Russian occupiers in Cherson
Resident: FSB “simply takes people with it”
6/22/2022, 7:44 am
Cherson shows what awaits Ukrainians under Russian occupation. Eyewitnesses report arbitrary kidnappings and killings. “They show up and just take people away without any explanation,” says one resident. “Some come back, some don’t.”
For weeks, Aljona Lapchuk from Cherson searched desperately for her husband – until his body was pulled out of the river. Vitali disappeared after being interrogated by the Russian occupiers, as the 54-year-old reported on the phone. The Ukrainian port city fell to Moscow just a few days after the start of the war and has been almost completely cut off from the outside world ever since. Reports like Lapchuk’s give a shocking insight into the fortunes of the local people, they cannot be verified.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Lapchuk says her husband rushed home from Kyiv to help defend Kherson. On March 27, about three weeks after the fall of the city, he disappeared. “I called him again and again,” reports the widow, but he never answered the phone. At some point, the calls were pushed away. “That’s when I realized there was a problem,” says Laptschuk.
A little later, at 1 a.m., three cars pulled up in front of her house marked with a Z, the symbol of the Russian invaders. The soldiers dragged Vitali out of one of the cars, his face covered in blood. She hardly recognized her husband, says Laptschuk.
The men entered the home at gunpoint and took away laptops and cell phones. They had promised him “not to harm the family,” said her husband – those were his only words. “Then they pulled bags over my head, my husband and my eldest son,” she says. “I will never forget the look Vitali gave me at that moment. It was the last time we looked at each other,” Lapchuk recalls with sadness.
Body found at the bottom of a river
After an interrogation, mother and son were dropped off under a bridge – without the father. For more than two months, the family did not know what had happened to him. On June 9, she learned that fishermen had found Vitali’s body at the bottom of a river, his feet weighted with a stone.
The story of the Lapchuk family does not seem to be an isolated case. Other residents also report abducted and disappeared people. The Russian domestic secret service FSB and the special task force SOBR of the Russian National Guard are in Kherson, reports Tatyana, who does not want to give her last name, via a secure VPN connection from the city. “They show up and just take people away without any explanation,” she says. “Some come back, some don’t.” Tatjana tells of numerous checkpoints where the occupiers checked “ID cards, phones and bags.”
During a Moscow-organized visit to Kherson earlier this month, an AFP reporter observed few soldiers in the center but many checkpoints on the outskirts. In protest against the occupiers, the residents repeatedly painted Ukrainian flags on the streets or hung ribbons in the national colors yellow and blue in the trees, says Tatjana. “It’s very difficult for the Russians to stop that.” Residents also resisted the introduction of the Russian ruble and continued to pay in Ukrainian hryvnia, she reports.
Alyona Lapchuk, the widow, has since fled Kherson to a safe place in Ukraine. She firmly believes that the Russian occupiers will one day be driven out of the city. Then Lapchuk wants to return – and set up a bench next to her husband’s grave. “I can talk to him there again,” she says.