During the full-scale invasion of the russian federation, many Ukrainians faced physical, psychological, and even sexual violence from the russian invaders. Most of the violence cases were recorded in the temporarily occupied territories and in russian prisons, and the victims of the invaders were both servicemen and civilians.
“Odesa Life” spoke about the kind of violence Ukrainians encountered in captivity with serviceman Dmytro Rashkevych and Rector of the Odesa Holy Trinity Church of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, chaplain Father Vasyl Vyrozub. Here is what they said.
Father Vasyl Vyrozub, Rector of the Odesa Holy Trinity Church of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, a chaplain:
– God blessed me to return home today after 70 days of captivity.
On February 25, the Captain 1st rank of the Navy called me at around eight o’clock and asked me if I could go to Zmiiny Island to recover the bodies of 13 border guards, our killed boys, our children, and also evacuate two more civilians – lighthouse keepers. I definitely agreed and said that of course I would go there. At the briefing, I was told not to behave provocatively because an inspection group of russian sailors might come. And so it happened. An inspection group of the russian federation boarded the ship and we can say that at that moment we were all already arrested.
I was kept in Sevastopol for 11 days, interrogated for 2 to 3 hours, and there were 3 to 4 interrogations per day. But we were not beaten there. The beatings and torture began when we were transported by plane from Crimea to russia, to the town of Shebekino located in the Belgorod Oblast. A filtration camp made of tents was set up there.
In Shebekino, we were harassed by dogs. While we were going for a walk, the guards tried to make that dog bite us on the legs or hands. A favourite pastime of the russian fascists was to stretch us. Two of them stood up (one on the left and the other on the right), twisted my arms and stretched my legs making me do the splits, and the third fascist beat me on my kidneys.
One of the investigators saw that I had photos on my phone where I was standing somewhere near a general or near the Navy. Especially when they saw a photo of me standing next to Yarosh, which was worse than Yarosh’s business card. It was like a cherry on top of a cake. After that, they started beating me very hard, actually torturing me.
But the hell due to torture began when we were transferred to SIZO No. 2 in Stary Oskol. There, they beat for the sake of beating, tortured for the sake of torturing. During the interrogation, one of the torturers kept his hand behind his back and stuck a needle under his fingernails, saying: “Tell me. You will tell us what we need”.
There was a prison cell called “Rubber”. This was a room about 2.5 x 4 meters. It was all covered with rough rubber. There was no toilet or water tap. Nothing. Just a room, a basement. They stripped you naked and left you there for 3 to 4 days. I survived for 4 days. I had no sleep, no food, and no water in the cold cell. So, during captivity, I lost more than 15 kg.
On the first day in this cell, my heels didn’t just hurt from the cold; they just burnt. On the second day, I was already standing on my knees, trying to keep warm. When I fell asleep, I fell. I got up because it was cold. And this lasted for 4 days. On the 4th day, the delirium began … To be honest, I crossed myself and asked the Lord: “Lord, accept my soul”, because I thought that was my end …
There on the wall, I saw crosses drawn: someone was kept there and marked the days he or she spent in the cell. This child stayed there for 8 days.
Not only servicemen were in captivity with us. There were more than 20 civilians – that’s what I personally saw. People were taken captive for no reason. One man was captured just because he had a good car – a jeep – and they wanted to take that jeep away. One of the captives was homeless Yurik. A man in Mariupol was simply taken from the street.
When we were exchanged, our women, our servicewomen, and not only military, but also civilian women, were with us. Some girls told each other about the abuse. It is probably easier for men to survive these tortures, but the way they tortured our girls, it was … Everything was there: they were beaten, just like men, and tortured, just like us – with electric shocks and dogs. But they were also raped.
Russian fascists are not humans, it’s a horde. This should be shouted to the whole world, so that the whole world hears what evil and Satanism we are fighting against.
While in captivity, we even came up with the following command: “Get up to pray!” All of us – we were 22 captives – we all got up together and recited the Lord’s Prayer [Our Father]. And because we prayed in the Ukrainian language there, in those casemates, we prayed for the victory of the Ukrainian army, this nation cannot be broken!
When we were transported to be exchanged, we did not know where we were going. But when I saw the Ukrainian flag, tears began to flow from my eyes. When our doctor said “Glory to Ukraine”, there was a lump in my throat … Definitely Glory, Glory to Ukraine!
You know, I am glad that I am at home, but I feel so much sadness and pain in my heart because our children are still there, and they continue to endure those insults and those tortures.
When you go back home, you probably analyse those events more and better understand that you might not have survived. It’s a big scar. And after the Victory, this war will still be a great burden for us because our nation will be crippled: crippled physically, morally, and spiritually.
But God is with us! He let us experience it probably so that we understand who we are, and what kind of people we are. It’s not just that we are “khokhly” as they say. We are the children of the sun!
