АвторAuthor: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Anna Shliakhova
15 October 2022
Occupiers broke into Anastasia’s apartment early in the morning, turned everything upside down, stole the money and took her father to a torture chamber. The man was tortured there with electrical current for nine days. Miraculously, he was released and his family was successfully evacuated. Anastasia told the project “Monologues of the War” about tortures in temporarily occupied Kherson.
In April and May the occupiers carried out mop-up operations among the local population. My father is a military pensioner. He resigned from the SSU (The Security Service of Ukraine) for health reasons four years ago. We understood that his name could be on their lists. That’s why he lived in another place for a while. Then everything seemed to calm down, everyone was checked, current and retired. My father moved back home and we relaxed a bit. We shouldn’t have done so. It turned out that he was on those lists, but as a major. So, the data was from the beginning of the centure.
On the 23rd of August at 6:30am my grandmother called us. Mother replied immediately, as she got scared, maybe she was not feeling well.
It was a miracle that my grandmother was able to get through, because the mobile connection was bad. Ukrainian operators were disconnected, some operators from Crimea started to work. We could send a message only through VPN; we were able to get through every other time. We started fussing, hiding our phones and laptops. My father left. Seven minutes after my grandmother’s call, we heard a noise at the entrance. They came.
They turned the apartment upside down, throwing the things on the floor. I was hysterical, with tears in my eyes. So was my mother. It’s hard to explain. There were five armed ambals in balaclavas and me in pyjamas. I felt as vulnerable as it’s possible to feel. They are still before my eyes. We thought my father had managed to leave. But later, we noticed him standing with them at the entrance. We live on the first floor. Maybe, it would have been better if he had gone upstairs to wait it out. Instead, he went downstairs and met them at the entrance.
There was my laptop. I logged out of my account and logged in a new empty one. There was Skype and one more call application. I explained to them that it was my laptop for work. They ordered me to show them my phone. I hid it initially, but later gave it to them. I was thinking about such excuses as “I’ve lost my phone” or “It was stolen”. But it was risky as they might not have believed it. And I had no spare phone. I had no time to delete my messages. Most of them were in Ukrainian, but some of them were in Russian. He scrolled through the phone asking me about the people who had written them. He didn’t understand Ukrainian, but there was more than enough in Russian. Something like “orcs are the beasts” and so on. I had already thought that I was about to go to the cellar together with my father. But he reacted surprisingly calmly and didn’t ask anything about it.
He tapped all the applications with the Ukrainian flag on the icon. I had two of them: The Privat Online Banking and VPN. “What is this?” I explained that this application was needed to use Instagram, for example. “Can it be used to send messages?” I felt like a teacher explaining all of that, because the man didn’t know what VPN is. Also, he found a Polish vocabulary and translator and asked me: “What is this app for?” I told him that I taught Polish. He asked me what Polish is. I didn’t know what to reply, if he was fooling or not. “Well, it’s a language. There is such a country as Poland”. “I see.”
One of them put money in front of my mother and said: “So you won’t say later that something went wrong.” But, it was saving in hryvnias. Also we had dollars and euros, some of them weren’t even ours. Like typical thieves, they counted on our shock. Still, my mother saw everything. When they left, she checked the bag and realized that she was right: they had stolen dollars and euros. My mother was serious about it. She was not going to forgive them and was going to appeal to the commandant’s office. But it didn’t come to that. 20 minutes later a policeman in black, who was with them, came back.
“We need to check your car.” With two voices, we told him about the money. “It’s impossible!!!”. He told us to go down to the yard and promised us he’d deal with it. We went out. Those ambals turned their phones off already. The policeman called their boss. He was swearing and cursing them. “We’ll deal immediately with it! You’ll get your money back! We’re not here for that.” So they played good cops, as if they had been here to protect order. In the end, those ambals came back and gave the money to the policeman. He brought it to us. My mother counted it and ambals left. “You know, every family has its black sheep. I can’t imagine someone breaking into my wife’d in the morning, turning the house upside down and stealing the money. I can’t imagine it!” They checked the car, but found nothing. Actually, my father had never had anything illegal. My mother told them that she needed the key because of my grandmother who lived far away and we had to visit her. They promised to give us the key in the evening and take us to my grandmother. Okay. As we passed one of the torture chambers (there are several of them in the city), he slowed down and said: “Here your husband is.” At least we were lucky to know where he was. Typically, people search for their relatives for weeks. “It’s hot here. I already want to go home,” them man in black told us. “So it would have been better for you to stay at home” my mother answered him.
We immediately collected some food and clothes for my father. They accepted packages on Tuesdays and Fridays at 6pm only. They captured my father on Tuesday. They told us nothing about him, just accepted the parcel and answered no questions.
