By Maria Lebedeva
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
All photos by Maria Lebedeva
Milana was held captive for 14 days. She seems to be smiling at all times, but in reality she suffers from severe headaches, she cannot look at the light. She is constantly short of breath. During her capture, Milana was constantly beaten and injected with unknown substances, and her arms bear signs of the injections. There, in the torture room, she saw other captives, the men who were called the “Right Sector” (just like Milana) by the kidnappers. Their fate is unknown at the present moment.
The young woman is a professional photographer, a concerned citizen. This winter, she came to Maidan, like so many other Ukrainians. She came to Donetsk to talk to locals and “see everything with her own eyes.” On May 5, she was grabbed in downtown Donetsk and dragged into a black minibus.
What were you doing in Donetsk?
I was interviewing people at the district administration. I was taking pictures of what was happening, asking people about their thoughts on the upcoming referendum, whether they supported a unified Ukraine. Of course, the majority of them were for a unified Ukraine.
How were you kidnapped?
I was getting ready to go to the railway station. I saw men in black uniforms walking below my windows. I waited for a moment when there weren’t any of them outside and left the building. As usual, I had my bag and camera with me. I walked down one of the main streets; I don’t know its name. I was passed by a black minibus with a sliding door. Two men grabbed me and dragged me inside. I later realized that those men were considered the guards in the place I was kept. Tall, put together, athletic. There were no seats in the vehicle, it was empty. They immediately put a dark sack cloth over my head.
What happened in the car?
They were quiet. I got very scared. The car stopped, and they got out for about 15 minutes. Then they came back and suddenly hit me in the back of the head.
I regained consciousness in some room. My hands were tied behind my back, and I had a thick bandage over my eyes.
Were there people next to you?
Yes. People just like me.
What were they doing?
They all sat quietly. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other.
Was there a guard?
What orders did they give?
If their chief came in, we were to sit with our eyes closed.
Were you questioned?
Yes, they asked me who I was, where I came from. But on the first day they didn’t interrogate me, and I just sat there.
Did you hear them interrogating the others?
I heard loud shouts by a man, they could be heard coming from other rooms. Every night.
All the nights I spent there, [people] were always screaming. Screaming very loudly.
On the first day, they wouldn’t let me drink, even though I asked. “What do you…just sit quietly.” They yelled at me, “See, brought in a Banderite.” They called me an [intelligence] scout, a fascist, and the “Right Sector.” Then they tossed me into a room, and the interrogation ensued. “First name, last name, place of residence, occupation…”
What manner of communication did these people have?
There were Ukrainians, but most of them were Russians. I thought so, because it was clear from their conversations with each other that they didn’t know who was who in Ukraine. They didn’t know our politicians. The following phrases were heard, “You have,” “You have it this way, and we have it the other way, different rules,” “What will we have now…”
What did they want to find out from you?
They asked for contacts in the “Right Sek,” that’s what they called it… They asked what I had done on Maidan, why I had come to Donetsk, who I worked for… They insulted me. When I didn’t know how to respond, they slapped me and could [at times] hit me over the head with a machine gun.
The scariest [thing] was when they put me next to a person, and when I didn’t answer a question, they started to beat him. So that I would sense how much he hurt and listen to his screams. They beat [him] very hard.
They also asked me, “Tell [us] the number of those you work with on Maidan,” or “Who finances Maidan, the Americans?” They always included the Americans in all questions. “How much did [they] pay everyone?” “Why did you stay [on Maidan]?” “Did you really live in tents?” “Who works with this Yarosh guy?” “Who pays him, where does his money come from?” They asked questions I really didn’t know the answers to.
Did you give them the answers they wanted?
I didn’t know what to answer. I had the feeling that it was February again and that Maidan was still standing. I answered that I stood for the freedom and the future of my country. And they said, “So you are a patriot of THAT Ukraine.” I retorted, “Yes.” They said, “Well, you’ll pay for your patriotism.” They hit me on the head, threatened me.
They said, “If you don’t start talking, there’s a lot of us here, and you will be with every one [of us].” As in, we’ll pass you around. Sometimes they demanded that I take off my blouse. They could feel me up, pinch my face, my body. They dragged me by my hair.
Were there other women?
Was it the same room, all the time?
No, there were two. One smaller, and the other bigger. The bigger room had more people. Seven people in the small room, and up to 12 people in the larger one.
How did the interrogation end? If you didn’t respond, did they beat you and end things at that?
Yes. They interrogated me four times. About two hours each time. I didn’t have any strength left and was thirsty. On the second day, I started to lose consciousness. Then they started giving me water. I just kept falling down. On the third day, they untied my hands and eyes only to tie them up again later. I could only sleep sitting up. I sat on some bench. There were other people sitting there, and they were also being taken for interrogation. Some were released…
I spent five days with my eyes and hands bound up. At first, they tied my hands behind me, then they tied them in front at my request. I understood from the screams when the night came.
On one of the days, they packed me and some other men into a car and took us somewhere, possibly a forest; it was very quiet there. We were taken out of the car and put on our knees; a man came over and put a machine gun up to my head. He told us to pray. If we prayed quietly, he might hit us and demand that we pray louder. Then there were shots in the air.
