108 days in captivity of the Wagnerites. "The Russians forced us to load ammunition and beat each other"
On October 11, 32 Ukrainian soldiers returned from captivity. Among those released is 22-year-old Oleksandr Makarevych from the Chernihiv Region, who has been serving in the 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade (the Black Zaporozhtsi) since September 2021.
He went missing on June 26 this year near Bakhmut, Donetsk Region. Until October 10, the family did not know anything about what happened to him.
Translated by Dmitry Lytov and Mike Lytov
Read this article in Ukrainian
“On the evening of October 10, the head of the prison came and informed us that everyone from our cell was going home the next morning,” Oleksandr says.
“The exchange took place in Bakhmut, on a minefield. We walked one and a half kilometers (about a mile) on a straight road. There were 32 of us, one was wounded. The 33rd, who died in combat, was carried in our hands. Four Russians were coming towards us from the Ukrainian side. I heard that one of them was a pilot. Once on the Ukrainian side, we immediately received smartphones with SIM cards, bags of food, backpacks with clothes and hygiene products.”
“How and where were you captured?”
“The enemy was 600 m (about 2000 feet) away from our position. On June 17, our guys shot down an enemy SU-25 (a fighter plane) from a portable anti-aircraft missile complex "Igla" near the positions. The pilot was able to eject, and was taken prisoner. In order to take revenge and return their pilot, a major, the Russians began to circle our positions.
On June 26, at dawn, we were taken prisoner near the village of Klynove (Bakhmut Community, Donetsk Region). I was replaced after my shift and just went to bed. When I fell asleep, I heard shots near our position. A battle ensued. I opened my eyes and saw my friend talking to a bearded man. He looked like a Chechen, dressed in Pixel (the camouflage uniform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. — Author). He pointed a machine gun at my friend. We had only taken this position the day before and did not have time to get acquainted with the guys from the neighboring places.
My friend asked: "What are you doing? We are on the same side." The man replied: "You got it wrong, we are not. Don’t you realize who we are?". I immediately knew who they were. I turned to grab the machine gun, and two Buryats were already standing behind me with their muzzles aimed. They say: "If you want to live, don't move! Do what I tell you and you will live!" I looked around, and there were three times more of them. A few men were wearing our uniform, all the others were in Russian uniforms. They were Kazakhs, Buryats, and Chechens.
"You got it wrong, we are not. Don’t you realize who we are?"
That day, the Russians entered our and our neighboring positions. Four of us were killed. Seven managed to survive. The Russians failed to capture one more position, the boys fought back. A bearded Chechen took our two soldiers with the callsigns "Latro" and "Storyteller" and led them there at gunpoint. He wanted to take the position by trickery by using the POWs as human shields. He shouted: "Don't shoot, we are yours!". Unfortunately, our boys, who were used as shields, died. The Russians came back very angry that they had not captured anyone. They did not know how many people there were and what kind of equipment they had.
There were many 300s (wounded) and 200s (killed) among the Russians. They began to vent their anger, beat us with machine guns and kicked us. In a few hours, the Russians tried to seize that position for the second time and were defeated for the second time.
We were put on our knees, in a circle. They took away our phones and documents, tied our hands together tightly. But they did not blindfold us. All the prisoners were taken to the other side. We walked through the dugouts, carrying their 200s and 300s. Two of our men were also wounded - one in the arm, one in the leg. On the way, we were beaten hard. One was beaten to death.
On the way, we were beaten hard. One was beaten to death.
They brought us in a car to their headquarters. Interrogated, hit at the buttocks with a shovel, then forced us to beat each other like that. Pavlo Tupchii, my friend, was shot dead. A Ural truck came up, and we loaded his body on it.
We were transported by car to Pervomaisk, in the Luhansk Region, and were left on the territory of the Salama shoe factory. "Wagner" was already stationed there (a private military company, a Russian military structure staffed by mercenaries, created in 2013. — Author). And the basements were full of POWs.
We were asked to take off our uniforms and received theirs. They took the Ukrainian uniform in order to use it for sabotage and intelligence groups.
“Did the Wagnerites torture you?”
“They very rarely beat us. But only on the condition that you work and do what they tell you. Only Azov and Aidar people were tortured, because they heard rumors how strong and powerful they were. As I understood, the Wagnerites have discipline in everything. Not only the Ukrainian military were in their cells, but also their own. It was strictly forbidden to use alcohol and drugs, desertion was punished. When our men began to attack and advance well at the front, the Russians began to drink and run away.
