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Ukrainian women tell of beatings and threats under Russian occupation
Ukrainian women tell of beatings and threats under Russian occupation
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Ukrainian women tell of beatings and threats under Russian occupation
by DZRH News22 March 2024
Alla Antonova and her daughter Anastasia sit in a rental-apartment in Kyiv after Antonova escaped from her home in Russian-occupied Berdiansk amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, March 20, 2024. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko

By Anna Voitenko

KYIV (Reuters) - Alla Antonova says she suffered beatings, had a plastic bag thrust over her head and endured many other threats from Russian soldiers in occupied Ukraine who wanted to know where her son-in-law was serving in the Ukrainian army.

Her mother Natalia Kucherova, 73, was made to sit in an adjacent room of their apartment, but says she was generally left alone - the soldiers were only interested in her daughter.

Reuters could not independently verify their accounts. Moscow has denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities or deliberately attacked civilians during their invasion, which it calls a "special military operation".

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Now in Kyiv, escaping from the ordeal meant fleeing their home in the port of Berdiansk, in the occupied part of the southern Zaporizhzhia region and taking a circuitous five-day journey.

With the help of Ukrainian volunteer workers, the family and their dog travelled into southern Russia and then overland back over the border into Ukrainian-held territory in early February.

Speaking to Reuters in a rented apartment in the Ukrainian capital, Antonova, 53, said the Russian soldiers visited their Berdiansk home three times in the last few months of 2023 and as recently as January this year.

"They took me into the bedroom and mama into the kitchen," Antonova said.

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"Three of them. Interrogating me is the way I would put it. And they beat me. I had bruises on my legs, on my back."

Antonova showed Reuters several photographs of severe bruises on her arm and legs.

Another soldier, she said, pulled the plastic bag over her head and pressed down to stop her breathing.

"I started to lose consciousness. They removed the bag and I felt ill," Antonova said. "I told them: 'Just kill me. It's the truth, I know nothing'."

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Russia's diplomatic mission in Geneva did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the women's account.

A report on conditions in occupied areas released this week by the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine described a "climate of fear" in occupied areas more than two years after the Russian invasion. It reports the widespread use of such tactics that Antonova and her family describe.

Speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday after the report's publication, Russian senior diplomat Igor Sergeev accused U.N. human rights bodies of double standards and of turning a blind eye to violations committed by Kyiv.

BEATEN SENSELESS

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Antonova said the soldiers beat her senseless during one of the "visits", in January this year.

She showed Reuters a video she was made to record, sent to her own 29-year-old daughter, Anastasia, in which she says "good, polite people, soldiers" had come and asked the daughter to cooperate if she wanted to see her mother again.

"My daughter understood straight away and deleted it. And they just said 'just think about it - we'll come to see you'."

Kucherova made it plain what she thought of the soldiers.

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"'What is it you want?' I said, 'Are you going to throw my daughter in a cellar and rape her?'" she told Reuters of the experience, prompting a soldier to ask where she had heard such things.

"I told him the whole town is talking about it. The whole town, about how you are abusing people there."

Kucherova, who had lived all her life in Berdiansk, was tearful about leaving, but in the end needed little convincing.

"They said 'we are here for a long time to come, in Berdiansk'. And that means 'we will be paying you frequent visits'," she said. "So, that's what happened. We quickly got our things together and left. We were told to go quickly."

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The escalating violence made the women fearful for their lives so the three generations of women readied themselves for a long journey - and no notion of leaving behind Sonia, the family dog.

"We couldn't bear the thought leaving her tied up with no water, nothing," Kucherova said. "We all went together. No one was abandoned."

(Writing by Ronald Popeski; Editing by Lucy Marks)

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