As of April 7, 2019 Security Service of Ukraine reported about 3233 Ukrainians freed from illegal denetion places - a large figure for five years of an undeclared war. 214 Ukrainian citizens are still behind bars in illegall prisons. These are the ones who has been identified.
The history of exchanges include three periods: the "active" period from the beginning of the war until 2016; a “cold” one in 2016-2017, ended with a “big” exchange on December 27, 2017; and the period from September 2019 until present time with an intensification of prisoner exchanges. Each of these periods has its own political subtext, which influenced the communication of the Ukrainian and Russian sides and, accordingly, the number of exchanged persons.
In the beginning
2957 Ukrainian citizens were released during 1,5 years right from the start of the war. It was largely due to the increased pressure from the international anti-Russian coalition as well as the Minsk agreements, which obliged the Ukrainian and Russian sides to facilitate the exchange of prisoners. The Ukrainian military also managed to detain a huge number of Russians who “did not appear” in Donbass. The Kremlin denied in every possible way that the Russian military was participating in hostilities in the Donbas. It can be assumed that the leadership of the Russian Federation had a strong interest in the rapid return of Russian officers and combatants fighting in Donbas, as it might serve as an additional evidence of involvement of the Russian Federation.
The exchanges in the beginning did not have any coordinationcenter since not only representatives of the authorities took part in them, but also participants of volunteer battalions, military units, and even relatives of prisoners. On September 5, 2014, three days after the first Minsk agreements, 648 Ukrainians were freed from Russian captivity, while on October, 21, 822 people returned to government controlled territory.
It is easy to trace in the media the results of public exchanges, however, the voices of civilians, who directly participated in them, are still hard to find. A resident of Sloviansk, Yurii (the name has been changed), coorganizer of exchanges at the beginning of the war, told the documenters of the East Ukrainian Center of Civic Initiatives how he fell under the shelling.
The radio says: “Beware of a terrible fight a kilometer away, they already surrounded thirty-second checkpoint. They will just shoot you and that's it." As soon as we heard this, they shouted: "Air!" The shelling of this checkpoint has began. We were standing exactly there.
Relatives of missing persons also preserve memories of the first exchanges after the start of intense hostilities. This information often came from rumors and memories of eyewitnesses of non-public exchanges that took place between the parties to the conflict. A fellow soldier, who had been with Olena`s missed son at war, rumored about the details of one exchange. It is worth noting that later the infromer joined illegal armed formations.
He says: “Don't trust anyone. There was a non-public exchange on September 28, 2014. I was a witness." I still say to him: “What are you talking about, driving me over my ears? I do not trust you!". And he: “I swear! We were friends with your son! There was a non-public exchange, and they exchanged 20 of ours for three of their officers, from the other side. Your son spat in my face, when he was getting on the bus.
Elena told that she suffered from scammers who imitated her son's voice. They offered her to release him for a decent amount of money.
They said: "Ma, it's me, Maxim ...". They started talking about price that I had to pay in order to free him [from captivity]. And then someone picked up the phone. I said: "Why did you take his phone away from him, huh?" And he told me: “His lip is broken, he cannot talk. You need to pay 100,000 [hryvnias]. "
Another woman, Iryna (the name has been changed), told during an interview how she received messages demanding from her a ransom for her missed son.
They sent messages like "Iryna, may Allah bless you, your son will be killed," somewhere on Luhansk square. Then something else: "Iryna, say goodbye to your son, bring a ransom of 3,000." But no one called.
Iryna also had a conflict with the organization that negotiated the release of prisoners.
Ruban [the head of the Center for the Liberation of Prisoners "Officer Corps"] immediately reacted this way: "I will try to help you, we have registered you, we will look for the information." A few weeks ahead: "Why are you sitting at home, go look for your loved ones."
The media mentions the exchange, which took place on the night of September 12-13, 2014, when 37 Ukrainian military returned from captivity. During another one on September 28, 2014, 60 members of illegal formations were exchanged for 30 Ukrainian soldiers.
The first “big” exchange took place on December 26, 2014 that resulted in an exchange of 222 representatives of illegal armed groups for 150 Ukrainian militarymen.
