The Ukrainians are still detained by the Russians and the separatists

73 Ukrainians returned home from the imprisonment by pro-Russian fighters before the New Year. According to Ukrainian data, over 100 Ukrainians are still being held on the territory of unrecognized republics, but the number may be higher, as more than 400 people were found missing after the combat operations in Donbass. The detainees’ families appeal to the international community for help in the release of the missing ones.

During the meeting with Polish diplomats and journalists at the Polish Embassy in Kiev, the relatives of people who are still being kept by pro-Russian militants in the east of Ukraine introduced themselves:

– I am a mother of Serhiy Ivanchuk, who has been in a one-man prison cell for 11 months. We have no information about him.

– I am a sister of Serhij Chotienov. During his retreat from Debaltseve, he was wounded and caught on February 15, 2015.

There are 103 detained people according to the data of the Security Service of Ukraine. But both experts and the families claim that more Ukrainians are still imprisoned.

– There are witnesses who saw them in places of detention – emphasizes Tetyana Adrusyszyn, Chotienov sister.

Some of those kept by the Russians were meant to be released in December exchange, but they were crossed out from the “list of freedom” by the fighters – such information was given to their families during a meeting with the President Petro Poroshenko on December 26.

– According to the reports of those who returned home, the separatists said that those who remained in captivity guarantee that the second stage of exchange will take place. “We will take those who we need and who stay with you nowadays” – says one of the women, whose husband is still in captivity in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.

The coverage shows that much worse conditions are in the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic:
– The situation of prisoners in Donetsk is better. They can receive letters and parcels. It is much worse for our boys in Lugansk.

– It is true that there is a Red Cross agency in Lugansk, but its employees warned us during a telephone conversation, that they would not be able to deliver our parcels to prisoners. Apparently, Russians refuse to collect the parcels – says another wife of a detained man. She complains that no Ukrainian authorities got in touch with the families of detainees in Lugansk People’s Republic during the last exchange. No one informed them why their relatives were not released.

Kremlin prisoners

Ukrainians are imprisoned not only by the pro-Russian fighters. Dozens of them are in pre-trial detentions and prisons in Russia, and their number is still growing. The first detentions by the Russian services took place in the annexed Crimea. In May 2014 three Ukrainian activists were arrested in Simferopol: Oleg Sentsov, Alexander Kolchenko and Gennady Afanasyev. They were accused of terrorism. Everyone was sentenced to a long term in prison. Despite the protests of international opinion, director Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment, and activist Alexander Kolchenko was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment. Only Afanasyev, who was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, was released and returned home in June 2016.

Among those serving long term sentences in Russian prisons and those arrested are: Crimean Tatars, people who live in Crimea and do not hide their pro-Ukrainian views, journalists accused of spying, and members of Ukrainian nationalist groups. International human rights organizations find many of these people as the prisoners of conscience.

“Relatives of the Kremlin prisoners” is the name of the social organization that takes care of laws of the imprisoned ones. It was established at the beginning of 2017.

– We believe that only a joint effort of the international community and the pressure put on Russia will enforce the release of our relatives – says Ihor Hryb, the organization’s chairman.

His son, 19-year-old Pawel Hryb, disappeared on August 24, 2017 in Belarus. Later it turned out that some disguised men kidnapped him at the bus station in Homel. He was transported to the forest and handed over to another group which kept him in a windowless room. Then they took him to Smolensk region in the Russian Federation, where he was officially arrested. Later he was kept in a jail in Krasnoyarsk. He is accused of planning a terrorist attack at one of the schools in Sochi.

– Two days before the New Year we received a letter. It was like a Christmas present. Our son wrote it to us in Ukrainian language and it was strange. Normally they force prisoners to write in Russian. He complained about his health. We all know the conditions the prisoners are kept in there. That is prison in the end. But Pavlo expects that he will be able to return home quickly – says his father.

The boy’s lawyer is from Russia. It is difficult both for his family and the Ukrainian diplomats working in Russia to get access to him.

– During the whole time of my son’s detention, the Russians did not allow him to meet his mother. We will try anyway. In December, they did not let Pavlo meet our Consul. A month earlier they were able to talk for only seven minutes and the conversation was stopped. Why? They were speaking Ukrainian, although Consul had documents of the Russian Federation that allowed them to do so. The answer was: “I am the law here and I decide about the rules”. And the meeting was over – adds Pavlo’s father.

Ihor Hryb emphasizes that he and the relatives of other detainees were forced to establish an organization. In Ukraine there is only a representative of the authorities who tries to take care about the detained by pro-Russian militants in the separatist republics. However, there is still no official authorities’ representative to deal with the fate of those imprisoned in Russia. Now the families are trying to have such a representative and they are counting on a meeting with President Poroshenko to discuss this important issue.

– Our son does not believe in a fair trial in the Russian court. We also did not, because there have not been such precedents before. We are now looking for possible ways to get him out of there. The return of those who are currently imprisoned in Russia or in the Crimea is possible only through the exchange – says Ihor Hryb.

The released ones remind of those who are still imprisoned

The families of Ukrainians released in December do not hide their joy, nevertheless they do not forget about those who are still in captivity and about their relatives.

– My name is Natalia Bessarab and I am the wife of a former prisoner of war Andriy Bessarab. He was released on December 27, together with other prisoners. My husband is already at home, but wives, mothers and sisters of many others are still waiting. It is a huge pain. Only four prisoners remained in the Makiivka penal colony, where my husband was detained. It is very difficult when almost everyone comes back home but there are still a few our boys left there.

After being released, her husband spent some time in the hospital with other former detainees. Everyone came back with various health problems. And psychological help is needed to some extent.

– According to psychologists, they are still under the influence of adrenaline. It seems to me that they do not quite understand that it’s all over. When a man finds himself in such situation, he accumulates all his strength to survive. I think they have not taken it easy yet – adds Natalia.

Her husband spent in captivity 19 months and five days. Until his release Natalia had restricted contact with him, but sometimes she managed to send him letters and parcels.

– It was very hard, I have two children. I did not tell them about their father’s fate for the first two weeks. My older son has heart problems, so I was afraid for him. And later they saw it on TV themselves. We had to manage somehow, there was no other way – says Natalia Bessarab.

She and the families of other prisoners supported each other. When someone had a problem, when there were some hard times, Iryna Herashchenko – a representative of the President dealing with the issue of the prisoners – was helping them.

– Unfortunately, you cannot say that about other politicians – emphasizes Natalia.

When he was in captivity, Andriy Bessarab began to write poems addressed to his wife and to Ukraine: the poem “Cossack’s advice” has 40 verses and it took him three hours to write it.

– It is possible that we will collect all the poems and publish them – says Natalia.

The families of those who are still imprisoned by pro-Russian militants or kept in Russia believe that the pressure of international opinion on the Russian authorities will help to release their relatives.

The European Union, associated with the policy of open borders, is currently surrounded by over 2,000 kilometers of border fences.