A Ukrainian man claimed to have been tied up, beaten and shocked with an electric charge during the occupation of his village by Russia.
But instead of Russian soldiers abusing him directly, Andrii Matiazh, 46, claimed it was local Ukrainian police officers who had switched allegiances.
“Someone tortured me,” he said, speaking at his home in Volokhivka, about six kilometers from the Ukraine-Russia border.
“They were in the police before the invasion, then they turned to the Russian side.”
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of using torture in areas they controlled, saying more than 10 torture chambers have been discovered in newly liberated parts of the northeastern Kharkiv region. from the country.
But Mr. Matiazh’s claims help illustrate an additional challenge.
Not only must the authorities investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Russian invaders, including torture, murder and rape, but they must also be alert to Ukrainian collaborators.
Over the past fortnight, the Ukrainian army has taken over towns and villages up to the Russian border, including a number of crossing points.
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But they have yet to secure peace, with the risk of Russian shelling at one of the border crossings deemed so great on Sunday that Sky News was told it was too dangerous to visit.
We were able, however, to spend time with Mr. Matiazh in his village down the road, surrounded by fields and hills that frame the boundary of this part of Ukraine and the entrance to Russia.
The slender man with the benevolent smile lives with his wife and two of their three sons, aged 16 and 11. Their eldest son, 29, who has the same name as his father, is in the army with Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force.
“I felt happiness and pain at the same time”
Andrii Matiazh Jr took us to visit the humble one-story house. It was only a few days later that he was able to venture out to embrace his parents following Russia’s withdrawal.
They tried to describe this moment.
“My insides turned [with joy]“said his mother, Liubov, 46.
Her son, a soldier, said, “I felt happiness and pain at the same time. You can’t understand these feelings. It’s too hard to describe.”
“I was shaking for 30 minutes”
The parents had front-line headquarters for the full-scale invasion of Russia on February 24, given their village’s proximity to the border.
“I saw jet planes, helicopters, flying so low they were flying between meters,” the mother said.
“I was shaking for 30 minutes. My youngest child was hysterical.”
They said Russian soldiers had taken charge of the nearest town, Vovshansk, while those responsible for the villages came from parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions that have been under Russian control since the first invasion of Moscow in 2014. .
Residents of their village were offered Russian passports, the couple said.
“We didn’t agree, but the majority of civilians took passports,” Liubov said. “I believe they did it out of fear.”
The couple also alleged that Russian soldiers and their proxies would steal property in the area.
This added to a climate of mistrust and abuse, which severely affected the family two days before Ukraine’s counter-offensive reached their region this month.
“I got bruises”
The father said he was told to go to a building behind the local town courthouse.
He said five people, working under the Russian occupation, were involved, including a distant relative.
“They took me to the second floor. I received three or four punches in the face,” he said.
“Then they tied my hands behind my back, took off my shoes and socks, connected a metal cable to my little finger on my hands and to my foot. They laid me down and started shocking me. “
He said he was also blindfolded.
At some point a different type of load was used on his leg – he still has marks on one thigh.
“My eye capillaries collapsed and my eyes turned red. I had bruises. I didn’t even feel anything when they hit me in the face after the electricity,” Mr Matiazh Sr said.
“I knew our soldiers were coming”
He said he was being asked about a local robbery he had nothing to do with.
This went on for two hours, before he was told he would be released, but had to come back a few days later with information – a threat the father interpreted as meaning he had to become an informant or suffer more torture.
Back home, he and his wife discussed trying to flee but they didn’t have enough money.
“I decided to hide somewhere in the bushes, the abandoned houses and wait for our soldiers. I knew our soldiers were coming,” he said.
He believes the subsequent counter-offensive saved his life.
His eldest son said: “All the bad policemen fled to Russia.”
When asked how he felt after hearing his father’s account of the torture and living conditions in the village during the occupation, Andrii Jr replied, “Scary and terrible.
He wondered if his connection to the army could have been a reason his father had been targeted, noting that a number of his classmates had joined the police and knew he was a soldier .
“I’m not accusing anyone but someone…betrayed me,” he said.