MENU
Documenting
war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Similar articles

Izium Mass Graves: Tortured victims with bound hands and entire families killed by the Russian invaders Mass burial site at Izium, imprisoned teenagers and other Russian war crimes in Kharkiv oblast Bodies of more civilians murdered by the Russians found in liberated Kharkiv oblast village First tortured victims exhumed after Ukraine drives Russian invaders out of Kharkiv oblast village Russian invaders create “real concentration camp” to torture Ukrainian prisoners in Kharkiv oblast Russia is forcibly ‘mobilizing’ Ukrainians from occupied territory to fight its war against Ukraine Russia plans total ‘filtration’ of Mariupol men and forced ‘mobilization’Russia destroys Mariupol and tries to get illegally deported residents to move to Siberia Russia accused of using mobile crematoria to hide its war crimes in Mariupol At least 50 Ukrainians were burned to death in Russia’s bombing of Mariupol hospitals Russian FSB produce ‘refugee’ propaganda video blaming Ukrainian soldiers for Russia"s war crimes in Mariupol Russia continues bombing Mariupol while producing propaganda videos about its ‘humanitarian aid’Russia responds to International Court order to stop bombing Ukraine by destroying Mariupol Theatre sheltering familiesRussian invaders take Mariupol intensive care hospital and its patients hostage Mass graves of the Ukrainian civilians Russia claims it is not killingTerror and abductions as Russia tries to break Ukrainian resistance in Kherson and other occupied citiesUkrainian journalist Oleh Baturin feared abducted by Russian invaders in Kherson oblast Mayor of Melitopol Ivan Fedorov abducted after refusing to collaborate with the Russian invaders Russian priest arrested and prosecuted for sermon opposing Russia’s war against Ukraine Russia effectively admits it deliberately bombed the maternity hospital in Mariupol that killed three patients, including a child

Ukrainian poet and writer Volodymyr Vakulenko killed after being seized by Russian invaders

29.11.2022   
Halya Coynash

Volodymyr Vakulenko Photo from his Facebook page

Volodymyr Vakulenko Photo from his Facebook page

A DNA test has confirmed that the body buried as ‘No. 319’ at the Izium mass burial site is that of Volodymyr Vakulenko.  The well-known Kharkiv oblast poet, children’s writer; volunteer and Ukrainian patriot had not been seen since he was seized by Russian soldiers in March 2022.  Although his family clearly hoped that Vakulenko had been taken to occupied Crimea or Russia, there were serious fears for his safety even before reports emerged suggesting that his was among the mass graves of Russia’s victims just outside Izium.  The fears, tragically, proved justified.  

49-year-old Vakulenko lived in Kapytolivka, near Izium in the Kharkiv oblast, and was extremely vocal in expressing his opposition to the Russians’ invasion and seizure of his village.  He was bringing up his younger son, Vitaliy, who is underage and has autism.  The Russian occupation had severed virtually all contact with Kapytolivka and for a long time it was believed that Vitaliy had been abducted, together with his father.

According to an investigation * carried out by Maksym Sytnikov and Tetiana Teren from PEN Ukraine, the Russians did initially take both Volodymyr and his son away on 22 March.  On that occasion, they were, however, freed.  Vakulenko clearly understood that the Russians would be back, and buried the diary he had kept since the full-scale invasion under a cherry tree in the garden.  Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina reported on 23 September that she had visited Vakulenko’s parents in Kapytolivka, and had, together with his father, dug up the diary and taken it away.  It has since been passed to the Kharkiv Literary Museum.

On 24 March, the Russians turned up again and took Vakulenko away in the direction of Izium.  That was the last time that he was seen alive, however the invaders themselves returned more than once and carried out searches. 

Proof of Russian crimes began emerging immediately after the invaders were driven out of Izium and areas around it at the beginning of September.  This included a mass burial site in the forest just outside Izium containing well over 400 bodies.  Some of the bodies had hands bound or showed other signs of torture.  Others, in at least one case three generations of a family, had been killed in the Russia’s relentless shelling and bombing of residential buildings and other civilian targets.  Fortunately, many employees of a major Izium funeral company disregarded threats from the invaders and continued burying people and also tried, as much as possible, to identify those killed. In the funeral company’s logbook, grave No. 319 gave Vakulenko’s name. There was also a photo of the body taken before burial, with this showing the writers’ documents, with gunshots through them..  

Although Volodymyr Vakulenko was the laureate of several Ukrainian and international awards, it is quite possible that the Russians who probably tortured, before killing him, had no idea that he was a writer and poet.  It was his staunch pro-Ukrainian position and open opposition to the Russian occupation, as well as his activities as a volunteer, helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces, that made him a target.  Most disturbingly, it seems likely that there were pro-Russian residents of Kapytolivka with whom he was earlier in conflict, who would have been willing to denounce Vakulenko to the Russian invaders. 

From the end of February, Vakulenko’s former wife, Iryna Novitska, had tried to persuade him to leave Kapytolivka, together with their son..  He had refused, and not only for practical reasons such as because he needed to care for his father who was recovering from a stroke. His ex-wife explained to PEN Ukraine that Vakulenko constantly replied that he couldn’t abandon “the lads” [defending Ukraine on the battlefield] and that “this is my country”.  Although it became impossible to leave after the Russians seized the village, it seems likely that Vakulenko would still not have agreed, for all his clear understanding of the danger he faced from the Russian invaders.

* The study was initially published by Ukrainska Pravda, but is also available on the PEN Ukraine site in Ukrainian and English

 Share this