• Petro Titenko said he was tortured over the course of three days after he was caught breaking curfew on March 18
  • He claimed he was beaten, forced to breathe in the engine fumes of a tank and shot over the head as well at the feet
  • Titenko, who was later released, left for the west with his family upon returning home

A 45-year-old Ukrainian man has claimed that Russian and Chechen soldiers tortured him for days after he was caught breaking curfew and accused of working for Ukraine's military.

Petro Titenko, his wife Yulia, his 21-year-old son and his 15-year-old daughter were forced to move from central Borodyanka to the outskirts of the Ukrainian town of Druzhnya on Feb. 26 after a shell blew away the roof of their home, The Guardian reported. The couple hunkered down day and night in their cellar in Druzhnya as they were aware that civilians outside were being killed.

Titenko decided to try to slip out after curfew on March 18 to check on his brother less than 3 miles away, but he was caught halfway through by Russian soldiers who emerged from the woods with machine guns. He said the soldiers accused him of giving Russian locations away to the Ukrainian army.

Titenko told The Guardian that he had his hands tied behind his back and a sack was placed over his head before he was taken into the woods and tied with rope to the back of a tank. The soldiers then allegedly turned the tank on so Titenko would breathe in the fumes from the vehicle's exhaust pipe for 30 minutes.

The soldiers then left Titenko there all night in the freezing cold, he claimed. The Russians returned the next morning with a second prisoner, who revealed information to the soldiers in an apparent effort to save his own life, Titenko alleged.

"He was saying a rocket flew from there, an artillery installation was installed there. They told him it was valuable information and that they would release him," Titenko said.

Both Titenko and the second prisoner were loaded on top of a tank and driven for an hour. Titenko overheard two of his captors having a conversation at one point.

"Did you bring prisoners again?" one of the soldiers said, according to Titenko, to which the other replied, "I’m tired of burying them in the ground."

The Ukrainian father said he was forced to lie on the mud for about four hours. He was then lifted to his feet and kicked down the side of what he discovered was a pit.

"You do not want to add anything to your words?" asked a soldier, whose accent Titenko recognized as Chechen.

Titenko asked to be allowed to pray as he heard the rack being pulled on the soldier's machine gun. "At that point, I was sure I would be killed and buried. And my wife and my children will never know where I died. At that moment, I asked God: let me get through this," Titenko said.

Titenko said he was left to lie in the pit with the second prisoner for another three hours before he was taken to be fed a small bowl of porridge. He was then pushed into the back of a truck and had a sack placed over his head again.

The soldiers later allowed Titenko to take off his sack. He discovered that he was in a cottage and that it was nearly 6 p.m. on the second day of his captivity.

His fellow prisoner had decided to flee through the woods, while Titenko stayed in the house. More Russian soldiers entered, and Titenko was tied up and had a sack forced over his head.

"I was interrogated all night. They wanted to know if I was a spy for the Ukrainian army. They took all my documents, passport, car documents, driver’s license," Titenko claimed.

Titenko, while blinded, was then driven to a place where he claimed there were evidently other prisoners. He and the other prisoners would end up being beaten, with Titenko experiencing the abuse for around 15 to 20 minutes. A machine gun was also fired over Titenko's head and at his feet, he alleged.

The soldiers allegedly shouted that the prisoners were Nazis or "a Bandera." The latter is in reference to Stepan Bandera, the late right-wing Ukrainian ultranationalist. They later searched the prisoners, and something "suspicious" was reportedly found in one man's pockets.

"He was taken out and I never saw him again," said Titenko, who further claimed that the prisoner he was with earlier had also been recaptured and then taken out after he "kept saying a lot of different nonsense."

Titenko and the other prisoners, who were cold, hungry and terrified of what more was to come, were loaded into a truck the next morning and taken away. They were then dropped off near Ozera, a village located about 20 miles from Titenko's home.

Titenko said he had to go back to his family without any of his documents. He had to kneel down and lower his head about 25 times on his way to avoid seeing Russian military equipment. "If I didn't, I would get shot in the head," he said.

Titenko and his family decided to leave after he returned. They reportedly passed through a mined road to reach the west.

A man, who says Russian soldiers broke his arm, stands outside his house, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Bucha, in Kyiv region, Ukraine, April 6, 2022.
A man, who says Russian soldiers broke his arm, stands outside his house, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Bucha, in Kyiv region, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. Reuters / ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS