Months of torture by Russian forces left young Ukrainian man broke, but hopeful

08 nov., 2023

In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, 25-year-old Andriy Buriachkov was captured and detained by Moscow’s forces. He was detained for three months in a cramped, dingy basement and subjected to brutal torture. “They used pliers to tear a piece of skin off my arm,” he said.

Russian forces rolled into Buriachkov’s home city of Kupyansk in the eastern Kharkiv region on February 27 last year, just three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his war. The city’s leaders didn’t put up much resistance and the city quickly fell under Russian occupation.

Moscow’s troops acted quickly. They began to systematically detain anyone with links to the military, as well as activists, influential locals, and people who had expressed support for Ukraine. Buryachkov, who was working as a professional dog handler, did not have time to flee. 

The young Ukrainian later discovered he’d been placed on a Russian list of locals who were banned from leaving the city, dashing his hopes of escaping to safer territory. Buryachkov says it was his prior attendance at anti-Russia rallies that had likely drawn their attention to him.

Buryachkov moved around the city as discreetly as possible, cautious not to draw the attention of Russian agents, who he suspected were already on his case. 

Then his luck ran out. 

“They were following me to the gym, they blockaded the road, pulled me out of my car, and beat me,” he recalled of the day he was captured. “ They put a bag over my head, (and) took me to the basement.”

After several hours in captivity, guards led him to an interrogation room. His captors connected electrical clamps to his ears and toes and ratcheted up the current to try to get him to reveal the whereabouts of Ukrainian military positions to help Russia’s troops. 

He refused to talk. In response, his captors began to inflict greater, agonising pain. Electrical currents were then administered to other areas such as his genitals and tongue. Still, he maintained his silence. 

Throughout Buriachkov’s first bout of torture, Russian soldiers accused him of previously working as a sniper for Ukraine in the eastern Donbas. Beyond a brief stint working for Ukraine’s border guards, Buriachkov insists that he had no ties to the military. 

Andriy Buriachkov

Andriy Buriachkov (photo: Personal archive)

The torture then got worse. 

“They tortured me with electric shocks for two hours and beat me (until) I lost consciousness, I held on as best I could,” he said, visibility shaken. “They injected me with some kind of adrenaline to keep my heart from stopping.”

“It was so strong, I was in a daze, I didn’t understand anything, I couldn’t hear anything,” he added. “It was like being submerged under water.”

Inhumane detention conditions 

Adding to his plight, the conditions he was held in were appalling, Buriachkov said. Around 20 detainees were held together in a room of just four square metres. Despite the squeeze, Buryachkov managed to crouch down on the floor to ease the pain of his injuries incurred by torture, including broken ribs. 

Some of the detainees suffered flesh wounds down to the bone, and three detainees had died over a four-day period, he remembers. “People were lying there bleeding to death,” he said. 

In late October, the United Nations released a report on Ukraine that documented further evidence that Russian authorities “have committed indiscriminate attacks and the war crimes of torture, rape and other sexual violence, and deportation of children to the Russian Federation.” The U.N. stated that witnesses reported “situations in which torture had been committed so brutally that the victim died.”

Russian agents were demanding that Buriachkov reveal the whereabouts of his mobile phone to try to glean information they were not getting from torturing him. He was conscious that his mobile contained videos from anti-Russia rallies with him in them shouting slogans such as “Glory to Ukraine”. He had quickly hidden it in the footwell of his car before he was detained, and he confessed that information to his captors. 

The agents who acquired the phone then tortured him until he gave up his password to access it.  “They taped my eyes so that they would not pop out of their sockets during the torture,” he recalls. “I was (tortured) every few days, day and night.”

“I could not walk back to the cell on my own, they (had to) carry me in because I was unable to walk, my legs were bruised and my body was purple,” he added. 

Driven to thoughts of ending it all

Throughout his ordeal, the young Ukrainian says he was plagued by suicidal thoughts. It felt like the only avenue that offered an escape from the horrors he was facing. 

But a simple dream, he said, kept him alive. That was to one day return home to embrace his dog and his grandmother.

caine Andriy Buriachkov

Buriachkov’s dog (photo: Personal archive)

As time passed, everything became a bit of a blur, he said. Some detainees could not bear the torture, so they confessed sensitive information and the Russians released them as a result. After this, news quickly spread around Kupyansk about the torture locals were being subjected to. 

This prompted an inspection by high-ranking Russian military officials. 

“The new military (officials) came into each cell and checked our conditions. We took off our tops to show the state of our bodies – we were all purple,” Buriachkov said. “After that, they removed those people who were abusing us … and started feeding us better.”

His escape from captivity

After three gruelling months held by the Russians, Moscow’s forces began to leave their positions in Kupyansk as Ukrainian forces pushed back. The detainees could sense a shift in fortune when guards stopped leaving food and water for them in the mornings.  

At first, they were afraid it was a trap, Buryachkov recalls, but then they heard tanks rolling through the streets and people outside shouting and whistling pro-Ukrainian slogans. It indicated a chance to escape the nightmare. 

„We broke the windows … and found keys on the table,” he said, “We opened all the cells and let people out. Everyone scattered, and ran through the bushes so that the Russians wouldn’t notice … in some parts of the city, they still held position.”

Getting home for Buriachkov, however, was also a mission fraught with danger. 

The pain of broken ribs meant he could barely walk. “I wanted to eat and get home so badly,” he said, “it’s beyond words.” He needed to cross a bridge over the river Oskil to get home, but that was still held by Russian forces.

He then headed to a friend’s house where he was given an inflatable boat to help him cross. “My dog didn’t recognize me at first,” he said. “My grandmother was crying, she made me pancakes, and I was holding that pancake and my hands were shaking.”

Lasting wounds

Since returning home, Buriachkov has spent a long time in recovery and has been receiving treatment for his injuries as well as his mental health. 

But life has become difficult, he now suffers from a sleep disorder and has recurring flashbacks of his torture. 

“Despite the heartache, I try to smile,” he said. “But I dream of being tortured, of being electrocuted. I dream of the (guard’s) keys jingling, of the cell door being opened and me being led down the corridor.”

Edited by Stephen McGrath

Despre autor: Yana Skoryna

Avatar of Yana Skoryna
Yana Skoryna are o experiență de 10 ani în jurnalismul TV din Ucraina, unde a lucrat de la proiecte de anvergură la emisiuni de divertisment pentru diverse canale TV și a fost, de asemenea, editor pe platou. De când s-a mutat în România, Yana scrie la CONTEXT un jurnal al crimelor de război, documentând atrocitățile comise de ruși în Ucraina. Ea face interviuri și scrie poveștile victimelor pentru ca acestea să nu fie uitate și criminalii să fie pedepsiți într-o bună zi. Yana spune că produsele media de calitate sunt create din detalii.

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