Yesterday another prisoner exchange took place between Russia and Ukraine. Ukrainian Facebook users were shocked by the photo taken after the return of prisoners.
This is Maxym Kolesnykov, a Ukrainian serviceman. Born in Donetsk, he was formerly a restaurateur, but in 2015 he went to defend his native Donbas from Russian aggression.
Then in his social networks, Maxym began to keep a kind of online diary, where he described the preparation of Ukrainian soldiers for combat, the everyday life of soldiers, and in general raised many important topics.
In February 2022, he joined the army again, and in March he was captured during the battle of Kyiv. He spent almost a year in captivity.
In the photo, which so shocked the users of social networks, Maksym sees an apple for the first time in a long time.
Those who know Maksim note that captivity has changed him a lot. Maksim lost a lot of weight, his hair turned gray. What he endured in captivity remains to be seen, especially by the investigators.
“I saw interrogation and torture”
The BBC recently released an interview with Konstantin Yefremov, a Russian officer who left the army after the invasion and left Russia.
Konstantin witnessed the torture and abuse of Ukrainian soldiers in Russian captivity. At one site in southern Ukraine, he said “the interrogations, the torture, continued for about a week.”
“Every day, at night, sometimes twice a day.”
We will cite an excerpt from the interview.
In late February, Yefremov and his men guarded an airfield seized by the Russians in the town of Melitopol in southern Ukraine. Konstantin spent 10 days there and revealed the facts of looting.
“Soldiers and officers grabbed everything they could. They climbed all over the planes and went through all the buildings. One soldier took away a lawnmower. He said proudly, ‘I’ll take this home and cut the grass next to our barracks.’
Buckets, axes, bicycles, they bunged it all in their trucks. So much stuff they had to squat down to fit in the vehicles.”
Later, Konstantin and eight of his soldiers were sent to guard artillery positions. Conditions for life were horrible, Yefremov notes:
“We were so hungry we started hunting for rabbits and pheasants. One time we came across a mansion. There was a Russian fighter inside. ‘We’re with the 100th Brigade and we live here now,’ the soldier said.
There was so much food. The fridges were packed. There was enough food to survive a nuclear war. But the soldiers living there were catching the Japanese carp in the pond outside and eating them.”
But the looting did not strike Konstantin as much as the facts of the inhumane treatment of the prisoners.
He recalls a day when three prisoners were brought in.
“One of them admitted to being a sniper. On hearing this, the Russian colonel lost his mind. He hit him, he pulled the Ukrainian’s trousers down, and asked if he was married.
‘Yes,’ the prisoner replied. ‘Then someone bring me a mop,’ said the colonel. ‘We’ll turn you into a girl and send your wife the video.'”
Another prisoner had a blindfold on.
“The colonel put a pistol to the prisoner’s forehead and said ‘I’m going to count to three and then shoot you in the head.’
He counted and then fired just to the side of his head, on both sides. The colonel started shouting at him. I said: ‘Comrade colonel! He can’t hear you, you’ve deafened him!'”
As Yefremov said, that colonel forbid to give normal food to the prisoners – only water and crackers. During another interrogation, Mr. Yefremov said the colonel shot a prisoner in the arm – and in the right leg under the knee, which hit the bone.
It is worth noting that Konstantin Yefremov regrets his participation in the war.
“I apologize to the entire Ukrainian nation for coming to their home as an uninvited guest with a weapon in my hands.
Thank God I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t kill anyone. Thank God I wasn’t killed.
I don’t even have the moral right to ask for forgiveness from the Ukrainians. I can’t forgive myself, so I can’t expect them to forgive me.”
A valuable source of evidence
Earlier we wrote about Russian deserters in Europe on the example of Wagner PMC mercenary Andrey Medvedev and paratrooper Pavel Filatiev, who escaped from Russia.
Then we spoke about the fact that Europe should extradite these subjects to Ukraine because their participation in the crime of aggression is obvious.
Konstantin Yefremov claimed in an interview that he did not commit any criminal actions. Nevertheless, his testimony is important for the investigation of Russian war crimes. The BBC was able to confirm the credibility of Mr. Yefremov’s testimony regarding his presence in the places he spoke about. Accordingly, he may be a valuable witness. Nevertheless, journalists can neither confirm nor deny Mr. Yefremov’s statements regarding his innocence. Thus, an official investigation should still take place.
Accordingly, it is hoped that European countries will redouble their efforts to investigate Russian crimes and assist Ukraine in bringing all military personnel to justice.
As Welt recently reported, German Attorney General Peter Frank said, “We are preparing for a possible future trial, either here in Germany, or with our foreign partners, or before an international court.”
He explained what his agency is doing to make that happen. So, in early March 2022, a complex investigation was launched. This means that German investigators are not yet investigating specific people but collecting information and evidence. The focus now is on interviewing Ukrainian refugees who may know about war crimes in Ukraine.
“Together with other international partners, we have developed a coordinated questionnaire that is available in several languages. So far, we’ve gotten figures in the triple-digit range,” Frank said.
For example, German law enforcers are now focusing on mass murders in Bucha or attacks on civilian Ukrainian infrastructure.
The Federal Criminal Police are also evaluating publicly available sources on the course of the conflict.
Nevertheless, Russian defectors are a valuable source of evidence for investigating Russian atrocities in Ukraine. This means that European law enforcers must turn their focus to defectors as well.
Featured image: Konstantin Yefremov / BBC