Russian tourist attacked, tortured in Abkhazia
Russian tourist tortured in Abkhazia
The story of Artem Russkikh from St. Petersburg who came to Abkhazia on vacation but was captured and tortured by local police who mistook him for a drug dealer surfaced after local Telegram channels reported it.
Artyom Russkikh was beaten, hung from a tree, and drowned in the river. Then the police officers took him to the Russian border and set him free after telling him to never come back to Abkhazia.
The incident sparked a wave of outrage on social media, and practically no one questions Artyom’s story, since there are plenty of cases when the Abkhaz police used torture to obtain testimony, often with lethal outcomes. fatal
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Abkhazia has already launched a probe into the Artyom Russkikh case.
Abkhazia reopened its borders to Russian tourists on August 1 last year. The current tourist season has already begun and Abkhazia expects to receive at least one and a half million tourists this summer.
Russian Mediazona news website has published the details of the incident in Abkhazia.
For the last four years, 28-year-old Artem Russkikh has been working as a systems engineer in one of the data centers in St. Petersburg. His 30-year-old wife Daria Morozova is an artist.
Russkikh and Morozova say that they love to travel. In the spring of 2021, the couple finally planned a trip to Georgia but the lockdown was not yet canceled there, and the tickets were expensive.
The couple then decided to travel to Abkhazia instead, and their friend Polina Salmina also decided to join them.
They arrived at Sochi airport on April 5 and 6 and were supposed to return on April 14.
After crossing the border, they bought one SIM card to share among all three of them at the bus station and took a minibus to Gagra. Having checked in the Black Sea Cottages guesthouses on the Black Sea coast, Artyom, Daria, and Polina went for a walk. Since Artem marked interesting sights on his phone, the group decided to entrust him with the SIM card.
In the evening, they went to the store to buy some wine, chatted with other visitors, and exchanged contacts with the Russian woman called Ekaterina Glazkova.
The next morning, three young people were planning to visit mountain lakes and walk from Ritsa to Malaya Ritsa. The guesthouse staff warned them that there was still snow in those places and it was unsafe to walk, so Artyom, Daria, and Polina then decided to visit the closest mountain to Gagra – Mamdzyshkha and walk along the 30-kilometer serpentine equipped with observation platforms at different levels.
Hiking to Mamdzyshkha would take several hours, so the residents of St. Petersburg called a taxi and asked the driver to stop near the observation platform. They wandered through the forest, took some pictures, and went down to another platform, located below the slope. The entire walk took several hours, and it was getting dark already.
Just below the second platform, young people saw an old Greek cemetery with the ruins of the Church of St. George. The girls offered to walk there, however, Artyom with a backpack on his shoulders was tired and did not want to go with them, so he stayed behind and scrolled through social media instead.
At some point, Artyom started getting worried as his friends had been absent for a long time. Then Artyom went to the cemetery, sat on the old steps, flipped through the phone a little more, and, without waiting for his companions, began to walk the cemetery. According to Daria, at the same time, she and Polina walked around the cemetery and calling Artyom, but they could not find him.
Realizing that they missed each other, Artyom returned to the road and began to descend from the mountain. Five minutes later, a car stopped next to him, and two men in civilian clothes came out. They showed the files of the criminal investigation department of the Abkhazian police, asked Artyom to show his passport, and demanded to explain what he was doing there. Artyom was then pulled into the car which started moving up the hill. Along the way, the third man in civilian clothes ran out of the forest and got into the car. Judging by his tone, Artyom assumed that he was a higher-ranking officer.
At first, the police asked simple questions – who he was, what he was doing there, how did he get there. Another car was waiting near the second observation platfrom. Artyom was transfered into it – and the conversation became completely different. The police demanded a password from his phone.
“At first I was reluctant. I asked on what basis they were taking me in, where they were taking me. But they began to speak sharply, they only said that I would be taken to the department, where they would check my passport. They said that they had a special operation going on, but they did not say what kind of an operation it was.. They went on Telegram, looked at pictures there, searched for words like “weed”, “smoking”, “drugs”. I’ve tried weed before, in St. Petersburg, so the word search did give them some results. Then they began to look through the searches on the map apps, looked for coordinates, but did not find anything”, Artyom recalls.
He was brought to the Department of Internal Affairs in the city of Gagra. At the counter on duty, the militiamen checked all of Artyom’s things – in the absence of attesting witnesses and without filling out the protocols. Then the tourist was put in a cage for detainees, where he spent several hours.
Meanwhile, Artyom’s companions left without any means of communication, made their way to the hotel on foot. After charging her phone, Daria went on the Locator app [application for finding people by phone numbers] and found Artyom’s iPhone at the address of the local police department, where she and Polina also traveled on foot.
“We went in and told them that we lost our friend in mountains, told them what his name was and asked what we should do next. They said that they have him and asked him to wait for 15 minutes. Through the glass of the front desk, I saw his backpack.
