In a rare eyewitness statement from within Moscow’s ranks to confront widespread accusations of Russian war crimes, a former senior Russian army officer claims he witnessed his comrades torturing prisoners of war in Ukraine.

Former Lt. Konstantin Yefremov told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Thursday that he saw a deputy commander sexually assaulting and torturing prisoners of war. He added that no one dared to speak out against the officer for fear that he would attack them as well.

Yefremov added that he had personally watched the questioning of three Ukrainian POWs and claimed, “He could have easily shot me or anyone else who said they didn’t agree with this.”

In addition, he was perpetually intoxicated and driving around the adjacent towns, where other prisoners of war were present. According to what I know, there were perhaps 20 more Ukrainian POWs.

The most senior Russian officer to openly discuss what he seen in Ukraine is Yefremov.

After being expelled from the military for refusing to return to Ukraine, he fled Russia last month and is now pinning his hopes on the United States granting him refuge.

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He continued, “I beg the Ukrainian people’s pardon for coming to their territory with a pistol in my hand.

Yefremov’s statement comes after a former Wagner mercenary admitted earlier this week that the brutality he saw in Ukraine was ultimately what led him to defect.

Andrei Medvedev, who crossed into Norway from Russia and is now looking for asylum, claimed in an exclusive CNN interview that prisoners and reluctance to join the military were shot in front of newcomers to the Wagner family.

The claims made by the ex-combatants from Russia also coincide with escalating calls for Moscow to answer for alleged war crimes committed during its close to a year-long invasion of its neighbor from Ukraine and the international community.

The Hague will house an international center for the prosecution of the “crime of aggression” in Ukraine, according to an announcement made by Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, on Thursday.

Allegations that Russian military committed war crimes in Ukraine have been repeatedly refuted.

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Russian officials reported in November that a goal of 300,000 recruits had been reached as part of a mobilization push initiated by President Vladimir Putin in late September in response to a number of significant defeats for Moscow in the war.

Yefremov detailed the “dire” circumstances under which people who were drafted into the Russian army to fight in Ukraine would find themselves, noting that many of them were unprepared for what would happen to them on the battlefield.

Yefremov called the soldiers “handymen” rather than “servicemen,” adding that they “have not been trained and they are not even aware of what type of horror is awaiting them there.”

According to Yefremov, “almost everyone” in the Russian army is aware that the mission is flawed.

He claimed that they “really do not accept Putin’s phony tales about the invasion threat from Ukraine.”

Instead, he claimed, they are in Ukraine out of necessity. “Either they have to work in the trenches or their family and kids wind up on the streets,” he remarked.

He added that many soldiers cannot quit because they were drafted and risk facing imprisonment. “There is really no other option. They must either stay put or find a way to go. Therefore, as I’ve already indicated, the situation is critical,” he remarked.

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