As he says in an exclusive interview with the BBC, there were brutal interrogations, where Ukrainians were shot and threatened with rape
In the revelation that in the war in Ukraine, the Russian army was torturing Ukrainians he proceeded to his exclusive interview with the BBCformer top Russian military officer Konstantin Efremov.
As he admitted, at a location in southern Ukraine “the interrogations, the torture continued for about a week. Every day, at night, sometimes twice a day.”
As Efremov reports, there were brutal interrogations, where Ukrainians were shot and threatened with rape.
Efremov, the first top officer to speak out, is now considered a traitor and defector in Russia.
As he reported, he tried to quit the army several times – but ended up being fired for refusing to return to Ukraine. He has now left Russia.
Using photographs and military documents provided by Efremov, the BBC confirmed that he was in Ukraine at the start of the war – in the Zaporizhia region, including the city of Melitopol.
In his text, BBC journalist Steve Rosenberg says:
“Efremov’s face flickers on my computer screen and we start talking. He is a man with a story to tell. Until recently he was an officer in the Russian army.
The former top lieutenant who was deployed to Ukraine last year has agreed to tell me about the crimes he says he saw there — including torture and mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners. He will talk about his comrades looting occupied areas of Ukraine and describe brutal interrogations, led by a Russian colonel, in which men were shot and threatened with rape.
On February 10, 2022, Mr. Efremov says he arrived in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia nine years ago. He commanded a demining unit of the 42nd Motorized 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 thought there was going to be a war. Everyone thought this was just an exercise. I’m sure even the senior officers didn’t know.”
“I was afraid to give up”
Mr. Efremov remembers seeing Russian soldiers sticking identification marks on their uniforms and painting the letter “Z” on military equipment and vehicles. Within days, the “Z” had become the symbol of what the Kremlin called a “special military operation.”
Mr Efremov claims he wanted nothing to do with it.
”I decided to resign. 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 put my gun down, got into a taxi and left. I wanted to return to my base in Chechnya and officially resign. Then my companions called me with a warning.
A colonel had promised to put me in prison for up to 10 years for desertion and had notified the police.”
Mr. Efremov says he called a military lawyer, who advised him to turn around.
”I realize now that I should have ignored it and moved on,” he says. “But I was afraid of being put in jail.” So he returned to join his men.
Mr Efremov insists he is ”anti-war”. He assures me that he was not involved in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, nor did he fight in eastern Ukraine when the Donbass war first broke out nine years ago.
In 2014, Russia was not only accused of orchestrating a separatist rebellion there, but also of sending its own troops. Konstantin also tells me that he has not taken part in Russia’s military operation in Syria.
“For the past three years I have been involved in clearing minefields in Chechnya, a place that has experienced two wars. I think the work I did there benefited people.”
Looting bicycles and lawnmowers
Mr. Efremov was temporarily placed in charge of a weapons platoon. On February 27, three days after the Russian invasion, he says he and his men were ordered to move north from occupied Crimea. They headed for the city of Melitopolis.
The next 10 days were spent at an airfield already occupied by Russian troops. He describes the looting he saw.
“Soldiers and officers grabbed everything they could. They climbed all the plans and went through all the buildings. One soldier took a lawnmower. He said proudly, ‘I’ll take this house and cut the grass next to our barracks.’
Buckets, axes, bicycles, they threw it all into their trucks. So many things had to be squatted down to fit into the vehicles.
Mr. Efremov sent us photos he says he took at Melitopol Air Base. They show transportation plans and a building on fire.
It is among several images and documents he shared – and which we have verified – to confirm Mr Efremov’s identity, rank and movements in Ukraine in the spring of 2022.
Online mapping tools have confirmed the images of Melitopolis Air Base.
For a month and a half, together with eight soldiers under his command, he guarded a Russian artillery unit there.
”All the time we were sleeping outside,” he recalls. ”We were so hungry that we started hunting for rabbits and pheasants. Once we came across a mansion. There was a Russian fighter inside. “We’re with the 100th Brigade and we’re staying here now,” the soldier said.
There was so much food. The fridges were full. There was enough food to survive a nuclear war. But the soldiers who lived there would catch the Japanese carp in the pond outside and eat them.
“I saw interrogations and torture”
Konstantin Efremov’s team moved to guard what he describes as a “logistics headquarters” in April – in the town of Bilmak, northeast of Melitopol. There, he says he witnessed interrogations and mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners.