The girls sat down on the steps of the department and started talking about what could have happened, thinking that he could have been detained for drinking alcohol in a public place which is prohibited in Abkhazia, and Artyom had a bottle of wine with him. After 20 minutes they tried to go to the police station again, but this time they were not allowed in. Then Polina and Daria saw Ekaterina Glazkova passing by, whom they had met the day before. Ekaterina then said that no one is ever are detained for drinking alcohol in a public place in Abkhazia.
“She started asking us questions, and we told her cheerfully that now, we now know that he was not taken by bandits, it was the police so they will ask him a few questions and let him go. Ekaterina, in turn, got really nervous and started talking about corruption, about bad cops – she is a little older than us and took everything seriously. Then she went inside, talked to the policeman. She was told that Artyom would come out soon after filling out some papers. While we were waiting, one employee came out to us and nicely explained that there was a special operation going on, and Artyom just happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, that he was just unlucky and that he would soon be released – and he was, indeed”, says Daria.
At about 23:00, Artyom got his phone, backpack, and passport back. He came out of the police station, and, happy that their troubles were over, three young people said goodbye Ekaterina started walking towards their hotel.
Five minutes later, a car caught up with them. Inside were the same policemen who had detained Artyom on the mountain road.
Artyom was once again put in the car, and the girls were told that he had one more paper to sign. Daria and Polina were ordered to walk, and one of the policemen accompanied them.
Artyom recalls that in the Department of Internal Affairs, he was again put in a cage – for about 15 minutes, and then taken to the office on the top floor. Men in civilian clothes were waiting for him there. Only one man with a Slavic appearance was wearing a uniform and everyone addressed him as “major.” He asked the resident Artyom when he entered Abkhazia, how many times he had already been there and what happened to him in Russia a year and a half ago.
“They kept emphasizing that something happened to me a year and a half ago, they said that they knew that I was deceiving them. But I had no idea what they were talking about, I have never had any problems. I had no idea what all of this was about” says Artyom.
Then Artyom was taken for a search in the guesthouse. The policemen took the keys from Daria, who, together with Polina, was asked the same questions in the next room. Having carefully examined the contents of the bags with flashlights, as the electricity went off during the search, the policemen were only interested in Polina’s paper diary, but they did not find anything interesting there either.
The friends themselves, when the light turned off, were transferred to another office. There, a tall man talked to them, whom the rest of the policemen called Maga.
“He kept shining a flashlight from the phone into our eyes, saying that he needs to see them in order to understand whether we are telling the truth or not”, Daria recalls. “He was very surprised by my story about the cemetery – in his opinion, only homeless people or drug addicts go there. We tried to explain why walking in the cemetery is normal, but they all just laughed. It was as if they were trying to catch us telling on some kind of lie all the time, but we only told them what actually happened”.
When Maga left, other policemen took away the girls’ phones and forced them to unblock them. They looked at the photos and messages for a long time – while Artyom, who had heard that the police were mostly interested in Telegram, deleted it in advance, which angered the Abkhaz police even more.
“Then they saw among the photographs, a picture in which Polina was holding a bong (a device for smoking cannabis), and they talking to her about it: “What, do you like pot, do you like to smoke?”, says Daria.
At some point, the police left, taking both phones away and leaving Daria and Polina in the office with two police officers who were more peaceful.
Upon returning from the search, Artyom was taken to another office. There, three or four operatives spoke to him and finally explained what kind of “special operation” they were talking about.
“Admit that you are a dealer, tell me where you left your orders! You and I are still talking calmly, you will tell us everything and we will let you go. I said that I do not know. Then they put me against the wall, hands against the door, and began to beat me on the kidneys from behind. This never happened to me, I started shouting something about a lawyer. There were a lot of blows, at some point I said: “Let me tell you everything calmly”, Artyom recalls.
Artyom then sat down at a table with one of the policemen – the one who came out of the forest on the mountain road (Artyom calls him the most aggressive of his interlocutors, “Wild”) – and began to, describe, in great detail, almost every minute of his trip to Abkhazia.
The “Wild” was dissatisfied with the explanations of the tourist, every now and then he interrupted, twisted the pistol in his hands and promised to call the guys in masks and with truncheons into the office, who were supposedly waiting for the order outside. When Artyom finished his story, the “Wild” said: “You are lying so we will kill you”.
Artyom was handcuffed and put back in the car. He remembered that the lights outside the window were rare, and the road was going up the hill. When the car stopped, Artyom was taken out.
The policemen ordered the young man to kneel down. Someone took out a pistol and began waving it in front of the Artyom. They asked him questions like: “Do you work as a treasure man? Who are you working for? Where are the orders? Where do you hide them?”. The word “methadone” was mentioned several times – this drug appears especially often in the reports of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia. There was a blow for every answer.
“I am on my knees, they knock me to the ground with their feet, they literally drive me into the ground with their blows. They lift me back up by the hair, put me back on my knees, and keep beating me, and this goes on and on. They constantly say: “So many people go missing here in Abkhazia, that no one will find you, even if we kill you”, Artem recalls.
