Ukraine Situation Report: After Russian Retreat, Witnesses Claim Torture

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ rout of Russian troops in the Kharkiv Oblast, witnesses on the ground are beginning to see echoes of the occupation’s brutality observed in Bucha back in April after the liberation of that city near Kyiv.

“Sadly, stories about tortures and imprisonment of innocents in occupied towns and villages are becoming a routine,” said Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, in one of a series of Tweets from the region Tuesday. “Today in Balakliia I met a young man Artem who spent 46 days in horrible conditions and was tortured by Russians. He is lucky to remain alive.”

In one video, Gerashchenko showed a location where he said Ukrainians were detained “on suspicion of helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

One man tells Gerashchenko that “people were tortured with electrical current.”

In another video, Gerashchenko shows the bodies of two friends he said were “shot dead by fleeing Russians on the evening of 6 September.”

Gerashchenko’s concerns were echoed by Serhiy Bolvinov, head of the Kharkiv Region National Police Investigation Department.

On his Facebook page, Bolvinov said that residents were tortured and murdered by Russians.

“Today, journalists from around the world and National Police are covering [this] tragedy because the world needs to know the inhumans these Rashists are,” he said.

Though Gerashchenko was accompanied by journalists, The War Zone can’t independently confirm the allegations. But after Ukrainian forces recaptured Bucha on March 31, a large amount of documentation emerged of what U.S. officials later said could be evidence of horrific war crimes.

Meanwhile, in addition to learning about the brutality that was visited on civilians in these occupied areas, the advance has also allowed Ukraine to begin the process of stabilizing the liberated territories, much of which has been destroyed by war.

A destroyed vehicle outside a destroyed gas station in Kharkiv Oblast territory recaptured by Ukrainian armed forces. (From the Telegram channel of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky)

“As of now, stabilization measures have been completed in the districts with a total area of more than 4,000 square kilometers,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday in a video message posted on his Telegram channel. “Stabilization continues in the liberated territory of approximately the same size. Remnants of occupiers and sabotage groups are being detected, collaborators are being detained and full security is being restored.”

Damage to a wall was observed by Ukrainian troops who recaptured towns in previously Russian-held Kharkiv Oblast. (From the Telegram channel of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky)

It is “very important that together with our troops, with our flag, ordinary normal life comes to the de-occupied territory,” he added, using, as an example, the town of Balakliya, where Gerashchenko shot his video.

There, pensioners will begin receiving “the payment of pensions for five months at once, for the time when we simply could not make payments due to the occupation,” he said. “And all Ukrainian pensioners in the liberated territory will receive payments. Ukraine always fulfills its social obligations to people.”

Before we get to the latest, get caught up on The War Zone’s previous rolling coverage of the war in Ukraine by clicking here.

The Latest

In addition to the gains Ukraine has made in its Kharkiv counteroffensive, there is also progress being made in the south as well, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment.

“Ukraine’s southern counteroffensive is continuing to have significant impacts on Russian morale and military capabilities in southern Ukraine,” said the ISW assessment. “Satellite imagery of known Russian positions in Kyselivka, 15km northwest of Kherson City, shows that all but four Russian vehicles have departed from previous forward positions, consistent with rumors that Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) troops have abandoned Kyselivka and moved back towards the Dnipro River.”

Kyselivka is an operationally significant location for Russian forces around Kherson City “because it is the last major settlement along both the E58 highway and a railway line between current Ukrainian positions and Chornobaivka, the outermost part of Kherson City. The apparent withdrawal of Russian troops from this position may compromise the Russians’ ability to defend the northwestern outskirts of Kherson City and suggests that Russian troops in this area perceive an imminent threat to their positions.”

Natalya Humenyuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command, stated on September 12 that Russian forces located along the right bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson Oblast “are attempting to negotiate for surrender under the auspices of international law,” ISW reported. “Ukrainian operations in Kharkiv Oblast are unlikely to have had such a dramatic psychological effect on Russian troops this far south, and both the withdrawal of troops from forward positions in Kyselivka and reports of surrender negotiations are indicators that Ukrainian counteroffensives in the south are progressing in a significant way, even if visibility on this axis is limited by the shift in focus to Kharkiv.”

ISW listed several key takeaways from the Ukrainian advances to date.

  • Ukrainian forces are continuing to make impactful gains in Kherson Oblast and are steadily degrading the morale and combat capabilities of Russian forces in this area.
  • The Russian military command may be suspending the deployment of newly formed units to Ukraine due to recent Russian losses and overall degraded morale.
  • Russian forces are failing to reinforce the new frontline following Ukrainian gains in eastern Kharkiv Oblast and are actively fleeing the area or redeploying to other axes.
  • Ukrainian forces continued targeting Russian military assets and positions in Kherson Oblast, likely steadily degrading them.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced the restoration of the second reserve power transmission line to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
  • Ukraine’s sweeping counteroffensive is damaging Russian administrative capabilities and driving Russian departures from occupied parts of Ukraine far behind the line of contact.
  • The Ukrainian recapture of Izyum has likely degraded Russian forces’ ability to conduct artillery strikes along the Izyum-Slovyansk highway.
A Russian soldier, taken prisoner, on a tank with Ukrainian soldiers after the city was recaptured from Russian forces on September 11, 2022 in Izyum, Ukraine. (Photo Laurent Van der Stockt for Le Monde/Getty Images)

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said Ukraine’s rapid advance is no surprise to the U.S.

