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.

The Russians “treat torture as entertainment” – Enerhodar Deputy Mayor held hostage for almost a year

Halya Coynash

Ivan Samoidiuk, screenshot from the Hromadske Radio interview

Ivan Samoidiuk, screenshot from the Hromadske Radio interview

Ivan Samoidiuk, First Deputy Mayor of Enerhodar, was the first of many Ukrainian civilians from Enerhodar to be taken prisoner by the Russian invaders after they seized control of the city on 4 March 2022.  Samoidiuk, who will shortly turn 60, spent 333 days in Russian captivity, with almost half of that time in solitary confinement, before being released, on 17 February 2023, as part of an exchange of prisoners.  In an interview to Hromadske Radio, he spoke of the treatment the invaders mete out to civilian hostages.  The thing he finds most incomprehensible, he says, is “how people can get pleasure out of torture.  They don’t treat it as work, they treat it as entertainment, getting pleasure out of it.

A huge number of Enerhodar residents came out in protest at the invasion, trying initially to block the Russians from reaching the city and the neighbouring Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.  It was on 20 March 2022 that Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov reported that his First Deputy had been abducted by the Russians the day before.  Having failed to get the local authorities to collaborate, he wrote, the Russians had resorted to overtly criminal actions.  Samoidiuk’s abduction prompted a huge demonstration, with Enerhodar residents coming out on the street, many holding Ukrainian flags, to demand his release.

Nothing was known of Samoidiuk’s whereabouts, and by June 2022, Orlov reported that the Russians were holding hundreds of Ukrainians from the area, including from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, hostage.  Various forms of torture, including beatings and electric shocks, were used to extract ‘confessions’ to taking part in the self-defence of the city, etc, or simply to extort ransoms.

The invaders tried, and failed, to ‘persuade’ Samoidiuk to collaborate, to convince him that “Russia is here to stay”.  He explains that he was held in solidarity confinement in occupied Melitopol for the first 138 days, and was then moved to a commercial building where hostages were held in totally unheated and unsuitable premises.  He was only released on 16 February 2023. 

Probably all hostages, Samoidiuk says, feel as though they’re stuck in a bag, and by no means only that bag that the Russians put over their heads.

At least if Ukrainian soldiers are taken prisoner, they fall under international conventions and have some kind of status.  Russia is flagrantly violating international law by abducting civilians, and in the vast majority of cases, the abductions are akin to enforced disappearances.  “These are torture chambers”, he says, “which civilians end up in and in which the majority disappear, - from the point of view of law and of any possibility for providing aid”.  The Russians do not admit to holding individual hostages, with families enduring hell for weeks or months, not knowing even if their loved ones are alive.  Samoidiuk’s family did not know until the last minute whether he was even alive, and it is this, he says, that is the most terrible thing, the lack of any possibility of at least telling your family that you are alive.

The Russians have set up such places of imprisonment and torture on all occupied territory, using such factories, etc. as the holding facilities in police stations are simply packed.  They imprison 10 -15 people in very small cells, with some hostages held in these conditions for six months or more.  Samoidiuk believes that tens of thousands have been put through such hell. 

The hostages are also held in total isolation from the world, and in an information vacuum.  Samoidiuk was himself abducted when the Russians were still occupying Kyiv oblast, before they were forced to retreat, first from there, then later from parts of Kharkiv oblast, and the world learned of the atrocities they had committed, in Bucha, Izium, other Ukrainian towns and cities.   For Samoidiuk, the vacuum was broken only over five days in July where his state of health forced the Russians to take him to emergency care in a Melitopol hospital.  Even there, he was kept in a separate ward and guarded by two Russian soldiers, but he did catch snippets of information from Russian state television.   Even when he was being transported, as part of the exchange, he believed they could be taking him to Russia. 

Thankfully, in Ivan Samoidiuk’s case, this was not the case, and he is now safely back in government-controlled Ukraine, undergoing rehabilitation after almost a year in the hell of Russian captivity.  Other civilian hostages, however, are illegally imprisoned in occupied Crimea or Russia, with the Russians often refusing even to admit that they are holding them prisoner.


Freed POW confirms likely huge number of Ukrainian civilians held hostage in Russia

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