Wife of Ukrainian fighter calls for Russia to release POWs

  • World
  • Wednesday, 05 Oct 2022

GENEVA (Reuters) - The wife of a Ukrainian fighter imprisoned by Russia called for his release on Tuesday as a U.N. rights official said monitors had documented cases of Ukrainian prisoners being tortured, in two cases to death.

Some Ukrainian soldiers who fought in a weeks-long siege in the battle for the city of Mariupol before eventually surrendering in May were released last month. However, others who were holed up in the besieged Azovstal steelworks in the port city remain captive, including the husband of Liliia Stupina, a 24-year-old former data research analyst who left her job to seek his release.

"That's why we are here: to say to the world that the world should save them, that the world should free them, because these heroes, they are in hell now, they were in hell in Azovstal for 86 days and they are in hell in Russian captivity," Stupina, who co-founded the 'Association of Azovstal Defenders' Families', told Reuters shortly before addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"Today the UN must more than ever prove its ability to protect human rights," she told the Geneva-based body which is meeting to discuss abuses in Ukraine.

At the same meeting, a U.N. official described "appalling reports" of torture of captured Ukrainian fighters which it documented as part of a broader report into the human rights situation in Ukraine. This included reports on the killings of civilians, sexual violence, as well as the treatment of POWs.

"In the majority of documented cases, Ukrainian prisoners of war were subjected to torture or ill-treatment by the detaining power," Christian Salazar Volkmann, Director of Field Operations at the U.N. rights office told the council.

"In two of these cases, Ukrainian servicemen were tortured to death," he said.

Russia's envoy Guzal Khusanova called the findings "one sided and unbalanced". The OHCHR also said it had documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of Russian POWs by Ukrainian forces but "on a lesser scale".

The OHCHR said its report is based on information gathered through 78 field visits, 20 visits to places of detention and more than 1,000 interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations, their relatives, lawyers and government officials.

Russia, which was suspended from voting on the Human Rights Council over the Ukraine invasion, denies torture or other forms of maltreatment of POWs. Moscow says its forces in Ukraine are engaged in a "special military operation" to disarm the country and remove far-right nationalists it deems a threat to Russia's own security.

(Reporting by Cecile Mantovani, Emma Farge, Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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