Torture centers in Kherson funded by the Kremlin

At least 20 torture chambers in the city of Kherson were planned and directly funded by the Kremlin, international lawyers said in a new report in abandoned buildings and former prisons. Electroshock torture and waterboarding are among the criminal acts described by Ukrainian men and women being held in the Kherson torture chambers

Editor’s Note: The following article contains visuals detailing reports of the torture of people in Ukraine.

A photo of a hallway in a building where Russian forces set up a torture center in Kherson.

Photo: Harvey Presence

WASHINGTON — At least 20 torture centers in the recently liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson have direct financial ties to the Kremlin, according to a team of international lawyers helping Ukraine investigate alleged Russian war crimes.

The new evidence comes a year after Cherson was captured by Russian forces. It was the first major Ukrainian city to fall during the full-scale invasion of Moscow. In November, Ukrainian troops liberated the southeastern city, which was once home to more than 280,000 people.

“Working closely with Ukraine’s Attorney General’s Office, a paper trail was uncovered showing that the main torture chambers in Kherson and those who administer them do so with financial support from the Russian state,” said Wayne Jordash, an international human rights lawyer and managing partner of the Law firm Global Rights Compliance, to CNBC.

Jordash added that the team of lawyers, experts and investigators revealed that the torture sites were directly managed by several Kremlin security agencies, including Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB.

A photo of a cell used by Russian forces to hold Ukrainian civilians in the southeastern city of Kherson, Ukraine.

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Photo: Harvey Presence

“Millions of rubles from Putin and his government helped fund the Kherson torture chambers, which were designed with one goal in mind – to kill those who posed a threat to the Kremlin’s plans to annihilate Ukrainian nationality and culture,” added Jordash, who leads a Mobile Justice Team, a group of international lawyers and investigators supporting Ukraine’s Attorney General’s Office.

The Mobile Justice Team is a component of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group funded by the Foreign Office, the European Union and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the State Department had a small team in the country providing operational support to the Attorney General.

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“After the invasion we had to think about how to scale this and so we immediately approached the European Union and the UK and both wanted to join forces in this regard. And so this is now a three-way effort,” said Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice.

Van Schaack described the Mobile Justice Teams as a rapid response team made up of multinational and multidisciplinary experts tasked with helping investigators seal off crime scenes, identify evidence, and interview survivors and witnesses. She added that Ukraine’s Prosecutor General has cataloged more than 70,000 Russian war crimes since the Moscow conflict began a year ago.

The prosecutor for war crimes of the Kharkiv region stands with a coroner and a police officer at the site of a mass burial in a forest during the exhumation September 16, 2022 in Izium, Ukraine.

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Yevhenii Zavhorodnii | Global Pictures Ukraine | News from Getty Images | Getty Images

“The ultimate goal is to support the Attorney General in his efforts to conduct effective investigations according to international standards, compile dossiers on those responsible and ultimately bring criminal cases to national courts,” she added.

“Whenever Russia withdraws or withdraws troops, journalists, human rights activists, investigators and NGO workers can get into those areas and are confronted with this potential evidence of serious atrocities,” Van Schaack said, referring to a pattern seen in Bucha was observed , Irpin, Mariupol, Izium, Kherson, Kharkiv and other liberated cities and towns.

A UN report previously outlined gruesome allegations of war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has previously denied that its forces are committing war crimes or targeting civilians. The Russian embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

In Kherson, more than 1,000 Ukrainians gave first-hand accounts of their time in torture centers located in basements of abandoned buildings and former prisons. More than 400 people have also reportedly disappeared from the Kherson torture sites, but it is not clear whether they were killed or taken to Russian-held territory.

The torture sites served a variety of purposes, including imprisonment, interrogation, re-education, and physical beatings.

A calendar marked on a wall in a cell as officers from the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office and police officers investigate war crimes committed by the Russian occupying forces against local civilians in the basements and rooms in Kherson, Ukraine.

Pierre Crom | Getty Images

Survivors also said in interviews with lawyers that electroshock torture and waterboarding are common tactics used by Russian forces at the torture centers.

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In some cases, Ukrainians were forced to memorize and recite pro-Russian slogans, poems and songs.

“This is further evidence of genocidal tactics built into Putin’s plan to erase Ukrainian identity in the Russian-occupied territories,” Jordash said.

He added that the Kremlin has shown no sign of abandoning its ambitions to wipe out Ukrainian sovereignty in order to restore the Soviet empire.

“In Ukraine there are certainly many more torture centers in the occupied territories funded by Putin’s credit card,” Jordash added.