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“I spent seven days in death row cell”

Svetlana Matushko
“I spent seven days in death row cell”
Article by: Dmitry Volchek
Translated by: A. N.

A story of a Donetsk woman, who was arrested by “DNR” terrorists on a false accusation

Thousands of people in the territories under the control of “DNR” and “LNR” were arrested and thrown into prison camps (one of these camps is located in Donetsk in the former art center “Isolation”). People are arrested on denunciations, for the slightest offense, with or without cause. Just as in the days of Stalin’s terror, “DNR” terrorists and supporters are often detained themselves when they are suspected of disloyalty or espionage. But patriots of Ukraine suffer the worst of all. Programs of Radio Liberty told the stories of Irina Dougan, who was tied to the pillory post in Donetsk, the artist Sergey Zakharov, who was severely beaten because he drew a caricature of Girkin-Strelkov, the social worker Victoria Butenko, whose son was tortured right in front of her.

The entrepreneur Svetlana Matushko, who was arrested on a false denunciation, spent 7 days on death row in the basement of the former State Security building on Shchorsa Street. Later she was able to escape to Kiev and now participates in the work of the Committee on immigrants. Here is her story:

– I am a native Donetsk resident. From the outset, I was on the side of the Maidan, visited it twice, supported it in any way I could. In Donetsk, I went to rallies, spoke with all my friends explaining what is happening. In Ukraine, the power of Yanukovych and his family was strong. Literally everyone was suffering from it, corruption touched every person, but they did not understand it. They thought that this “stability,” they received pensions and wages. They voted for Yanukovych, because though he was a thug, but he was their own, and not someone else’s — they reasoned. I tried to open they eyes of my friends and relatives.

– In the Donbas many quarreled with relatives because of political differences. In your family, were such splits too?

– My family was also affected. My mom went to the so-called elections in the so-called “DNR” on November 2nd. I tried to explain to her: “Mom, you now voted for a man who wanted to kill your child.” She does not understand it. She says: “I voted for peace.” – “And for whom did you vote for?”  She says: “For Zakharchenko.” – “And who is he ?”. – “I do not know, some military, with crosses, sings very well with Kobzon (an old Russian singer).” – “Mom, does he have a program of some sort, what does he promise to you?”. They are not interested in it, only that he is against “Kiev junta,” as they say.

– Svetlana, how did you get to jail?

– The man who courted me informed on me. People came, they were armed with machine guns and wore camouflage, and they arrested me at work. They took all my electronics and documentation. They searched my house twice without any judge orders or witnesses. They searched my office twice, in the same way. They put me in the basement of “DNR.” That’s in a former building of the Security Service of Ukraine in Donetsk. I spent seven days in a death row cell.

– How did you find out that you were informed on by someone close?

– They told me that they had a denunciation on me, and when I was told about accusations in it, I guessed who did it. This is not a person close to me – just a person who courted me.

– And what was in that denunciation?

– That I photographed “DNR” checkpoints and passed the information to the Ukrainian military.

– And that was a lie, of course?

– What century do we live in? Why would you take pictures of a checkpoint on a regular camera and transmit them to the Ukrainian military, if there are car dashboard cameras, if even 30 years ago you could take photographs through a hole in a button? Does it make sense?

– What do you think, why did he write a denunciation on you? Was it a revenge that you rejected him?

– I can not say. I asked the person who interrogated me: “I know who did it. Did you award him with some order, or give him a cash bonus or some recognition? Why did he do it?” The interrogator said, “You know, with all this turmoil, the worst in people comes to the surface.”

– Does it mean that the people who interrogated you knew that the accusation was absurd?

– Yes.

– Nevertheless, they put you in a death row cell?

– Yes. During the search at home they found Ukrainian symbols, Ukrainian flags. I did not hide my political views from the people close to me. You know, what they want is to scare the population of Donetsk loyal to Ukraine, so that they leave. And then they will settle these areas by people who are loyal to Russia. I think that is the purpose of this.

– Who was with you in the basement and how were you and the other prisoners treated?

