Larissa was a police officer in the city of Kharkov and served Ukraine faithfully for 18 years. But when the Maydan started in Kiev, she and her family, as well as the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants, began to worry. Even before the Odessa massacre, the population proclaimed a People’s Republic of Kharkov and raised the Russian flag over the administration of the Regional Council, firmly committing themselves to the path of joining the Russian Federation. The uprising was crushed in blood by the security forces and the arrival in the city of hundreds of fanatical ultranationalists, led by Andrei Biletsky, the future commander of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment, but also by Igor Mosiychuk, a henchman of the Pravy Sektor party, and of course by the forces of the Ukrainian political police, the SBU. Ukraine’s Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov, also bears immense responsibility for what happened in this city, and in many others in the east of the country. Larissa witnessed all these events and after a long time of carrying humanitarian aid to the occupied Donbass, she was finally arrested in March 2015, together with her son, and was ignobly tortured for 3 months in one of the SBU’s secret prisons. For three and a half hours, she agreed to tell us her story. She plunged into the heart of Ukrainian terror, under the blows, the psychological and physical torture, the blackmail and even the lies and absolute denial of the very principle of freedom of thought.
The revolt in the city of Kharkov is put down in blood and terror. Larissa welcomes us in her shop, because since 2016 she has been a refugee in Donetsk. She is a woman who at first sight seems fragile, one can feel the after-effects of the terrible ordeals she has lived through, but a fire burns within her that even the torture and humiliations she has suffered could not extinguish. A mother and grandmother, she was not a resistance fighter and did not take part in any plots against Ukraine, but she deeply disapproved of what had become of Ukraine and as a policewoman she also thought in terms of the law, she says: “I was born during the Soviet Union, in Minsk because my father was a soldier and we moved around a lot. Finally we settled in Kharkov where I got married and had my children. I was scandalized, as were all those around me, by the events in Maydan, all of which was totally illegal and violated the country’s constitution. How was it possible to throw Molotov cocktails at the forces of order, I saw the images of these berkuts burning like torches, the devastation caused in the capital, the destruction and looting. The new government that emerged afterwards was itself illegal, born out of this madness and born in blood. All over the city people were quick to take to the streets, to protest. The people were enthusiastic, peaceful, and after Crimea became part of Russia, we thought that we, too, had to separate from a country that had gone completely mad. My grandfathers fought in the Great Patriotic War, we could not understand that these Nazis could rule in Ukraine, impose their ideology and I understood that in 1945 we had not totally crushed these people. Today in the World, in Ukraine and in the United States, Nazism is rampant, how can they not react and how can they not understand in the West? And then we saw hundreds of Maydan activists arrive, with weapons, in black uniforms, SBU forces and people who came from Western Ukraine, with Biletsky and Mosiychuk. Very quickly they fired into the street and in April already they murdered three people. Terror spread, the city of Kharkov, which I love so much, was under the control of these brigands. I am not particularly attached to Lenin, but this is our history, we cannot cut everything out and it is despicable to fight against memory, culture and civilisations. I myself am a Russian speaker, I don’t speak Ukrainian, I can understand it, I can hardly read it, but everywhere in the city our language is Russian. So banning our history, our language, political parties and then soon using terrible violence against the population was not acceptable”.