Dmytro Rashkevych, a serviceman:
– I was in captivity in Berdiansk for 4.5 months and another month in Sevastopol. My fellow soldiers who stayed in Primorsk were captured on April 26-27: military vehicles arrived there, russian federation troops arrived there – it was a raid. My friends called me in the morning. As it turned out, it was done under torture. I realized later that they were forced to do it. They called me and said they needed my help. I appointed a place where we would meet and at about six o’clock I came to pick them up. But it turned out to be a trap. This is how I was captured.
I was taken to the Berdiansk police station blindfolded, handcuffed, and chained to an iron chair. At first, they tried to shock me with a stun gun, but it didn’t have the effect the russian fascists expected, so they started dousing me with water and attaching electric cables. They also put a bag on my head and strangled me. I lost consciousness several times, and when I came to, I realized that my nose had been broken or a tooth had been knocked out. In this way they tried to check whether I was pretending or not.
I remember well how the torturers talked about “their guys who came from Ukraine without testicles, with their genitals cut off.” I was blindfolded and could not see what was going on around me. They started pulling my trousers off, started screwing something down… I thought it was a device to prevent me from bleeding when they would cut everything off. Well, then they used electric shock and I thought that everything was not so bad. I survived the electric shock, but I don’t know if I would survive castration…. This was terrible.
After the first interrogation, I was taken into a cell and left alone. As they said, “Well, have fun for now.” Then they opened my phone and saw photos of me in uniform and other moments from my military life. At that time, I realized that there was no point in evading the answers.
Then I was sent to prison. I met my boys there. To be more precise, I did not meet them; I just knew that they were there. We all had separate cells and I could only hear voices. I heard that someone was somewhere and I could hear yells all the time. They started around 12 o’clock and ended before lunch, and then in the afternoon yells could still be heard for maybe an hour or two.
There was a servicewoman – I did not know her. I never saw her, but I heard her being raped … I could hear her for about 3 days, and then … I didn’t hear her again. I hope that she is alive and has survived this captivity, that she is fine.
One day we were taken blindfolded to a room. I don’t know how many of us were there, maybe 10. I think there were 10 people. The captives began to be taken out one by one, and the rest could hear an explosion and a shot. So they took away one captive, then another one. When it was my turn, I had already put up with everything. I had no doubt that those were executions.
There was a very strong smell of chlorine in that room. I thought that there was this smell of chlorine to suppress the smell of dead bodies. When I entered this room, I was already dead: inside I no longer doubted that I was dead. It’s just that it was only necessary to take this last step and then fall.
But the russian fascists simply threw, as I understand it, some kind of an explosive package or firecracker at my feet. “Bang” and that’s it, they took me out through another door back to the cell.
After that, I didn’t even think about death.
When I first got to that prison, I went into a cell in which there were five captives. One of those captives was a 73-year-old man. For the first time, I saw a man completely transformed into a bruise: only his face was alive. His arm was knocked out of the joint in his shoulder, and he could not walk, could not breathe. When he sneezed, it was the worst thing for him because his ribs had been broken. We helped him as best we could and then he began to recover. A very strong man, very strong!
There was also a “criminal authority” – that’s what the torturers called him. He was a civilian, too. He was tortured in a different way. They beat him on his joints: knees, ankles, and elbows. They hit only there, and his joints swelled up very much. We cut up all the clothes he was wearing because his trousers were squeezing his calves, and his sleeves were squeezing his wrists. After one of the tortures, he came back with a huge dent right on his forehead. I saw this for the first time in my life…
This is what these animals did.
I understand the hatred during combat, and I understand the hatred of an enemy holding a weapon, but this hatred is not permanent, it goes away at some point. But the russian fascists consider this like their normal job: the come, work during a shift, and disassemble a chicken carcass – that is, with their faces being completely calm.
I kept a journal every day because I had a ballpoint pen and received 6 spreadsheets for drawing (large checked notebooks). Every day I tried to write at least 1-2 lines about how I felt that day, and what I hoped for. These letters were mainly dedicated to my beloved, my mother.
In captivity I did not feel fear, but when I returned, I did. I thought: “What will happen next? What to do next?” I understood that I was waited for and that I was loved. And how to behave with my relatives? I love too, I’m alive too. But how to behave like this?
Strangers didn’t smile at me for half a year, I got used to the fact that everyone hated me. The first time I saw a stranger smile at me was when I was in a rehabilitation centre.
I really want to return to the army. I have a friend, my best friend; he was wounded and this wound prevents him from returning to the service, even though he really wants to. And it may sound bad, but I was not wounded like him and I can fight. And I’ll do it for the two of us.”
Prepared under the auspices of the Association “Independent Regional Publishers of Ukraine” as part of the implementation of the grant project “The Women in News with WAN-IFRA”.
The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the partners.
Authors: Tetiana Siarova, Victoria Chabanova, Vira Korolchenko, Ihor Kazanzhy