Tortures and burning of Ukrainian books: the testimony of a family from Kharkov

Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv (Ukraine), Sep 17 (EFE) .- The liberation of populations in the Kharkov region has brought to light atrocities that, according to Ukraine, are reminiscent of Bucha, on the outskirts of kyiv, while the inhabitants of those localities denounce torture and burning of books in the Ukrainian language under Russian occupation.

“If I had known what was going to happen, I would not have come here,” Marina Rubezhanska, from the town of Malyi Burluk, northeast of Kharkov, told Efe by phone. “Living under the bombs was almost better than under the Russian occupation,” she adds.

This resident of Kharkov, the second largest city in Ukraine, moved to the town where her parents live thinking it would be safer. She settled there days after the start of the large-scale Russian invasion, as Kharkov became the target of bombing and air strikes.

But his parents’ village soon found itself occupied by the Russians. And the life of Marina and her family quickly became complicated. “The Russians were looking for Ukrainian soldiers who had participated in the anti-terrorist operation in Donbas,” says Marina.

His father had been the head of the village council. They went to him for names. The Russians wanted his father to be his collaborator and to help run the town. They hoped to get a nice image for the Russian audience: “Look, people are happy that we are finally here!”

He refused to cooperate and was taken to the makeshift internment camp that the Russians had converted into a factory in the city of Vovchansk, close to the Ukraine-Russia border.

“There they beat him repeatedly, especially in the head,” his daughter slowly recounts. They repeatedly threatened her that they would shoot her “girls” or burn down her house if she didn’t talk.

His father told him that he was kept in a large room with 70 other people. Most were former Ukrainian soldiers. They were tortured with electric cables, needles were inserted under their fingernails and their bones were broken. Some were arrested multiple times.

He nearly went into cardiac arrest. He suffered a stroke after being released and spending two weeks in “prison”.

“We don’t give up!” emphasizes Marina. Her mother, a Russian-born librarian, refused to cooperate when soldiers came to confiscate the Ukrainian-language books.

“They were especially interested in Ukrainian history books, which they describe as Nazi,” he stresses. His family managed to hide a dozen, as well as the Ukrainian flag, which they hid in a barn.

“The military police came to see us and searched hard, but they couldn’t find them,” he laughs. “It’s not that easy to find something between two and a half tons of grain.”

The Ukrainian history books that the Russians managed to confiscate were burned.

“Thank God, they didn’t manage to burn them all because our boys, the soldiers, came,” says Marina.

Marina’s family did not accept gifts or money from the Russians, nor did they try to hide their patriotic views. “Speak to me in Russian, whore!” a Russian officer once yelled at her.

Marina refused: “I have always spoken in Ukrainian or in a local “surzhyk” (the mix of Ukrainian and Russian languages), as my parents and grandparents did. Why should I change?

It hurts him that some locals have cooperated with the occupants. Some sought favor with the Russians and soldiers from the breakaway territories of Lugansk and Donetsk. Most of those who cooperated have already left.

“After the occupation they kept saying how happy they were to go live in Russia. Now they sleep in tents there,” says Marina.

He says that the soldiers ransacked the empty houses and those of people who were taken to the Vovchanks prison. “In the end, when they fled from the Ukrainian offensive, they randomly stopped cars, shot them, and kicked out their occupants to escape themselves,” reveals Marina.

Little is yet known with certainty about the fate of the inmates at Vovchansk, where their father was beaten. It is one of at least 10 “torture sites” that Ukrainian police say have been found in the area.

According to the Kharkov Human Rights Protection Group, during the occupation between 100 and 150 people were held there at the same time, of whom between 10 and 30 were isolated in windowless chambers.

Some were tortured and held for months, others were released after several hours or days. EFE

Tortures and burning of Ukrainian books: the testimony of a family from Kharkov