Bugged by the SBU and arrested without reason for her political views. Larissa continues her story, sometimes trembling slightly as she speaks, but the further she goes into it, the more her moral and mental strength reveals itself to us. We listen as her story unfolds before us with precision, numerous details punctuated by reflections and considerations on human rights and humanity that no one in the West could contradict. We go from surprise to surprise listening to her, because even with the experience of the testimonies of tortured people that I have already noted, she still surprises us by recounting atrocious and new facts that I had never heard of. She continues: “I didn’t do armed resistance, I had my opinion and I couldn’t remain indifferent, so I started to bring aid to the Donbass. It was horrible to see the Ukrainian air force and their artillery firing on civilians in Lugansk or Donetsk. I remember a dying woman being torn apart by a shell, that image has stayed with me. Our TV channels were showing pictures without commenting, no denunciation of what was happening, so I decided to collect what I could around me, I had a good salary too, and I started to carry help to the back of the front, for the people, for the old people and the civilians. I went to Mariupol, Avdeevka, other towns in Donbass, we carried what we could by car, bread, medicine, clothes, food, whatever we could. It was terrible to see that, and I even heard that in one village three old people died of hunger. There was nothing, pensions were cut off by Kiev, it was terrifying. I made my last trip in December 2014, passing the controls, but I could not suspect that I had already been bugged for a long time. When I was arrested in March 2015, they had been listening to my phone conversations for six months, they told me afterwards. They came to arrest my son first, I was living with my other boy in another flat. I was living on the 9th floor, and they arrested two other people in my building alone. There was a wave of arrests all over the city, a roundup, I don’t know how many people, tens, hundreds. These political repressions were really on a large scale. Fourteen of them came! Fourteen to seize me and I didn’t have time to open the door before they had already broken it down. Some were in SBU uniforms, others in civilian clothes, they were armed, they spread out in the flat and arrested me. Some of them were shouting, others were asking questions calmly. At one point they asked me to go out into the corridor and immediately afterwards they found a grenade in my 12-year-old granddaughter’s boot… Of course it was them who had put it there, I denied having any weapons, but they said I was a terrorist and that I was undermining the security of the state. I found the strength to joke and told them that I had bought this grenade to put in this lined boot to protect it from moth attack… They understood then that they would not get anything from me. I had asked for a lawyer, they were filming with a big camera, I was told that I had no right to a lawyer, being an enemy of Ukraine. Then they took me to the SBU premises and hell broke loose”.
In the hell of torture, blackmail and the sordid dungeons of the SBU. The rest of Larissa’s story will plunge us into pure evil, because although her detention was shorter than that of other political prisoners I interviewed, Larissa was mistreated almost every day of her imprisonment in this secret SBU prison in Kharkov from March to May 2015, and then again in two other prisons between May 2015 and the end of January 2016. She explains: I was taken to the SBU premises and my first interrogation was truly terrible, it lasted 37 hours non-stop, I was prevented from sleeping and the most absurd questions rained down. The SBU agents took turns, I lost the sense of time and I was no longer myself after such treatment. My son had been arrested only to put pressure on me. He was beaten savagely for hours, he was a bloody, bruised, unrecognizable body. They broke his ribs and also his hands and I was threatened that if I did not confess everything they wanted, he would be beaten again. It is a terrible torture for a mother to be blackmailed so cruelly. Finally I was thrown into a jail and collapsed into a deep sleep. When I came to, I was in a cell with about a dozen of us. There were several adjoining cells, perhaps there were 70 unfortunates like me here. Every day we were taken out, taken for a new interrogation, always with lies, pressure, humiliation, threats. We had poor food, soup and bread and the conditions were terrible, it was really the antechamber of death. Men and women were separated. In an adjoining cell, when the guards were not there, we could talk with prisoners from other cells. The men were the worst off, with beds without mattresses or pillows. Some of them were injured and did not receive any treatment. Sometimes we were taken to the promenade, it was just a small courtyard surrounded by walls. I remember the 8th of May 2015, when to celebrate Victory we sang patriotic songs from that time. They were furious, but what could they do to us that was more terrible than what they had already done? They threatened to attack my 84-year-old mother and even my 12-year-old granddaughter. This blackmail did not work, I said they could do what they wanted. I was accused of absurd things, such as being a spy who could see the comings and goings of Ukrainian military planes from my balcony, that I was passing information to the Russians… I replied that this was absurd, but they continued to try to get me to sign a delusional confession. They also told me that if I gave them our flats (mine and my son’s), then I could be free, or that I could also pay a large sum of money that would trigger my release. I replied that there was no law to force me to do this, that it was racketeering and stealing. A prosecutor I knew finally intervened, I was still known with all my years of service in the police administration. But I was not released. They blew hot and cold, I was also beaten and constantly accused and threatened. Finally I was tried once, it was a farce of a trial, I was told that I would be released, which of course was a lie to get my hopes up and then break me. All the false accusations against me were validated, but the truth is that it was only my political views that brought me here. Is this normal in a civilized country? It was then that I was transferred at night so that no one could see me on the street, or see that there were people illegally imprisoned there, that I was transferred to a prison in Poltava. I stayed there until October, I was locked up with women who were partly common law prisoners, there were even murderers, but also political prisoners like me. I stayed there until my second trial, in October 2015, which sentenced me to a year in the camp. I was sent to the latter, in a town in central Ukraine. Then I was released at the very end of January 2016, and I was able to return to my home in Kharkov, my son had been in the camp for five years”.
