There are chances of a prisoner exchange happening before the New Year, as was announced following the Minsk negotiations on December 23. But no final agreements have been made. Final lists are now being made, which both parties must agree to. The latest data that is publicly talked about: the so-called Donetsk "people's republic" (or "DPR") is prepared to hand over 53 people to Ukraine, while the Luhansk "people's republic" (or "LPR") up to 30 people.
The final number of people who will return home will be known only on the day of the exchange, since representatives of the Ukrainian side in the humanitarian subgroup in Minsk (who decide on the issue of the exchange), in particular, Valeriya Lutkovska, refuse to comment on the negotiation process before the exchange takes place – "so as not to harm."
“We will finally be able to retrieve from the illegal detention those of our guys who could not be removed [from it] in December 2017 ... I really hope that we can do this in the near future. We are finalizing the lists in order to implement this procedure of simultaneous release as quickly as possible, by the end of this year, ”Valeriya Lutkovska said at a press conference on December 23 after the agreements reached.
But the very next day, the lawyer of the Russians who are expected to be exchanged, Valentin Rybin, said that the exchange is on the verge of collapse due to Ukraine excluding ex-Berkuters (Berkut was the notorious riot police who beat up Euromaidan protesters in 2013-2014) from the lists. The inclusion of Berkut officers was requested by the so-called "DPR" and "LPR", despite them having nothing to do with the war in the Donbas.
While everyone is waiting in anticipation, Hromadske looks at whom the government-controlled Ukraine wants to be released from illegal detention and captivity.
We emphasize that this isn't the entire list of Ukrainians illegally held by the Russia-led separatists in the occupied areas of the Donbas. We also don't have the exact list of people who might be returned. There are many illegal detainees we don't know about, some are held in Russia, some are in annexed Crimea. Their release is also highly anticipated here.
According to official SBU data, 227 people are in prisons of the self-proclaimed "republics." According to the Ombudsperson’s Office, 113 (identified) prisoners remain in Russian prisons, of which 89 are Crimean Tatars.
Serhiy Hlondar and Oleksandr Korinkov
Law enforcers Serhiy Hlondar and Oleksandr Korinkov were captured on February 16, 2015, the last days of the Debaltseve cauldron. According to relatives, that day they escorted a convoy with wounded and killed soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine through the "corridor", but were ambushed.
They are one of those who have been held captive by the self-named “DPR” for longer. They were held in a colony in Makiivka in the occupied part of the Donetsk region. Oleksandr Korinkov was captured almost immediately after his wedding. Serhiy Hlondar has two daughters: he hasn't seen his younger one yet as she was born after he got captured.
The wives of the two officers, Katerina Hlondar and Yulia Korinkova, regularly come to Kyiv to take part in different demonstrations: to picket the embassy of the Russian Federation, spend the night under the presidential administration, meet with government officials, officials of the Security Service of Ukraine (or SBU), and participants in the negotiation process. On the eve of the talks in Minsk on December 16, Korinkov, Hlondar, and another prisoner, Bohdan Pantyushenko, were shown in a video report aired on the Russian state-owned channel Russia-1.
Ukrainian POWs Bohdan Pantiushenko (left), Oleksandr Korinkov and Serhiy Hlondar (right). Photo: a freeze-frame from the Russia-1 video
Tanker Bohdan Pantiushenko was captured during the battle near the village of Spartak near the Donetsk airport in January 2015. A soldier with the call sign “Bronya,” Pantiushenko was mobilized into the 1st separate tank brigade in 2014. During the battle at the Donetsk airport, the militants knocked out his tank, and its crew was captured. His wife Victoria has not seen her husband for five years. Before captivity, they lived together for only a year.
Bohdan Pantiushenko. Photo: Victoria Pantiushenko's Facebook page
Onyshchuk is a soldier at the 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade. He has been held in captivity of the so-called "LPR" since June 15, 2015. According to his mother, Halyna Onyshchuk, he was “performing a combat mission” then - that's what the Ministry of Defense told her when she asked how he ended up in captivity.
On the afternoon when he was captured, Onyshchuk was in a taxi going from Severodonetsk to his military unit, through the village of Borivske. While inside a car, Onyshchuk allegedly saw a man in a mask with a gun, then gunshots followed. The driver tried to turn around and drive away, but then two more people appeared in camouflage. The attackers grabbed the Ukrainian soldier and took him with them. They released the taxi driver – he was the one who reported this to the police.
Nobody knew where Onyshchuk was for three years. He was considered missing until the spring of 2018 when the so-called “LPR” recognized that they held him. But his mother still does not know the exact whereabouts of her son.
