The First POW Exchange in the Dead of Night— Film by Alexandr Kots and Dmitry Steshin

Posted by Olga Luzanova ⋅ September 17, 2014

Information taken from: Комсомольская Правда
Translation by Olga Luzanova

Video Report: Exchange of 37 Militiamen with 37 Ukrainian POWs

 

Film by Alexandr Kots and Dmitry Steshin (“Komsomolskaya Pravda”)
Subtitles by Marcel Sardo and Olga Luzanova

 

Alexander Kots and Dmitry Steshin—the special correspondents of “Komsomolskaya Pravda”—tell about the first captives exchange in the format of “37 for 37”, that took place “in neutral territory” on the highway near Donetsk in the the dead of the night.

It took almost a week to prepare the event, and obviously, the negotiations were going on arduously. The parties were changing and working out the lists of “lucky ones” all the time. Initially they were going to exchange about a thousand for three hundred of POWs, however the lists became much shorter until the end of the week. According to a relator, performing this humanitarian action on behalf of DPR, typically the most difficult task was to assure the safety for such an issue: “When an exchange is carried out by the commanders of enemy units—it is one thing. They discuss everything by mobile phone, and even then, there is an entire mess-up and gunfire. In our case, everything was very complicated. I would say, there was an expectancy of quite serious provocations with unpredictable aftermath.”

The exchange was postponed several times not without a reason. Neither people believed it would likely happen on the night of Friday. However, the OSCI mission were staying a few steps away from their cars. The Europeans were hanging around wearing flak jackets and answering questions evasively. At 2:00 at night—not right time for the humanitarian mission—we joined the motorcade with a yellow regular bus in the middle of it. They even forgot to take off the plate with the route number. Only several persons seemed to know the terminal point, and the place for the exchange. We dodged along the border of the former front-line, which had been here for almost two months, going further to about five kilometers wide neutral zone. The beautiful highway suffered a lot from mines and “Grad” rockets somewhere. We struggled forward through the debris of a bridge blown up—a local driver was groaning dolefully, giving no comment though. The bridge was blasted during the hardest days of the city defence at the beginning of July.

The motorcade stopped, and one of the Militia escort asked everybody to turn the headlights off and to close the car doors, so that there was no light from inside. For ten oppressive minutes, we were staying in the darkness. The “KP” correspondents switched the cameras over the “night vision” mode—it is difficult to discern some silhouettes of armed people dispersing along roadside.

The artillery roar was heard from the left afar. We could see the light of headlamps in the direction of Konstantinovka. In the darkness, we found ourselves on a perfectly straight section of road, with fields along both sides. There were only fifty meters between two columns. A person in a light light-coloured shirt and light-coloured trousers, unsuitable for the ensuing autumn night, is walking toward us. This choice clothing is not accidental. In his hands, the intermediary holds a folder with documents and an icon. However, behind him, we can see the outlines of three SBU spetsnaz fighters and a camera operator.

The chief of the Ukrainian negotiating group of the Antiterrorist Center Yuriy Tandit gave an icon to Darya—the representative of DPR, and answered the questions of Russian journalists.

After quick negotiations, the procedure of exchange was determined. People were leaving buses in groups of five, moving in file from one bus to another. The Ukrainian soldiers were moving first. They were strung in front of cameras, and even after reaching their own forces remained reserved and taciturn. Meanwhile, another group of exhausted people was moving from the UAF bus towards the Militia. By the way, at the place of exchange we could not see the latter being armed, for not to flare up tensions, while the Ukrainian Spetsnaz did not hesitate to show their complete expensive outfit.

The majority of captives were disappearing from their homes all of a sudden, without warrants, decrees or any other juridical procedures. The Ukrainian forces did not realise that by carrying out that kind of “witch-hunt”, they were antagonizing the people whom they were willing to liberate.
Transcript of the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” Video Report

Alexandr Kots, KP: Behind me you can see a bus with the captive Ukrainian soldiers. They are accompanied by OSCE representatives. The exchange is going to be carried out now here, on the Konstantinovka highway.

Yuriy Tandit, the chief of the Ukrainian negotiating group of the Antiterrorist Center: In accordance with the arrangement concluded earlier in Minsk, today there are two groups—37 persons on the one part and 37 persons on the other part. They are different people. Some are those, for whom their relatives interceded, as we get calls every day from the wives, parents, children, of course, they help us. We conduct research, we are in the process, and we want to implement the Minsk arrangement—to exchange all the captives.

Reporter: Please, tell us, whom are you returning to the representatives of Donetsk?

Yuriy Tandit: We are returning the people. They were staying in different places. They are different people—some are citizens of Ukraine and some are Russians.

Reporter: How do you estimate the terms with the opposite party regarding the transmission of the captives? How are you cooperating?

Yuriy Tandit: You know, we are in usual terms. I mean, it is a negotiation process, we make concessions to each other, we fulfil our promises.

KP Reporter: However, periodically the exchange is delayed. The term is postponed. What is the reason for that?

Yuriy Tandit: There are different reasons, because we have extra lists which we receive. And we also need time, that is why we may sometimes postpone the exchange for the objective reasons. Nevertheless, I think now the issue will run faster and everything will be fine.

Reporter (to Ukrainian POWs): How are you? Happy?

Ukrainian POW #1: Yes, of course. I am glad that we really agreed and are finally near our homes. Well, though far away yet, but already at home.

Reporter: Have you already communicated somehow with your family?

