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“I Buried Them in the Evening and Resurrected Them in the Morning”: Story of a Berdyansk Man Held Captive for 2 Months

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“I buried them in the evening and resurrected them in the morning. The worst part was not knowing. I was waiting for at least some news and didn’t know if they were alive,” Ivan said in regards to his wife and children. The man spent almost two months in Russian captivity in Berdyansk. During their “conversations” with Ivan, the invaders constantly threatened to get to his family too. 

He managed to survive and get his relatives out of the occupied territory. Ivan told Bihus.Info his story. Occupied Berdyansk: Torture and Beatings  

The resort town of Berdyansk, on the coast of the Sea of Azov, became one of the first occupied areas in the Zaporizhia Region. On February 26, a convoy of Russian vehicles entered the former airfield, the same day the bridge in the Berdyansk district was destroyed and shelling began. 

Two days later, on February 28, the Zaporizhia Regional Military Administration reported that Berdyansk was occupied. The Russians occupied the executive committee and the national police building. Locals began holding pro-Ukrainian rallies. 

Source: Zaporizhia Regional Military Administration

At that time, one civilian was known to have been killed, and later it was reported that another civilian was killed by the invaders for refusing to give up his phone.

Already on March 1, the Russian Guard entered the city. By that time, there were already problems with medicines, food, and basic goods. Berdyansk residents continued to gather at rallies, but the invaders started detaining and arresting people. 

At the same time, Berdyansk became an important evacuation point for Mariupol residents who managed to leave their city and were headed for Zaporizhia. People were leaving in a hurry, so they were in dire need of help. Ivan was one of those who helped both feed and shelter people from Mariupol. 

“Many Berdyansk residents had families from Mariupol living at home, ours is no exception. We sheltered one family, volunteered, and helped. People really had nothing to eat,” said Ivan.

The city set up an assistance center for the people of Mariupol. Berdyansk residents, who were themselves under occupation, helped in every way they could. According to Ivan, the Russians and those they appointed to run the city didn’t like it.

Source: Telegram channel of Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine

Ivan said that at first, there were threats and demands to stop any actions not coordinated with the occupation authorities. Then Ivan was denounced, and his name and private details appeared in one of the telegram channels, where he was referred to as a troublemaker for the Russian authorities. Within a few days, the man was paid a “visit” by men in uniform. The visit ended in detention. Ivan recognized the “visitors” as former local police officers. 

“One day, when I arrived at work, the so-called police were already waiting for me, about 7 people in uniform. I was handcuffed and detained. They immediately issued a protocol to search my house. Armed men went to my house and searched it. Meanwhile, I was brought to the police station, after which they handed me over to the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation,” recalled Ivan.

Ivan was taken to the commandant’s office and put in a cell, where he spent about two weeks, a period necessary to determine the status of the person, which, in turn, decides the prisoner’s further place of imprisonment. According to local residents, there are at least four such places in Berdyansk: the commandant’s office, the former customs office, the bases on the sandspit, and the 77th penal colony for the “extremely dangerous”. The latter is where Ivan ended up due to the invaders’ allegations that he confronted the Russian military, promoted nationalism, and attempted to seize power. 

“Every prisoner goes through “conversations”. The “conversations” are torture, while interrogation is just that. I kept silent every time. Then I was transferred to the 77th colony, to a solitary cell. There are about 13 cells there, where military officers, policemen, and prosecutors are held. That’s where the FSB got involved with me. There weren’t many interrogations, but they had “conversations” with me every other day. That is, if they “converse” with you today, they wouldn’t touch you the next day. It goes round and round in a circle. This happens to everyone who is a prisoner there. If you’re a military man, they torture you very hard until they break you,” said Ivan. 

According to Ivan, soldiers were treated the worst, they were not just tortured, but also morally humiliated. Military women, on the other hand, were sexually abused. 

In one of the prisoners, Ivan recognized the former MP Serhiy Valentyrov, who was detained by the invaders back in April. There has been no information about his fate so far.

Ivan spent almost two months in captivity, during which he underwent 27 “conversations” with the FSB and the police. He says that he was most afraid for his family because each time he was threatened with reprisals against his family, of whom he was getting no other information. Now, both Ivan and his family are in relative safety. 

At the end of June, the Berdyansk city council published instructions for those whose relatives had been captured. As of mid-May, according to Zaporizhia Region Military Administration, there were 116 such people in the region, but now this number could be significantly higher. The Berdyansk City Council regularly publishes reports of new kidnappings of civilians. Thus, on May 18, it reported the kidnapping of Ukrainian and World champion, honored master of sports in powerlifting Serhiy Pevniev

According to Ivan, at the time of his imprisonment more than 40 people were being held in the colony alone. Some of the prisoners have been there for more than a month. 

Veronika Khorolska

This article was produced by Bihus.Info as part of the program “Supporting Ukraine’s Regional Media in Times of War” with the financial support of the European Union and the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of Norway. The content is the sole responsibility of Bihus.Info and does not reflect the views of the European Union, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

On the night of July 1, Russian invaders shelled the resort village of Serhiyivka in the Odesa Region. A recreation center and residential apartment building were struck by Soviet Kh-22 rockets. In the aftermath of the shelling, almost 40 people suffered injuries ranging from minor to severe and were hospitalized. There were 22 deaths, including a 12-year-old boy. This Russian attack in the Odesa Region was the bloodiest since the full-scale invasion began.

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