– I was not beaten, was treated more or less humane. I shared the cell with former officers of the security service and the police, drug dealers. A guy and a young woman were thrown into the cell. His name was found in the list of the Young Fatherland party, they took him and his wife. For a week, he sat with his hands in handcuffs. In my cell was a separatist woman-sniper, 21 years old, she was pregnant. A karate instructor was there because of a denunciation by his former student. At one time, in the presidential elections, he supported Tymoshenko. There were two Donetsk businessmen. After 20 days in the basement, they were ready to give the terrorists all their property and real estate. One was released, but nothing is know about the fate of the second one so far. A volunteer from the city of Smela of Cherkassy Oblast came to Donetsk to friends, whom he met in social networks, in order to find out why Donetsk residents vote in referendums and do not want to live in Ukraine. The naive boy came with his diary, which he started back on the Maidan, and a camera, which had pictures of events in Kiev. The other guy – the student of Donetsk National University, “with an active civic position” was in the basement because he asked Gubarev (former head of “DNR”) the uncomfortable question about how they are going to pay pensions and wages to public workers? And how they were going to start the heating season, if they had not already started preparing for it? After the Gubarev press conference ended, he was arrested. Guys from my cell later told me that after my release two women were put with them. One was there because her neighbors wrote a denunciation that her husband is in the National Guard of Ukraine, and the second one was suspected to be a sniper. They were tortured and beaten so badly that they lost their sanity. The guy who told me this, he spent a week in solitary confinement (it is a room sized about one meter by a meter and a half, with a bloodied rag on the concrete floor) without food, water, and with his hands tied. So, he wanted to ask to be put back in the solitary, because he could not withstand the women’s sobs, wailing and hysterics. Note that was an officer, who was twice taken to a shooting execution and tortured so badly that even three months after release he is still undergoing rehabilitation. He had broken ribs, bruises all over his body, but I did not hear even a groan from him. Many cannot stand torture, and they ask to be executed immediately, without abuse. Do you know what struck me the most, after I was released? At a checkpoint near the security service building, relatives of missing people stand and wait for a man with a list of prisoners to find out whether their relatives are there or not. A meter away from them, there are two OSCE cars. And at the same time, someone is being tortured in the basement of the building. My question to the members of the mission, if you go into the former security service building, where are your eyes and ears? What kind of representatives are these who do not inform the global community about the real events that are taking place in the Donbas? Do not see the tanks, armored vehicles, Grad missile systems, which drive around the city in convoys, do not see armed men in supermarkets? Do not see who and from what weapons fires at peaceful neighborhoods, resulting in people killed and destroyed infrastructure of the city? A story in the news about the fact that our president gives armored vehicles to these deaf-and-blind representatives of the OSCE mission, vehicles that are needed more by our guys in the war, that story perplexed me, to put it mildly.

– You mentioned a young woman-sniper. Why was she captured if she worked on the “DNR”?

– She called an acquaintance at the Donetsk regional administration and said that Ukrainians are supposedly going to “take” the administration. That woman wrote a denunciation on her. She was accused of communications with the Ukrainian side. With me in the cell was a guy, 28 years old, formerly a pro-Russia militant. Guys leave militia, “bury” their weapons and uniform and go. Many go to Ukraine, hiding somewhere, others leave for Russia. So he was arrested, taken away to be shot. As he told me, in the firing squad they have very young guys, they shoot people in a factory somewhere. The man who was taken with him to be shot, was shot right away, but they came up to him and stabbed him with a knife in the left shoulder. He lost consciousness and fell. Then they made an execution shot in the head, but the bullet only grazed his head, because it was dark in the factory. He spent half an hour in Donetsk morgue, which is overflowing with corpses. He waited until everything calmed down and walked out. Morgue technicians called him an ambulance, he told everything to the doctors. The doctors took him to a hospital in Donetsk, where he had surgery, that is how he stayed alive. When I was leaving the cell, where we sat together, I left everyone my phone number. He called me, and I took him out of the hospital. Now he went to his hometown, is looking for a job and seeking disability, goes to hospitals. Such is his story, and there are a lot of these stories.

– How and why were you let go?

– You know, even now it is a puzzle for me. I still cannot understand it. I was always told that I do not come back soon, and in the basement cell, where we sat, the people around me, they said that with the political position that I have there will be no out for me. The first person who interrogated me, said he was with the Berkut police on the Maidan. They took my camera where were photos from the Maidan. When he saw that I was on the Maidan, he shouted that I had to be shot just for that and that I allegedly threw “Molotov cocktails.” Then two days later someone else interrogated me. During interrogations, we discussed politics, the economy, what they are going to do. I asked where the funding will come from, how they are going to pay pensions and social benefits, said that revenue is not coming into the budget, that businesses are leaving Donetsk. Such topics we discussed. Constantly, when I was called, I thought that was the end and I was to be shot. On the fourth day he told me that I will not shot. He said that they have a troika in session, which decides what to do with a man. Just from their aliases “Butcher”, “Abwehr”, “Constrictor” blood run cold in my veins. Then after some time, he told me that they would not bring me into this troika, that everything will be decided without me. That’s how I was released on Monday.