I was shaking, I probably collapsed, because I woke up lying on the ground. The men were beaten. I don’t know if they fired in the air or they shot someone. But there had been five of us, and they only brought me and another man back. I don’t know what happened to the others.
They took four or five people out like this twice. They wanted you to hear how another person suffers. And when they were taking us, I thought that they would probably shoot me this time, since I had been there for a long time already, and there was no sense in interrogating me more. It didn’t even occur to me that they would let me go.
How did the days pass in the dungeons? Did you hear any conversations? Did someone tell you anything?
Every time someone entered the room, they would shove me and say something along the lines of, “How is it sitting here, Banderite?” They called me the “Zhydo-Banderite,” “fascist scout,” “journo-slut.” I sat quietly. I was very scared during the first couple of days, I was hysterical. They beat me to silence me. They said, if you continue to scream, we will beat the others.
Did they beat you when they interrogated other captives?
They could slap me. Hit me in the stomach. One time, when I was laying down, they hit me on the heels with something. I had convulsions over all my body. They untied my hands five days later. And my eyes. The main interrogation was done. I could get up and walk a little. But the room was small, couldn’t walk as much. On the day they untied my blindfold, I saw six people in the room. Three of them had their hands and eyes bound. We were forbidden from talking. If someone asked me, “How are you?” and I responded, “Fine,” they yelled at us immediately, “Shut your mouths!”
Did you recognize any of the people with whom you were detained?
I don’t know them. There were people from 20 to 50 years of age. They were all called the “Right Sector.” There were no windows in the room. Concrete walls. There was nothing on the floor, just concrete. The bench in a square. Into the corners. Turquoise walls, painted over halfway, gray on top. Low ceiling. Lightbulb without a shade.
Do you recall any people among the captured?
There was a young guy, probably new, because he was tied up and blindfolded. That was probably the 7th-9th day [of my capture]. They took him at night, brought him back by the dawn. His face had been smashed, his sleeveless shirt all in blood. Maybe his lungs had been damaged, he had labored breathing. He lay on the floor. He lay this way until the evening, they took him away, and didn’t bring him [back] anymore.
We weren’t allowed to approach the beat-up people. I asked him about his name, and he said his name was Serhiy. A guard immediately came over and hit me.
Did they call anyone by name?
There was a man of about 40 y.o., his name was Volodymyr. That’s what he replied when a “specialist” asked him. Maybe they let him go. Neither one of us know what happened to the others. Some asked the guard where our neighbors had disappeared to. They replied, “They were released.” One said, “Don’t worry, you will be released, too.”
What did the guards talk to each other about?
They mentioned the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic]. “We are at the DPR already. Now it’s ours.” Most of them talked with a Russian accent. “CHto” instead of “SHcho” [Ed. Note – “what” in Ukrainian and Russian]. The guards always wore masks. Only eyes and mouths were uncovered. They wore dark-green military uniforms, sometimes camouflage. The “specialist” gave injections.
A guard would come in, push the barrel of a gun to your head, and say, “If you move, we will shoot you,” and another [guard] made the injection. In the shoulder, in the vein, in different ways. Not every day. 10-15 minutes would pass, I was lost in space, my hearing would worsen. Some of the information got lost in memory. I couldn’t stand any longer or even sit up, and so I lay down on the concrete floor. It was very cold, but when you feel flushed–you start feeling better [lying] on the floor.
How did they let you go?
This was in the morning. Two other people and I were put into a car. I was blindfolded. They drove us for about an hour. Then they pushed us out of the car and said, “Don’t open your eyes until we leave.” They released only me. They put something in the pocket of my jeans when we stopped. It turned out to be my passport.
I heard the car drive off and opened my eyes. I couldn’t orient myself at once, and so I wandered towards the houses. I asked a passer-by what city it was, and it turned out to be Donetsk. At first, I didn’t try to ask for help. I wanted to know where I was and pull myself together. I approached some people, asked to use their phones, but they refused. Said they didn’t have a phone… Then I came to a highway, asked where the railway station was, and started walking towards it. I walked for about 40 minutes to an hour. I stopped [to rest], it was hard [for me] to walk.
Who did you ask for help at the railway station?
I went to the police and explained the situation as well as I could. The policeman introduced himself as a lieutenant. And said, “Forgive us, we can’t help you with anything. It’s not within our control.” I asked to use the phone at a hotel by the railway station, they refused. Only a waitress at a café gave me a phone. I couldn’t reach my relatives (Milana lives in Kyiv with her grandmother–Ed.), and used the internet from the phone, updated my Facebook status, and asked for help, so that people would get in touch with me. In literally three minutes, a man wrote me and said that he’s been searching for me since May 6. His name was Viktor. He contacted the people who came to pick me up and take me to a safe place.
Immediately upon arrival in Kyiv, Milana was examined at one of the Kyiv hospitals. She received medical help, for which a separate “thank you” [is in order] to Maidan SOS volunteers–they helped out promptly.
Milana’s story suggests that on the territory of Ukraine, there is a very real concentration camp, where people are being maimed and killed. And prisoners are still being kept there. Only a few people were released, including Sergiy Lefter, Artem Deynega, and Milana. The [Ukrainian] state paid close attention to the release of the OSCE representatives, but it looks as if the fate of ordinary people only interests ordinary people. To be continued, unfortunately.
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Two weeks held captive by terrorists
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