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Prisoner exchanges through the ordeal of a Ukrainian soldier

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The mother of Ukrainian soldier Gilb Stryzhko knew he had fallen into Russian hands, but it wasn’t until the wounded 25-year-old secretly phoned her that she was able to find out where he was. “One of his guards took pity on him”he explained.

That small gesture of indulgence and the details of his experience gave him a glimpse into the tragic and often opaque reality of POW exchanges.

Stryzhko, who was nearly killed in heavy fighting in the port city of Mariupolin the southeast of Ukraine, was captured in April. According to what he said, from there they took him to Russia, before they sent him back home along with other imprisoned soldiers, as part of an exchange of prisoners between Moscow Y Kyiv.

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Stryzhko’s captivity lasted only a few weeks, a brief period for captives of war, whose fates often depend on a process marked by emotions, twists and turns, and sometimes political negotiations that can drag on for a long time.

In the case of Ukraine, more than 350 of its soldiers have been released so far in the framework of exchanges, which are carried out on a case-by-case basis between people of the same rank, explained the Ukrainian deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk.

Stryzhko’s bumpy ride home began on social media. A comrade detected it on a channel of Telegram in which pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine publish photos of captured enemy soldiers.

The recruit called Stryzhko’s mother, who received the news with horror, but also relief that her son was still alive.

“That man had our phone number. Gilb had given it to him, as if he figured this might happen.”said his mother, Lesia Kostenko, 51.

His son was deployed near the steel mill in Ilychin Mariúpol, whose battle attracted the eyes of the whole world because many civilians took refuge in another steel plant in that municipality, Azovstal.

The Russian refusal

Stryzhko was hit by tank fire and buried under rubble on 10 April, before his unit took him to a hospital where he says he was taken prisoner.

Now he is recovering in a hospital. Zaporizhia, in the south, of the serious injuries he has in the pelvis, jaw and in one eye. According to what he said, his captors were moving him along with other captives from one place to another. They were first taken to Novazovsknear the border with Russia.

“There we were, in the hospital and they did not give us any serious medical treatment”he recounted.

He stayed in that establishment for about a week, before being transferred to a hospital in Donetsk, also in the east of the country, where, incredibly, he managed to get access to a telephone and call home. “On his first call, he told us where he was”said his mother.

His family asked the government for help to bring Stryzhko back, including the Ukrainian deputy prime minister, who, according to the person concerned, pressured Russia to exchange the young man for another soldier.

However, the Russians denied that the young man was captured, until Vereshchuk told them that he knew the soldier was in Donetsk Hospital No. 15.

After spending about a week in Donetsk, Stryzhko said the Russians transferred him back. This time, he to prison. They then took him away in a sheet and left him on the floor of a bus.

“I was on the bus for a while. Then they put me in an ambulance and the next stop was the Russian border.”Stryzhko explained. They told him they were taking him to Taganrogan hour’s drive from the Ukrainian border.

“cry again”

Stryzhko’s account of his captors is tinged with indifference and, in part, cruelty.

Generally, he said, doctors did their job, but there was a nurse who cursed him in Russian and left food for him by his bed, knowing that he couldn’t feed himself. “Then the nurse would come back and say, ‘Are you done yet?’ and take the food away”counted.

At the hospital, he was on the alert all the time, as he says the guards could be terrifying.

One of them passed a knife through his body but without sticking it, threatening him, saying things like: “I would love to cut off your ear or make cuts for you, like the Ukrainians do with our prisoners”.

What Stryzhko did not know is that he would not be in Russia for long. The ambulance that was taking him to Taganrog was, in fact, on its way to the airport. Within hours he was flying with other wounded and captives, his hands tied and his eyes covered with duct tape.

Once on land, crimeaThey told him they were going to exchange it. That was on April 28.

The Russians took him and three other critically wounded Ukrainians to the spot set for the exchange. Between both parties there was about a kilometer distance.

“Going that mile, I was so terrified because who knows what could happen? They could cancel everything.”the soldier explained. But soon after, he was on board a Ukrainian bus, crying.

When Iryna Vershchuk called her mother to tell her the news, she dropped her cell phone. “I started crying again”said the woman.

Source: Gestion

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