At some point, the “Wild” went inside the unfinished house and picked up a green wire or hose in the bushes. Artyom remembered the color well because the policeman was pointing a flashlight at it. He tied a noose, led Artyom to a tree, threw a wire over a branch about half a meter above the Artyom’s head, and pushed him inside the noose.
“He starts hanging me, the wire goes around my cheekbones, I cannot breathe, my throat is blocked. But this does not last long, I do not lose consciousness. He then continues to ask questions, I try to grab the noose with my hands, but other men beat me on the hands, on the ribs. Everything repeats itself endlessly, and it’s no use because I answer the same thing – that I’m not a dealer, I’m a tourist, I was just walking around the cemetery”, says Artyom.
After being tortured in a vacant lot, Artyom was put back in the car, which later stopped at the bank of a shallow mountain river – later, having studied the map, the Artyom suggested that it was Zhoekvara river. The river was shallow, just a knee-deep – but fast, as the snow was melting in the mountains, and the stream was strong. Artyom’s head was dipped into the water several times. He tried to resist with his hands, but the police kicked him – and everything repeated again.
At some point, “Wild” pulled the young man to the shore, laid him on his back, and began to beat him on the ribs and on the stomach, kneel down on his chest, pinch his mouth and nose, repeating the same questions.
“After that, he grabbed me – lifted me up, put me on my feet, dragged me by the T-shirt into the middle of the river, threw me into the water, and began to hold me under water there. I tried to stick my head out, grab a breath of air. I do not know how long it lasted. Even before that, they threatened me with a pistol, shoved a pistol into my throat – because of this, a chip appeared on my tooth. At some point, pliers appeared – with threats that my teeth would be pulled out. Then they brought a truncheon, they thrust it into my throat, saying things like: “Have you ever put a truncheon in your ass? You will try it now!” Some other dude put a knife under my fingernail. From this hell, I didn’t understand anything, didn’t answer, only asked to stop. At some point, I could not resist and said that I would show everything, begging them not to kill me”, Artyom recalls.
After that, the police threw a blanket and a jacket over him and took him to the observation platform on the mountain – Artem lied that he allegedly hid mephedrone there.
On the observation platform, he led the police to the edge of the forest and pointed his finger at the first bush that he saw. After digging at the roots, they found nothing. Artem recalls that after that he was thrown to the ground and a flurry of blows fell on him – they kicked him in the body and with the palm of his hand in the face.
“I was in so much pain already that I could feel every touch. I begged them to stop, I could no longer endure it all … I remembered that they had threatened me even before that, that if I don’t confess, they would still plant drugs on me, and I would be locked up here for 10-20 years, so I started to shout: “Plant drugs on me, please! Plant them, just please stop, I am begging you!” After a while, they calmed down, began to discuss something among themselves in Abkhaz. In the end, they put me in a car and took me back to the department.
At about six in the morning, the handcuffs were removed from the Artyom. He was taken to the ATC parking lot and put in a car. Daria and Polina were waiting nearby.
The girls told Artem that the Abkhaz policemen behaved much more appropriately with them – they gave them water and let them go to the toilet, but they got really scared when they took them, friends, to different cabinets and tried to persuade them to testify, saying that Artyom had already confessed to everything. Daria suffered a panic attack and, apparently, because of this, the interrogation stopped.
On the way, the eldest of the policemen made it clear to Artyom that he did not believe in his innocence. In the end, the tourists were dropped off at the border, given their belongings, and were sent to walk to the checkpoint, finally advising them never to return to Abkhazia. The frightened young people did not dare to tell the border guards about their experiences.
“Our only goal was to get away from this place, to leave. We planned to go to the police in the city, but then we decided that there was no point in contacting the police, that everyone in the south knew each other. We were in shock, completely out of touch with reality. I was shaking. We could barely walk. It was very tough. We just wanted to get away from there as soon as possible, run, run and run”, says Daria.
Catching the first minibus, they got to Adler and checked into a hotel. Artyom could not go to the hospital right away – as soon as he entered the room, he passed out.
In city hospital #4, Artyom was examined by a whole council of medics, he underwent computed tomography and X-rays several times. Doctors determined that he had a fracture of three ribs on the right side, injury to the right kidney, multiple bruises, abrasions, and bruises on the face and scalp, body, upper limbs, lumbar region, abdominal wall and chest.
Four days after returning from Abkhazia, Artyom turned to the state forensic medical examination bureau. They confirmed the diagnosis of the Sochi doctors. For a little more than a week, Artem was on vacation, and then extended it for several days at his own expense – he had to treat otitis that developed due to icy water that got into his ear and visited a psychotherapist who prescribed antidepressants and tranquilizers for him.
“Since we were at home, in a comfortable environment, among friends, I did not feel so bad. As soon as I went to work, it was a bit hard at first to return back to normal, but it seemed [it was] better. Plus, I have been going to the therapy center for IVs with tranquilizers, and well, the prescribed pills also work”, Artyom says.” The only physical consequence of this experience is a scar on the hand from the handcuffs and the ribs hurt a little if you take a full breath of air. Mentally – if I don’t take tranquilizers trunks and antidepressants, then I suffer from severe anxiety and panic attacks”