“It was dangerous to go near them,” said Andrew Kirsanov, a computer programming student. “You never knew what was inside their minds.”
Ms. Samofalova, the salesperson, said that one night in August, Russian soldiers pounced on a group of female nurses and doctors and some men who happened to be sitting near them. Their offense: singing patriotic songs on Kherson’s main square, on Ukraine’s independence day. She said she later learned that the group had been brought to “an underground prison” — several other residents used the same words, “underground prison,” to describe where they or their loved ones had been taken.
Apparently the Russians had set up a network of them, using Kherson’s Cold War-era bomb shelters as torture sites. Ms. Samofalova said that she had spoken to the victims herself after their release and that Russian soldiers slammed their rifle butts into the women’s breasts and kept them in custody for 10 days.
Ms. Naumova said her jailers had locked her in a drab, windowless room vacant of anything but two chairs. A Russian officer stood in front of her and barked: “Who is your network?”
“Where did you get the money?”
“Who is working with you?”
Then he pulled back his arm, she said, and slapped her in the face.
“I was scared they were going to kill me,” she said. “I’m a good actress, so I decided to play the role of an emotional and not very smart girl. I was crying all the time, pretending to be weak. If I behaved as a hero, I would have been dead, very quickly.”
One of her friends, a lean man in his mid 40s, gave her a big hug as she told her story in the sunshine of the main square. “This is a beautiful woman with a great spirit,” said the man, Oleksandr.