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Pregnant Ukrainian medic held in Russian captivity for four months

17.08.2022
Halya Coynash

Mariana Mamonova

Mariana Mamonova was among the medics in Mariupol whom the Russian invaders took prisoner in April.  She is now in her seventh month of pregnancy and concern is acute both for her and for her unborn baby in the appalling conditions of Russian captivity. 

There is no justification for Russia’s imprisonment of Mamontova and around 100 other medics.  All were medical personnel, performing medical duties and, as such, are protected under international law.  This is regardless of whether, like Mamontova, they were military doctors.  As long as they were carrying out humanitarian duties when seized, they should be released immediately.

According to a contact, Mariana Mamontova had served for over three years as a doctor for Ukraine’s Armed Forces, with rank of medical officer. Up till Russia’s full-scale invasion, she had worked most of the time in military hospitals near the military zone. From 24 February, she was in Mariupol, and it was there, in April, that she was taken prisoner.  Since this was from the Illich Factory (the Illich Iron and Steel Works), it is likely that she was one of the medical personnel moved to the factory after the Russians bombed Hospital No. 555.  Both medical personnel and wounded were taken prisoner by the Russians on 12 April. 

Mariana was married a year ago, and should have been looking forward to the birth of the couple’s first child.  Instead, she, and her baby, are held hostage by the Russians and in real danger, given the conditions that all POWs and hostages are held in.

Up to 100 medics illegally held hostage

From left clockwise Kateryna (’Ptashka’), Viktoria Obidina and Alisa, Tetiana Vasylchenko, Serhiy Doroshenko, Yurik Mkrtchian, Volodymyr Shapkov, Olena Kryvtsova, Kostiantyn Kochykhin

In early July, the Media Initiative for Human Rights [MIHR] reported that Russia was holding around 100 military medics who had been taken prisoner from the Illich Factory and the Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol.  For a long time, both Russia and Ukraine had not acknowledged that the medics were imprisoned.  Ukraine has now formally changed the medics’ status from missing without trace to imprisoned. 

Russia is continuing, against all evidence, to deny that it is imprisoning the medics it seized in Mariupol.  One of the reasons is probably in order to use them to treat their own soldiers, or other hostages and POWs. 

As reported, a number of the doctors taken prisoner were originally from Military Hospital No. 555 in Mariupol.  After this was bombed by the Russians on 15 March, the medical personnel were divided into two groups, with one sent to the Azovstal Steelworks and the other joining the 36th Marine Brigade at the Illich Factory.  According to Andriy Kryvtsov, whose sister-in-law Olena Kryvtsova is in Russian captivity, there were also medics who were sent to Mariupol by helicopter on 15 March. 

Virtually none of the medics’ families heard anything for well over two months, however in early June a video was posted on a Telegram channel from Olenivka in occupied Donetsk oblast. On this, two of the captured medics - Volodymyr Shapkov and Yurik Mkrtchian can be seen working with the wounded.  Some have since been able to make a single short call to their families. 

The ZMINA Human Rights Centre has also reported that at the end of April, photos were posted on a Russian Telegram channel of a large number of women hostages.  The channel claimed that the women were “Ukrainian military” and that these had, allegedly, “made the right choice”.  There were only numbers under each photo, not names.  The photos were found by relatives only in July, with one of them being of Mariana Mamonova.

The following are some of the medics whose imprisonment was earlier reported, as well as some reported by MIHR.  Unless otherwise stated, they were all working for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but in their capacity as medics.  

Olena Kryvtsova, doctor

27-year-old Olena and her husband, Yury, are both doctors.  She was working at the Mariupol Military Hospital No. 555, while he as at a field hospital out of the city.  

Unlike at the Azovstal Steelworks, the Illich Factory had no bunkers, etc. to which the medical personnel could retreat.  They were without any arms and when the Marine Brigade ran out of ammunition, they were all taken prisoner.

Olena’s family only learned that she had been taken prisoner from another hostage who had been allowed to telephone home.

