Thanks to occasional media reports
and information from human rights organizations, the world is partly aware of the existence
of many hostages who were kidnapped by illegal militia in the occupied east of Ukraine. I am not going to get into the gruesome details of the treatment and
tortures inflicted to the hostages since nothing could be more
shocking than the story of Irina Dovgan published in The New York Times. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. The
stories I want to tell you, about a doctor and a student, will illustrate some traits
of the "captivity policy" of Eastern Ukrainian terrorists.
The exact number of hostages is unknown. Even the number of them who have been released differs across the data of different Ukrainian officials. Unlike during Euromaidan, there is no list of the people detained. In Crimea, the situation with the missing and detained persons is more or less clear. However, in Donbas there is total chaos. It is assumed that there is no single central decision authority in Donbas which manages such "details" as detaining hostages. Although the so called Ukrainian Crisis is widely considered as a special operation of the Russian Federation, there are numerous uncontrolled armed gangs acting in the Donbass region. They kidnap, detain, torture and even kill hostages. They are not waiting for any central authority to tell them “torture” or “don’t torture”.
In the basements of many administrative buildings, terrorists keep not only militarians, but civilians as well. There are several types of hostages: war prisoners, political prisoners, hostages for ransom. It can come as a surprise, but gunmen even lock up their own accomplices, for so-called disciplinary violations which, needless to say, are not defined by any clear criterias.
In many cases, relatives of civilian hostages have to arrange on their own for their release. For example, we will see that the girlfriend of our second hero looked for him all over the detention places in Donetsk. There are 10 “official” institutions of detention in the war-torn city, but the real number of places where hostages are kept and tortured is higher.
Here are the stories.
Alexander Chernov, 1976, Yenakiyevo, doctor
On April 7th, when “green men”, who looked much like Russian military Special Forces, appeared in the cities of the Donbas region. The building of the Executive Committee of Yenakievo (the home city of Ukrainian former dictator Viktor Yanukovych) was captured by so-called separatists. At the time, the pro-Ukrainian community had organised a small activist group of a few dozen men, trying to organise peaceful resistance. They drew graffities in the colours of the national flag on the city walls, and they organised peaceful assemblies. Alexander Chernov was the “main writer” of the group. This was an important position as the local pro-Ukrainian internet media had to suspend their activity after threats from unknown people to the editors.
Alexander (an anesthesiologist, a writer and a blogger) was kidnapped on the 26th of June in downtown Yenakievo. He insists that his kidnapping was due to him being a journalist for “Ostrov”, a local pro-Ukrainian Russian language web-site. He is sure about this because long before the actual kidnapping, he had received threats due to his journalistic work. “Unidentified persons” came regularly to the hospital where he worked, and he received dozens of threatening calls.
On the day when the doctor was kidnapped, three masked armed men jumped out from a car in the middle of the street, twisted his hands, covered his head and threw him into the car. “They knew me, they called me by my surname, and they knew where I live. I was shocked, of course, but on the other hand, I was suspecting it might happen,” Alexander says.
First they took him to one of the depots, where they beat him for an hour. They threatened to murder him, but instead of that, he was thrown into a bus and transferred to Slovyansk, the infamous centre of “Donetsk People’s Republic’s” hostage detention. Alexander was “lucky” to see and be interrogated by Girkin himself - one of the main commanders of the “DPR” terrorists, a former GRU officer, known for his previous activity in Chechnya and Transnistria. The doctor-anesthesiologist was accused of “pro-Ukrainian propaganda” and of “failure to provide medical care to some of his patients”. It was nonsense, as Alexander says, but this is a common way for “DPR prosecutors” to accuse people. Alexander recalls: “Girkin hit me a few times and announced the verdict: “to dig the trenches”. Immediately I was taken to Cherevkovka near Slovyansk, where I spent about 4 days.”
At first, he was placed in a hole in the ground with his hands tied behind his back. He got comparatively soft punishment and became simply a “common” member of the penal battalion. However, one day, Alexander was beaten by an old policeman from Melitopol who had joined the “DPR”. He kicked him in the face and hurt him with a projectile fragment. Meanwhile, the situation on the battlefield has becoming more and more uncertain for the terrorists. “There were shellings two-three times a day. Something was blowing up around us constantly, - describes Alexander. - Gunmen were shooting all the time in the direction of the Karachun Mountain with large-caliber mortar. They didn’t have the “Grads” yet at that moment.”
Eventually, Alexander was assigned as a doctor at one of the "DPR" checkpoints close to the frontline – it is a well-known fact that the terrorists lack qualified medical personnel. That was not the worst thing that could have happened to him, but it lasted only for one day. “Suddenly we were lined up, the commander said that Russia had refused to provide military assistance and now had to retreat. They called it relocation, but in a fact it was a night of escape.” All of the people from the checkpoint were put in the tracks. “Shell fragments whistled over our heads. One of the gunmen dropped out from a vehicle, but nobody insisted on saving him. The main goal was to escape.”
They went through Konstantinovka to Donetsk, where Alexander grabbed the moment and managed to disappear in the crowd and escape.
Alexander talks a lot about the people he met while in captivity. There was, among others, a student from Moscow "who came to defend the “Russian idea”". Alexander describes him as a fanatic of the “Russian World”. He intended to drop out of university and continue his “holy war”. In the “penal battalion”, Alexander met people arrested for scuffling, murdering a colleague during a drunken brawl, boorishness towards the commander. There were some, mostly businessmen, who were forсed to pay a ransom for their release. For a few hours he stayed in a cell with a policemen and a "mad man" - a fisherman accused of spying. There was also a Russian officer who was not trying to hide the fact, and said, pointing at the phone: “I am Russian military, no one can guide me, I get direct orders”.
In each place Alexander would get a different nickname. First they called him “ideological”, which was a kind of stigma. Later, he became “Nazi”, and when he became a doctor he began to be called "docent". To understand what those names really mean, you would need to have a deep knowledge of soviet labour camps.
Alexander wants to go back to his city, but this is impossible right now. When we spoke to him about month ago, he was quite skeptical about the future of Donbas. And I am afraid his suspicions will materialize.
The story of V, a 20 year student who was kidnapped by the DPR militants, will we published soon. Keep following One Europe to read the second part of the article.
Edited by: Izabella Lobinska