“I woke up at about 10:20 p.m., started searching for these Russian publics, and at 10:30 p.m. I found this video, I recognised him by his tattoo,” says Lyudmyla, the wife of a Ukrainian soldier from the 110th Separate Mechanised Brigade named after Marko Bezruchko, Andriy Dubnytskyi, call sign “Bayraktar”, who remained with five other fellow soldiers at the Zenit position in Avdiivka, through tears. The video shows the bodies of the soldiers identified by their relatives.

The journalists of Slidstvo.Info talked to the mother, wife and sister of three Ukrainian defenders who were left wounded at the Zenit position. 

Kateryna, whose brother, Ivan Zhytnyk, call sign “Django”, has been in Avdiivka for two years as part of the 110th Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told the Slidstvo.Info journalists that she received a call from Ivan, who said he was wounded and that there were four other wounded soldiers from the brigade and one soldier who was healthy but decided to stay with his comrades in the mine.

30-year-old junior sergeant and combat medic Ivan Zhytnyk, call sign “Django”

“They (the wounded) were told to wait for the car, and all the uninjured were taken away. And they waited for the vehicle for a day and a half. And when they realised that no one was coming to pick them up, they started calling everyone. “When “Django” called me, he was in so much pain, they injected him with everything they had left, but they were running out of medicine and food,” the woman says. 

The conversation between the siblings was posted on social media, although Kateryna says she did not post anything, but sent the recording to her relatives.

Screenshot from the video

In the afternoon, Kateryna’s son-in-law dialled Django via video link. 

“My brother said that the command had agreed that the Russians would pick them up, because our guys would not get to them,” Kateryna says.

During this video conversation, Kateryna’s son-in-law saw the Russians enter the mine and tell everyone to get out: “And my son-in-law told us: ‘I see the Russians coming in and saying: ‘Get up, get out, we’re not going to carry you’. My son-in-law was still trying to talk to him, but they told my brother to switch off the phone.”

Later, Viktor Bilyak, a fighter with the 110th Brigade, told Slidstvo.Info that he had been with the wounded soldiers on the Zenit before he was evacuated. The journalists saw a video on Russian social media showing the wounded in Ukrainian Armed Forces uniforms, one of them with a bandaged head. The video was shot at the Zenit position. One of the dead has a tattoo in the shape of a cross on his arm. Viktor Bilyak identified the man as Andriy Dubnytskyi, call sign “Bayraktar”, a fighter with the 110th Brigade. On 14 February, he remained at the Zenit position with other wounded.

“He called me at 7am, but we were sleeping. We talked at 10 am. He was wounded in the groin, wrapped in bandages, trying to joke, crying. Then we corresponded… The last message was at 12:00 that he would be captured. I still have all the correspondence,” Lyudmyla, “Bayraktar”‘s wife, told Slidstvo.Info

On 16 February, Lyudmyla went to the military enlistment office to find out something about her husband, but she was not given any answers: “They said they would contact me, but no one did, I passed out.”

Lyudmyla woke up in the evening and started searching for information about her husband on Russian social media. 

“At 10:30 pm, I found this video, I recognised him by his tattoo. His co-servant confirmed to me that it was him. No one called me after that, nothing. Today, they asked for a DNA test of my daughter, in case of emergency, I gave them all the documents, passport details, and military ID. He was called up on 8 March 2022, and since then he has been in Avdiivka all the time… My daughter was 4 months old when he was mobilised,” the woman says. 

Along with Andriy Dubnytskyi, Heorhiy Pavlov with the call sign “Panda” was in the Russian video. His mother Inna recognised him.

Heorhiy Pavlov with the call sign “Panda”

Heorhiy “Panda” Pavlov is a contract soldier who served since 2015. In 2017 he was in Mariupol, then he was transferred to the 110th Brigade, and for the last year he served at the Zenit position. The woman says the soldiers waited three days for evacuation. 

“They waited for three days for the car, he was not wounded then, and on 14th he was wounded, he had shrapnel wounds, his back… I begged him very much, son, surrender, I need you alive — he has a small child, 5 years old, his son Andriusha, and he said: “Mum, I am a warrior”. I would like to believe that they are alive. The biggest thing I want now is to find my son. I want to see my son — he will turn 30 this year,” says Inna.

A few hours after talking to Slidstvo.Info journalists, the woman wrote a message saying that she had recognised her son’s body in the same Russian video of the killed Ukrainian soldiers.

Kateryna, the sister of “Django”, also hoped to the last that her brother would be given medical treatment and exchanged. 

“I hope they will treat him there, in Donetsk, his legs are swollen. I hope they don’t shoot them,” Kateryna told journalists in the morning.

However, in the Russian video, the woman recognised Ivan’s body by his clothes and the water bottle he was holding when they were taken out of the mine by the Russians. Ivan was talking to his family via video when the occupiers entered their impromptu hospital in the mine. 

Slidstvo.Info journalists asked the press service of the 110th Separate Mechanised Brigade for a comment. They replied that they needed to verify the information: “I can neither confirm nor deny it, we need to check and verify it. The staffing list is information for official use, I do not have access to this information… I have seen this video, but if it were true, the Russians would have already started a hysteria that we had abandoned the wounded. These could be guys from another position, other places, other times.”

The Russian military seized the Zenit position in the southeast of Avdiivka on 15 February 2024. On the night of 16-17 February, Army Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi stated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had withdrawn from Avdiivka, and the commander of the Tavria Operational and Strategic Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, wrote in his Telegram that “The withdrawal of personnel from Avdiivka took place in accordance with the plan developed taking into account various scenarios and possible changes in the operational situation. Nevertheless… a number of Ukrainian servicemen were captured. The relevant Ukrainian institutions will appeal to international humanitarian organisations and intermediary countries to ensure that the enemy treats prisoners of war humanely, in accordance with the norms of International Humanitarian Law, and that our soldiers return to their homeland. We will fight for the liberation of all our comrades.”

The material was prepared with the support of the European Union and the International Renaissance Foundation within the framework of the joint initiative “European Renaissance of Ukraine”. The material represents the position of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union or the International Renaissance Foundation.