STORY: “When you have a bag on your head and you’re being beaten, there is such a vacuum, you cannot breathe, you cannot do anything, you cannot defend yourself. When they started to pull out my fingernails one pain grew into another. I had only one wish..."
That wish, Oksana Minenko says, was to die and join her husband, a Ukrainian soldier lost in combat on the first day of Russia's invasion.
Her captors had forced her to remove her clothes, she says, and beat her face so badly that it required plastic surgery. At one point they put her hands in boiling water.
Reuters couldn't verify her story although allegations of torture by Russian troops against civilians in Ukraine are widespread.
Moscow has always denied that its military targets civilians or has committed war crimes there.
But now, Ukrainian prosecutors have shared exclusively with Reuters the most comprehensive numbers yet on the scale of these allegations in one particular area: the region of Kherson that was formerly occupied by Russian forces.
-10 sites identified so far for what prosecutors call unlawful detentions.
-200 people allegedly tortured or physically assaulted at those sites.
-400 detained there.
-540 civilians are said to be missing.
Of 50,000 reports of war crimes nationwide, 7,700 come from the Kherson region.
Andriy Kovalenko is Kherson's chief war crimes prosecutor.
"The most common types of torture were electric shocks, applying electric wires to genitals, ears, pouring water on people. This was done systematically, exhaustingly in order to obtain statements the occupiers required. Batons, wooden sticks were used to beat people. We also found gas masks that were used to suffocate people.”
Reuters has been visiting the alleged torture sites. One, in the basement of an office building in Kherson has etchings on the walls from prisoners. The smell of human feces fills the air.
These tally marks are believed to count the days. These are prayers to God for salvation. This one simply reads, "For her I live."
Minenko, the accountant, says she believes she was targeted because of her husband's military service.
Men in Russian uniforms showed up at his grave site, she says, and staged a mock execution of her -- firing bullets by her head. They also dragged her from her house in the night three times for the beatings.
"I did not lose consciousness, they did not rape me but at this stage I was like a raw meat, one might say I was a living corpse.”
Both the Kremlin and Russia's defense ministry didn't respond to Reuters' questions for this report.