- A Russian former senior lieutenant has defected and admitted the army tortures Ukrainians.
- Konstantin Yefremov told the BBC of horrific abuses, including threats of rape and castration.
- He is the most senior officer to publicly denounce his former army’s abuses, per the BBC.
A former Russian army officer has described horrifying interrogations and the use of torture on Ukrainian war prisoners, speaking as the highest-ranking recruit to defect from his country so far.
Konstantin Yefremov, formerly a senior lieutenant, told the BBC how he initially tried to resign his post but was sent into war, where he says he saw stunning abuses of power.
He was eventually dismissed, and fled Russia after President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a second mobilization in the fall of 2022, he said.
But during his time serving in occupied Zaporizhzhia, in southern Ukraine, he said he saw Russian soldiers looting everything from lawnmowers to bicycles, and threatening prisoners with rape and castration.
At one site, interrogations and torture would go on every night, “sometimes twice a day,” he said.
Insider was unable to verify his claims. The BBC verified his identity as a soldier, and that he had served in the places he described.
In one instance, Yefremov said, a captured sniper was threatened with castration by a colonel the others regarded as “crazy.”
The colonel in charge “hit him, he pulled the Ukrainian’s trousers down and asked if he was married,” he said.
“‘Yes,’ the prisoner replied. ‘Then someone bring me a mop,’ said the colonel. ‘We’ll turn you into a girl and send your wife the video.'”
He also said that at the same post — in a town near Melitopol called Bilmak — a prisoner had his teeth knocked out. He was then blindfolded and told he would be shot in the head — but instead the colonel shot just on either side of his head, deafening him, he said.
In October last year, the UN released a report saying that it had found evidence of “an array” of human rights abuses in Ukraine during a monitoring visit early in the war. The “vast majority” of those were perpetrated by Russian troops, it said.
“The Commission documented patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, and rape and other sexual violence committed in areas occupied by Russian armed forces,” the report said.
Yefremov, who called himself “anti-war,” did not describe participating in any of the abuses he talked about, and said that in the three years ahead of the 2022 conflict his main job as a soldier had been in mine clearances in Chechnya.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin alleged that his office had uncovered evidence of 65,000 Russian war crimes in newly liberated parts of Ukraine, as CNBC reported.
Yefremov’s testimony comes as part of the latest — and most senior — of a string of public denunciations from defected members of either the Russian army or the Wagner Group, the notorious mercenary army fighting on Putin’s behalf.
Attempting to leave either is extremely risky.
Yefremov told the BBC that he hid in his attic when Putin announced the second mobilization, and only escaped Russia with the help of Gulagu.net, a human rights organization.
Former Wagner Group soldier Andrey Medvedev also fled the conflict in early January. His lawyer told Insider’s Joshua Zitser that he feared for his life as he scrambled over the Russian border to Norway.
The Wagner Group in particular threatens to kill any soldier who abandons his post. That threat appeared to be borne out when a video circulated, in November, of the brutal killing of Yevgeniy Nuzhin, a recaptured soldier who said he had surrendered to Ukraine.