In the Crimean Captivity. The Shocking Story of Three Being Set Free

For about two weeks by now, people in Crimea keep disappearing every day, among them are activists, journalists, and priests.

Today is the fourth day since three Automaidan activists: Natalia Lukyanenko, Sergei Suprun and Alexey Gritsenko went missing.

Yesterday, in Simferopol disappeared two cameramen of documentary cinema project “Babilon’13” Yaroslav Pilunsky and Yuri Hruzinov. Yaroslav is Crimean native, originally from Sevastopol, Yuri Hruzinov – Russian citizen, living in Kiev.

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Left: Yuri Hruzinov, right: Yaroslav Pilunsky

Couple of days ago I’ve posted link to Miriam’s Drahina story about her attempt to find 6 people, journalists and activists, who went missing after being detained at the border between Crimea and continental Ukraine.

All of them were released and are back to Kiev for a while now, but they were refusing to comment on details of their detention.

And now I know why… On March 14th, three of them gave press-conference on their stay in captivity. Here is the translation of it.

The original in Ukrainian was published on Ukrainska Pravda. Life.

Please be advised, their story is somewhat graphic.

Shooting bullets just 10 centimeters from their heads, beatings, cutting their hair off, playing with a knife across their bodies, threatening to cut an ear, or nose, stripping them naked … and all of that while others are laughing and filming the process with their cellphones.

Three young people from Kiev – photographer Oles’ Kromplyas, electricity engineer Eugene Rakhno, and freelance journalist Olena Maksymenko – all had to suffer through this.

Olena said she was not physically abused as much as her male-friends Oles’ and Eugene, but she was pressured verbally a lot.

On Friday, March, 14th, young people met with reporters and told them what happened to them on March 9th and 10th, when the whole Ukraine was worried for the abducted in Crimea.

This is their story.

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From left to right: Eugene Rakhno, Olena Maksymenko, Oles’ Kromplyas and Oleksiy Byk

Eugene Rakhno: I’m the car owner who was driving everybody to Crimea. My mother-in-law lives there, I wanted to see what was going on with my own eyes. According to people at the checkpoint I had some very professional equipment in my car.

I had 3 spare seats in my car, Oles’ responded the first, then Oleksiy (Byk – a journalist, who managed to pass through the checkpoint, because before everything happened, he switched to the car of his Crimean friend; he was the one who informed everybody about the missing people), he brought Lena.

Olena Maksymenko: the key charges against me appeared when they found my journalist ID (there were two of them), and my camera. But the worst thing was that there was also an accreditation with the National Headquarters of Resistance from Maidan press center.

Journalists are considered a priori enemies, who came to incite people and distort the situation.

Oles Kromplyas: I had two cameras, but managed to explain them somehow that they were not professional equipment.

Then they saw Olena’s journalist ID, but mostly they were furious about Eugene’s bulletproof vest. He purchased it legally at the Interior Ministry of Ukraine, and carried the official receipt with him. He was trying to explaine that the body armor was there only for his protection…

Then they pulled over our car further to the side of the curb, they put Olena to the side of it, and made us (Eugene and myself) go down on our knees with our hand raised up behind our heads.

There were around 200 people at the checkpoint, also there were tents and armored vehicles. And all these people just started to gather around us, to lecture us, to call us maidan-loonies, at the same time they were searching Automaidan girls (from the second car, they were captured as well.)

At that time, we were still thinking that, in the worst case scenario, they would lecture us and send us back home.

And then some berkut guys came over. The first one, said: “Look here!” and then :” Why are you looking!” Then just kicked me hard in my stomach. I was on my knees. Our hands were tied behind with plastic wraps, Olenka’s hands were tied with ducktape.

Eugene was getting the most of it, because the car belong to him. It’s an off-road SUV, there were jack and a towing cord [in the trunk]. They interrogated us, asking how we would use all of these things? Each time they did not believe the answer, they would just hit him.

Someone came up to my bag, noticed a film for my camera, and started yelling: “They are the terrorists! They were in Beslan!” What Beslan has to do with photo films?

Extravaganza of Unseen Sadism

Oles Kromplyas: When they realized that we were, according to their own slang, “serious passengers,” they took us a little further along the road and pushed into the ditch.

They put us on our knees there as well. And then they started the greatest circus for all of them – an Extravaganza of Unseen Sadism.

At first, when we had been back at the checkpoint, we still thought that because anyone could see us there, nothing would happen. But as soon as we got into the ditch, our hopes for it has just vanished away fast.

A representative of every “unit”: “titushky” in tracksuits and sneakers,  Berkut, Caucasians, local “self-defense”, every one of them has approached us.

