The mother of captured Russian soldier Viktor Ageev says in an interview with Hromadske that she did not know her son was in occupied eastern Ukraine and does not understand how he ended up in this situation.
Ageev was detained by Ukrainian forces on June 25 in the separatist-controlled Donbas region and is currently being held on terrorism charges.
After Ageev was captured, the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic," an unrecognized, Russia-backed separatist state in eastern Ukraine, reported that the Russian soldier was on its prisoner exchange list.
Ageev’s mother, Svetlana Ageeva, came to Ukraine at the invitation of the Ukrainian authorities. On July 22, she met with her son in the town of Starobilsk, according to Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Vasyl Hrytsak.
Hrytsak stressed that the Ukrainian government wants to accelerate the process of prisoner exchanges between Kyiv and the Russia-backed separatists occupying parts of Ukraine's east.
“After meeting with her son, we urge Ageev’s mother to petition the President of Russia for the release of all Ukrainian hostages in Russia and the Donbas," Hrytsak said.
According to the SBU, there are currently 134 Ukrainians held in captivity by separatist militants.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has denied that Ageev is a serviceman in their military. Instead, they officially declared that he was released from the Armed Forces in May 2016. However, Russian consuls have promised to help free Ageev.
Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper initially confirmed Svetlana Ageeva’s meeting with her son. A journalist from the paper, Pavel Kanygin, interviewed the mother and son in Starobilsk.
Later, Hromadske met with Svetlana Ageeva to discuss her son’s case and her personal awareness of his activities in Ukraine.
You met with your son, what do you think? Tell about the conditions and situation where he is held? What is he worried?
Svetlana Ageeva: I met with him, and he told me that the treatment was quite acceptable, he’s not complaining. I asked him at once whether they have been pressuring him into anything. He said that they don’t pressure him for anything. How can you feel like yourself in a pre-trial detention centre? Of course, it is difficult for him.
Photo credit: Dmytro Rusanov/HROMADSKE
What is it like being the mother? What did you see, what do you think about his condition in the detention centre?
Svetlana Ageeva: Well, I thought that it would be worse. I thought that he would look worse. Of course, he’s sad and depressed. His eyes are dull. He is not what he was before. It is hard for him. It would be for anyone in that situation.
I saw your interview, you said that he really wanted to be soldier and go to war. Has his attitude now changed?
Svetlana Ageeva: I don’t know, we weren’t able to talk for long, only 20 minutes. It was too short. In general, he gladly passed his service exams. For us now, it is prestigious, young people happily join the military, and the conditions are good compared to what it was. He is physically strong, he likes it all. He does not smoke, does not drinking.
Photo credit: Dmytro Rusanov/HROMADSKE
Now, he’s in a detention centre.
Svetlana Ageeva: Yes, but that’s something that no one could have predicted.
You often said that you just don’t under that it happened. Is it clearer now how got to be in Starobelsky detention centre?
Svetlana Ageeva: No, I never said that to anyone, nobody tells me anything. I did not talk to the investigators, we son and I did not have time…I hope that in the future I will receive information.
Yes, I understand that. Have you found a lawyer?
Svetlana Ageeva: Yes.
Was it a public lawyer before?
Svetlana Ageeva: Yes, it was a public lawyer.
The investigator-procurator defined why pre-trial detention was necessary.
Svetlana Ageeva: Yes, that’s true.
Because of the terrorism law, which you know?
Svetlana Ageeva: I only know this from the media. We met with them, but we honestly wasn’t appeal to speak to them about this topic. We talked and talked, and that’s it...
He was very glad that I came and visited, like how a child would be glad, I support him. Of course, they said that they would do all they can to help. Don’t know what, but they are going to do it. With my son, we talked, hugged and chatted, about the family, and things like. We didn’t talk about the case. Maybe we would have spoke about it, but there wasn’t enough time. There really wasn’t enough time. So we weren’t able to talk about I planned.
I somehow did not think about it. But we especially did not say anything that could be used against us. I am actually a person far from politics and I have never met with the FSB. For me, all this is a novelty. We will now find out.
Photo credit: Dmytro Rusanov/HROMADSKE
Svetlana Ageeva: Well, at least from the Minister of Defense. I really didn’t know where he went and what he was going. I didn’t correct it, I didn’t know where he went. Where he goes and hangs around? I didn’t he was on this side. Seriously speaking.
Do you think there are other mothers who also don’t know that their children are in Donbas?
Svetlana Ageeva: How can I know? I don’t know. Every family to itself. I don’t know. A similar situation might have happened to another family, maybe yes, maybe no. Of course, like I’ve said, I’m not political and I can’t really speak on that. The charges are serious, and we have to deal with it. I simply want to take him home.
Do you understand that up to the point of your meeting with your son, Russian authorities, the consulate did not visit or help him?
Svetlana Ageeva: I don’t know anything. I don’t know if they visited or not. Probably, there is a procedure and a time frame. They probably will visit.
What did your Embassy say?
Viktor Chevguz, lawyer: The Embassy is taking an active part now, with them there is a cooperation agreement.
To whom did they appeal?
Viktor Chevguz: They appealed to the SBU, now they are undergoing initial investigations, and after that there will be a meeting. But there is interaction with the Consul.
Svetlana Ageeva: The negotiation for us to come, was not achieved through the Consulate.
Start with the Consulate, and then…
Viktor Chevguz, lawyer: Yes, like that. In principle, they’ll give us a meeting and we’d meet there.
And they will give another date? What did they say?
Svetlana Ageeva: No, they didn’t say anything. Well, they said come, come, just come.
Viktor Chevguz, lawyer: They will, they will when they do.
Svetlana Ageeva: No, I’m not afraid of publicity. I have already come. Well, how can you dissuade your mother from helping your son? His interests come first.
You said that now in Russia, it is prestigious to be a soldier. That a lot of young people join, that there are good conditions? And for this event, you also turned to the Russian military, and his commanders would not help your son get out of the detention centre?
Svetlana Ageeva: I can’t comment on this. I don’t know his commanders.
No one said anything to you.
Svetlana Ageeva: I only applied to the district military commissariat. Maybe nobody knew anything about it and are not in contact the military. I only know learned things from what is in publications, on the internet, and I honestly do not know more. And later, I moved on to something else.
Do you believe that the military command did not where your son was?
Svetlana Ageeva: I don’t know. I can’t say whether I believe or don’t believe.
Do you understand the fact he fought in the Donbas?
Svetlana Ageeva: I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why there’s war in the Donbas. I don’t want to believe it.
Will you go to the minister, will it be public?
Svetlana Ageeva: Well, first I appealed to Minister of Defense Shoygu by myself. Let’s see what happens before appealing again.
/Interview by Anastasiya Stanko
/Text by Gaby Kourkov and Chen Ou Yang