Police department of Vyselki in the Krasnodar Territory. Photo: Vladislav Yanyushkin / Mediazona
Several residents of Vyselki village in the Krasnodar Territory applied to human rights defenders with the Committee Against Torture for legal assistance in 2020. All of them report batteries at the basement of the local police department, and some of them – also how they were taken out to the forest and tortured with electricity there. Vladislav Yanyushkin went to the intimidated village and learned that there might be a lot more victims.
Vyselki village is situated 90 km from Krasnodar and about 20 thousand people live here, mainly involved in agriculture and food production. Average salary here is about 40 thousand rubles, which is one of the highest among the Krasnodar Territory villages. The main employer of the region is Agrokompleks, the company owned by the family of former Governor of Kuban Aleksandr Tkachev.
In the small village here and there one can see food stores and advertisement of “Agrokompleks Vyselkovskiy” brand, and in the northern part of Vyselki there is a whole set buildings of the company built with a new office, visible from afar. People from all over the region work here. Every day they pass the Vyselki Police Department, which stands out in the open field to the south of Agrokompleks office.
According to local residents, people are tortured regularly at the basement of this department — only in 2020 five persons reported tortures. There might be a lot more victims, but many fear to speak about their experience in the police department.
A pool of blood in the basement
Night of 16 February 2020, Vyselki village, basement of the District Department of the Interior. On the left side of the corridor there is an office, on the left – a shooting room. In the office room, three Criminal Investigations officers requested that 33-years’ old Dmitry Zolkin confessed of the pawnshop robbery. Zolkin had been convicted before, he refuses, after that, according to him, the police officers start to beat him up.
Having received three blows with a palm of the hand, as Zolkin recalls, he sat on a bench. When one of the officers kicked him with his foot at his head, he fell on the floor and, having received one more blow on the head with a chair, he passed out.
Having returned to his senses, the detained saw that his head was bleeding. He said that he made up his mind for a desperate act when he heard one of the officers suggesting to take him out in the field and “put on electricity”. “I got out a blade that I took in my mouth when I was taken to the police department. Before that it was in my pocket. I flipped up my shirt off my arm and cut it several times, as a result I was bleeding”.
The police officers called an ambulance which hospitalized Zolkin to the Vyselki hospital. Having rendered him medical assistance, the doctors returned the detained to the officers, who issued a report on him for violating the administrative supervision procedure and brought him to the cell till the court hearing.
Later on, when Dmitry Zolkin submitted a torture complaint to the Investigative Committee, the officers during questioning said that the victim hit himself against the metal safe when they tried to prevent his suicide attempt and take the blade from him. 47-years old Yury Shischenko questions their version of events – he was detained on the same night and taken to the basement, as well.
“They took me to the shooting room. On the way they drew my attention to Zolkin, — Yury Shischenko described. — He was sitting on a bench with a bandaged head and left arm. When we were going down we saw a lot of blood traces all over the stairs. In the basement, we stopped near the office room on the right side. The door to the room was opened, on the left, next to the wall, there stood a cabinet, and behind it there was a metal safe, near which there was a pool of blood”.
According to him, two people in civilian clothes were standing near the office room. Officer Dmitry Cherkasov asked him if he was going to confess of robbery. After the refusal, according to Shischenko, the police officer hit him two times with a palm of his hand at his face and asked: “Have you ever saw a bandaged vegetable?” Having shown him a pool of blood, the police officer told him that it only emerged due to Zolkin’s refusal to confess of the crime. “Now the same will happen to you”, — Shischenko recalled his words.
After that Shischenko was taken to the shooting room in the same basement, and, according to him, he was hit several times, after which he started to confess. As a result, both Shischenko and Zolkin were sent to the Pre-Trial Detention Facility SIZO-1 in Krasnodar, where they have been staying until now.
It’s not the first time that Dmitry Zolkin who cut his veins, was taken to the basement of a police department, according to his mother Tatyana: “He was convicted for theft, for trifle. New cases were forged all the time. He would not sign. They start to beat him up. Sometimes he yields, sometimes he does not. Sometimes he signed, sometimes he did not. They’ve taken him for the third or the fourth time. They take him to the basement, there is a special torture chamber there, they tie people up and connect electricity”.
“They hang people upside down”
The torture basement, that Zolkin and Shischenko reported, was mentioned by some other victims, too. They describe that it is situated in the block of the main building which is the furthest from the check point. There are two doors in the basement: on the left — entrance to the shooting room, on the right — to room No.10, where operational officers usually perform interrogations.
One of the victims is 34-year old Arthur Churkin from Vyselki. In the house where he lives with his parents, there is little room – everything is occupied with utensils and boxes. In the corner of the room there is a big icon of the Mother of God. The resident of Kuban bears his age well and talks emotionally and loudly. Judging by his intonation, it seems he is sincerely puzzled how the police officers can cheat and torture people. When lawyer with the Committee Against Torture Sergey Romanov says that human rights defenders have 6 applications already about tortures in Vyselki, Churkin starts laughing, in surprise.
