Since the Russia’s full-scale invasion to Ukraine, there have been daily reports of kidnappings of Ukrainian city mayors, activists and journalists committed by Russians. In most cases, neither the place of their stay nor the conditions of release are unknown — there is simply no communication with them. Relatives and friends are looking for them on their own, because usually kidnappings take place in the Russian-occupied territory, where the National Police of Ukraine is powerless.
Slidstvo.Info investigated the cases of the most high-profile kidnappings — the Deputy from Kharkiv oblast, the Mayors of Melitopol and Berdyansk, some activists and journalists in the Kherson oblast. It also had talks with human rights defenders and officials who understand the mechanism for finding and returning kidnapped Ukrainians.
In particular, we found out that the Red Cross plays a key role in this process, and, according to the responsible Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, the Russians confirmed that they hold only ten people captive.
In fact, there are many more reports of missing ones. At the moment, the search for kidnapped Ukrainians is still chaotic, but they are trying to systematize it – they have already created a separate state body.
For the kidnappings of the Ukrainians, which will be proved in an international court, Russians are going to face terms up to life imprisonment.
The first kidnapping
The first fact of kidnapping committed by the occupiers was reported on March 1. In Kharkiv oblast, in the Russian-occupied city of Kupyans’k during a peaceful protest of residents against the occupation, the Russian military had used the smoke bombs and kidnapped the Deputy of the City Council Mykola Masliy.
On the eve of the kidnapping Mykola Masliy told “Slidstvo.Info” about how the mayor of Kupyans’k “surrendered” the city to the Russians without a fight and actually allowed him to govern it.
Masliy represents the opposite to the Mayor, who is a member of the Opposition Platform — For Life, political force – the Block of Svitlychna «Together!». He has pro-Ukrainian views and has immediately openly opposed the Mayor’s decision to surrender the city and even organized a protest.
It was him who organized the protest on March 1 and asked other locals to join it — he was heading the column all the time.
In conversations with Slidstvo.Info, eyewitnesses told us about how the kidnapping took place. First, Masliy was called by the Russian militaries, and then he dropped off the grid. Because of the smoke and the noise of shots, the protesters did not see anything and no one noticed what exactly happened to the Deputy.
«I stood in front of them with the flag, I could be captured. And the man who was kneeling a few meters away could also be captured. But they grabbed Masliy,» says a resident of Kupyans’k Lyudmila.
Residents and family are searching for the Deputy who has disappeared during the protest, but have not heard anything about him for more than two weeks.
«We are doing our best,” the wife of the missing Deputy Olena Borysivna told us in a commentary, «Yes, there is no connection with him… otherwise there would be no problem. I won’t tell you anything else. It’s a very difficult topic to discuss.»
Missing ones in the South and East
Over the past week, reports of kidnappings in Russian-occupied towns and villages have begun to appear daily.
The largest number of kidnappings is observed in Zaporizhzhya and Kherson oblasts. There are many occupied cities – Berdyansk, Energodar, Tokmak, Henichesk, Kakhovka, Oleshky and others. The Russians are trying to intimidate local residents who oppose the occupation, persuade them to cooperate, as well as take revenge on Ukrainian activists, journalists, human rights defenders and heads of the cities for their principled position.
On Thursday, it became known that the journalist of Hromadske Victoria Roshchina was captured by the Russians. She filmed videos and wrote materials from the scene in eastern and southern Ukraine.
According to her colleagues, the journalist was preparing reports on the events in Zaporizhzhya and Donetsk oblasts and has disappeared on the way to Mariupol. The last time she was known to be in Berdyansk, where she was detained by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. After that, the connection with her was lost and nothing is known about the whereabouts of Roshchina.
On the same day, the wife of the Secretary of the City Council of Nova Kakhovka (Kherson oblast) Lyudmila Vasilyeva said that her husband Dmitry Vasilyev was kidnapped by the occupiers who are located in the city.
According to her, the Russian occupiers have been holding her husband in the basement of the temporary detention facility in the Nova Kakhovka Police premises for two days. This place is used by the occupiers as the «office» of the so-called «commandant’s office».
The wife of the kidnapped noted that the occupiers are pressuring Vasilyev to change his attitude to the Russian occupation. According to her, the Secretary is subjected to physical and moral pressure, including the elements of torture. She also wrote a statement to the Prosecutor’s office, but Ukrainian law enforcement agencies cannot fully work in the territories occupied by the Russians.
As of the morning of March 19, it is known that the activist Olga Gaisumova (Melitopol), the Chairman of the District Council Serhiy Pryima (Melitopol), the Mayor Evgeniy Matveev (Dniprorudne), the activist Serhiy Tsygipa (Nova Kakhovka), the journalist Oleg Baturin (Kakhovka), the Village Head Vasyl Mytko (Nikolsk) have disappeared.