Ukrainian POW #1: For now, not yet.

Reporter: How long have you been (in captivity)?

Ukrainian POW #1: Three weeks. Three weeks and three days.

Ukrainian POW #2: There were military men, though they were quite loyal to us. We were provided with regular food, water, lavatory, and all the rest.

Reporter: You have some people injured, why do they have their heads bandaged up?

Ukrainian POW #2: They have been wounded during either fighting or under fire.

Reporter: Tell, what do you feel now?

Ukrainian POW #2: I feel nothing.

KP Reporter talks to Alla Andreevna, who was in the torture chamber of the Ukrainian secret service.

Alla Andreevna: They put plastic bag on my head, I was being throttled, I was suffocating. I have diabetes mellitus. They did not let me go to the toilet, they were keeping me in handcuffs, saying: “You—separatist, bitch,—we will rape you all by turns, then will direct you to the minefield.” So it was, in general.

Reporter: How are you now? Happy?

Alla Andreevna: Now I am just happy. I think, the God has returned me my life. Just the life.

Reporter: Did you pray?

Alla Andreevna: I prayed, and as I helped the people a lot so I think the God is with me. And the Mother Russia is also with us, right? How we sing it in the anthem of DPR: “The Mother Russia is with you”.

KP Reporter talks to Dmitry Saitov, who was in the torture chamber of the Ukrainian secret service.

Reporter: Generally, how was it there?

Dmitry Saitov: Namely, what?

Reporter: In which conditions you were kept?

Dmitry Saitov: I was captured in Kharkov on August 5, and they brought me, as I understood, to Kramatork, to the Organized Crime Division building. They kept me there over 3 days. They blamed me for the connections with terrorists, with the DPR. Then they took me to a certain esplanade. I supposed, that was an airdrome in Kramatorsk. There they kept me on a chain, with handcuffs. The conditions were actually awful.

Reporter: Did they get physical?

Dmitry Saitov: Yes, I have learned what a ramrod is… for the submachine gun.

Reporter: What did they do with the ramrod for gun?

Dmitry Saitov: They were trying… I should not say it in front of the camera—to force us to urinate with blood. They were taking people out in a field to execute by shooting. They shot, they just tormented people, so it was.

Reporter: What did they demand from you?

Dmitry Saitov: An avowal that I am a terrorist, a DPR partisan.

Reporter: And what do you actually do?

Dmitry Saitov: If you probably remember me, I was liberating people in Slavyansk on May 3. That was my first public performance. Also before that, or later—I cannot remember, it was me who liberated two of the OSCE officers and took them to Donetsk. I was taking different measures for settlement of the conflict, I attended roundtables, in general, I performed peacekeeping issues.

KP Reporter talks to Roman Obramov, who was in the torture chamber of the Ukrainian secret service.

Roman Obramov: The “Aidar” battalion captured me at home. I came home to take the belongings to pass them to my child. I have a baby. At that time it was 5 months old, now it is 9. Obviously, they took out everything from my house: A lap-top, a plasma TV set, gold and silver. Everything.

Reporter: Where did they take you? How were you treated?

Roman Obramov: Well, I was taken to Starobelsk. There I overnighted at the SBU building, and the next day they took me to Kharkov. I was not at the ATO. I was beaten at the military unit.

Reporter: Could you tell us more?

They beat me at home. Well, how were we treated? Like ordinary prisoners, in a cell. We had saunters sometimes. At the SBU they are more or less humane.

Reporter: What did they want fro you?

Roman Obramov: I have no idea.

Reporter: Did they carry out any investigative action with you?

Roman Obramov: No.

Reporter: They just kept you in the cell.

Roman Obramov: Right. They forced me to testify against the guys. That is all.

Reporter: In which way did they force you?

Roman Obramov: Well, in which way usually can someone be forced? With menace. They menaced, they took me to a court, recorded evidences. That is all, then took me back into the cell, without any actions.

Reporter: Did you personally participate in the Militia activity or anything else?

Roman Obramov: I did not before, but now I will.

KP Reporter talks to another POW, that was in the torture chamber of the Ukrainian secret service.

Reporter: How were you arrested?

Militia POW: It was on June 22. They took me from home I was seized by the “Aydar” battalion, that is in Lugansk region now.

Reporter: In which city were you taken?

Militia POW: In Petrovka settlement of Stanitsa-Luganskaya district in Lugansk region. I was not “taken”, rather “captured”. As a number of armed masked people without any identification came to my place in broad daylight. They beat me in front of an 8-years old child.

Reporter: Why did they come to your place?

Militia POW: I have no idea. I do not know for which reason they have been keeping me. They did not accuse me of anything within 80 days since I have been captured.

Reporter: What are you? Your profession?

Militia POW: I am a retiree of the Ministry of Interior since 2010. I have been keeping house.

Reporter: What has been happening to you during those 80 days? Where were you kept?

Militia POW: I was kept in Schastie for 3 days, there is a police school. They beat me there, calling “separatist”. Everyone living in Lugansk region appears to be a separatist. After 3 days I was sent to the SBU in Kharkov. There I have been staying until today.

Reporter: Did they use force as a method of influence?

Militia POW: Not in Kharkov, although in Schastie they did. They stabbed all my leg and arm with an awl. I was beaten by 6 or 7 people.

Reporter: What kind of tortures did you undergo, except with an awl?

Militia POW: They tortured by tightening handcuffs. I was fastened with hands and feet. Also strangling.