During the occupation of Kherson, the Russian military seized the pre-trial detention centre and abused the prisoners, forced them to work, tortured them for their pro-Ukrainian position and threatened them with execution. Despite this, the prisoners passed information to the Ukrainian military about the location and number of enemy vehicles.
The Slidstvo.Info journalists talked to prisoners who were spying on the Russian military during the occupation of Kherson and passing information to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The video has English subtitles.
“THE RUSSIAN WORLD HAS BEGUN”
In early March 2022, during the occupation of Kherson, the Russian military seized the local pre-trial detention centre. The invaders failed to reach an agreement with the staff of the institution, who wrote resignation letters. The Russians appointed a local collaborator, Yevhen Sobolev, as the “head” of the detention centre, and the current head was taken away in an unknown direction.
On 11 May, the Russian occupiers broke into the detention centre for the second time, throwing grenades at the cells and opening fire with machine guns.
“Until 11 May, the detention centre was under the Ukrainian flag, everything was in order. As long as our management and the penitentiary service stood their ground, we were not touched. And then the ‘Russian world’ began,” recalls former prisoner Serhii Holovko.
Yaroslav Sidorov says that he and other inmates of the Kherson detention centre were watching TV when they heard machine gun shots.
“Explosions, shots, we climbed out the window, and they (Russians – ed.) were chasing people there… One guy was shot. He came to the window in his cell and was shot immediately. They threw a grenade into another guy’s cell, and it was good that he was alone and managed to go to the toilet,” says Yaroslav.
According to the prisoners, there were about 600 Ukrainians in the detention centre at the time.
“TWICE A DAY – A “PREVENTIVE CONVERSATION”
Prisoners of the Kherson detention centre say that the occupiers beat them, mocked them and threatened to kill them. Those men who spoke Ukrainian were treated with particular cruelty.
“A preventive conversation, as they explained it. If they heard the Ukrainian language, it was something… they had printouts of Stepan Bandera’s portrait and told me that this is Hitler,” says Serhii Holovko.
The man says that the Russian military threw patriotic people into a punishment cell: “They got 15 days in the punishment cell. Some got a month. Every day, in the morning and evening, there was an ‘educational conversation’ with bodily harm.”
Yaroslav Sidorov tells journalists that the Russians provoked the Ukrainians by shouting “Glory to Ukraine!”. Some of the prisoners automatically responded: “Glory to the heroes!”, after which the occupiers took them out of the cell and they did not return.
“Three people disappeared. Three people seem to have died, but in reality, God knows. They were taken out of their cells, loaded and taken away,” says Yaroslav.
The occupiers needed the convicts to repair their equipment and rebuild the pre-trial detention centres where they were going to hold pro-Ukrainian residents of Kherson.
“The occupiers needed the convicts for work – to repair military equipment at colony 90. Because the 90th was a production area, there was all the equipment and the territory, hangars,” says Serhii.
PASSED ON INFORMATION TO THE AFU
The inmates of the Kherson detention centre were looking for an opportunity to help the Ukrainian military from a distance.
Yaroslav Sidorov tells journalists that he met a man to whom he passed on the coordinates of enemy missiles and equipment.
“I hid my phone, deleted all messages, often changed my account, reset the settings so that there was nothing there, completely deleted everything,” says Yaroslav.
The man managed to set up a real spy network in the city: “I had friends in Kherson. We also had people locked up in our cell who already knew where (the Russian army was – transl.) and what, because they were walking around the city. All the points were transmitted and reflected normally.”
Yaroslav says that thanks to his information, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were able to deliver precision strikes on the occupation headquarters: “I recorded and photographed where the warehouses were, where they lived. At my direction, 4 points were hit: 2 warehouses behind the territory of the 90th colony, a boxing training school on the island and a couple of other buildings.”
When the occupiers started looking for prisoners who would surrender their positions, the Ukrainian military asked Yaroslav to do nothing and behave quietly so as not to endanger himself.
“But I took out my phone anyway and did it. They told me in the cell that if they caught you, they would just shoot you,” Yaroslav recalls.
“WHEN THEY PUT YOU UP AGAINST THE WALL TWICE, YOU’RE NOT SCARED ANYMORE”
Serhii Holovko also passed information about the occupiers by phone. The man communicated with his family and the real, pre-occupation management of the detention centre, which the Russians replaced with their own.
Serhii says he did not think about the danger he faced if he was exposed: “First you do it, and then you think… You understand that when you are put up against the wall (with a threat to be shot – transl.) twice, you are not afraid of anything. Without knowing why, just like that” (Crying – ed.).
For a month, the occupiers were looking for those who passed information to the Ukrainian military. On 5 November 2022, two Chechens came to the cell for Yaroslav Sidorov, along with the head of the regime.
“They started beating me… They hit me from behind with something, cut my head and I fell down. Oleksandr Kovalchuk (according to Yaroslav, he was the head of the detention centre regime – ed.) stood in front of me, and the Chechens stood behind me. And he had a syringe like they show in films, with these rings, like “truth serum”, he said: “Tell me, because now…”, Yaroslav recalls.
The occupiers took the man with a bag over his head to an industrial area, made him kneel in front of a dug hole, and began to extract a confession.
“They took off the bag, and there was a 10×10 hole dug, maybe even for us… He was standing over my head and said: “Come on, tell us”. And I was thinking: if I tell them, they will kill me, if I don’t tell them, they will kill me too. They shot this over my head, put a bag on my head and dragged me back, saying they would call me again,” the man recalls.
According to Yaroslav, everyone in his cell knew that he was helping the Ukrainian armed forces, and he knew of at least a few people who also provided the Ukrainian military with the coordinates of enemy equipment. After the liberation of Kherson, the prisoners were transferred to other detention centres.
Serhiy Holovko recalls the liberation of Kherson by Ukrainian defenders with particular joy: “When I saw our guys come in, it was the most gorgeous moment of my life, when you see that Ukraine has returned to Kherson.”
Serhii is currently serving his sentence in the Mykolaiv Detention Centre, but will be released soon, after which he plans to go to defend Ukraine: “I will go. I will go. I’m going to resign, submit my papers and join the Armed Forces.”
Yaroslav is also going to join the Ukrainian army and fight the occupiers with arms in his hands.
“I am a citizen of Ukraine. If I do not go, I will be ashamed… I am a healthy guy and I can go to defend Ukraine,” the man says.