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A former Russian military officer who fled his post has described the horrifying moment he witnessed his “crazy” colonel shoot an unarmed Ukrainian under his kneecap for information.

Konstantin Yefremov, a former Russian military officer who was placed in temporary charge of a rifle platoon, headed to Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhya region three days after the Russian invasion on February 24.

Having tried to flee his post and issue a formal resignation, he was told by a military lawyer while on his way back to his base in Chechnya that he should turn back and rejoin his troops in the southern occupied territories.

He told the BBC that after he had told his colonel that he was going to resign, “he had promised to put me in prison for up to 10 years for desertion and he’d alerted the police”.

After moving to a “logistics headquarters” in April last year, in the town of Bilmak 90 miles northeast of Melitopol, Yefremov recounted terrifying stories of his colonel torturing Ukrainians.

He said: “One of [the Ukrainians] admitted to being a sniper. On hearing this, the Russian colonel lost his mind. He hit him, he pulled the Ukrainian’s trousers down and asked if he was married.

“’Yes,’ the prisoner replied. ‘Then someone bring me a mop,’ said the colonel. ‘We’ll turn you into a girl and send your wife the video.’”

Yefremov reported that, in another interrogation, the colonel shot a prisoner in the arm and in the right leg under the knee, which hit the bone.

The victim was in serious risk of bleeding out so Yefremov and some fellow Russian soldiers took him to hospital.

He said: “We dressed him up in a Russian uniform and took him to hospital. We told him: ‘Don’t say you’re a Ukrainian prisoner of war, because either the doctors will refuse to treat you, or the injured Russian soldiers will hear and shoot you and we won’t be able to stop them.’”

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