Chernihiv village head seized by FSB for obstructing Russia’s invasion
Russian invaders burst into the village of Novi Borodychi on 29 March 2022 and seized the village and district head, Anatoliy Siry. They promised his deputy that they would free him if the trees deliberately felled to block the invaders’ advance were cleared. This soon proved to be a cruel lie and almost 18 months later, Siry’s wife and children do not even know if he is still alive. Olena Sira is convinced that her husband was taken away by the Russians because of his firm civic stand and that it was the FSB, Russia’s security service, who came for him, rather than ordinary Russian soldiers.
Natalia Bohuta from the Media Initiative for Human Rights [MIHR] has spoken with Olena Sira and local residents about Siry’s abduction and and about what is known. While the witnesses who spoke with her believe that he is one of the many civilian hostages whom Russia is holding prisoner in Russia, no former prisoners have reported seeing him. The only possible lead is that somebody held in the Tula oblast in Russia may have heard the name Siry being called out.
The Russians began advancing through Chernihiv oblast from the beginning of the full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022, in their attempt to seize Kyiv. Although Novi Borovychi is only 23 kilometres from the border, it is off the main road, and it was only on 28 February that a column of Russian tanks, armoured vehicles and a petrol tanker first entered the village. On that occasion, Olena and their younger son saw Siry being dragged by an armoured vehicle that he had been trying to stop from entering the school grounds. Villagers told her later that the then 58-year-old had hurled a farming harrow to block the path of the petrol tanker. It seems possible that the Russians who turned up that day were lower rank as they did not then touch him, and he seems to have been able, later that day, to persuade them to leave the village.
As village head, Siry played an active role in ensuring supplies of food and medication for the village, as well as security measures. He also mobilized men to help obstruct the invaders by felling trees which then blocked all the entrances to the village. The men also manned checkpoints and had, apparently, prepared Molotov cocktails, though these were seemingly never used, and would have been powerless against the heavily armed invaders. Olena Sira explains that the men were determined and adds that her husband is a true leader who tried to do everything to block the invaders from the village.
The Russians would clearly not have liked this and Olena is not the only witness to the events of 29 March 2022 who believe that it was the FSB who came for Anatoliy Siry.
On 29 March, one of the men on the checkpoints telephoned Siry and warned him that a jeep was entering the village with Russians in it who were looking for him. Olena says that a friend proposed trying to get Siry out, but he refused to leave, fearing that this would place both his deputy, Olena Anyshchenko and his family in danger. Anyshchenko told MIHR that both Siry and she were at work that day. She had also received a warning from somebody in a neighbouring village that the ‘orcs’ [as the invaders are frequently called) were coming. She even suggested that they both went home, but Siry replied that they should not “hide”, but continue doing their work..
The Russians turned up in two vehicles and immediately forced Siry against a wall and pointed a machine gun at Anyshchenko, ordering her to put her hands up. All of the men had machine guns, with only one man without a balaclava, hiding his face. They carried out searches there and at Siry’s home. From the village council building, they removed all computers, telephones and documents. They turned up at the family’s home when Olena was working at the school, and their younger son was there alone. They threatened to take him away also, but in the end at least spared him.
As they forced Siry, with a jacket over his head, into their vehicles, one of the Russians told Anyshchenko: “I’ll find you and if, by tomorrow, the roads are not cleared of the trees, we won’t return your Siry.” The abduction, and the apparently link between clearing the roads and Siry’s release, was reported that same day and Onyshchenko began phoning locals to help clear the trees.
The roads were cleared, but Siry was not returned, and all trace of him vanished.
Residents of Novi Borovychi and other villages have told MIHR that they are certain that the Russians based in Horodnia (the nearest small city) were from Russia’s FSB, and that it was FSB men who seized Siry. They note that the men’s uniform was different and also that they were more confident and arrogant
The Russians retreated on 30-31 March. We know that they took some hostages with them later when they were forced to retreat from Kherson, and hopefully they did take Siry away with them.
Russia is holding a huge number of Ukrainian civilians hostage in flagrant violation of international law. Although the aggressor state demonstrates on a daily basis its contempt for all such international agreements it once agreed to comply with, Siry is by no means the only civilian Russia is not admitting to holding. The situation here, however, is more worrying since there is normally at least one former hostage who can pass on messages from those still imprisoned. Here there is silence and the uncertainty for Olena and the family is agonizing.