Oleksander’s restless pale blue eyes speak as loudly as his words. He is on edge, and with good reason, as he returns to the jail in the newly liberated city of Kherson where he says Russian guards beat him daily.
We pass cell blocks and rusting outdoor exercise cages, move through guard rooms, turnstiles and heavy iron doors, and travel along fences topped in reams of razor wire in this Soviet-era prison until we reach one of the epicenters of Russia’s brutal occupation of Ukraine.
It’s here, in a dark and rubble-strewn corridor, that Oleksander and another former prisoner who didn’t want to be interviewed say Russian guards executed Ukrainian prisoners for pro-Ukrainian chants or tattoos. CNN is identifying Oleksander only by his first name for security reasons.
As Oleksander pushes on a solid, red iron cell door at the end of the corridor, burning wood falls from the ceiling, smoke billows and glowing embers tumble out. The ceiling in this part of the cell block is alight and burning timbers are crashing down.
That’s where the Russian troops brought people for torture, Oleksander tells us. After the Russians withdrew from Kherson “they set fire [to] it to destroy evidence of their crimes,” he says. It is impossible to enter to check it out, due to the flames.