– Among those who arrested and interrogated you, were there Russians?

– The man who questioned me last, showed me his passport, said he was from Mariupol. The rest did not introduce themselves, but from the conversation it was clear that they were Russians, because we in Ukraine do not speak this way.

– How do rich people in Donetsk who supported Yanukovych first, and then financed the “DNR” live now? Do they continue to support separatism, and what happened to their business and real estate?

– Rich residents of Donetsk never supported Yanukovych, because with him business was “pressed.” Yanukovych was supported by bandits who at one point high-jacked the business from someone, and then fancied themselves businessmen. About their fate now I fortunately do not know anything. After the marathon in Kiev on November 2, I met with our businessmen, who left the city after Strelkov’s arrival to Donetsk. It was them who organized the Committee for Forced Migrants. They are “distastefully decent people”, as one of them said. Donetsk business elite never supported Yanukovych. When my uncle was a representative of Tymoshenko in the elections in the Donetsk Oblast, businessmen contacted him and helped him in any way they could so Yanukovych does not won. They understood that the Lady with the Braid is not ideal, but anyone but “Pops” as his wife Lyudmila Yanukovych called him. Some of the rich people of Donetsk, who never supported Yanukovych managed to move production out, some stayed and now pay taxes to both, “DNR” and Ukraine, in the hope that in a month or two everything will be over.

– You mentioned Lyudmila Yanukovych. What happened to her, did she stay in Donetsk?

– The former First Lady freely came shopping at the supermarket “Auchan” with one security guard, who rather served as a porter, and in her “folksy way” she communicated with people and staff of the grocery store. But when “Pops” fled to Rostov, she disappeared too.

– Svetlana, you have just returned from the health resort near Kiev, where migrants from Donetsk are housed now. What are the conditions there?

– Double-occupancy rooms became a five-person rooms. There is no room for cabinets and tables. The corridors are filled with cries of that noone is watching. I met a young woman from Simferopol, she is physician-pathologist. She works two jobs. She is bringing up her children by herself. The girl is three years old, the boy is about five. So she fell asleep at the kitchen table, while at this small kitchen someone was cooking dinner, someone was already eating and a loud TV was on. This woman’s name is Maria. Berkut police on the Maidan broke the bridge of her nose, and just now she had a plastic surgery. The surgery is expensive, they had to leave the apartment, they rented, as they could not pay, and with the help of a some parliamentarian she got into the health resort. She came into his office and told him on what couch in his office they will sleep. Three days later, he resolved the issue with her housing. What temperature will be there at minus twenty Centigrade is difficult to predict. The children get sick endlessly. Maria also watches a child of another single parent from Luhansk Oblast, who works at an Italian restaurant in Kiev and returns home late. I was invited into the room where the men live. Someone is lying and relaxing after work, just looking at the ceiling, someone reads. On their faces, an expression of hopelessness.

Митинг беженцев из Донбасса против "выборов" в ДНР. Киев, 2 ноября
Митинг беженцев из Донбасса против “выборов” в ДНР. Киев, 2 ноября

– Do you think the “DNR” will last long?

– I do not think so.

– Will it collapse due to internal reasons, economic problems or Ukrainian army will attack?

– I think that Ukraine should liberate its territory from the terrorists. This is terrorism in a pure form. Just like 1937, when a man is taken on a tip. People should be liberated, because many patriots are intimidated, many are leaving. There is real guerrilla warfare, people are simply afraid to go out, they hide and fight as they can.

– But a military solution will lead to heavy casualties among the civilian population…

– I do not know what the correct action is, but you can not leave the people who stayed there. When Girkin-Strelkov left Sloviansk and came to Donetsk – it was such a mistake! Even now Donetsk residents cannot understand how they could let him into Donetsk. What should be done now – I do not know. I think we need some way to close the border with Russia and isolate them so there is no supply of weapons and troops from Russia. But people should be liberated. I think Ukraine should do it.

Translated by: A. N.
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