The kidnapped and returned
The city of Melitopol, where the largest number of kidnapped by Russians was recorded, was left without the Mayor for several days.
After unsuccessful attempts of the occupiers to establish cooperation with the administration of the city, the Mayor Ivan Fedorov has disappeared. He was kidnapped on March 11 directly from the local Palace of Culture, where the city’s governing apparatus and humanitarian headquarters were temporarily located.
Video of his kidnapping has appeared online — it was recorded by public surveillance cameras. The video shows people in Russian uniforms escorting a man out with a bag on his head in an unknown direction.
«After the occupiers had entered the building of the executive committee, there was chaos. They staged a demonstrative coup, all the equipment, furniture was smashed to pieces. Therefore, the City Council moved to the Palace of Culture, the humanitarian headquarters was created there, where the residents could immediately receive an aid. The administrating of the city also managed from this building. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the hardware drove in, the people with an assault rifles drove in, put a bag on his head and took the Mayor away,» a resident of Melitopol told Slidstvo.Info after the Mayor’s kidnapping.
Fedorov was taken to Luhansk, where the criminal case for communication and financing of the Right Sector was opened against him. After five days of captivity, Fedorov was released and exchanged for nine conscripts from Russia who were held captive in Ukraine.
«I suppose it will be like Donetsk and Luhansk — the same scheme. They will grab people on the street so that they are afraid, will imprison, it will go according to such a scenario,» says Andriy Radchenko, the Deputy of the Melitopol City Council from European Solidarity.
He says that disappearances occur every day, but it is difficult to calculate the number of those held captive by the Russians.
Who is looking for the missing ones?
Since Ukrainian law enforcement agencies in the territories occupied by the Russian militaries cannot fully work, a new state body was recently created in Ukraine.
The National Information Bureau should collect and systematize information about the Ukrainians who have died, disappeared or been captured.
“We have a register that has begun to be formed now,” Iryna Vereshchuk, the Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, whom the National Information Bureau reports to, told “Slidstvo.Info”.
According to her, the work has not yet been systematized – data is collected from the media, social networks, on calls from relatives of missing people. A decisive role in the search for the missing ones is played by the Representative Office of the Red Cross in Ukraine.
«What the Red Cross can do is to take the information we provide: the year of birth, the title, the time of the person’s disappearance — there is a special card for that. We fill in all such cards, we receive this information from all the state bodies. Then we give it to the Red Cross, and they then should ask the Russians if these people captured by them. And only 10 captured were confirmed as for now,» Vereshchuk says.
The mayor of Dniprorudne and the Mayor of Melitopol who has already been released from captivity are among them, and the other missing ones have been not confirmed by the Russians.
To quote Vereshchuk, according to all the international agreements, the Russians should allow the Red Cross and other international organizations to the captured to have the opportunity to check the conditions of the detention. But Russia does not respond to the requests of the Red Cross regarding Ukrainian captured.
Also, according to the Minister, publicity, and especially the interest of the Ukrainian and international media to the kidnapped people, puts pressure on the Russians and they then either release the kidnapped, or at least choose the negotiations.
The Executive Director of the Center for Civil Liberties Alexandra Romantsova told Slidstvo.Info how their crimes against the Ukrainians may threaten the Russians.
«Kidnapping, capturing, coercion, rape, looting — if it is systemic and has the permission of officers or is committed by order, then it is a war crime. And an international prosecutor who has come to Ukraine should receive a notification about this,» Romantsova said.
«The more witnesses there are, the better — this is how we and other human rights organizations are engaged in this documentation.»
All war crimes described by the Prosecutor General’s Office are referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which will judge the people who gave these orders.
On March 2, 2022, the ICC prosecutor announced that he had opened an investigation on the situation in Ukraine.
«The maximum possible punishment for criminals convicted by the ICC is life imprisonment,» the press service of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine told Slidstvo.Info.
Ukrainians, kidnapped by Russian invaders: the activist Olga Gaisumova (Melitopol), the Chairman of the District Council Serhiy Pryima (Melitopol), the Deputy Leila Ibrahimova (Melitopol), the Mayor Evgeniy Matveev (Dniprorudne), the activist Serhiy Tsygipa (Nova Kakhovka), the journalist Oleg Baturin (Kakhovka), the Village Head Vasyl Mytko (Nikolsk), the Mayor Ivan Fedorov (Melitopol), the journalist Victoria Roshchina (Berdyansk), the Deputy Mykola Masliy (Kupyansk).