750 Days In Captivity: Prisoners of the Russian-Ukrainian War
14 April, 2017

Kateryna has not seen her husband in over two years. He was captured by separatist forces from the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic'. We met Kateryna Hlondar in a park in the town of Kropyvnytskyy. She is out walking with her young daughter, Anya. Her husband, Serhiy, chose the name himself whilst in prison. In fact, he also found out that his wife was pregnant with Anya, his second daughter, whilst in prison.

The eldest of his two daughters, Masha, is almost 4 years old. She knows that her father is in prison, but just doesn’t understand why. Masha keeps all the letters from her father under her pillow.

Kateryna talks about how they met, their wedding, and the fact that, even back then, she understood that Serhiy was in the military. “He’s always smiling,” Kateryna tells us, “even in his photos from prison. Our youngest looks just like him.”

Serhiy Hlondar is a soldier in the 3rd regiment of the special forces in the town of Kropyvnytskyy. He was captured along with Oleksandr Korin’kovym, whose story was featured previously by Hromadske.

This story, however, is Kateryna’s personal account - the story of her children, love and constant struggle to make sure her children remember their father, and that he is eventually returned home.

He was captured on the first day of armistice, the 16th February 2015. At this time, his group were accompanying a convoy. Their task was to bring back the wounded. They had gone there to fight, but had now stopped. But as they were leaving, DPR forces were waiting for them. His group of 9 was ambushed.

They called his mother from an unknown number at 4:30pm, introducing themselves as the ‘Don Cossacks’. They said that they had taken her son captive. She asked them, “Who, my son? Who is it?”. They passed the phone to him, and she asked, “Son, is that you? What’s your name?”. He said, “It’s Serhiy”. Afterwards she told me, “I knew immediately then that it was my son”. Then the phone went dead.

The last time I heard from my husband was the 21st June 2016. It is still in us, thank God, nine months have past. We haven’t had any contact with the boys, not with anyone. It’s not just my husband, we have no way of contacting any of the boys in prison at all. To begin with, they were at the Donetsk Security Services, then they were transported another two times. The last time, they were taken to the Makiivka penal colony No.97. We lost contact with them after that.

The first letter was written on 5th August 2016, I got it on the 8th. I received the second letter when Tony Frisch came (at that time he was the OSCE coordinator on for the humanitarian issues at the Minsk agreements- ed.). He went there in September, the letters were written on the 1st November, and the Red Cross gave them to us on the 1st December. Some parents were given theirs around mid-December. Where were the letters for 1 and half months? I just have one question: why did it take so long?

In his letters he writes that his health has been deteriorating, he asked us to send parcels, “the more often, the better”. He wrote something in that letter that I really liked (reading from the third and final letter from her husband, which was given to her by MP Nadia Savchenko after her visit to the Makiivka penal colony - ed.):

“I saw you and Liuda on 21st January…”, Liuda is his sister, “... when you were at the rally in Lviv, my poor darlings, you were fighting but nobody cares!” And it’s true, nobody does care. In his letters, he said that they have two hours in the morning when they can walk about, and two hours in the evening, from 7pm to 9pm, when they can watch television. That’s it, the rest of the time they are behind bars.

From his last letter, I understood that he had received my parcel and letter. I told him all about the children, passed on their greeting, told him that we all miss him - words of support. I gave him a photo of the little ones, like he asked. He has seen her in photos (their youngest daughter, Anya - ed.), but she does not know him yet. They still haven’t met.

The day he was put in prison, I found out that we were expecting a second child. Since I had no way of contacting him, I decided to keep the baby. We had talked about it in the past, that if we got pregnant again, then we would keep it. So when he was able to contact me, it was about a month after, I told him. He said, “Good, that means we’ll keep it”. And that was that.

Anya was born during his time in prison. I had no way of contacting him. I phoned some of the other families, in case one of the other boys had been in contact, so that that he would get in touch. Anya was born on 3rd October, and he contacted me at 3am on the 4th October. I told him that he had become a father for the second time. He said, “Good, then she’ll be called Anya”.

She knows that she has a dad from the photographs. She sometimes asks, “Where’s daddy?”, and she’ll kiss the photos. And sometimes, when we’re at home, she’ll suddenly say, “Dad”.

On her birthday, our eldest daughter Masha, waited for him. She was looking out the window all day. And when it was almost evening, when all the guests had gone, she became hysterical. “Why didn’t he come?”. He’s not been home for her birthday in three years. Anya turned one, he wasn’t there for that either. I really want him to be home for Masha’s next birthday (she says, with tears in her eyes - ed.)

Masha heard some grown-ups talking about the fact her dad was in prison. She came home and asked, “Mama, why have you been lying to me? Tell me the truth, where is my dad?”. I said, “What do you mean, ‘where’?”. “Is my dad in prison?”. After that I told her the truth, that her father was in prison. Maybe she doesn’t understand what a prison is, but she understands that her father isn’t here right now.

She waits and waits for him. Every time they bring us letters, she takes them for herself - she thinks someone will take them away, like they did with her dad. She hides them under a pillow on her bed.

We only have one goal - to bring our loved ones home. Whatever the cost, whoever helps us - it doesn’t matter. The main thing is that they are returned home. Every time we go to the people involved with this, the same thing happens. They constantly say, “Wait a bit longer”. How much longer can I wait? It’s been 25 months. How much longer can they last in there?