“Well, certainly since the beginning of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, we’ve seen the Ukrainians demonstrate a remarkable adaptability and ability to use their warfighting capabilities to great effect,” he said. “So it’s not surprising to us that they have pushed as quickly as they have. And the current counter-offensive in Kharkiv is no exception to that. I think if anyone was surprised, just based on the reports that we’ve seen in terms of the Russian military’s response, it was probably the Russians.”

While much has been made about Russian war losses in terms of personnel and equipment, far less is known about Ukraine’s attrition.

Ukrainian soldiers shelter from a mortar attack, in Bohorodychne village in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, on September 13, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Juan BARRETO / AFP) (Photo by JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images)

Ryder did not want to shed light on that.

“I’m not going to be able to provide details on Ukrainian casualty numbers nor lost equipment, especially while they’re engaged in active combat,” he said. “As I’m sure you can appreciate, I don’t want to provide an intelligence assessment from here.”

When asked if the U.S. held tabletop exercises with Ukraine to wargame the current counteroffensive, Ryder declined to offer specifics, but said that “we do engage with the Ukrainians at a variety of levels on the military side. As we’ve said previously, we do provide time-sensitive information to enable them to conduct operations and defend their homeland. I’m not going to get into the specifics of what that might look like.”

And he deferred to the Ukrainians any comment about whether they have enough troops to hold the territory they’ve recaptured.

“As always, any battlefield is a dynamic and fluid place,” he said. “We will continue to monitor from our end and continue to keep our focus on supporting them in terms of the equipment and the resources that they need.”

The U.S. military is not just monitoring the war, however. It is also taking lessons from Ukrainian successes, as is evident by this slide below from a Tuesday briefing at Fort Benning by Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville.

These are lessons apparently unheeded by Russia. But despite its losses on the battlefield, Moscow is apparently not considering a full-on mobilization to backfill its fallen troops and destroyed or seized equipment. So said Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov in comments to reporters.

Still, things are going so poorly for Russia that Moscow is claimed to be seeking to negotiate its way out of the full-on war it started on Feb. 24. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishnya told France24 that Russian officials sought to negotiate with Ukraine in recent days. It was a move she said she believed was aimed at stopping the rapid Ukrainian advances. Once again, this is an uncorroborated but official claim and should be treated as such.

Zelensky has repeatedly expressed little interest of late in talking to Russia until they leave Ukraine to the borders that existed prior to 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and invaded Donbas. Some Russians, however, seem not to be waiting for negotiations to start before leaving. Ivan Fedorov, mayor of the city of Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, said Russians appeared to be heading south to Crimea.

But not all the news about Crimea is bad for the Russians. A month after at least 10 Russian combat aircraft were destroyed in an attack on the Saki Air Base, observers have spotted a few remaining Su-24 Fencers resuming operations there. You can read all about that attack here.

Those Russian fighters weren’t the only ones to survive a Ukrainian attack. Check out this wild video below showing two Russian Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets narrowly missing disaster at the hands of Ukrainian air defense.

But not all Russian pilots were so fortunate. The Ukrainian Air Force claimed Tuesday it downed two Russian jets – a Su-24 Fencer and a Su-25 Frogfoot – in two hours.

As the war, now 202 days old, drags on and equipment losses mount for both sides, Russia and Ukraine continue to look elsewhere to restock their supplies.

Russia, for instance, is asking its former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan to supply it with 220mm Uragun rockets and 203mm shells for its Pion self-propelled artillery systems, according to Ukrainian intelligence.

Ukrainian intelligence also reports that the “successes of the Ukrainian Defense Forces in conducting a counteroffensive operation” will “unite European political forces. Especially in Germany. On September 14, the Federal Government of Germany will hear the report of German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock on her visit to Ukraine.”

“Obviously, the issue of increasing military and military-technical assistance to Ukraine will be raised. After all, this will help to continue the successful counteroffensive of the Ukrainian Defense Forces and liberate the territories captured by the Russian Federation.”

But that hope apparently did not immediately bear fruit. Germany’s Rheinmetall defense contractor is restoring 16 of that nation’s Marder infantry fighting vehicles for Ukraine at its own expense, but so far has been unable to get an export license from the German federal government to ship them off.

Despite any travails, Ukraine officials, echoing former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, are urging its populace to keep a stiff upper lip.

It helps, of course, to have a full belly, a luxury Russian troops have not had.

Apparently, potato pancakes, along with retaking so much territory, are a recipe for good morale.

We will continue to update this story until we state otherwise.

Contact the author:

Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.