Ukrainian volunteers detained by Russia recall horrors: ‘It was like a nightmare come true’

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Two Ukrainian volunteers who say they spent three weeks in Russian captivity are now opening up about their harrowing experience, describing the beatings and conditions they allegedly suffered as a “nightmare come true”.

Volodymyr Khropun and Yulia Ivannikova-Katsemon were working for the Red Cross helping people flee villages along the front lines in northern Ukraine when they were captured by the Russian army in March, according to Reuters . On April 9 – after spending time in Belarus and in detention centers in Russia – they were released in a prisoner swap.

“It was like a nightmare come true,” Khropun told Reuters, recalling how he and Ivannikova-Katsemon were detained along with around 40 other people in an unheated room at a factory in Dymer, north of Kyiv. , sharing a plastic toilet potty.

Red Cross volunteer Volodymyr Khropun clasped his hands to show how his hands were tied as he was held up by Russian troops inside a factory during the Russian invasion in the village of Dymer, in the kyiv region of Ukraine.
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Red Cross volunteer Volodymyr Khropun clasped his hands to show how his hands were tied as he was held up by Russian troops inside a factory during the Russian invasion in the village of Dymer, in the kyiv region of Ukraine.
(REUTERS/Alessandra Prentice)

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“They arrested me, closed my eyes – as in, they put a hat over my eyes, tied it with tape – then wrapped my hands in duct tape, like a terrorist” , he added.

After about a week of surviving on one to two meals a day – sometimes consisting only of army crackers – the couple said they and a dozen others were brought by army truck to Belarus where they were underwent interrogation, reports Reuters.

“The first step was undressing, photographing yourself, noting scars, I have a few. Then the spilling of water [on me] and a beating,” Ivannikova-Katsemon told Reuters.

Dirty mattresses are seen on the cement floor of a factory hall where Russian troops detained Red Cross volunteers Volodymyr Khropun and Yulia Ivannikova-Katsemon along with dozens of other residents of the village of Dymer, Ukraine .

Dirty mattresses are seen on the cement floor of a factory hall where Russian troops detained Red Cross volunteers Volodymyr Khropun and Yulia Ivannikova-Katsemon along with dozens of other residents of the village of Dymer, Ukraine .
(REUTERS/Alessandra Prentice)

The volunteers say they each received documents with their identification and details accusing them of being “a person who opposed the special military operation”.

At one point, after being transferred to a detention center in Russia, Ivannikova-Katsemon claims she was told she would be sent to work in a logging camp in Siberia.

Khropun said that during interrogations in all three countries, he was forced to kneel for long periods or was attacked in the knees and ribs. Other captives, he told Reuters, had their hair, beards and mustaches partially shaved as a sign of humiliation.

Families wait to board a train at Kramatorsk Central Station as they flee the eastern city of Kramatorsk in the Donbass region in early April.

Families wait to board a train at Kramatorsk Central Station as they flee the eastern city of Kramatorsk in the Donbass region in early April.
(Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

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The couple were eventually freed after learning they had been picked out in a prisoner swap.

“There was always hope with God that I would return,” Ivannikova-Katsemon told Reuters. “The hardest part was not being able to tell my family and friends that I was alive and in captivity.”

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