A Ukrainian man has been accused of being tied, beaten and electrocuted during the Russian occupation of his village.
But instead of Russian soldiers abusing him directly, Andrii Matiazh, 46, alleges that it was local Ukrainian policemen who switched allegiance.
“Someone tortured me,” he said, speaking at his home, about four miles from Ukraine’s border with Russia.
“They were in the police force before the invasion and then they turned to the Russian side.”
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of using torture in areas it controls, saying more than 10 torture chambers have been found in newly liberated parts of the Kharkiv region in the northeastern part of the country.
But Mr. Matiazh’s statements help illustrate another challenge.
Not only must authorities investigate suspected war crimes by Russian aggressors, including torture, murder, and rape, but they also need to be on the lookout for Ukrainian collaborators.
Over the past two weeks, Ukrainian troops have recaptured towns and villages right up to the Russian border, including several crossing points.
The children were among 146 bodies exhumed at the mass burial site in the city of Izyum, an official said.
Professor Michael Clarke: Russia gets new foothold after being pushed back by Ukraine’s swift offensive in Kharkiv
But they have yet to secure peace, with the risk of Russian shelling at one of the border crossings said to be so great on Sunday that Sky News says it’s too dangerous to visit.
However, we were able to spend time with Mr. Matiazh in his village on the road, surrounded by fields and hills that surround the edge of this part of Ukraine and the entrance to Russia.
The slim man with a kind smile lives with his wife and two of their three sons, aged 16 and 11. Their eldest son, 29, who shares the same name as his father, is in the army. Ukraine’s territorial defense force.
‘I feel happy and sad at the same time’
The Andrii Matiazh facility took us on a tour of the modest, one-story home. Just a few days after he was first able to go back to hug his parents after Russia withdrew.
They try to describe that moment.
“My insides are upside down [with joy]”, his mother, Liubov, 46, said.
Her son said: “I feel both happiness and pain. You can’t understand these feelings. It’s too hard to describe.”
‘I was shaking for 30 minutes’
The parents had a frontline position for the all-out invasion of Russia on February 24 due to their village being close to the border.
“I saw jets, helicopters, flying very low, they would fly between the paddocks,” the mother said.
“I was shaking for 30 minutes. My youngest child was in a hysteria.”
They said Russian soldiers were in charge of the nearest town, Vovchansk, while those in charge of villages came from Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have been under Russian control since the first invasion. Moscow’s first in 2014.
The residents of their village were provided with Russian passports, the couple said.
“We don’t accept it, but most of the civilians have taken passports,” Liubov said. “I believe they did it out of fear.”
The couple also alleges that Russian soldiers and their close friends will steal property in the area.
It has added to an atmosphere of suspicion and abuse that severely affected the family just two days before the Ukrainian counterattack reached their region earlier this month.
The father said he was supposed to attend a building behind the courthouse in the local town.
He said five individuals, working under Russian occupation, were involved, including a distant relative.
“They took me to the second floor. I got three or four hits in the face,” he said.
“Then they tied my hands behind my back, took off my shoes and socks, and attached a metal cable to the little finger on my hand and foot. They put me down and started electrocuting me.”
He said he was also blindfolded.
At one point, a different type of kick was used on his leg – he still has a mark on one thigh.
“The capillaries in my eyes collapsed and my eyes became red. I was bruised. I didn’t even feel anything when they hit me in the face after the electric shock,” Mr. Matiazh said.
‘I know our soldiers are coming’
He said he was being questioned about a local theft he had nothing to do with.
It went on for two hours, before he was told he would be released but had to return within a few days with information – a threat the father made meant he needed to return. become an informant or face more torture.
Returning home, he and his wife discussed how to escape but did not have enough money.
“I decided to hide somewhere in the bushes, abandoned houses, and wait for our soldiers. I knew that our soldiers were coming,” he said.
He believes the subsequent counterattack saved his life.
His eldest son said: “All the bad guys of the police have run to Russia.”
When asked how he felt after hearing his father tell about the torture and conditions in the village during the occupation, junior Andrii said: “It was terrible and terrible.”
He wondered if his ties to the military were the reason his father was targeted, noting that some of his classmates had joined the police and knew he was a soldier. “I’m not accusing anyone but someone… betrayed me,” he said.