The flight to freedom… in Russia and the Donbass. Psychological torture, attempts to swindle his property and money, blackmail and threats to harm his family, including the elderly and children, I had never heard such a tale of horrors and especially over such a long period. Three months of intense interrogations, we are here clearly in what was known and committed by the Gestapo during the Second World War, in the same intensity of barbaric and gratuitous violence. How indeed can this “crime of opinion” last 5 minutes in front of the Western media, these famous “democracies” of the European Union? How can support for Ukraine be justified under such conditions? Because the question is important, did the authorities know? Yes, because I have collected testimonies from prisoners who were interrogated at their exchange by people from the Red Cross, the UN and the OSCE. Larissa returned home dazed from such a detention, such a waking nightmare. But her troubles were not over, as she recounts in the rest of her story: ‘I went home, having lost my job, my son in prison, my granddaughter to take care of. One day I met the prosecutor who had investigated my case, it was in the street. He recognized me and came to me. He apologized a thousand times, telling me that he had been forced to conduct the trial in such and such a way. He warned me that I was in the SBU’s sights again, that they would come for me soon. He advised me to flee. I immediately understood that I had to do so, and thanks to my friends and acquaintances, I was able to pay a smuggler to cross the border between Ukraine and Russia, which is not very far from Kharkov. I had to pay a huge amount of money, and they hid me in the trunk of a car. That’s how I ended up alone in Kursk. I stayed at the station for 24 hours. I called other friends and my sister who lives in Moscow. I was looking at the ground totally haggard, all I had left was my handbag… a whole life to end up with a handbag, that was all I had, but I was free, finally! I asked relatives to put my granddaughter on a plane and send her to Moscow. I came to meet her and received political refugee status and even assistance. But because of the law and the fact that Russia and Ukraine were not at war, I was afraid that my granddaughter could be attacked, and I asked for her to be returned to Ukraine through the courts. I told myself that the only place where no international law could reach me… was the two people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk which were not recognized by anyone. I was aware that I was leaving for a theatre of war, but finally decided to settle there. I arrived in Donetsk in May 2016. The people were great to me, the mentality is slightly different from Kharkov, but still very close. Some people found me a modest flat where I only paid the utilities. Others found me things, including a frying pan which was used for a long time to do everything, I didn’t have a pan or a kettle, so even to make tea! I rolled up my sleeves, worked hard and now I have my own business here. My son was finally released after his sentence. He is still in Kharkov where he also helps civilians lacking everything on the front line, as the city is now under attack by Russian troops. After the war, I don’t know if I will go back to live in Kharkov, it is still my city, I have ties there, but in Donetsk now too, it is also my home now, I am very grateful to the people of Donbass for helping me so much. I wish victory for Russia and Donbass and that these Nazis are destroyed, but also that you tell all this to as many people as possible, people must know all this. These criminals and executioners, these politicians and soldiers in Ukraine will have to answer for their actions before the justice of men. We have to hammer it home and that is why I have been telling my story since then, all this has to be known, as far as possible, in all languages, because my case is not isolated, and I am going to try to convince people I know, who have been tortured, to talk to you. They are afraid because they often have family still in Ukraine, you can imagine what the SBU could do to their relatives…”.
Larissa survived the SBU jails, her story in the West will obviously not interest anyone, and yet she is just one of thousands of people all over Ukraine who were arrested, tortured and mistreated by the terrible Ukrainian political police. We will soon publish her video testimony in several parts with subtitles, no one can invent such things and no one can dispute the veracity of her statements. The worst thing is to think that Western governments, and the French government in particular, by supporting Ukraine from the beginning, have been complicit in all these crimes, committed in the name of Ukraine’s entry into NATO and the European Union, and so that oligarchs, lobbyists and foreign interests, especially Anglo-Saxon ones, can cut this country to pieces and strike at Russia. Larissa concluded by saying that justice will be done, that everything will be fine and that victory will inevitably go to Russia. To the question will you vote if there is a referendum for integration into the Russian Federation, she answered: “Of course I will and for Russia of course”.
Translation: Vz. yan for Donbass Insider