A Ukrainian has claimed he was tied up, beaten and shocked with electricity during Russia’s occupation of his village.
But instead of being directly abused by Russian soldiers, Andrii Matiazh, 46, claimed it was local Ukrainian police officers who switched allegiances.
“Someone tortured me,” he said at his home, which is about four miles from Ukraine’s border with Russia.
“They were with the police before the invasion and then turned to the Russian side.”
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of using torture in areas they control, saying more than 10 torture chambers have been found in newly liberated parts of the Kharkiv region in the north-east of the country.
But Mr. Matiazh’s claims help illustrate an additional challenge.
In addition to investigating alleged war crimes by Russian invaders, including torture, murder and rape, authorities must also watch out for Ukrainian collaborators.
Over the past 14 days, the Ukrainian military has retaken towns and villages all the way to the Russian border, including a number of border crossings.
Children among 146 bodies exhumed at the mass grave site in the city of Izyum, an official says
Prof. Michael Clarke: Russia is repositioning itself after being thrown back by Ukraine’s rapid offensive in Kharkiv
But they have yet to keep the peace as the risk of Russian shelling at one of the border crossings was deemed so great on Sunday that Sky News was told it was too dangerous to visit.
However, we were able to spend time with Mr. Matiazh in his village down the road, surrounded by fields and hills that frame the edge of this part of Ukraine and the entrance to Russia.
The slim man with the friendly smile lives with his wife and two of his three sons, aged 16 and 11. Their eldest son, 29, who bears the same name as his father, is in the military in Ukraine’s territorial defense.
“I felt happiness and pain at the same time”
Andrii Matiazh junior showed us into the modest one-storey house. It was only days before he was able to venture back to hug his parents for the first time after Russia’s withdrawal.
They tried to describe that moment.
“My heart turned upside down [with joy]said his mother Liubov, 46.
Her soldier’s son said: “I felt happiness and pain at the same time. You cannot understand these feelings. It’s too hard to describe.”
“I was shaking for 30 minutes”
The parents, given their village’s proximity to the border, had a front-line seat for the full-scale invasion of Russia on February 24.
“I saw jets, helicopters flying so low they were flying between meters,” the mother said.
“I was shaking for 30 minutes. My youngest child was hysterical.”
They said Russian soldiers took command in the nearest town of Vovchansk, while people in charge of the villages came from parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have been under Russian control since Moscow first invaded in 2014.
Russian passports have been offered to residents of their village, the couple said.
“We didn’t accept that, but the majority of civilians took passports,” Liubov said. “I think they did it out of fear.”
The couple also claimed that Russian soldiers and their proxies were stealing from properties in the area.
This contributed to a climate of distrust and insult that had hit the family hard just two days before Ukraine’s counter-offensive reached their territory earlier this month.
“I had bruises”
The father said he was told to visit a building behind the courthouse in town.
He said five people who worked under the Russian occupation were involved, including a distant relative.
“They took me to the second floor. I received three or four punches in my face,” he said.
“Then they tied my hands behind my back, took off my shoes and socks, connected a metal cable to my little finger on my hands and foot. They put me down and started electrocuting me.”
He said he was also blindfolded.
At one point, a different type of charge was used on his leg – he still has marks on a thigh.
“Capillaries in my eyes collapsed and my eyes turned red. I had bruises. I didn’t even feel anything when they hit my face after I was electrocuted,” said Mr. Matiazh Sr.
Click here to subscribe to Sky News Daily, wherever you get your podcasts
“I knew our soldiers would come”
He said he was being questioned about a local theft he had nothing to do with.
It was two hours before he was told he would be released but had to return within a couple of days with information – a threat the father interpreted as meaning he would have to become an informant or suffer more torture.
At home, he and his wife discussed trying to escape, but they didn’t have enough money.
“I decided to hide somewhere in bushes, abandoned houses and wait for our soldiers. I knew our soldiers would come,” he said.
He believes the ensuing counter-offensive saved his life.
His eldest son said, “All the bad cops fled to Russia.”
When asked how he felt after hearing his father’s account of the torture and conditions in the village during the occupation, Andrii junior said: “Scary and terrible.”
He wondered if his ties to the military might have been a reason why his father was targeted, noting that some of his classmates had joined the police force and knew he was a soldier. “I don’t blame anyone, but someone … betrayed me,” he said.