From the very beginning of the war, the Russian military had lists with the names of influential Ukrainians they were supposed to hunt, AP found out. According to the agency, the lists compiled by the Russian special services included government officials, journalists, activists, veterans, religious figures and lawyers.
The authors of the investigation managed to confirm 61 cases of persecution of Ukrainian residents on these lists. Some of the victims were held in detention facilities where they were interrogated, beaten and electrocuted, some ended up in Russia, others died, according to survivors interviewed by AP.
In three cases, Russians under torture forced people to denounce others. In three other cases, Russians captured family members, including a child, to put pressure on them. According to the testimony of witnesses collected in the occupied and previously occupied territories of Kyiv, Kherson, Zaporozhye, Chernihiv and Donetsk regions, a similar pattern was observed throughout the country, writes AP.
According to the agency's US intelligence sources and British national security analysts, the FSB spent months compiling casualty lists ahead of the February 24 invasion. This, according to Ukrainian intelligence, was carried out by the so-called Fifth Service of the FSB. Journalists Andrey Soldatov and Irina Borogan previously claimed that this service provided Russian President Vladimir Putin with data on the political situation in Ukraine, and its leadership was later placed under house arrest, but there was no official confirmation of this information.
“This political strategy of targeted assassinations has been pulled down from the very top in the Kremlin,” Jack Watling, a senior fellow at RUSI, told AP.
The agency's journalists received, in particular, copies of five lists of 31 people. The Russian military hunted people from these lists in the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions. Those lists included eight soldiers, seven veterans, seven alleged civilians and nine people accused of assisting the Ukrainian military or intelligence services. The list included one person accused of anti-Russian views and anti-Russian propaganda, AP notes. The lists included full names, as well as some nicknames, dates of birth, and addresses.
One of these lists, according to AP, included Andrei Kuprash, head of the village of Babintsy, north of Kyiv. Kuprash told the agency that a week after the invasion, he received a call from an unknown number. He was asked in Russian if he was the head of the village. Kuprash was frightened and said no, and they answered him: “We will find you anyway. It is better to cooperate with us."
At the end of March, the Russian military kidnapped Kuprash and took him to the local cemetery. There he was forced to strip down to his underwear and dig his own grave. He was accused of transmitting data on the positions of the Russian military to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. After Kuprash dug a grave, he was forced to go down there, after which the commander threw off his clothes and ordered him to smoke. Then he ordered him to get into the car and they returned to the village. When the car stopped and Kuprash got out, the military told him: "Live."
Aleksey Dibrovsky, a deputy of the Pologovsky City Council of the Zaporozhye region, was captured by the Russian military at the end of March. They put him in a basement, then in an isolation cell near a military airfield, and beat him all the time. Dibrovsky said that they put a gun in his mouth, threatened to kill him and shot near his head. A few weeks later, Dibrovsky was taken to a filtration center in Olenovka, Donetsk region, and then to SIZO-1 in Kursk. There, according to him, he was severely beaten. After being tortured, he was given paper and a pen and forced to sign incomprehensible papers as he was dictated. It wasn't until some time later that he realized that the Russian military wanted to force him to spy in Ukraine. In April, Dibrovsky was exchanged for Russian soldiers who were taken prisoner.
The agency notes that it is currently impossible to document the full extent of the abductions. The Center for Civil Liberties, a Ukrainian NGO that won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, has collected more than 770 cases of civilians captured since the Russian invasion began.
As noted in the investigation, the presence of such lists indicates that most of the violence in Ukraine was planned, and not accidental. Russia has used brutality as a military strategy, the journalists conclude.