Russian soldiers kidnapped and tortured a Ukrainian assistant and interpreter who works for Radio France for nine days, according to a complaint Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Nikita (not his real name to protect his identity) was captured on March 5 and, according to his account, was subjected to torture, repeated beatings, deprivation of food for 48 hours and even a mock execution.
Edith Rodríguez, vice president of Reporters Without Borders: “Russian oppression of the independent press has existed since Putin came to power”
RSF, which has verified his account with various sources, plans to forward his story to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). “Nikita has given us a chilling testimony that confirms the intensity of the war crimes perpetrated by the Russian army against journalists,” said RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire. “Bringing his testimony to the ICC prosecutor is the least we can do for this brave young guide.”
The ICC already asked Russia last week to cease its military operations in Ukraine, something Russia refused.
The kidnapping of the ‘fixer’
Nikita, 32, worked for the radio as a journalistic assistant, which in jargon is called “fixers”, usually a local journalist who helps foreign envoys and correspondents. The kidnapping occurred when he was accompanying a Radio France team that was visiting the center of the country, not far from the town where his family had taken refuge. After learning that the road to the village was open, he borrowed Radio France’s car to evacuate his family.
Nikita recounts being ambushed by a Russian reconnaissance unit at the edge of a roadside forest while driving with a “press” banner on the front of the car. He says that between 30 and 40 shots were fired at his car with automatic weapons and he was unable to flee. He yelled that he was a civilian, showed his hands to show that he was unarmed and got out of the car. But the soldiers, he counted six, seemed to think he was a soldier acting as a scout to guide the artillery fire: they grabbed him, threw him to the ground, searched him and beat him.
They then blindfolded him and took him to a house a few minutes away. They searched his phone and found information related to his work for Radio France (searching for bulletproof vests and tracing routes) that they found suspicious. According to him, the soldiers thought he was a spy using his work as a cover, even though he explained to them that he works for foreign journalists.
They threatened him by drawing a knife across his face and repeatedly hitting him with the butts of automatic rifles, on his face and body. Nikita says that she felt pieces of teeth in her mouth and coughed up blood. He, too, was thrown into a ditch, along with a dead dog, and subjected to a mock execution: a soldier pretended that he wanted to check that his gun worked and fired a shot that grazed Nikita’s head.
He says he spent nearly three days with his hands behind his back tied to trees in a forest camp. He says that they continued to beat him and he lost consciousness several times. In addition, they stole her wedding ring and took off her shoes. Nikita says that the soldiers seemed to do it for fun.
Tortured with electric shocks
After another two days tied up, he and two other prisoners were taken in an armored car to a location some 40 minutes away. Upon arrival, the soldiers took him out of the vehicle, threw him to the ground, a soldier sat on his back and asked him the same questions as in the forest.
According to the complaint, the soldier pulled Nikita’s right pants up to the knee and another gave him electric shocks. In the testimony collected by Reporters Without Borders, he recounts that, with his face pressed to the ground, he could not see what instrument was used to administer the electric shocks, but he counted three or four shocks, each of which lasted between five and ten seconds. . The other two civilians were also tortured. The other person who contacted RSF said that they put a bag over his head to prevent him from breathing and that they beat him very violently.
Nikita also says that he was forced to write and sign a letter declaring his support for the Russian Army and the invasion of Ukraine. They then took him and the other two civilians to the basement of a house whose floor was full of water and left them there for two days until, after begging their guards to take them to a less cold place, they were finally transferred . On March 10, they were taken to the basement of another house, where they were joined by another prisoner, a former high-level Ukrainian official.
The interpreter relates that they were interrogated there by a different type of soldier. He could only see his legs, with ironed trousers, and boots, clean and polished, but he thinks they could be members of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) or the GRU (Main Directorate of the High General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces). Russia).
Finally, on March 13 they were released. Nikita was released in a forest after an hour’s drive. He says that he started running thinking that they were going to execute him, but he did not hear any shots. After being stopped by other Russian soldiers on the road, he feared that he would be kidnapped again but managed to get into a car of Ukrainian civilians. “If you don’t take him away, we will shoot him on the spot,” a soldier told the civilians.
Nikita is recovering but continues to have bruises all over her body, a swollen leg and difficulty moving her hands from the electric shocks. The doctor who examined him found bruises on his head and body, swelling in his right leg, and numbness in his extremities that could be a result of the electric shocks.
One of his fellow detainees is hospitalized with serious injuries. The fate of the former official is unknown. The other prisoner, whom RSF was able to contact, said that he had escaped without too many injuries or other consequences. When asked by RSF why he believed they had been released rather than executed, he replied: “I don’t think they had the courage to dig graves.”
RSF contacted him Nikita after his release through the Center for Press Freedom opened in Lviv. The various parts of his account were corroborated by interviews with a member of his family, with one of his former prison mates, and with two journalists from Radio France. An RSF collaborator accompanied him during his medical examination, which confirmed the physical ill-treatment to which he had been subjected. RSF was also present during his calls to his family.
More attacks on journalists
Since the war began, journalists in Ukraine have repeatedly reported attacks by Russian forces. In the second week of the invasion, a group of journalists reported that the Russian armed forces attacked them while they were driving back to kyiv.
On March 1, cameraman Yevhenii Sakun was killed in the Russian bombing of the kyiv television antenna. On March 13, American cameraman Brent Renaud was shot dead in a Russian attack in Irpin, in which another reporter, photographer Juan Arredondo, was wounded. Two days later, Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova were killed in another attack in Horenka, on the outskirts of kyiv. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other organizations have also denounced missing and possible kidnapping of several journalists, including the Ukrainian photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Maks Levinwhose whereabouts are unknown since March 13.
Journalists from the Associated Press (AP) news agency Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka denounced on Monday that their names were on a blacklist and that Russian troops persecuted them in Mariupol while they were doing their job.