The reprint of an interview with Tygodnik Powszechny about Russian crimes in Ukraine, a former police officer Adam Nowak
Tygodnik Powszechny: How did you join the team which documents the Russian crimes in Ukraine?
Adam Nowak (pseudonym), a former police officer, co-author of the report about Russian atrocities in Ukraine: A friend said that Mrs. Małgorzata Gosiewska has got some information about Russian atrocities, and she is looking for people with experience who might question victims and witnesses and draw up the report. He knew that I have been working in the police for a long time, criminal investigations and organized crime department. Well, I agreed. Then a colleague, who worked with me at the Central Investigative Bureau, joined us, and another colleague with some editorial experience. Thus, basically it was a team.
Did Ukrainians take part in this work?
Ukrainian volunteers gathered some evidence. During our trips to Ukraine (from April 2015), including anti-terrorist operation zone [in eastern Ukraine], we have questioned the rest of them.
How many people have you talked to?
Well, 70. Almost all of Ukraine, only two in Poland.
70 people… Is it a lot?
This is only a portion of that reality. Even when we have finished collecting evidence and now are analyzing the data, still we get the contacts of other people, who would like to share their testimony. But we can not have this advantage, otherwise the work could go another year or two. Of course, if the Hague Tribunal to be interested in the material (I hope so, because preliminary matter concerning Ukraine is already initiated, and our material is redirected to this particular case) we will pass the contacts of the other witnesses.
Do you remember the first interview?
It was a volunteer from "Donbas" battalion. He went to the Russian captivity during the Battle of Ilovaisk, summer of 2014. He was tortured. Then it went on the principle of cord: he called colleagues who also were in captivity, they directed us further. We walked from person to person. Malgorzata Gosiewska and Ukrainian volunteersgave us really useful contacts. And fieldwork with Gosiewska was really pleasant. We barely had no funds, and Ukrainians themselves were amazed, in a positive sense, that "Mrs. MP" drives a car, sleeps in a sleeping bag, not in the best conditions and so on. We said then that she slept earlier in the trenches in Donbas, during the shelling ... It has opened the hearts of our companions.
Did everyone want to talk?
Actually, some people did not want to talk. We were unable to record the case, unfortunately, extremely drastic, even against the background of all that we’ve heard. At first, the girl agreed to come, but then she was just not able to talk.
What happened to her?
She is 22 years old. She got up in the hands of Chechen mercenaries fighting on the Russian side. They kept her there for two weeks. Probably, you do not need any other explanations.
Where is she now?
In a psychiatric hospital. We don’t know if it ever comes up.
In your report, there is nothing about the rapes.
We’ve failed to obtain testimony from women who were raped. Maybe if we stayed there for a long time, it would look different. We have worked under time pressure. Sometimes we were forced to drive from one victim to another at night to gain the time. Gosiewska deputy ran the car at night, we slept, and then in the morning we gathered testimony, and she slept off.
So how did you know that some rapes were there?
From those caring the raped. Or witnesses who saw such scenes.
And what was the reaction of the victims, with whom you talked?
In a very different way. We used to meet up with a man. He came drunk; he got hysterical and ran away. Sometimes he heard they had a grudge against us, why the Ukrainian state had left them alone. For example, we’ve been interviewing an elderly man, who experienced difficult times. He’s been yelling at me for 10 minutes: "Why don’t you do anything, you took power and make money instead of helping us?!". He screamed as if I was the representative of the Ukrainian authorities. I gave him an opportunity to speak out, and then I said that I am a Pole, not a representative of the Ukrainian state. He apologized. Afterwards, he made a statement.
And the government does not help them?
I can tell you what I actually saw. These people are usually in a dramatic state. For example, a group of "cyborgs" [soldiers defending the Donetsk airport], who got into captivity, and after a long time had been released. They are in a terrible condition, not just mental, but physical as well. They had suffered from pouring boiling water and burning irons. They have got almost no medical assistance. They say that the army is not interested in them and the officials too.
So does anyone help them?
Volunteers. In general, I feel that Ukraine operates through volunteers. In 2014 some volunteers stopped the enemy and recaptured part of Donbas, before the reform of the army. Other volunteers clothe and feed the soldiers. When they come back, wounded or after captivity, they get help from doctors and psychotherapists, also volunteers. Volunteers help refugees. Sometimes Ukrainians asked us: "You are the Poles, why are you doing it for us?"
Tell us about the situation that you’ve remembered especially?
There was talk with "cyborg" that I just cannot forget, but I try to keep a professional distance here. He was wounded when got captured, full of shrapnel. He told that the Russians, instead of providing some medical treatment, began to torture him. A Russian nurse urged colleagues to castrate him. Fortunately, it did not happen. Another situation: Ukrainian soldier testified that when the Chechens took him, they asked him what he prefers to get rid of: cut out the heart, the genitals or maybe his ear? He chose an ear. Then they cut off his ear. His wounded colleague was beaten to death. Then came a commander and forbade further knock. The man survived, and I talked to him. His picture is in the report. In fact, he is no ear.
Is this the first such report about Russian atrocities?
Previously there were two, but modest. A group from Brussels prepared one report which is already sent to Hague. The second one was written by the Ukrainian team of volunteers. It is short, 30 pages, and it concentrates, mainly, on the victims. Our destination was a little different.