Roman Onyshchuk. Photo: Media Initiative for Human Rights
Chief of Engineering, 8th Special Forces Regiment with the call sign "Fuhas". He was captured on February 5, 2017 with his subordinate, sergeant Ivan Deev. His wife Victoria tells reporters that her husband’s friend came to her that day and asked to have a chat. He said that Ivanchuk is out of reach as he was captured by the so-called LPR.
On March 10, a video appeared online with Ivanchuk’s interrogation, later there were videos where he was dressed in a prison robe. Later, the so-called “LPR” court “sentenced” Ivanchuk to 20 years in prison.
At home, Serhiy is awaited by his wife and two daughters. Victoria says she told the children the truth, that their father is held against his will.
Serhiy Ivanchuk. Photo: Personal archive
Stanislav Aseev is a Ukrainian writer, journalist and blogger, member of the Ukrainian PEN. The author of the novel "Cupronickel Elephant, or The Man Who Thought." Under the pseudonym Stanislav Vasin, he worked as a journalist in occupied Donetsk.
READ MORE: A Journalist Disappears in Occupied Donetsk
He was detained around May or June of 2017. At first, the so-called “DPR” did not report his detention, so his relatives were searching for him. Later, the so-called “republic" admitted that they detained Aseev. On October 22 the same year, he was “sentenced” to 15 years in prison.
International organizations were denied a visit to Stanislav Aseev. In Ukraine-controlled territory, his friends and colleagues organize rallies of support, spread word about his detention, and published a book of short stories, called “In isolation. Messages about the Donbas."
Oleg Galazyuk hails from the now-occupied city of Torez in the Donetsk region. He has a PhD in philosophy, taught at a university, wrote columns about life in the occupied city for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty under the pseudonym of Myroslav Tyamushchyi.
He did not hide his pro-Ukrainian position, he was already captured once. That time, he was released. Galazyuk temporarily left his hometown, but then decided to return.
In August 2017, he wrote that he moved to Mariupol. But in December 2017, when a large exchange of prisoners took place, he, through a released prisoner, handed over a note stating that he was detained and kept in a pre-trial detention center in Donetsk.
Upon finding out, his friends and relatives wrote a statement to the police and the Security Service of Ukraine. As a result, his surname was included in the updated lists for exchange.
Even representatives of international humanitarian organizations have not been allowed to visit Galazyuk. His relatives were allowed to publish his name in the annual report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission.
Seven minors – Vladyslav Pazushko, Maksym Solodovnikov, Bohdan Kovalchuk, Denys Khmelenko, Yaroslav Myronov, Arseniy Belavyn, and Denys Koval – were sentenced to 10-15 years in prison by the so-called "DPR."
They were detained in September 2016 and accused of organizing terror attacks, car bombings, and sabotage. According to the self-proclaimed DPR authorities, the underage residents of Yasynuvata were recruited by the Ukrainian intelligence service officer with the call sign “Almaz”. It was supposedly all organized by Bohdan Kovalchuk, to whom this “Almaz”, according to the separatists, handed over materials for the manufacture of explosives and 5,000-hryvnia worth of reward ($215).
According to the Russia-led separatists, the boys were involved in the bombing of the railway track in Yasynuvata in February 2016. The self-proclaimed “ministry of security” uploaded a video where the boys admitted to their alleged crimes. A video of searches at teenagers' homes was also published, in which masked people supposedly “find” explosives wrapped in bags.
In 2014, Oleksandr Marchenko drove his car to a service station in Donetsk. Because of the start of the war, he couldn't get his car back and fled. He returned in 2018. His friend told him that some man who had already fled the city has been using his car all this time. And there was a chance to get his car back. Marchenko took the chance.
Oleksandr traveled to Donetsk via Russia. First, flying Kyiv - Moscow, then Moscow - Rostov-on-Don, and then the transition from the Russian side to the territory controlled by the "DPR". He had his car documents and a license plate with him. On December 17, he reached Donetsk.
The next day, he wrote a statement to the so-called "ministry of internal affairs of the DPR." At 11 in the morning, he called his wife and said that he was doing well and that he would go to the Uspenka checkpoint - that would be a trip from an uncontrolled part of the Donbas to Russia. From 1 p.m. the same day, his friends and family lost contact with him.
According to his wife, Kateryna, Marchenko was illegally taken to the Russian Federation and accused of smuggling. She found out about this when a person was finally able to deliver her a letter through a consul from Krasnodar. As the wife says now, Marchenko cannot be included in the lists for exchange. She has addressed President Zelenskyy, and writes appeals to various authorities of Ukraine.
