We continue a series of articles about Ukrainian captives who survived the horror of detention in the so-called DNR and LNR. Every article is based on a true story obtained by members of PO “Shore of Peace” while recording violations of the human rights in the zone of the military conflict in the east of Ukraine. Communication with liberated captives showed that even close people and relatives do not always know and understand the experience of ex-captives. For this reason we share with you the stories that are usually hushed up. For ethical reasons we will not always tell the real name of our hero. All other data, facts, and conditions will be left without changes. Materials will be published on the site of PO “Shore of Peace” http://mb.net.ua in the section “Memories of the Captive” once a week. Every article will be published only with the consent of the released captive.
Illustrations by Sergey Zakharov.
| The story of Orest is typical for many Armed Forces servicemen who survived captivity. Orest and his comrades were captured in the encirclement. At the end of August, 2014, the facility at which servicemen conducted defense appeared in the epicenter of harsh events. This episode is for sure one of the most terrible in current war – the formation of Ilovaisk Kettle.
The battle continued for five days. Defenders engaged in a firefight with infantry, but they had no weapons against tanks…, so they had to run and hide in dugouts and trenches. The enemy tanks came close. Shelling would not stop.|
| We received no special orders. We watched. – Orest recalls.
When tanks moved closer, we saw they were “T-72” – Russian tanks, we did not have those in service. I saw three tanks in different places…, it was understood that we were encircled and there was not much time left, before we would be broken or captured.|
| To leave or not to leave the trench? The soldiers had no such choice. The commander of enemy tank threatened to make a mass grave on site, so they had to surrender. Soon Orest understood that he was captured by Russian Armed Forces. They called themselves the Pskov Division. The militaries spoke with clear Russian accent, carried Russian guns and enginery, wore Russian uniform with pixelated pattern. A lot of Ukrainian servicemen were captured that day together with Orest. They all were gathered on the cornfield: almost 120 captives.|
| We were escorted from the place of arrest to the cornfield. 20 to 30 minutes walking. We were not tied. I walked barefooted, because they took away my footwear. We walked surrounded by guards, over 30 of them. They did not explain any reasons of our arrest… What reason can be there under the barrel of a gun? Russian militaries asked what we came for. Some brave comrades asked them in response: what they came for, since it is Ukrainian land, not Russian… They got hit in the head for their replies. The guards beat those who engaged in verbal conflict. They kicked in heads, in feet, under the ribs… |
| The captives received no food and no water. A nearby melon field became their salvation.|
| At first they kept us in the field, in several kilometers from Dzerkal’ne village. We sat in corn for three days. Without food, without water. We were lucky that there was a melon field with watermelons nearby. Guards allowed few people to go to a melon field and bring watermelons – this was our food and our drink. We slept on the ground. They allowed us to use brushwood as a toilet, we went there one person at a time, but guards would stand nearby and tell us to remain in sight.|
| In three days there came KamAZes, all detained were packed into trucks and driven away.|
We were driven from the field to the place of detention in three KAMAZes via Russia to Snizhne. KamAZes were tented tightly, it was very hot inside. Some captives fainted; no one provided care for them, except us. We were not given food or water in the journey. They did not even allow us to take watermelons. We drove over four hours. Those who sat closer to the front edge saw that we crossed the Russian border. We drove through fields and marshes. When we got on a normal road, oncoming cars had Russian license plates.
Illustrations by Sergey Zakharov.
| Ukrainian servicemen were delivered to Snizhne, a town in Donetsk region, to the building of former police station. Awful conditions of detention in that place had already been mentioned in one of our previous articles. No living conditions, terrible food, no medical care, disdainful and cruel treatment from guards and jailers… And forced labor as a payment…|
| We went to work. We were divided into groups depending on the kind of work we performed. There were those who went to Snizhne to dismantle demolitions. Chief of that work was called Diadia Fiedia – the manager of public utilities; he was local for sure. It was good to get work with Diadia Fiedia, because there we had good dinner. He always received the largest number of people, he took approximately 60 captives to the town by bus; then they were divided into groups, every group was provided with two guards with guns or carbines. Different groups performed different jobs: dismantled demolitions, inserted windows, sweep and clean the streets…, different jobs.
Once we (seven of us, all from the 51st Mechanized Brigade) were taken away…, to some their wing – six militias – terrorist-separatists, all armed, guided by a chappy, about 30 years old, I saw him once; he brought oxygen for cutting metal. They always said, that we came to their land and forced them to take up arms… We were given to those people, our names listed – they signed to be responsible for us, so they did not have to drive us on site every day…, they kept us for about seven days. We were taken to a nearby village, to a frontier post in 15-20 kilometers from Snizhne, not far from the Russian border. We dwelled in the building of frontier post, we were provided with sleeping pads. There we lived and worked. We drove to cut scrap – burned tanks, different vehicles; there were ruined checkpoints…, we were told those were Ukrainian. We cut, dismantled and loaded everything on a long flatbed KamAZ. We loaded by hands, we had no special devices or uniform. KamAZ was escorted by a car with four militias in it, a driver and a guard sat in the KamAZ, all of them were armed with guns. We worked over eight hours per day; sometimes we were lucky to find some canned food or dry rations on the checkpoints for lunch, sometimes militias brought something to eat – several loafs of bread and several bottles of water. They hurried us all the time, they would not give us extra minute of rest, and we could rest only when they announced a smoke break. We were morally humiliated, sometimes came locals and then they could spit on us, kick us. Once we were loading bricks and I lingered. The skin on my palms had been stripped off, so I could merely hold a brick. An overseer saw me lingering and hit in a back with a rifle butt. |
| Almost every captive was engaged in a force labor, only wounded and seriously ill were freed. Local militias recruited Ukrainian servicemen, enticing them with different benefits…|
| At any work they offered us to stay in the so-called DNR, told us to bring our families there, promised to give apartments, jobs. I told that everything I wanted was to come back to my wife and my child… I was not interested in anything else at that moment… |
| Orest spent over 30 days in detention and he was released through exchange.
Orest was affable, calm and sincere in communication. He did not complain…, he only noted sadly the misunderstanding of people, who used to be the dearest ones for him… He said that after he came back from hell he has no one to share. He does not want to traumatize his wife with sad stories, while his friends prefer to act as if nothing happened and to discuss fishing… Orest felt lonely with family and friends, the pain in his eyes was very noticeable.
Every time, talking to servicemen who survived captivity, I ask myself: why the problem of overcoming the psychological barrier between those who survived the horrors of detention and those who suffered the torment of waiting a dear person to come back out of the war is not discussed in Ukraine? Why we, those who live civilian lives, are not taught to communicate with those who looked death in the face?|