Euroradio helps free 8 captive Ukrainian soldiers

Пры дапамозе Еўрарадыё з палону вызваленыя 8 украінскіх вайскоўцаў

Euroradio's interview on September 9 with the prime minister of the so called Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Zakharchenko took an unexpected twist when in the evening of September 11Euroradio correspondent was approached by Dmitry Uglach, a volunteer from Kherson who works with the local Charity and Health Fund. His request was unusual - to use 'contacts' with Alexander Zakharchenko and ask him to free the Ukrainian soldiers, held in captivity by rebels in eastern Ukraine.

To act as a mediator? Why not when Ukrainian fellow journalists are busy acting as volunteers to collect money for protective helmets and armored vests… On the next day, September 12, Euroradio journalist Zmicier Lukashuk made a phone call to Donetsk.

Euroradio: After your interview to Euroradio, we were approached by some people in Ukraine asking to facilitate through you to free captive Ukrainian soldiers. Can we make a try at this level to help those people?

Alexander Zakharchenko: Well, what can I say in this situation… We are letting them go anyway. The only thing you can… Is it a long list? Eight people? Okay, go ahead and spell the names.

Euroradio: Let's begin with the injured: Chigin Nazar Mikhailovich, born in 1985, captivated near airport in Lugansk, has a neck injury, being held at the SBU building…

Alexander Zakharchenko: SBU in Lugansk? It is not my republic. I will pass your request on to them but I cannot promise anything. Give me the next one.

Euroradio: Near Saur-Mogila, Lemiashuk Ivan Mikhailovich, born in 1993, a soldier from 80th Airmobile Brigade. It is not know where he is being held. Another one is Pakumeiko Ruslan Ivanovich. у He is being held by Motorolla rebel commander. It is not clear what military unit he is from.

Alexander Zakharchenko: Well, those can be from those territorial batallions - Azov or Dnepr! Anyway, go ahead with the next ones.

Euroradio: Malashniak Andrei Vladimirovich, born in 1984 from Lviv, no information about his military unit. Litvin Miroslav Bogdanovich, also born in 1984, from Lviv region. Kuzmin Mikhail Stepanovich, born in 1994, from the military unit No…, disappeared on September 5, 2014 (the day when ceasefire was announced aftec the talks by the contact group in Minsk — Euroradio) during heaving shelling near Metalist and Vesyolaya Gora.

Kalinovski Pavel Aleksandrovich, born in 1990. The only thing known about him is that he went missing after 1800 on September 5 (when the ceasefire was announced).

Finally, Oleg Pertak - all we know is that he us about 50 years old. He also comes from Lviv region.

Alexander Zakharchenko: Part of the list has to do with Lugansk. Therefore, I cannot promise anything. It looks like that only two persons on this list are within my area of responsibility. They will be easier to find. I will pass all the other names to Lugansk. Again, I am not promising anything here. OK, I am going to give orders and let's get a phone contact again tomorrow morming. If I find them, I will officially free them at your request in exchange for our people and that's it - mom and dad will be happy. Thanks for calling. You can take an interview with me on this matter than thanks to our friends in Minsk… Call me tomorrow at 1100.

                                     Alexander Zakharchenko

The conversation left the impression that it was still possible to free at least seveal people from the whole list. Anyway, we managed to get through to Alexander Zakharchenko only at 1140 and he said briefly that he could talk again only in 1.5-2 hours. However, waiting nervously for two hours with coffee non-stop and chatting with the Ukrianian friends even more nervous brought no result on that day.

Alexander Zakharchenko: I have passed your names to Lugansk. I am also expecting to get feed back today on those we have here. I know for sure they are not in Donetsk. My people are now going to check all the guarisons. I think tomorrow morning I will have information on those captives. In Donetsk, there are three venues where prisoners are being held. We have check all of the three… The situation here is that they are trying to hide their names. This is the problem. When we being calling them out, they can simply keep silence. But if I find them, you can immediately call their relatives and tell them they were found and supervised and could be exchanged soon.

During the night of waiting, the Euroradio journalist received yet another list of the captives that should be pulled from captivity as soon as possible - for various reasons. The list was put together by various people ranging from volunteers to relatives to commanders of the captive soldiers. But this time Euroradio faced quite a different reaction.

Alexander Zakharchenko: Quite frankly, we have a whole commssion dealing with this issue. I have looked through your list and passed [your request to free those held in Lugansk]. I can put you in contact with the man in charge of this issue and you can discuss on concrete terms about prisoners of war... It is not that easy to exchange. They have just agreed upon a special system of exchage. Nobody wants to disrupt it. There is no need for confusion in these matters. Secondly, you should understand it right that there are various POWs. There are artillerymen; there are snipers. There are people who took part in executions because of their negligence or their stupidity. All this was recorded on video… I don't know why but those kind of prisoners are the first on the list that we are requested to free.

At this point, nothing is helping to convince him that freeing the captives at the request of Belarusian journalists would look good ahead of the next meeting of the contact group on Ukraine crisis in Minsk (Alexander Zakharchenko too part in the first two meetings of the group - Euroradio). Eventually, we agree that if those captives are found and entered into the list for exchange, Alexander Zakharchenko will send me an SMS. Otherwise, our next phone contact would be at 1000 on September 15.

An SMS from Donetsk never reached me. Throughout the whole of Monday, Alexander Zakharchenko kept rejecting phone calls from Euroradio office in Minsk. Perhaps, they have failed to find those people... Perhaps, the captives have died of injuries or there may be some other reasosns. Perhaps, they do not to exchange them... No answers, indeed. Only at 2200 we get a joyful message from Kherson: “Three people from our list will be released today at 2300!”

It turned out later that in fact all on the list (!) from the original list that I passed to Alexander Zakharchenko would be released. Moreover, they were not exchanged; they were simply freed, according to Dmitry Uglach.

Dmitry Uglach: “Our guys have been found. All of them - whether injured or not - are being taken to Dnepropetrovsk. Theere was no exchange. They were just let go!”.

Two more interesting things: Dmitry Uglach says that three out of these eight people were initially thought to have parished in Donbas. Besides, he was already contacted by Ukrainian special services.

Dmitry Uglach: “Certain individuals have called me. They were interested how I was making arrangements for the release of these people. I said that I don't know whether they are special services officers indeed and I would not share this information on the phone. If they wish to find out, counterintelligence has an office in Kherson. They can send an officer with ID to me and I will explain to him how we have done it.”

Have those eight soldiers walked out free thanks to the request from the Euroradio journalist, indeed? It is totally possible. It is also possible that they were part of the exchange lists anyway and it was just a coincidence. Or, perhaps, some other people asked about them via some different channels and Zakharchenko and Euroradio have nothing to do with it. Either way, the most important thing in this case is that people have been freed. Still, we will try once again to ask about those captive soldiers on the second list we passed to Zakharchenko.

In fact, we promised Alexander Zakharchenko that we would make another interview with him after the release of the captives. Euroradio keeps the word and the interview will be published already tomorrow. We also promise an interview with one of the freed soldiers from 'our' list.

Photo: Reuters