No end to waiting for the families of 2 Ukrainian soldiers captured in Putin’s Minsk II Debaltseve Deceit
Among the prisoners not released during the exchange on December 27 were two spetsnaz officers captured during the siege of Debaltseve by Russian soldiers and pro-Russian fighters who seem to be viewed as ’trophy hostages’ for particularly hard negotiating
Some of the most poignant words spoken in response to the release on December 27 of 73 Ukrainian prisoners of war and hostages were from the sister of Serhiy Glondar, one of the men not released. Lyudmila Glondar has worked tirelessly, together with Serhiy’s wife, Kateryna, to draw attention to his plight and that of all other soldiers held prisoner in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [DPR, LPR]. On Wednesday, she wrote of the long path she and other wives and mothers have travelled together and expressed her sincere joy for those who were welcoming their loved ones home. She hopes that one day they will all gather together to celebrate their full victory.
For obvious reasons, all negotiations with the Russian-backed militants and, probably, with Russia, are held in secret, and why the militants refused to release some prisoners is not known. The exchange on December 27 took place after the exact number of prisoners exchanged was ‘discussed’ in Moscow, with Russian President Vladimir Putin then reported to have spoken with the official leaders of DPR and LPR, expressing “his support” for an exchange.
Putin has spoken, in terms more appropriate for kidnappers than presidents, about the need to ensure “equal exchanges”. He was talking then about Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia and occupied Crimea, but the same tactics of holding on to ‘trophy’ hostages has been played out by the Russian-controlled DPR and LPR.
Two such prisoners are Serhiy Glondar and Oleksandr Korinkov. Both are professional spetsnaz military officers from Kropyvnytsky, who were captured during the siege of Debaltseve in February 2015.
Debaltseve is a strategic railway hub which was finally taken by Russian and Russian-armed troops on Feb 18, 6 days after Putin agreed a ceasefire in Minsk. It is generally recognized to have been one of the battles in which a considerable contingent of Russian soldiers was deployed, whom the Ukrainian army could not hope to defeat.
Within hours of the ceasefire agreement on February 12, between Putin and the leaders of Ukraine, Germany and France, the Kremlin-installed DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko and one of the chief commanders Eduardo Basurin had both stated that they would not observe it with respect to Debaltseve. Basurin most memorably claimed that “of course, we can open fire. It’s our territory”.
Basurin’s pronouncement was particularly telling: “Of course we can open fire. It’s our territory. The territory is internal: ours. And internal is internal."
The Conflict Intelligence Team of investigative journalists has since published evidence suggesting that the order for the offensive on Debaltseve was issued by Putin himself. Earlier this year, details emerged of a Russia state medal “for services to the Fatherland”, which was almost certainly received by Alexander Minakov for his part in the battle for Debaltseve.
On February 15, 2015, Glondar and Korinkov were accompanying seven other Ukrainian soldiers retreating from the city. There had been nine men altogether, who were fired upon. Two were killed and two seriously injured. The wounded men were soon released by the militants. Another two were handed over after 50 days, and one managed to escape. Korinkov and Glondar were clearly viewed as ‘trophies’, to be used for hard bargaining, and unfortunately this still appears to be the case.
Kateryna Glondar had learned that she was expecting the couple’s second child the day that her husband was taken prisoner. Little Anya is now almost 18 months old and has never seen her father. Marichka, who is two years older has learned to write with messages asking that her father returns home.
It was exactly one thousand days since the men had been captured on November 11, and several hundred people came out in Kropyvnytsky to show support for them and all the men held captive.
Kateryna Glondar spoke to Gazeta.ua about the conditions her husband is living in. There are four in a cell together. They have a so-called ‘walk’ each morning for two hours, though this is only around an internal courtyard with grating above their heads. The men are seriously cold, with many having only summer clothing despite the approaching winter. They will be feeling the cold bitterly as there is not enough to eat, and their families’ parcels are ransacked before they reach the men. From a 15 kilogram parcel, her husband wrote, he had received only socks and a toothbrush. In such conditions, their state of health will inevitably suffer, yet they do not receive medical care.
The SBU [security service] reports that DPR and LPR are still holding 103 people prisoner. it is hoped that the exchange on December 27 was simply the first stage until all prisoners return home. Given Russia’s unconcealed involvement in this, it is important to intensify pressure now, as Putin prepares for his ‘election campaign’ and for the 2018 Soccer World Cup which, for reasons best known to FIFA, had not been relocated from Russia.