He remembers a day when three prisoners were brought in.
”One of them admitted to being a sniper. Hearing this, the Russian colonel lost his mind. He hit him, pulled the Ukrainian’s pants and asked him if he was married.
“Yes,” replied the prisoner. “Then somebody bring a mop,” said the colonel. “We’ll make you a girl and send your wife the video.”
Another time, Mr. Efremov says, the colonel asked the prisoner to name all the Ukrainian nationalists in his unit.
“The Ukrainian did not understand the question. He answered that the soldiers were marine infantry of the Ukrainian armed forces. For this answer he had some teeth broken.”
The Kremlin wants Russians to believe that, in Ukraine, Russia is fighting fascists, neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists. This false narrative serves to dehumanize Ukrainians in the eyes of the Russian public and military.
Mr Efremov says the Ukrainian prisoner was blindfolded.
”The colonel put a pistol to the prisoner’s forehead and said, ‘I’m going to count to three and then I’m going to shoot you in the head.’
He counted and then shot right into the side of his head, from both sides. The colonel started yelling at him. I said: “Comrade colonel! He’s not listening to you, you’re fooling him!”
Mr. Efremov describes how the colonel ordered that the Ukrainians be given no regular food – only water and firecrackers. But he says: ”We tried to give them hot tea and cigarettes.”
To prevent the prisoners from sleeping on bare ground, Mr. Efremov also remembers how his men would throw hay over them – ”at night, so that no one would see us”.
During another interrogation, Mr Efremov says the colonel shot a prisoner in the arm – and in the right leg below the knee, which hit the bone. Konstantin says his men tied up the prisoner and went to the Russian commanders – “not the colonel, he was crazy” – and said the prisoner had to go to the hospital or he would die of blood loss.
“We dressed him in a Russian uniform and took him to the hospital. We told him: ‘Don’t say you are a Ukrainian prisoner of war, because either the doctors will refuse to treat you or the wounded Russian soldiers will hear and shoot you and we won’t be able to tell them. let’s stop”.
The BBC was unable to independently confirm Konstantin Efremov’s specific allegations of torture, but they are consistent with other allegations of abuse of Ukrainian prisoners.
He was denounced as a traitor and apostate
Mr. Efremov eventually returned to his demining unit, but not for long.
“Seven of us had made the decision [να φύγουμε από το στρατό]”, it tells me.
At the end of May, back in Chechnya, he wrote his resignation letter. Some senior officers were not happy.
“They started threatening me. Officers who hadn’t spent a single day in Ukraine were telling me I was a coward and a traitor. They wouldn’t let me resign. I was fired.”
”After 10 years of service I was denounced as a traitor, a deserter, just because I didn’t want to kill people,” he says. ”But I was glad that I was now a free man, that I should not kill or be killed.”
Mr. Efremov was out of the army. But not from the risk of being sent back to war.
In September 2022, President Putin declared what he called a “partial mobilization”. Hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens will be returned to the army and sent to Ukraine.
Mr Efremov says he knew – because he had already served in the army in Ukraine – he would not be spared. He came up with an escape plan.
”In the house where I lived I made a hatch in the attic ceiling… in case the police and conscription came in to deliver the summons papers.
The recruiters would go to my house and wait for me in their cars. So I rented an apartment and hid there.
I have also hid from the neighbors, because I had heard of cases where neighbors told the police about young men who had been called and were hiding. I found this situation humiliating and unacceptable.”
Mr. Efremov contacted the Russian human rights organization Gulagu.net, which helped him leave Russia.
What does Mr Efremov think of those Russians – and there are many – who express their support for Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine?
”I don’t know what’s going on in their heads,” he says. ”How could they allow themselves to be fooled? When they go to the market, they know they may be in short supply. They don’t trust their wives, their husbands.
But the man who has been accepting them for 20 years has only to speak and these people are ready to go kill and die. I can not figure it out”.
As we end our conversation, Mr. Efremov apologizes to the people of Ukraine.
”I apologize to the entire Ukrainian nation for coming into their home as an uninvited guest with a gun in my hands.
Thank God I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t kill anyone. Thank God I didn’t get killed.
I don’t even have the moral right to ask Ukrainians for forgiveness. I can’t forgive myself, so I can’t expect to be forgiven.”
Photo source: BBC
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