Killed in Captivity: Hromadske's Investigation of Ilovaisk Battle
4 September, 2019

Anna Zaplishna buried her husband in April 2015. A humanitarian mission at the Ministry of Defense “Evacuation 200” handed over the body to her. He was brought from the uncontrolled territory. His death certificate reads that he died «as a result of fighting» near the village of Lohvynove in the Donetsk region. But this is not true.

On February 9, 2015, Oleksandr Berdes and his two associates, Vasyl Demchuk and Pavlo Platsynskyi, left the 30th Brigade positions for Bakhmut (former Artemivsk) to get ammunition.

At this time, his wife went to buy him Valentine’s card and send him the money he had asked for the day before. But she couldn’t get through to him.

"He didn't call back, I called his friend in the morning - well, they had worked together in Zhashkiv. He told me that they had left already, one car didn't make it there - they were either captured or killed," says Anna Zaplishna.

The next day, a video appeared on the Internet, which showed militants taking prisoners from the Ukrainian army. One of the militants yells to the other: "Don’t kill him, don’t!" The video shows interrogation of Oleksandr Berdes and Vasyl Demchuk’s military ticket is visible.

The men are searched, their phones, money, weapons, and documents are seized. They are wounded but alive.

The photo, where the same Vasyl Demchuk, Pavlo Platsynskyi, and Oleksandr Berdes, are seen in the body of the car, evidences the fact that the three soldiers were captured. There are three more prisoners with them. These are Mykola Herasymenko, Oleksandr Makukh, and Oleksandr Lazarenko of the Kryvbas battalion. They were released three years later, in 2017.

We found them and asked what happened to the captives afterward.

Witnesses told us that after they were put in the body of the car, and driven around settlements as a trophy, boasting in front of locals. Later they were taken to the base of fighters of the "Cossack Alliance of the Don Region" in Donetsk. There the prisoners were divided. The wounded Berdes, Platsynskyi and Demchuk were sent to the hospital, at least that’s what they were told. No one saw them alive after that.

In April, the so-called “DPR” military police failed to split power with the Cossacks of the Don Alliance. The “police” captured their base. The prisoners were also taken and transported to the Donetsk SBU building. That’s where Herasymenko and Makukh were.

"They were already in the building of the Security Service of Ukraine, their police called us for interrogation to identify the three killed soldiers not sporting their uniform on the territory of the city of Donetsk. We learned that those were the three guys. Since then we knew that they were killed," says Oleksandr Makukh.

The military prosecutor's office is said to be investigating who may have been involved in the killing of prisoners of war Berdes, Demchuk and Platsynskyi. However, without having access to the occupied territory, it is almost impossible to establish those involved.

At the same time, human rights activists are preparing lawsuits to the International Criminal Court and collecting evidence of the involvement of the “Cossack Alliance of the Don Region” in other war crimes.

Oleksandr Berdes' wife lives in Zhashkiv. She is raising two sons and works at a brick factory where her husband also worked before the war.

Together with human rights defenders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Hromadske tried to find out more about the fate of three military men from the 30th Brigade of the Armed Forces.