Later, the Joint Hostage Release Center, established by Security Service of Ukraine in October 2015, gained control over all the exchange issues. The Center apart from negotiating exchanges also establsihed the whereabouts of the missing persons. The centralization of exchanges significantly influenced the negotiation processes due to involvement of intelligence officers and governmental officials. Centralization also became the reason for the politicization of the process, since the exchanges turned into a kind of "bargaining" with constant provocations or disruptions from the Russian side in order to discredit both the Ukrainian authorities and the very idea of exchanges.
"Cold" period and "big exchange" of December 27
On February 20, 2016 SSU informed about the release of four Ukrainian military men Serhiy Garnag, Serhiy Dmytruk, Oleksandr Makukha and Vadym Kirpichenko.
The journalist Maria Varfolomeeva, who was in captivity for 419 days, was released from captivity on March 3, 2016. The Russian side received a citizen of Russia and another citizen of Ukraine.
In May 2016, pilot Nadia Savchenko returned to Ukraine and was exchanged for two GRU officers: Captain Yevgenii Yerofeiev and sergeant Alexander Alexandrov. In June of the same year, representatives of IAF extradited Crimean activist Hennadii Afanasiev and engineer Yury Soloshenko. The Ukrainian side handed over two citizens of Ukraine who tried to create the "Bessarabian People's Republic".
In September 2016, UN officer Yuri Suprun and activist Vladimir Zhemchugov returned from captivity, and the Ukrainian side gave up four representatives of IAF in the opposite direction.
In total, according to the SSU, the Ukrainian side managed to return 16 citizens of Ukraine in 2016 .
After the "cold" period that lasted for more than a year, the Ukrainian and Russian sides agreed on a large-scale exchange. The first to announce this was a former leader of the "DPR" Alexander Zakharchenko in Moscow on December 25. It should be noted that 73 people mentioned by the Ukrainian side refused to participate and return to the occupied territory. The representatives of IAF, however, did not return one citizen of Ukraine, therefore, the exchange took place in "233 to 73" format instead of the expected "306 to 74". According to Mykhailo Chaplyga, the representative of the Ukrainian parliament's commissioner for human rights, it was extremely difficult to organize the exchange. It included a few waves of face verification from the lists.
Among the freed Ukrainians were fighters of the Kryvbas battalion Mykola Herasymenko and Alexander Lazarenko, a soldier of the National Guard Yevgenii Chudnetsov, historian and religious scholar Ihor Kozlovsky, activist and volunteer Volodymyr Fomichev and others.
The authorities did not disclose information about people transferred to ORDLO.
According to the representative of the Russian Federation in the Trilateral Contact Group Boris Gryzlov, this exchange should have become the first stage for the release of all prisoners. Time has shown that this was the last exchange not only in 2017, but also during the presidency of Petro Poroshenko. The next opportunity will appear only in two years with the change of power in Ukraine.
The ice broke after the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who during his election campaign promised peace in Ukraine as well as return of all Ukrainian prisoners. He managed to achieve the first successes on September 7, 2019 and at the same time "cut through" a window to Paris to resume negotiations with the Russian president.
In the course of the exchange according to the "35 to 35" formula, 24 sailors, detained by FSB of Russia in November 2018 returned to Ukraine by plane. Among the others released were Ukrainian director Oleh Sentsov, journalist Roman Sushchenko, activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, Stanislav Klykh, Mykola Karpiuk, Pavlo Gryb, Oleksii Syzonovych, Volodymmyr Balukh, Artur and Yevhen Panov and Edem Bekirov.
However, Zelensky achieved significant concessions from Vladimir Putin thankfully to the inclusion of Vladimir Tsemakh in the exchange list, who was an important witness in the case of MH-17. The representatives of IAF received also Kirill Vyshinsky, the head of the Ukrainian department of the RIA-Novosti news agency, whom the SSU accused of high treason and subversive information activities.
Another "big" exchange of prisoners took place after the meeting of the leaders of the "Normandy Four" on December 9, 2019 as a result of the commitments for a peaceful settlement undertaken by the Ukrainian and Russian sides in Paris. Despite preliminary agreements on the exchange in “all for all” format, only 76 illegally detained were returned to Ukraine on December 29. The Ukrainian side handed over 124 detainees to the representatives of the “L / DPR”. It is worth noting that 14 people decided to stay in Ukraine.
