Ukrainian Serviceman On His Time In Separatist Prison
21 January, 2018

On December 27, 2016, Ukraine carried out the largest prisoner swap in the last three years of war between Kyiv and Russia-led separatists. Seventy-three prisoners returned home from the country’s occupied eastern territories just in time for New Year and Orthodox Christmas. In exchange, the Ukrainian side released 233 captives to the self-proclaimed “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.”

Hromadske has been following the story of one of the recently freed Ukrainian prisoners, Oleksandr Oliynyk. Separatists captured the Ukrainian soldier — originally from the Rivne region in western Ukraine — on February 9, 2015 while he was serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and stationed in the Donetsk region. His capture came just one week after Ukraine's disastrous defeat at Debaltseve, when the car he was driving in fell under shelling.

Photo credit: Oleksandra Chernova/HROMADSKE 

READ MORE: Ukrainian Soldier Returns Home in Prisoner Swap

Oliynyk spent almost three years in captivity in the self-proclaimed “DPR,” where prison conditions were unforgiving. He says that, for the first couple of years, the prisoners lived like “homeless people,” adding that, during this time, they “didn’t see toothpaste or soap.”

Photo credit: Oleksandra Chernova/HROMADSKE  

Although Oleksandr is relieved to finally be free and among friends and family once again, it is taking time for him to adjust to civilian life. In particular, the physical effects of his time in detention were evident upon on his release.

“[I got out and] I was walking on the escalator, I looked around, and they were holding under my arms so I didn’t fall. After all, I hadn’t even seen real sunlight in one and half years, only from behind bars, it’s somehow unnatural.”

Following his release, Oliynyk was taken to the military hospital in Kyiv to undergo rehabilitation treatment. Hromadske caught up with him there to discuss his day-to-day life in captivity and how he’s settling back in to life on the outside.

/Interview by Oleksandra Chernova and Anna Tokhmakhchi

/Translated and adapted by Sofia Fedeczko