Someone, carrying a grenade, suggested he would shove it into my mouth. Someone came up to me and hit me hard in my stomach. I’m grateful to one of my coaches in the past life, who had advised me to always announce my serious injuries. So when we were standing back at the checkpoint together with the Kazaks, I told them about my serious head injury, that any hard hit at my head would kill me immediately. So berkut guys would come over, lift my head to check out my scar and then hit some other part of my body.

Half of the questions that we were asked were just nothing else but someone pouring out his anger at us.

A Berkut guy came over and began to threaten me with his gun. He put his gun to my head and reloaded it. Someone approached carrying two spades and said we had to dig our own graves now. Someone encouraged to finish us without spitting too much blood around.

And for three hours, as long as all of this was going on, my brain began to recognize when I was threatened for nothing and when already not.

Imagine: berkut guys come up, pull out a knife, grab my ear. Or ask Eugene in some plain voice: “What do you want us to cut out? Nose or ear?”

After just an hour of such torments we realized that everything they needed was just torturing us and that they had a clear order not to beat us right in the face.

Eugene Rakhno: We were lying face down in the ditch with our hands tied behind us. They turned my head to one side and would shoot just at 5-10 centimeters from my face. With a ball cartridge. There was a bullet hole in the ground. We realized that they were not shooting blanks. And then they would put a gun to our foot or a hand, asking: “What do you want me to shoot?”

There were moments when it was clear that they were bluffing. But we realized that at any point any of them might flip out and there was no one around to calm them down.

They were constantly pushing us to provoke them.

Oles’ Kromplyas: Imagine: we were put down on the ground, shoulder to shoulder. Then one of them rested his foot on Eugene’s back, put machine gun to his head, while I was lying close watching it. And then he reloaded and shot.

Eugene twitched his head from the shock. And I was 200% positive he was shot to death.

We still have problems with our hearing.

They cut off my pants, to bare my bottom naked… And they were filming it.

Someone came up and threw a cigarette butt at my head. I was lying there realized my hair was burning. I started rolling and banging my head against the ground to stop it. And they all were laughing.

Then they grab my ear; put a knife to it as if they are about to cut it. They would cut off threads of our hair. Eugene got his trimmed after all of this, I have not. So you can see it  if you want …

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Just in the center of Oles’ head there is a bald spot where Berkut guys cut off his hair with a knife

Eugene Rakhno: Or: Someone says to you: “Let’s pluck your teeth!” Then he inserts plier right into your mouth. They have not pulled out our teeth, it was another intimidation technique.

Olena Maksymenko: To us, girls, they applied less physical intimidation, but much more psychological. They tried to figure out whom we were working for, and who was paying us, and if I was ashamed to write paid-for articles.

So-called Kazaks are terrible people. They are not some “stupid troopers” like Berkut, their tortures were sophisticated and refined.

One of the Kazaks would recite a poem in Ukrainian, very dramatically, while pronouncing each word through his teeth with hatred. And then he would tell me that the world is overpopulation and surplus people have to be shut. “But whom to shoot, but people like you?”

Another one approached asking: “How would I prove to you that your “Heavenly Heroes” are rotten in hell? Just by sending you straight to join them to explain them why they were wrong.”

They forced me to remove my shoe laces, and one of the men started to choke me with them, punched me in my cheekbone, cut off part of my hair.

They said they would kill my friends in front of me, cut their heads off in front of my eyes. They threatened to cut off my ear off. I tried to keep a dialogue with them, assuring we did not want war. I think it lessen the tension a little.

There also was an “armed green man.” He would approach us once in a while, saying in a quiet voice, that they would not kill us, telling not to act stupidly, or make any sudden movements.

 

“I was walking naked with no pants on, just like Cossack Havryliuk”

Oles Kromplyas: Then we were taken to the checkpoint basement. I was walking from the pit I went to the checkpoint building, with no pants on, just as Cossack Havryliuk . They all were standing and laughing. And filmed this on the video.

The basement was 3 by 3 meters, with all floor covered with old jackets and mattresses. We understood that it was for long. It was the system; we were not the first one there and would not be the last one. And we might stay there for a long time.

We were warned that in case of any noise they would just shoot in the dark.

Then an army man came in, he stated to swear at the organization of it and said that the car was waiting for a long time. We were loaded in KAMAZ truck. Just like cattle, face down.

All of this time our hands were tied, generally for around 13 hours.

Two gunmen from “self-defense” were placed to guard us. They did not hide their faces; they were somewhat kinder, more adequate. Then they drove us somewhere, it was the second time when we once again started saying goodbye to our lives: we thought that they would take us right to the woods and we would be shot dead there.