There were seven of them in a room for three. There were no blankets, nothing at all except one old mattress. People there were very different. They weren’t criminals, just ordinary people. They captured a guy just in the middle of the street in the middle of the day. Having been there for a month, he still didn’t know what the reason was. He just had been working and listening to music on his headphones. He had an unusual hairstyle as he wore dreadlocks. Maybe he looked strange to them and they thought he was correcting the fire on the enemy. They were the cruellest to the guys from the Territorial Defense. There was a 19-year-old guy from the Territorial Defense in the room with my father. They brought him back to life each time after torturing. They all were in the same boat, so to speak. Another of father’s neighbor had already been in another cellar. They moved him after a suicide attempt. He couldn’t bare the torture and stabbed himself in the neck with a nail he found. They managed to save him and moved him on. They didn’t touch him in this new place.
As my father had served in the SSU, they wanted to kick information out of him. They wanted to know about the mobilization, asked about some people, and showed photos to him. Being retired, he had completely withdrawn from the business. For a long time, he hadn’t known anything useful to them. When they took him to the torture chamber to apply an electrical current to him, he warned them that his heart is weak and he could have died. During the search of my grandmother’s flat they took a photo of my picture and later showed it to him: “If you love your daughter, you’ll recall everything.”
Even if you know nothing, you can come up with something during torturing to make them leave you alone. “Is your wife pro-Ukrainian or just angry?” they asked him, remembering her advice to stay at home. My father has the only answer: “She is just angry”. They connected spins with currents to his fingers, changing the voltage of the current. Returning to their room, he was told that he was lucky as others got spins with currents connected to fingers, nipples and genitals. So it was the triple strike. Also, they were forced to take a polygraph.
There were no pauses in the screams coming from the torture chamber. It is located among residential buildings. Can you imagine what people hear all the time? The FSS told my father that they received an order from Moscow to keep the SSU officers until January, so he prepared to stay there for that long. But he was sent home on the 1st of September. We still don’t know why they let him go. They told him to call them and not to leave for two weeks at least. They were about to change their management.
On the 24th of February I woke up in the morning and my boyfriend told me to pack my things as the war had begun. I was in shock and didn’t know what to do at first. I read the news. They had already bombed out Kyiv. There also were explosions in Chernobaivka. We live near the Antonovskyi bridge. It’s pretty far away, so we couldn’t hear the explosions. My boyfriend went to fill up the car, I packed the grab-and-go bag and ran to my parents. Coming to them, I found them very calm. They didn’t panic or pack things. According to my father’s data, they wouldn’t be able to take the city quickly because it was well protected. We calmed down a little and decided to stay at least until the rush passed. There were enormous traffic jams everywhere. People were panicking. In the afternoon we heard explosions.
The fighting for the Antonovskyi bridge began. We went downstairs to the basement. We stayed there through the day and went home at night as the firing ceased. We were lucky to have heating and electricity in the basement of the nine-storey building we live in.
Russians entered the city on the 1st of March. My father was shocked. On the 5th of March the citizens of the city came out for a rally to show that no-one wanted to be “liberated” here. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of participants. Kherson is the Russian-speaking city. We had thought that many people would be loyal to Russia. But we were wrong. The situation was very tough until April. Panicking, the citizens took every single thing from stores. One of the supermarket chains still tried to bring some food, but lines were colossal. One could easily spend half a day queuing. There was no dairy at all. It was tough with medicine, as well. Pharmacies were empty. Starting from April, Russians and some locals brought some goods from Crimea, but of questionable quality and with stupendous prices. It became even harder to pay with a card. Chaos kept growing. I worked and my father received his pension, so we had moeny, but only for the essentials.
At the end of March, Russian TV started broadcasting. Of course, we didn’t watch it, as the majority did not to. Then billboards began to appear. The narration was that “Kherson is a russian city”. They quoted Suvorov, Pushkin, Fet and others. Locals covered them with paint. We were surprised by the next wave of Katsap “creativity”: they imagined a Ukrainian family in embroidered shirts with the slogan “Kherson is forever with Russia”. Uh-huh, forever. “Russia is here forever.” They have another narration in Melitopol, for example, without any Ukrainian culture or vyshyvankas. They write: “Russia is here forever”, “Russia is the stability”, “Healthcare is free” on the background of russian flag. They hung the face of putin, but they never did it here. We have the narration “Russia and Ukraine are one nation”.
My father was strongly against evacuation at the beginning. He didn’t want to be homeless. So it turned out that we stayed because of the walls. We had no doubts after my father was tortured, we had to flee. We packed our things, took my grandmother and left in a week. We went through the checkpoints without problem. They checked our papiers and the boot and let us go. We moved to Kryvyi Rih. We have many relatives here, so we had a place to stay. My mother’s parents also had been evacuated to here. They left from Snihurivka, which is in the Mykolaiv region. It was heavily shelled. They were surprised coming to Ukrainian-controlled territory as they saw people just walking around as if nothing was happening. People chose jewelry. The stores were full. Having been half a year under the occupation, it’s strange to see such simple things.
I studied in Odesa. My relatives stayed in Kherson, as my boyfriend did. So, I came back. To be honest, I like my city. After the Ukrainian victory, we’re definitely going to come back. But for now, we’re trying not to plan for the future and just live for the day.
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Anna Shliakhova