Journalist Stanislav Aseev, who remained in Donetsk to cover the conflict in Donbas, was among the released. Aseev spoke about Yevhen Brazhnikov, another "prisoner" with whom he returned to Ukraine, who beat illegally detained and, in particular, Aseev in order to avoid tortures. The journalist also described how another released in December 2017, Oleksii Kuskov, beat off his kidney.
Other odious names were also on the exchange lists. The Ukrainian side extradited five members of the Berkut, who were accused of kidnapping 80 and killing 48 people during the events of the Revolution of Dignity. The two even managed to return to Ukraine in February 2020. They called on the authorities to repeal the law on amnesty for Maidan participants.
The Ukrainian side refused to disclose information about the remaining 139 persons who were extradited during the exchange. Journalist Yurii Butusov managed to identify some of them. According to him, among them were Russian killer Artur Denirsultanov, three organizers of the terrorist attack in Kharkov during a peaceful demonstration on February 22, 2015, and Sergey Dolzhenkov, one of the organizers of the tragedy in Odessa on May 2, 2014.
Exchange on April 16, 2020 is last one for today; the Ukrainian authorities agreed to release 20 fellow citizens: 2 militarymen, 1 policeman and 17 civilians. The exchange took place in two places: at the checkpoint "Mayorske" in the Donetsk region and near the town of Shchastia in the Luhansk region. 14 people were handed over to the representatives of IAF. At first 18 names appeared on the lists, but 4 of them did not agree to return to the occupied territories. The Office of the President did not disclose information about people, whom the Ukrainian side included in the exchange lists.
The government tried to cover and use exchanges as a reputational tool. That is why the media called them as "big." Back in 2016, Yurii Tandit, a former adviser to the SSU chairman, called “politicization” the main obstacle to exchanges. Now this is their main driver, which the Russian president successfully uses to manipulate the Ukrainian side: either when people apear in the lists to discredit the very idea of exchange, or when they become an instrument of the Kremlin's foreign policy. In addition to Brazhnikov and Kuskov, on May 6, 2020, Oleksandr Sadovsky, released during the latest exchange, according to the preliminary version, organized a criminal group of swindlers in the Donetsk pre-trial detention center.
There is no secret that the keys to the liberation of the Ukrainians, as well as the keys to ending the war are in the Kremlin. In many ways, the future of exchanges will depend on how the Ukrainian authorities will try to get those keys: either by making concessions and imitating a game that Vladimir Putin is unlikely to want to play, or by implementing reforms and developing a strong Ukrainian state, where the dignity and life of a citizen will be the highest value.
On October 2 at 16:00 in Poltava Art Museum human rights defenders will present the publication "City, where the war had started" ab...
Coalition members will present the book "City, where the war had started" in Poltava
On October 2 at 16:00 inPoltava Art Museum human rights defenders will present the publication "City, where the war had started" about human rights violations that took place during the occupation of Sloviansk from April 12, 2014 to July 5, 2014.
Sloviansk became not just a city where the war in the East of Ukraine had begun - the events in the city became a role model for seizure of other cities of Donbas. During the presentation, human rights defenders will discuss civilians survived and adapted to life under occupation, the activities of illegal armed formations controlled by the Russian Federation, and the direct commander Igor Girkin; persecution of residents for their religious beliefs; involvement of minors in illegal armed groups; problems of shelling and mining of civilian infrastructure. Also, the authors of the publication will highlight the issue of pro-Russian propaganda in the city and the problem of finding ways of reconciliation in society after the restoration of government control over Sloviansk.
The Coalition members are going to explain why the experience of Sloviansk is so important for understanding the war and reconciliation processes in the East of Ukraine:
For any questions regarding organization, please contact Iryna Boiko: +380503051284.
The event will be organized in compliance with all anti-epidemic recommendations of the Public Health Center of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.
The publication "City, where the war had started" was prepared by the Eastern Ukrainian Center of Civic Initiatives, the CF "Vostok SOS", the Human Rights Center for Public Research, Moloda Prosvita Prykarpattya, the Public Committee for the Protection of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of Citizens, which are members of the Coalition Justice for Peace in Donbass ”, supported by Kurve Wustrow - Center for Training and Networking in Nonviolent Action within the framework of the Civil Peace Service program funded by the German Federal Government.