Oleksandr Marchenko. Photo: Memorial Human Rights Center
A 22-year-old student of Luhansk College of Culture and Arts, Serhiy Rusynov was sentenced to six years in prison in the occupied territories of Luhansk region for comments and cursing on the Russian social network VKontakte, accused of "inciting hatred".
According to the Eastern Human Rights Group, Rusynov is detained in the self-proclaimed LPR in correctional colony №60, in the village of Lozivske in the Luhansk region. On his VKontakte page, where he is signed as "Seriozha Prostoy", information about himself reads as "I love my mom, hardcore and Ukraine", and the last posts were published shortly before his arrest.
Olena Sorokina is a resident of the occupied Pervomaysk, Luhansk region. She worked at the plant, but after she got dismissed, she opened a pet shop. She has no parents, no children, no close relatives. Her friend found out about her disappearance in October 2018. She said that Sorokina disappeared on October 30. Before that, she was in touch and appearing on social networks, and then disappeared. Her godmother had keys to the apartment, but it was empty.
“The first thing they saw was the clothes that Sorokina left to dry in her yard. Even though it rained in the evening and at night, no one took it off. It was strange. Second, the light in the rooms was turned on. Third, the cats in the apartment were scared and hungry. And lastly, there were things on the table from one of the drawers, maybe someone was looking for something in a hurry,” her friend told about the searches.
Then information emerged that Sorokina was brought home handcuffed and the apartment was searched. With the help of human rights defenders, the friend was able to get in touch with the UN mission, from where they sent a request to the so-called "LPR" authorities. In December, an answer came that she had been detained on suspicion of "committing a crime." Which crime is unknown.
Vadum Dreyev, a citizen of Luhansk, is accused of blasting four monuments, in particular – to those fighters killed in battles with the Ukrainian military. Vadym was born in 1969 and has a disability. He disappeared at the end of April 2019. His daughter Halyna wrote about it on social networks.
Later, on September 16, 2019, the so-called "DPR" authorities published a video identifying Vadym Dreyev. In the video, the man says that he was recruited by the staff of the Security Service of Ukraine and got explosives from them. The separatist media has emphasized that Dreyev is registered in a psychoneurological dispensary.
Oleksandr Tymofieyev lived in Donetsk with his wife and son. When the war in Donbas began and debris got into their apartment, they decided to move. Tymofieyev’s son left first, then Tymofieyev himself moved to Kyiv to work and took his wife with him. His paralyzed mother who did not want to go stayed in Donetsk.
On December 26, 2017, the couple went to Donetsk to celebrate New Year's Eve with their mother. At a checkpoint in Olenivka, Tymofieyev was detained and told that he is suspected of a crime. In January, a message came from the self-proclaimed authorities that Tymofieyev was detained for 30 days for a misdemeanor, and then charged with espionage.
After his arrest, Tymofieyev's wife called and asked for a ransom. The man was brought to his mother's house for an "investigative experiment", where Tymofieyev told his wife that he was being held on the premises of the Donetsk cultural center Izolyatsiya. After that, his wife was being asked about her son in Kyiv, and she realized that she had to escape. She managed to travel to the territory controlled by Ukraine. And in August 2019, Oleksandr Tymofieyev was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Oleksandr Tymofieyev. Photo: Facebook page
Valeriy Matiushenko used to live in the Kalmiuske in the Donetsk region with his child and his wife Tetiana. Tetiana said her husband was detained on the streets on July 15, 2017. As she was later told by the witnesses, "he had a bag on his head and was taken to the square." Tetiana says that everyone in the city knew about their pro-Ukrainian views.
For three days nobody knew where he was, then his wife learned that Valeriy had been accused of spying and being kept in the former Izolyatsiya plant building. She was searched by separatists and told that her husband had "confessed." According to Tetiana, she brought a parcel for her husband to the detention center but was told that if she did not get out of there, she would be made a suspect herself, too. Together with her son, she left the city. Since then, she has sought to include her husband’s name on the exchange list.
On March 28, 2018, Valeriy Matiushenko was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Valeriy Matiushenko. Photo: Facebook page
Maryna Chuykova was detained on March 19, 2019, at a checkpoint when she wanted to travel from the occupied Horlivka to Bakhmut. According to her son, the detention was explained by the fact that a telephone number of some SBU operative was found in her cell phone.
Prior to the war, Maryna worked as a nurse in Horlivka. After the war started she moved to Kharkiv, but occasionally traveled to the occupied territories to visit her mother, who refused to leave the territory.
Maryna has two sons awaiting her release. They say their mother is on the exchange lists, but they have almost no information about her. Allegedly, she is in a Donetsk detention center in a cell with six other women. She was charged with espionage and sentenced to 11 years in prison on October 1, 2019.
Maryna Chuykova. Photo: Facebook page
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