"I wanted to hang myself, but children were waiting for me at home." A story of a Ukrainian military who survived russian captivity

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Ukrainian serviceman Oleksiy Anulya spent 10 months in Russian captivity, endured inhumane torture, but survived and now helps rescue other captives from Ukraine. We believe that the whole world should know how Russia violates the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, so we prepared this material for the largest journalists' conference in Europe. Here's what Oleksiy Anulya told us.

I ended up in captivity in March 2022 when the Russian army occupied my native Chernihiv region. Two captives who were with me were immediately shot dead by Russian soldiers. They forced me to eat the chevron of one of them, then stripped me and tried to rape me. I was saved by incoming shelling. Later, they tied my hands behind my back and hung me from the ceiling so that my toes barely touched the floor. I hung like that for six days without clothes. On one of those days, the Russians raped a very young guy in front of me, whom they also captured.

After some time, they transferred me to Russian territory, where an even worse hell began. At first, I was held in some tent camp near Kursk, where guards forced a local dentist to pull out two of my teeth without anesthesia. Then they transferred me to pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Kursk, where the so-called admission involved seven hours of brutal beating.

Oleksiy Anulya under interrogation by the Russians

On May 6, I and other captives were sent to a high-security prison in the Tula region. We were beaten daily and for no reason. The wounds inflicted by the Russians in captivity started to rot on both legs, and they deliberately beat on them. To give you an idea: they punctured one leg with old rusty scissors, before that in Kursk they cut the tendon on the index finger of my hand with a rusty knife, and in Tula they broke the index finger with a pipe.

I spent 108 days in solitary confinement, although by Russian law, a person can be kept there for five to seven days. It was a damp basement room with mold and feces. Three times a day, they gave a piece of bread, two spoons of porridge-soup, and half a glass of boiled water with bromine. It was very little. Out of hunger, I started tracking a cockroach that I planned to eat. It took me several months to catch it. And when I finally got it in my hands, the guards, seeing movement in the cell, came to check. To prevent the cockroach from escaping, I threw it into my mouth and bit down. It started biting my palate. The guards took me out and started beating me on the right kidney. Blood came out of my mouth, and they thought they had knocked out my kidney. In fact, it happened because of the bitten mouth. I crawled back into the cell and finally ate that cockroach.

Once a week, they took us to bathe. They allowed exactly one minute for this. But the bathhouse was another place of torture: the Russians would shock the wet bodies of the prisoners with electric stun guns.

After another round of torture, I decided to hang myself. I had already prepared a twisted bedsheet, when suddenly the silhouette of my late grandmother appeared before me. "Where are you going? You haven't bought New Year's gifts for the children yet," she said. In Ukraine, two little children were waiting for me.

Oleksiy Anulya after Russian captivity

In captivity, I lost 40 kilograms and became seven centimeters shorter. What helped me endure the torture? First and foremost, thoughts of my children. I didn't want them to grow up not knowing where their father was buried.

I was exchanged on December 31, 2022, along with 140 other Ukrainian servicemen. Doctors recorded the following injuries: concussion, so-called "Turkish saddle" in the skull, chest trauma, internal organ contusions, torn tendons in the forearms, as well as broken nose, jaw, fingers, two clavicles, right scapula, spine in three places, cervical spine, coccyx, and ribs. Because my left foot was stabbed with a knife, the heel literally fell off the bones. One German osteopath didn't believe my story, but when he personally examined me, he was shocked.

Anulya after being released from Russian captivity

I received treatment in Ukraine, Latvia, and Israel. Several more surgeries are ahead.

I vividly remember that in July 2022, while in a prison cell, I made a promise to myself that I would come out and do everything possible to bring back to freedom all those who were with me in this hell. I'm already working on it. I have already helped release 49 people from captivity and also brought the bodies of several deceased captives from there.

I have four notebooks where I carefully record information about each captive and create a plan for how I can help them. Doctors give me sleeping pills and often wonder why I don't sleep and can make rescue plans for my comrades until 5 in the morning. I spend my personal funds on this: all the money I received after captivity, I spent on my treatment and helping others.

In April, I registered the "Price of Freedom" foundation, which will help prisoners of war and their families. You are one of the first to whom I have reported this.

I provided testimony to the UN about what I experienced. Also, my case has already been registered with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In May, their representatives plan to come to Ukraine to collect testimonies separately from the captives I helped release.

I had plans to stay in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but unfortunately, I was discharged due to my health condition.

In civilian life, I was a professional kickboxer. For now, doctors have banned me from doing sports for a year because, you could say, my shoulders are screwed and my knee hasn't healed yet. Instead, they recommend cycling and swimming. Swimming has helped me a lot. During treatment in Latvia, I swam two kilometers every day. The pools in my native Chernihiv are not open yet, so I'm waiting for the summer season. I want to start running again because before captivity, I used to run up to 15 kilometers every day. Only now have I started walking normally again.

Uliana Stelmashova

Supported by the Media Development Fund of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Government.

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