Izium feared worse than Bucha, as more bodies, torture evidence emerge

War crimes investigators arrived in the liberated areas of the Kharkiv Region immediately after the Ukrainian troops. They anticipated that they would have a lot of work on their hands following the atrocities perpetrated by the Russian invaders in Buch and other settlements north of Kyiv in the failed attempt to occupy the Ukrainian capital.

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Now it is feared that the number of victims of Russian cruelty in Izium may exceed that of what happened in Bucha. After all, the Russians occupied Bucha for only a month. They occupied Bucha for five, giving them ample time and opportunity to brutalise the local civilian population.

On Friday, September 16, the Ukrainian Ministry for the Integration of Temporarily Occupied Territories assessed that “the number of war crimes in Izium may be even greater than in Bucha”.

About 1,000 people were killed in Bucha alone and 1,400 in the wider Kyiv region.

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Less than a week after the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv Region, Ukraine’s Ombudsman for human rights Dmytro Lubinets announced that the number of deaths which were preceded or caused by torture exceeds 1,000. And the number is expected to rise since the number of people who were killed in and around Izium alone is also estimated at 1,000.

In just one mass grave some 450 people were buried, many of them unidentified. Few of those buried there died of natural causes. Some died as a result of Russian shelling prior to or during the March offensive.

One particularly heartbreaking example is the death of the Stolpakov family. The children, 6-year-old Olesya and 8-year-old Sasha, their parents, 31-year-old Olena and 34-year-old Dmytro, and their grandparents Oleksandr Zhykhariev and Tetiana Zhykharieva, were all died buried under the rubble of their apartment.

Olena Stolpakova and her daughters, Olesya and Sasha. Photo: Anton Geraschenko Twitter

Perhaps they could have been saved if the Russians had allowed the locals to come to their aid. But did not allow it, and the Stolpakovs and Zhykharievs’ neighbours heard their cries for help for three days.

The whole family was buried side by side, with their grave markers all bearing one date: March 9. Their neighbours from the apartment building who also did not survive are likely buried in the nearby graves, with the same date of death given.

Graves of Elena Stolpakova (front left), Dmytro Stolpakov (front right), and their daughter Olesya (back). Photo: Anton Geraschenko Twitter

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Other bodies that have been discovered bear visible signs of torture. Several, including 17 soldiers who were buried there alongside civilians, had their hands tied behind their backs.

One survivor was captured by the Russian Federal Security Service and taken to a torture chamber in Kupiansk, where eight people were cramped into a two-person cell. The survivor testified to the Ukrainians Security Services (SBU) that there was one room from which he and others could always hear a lot of screams. The torturers tried to extract information about people in the area who were Donbas veterans, members of the Territorial Defence, and Ukrainian activists.

“During the first interrogation they shocked me with electricity for 40 minutes, they shot at me from a pneumatic or gas gun; I don’t know, they put me in a bag. They beat me with sticks or pipes,” recollected the victim.

The victims’ skin was also singed. Other methods of interrogation included threats of execution by being forced onto a minefield or that the victim’s families would be targeted.

In addition to the 10 torture chambers whose discovery was announced on Friday, another one was discovered in Kozacha Lopan, where the collaborators took over the police station and converted it to an outpost of “people’s police”, where they tortured civilians.

The local population has identified the “officers” and other collaborators to law enforcement. Documentation was seized, which will be used as evidence.

A detention cell in the “people’s police” outpost in Kozacha Lopan. Photo: Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office via General Prosecutor of Ukraine’s Office Facebook page

“All the crimes of the Ruscists are being recorded, evidence of their guilt is being collected. Torture chambers, in which peaceful residents of occupied cities and towns were abused, premises in which people were kept, even foreigners, were found,” said Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in a message published on his Facebook account. He also pledged to ensure foreign journalists have access to the place where Russians and their proxies committed war crimes, in order to ensure transparency and let the world see the savagery of the invaders.

Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, also condemned the Russian atrocities against the Ukrainian people, sharing an earlier Tweet by Zelenskyy and drawing parallels between Russian crimes of today and Soviet crimes perpetrated against Poles during World War Two.