227 Ukrainians Held Captive in Donbas
According to officials, 227 Ukrainians are still held captive in the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine. Human rights groups say the number might be as high as 300
“I was called by the so-called Don Cossacks and they said that he was captured. It is hard for me to think about it. It was such a shock. When they gave the phone to Bohdan, he confirmed that he was captured,” wife of a prisoner of war, Viktoriya Pantiushenko, said.
Yet, while the prisoners on Russian territory and the territory of the occupied Crimea are recognized as such and have at least some rights – Ukrainian soldiers who were captured by pro-Russian militants have no rights or means to communicate with relatives or lawyers. Quite often, they are tortured and are under threat of being killed.
“Recently we have made a decision to shoot captives,” says Cossack according to the video.
For several months after that, Viktoria did not know what happened to her husband. Even now she has no means to send him letters. The last time she heard Bohdan’s voice was back in 2017. She’s been sending small packages to him through the Red Cross and a volunteer, who is allowed to visit the area.
In a video published by Russian propaganda almost half a year ago, Bohdan asks the so-called ombudsman to help with correspondence. The issue is still unresolved.
“You know, for almost five years I’ve been imagining this meeting in detail and it has never happened. Then you detach from it, but it takes a long time. So now I am not preparing to meet him. I hope it comes suddenly, that I’ll simply see him, embrace him and say nothing,” Viktoriya said.
The last big prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the pseudo republics supported by Russia took place in December 2017. Oleksiy Kodman was one of the prisoners who returned home.
“We had an assignment to cover combat engineers. We stumbled upon an enemy group and were captured. They used us as forced labor; we did menial labor. Fortunately, if you can even say that, we were lucky that they treated us in a humane way,” released prisoner of war Oleksiy Kodman said.
Oleksiy says that he still has trouble remembering those two years behind bars. He says that mentally he will not be able to return from captivity for a long time. He still has nightmares of being behind bars.
“For prisoners, it is really important to know that they are not forgotten by the country they went to defend. Of course, relatives remember. But It is important to sense that you are remembered by society as a whole,” Kodman said.
The next prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the pseudo-republics might happen by the end of the year. Negotiations on a possible date may be held in Minsk on September 18, 2019.