Laurent BrayardA few days ago we went with Father Theophane to two SBU buildings in Mariupol, where he himself was tortured and witnessed the execution of a man. The first building was the central SBU headquarters in the city, the second the headquarters for the whole of the former Donetsk oblast. We were expecting a rather special day and we were not disappointed by our discoveries, a copy of an American passport, diplomas of SBU officers, various documents that we then handed over to Captain Mikhaïl Popov of the MGB, it was a sort of Alibaba cave. After a long walk, Father Theophane led us into the city centre of Marioupol, the two buildings were very close, the first one was next to the OSCE HQ, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an organisation in reality under American control. Both buildings had been the subject of fierce fighting as the Ukrainians tried to defend themselves, and are largely in ruins. Afterwards, the Russian services came to take possession of everything that the SBU agents had not destroyed, we know that several tons of documents were seized and are being analysed, but in this incredible mess, some interesting pieces had been forgotten. Here is a look back at an investigative mission like no other.
In the cellar of torture and execution. Father Theophane goes in front, there are four of us and three of us have torches. We start with the heart of the matter: the cellars and underground of the SBU headquarters in Mariupol. The first surprise we come across is a copy of a photo of British journalist Graham Phillips. His presence in these places could only mean two things: either a file had been compiled by the SBU against Graham, and he was a designated target. Or this document had been discovered at the home of an unfortunate resistance fighter from the Donbass, confiscated as evidence, and he had been dragged here to be interrogated and tortured. The second surprise is less pleasant, because since the bombing part of the cellars is flooded, we will unfortunately not be able to access the gaols. The building is discreet, a simple four-storey building, in addition to the basement, a DPR flag flies over the ruins. However, we find another staircase and gain access to what Father Theophan points out as the torture room. It runs under a large part of the building and is a complete mess. Dozens of Luger automatic revolver cartridge cases lie on the floor. A large counter is on one side, on the other the Ukrainians had installed a “shooting range”. To block the impacts, a large riddled plate and further reinforced behind it by a large shelf filled with tyres were installed. Father Theophane points out the benches, he was held on one of them to undergo the torture of the funnel, and indicates that he was placed facing the counter in the “firing range”, for mock executions. The SBU agents had fun shooting next to them, all around them, to create fear and soften the will. With his lamp he shows us the bullet holes in the walls, because sometimes there were dangerous ricochets.
A small aspect of the atmosphere in the bunker on 30 April 1945. I don’t have a lamp, so I let my colleagues film and go about exploring the floors. Everything is an indescribable mess. There is no place that has not been ravaged by the fighting, the building has been literally riddled. Progress is sometimes difficult, there is debris on the ground, there is everything. The shoes of SBU employees, secretaries and administrative staff lie here and there. These women came to work wearing street shoes and then put on beautiful heels, a little coquetry of Slavic women that can also be observed in Russia. Everywhere there are destroyed computers, before they ran away or were killed, the SBU agents destroyed a maximum of things, the Russians took the rest. There are safes everywhere, even in the corridors, they have been broken open or emptied, the floor is littered with shredded papers, because the document shredding machines were running 24 hours a day, but it wasn’t enough. There are obsolete artefacts everywhere, often in the colours of Ukraine, mouse pads in the colours of the neo-Nazi party Pravy Sektor, clocks with the Trizub symbol, even coffee machine cups with the same symbols, and then documentation. We will even find ultranationalist newspapers from 2015, displaying the head of neo-Nazi André Biletsky, former head of the Azov battalion. The atmosphere is truly surreal, dozens of bottles of alcohol are lying everywhere, French and Italian wines, champagnes from France and the Crimea, sparkling wines, whisky of all brands, vodkas, empty cartons that contained spirits, all of which makes one imagine a scene very similar to the bunker of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. After hurrying to destroy as many things as possible, documents and hard disks, all these people drank themselves to death… it must be said that they were not to be celebrated, the prospects for them were death, capture and perhaps a court for war crimes and against humanity. In the second building I also find complete uniforms, shoes, trousers and jackets, caps, everything has been thrown away. After examination I understand that the scratches with the names of the officers have been taken away, but not the chevrons and rhesus, they will end up in my trophy collection. I also take the caps and I understand that none of the pieces have been stained with blood. There is only one deduction from this find, these men stripped down to civilian clothes and tried to blend in with the civilian population, in order to flee. We know that the Russians arrested quite a few men during the siege and afterwards, not to mention some who disguised themselves as women. But others, alas, were certainly able to escape the search. It was more than difficult for them to reach the Ukrainian lines more than 100 kilometers away, so some are probably still hidden.
Documents top secret. The second building is much larger, it must be said that it was the headquarters for the whole of the former Donetsk oblast. The place is even more interesting and will reveal some secrets. More official than the first one, it is also totally in ruins, at the north end of the building a hit from a large calibre shell collapsed part of the building. One of the staircases to reach the upper levels is totally destroyed and collapsed, it will be necessary to go by another way. The atmosphere is exactly the same, trunks broken open, computers smashed, massive destruction, documents and debris lying all over the floor, women’s heels and many bottles of alcohol, here too it was the final orgy. On the ground floor we discover a lot of SBU accreditation cards. They are on an old model that was very useful, a leather display, photos and identities, but only the paltry stand remains. The Ukrainians have taken the time to tear off all the photos and information, there are hundreds of them on the ground, not to mention the cards of personnel who have probably retired. Elsewhere, there are dozens of envelopes, often bearing stamps and the notification “Secret”. Here too they are empty, they are letters that were transported by a special service of the SBU, to carry secret documents and send them to various recipients. There is nothing left in the envelopes, the safes are almost all empty, but one has been forgotten. These are secret registers of documents, letters and lists of SBU personnel for Donetsk oblast. There are also documents for the purchase and allocation of flats to SBU agents, with the help of the Ukrainian state. Everything is in a row, birth certificates, bank details, and even photos. It is here that we will find a copy and apostille of an American passport, of a naturalized Ukrainian. Who he was remains a mystery.
Our visit ends, we stayed in these places for several hours, searching the cellars, then the floors, floor by floor, not to mention the technical premises, garages and cesspools, technical warehouses and outbuildings that were behind the two buildings. When we came out, we were both enthusiastic about our discoveries, but we also thought about the victims. How many hundreds, even thousands of people passed through this place? How many were tortured, how many murdered? A resistance fighter had told me how the bodies of the victims were thrown into mine holes or old flooded quarries on the Granitnoe side, some bodies having been reduced to pulp with a car press in carcasses… We leave this infernal place, I would never have honestly thought to see with my own eyes this place that several prisoners had already described to me, like Oleg, Vitali or Father Theophane. In France and in the West, no mainstream media mentioned the torture, illegal arrests, and political assassinations that were committed by the SBU. And yet justice must be done and the truth must be told.