Churkin says that the first time he was taken to the basement in August of this year – at first they tried to charge him of theft, then – of disorderly conduct. “I was sitting in the shooting room before that. Here’s a table, there’s a table. They tie up hands with duct tape, and then pull the metal bar over here”, — Churkin showed how they tied his arms and feet behind his back, pulled the metal bar under them and made it hung it between the tables.
“They hang you upside down, — he continued. — Two of them are holding you. One cop from one side, the other one – from the another one. And you are hanging upside down. They also put a plastic bag on my head and made me swing. It hurt”.
Churkin said that at that time he managed to pull his hands out of the duct tape and the police officers did not continue the torture. Instead of this, operational officer Maksim Kuzin proposed that he became their informer, having promised to cover up for him in case of any legal problems. But in the end, according to Churkin, his work turned out useless for the police officers, and as early as in October they once again apprehended him at his home.
At the basement, the police officers demanded that he confessed of theft of tools, and after he refused they took him out in the forest with a plastic bag on his head. There, according to the victim, one of the police officers tied his hands up with a scotch tape, pulled off his trousers and told him that “now that you’ve committed an offence you’re going to get a good spanking”, and whipped him with a cane. After that, the police officers put him down on the ground and tied his feet with scotch tape. One of the police officers opened a car trunk and took out a small box with two wires and tied one of them to the victim’s right big toe, and the second one – to the left little toe. According to Churkin, they put a plastic bag on his head, and poured water on his feet up to his knees.
“And they started to batter down,— he recalls. — 20 seconds, then 30. Sometimes Maksim Tverdokhlebov was sitting on me, sometimes it was Andrey Shamray. He was holding me when I was being beaten up”.
When Churkin tried to stand up, the officers sitting on top of him, were hitting at his face: “It was them who performed the beating, as well as Sasha Maschenko. I checked on all their names and memorized them. Maksim Kuzin did not beat me, he was only talking to me. When they stopped the beating he used to ask: “Well, remember now where is that welding tool?” I was shouting very loudly, then I started to cry because of pain. They told me no one would hear me. It lasted for a very long time”.
As a result, according to the victim, he agreed to incriminate himself.
Operational officers drew up a protocol on insubordination to police officers, under which the court fined him for 500 rubles. The doctors registered him with contusions and extravasations on his face and bruises on his arms, as well as changes of the skin cover on his toes to which the wires were connected.
Artur Churkin recalls that during the tortures the operational officers mentioned that had already brought Mikhail Fedosov to this forest, his friend’s brother: “They said he told about me things he did not really know. All that he had to and all he didn’t have to – that’s how scared he was”.
Police officers with the Vyselki police department, who are accused of torture
Head of Criminal Investigations Department Dmitry Cherkasov, 37 years. Cherkasov’s name is mentioned most often — five times. The victims say that he himself was involved in the batteries and electricity tortures, and in other cases he was just observing the actions of his subordinates.
Operational police officer Andrey Shamray, 34 years — four complaints. Three residents of Vyselki settlement call him a participant of electricity tortures, Shamray was also checked after the battery of Mr Karaulov, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
Operational officer Maksim Tverdokhlebov, 34 years old — three complaints. In one case, for example, he is referred to as a participant of electricity torture in the forest belt, in another case, according to the victim, he did not torture himself, but was only present during torture.
Deputy Head of Criminal Investigations Department Aleksandr Maschenko, 42 years old — two complaints. According to the victim of electricity torture, he applied violence against him together with Tverdokhlebov and Shamrayev. Was also subjected to check after veteran Karaulov’s battery.
Operational officer Vitaly Marinin, 27 years old — two complaints. A resident of Vyselki settlement accused him, Shamray and Cherkasov of tortures in the forest belt. He was also present in the room when Dmitry Zolkin cut his veins.
“They connected wires to my toes, poured water on my feet and turned on electricity”
Despite the cold, Mikhail Fedosov meets Sergey Romanov from the Committee Against Torture at the gates of his home, wearing light clothing and slippers. He recalls how one February morning the police officers came and apprehended him at his home, without explaining anything. In the basement of the police department they demanded that he confessed of theft of a welding unit from an acquaintance of his. After he refused, they brought him out to the forest.
Fedosov looks low-spirited and speaks in a monotonous and quiet voice: “There were four of them. They put a plastic bag on my head. For half an hour they were taking me somewhere. My feet and arms were tied up with scotch tape. I could see through the bag they brought me to some area with rows of planted trees. I saw they took out the battery. They did not take off the plastic bag. Two of them were holding me. They connected wires to my toes, poured water on my feet and turned on electricity. I don’t know how long it lasted, maybe forty minutes”.
After that the operative officers took him back to the basement, according to Fedosov, and told him they had days-off, that is why the remaining part of Saturday and Sunday he would spend in the shooting room. But in the end, the police officers drew a report on him for refusing to undergo medical examination, and on the next day the Vyselki District Court fined him for 500 rubles and released him.
Fedosov did not submit a complaint, as he did not have time to register his bodily injuries. “Lawyer told me that the electric marks are seen for one week or so. I should have registered it immediately”, — he pronounces in a distressed voice, looking down on the ground.
