other victims also recognised Khasbulatov and Huseynov from photographic evidence and testified that they had given orders and participated in torture.

Another man, 61-year-old Oleksandr Ch, testified that he had been interrogated by the Russian military but without physical pressure. The man was an official who worked in the Tokmak city council in the Zaporizhzhia region, a settlement of 30,000 also captured in the first days of the full-scale invasion. On April 2, 2022, Oleksandr Ch tried to leave for Zaporizhzhia in a car together with other Tokmak residents, but was stopped at a roadblock and taken to the captured Vasylivska police station. The man was kept in a cell for two days, where he met other prisoners who had been beaten and tortured. After questioning, Oleksandr Ch was released and ordered to return to Tokmak.

In December 2022, Zaporizhzhia investigators reported suspicions in absentia to Huseynov and Khasbulatov, and in April 2023, the district court scheduled the case for trial in the absence of the accused, who did not appear after being summoned. They remain wanted. 

After a trial lasting more than eight months, on January 2 the Zaporizhzhia Factory district court sentenced Khasbulatov and Huseynov to 12 years in prison, the maximum punishment under Part 1 of Art. 438 of the criminal code of Ukraine concerning the violation of the laws and customs of war. 

Their defence team has thirty days from the announcement of the verdict to appeal.

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