Olena Maksymenko: And they were constantly reassuring us that everything would be fine.

Oles Kromplyas: But by that point we have already realized that when we were threatened to be shot – it is not so bad. And when you are told that everything was alright, then you know for sure you’d be shot.

We were allowed to sit down. They were kind, those representatives of the “self-defense.” They, for example, dressed up. We were tied, so they’ve fixed our clothes. I, for instance, had some rags instead of my pants.

Olena Maksymenko: Then we were driving for a long time, maybe for five hours. Then there was another existential moment, when we were unloaded from that trunk …

Eugene Rakhno This was en route Simferopol – Bakhchisaray – Sevastopol.

Olena Maksymenko: When we arrived, it was already late night. We put facing the wall, hands behind our back, and told to stand like this. It lasted for about two or three hours, and people with guns were constantly walking behind our backs. It was very scary. It seemed that at any moment they would be given an order – and that’s it.

Then one by one we were taken inside the building – it was a military base, so-called guardhouse. There each of us was individually interrogated, individually stripped down and our belongings were inspected – all of this was filmed on the camera. For each of us they have conducted a drug place .

Oles Kromplyas: They were very surprised when the analysis came out clean.

Olena Maksymenko: They were absolutely sure that we all on maidan were addicts.

We stayed in those cells till the 11th of March. Each of us was taken for interrogation in his own time.

Oles Kromplyas: At this guardhouse each interrogation was filmed, they indicated the exact time when it was held. When we were detained at the Armjansk checkpoint it was around 3.30-4 pm. Eugene was taken to interrogation at 3 am.

So we spend about eleven hours wearing clothes meant to be worn during the car ride: t-shirts, light jacket, and I had no pants on. We spent around 12 hours in the cold of about 2 or 3 Celsius.

We were shaking, but we stood and waited for our turn. When there were only two of us left, we were brought inside to wait in the hall, and we waited more for our turn.

Eugene Rakhno: Those who have guarded us outside were freezing themselves.  Even though, they were dressed accordingly to the weather.

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Eugene Rakhno

Olena Maksymenko: People in the premises treated us more sensible compared to the “Berkut” and Kazaks, the communication could be even called enjoyable.

There was no rudeness, we were all addressed to us respectably, were asking all the time if we needed any medical assistance. Perhaps it was a kind of PR move to show how these military men as positive characters.

We were taken for interrogation on a regular basis, they crack me to confess in some journalistic espionage activities. Forced to tell them my email password, were analyzing my letters, my text messages, asked: “Why have you written an article about Russian aggression?” I said that I have not written an article like this, they said that there was an email with the link and reference with my name. I asked where it was published, and they just shut up. And there were many moments like this.

Oles Kromplyas: So they charged each of us with different accusations. I had a film that sparked some very big surprise: they saw that I had a lot of photos from Maidan, just from the front raws.  there were also from Anti-maidan.

I still had my wallet with money on me, and there they found some “ticket with lucky numbers” that I was foolishly saving. They immediately put checked them, they had a suspicion that there were some secret codes.

I mean, they suspected me in some espionage activities . Asked for whom I was working, who was transmitting data, whom we would meet and so on.

I told them the truth. After all, if had been caught on lies, it would be much worse. Then, when they told us that the car had arrived, they took all of us out.

Olena Maksymenko: They constantly scared us with “Berkut,” if they did not like our answers. They told me that the next time I would talk to “Berkut “. And during informal conversations, they told that it was Kyiv “Berkut,” which was in the Crimea by then, and Russia gave Russian passports to them.

I do not know if it was true, but we have heard this version many times from different soldiers, from different people.

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Olena Maksymenko

Oles Kromplyas: When we were let go, we were put in a Mercedes Vito .

Some lieutenant colonel of some Special Forces of the Russian Federation came, and said that he did not care what we would write afterwards. He said that his purpose was to take us to that check point and to negotiate with ”Berkut “.

He said that the Cossacks and “Berkut” believed no one, that they were out of control, that he would try to arrange that we would be allowed to go.

Then we were just brought to that same checkpoint. And there were just like in Mordor: some people were digging something, others were burying, some armed vehicles were moving around.

Cars were not allowed in; APC vehicle has blocked the road from Ukraine. Cars going from Armjansk to Ukraine were not allowed in. A lot of cars were standing there with no license plates. Then we parked, while two Russian APC’s were covering us.

In about half an hour they managed to get us through “Berkut» we were driven up to the Cssacks, who did not want to give Eugene’s car back.

It turned out that they were driving it around and they have used it for hunting, it was all covered in dirt. Then our guards in riot gear walked us through them and put in the car. We were allowed to get to Ukraine’s checkpoint.

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