Interactive exhibition of testimonies "On the Rift" about the violation of rights of civilians during the war in Donbas was presente...
An interactive exhibition "On the Rift" now opened in Khmelnytsky
Interactive exhibition of testimonies "On the Rift" about the violation of rights of civilians during the war in Donbas was presented to public on September 17 at 15:00 in the Regional Universal Scientific Library in Khmelnytsky. It is the 12th city where the exhibition is being shown. Among the guests of the presentation were representatives of public organizations, former detainess and witnesses of the war from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, volunteers, and representatives of culture and media.
"On the Rift" reveals the essence of the changes that the civilian population faced in 2014 on 14 stands, and 5 of the are interactive. The last stand "What do we have in common?" works also as an interactive review book, where the viewer has the opportunity to leave a comment about the exhibition.
"We chose the name "On the Rift" because it clearly shows the irreversibility of changes that have taken place in people's lives because of the chaos created by "L / DPR" illegal formations. Key themes are human fear, family separation, atomization of society, uncertainty, despair, horror experienced by prisoners, sexual and gender-based violence in illegal prisons in Donbas. We demonstrate thorough research the answers to the questions: “When have the war started?”, “What is restoration of justice for you?", - noted Anton Udovenko, project manager of the Eastern Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives.
The exhibition "On the Rift" was also created as a discussion platform for discussing the problems of war victims. “We can once again be convinced that art can serve as a tool for change when there is strong polarization in society. Thanks to the testimonies of these people who are mentioned in the exhibition, we can feel their stories and understand the severity of the challenges they have faced because of war. This is an exhibition of empathy. It shows that it is worth learning to understand each other in order to prevent events like in 2014," - said Olga Bauer, head of the NGO "Eco-Culture," local co-organizer of the exhibition.
Former prisoners and witnesses of hostilities in the East of Ukraine also had the opportunity to speak: Halyna Haiova, who was a prisoner of the illegal prison "Izolyatsia" for 16 months, and Kateryna Kramskova, an IDP and the wife of a militaryman who witnessed the seizure of Luhansk.
During the presentation, between the participants arose a discussion regarding the vision of reintegration of the occupied territories. Some of those present underlines impossibility of reintagration in the future.
"How could you say that we need to clear that territory? People live there, it is devoid of respect for them", - noted Ivan, a former resident of Luhansk.
"There are still people in Luhansk, who support Ukraine. They hung yellow and blue T-shirts alongside on Flag Day to show their position. Don't forget about it", - noted Anastasia, also a former resident of Luhansk, head of the local Center for Tolerance.
The presentation and creation of the exhibition "On the Rift" was possible within the framework of the project "Empowering Civil Society to Transform the Culture of Memory - Nonviolent Ways to Resolve the Cruel Past of Donbas", implemented by public organizations Kurve Wustrow (Germany) and Eastern Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives (Ukraine) together with NGO "Eco-Culture" and partners supported by the German Federal Government.
On September 17 at 15:00 human rights activists will present the traveling exhibition "On the Rift" about the violation of civilian ...
The travelling exhibition "On the Rift" moves to Khmelnytskyi
On September 17 at 15:00 human rights activists will present the traveling exhibition "On the Rift" about the violation of civilian rights during the war in eastern Ukraine in the regional universal scientific library in Khmelnitsky (Heroes of Maidan street, 28).
More than 4000 spectators from all over the country attended the exhibition "On the Rift". Presentations happened in 11 cities of Ukraine: in June 2019, the project went from Kyiv to Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, while this year the exhibition visited Dnipro, Kropyvnytskyi, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr and Vinnytsia. Currently the guests can visit the exhibition in Khmilnyk, Vinnytsia oblast.
The exhibition demonstrates the personal experiences of 26 civilians on the issues of uncertainty, life in a legal vacuum, the destruction of family ties due to the polarization of society. The interactive exhibition combines personal stories of witnesses and victims with infographics and statistical evidence that show the scale of profound changes in the structure of society since the outbreak of conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
"On the Rift" focuses the audience's attention on deeper problems that have affected Ukrainians: the atomization of society, the difficult adaptation of IDPs, demographic changes in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the lack of a common vision of the reintegration of lost territories.
Guests of the event will have the opportunity to:
meet with the authors of the multimedia project "On the Rift"