Olena Zubova, surgical nurse

The 47-year-old had served as a military nurse since 2017.  She rang her husband, Viacheslav, on 24 February (after the full-scale invasion began) and asked him to get the children out.  Viacheslav explains that he was still in contact with his wife until 14 March, the day before the Russians bombed Hospital No. 555 and she was moved, with other medical personnel and patients, to the Illich Factory. Since that time, he has received text messages from unknown phones, passing on from his wife only that she is alright.  A police officer and neighbour in Mariupol was taken prisoner by the Russians and held at the Olenivka prison where, he told Viacheslav Zubov, he saw Olena.

Olena Biyovska, surgical nurse

The 49-year-old nurse had been moved to Hospital No. 355 six months before Russia’s full-scale invasion. After the invasion, she was very seldom able to contact her sister, Svitlana.  Then on 12 April, Olena sent her sister a text message, saying that she did not know what was going to happen, whether she was being taken prisoner or what.  Her family finally received confirmation of her imprisonment from the above-mentioned photos posted on a Telegram channel.

Viktoria Obidina, doctor

Viktoria was at Azovstal together with her four-year-old daughter, Alisa.  The The Russians separated mother and daughter, sending Obidina to a camp in occupied Donbas.  Alisa is now being looked after by relatives.

Yurik Mkrtchian

Although also a military doctor, Mkrtchian was working in a Dnipro clinic of anaesthesiology, resuscitation, intensive therapy and detoxification when Russia began its full-scale invasion.  He volunteered to transfer to Mariupol, together with some other doctors, even though the city was already under Russian siege and all of the doctors knew that their lives would be in danger.

As well as the video in which he can be seen trying to care for the wounded, Mkrtchian was also able to get a letter to his family and to ring his wife once.  He stressed the urgent need to secure the return to government-controlled Ukraine of the wounded.  He spoke of 300 wounded, of whom 50 are in serious condition, and also pleaded for publicity within Ukraine and beyond.   

Volodymyr Shapkov

Volodymyr Shapkov and his wife, Olha, are both military doctors, however they have an infant son, and only Volodymyr was working in Mariupol, as a surgeon at Hospital 555.  Olha had last spoken with him on an extremely bad line, back on 5 March, and did not even know with any certainty that he was alive until she saw him on the video. He was then able to phone briefly on 8 June and passed on a plea to Ukraine’s President and to the media to publicize information about their situation.  They are held in appalling conditions, he said, and there is no talk at all of any exchange of prisoners.  He is continuing to carry out his duties as a doctor, but his wife says that it is clear from the video that there are many who have serious wounds and that there is no medication or proper facilities for treating people. 

Vladislav Didukh was in charge of Hospital No. 555

Kostiantyn Klochykhin, a doctor, was sent to Mariupol at the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion.  After his unit lost their command, they joined the Hospital No. 555 medical personnel at the Illich Factory.

Serhiy Doroshenko is not a military doctor.  Before Russia’s full-scale invasion, he worked as a paediatrician in Mariupol.  On 25 February (the day after the invasion), he joined the Mariupol Territorial Defence, and was sent to serve, as a doctor, at Hospital No. 555.

Valentina Zubko, a doctor

Tetiana Vasylchenko from Khmelnytsky was working as a paramedic for the Hospitallers civic initiative, at Azovstal.  She left the territory of the factory together with Azov defenders on 17 May and has been imprisoned ever since at Olenivka, in occupied Donbas.  She has only once been able to contact her family, and her sister and adult daughter are also desperately trying to ensure that Tetiana’s plight and that of others imprisoned for trying to save the lives of those defending Ukraine is known.

21-year-old Kateryna (‘Ptashka’, or ‘Little Bird’) is an actress by profession, who began active volunteer work and took medical courses to help as a paramedic.  She joined the Hospitallers in November 2021, and worked as a volunteer in the (unoccupied part of) Donetsk oblast.  In the first days after Russia’s full-scale invasion, she began serving as a paramedic at a Mariupol hospital.  When that was bombed, she and the other paramedics were moved to Azovstal.  It is Ptashka’s voice that is (mainly) heard singing in one of the poignant videos from the terrible weeks when Russia continued its savage attempts to seize the steel works. 

The other medics held prisoner include:

Oleksandr Demchenko

Andriy Naiman

Yevhen Herasymenko

While the situation is critical for Marian Mamonova and her unborn child, all 100 men and women are held totally illegally, in violation of international agreements to which the Russian Federation is a signatory.  Please help publicise this appalling situation.

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