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HomeNewsInternational NewsRussian army officer admits: 'Our troops tortured Ukrainians'

Russian army officer admits: ‘Our troops tortured Ukrainians’

By Steve Rosenberg
Russia Editor


(BBC) – Allegations of brutal interrogations, where Ukrainian men were shot and threatened with rape, have been made by a former Russian military officer.

Konstantin Yefremov, the most senior officer to speak openly, told the BBC in an exclusive interview Russia now sees him as a traitor and defector.

At one site in southern Ukraine, he said “the interrogations, the torture, continued for about a week”.

“Every day, at night, sometimes twice a day.”

Mr Yefremov tried to resign from the army numerous times – but he ended up being dismissed for refusing to return to Ukraine. He has now fled Russia.

Using photographs and military documents supplied by Mr Yefremov, the BBC has verified he was in Ukraine early in the war – in the Zaporizhzhia region, including the city of Melitopol.

This article contains graphic descriptions of torture.

Short presentational grey line

Konstantin Yefremov’s face flickers into view on my computer screen and we start to talk. He is a man with a story to tell. Until recently he was a Russian army officer.

Deployed to Ukraine last year, the former senior lieutenant has agreed to tell me about the crimes he says he witnessed there – including torture and mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners. He will talk about his comrades looting occupied areas of Ukraine, and describe brutal interrogation sessions, led by a Russian colonel, in which men were shot and threatened with rape.

On 10 February 2022, Mr Yefremov says he arrived in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia nine years ago. He was the head of a de-mining unit of the 42nd Motorised Rifle Division – and was usually based in Chechnya, in Russia’s North Caucasus. He and his men were sent to take part in “military exercises”, he says.

“At the time no-one believed there would be war. Everyone thought this was only a drill. I’m sure even senior officers didn’t know.”

‘I was scared of quitting’

Mr Yefremov recalls seeing Russian troops taping identification marks on their uniforms and painting the letter “Z” on military equipment and vehicles. Within days, “Z” had become the symbol of what the Kremlin was calling its “special military operation”.

Mr Yefremov claims he wanted nothing to do with it.

“I decided to quit. I went to my commander and explained my position. He took me to a senior officer who called me a traitor and a coward.

“I left my gun, got in a taxi and drove off. I wanted to return to my base in Chechnya and resign officially. Then my comrades telephoned me with a warning.

“A colonel had promised to put me in prison for up to 10 years for desertion and he’d alerted the police.”

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