Please, tell more.
The main objective was to identify the perpetrators and to document their actions, by collecting testimonies of victims and witnesses.
How many perpetrators did you identify?
Dozens. Part of them are identified partly: we have the name or nickname and description. But some of them are fully identified: the names, dates of birth, photo, place of a crime.
Have you identified the perpetrators, based on open sources?
Yes, we did not have access to any classified information. Information from the Ukrainian Internet helped us a lot: there are sites on which both the authorities and volunteers publish a lot of data about the situation in the Donetsk, including about what is happening on the other side. However, a lot of people whom we suspect of war crimes, do not hide it. On the contrary, they boast in the Russian Internet and social networks.
Lead some example, please.
For example, a man who is not on the list of criminals, because we could not get to his survivors. We adhere to such a principle, we include only those who appear in the measured time. His name is Alexey Milchakov, Russian from St. Petersburg. Twenty-odd years. This is monster with textbook characteristics of a serial killer. His first post in social networks he began with a photo with a puppy, then slit his throat and ate, to show that he is a real man. He went as a volunteer in Donbas, the became commander of the battalion "Rusych", a Slavic Russian nationalists with fascist bias. On Facebook, he published his pictures with skinned carcasses. Psychopathic pervert. In Russia he is celebrated as a hero, he is often invited to the television as an expert on Ukrainian topics.
You did not find his victims?
Not a single alive man have we found. We have only some descriptions of the murders carried out by him.
Very diverse. Group the most monstrous mercenaries came from countries of the Caucasus, Chechens and Ossetians, as well as the so-called Don Cossacks of Russia. They are distinguished by their brutality. But there also other cruel groups. For example, there is an organization called the Russian Army Orthodox – these are volunteers from Russia. It characterized in that it is the most aggressive to the "gentile". Everyone who is not faithful to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. "Gentiles" could be killed. Most of all, they persecute Ukrainian Protestants. A Protestant community lived there before the war. They murdered several pastors, sometimes their families too, extremely hardly tortured them. There were situations where their actions - eg. the attacks on Protestant churches – were blessed by clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate. Listening to the testimony about the activities of the "Army", I had the impression that this is simply the Orthodox jihadists. On the Internet I found their videos, for example, instructions, such as how to clean your weapons in an “orthodox” way.
What were these tortures?
Steaming heater inside of mouth. Sticking sharp objects under the fingernails. Cutting knees with knives. Cutting the muscles and pouring salt on the wounds. Using chemicals to extract information.
Tell us please about the most difficult meeting with the victim?
After talking with the women who were tortured, I caught myself thinking that if I met such a perpetrator, I'd be ready to kill him. However, I tried to keep a professional distance. Without a distance you cannot work here. Although it is difficult when you hear from a witness that being in some torture chamber, he saw a pregnant woman. We do not know who she was and whether she survived.
What did the women tell you?
They were victims of tortures. Including cutter body. Beating, as well as humiliation. They saw their friends being murdered.
Based on available knowledge, is it possible to determine whether the Russian crimes are chaotic or systemic?
Systemic, no doubt… exceptionally, there were few places where they prisoners and civilians were kept, and where the killings or tortures did not take place. According to our testimony, there is only one place of that kind – Ilovaisk. Ukrainian prisoners, mainly from the battalion "Donbas", testified that their captivity in Donetsk was like hell, but in Ilovaisk they were treated not that bad. The local militants’ leader said, "Nobody will harm you here, you are prisoners". He admitted that he is doing so because earlier his men were captured by the battalion "Donbas" and they were well treated.
Yes, his activity is well documented. He could be accused of committing the crimes listed in the Rome Statute, under which runs the International Criminal Court. Firstly, Girkin as commander is responsible for the actions of subordinates and for general acquiescence to the crimes. Secondly, in Sloviansk he had an office in the former Security Service of Ukraine. Today Sloviansk is again under control of Ukraine, we were in this building. Girkin’s office was located directly above the cellar where prisoners were tortured. There were at least two places of torture in Sloviansk: in the Security Service headquarters and in a police custody. In the second place in Sloviansk they shot people sentenced to death by the so-called field court-martial. Girkin participated in hearings of the quasi-court, he signed the death sentences. We know that the judgments were mainly issued at night.
How many people has "troika" [tricity] of Girkin condemned?
Nobody knows. After Sloviansk was released, we’ve found mass graves there, but probably not all. Anyway, they did not need any "judgments" to shoot people. The testimonies show that executions were on the agenda. Shot in the back of the head.
And what about the other leaders of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics?
Zakharczenko, "Prime Minister" of Donetsk Republic, and Boroday, his predecessor, as well as other leaders - all are guilty of war crimes. Either as superiors, or as witnesses, who were present when the crime had been committed. Anyway, they did not hide it, they took photos with the dead prisoners, for example, Zakharczenko did it. We have some testimonies against Boroday, who is connected with Kremlin, who was sent to Donetsk from Moscow. Main Intelligence Directorate officers, who tortured one of the victims later interviewed by us, treated Boroday as a boss. We also have documented the case when he wanted to extort a bribe for the life of the prisoner, a million dollars.
You said that the Ukrainians, whom you have interviewed, asked, why are you, Poles, doing all this work. That's right: why?
We do not want it to die a natural death, we want the world to know it.