Exactly one year ago, an explosion occurred in barrack №200 in colony №120 in occupied Olenivka, where Russia was keeping Ukrainian prisoners of war. It killed more than 50 soldiers of the Azov regiment and seriously injured more than 70 others.
The journalists of Slidstvo.info talked to the mother of Yaroslav Bais, a soldier from the Azov regiment, who was held in Russian captivity in Olenivka. The video has English subtitles.
Yaroslav Bais is a soldier with the Azov Regiment. Together with his comrades, he defended Mariupol from the Russian invaders, and then surrendered by order and was taken prisoner in Olenivka.
Yaroslav’s mother, Maryna, says that her son decided to join the Azov regiment immediately after graduation.
“He came to me one day and said: “I’m not going to do conscript service, I won’t be able to paint curbs. And if you go to the army, you need to learn something. And the only place where you can learn is at Azov,” Maryna recalls.
In September 2015, Yaroslav joined the Azov regiment for the young soldier’s course. In 2017, he signed a contract and went to the Donetsk region.
“For these guys, ‘Ukraine is above all’ is not a fancy phrase. The prayer of a nationalist, which is now heard more and more often at funerals, is their world for them (the soldiers of the Azov regiment — ed.),” says Maryna.
According to various sources, thousands of civilians have been killed during the blockade of Mariupol by Russian troops. Ukrainian authorities say more than 25,000 have been killed. According to the UN, up to 90 per cent of the city’s residential buildings were damaged or destroyed during the Russian siege.
Yaroslav and his comrades were at the Azovstal plant and saw with their own eyes what was happening in the city.
“He wrote this to me back in March 2022. He said, ‘Mum, you don’t understand that the worst thing for civilians is the Russian occupation. Because they are inhuman, they are inhuman,” the woman shows a message from her son.
According to Maryna, Yaroslav and the other guys were well aware that it was impossible to get them out of the city, which was completely blockaded by the Russian occupiers.
“It was impossible, just impossible (to leave Mariupol — ed.). And he understood that. He told me: “I understand that no one will help us. Because 120 kilometres across an open field, guys like us will be walking towards us to face certain death. Because they will simply be shot,” she recalls.
Every time Yaroslav’s mother reads the exchange of messages with her son, she realises that he had no way out.
“Even I read our messages in Telegrams every time. He says there is no hope anymore. That is, they hoped for some kind of miracle… “We do what we have to do, and whatever happens, happens,” says Maryna.
According to official figures, Russia has been holding nearly 2,000 Mariupol defenders in captivity for over a year, including about 700 members of the Azov Brigade.
Maryna learned that the Ukrainian defenders had received an order to surrender into “honourable captivity” from her son.
“He wrote to me… I realised that there was no way out. That either they all — two and a half thousand, including civilians – were dying, or there was some chance of survival. The worst thing for him was to see civilians dying,” says Maryna.
Before he was captured, Yaroslav put on his officer’s shoulder straps on purpose.
“I asked him: “When are you going to come out? He said: ‘I’ll be in the first group’… The connection was cut off at three in the morning,” says Maryna.
A week later, she received a call from the Red Cross. Russia confirmed that Yaroslav was in captivity.
“My birthday is on 15 July… He sent me a text message from a Ukrainian number, congratulating me,” Marina says.
The woman says that once Yaroslav called her from captivity: “He said he really wanted to go home. He said: “I’m going to lock myself up for a week, buy some sweets and play on the computer.”
On 28 July 2022, an explosion occurred in the building where Russians were holding prisoners from Azovstal. Russia claimed that it was caused by an alleged HIMARS attack, but Ukrainian law enforcement officials said it was a planned terrorist attack by the Russian Federation, as no colony employees, so-called DPR militants, or Russian soldiers were injured. According to the results of the examination, the Russians used a thermobaric grenade launcher.
Yaroslav’s mother learned about the attack in Olenivka from her younger son: “He called me and sent me a link from Facebook, where they published the list. I can’t describe to you what happened to me, what happened to all of us.”
The Russians put Yaroslav’s name on both lists — of the wounded and the killed. The soldier’s family hoped for a miracle.
“His brother-in-arms, who was exchanged, was just in another barrack. He told me that the barracks were overcrowded, so the Russians made an extra one… Everyone thought it was just a resettlement… And it was the night before… They (Russians – ed.) had been preparing for this (terrorist attack – ed.) since the first day,” says Maryna.
According to Yaroslav’s friend, the head of the colony knew about the explosion.
“It was an explosion from the inside, because there were bunk beds, and most of the victims slept on the lower bunks… The guy who slept on the same bed as my son and was on top, he is alive,” Maryna says.
According to Yaroslav’s mother, the occupiers brought trucks only after 5 hours and began to take the prisoners away: “In the first hours, no help was provided at all. You can imagine… there was fire, screams… After 5 hours, they were loaded altogether into these Ural trucks,” Maryna says.
“THE UNKNOWN IS SCARY”
Maryna learned that Yaroslav had died in February 2023.
“The preliminary DNA match was in February. All the time you are sitting in this waiting. It’s very hard because the worst thing is the unknown. I had moments when I didn’t know anymore, I wanted a miracle, that he would come back under some fairy-tale circumstances,” the woman says.
Maryna says that Russian dictator Putin is the personification of Russians.
“We are dealing with a country of maniacs. Putin is their personification. Have you seen the comments that people write? And these are not just bots, but real people. Only fear of power will stop them. Otherwise, they will never calm down,” the woman says.
Yaroslav’s mother adds: “I was proud that I managed to raise a decent man, proud of my child. Although the price is so high… and I feel guilty about it.”