Story #88. How Russians Searched the Homes of Kherson Residents During the Occupation of the City

April 5, 2023
Viktoriia Kirilova, who survived the 8-month occupation of Kherson, described how Russians searched the homes of locals and took people for interrogation. #UkraineWorldTestimony
Photo credit: REUTERS

She said that home searches could be divided into two types:

1. From 9 to 12 armed officers would enter a home. Sometimes they would say they were from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) because they were driving cars with Ukrainian license plates stolen from local residents. Of course, they couldn't have been from the SBU, because the occupiers would have imprisoned or shot any SBU personnel they could get their hands on.

If you were lucky, the hours-long interrogation would take place at your home, says Kirilova. The occupiers would pressure people to collaborate with them and to sign cooperation papers.

If you were unlucky, you were taken out with a bag over your head and disappeared. The fate of many people taken like this remains unknown. Unfortunately, despite the joy of being liberated on the one hand, many Khersonians still have no idea where their relatives and friends are or whether they are even alive.

These raids would usually happen at 5-6 am to catch people by surprise. They seized phones, computers, and absolutely everything that they might find of interest.

2. The second type of searches were conducted by Russia's FSB or the police of the so-called DPR. They would be carried out by 2 or 3 people in civilian clothes with weapons. They were very aggressive and brazen.

Their goal was to extract information about people they couldn't find. Their visits could happen many times and be violent. They would take people for "conversations," and bring people around to places or properties that they were interested in.

If the person they were looking for had managed to leave Kherson, they searched their home to the last detail and turned everything upside down. After that, the occupiers could settle in the apartment themselves.

Viktoriia Kirilova said that one of her most important daily tasks was wiping her phone and computer.

"Could I have ever imagined that I would use spyware, hide absolutely all data, set complex passwords everywhere, and have secret chats? I didn't know that my phone could do so many things. I didn't know that my memory could remember so many passwords. I didn't know that there were so many things to cheat with," Viktoriia explains.

"You can't go to bed without deleting your browser history, because at night you'll hear your door being kicked in and you won't have time to delete anything from your phone. You can't leave home without a clean phone. You can't have specific apps on your phone, especially Signal, Telegram, or Diya. They will be automatically deleted if they are found during a search. You should always remember that your phone isn't yours. Your phone can determine your fate: whether you will return home today or, at best, you will be taken for interrogation," said Kirilova.

Often, young people gave the occupiers old push-button black-and-white phones for inspection. This greatly irritated the Russians and was dangerous, as it could prompt the Russians to search the person more thoroughly.

The Russian invaders came to Viktoriia's home repeatedly and took her for interrogation. They beat her, and she was left with scars both on her body and within.

"When I was being detained and the occupiers started scaring me that they would take me to the basement, my brain thought of terrible things: 'Well, rape - I can cope with that. Torture - depending on the kind of torture, you start to think about which method is the most painful for you. Murder - I don't want to be killed, I want to live a little longer." These were the thoughts of a free person in the 21st century in an independent state," says Kirilova.

Unfortunately, this remains the everyday reality for Ukrainians in the regions still occupied by Russia.

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.