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Russian troops kidnapped and tortured Ukrainian journalist, press organization says

Russian soldiers. (Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
March 23, 2022

On Monday, the international press organization Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers or RSF) said Russian forces had captured a Ukrainian man who worked as a correspondent and guide for a Radio France news crew. RSF reported the journalist (who they named Nikita to conceal his actual identity) was driving a car with a “press” sign on it when Russian forces fired on the vehicle with automatic weapons. Nikita tried to flee the ambush but crashed into a tree.

RSF said Nikita left the crashed vehicle, shouted that he was a civilian and surrendered to six Russian soldiers, who searched and beat him. Nikita said despite telling the soldiers he worked for a news organization, they suspected him of acting as a scout for Ukrainian artillery forces in the area.

Nikita said he was taken to a nearby house, wherein a Russian soldier brushed a knife over his eye and down his cheek and threatened to cut his face. Nikita said the Russian soldiers beat him in the face and body with the butts of their rifles and he felt pieces of broken teeth in his mouth and spit out blood. He said the Russian soldiers then tossed him in a ditch with a dead dog and subjected him to a mock execution where a soldier made a show of checking his gun and then fired a shot that grazed Nikita’s head.

From there, Nikita said he was subjected to more beatings and eventually Russian soldiers lead him blindfolded through a nearby wooded area and he was tied to various different trees for days on end.

At one point during his captivity, Nikita said he went two days without eating. Russian soldiers also stole his wedding ring and shoes. He was also subjected to electric shocks on his legs.

Nikita was initially alone in his captivity but was eventually placed with other prisoners. After nine days in Russian captivity, Nikita was set free. He contacted RSF after his release.

RSF said they corroborated Nikita’s account with another prisoner who was eventually released by their captors around the same time. Nikita’s family members also corroborated his account to RSF. The press organization said one of its members accompanied Nikita for a subsequent medical examination, where injuries consistent with his account were documented.

When RSF asked Nikita why he thought his captors let him live and eventually freed him, he said, “I don’t think they had the courage to dig graves.”

RSF reported another Ukrainian journalist, Oleg Baturin, described being held by Russian troops for eight days and subjected to similar mistreatment.

RSF said it plans to provide Nikita’s account to the International Criminal Court (ICC), adding to a growing list of war crimes being investigated by the court. In February, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan announced he intends to open an investigation into allegations of Russian war crimes committed during its invasion of Ukraine.

“Nikita still has bruises all over his body, a swollen leg and difficulty moving his hands as a result of the electric shocks,” RSF said. “The doctor who examined him found hematomas on his head and body, a swelling of the right leg, and numbness of the limbs that could be the result of electric shocks. Noting that Nikita’s injuries were inflicted by the Russian army, the doctor went so far as to conclude that he had sustained ‘criminal trauma.’”