Torture and humiliation: freed Ukrainians talk about Donbas captivity

Peace to Ukraine, War in the Donbas

The freed Ukrainian hostages are back, but the trauma of their time in Russian captivity is far from behind them. Ukrainian hostage Ivan Tyrenko recalls his time spent in captivity.

Ivan Tyrenko is a released hostage who is undergoing rehabilitation at Kyiv’s the Feofaniya Clinical Hospital. He says his condition is good. He jokes a lot and realizes, little by little, that he is finally free. Tyrenko was one of the 74 prisoners released in a prisoner exchange in December:

“Until now, I couldn’t believe that I’m finally home. It feels like it was a dream! Just a dream!”

Captured on May 16th, near Elenovka by Donetsk militants, Ivan spent over a year and a half as a hostage:

“They would mock and beat us. We were transferred to another prison where they continued to mock us. They then transferred me to Makiivka, ZIK-97 colony, where they keep people imprisoned for life.”

Four people were kept in a small cell. They would be beaten, even for speaking loudly. Their daily foodporridge with mouse droppings.

“Members of the Moscow Patriarchate, I think, came to visit us. They photographed our food, and then were asked for the photos to be deleted so that others would not see what we eat. My dog at home eats better than I did there. I am ashamed to look into her eyes now,” says Ivan. 

Because of the inhuman conditions, Ivan and his cellmate wrote a petition for execution. His letter was declined. They were told to get rid of it or be beaten. The cellmate said they took it.

“They took it and left, laughing at him. They were happy that he was pushed so far,” remembers Ivan. 

Being held captive in these conditions for so long can wear down the morale of even the strongest of soldiers over time:

“It was a miracle somehow. We thought about our relatives. How we would meet them. How to get home as soon as possible. I really wanted to go home.”

The first time the hostages heard about the exchange was on December 25th:

“Before the exchange I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know how the others did, I just couldn’t. I paced back and forth, around the cell. The cell is very small and hard for two to walk at the same time. We decided to divide it in half and walk on opposite sides. That’s how we supported each other. We imagined what it would be like.”

Ivan is from Zaporizha. He still hasn’t seen his family. But over the phone, they spoke a lot:

“Now, they don’t leave me alone for a second. They call me every half an hour to make sure I don’t disappear.”

Ivan’s dream is to embrace his mother and see his five-year-old son.


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