The cells were quickly filled with those deserters, who were beaten and tortured. And then we were ordered to clean up this "mess". They spoke only Russian. Wagnerites do not recognize the Ukrainian language, culture and the country of Ukraine as such.
We received normal medical treatment. There were even antibiotics, in case someone needed them.
In a cell of 13 square meters, there were up to 20 men. Some slept on the concrete floor, some on pallets. It was damp, moldy, dripping from the ceiling. Cardboard boxes were laid out on the floor. Some cells had shelves. The first cell was the best. It was warm, the fan was working. There were mattresses and blankets, a kettle, a socket, and some books. It was used for those who primarily went for exchange.
They fed us regularly, but gave very little. One daily dry ration for three. On average, 50 g of galettes and one 250-gram can of canned food were given per person per day, some kind of porridge with meat or beans or peas, given out to people at random.
Water rationing changed over time. At first, each person received one liter per day. Over time, the number of people in the cell increased, but there was still the same amount of water per cell. On occasion, only half a liter per person per day was given. Before capture, I weighed 54 kg (less than 120 Lb). After returning, I still haven't weighed myself. I think I lost weight.
“How did they decide who goes on an exchange?”
“The Wagnerites encouraged those who did not refuse to work. "There is work for extra goodies. Those who work will be the first on the exchange lists," they said. They also gave little sachets of jam, small chocolate bars, or pates from dry food for work.
One day, a Russian commander approached us and asked if everyone wanted to work. He said that the work was not difficult: unloading and loading. Everyone agreed. We arrived at the factory, it seems, in Alchevsk. And they saw that they were storing ammunition there. Under the muzzle of machine guns, we had to load them into trucks that were going to the front line. 15-20 Urals were loaded with ammunition every day.
15-20 Urals were loaded with ammunition every day
When this work was over, we washed the trucks, cleaned up the floors, and took out toilets from the cells. Since we lived on the territory of a shoe factory, there remained a warehouse with pieces of leather. The Russians forced us to sew them phone cases, bracelets, key chains, and similar stuff.
Those who refused to work were moved to the cell with the worst conditions and were beaten. The entire first cell and those who spent more than three months in captivity went to the exchange with me.
“Did you manage to find out just a little bit of news?”
“They did not allow us to call home or pass on information about ourselves. But we didn't lose track of time. We pulled out a nail from the wooden board and scribbled a calendar on the wall. The “luxury cell” already had a calendar. More precisely, a stamp in the form of a date. We rotated the numbers and stamped the date on the cardboard.
Periodically, the Wagnerites tried to convince us that they had taken control of a certain settlement. For example, they claimed to have taken Bakhmut. A month later, they said that a referendum was held and Zaporizhzhia was annexed to Russia. We tried to learn the latest news from the newly arrived prisoners. They knew that Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia were ours.
After rehabilitation and a 10-day vacation, Oleksandr plans to return to duty. His girlfriend Svetlana will have to wait and worry again. "I am not one of those who will hide in the rear," he says.
"We didn't know anything until October 10"
A local lawyer, Olena Dobrovolska, was involved in returning the soldier home.
"Sashko (Oleksandr) is like a second son to me," she says. “He and my son grew up together and are still best friends. The first thing he did after getting out of captivity was calling my son. Oleksandr's parents are deaf and mute, so I was the one who did the searching. Every day, every hour, I was surfing Russian websites and social networks where photos and documents of prisoners of war are published. I tried to find at least some information about Sashko. But there was no trace. He was considered missing. Only on October 10 did I receive a letter informing me that he was in captivity. And in a few hours, I learned that he was already going home.”
“Is there compensation to the families of captured servicemen?”
“Yes. The family must receive the salary of the military man as long as he is considered missing or captured. They need to write an application for payment and attach the necessary documents.”
Forcing prisoners of war to load ammunition is a war crime
"Involvement of Ukrainian prisoners of war in sending ammunition to the front to destroy their fellow citizens is a violation of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War," comments Chernihiv lawyer Mykola Torbeev.
Actually, this is far from an isolated example when the Russian armed forces violated this convention: they torture prisoners of war, give them insufficient water and food, keep them in terrible conditions, abuse them, force them to do work directly related to military support and/or the organization of military support for the armed aggression against Ukraine itself.
Those who are responsible for the observance of the rights of prisoners of war are not the immediate military unit in which the prisoner of war is located, but the country (party in the war) that captured the soldier.
The Convention allows for the possibility of involving prisoners of war in certain types of work, in particular, the transportation or loading of material reserves that do not have a military nature or purpose.