Exclusive-Ukraine man’s torture case against Russians seeks justice in Argentina

By Thomson Reuters Apr 16, 2024 | 12:03 AM

By Adam Jourdan and Stephanie van den Berg

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – A Ukrainian man who alleges he was tortured by Russian occupying forces has filed a legal complaint halfway around the world in Argentina, an unusual bid to seek accountability for alleged war crimes at a time when prosecutors in Kyiv are overwhelmed.

In the filing, reported for the first time, the man accuses one named person, two identified by their call signs or military insignia, and others who are unnamed of using electrocution and unlawful imprisonment as forms of torture in mid to late 2022, the complaint seen by Reuters shows.

The man, who asked not to be identified by Reuters because of fears for his family who are still in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, filed the complaint with the Federal Court in Buenos Aires on Monday against the people who he says tortured him, the officials who ran the detention center in southern Ukraine where he says he was held, and his superior at work who he accuses of facilitating the abuse.

“I was detained at work. Then they tortured me. They used electric shocks,” he told Reuters in an interview in a Buenos Aires apartment ahead of the filing.

“It was incredibly painful, so I lost consciousness. I was lucky to survive. Many people are still there.”

Reuters was unable to independently confirm specifics of the victim’s account.

The Russian defense ministry on Monday declined to comment. Moscow denies committing war crimes in Ukraine and has dismissed previous International Criminal Court war crimes arrest warrants as part of a biased Western campaign to discredit Russia.

The near 70-page legal complaint was shown to Reuters by the man’s legal team and members of Ukraine-based NGO The Reckoning Project who jointly filed the case. It includes purported testimony from other people held in the same detention center that support the allegations as well as United Nations’ experts findings of similar practices of torture at sites, including the one involved.

The complaint says electric cables were attached to the man’s ear and finger to pass a shock through his body. He and others were held in cells 10 meters (32 ft) squared, with 12-20 people per cell, the complaint alleges.

Ibrahim Olabi, chief legal counsel on the case, said the man had been questioned and tortured over some 20 days. He was eventually released without charge and managed to flee to a non-occupied territory of Ukraine, Olabi said.

The man’s legal team asked that details in the filing that could identify the man, the exact location and timing of the alleged events, and the identity of the alleged perpetrators be withheld, citing concerns for the man’s security and the integrity of the proceedings.

The Argentine court now has to decide if it will accept the complaint, which potentially could take months. Until that time, the filing is not made public.


If Argentinian prosecutors accept the complaint it will be the first case looking at alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine filed outside of Europe and the United States.

“Today’s filing is an important historic step. We will do everything in our capacity to assist the Argentine judiciary in their pursuit of truth and justice,” said Yuriy Belousov, head of the war crimes unit in Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office.

He said using what is known as universal jurisdiction was crucial for Ukraine, given a large number of cases relating to alleged war crimes that had created an “unprecedented challenge for our justice system.” Ukraine prosecutors have logged over 126,000 war crimes cases since the February 2022 invasion by Russia, Belousov said.

After landmark trials of the leaders of its former military dictatorship in the 1980s and the early 2000s Argentina turned itself into one of the global leaders in universal jurisdiction.

Applying this principle, prosecutors can bring cases for war crimes and crimes against humanity in other countries even if the victims and perpetrators have no link with Argentina.

“A universal jurisdiction case like this signals to perpetrators that crimes come at a cost, and you will never be able to travel easily again, you won’t be able to cross a border without wondering what will happen on the other side,” said Iva Vukusic, an international law expert at the University of Utrecht.

Last year, a U.N. commission of inquiry found that Russia’s use of torture in areas under their control was widespread and systematic. The U.N. also found a “few cases” of violations committed by Ukrainian forces relating to instances of indiscriminate attacks and ill treatment of Russian detainees.

The experts found that torture was committed mainly in detention centers operated by the Russian authorities and chiefly against people accused of being Ukrainian informants.

Argentina has previously taken on cases from places including Spain, Yemen and Myanmar. Argentine prosecutors have filed arrest warrants, although they have little recourse if the local jurisdictions decline to cooperate.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan in Buenos Aires and Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague, additional reporting by Anastasiia Malenko in Kyiv and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)