59-years’ old veteran of the war in Afghanistan Vasily Karaulov also recalls this shooting room in the basement — the operatives took him on the 6th of May, when he was assisting his nephew to unload bags from the truck. “One of the officers brought me down on the ground, pulled my arm behind my back and sat on top of me, — Karaulov remembers. — I started to tell him that I did not understand what was going on, to that he hit the palm of his hand at my head, and I hit the right side of my face against the gravel”.
At first he was taken to the room on the second floor and questioned about the cargo and a number of trips – the operatives thought that this truck might be involved in theft of 20 bags of feed additives from Agrokompleks storage facility. Having failed to get a response he required, one of the police officers said that “we need to have your memory restored”, took a rubber glove from the cabinet and took him to the shooting room. When they were near the targets, according to the veteran, the police officer hit him with his hand in the rubber glove at his left ear. Karaulov wavered and agreed to write what the police officers required. He was released.
Having registered bodily injuries at hospital, the veteran first submitted an application to the Investigative Committee, and then applied to the Committee Against Torture. Human rights defenders started to deal with his case and found out that 36 surveillance cameras were not functioning at the police department for almost a year. The Ministry of the Interior issued an application for their repair only a week prior to Karaulov’s apprehension.
Lawyers with the Committee Against Torture found out that there were four more people with Karaulov at the police department that night, including his nephew Dmitry Ustimenko — they were apprehended on the same case on theft of bags with feed additives from Agrokompleks. All of them signed a waiver of claims to police officers, but human rights defenders suspect that the signatures are forged. Only Karaulov’s nephew confirmed their version. What was really happening to them at the police department, all of them are too afraid to tell.
“They are not afraid of either God or devil”
— *** guys, I’m simply afraid to go against them. In fact, they are such people, you know, who won’t leave me in peace afterwards, — Nikolay Storubinsky comments. He was one of those who spent a night at the police department when veteran Karaulov was tortured there.
28-year old Storubinsky lives in a new street with more expensive houses than the majority of Vyselki. There are scars seen above right brow and knuckles. At first, Storubinsky says that the signature on his waiver of claims to the police officers might have been forged, but then he changes his answer.
— Why did he come then if not to sign? Why then anyone would bother if they already had this? — he asks out loud and blabs. — It turns out they broke Dima’s arm.
Storubinsky is nervous, shifts from one foot to another, chain-smoking. He does not want to talk about what happened at the department, having limited to mentioning that they did not let him sit down since when the night started till morning. “They are not afraid either God or devil”, — he sums up sadly. To the question whether he would be able to tell this to the investigator, Storubinsky advised to turn to his lawyer.
— They are so afraid they are not ready to talk, настолько боятся, что не готовы говорить, — human rights defender Sergey Romanov points out. Out of all the questioned only one person confirmed that he saw Karaulov at the department, and he looked distressed and was limping.
Dmitry Ustimenko, a nephew of veteran Karaulov, parks the car in his uncle’s yard. “Are you recording?” — he immediately asks the Mediazona journalist with a suspicion and aggression in his voice. 26-years’ old Ustimenko answers to all the questions shortly and with irritation. He does not say anything about the broken arm, and after the conversation ended he called someone and talked with them while walking nervously around the yard.
His mother, Natalya Ustimenko, on the contrary, is very emotional: “He was warned, that one criminal was taken there and subjected to electricity torture, they tried to put 22 episodes on him, the lawyer removed almost all of them, and he signed. They are all taken down to the basement, and the same happened to my Dima. They are badly beaten there, how I want to prove it, this is really outrageous!”
To the question why then the victims keep silence, Natalya answers that all of them are afraid of the police. Vasily Karaulov adds: “When we came to the notary, she whispered in my ear: “So what? You’re not the first one. We’ll arbitrate it here, brush it under the carpet, and that’s it”.
Olga Skidaniva, the wife of Evgeny Skidanov, who also reported torture and now is kept at the Pre-Trial Detention Facility, thinks that a lot of people in the village know about torture but keep silent. According to her, after the articles on her husband’s case other victims started to call her: “They say there’d be no result anyway. There will be no investigaton. They are afraid it will only get worse”.
According to Sergey Romano, the Committee Against Torture developed a collective application to the power authorities on behalf of the victims and their relatives, but only 2-3 people were ready to sign it: “Even the ones who sympathize are afraid”.
At the present time, human rights defenders already know about ten residents of Vyselki, who suffered from torture at the district police department. In 2020, five people told about it, out of them four publicly claimed to have been tortured and applied to the Investigative Committee. At the Investigative Committee for the Krasnodar Territory to the question of Mediazona whether they were planning to pay any attention to the Vyselki police department, a formal answer was provided – that all the applications are thoroughly checked. But not a single torture case was initiated by this department.
— There should be some political will, — lawyer Romanov says. — When in Dalniy police department a man died after torture, head of the Investigative Committee Aleksandr Bastrykin gave orders to examine all the materials. The guilty were punished. If there is an order from Moscow to sort out the mess, I think it will be followed. But we do not see any will for effective fighting with torture either in Vyselki, or in Krasnodar.