Residents in the newly recaptured city of Kherson on Monday described months of brutality and abuse at the hands of Russian forces, including theft of vehicles, beatings and arrests of anyone suspected of defying the nearly nine-month occupation.
In interviews, they described how the Russians arrested local residents, either because of their political views or because they were suspected of belonging to a partisan underground group.
At an open-air street market selling basic necessities such as painkillers and toilet paper that shops lacked, many residents told stories of acquaintances who were in prison, and some said they had heard of torture.
Vyacheslav Lukashuk, 27, a lanky handyman, said he landed face down on his living room floor after about a dozen soldiers burst into his home and beat him. Eventually they held him for seven days.
“All I did was spray paint ‘Glory to Ukraine’ on a bus stop,” he said.
The worst abuse happened in the first few minutes, he said. A soldier slipped a plastic bag over his head and strapped it around his neck to suffocate him, and other soldiers kicked and beat him with rifle butts, he said.
“They just flew in and started hitting me,” Lukashuk said. “I said goodbye to my life at that moment.”
After he was taken to a prison, Mr. Lukashuk said other inmates told him that they had been tortured with electric shocks and that he heard screams in the evening. Mr Lukaschuk said he was not tortured during his detention, but that he confessed to and apologized for the pro-Ukrainian graffiti – a confession posted online along with those of other residents who admitted pro-Ukrainian activities or views apparent attempt to shame or humiliate them.
Mykhail Tkachov, a dealer at a car dealership that sold new cars and dealt in used cars, said Russian forces have claimed to be there to protect local residents but often robbed them, particularly from vehicles.
Mr Tkachov said he and his colleagues dispersed a stock of nearly 200 cars across yards and street parking lots across the city in the first few days after the Russian army arrived. But the Russians arrested one of the dealers, and he revealed the locations and handed over the keys.
“People lived like shadows,” said Mr. Tkachov, afraid to make their presence known while the Russian soldiers made themselves comfortable.
“I saw eight of them sitting in a coffee shop right down the street,” he said. “They pulled up in plain-clothes cars with no license plates, apparently stolen by someone.”
Serhiy Karasenko, who sells pickled cauliflower, cabbage and tomatoes at a market stall, said Russian soldiers drove off in his car last week just before fleeing the city. He now takes his goods to the market by taxi. His car, he said, was “gone. I won’t see it again.”
Mr Tkachov said some people’s cars had been stolen at Russian checkpoints. Soldiers took her away, allegedly after noticing problems with Ukrainian registration documents, like a car that didn’t have the driver’s registration. A friend’s company car was confiscated.
“It’s an official car,” said Mr. Tkachov, the man told the soldiers. But he said the soldiers replied, “That’s our business now,” and took the car.