Luhansk captivity survivor: the story of Ukrainian woman

Author : Natalia Vlashchenko

Respondent : Maria Varfolomeeva

14:06, 4 April 2016

Luhansk captivity survivor: the story of Ukrainian woman

Author : Natalia Vlashchenko

Respondent : Maria Varfolomeeva

They applied strong moral pressure to me - Maria Varfolomeeva

14:06, 4 April 2016

Journalist Vlaschenko: Today our guest is a woman, a journalist, who stayed more than a year in captivity in Luhansk. Her name is Maria Varfolomeeva. She was born in Luhansk. So-called Luhansk People's republic militants have detained her on January 9, 2015. She was accused of collaboration with the "Aydar" battalion and far-right organization "Pravyi sektor." She spent more than a year in captivity. Maria was released on March 3, 2016


Hello Maria. Please, tell us about the Luhansk prison.

Varfolomeeva: I was probably in five different places of detention. Everywhere there were different conditions, but everywhere, in practice, it was the basement - no air, no daylight, the lack of normal living conditions. They said, "here you are not beaten, so it must be a resort for you." But after this "resort" I am now going through treatment. Thanks to my country, I am provided with a rehabilitation treatment. Now voluntary organizations give me a chance to get on sanatorium treatment.

Who is usually beaten there, and who is not?  

They applied strong moral pressure to me. I have always heard: "You're a girl, we feel sorry to beat you."

Related: Russian Ombudsman: Sentsov feels fine

Was your arrest accidental?

I asked my friend, Luhansk journalist, to take a photo of a couple of houses. They were common private houses, with a good repair. When I was taking the pictures, some people came out of the building, and I have even asked the house number. I did not know whose house it was before, but it turned out that it was the militia barracks. And these militias have detained me. I thought that all of this will end quickly, because they said all the time: "We understand that you're a good woman, and we do not blame you," but in the end it turned out to be a very long time.

You spent a year with people who are called enemies. Did you try to find a contact with the jailers?

Well, if you do not communicate with anyone, you will go crazy. The whole day is silent and nothing happens. In the end, you realize that, in principle, these are normal people. There were bad people, but there were also good ones. Therefore, I am grateful to those who have treated me well. I had books, local media. Once a week, my father came from Russia, and brought me a book in French, in other languages. We had to do something all the time, something to think about to avoid a void in the mind.

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And how many people were placed to the basement?

Basically, I was alone. In principle, in terms of captivity, I was enough supplied. Good relationships with the people have to ensure that the people you have helped provide some everyday things. You could wash the clothes, wash yourself. The big problem was the toilet - two times a day only. Due to a good relationship, they could bring it three times.

After a year in captivity, what can you say about such a strict contradiction in the two regions? What do these people want?

Originally, everything started with the help of people who really wanted separation: either join Russia or separate from Ukraine, in order not to send the money (taxes) to Kyiv. The rest were neutral: "Ukraine? Good. Russia? OK, not bad. Separation is not very good, but if it's necessary, we will accept it." But then came provocations, shootings: "Ukraine is shelling you, Ukraine attacks," and people who maybe had even pro-Ukrainian position, began to believe that they are because suffering because of Ukraine. Many people would be pro-Ukrainian, or would be neutral if there was no propaganda like "Kyiv junta is performing attacks against you." People thought that Kyiv really shoot and killed its own people. One of the militants told me: "I have joined the militants, when, roughly speaking, the mine appeared. And only then I realized that it was a provocation from our side." Few people told me the same.

Were you allowed to call your family?

Related: Pyatt welcomed release of Ukrainian journalist from captivity in Donbas

For all the time I have never communicated with my family. It was extremely difficult. All the time I was waiting at least some short letter from my father. I did not know almost nothing about what was going on here.

And now you know who first wrote about you?

I do not know who was the first, because so many people speak about it. In principle, all the prisoners have cell phones. As a particularly dangerous criminal, I was put in a cell, to limit contacts with the outside world.

Who were the people that were placed to the cell together with you?

When I was sitting in jail, they were people imprisoned for the crime.

It must be terrible to sit together with them?

Related: Human Rights Watch: both sides of Donbas conflict involved in torture incidents

Yes. These people felt very good in their environment, and I did not know how to behave. There was a girl whose house was broken during the hostilities, and she was said that I was correcting the azimuth.

On what basis you were considered to correct the azimuth?

Because I took pictures and they called it sabotage. People involved in my case, well aware that I am innocent, but everything is decided at a higher level.

Related: Klimkin gave Lavrov report on torture of captives in Donbas

Do you think that in this situation there are right or wrong people?

"They came to us, they came to our land." "They" means the Ukrainian government. I said: "The Ukrainian government has always been here. Ukrainian military has always been here, and nothing new has happened." The situation escalated, when the seizure of administrative buildings began. "Well, the same things took place in Lviv." I say: "But it happened under the Ukrainian flag, and there were no appeals to the separation. Any country will defend its territorial integrity." But they do not realize it: "We are taking what belongs to us." Is Ukraine trying to attack Zimbabwe or Russia? Ukraine is defending its territorial integrity.

Do you think we have a chance to return to the previous state? And if there is no chance, then what should we do?

They asked me the same question. And I said that I want Ukraine to be indivisible, I want to see the outline of my country with Crimea, Donbas.

Why do they believe that the Russian authorities would be better for them?

"The standard of living. We are Russians. Russian language..." I said that Russian is not a problem. I support the idea that the Russian language must be official, because I understand that there are people who believe that "Donbas is not heard." Let it be for two regions only. It is like with children, give them any toy, so they do not cry. But there would be some other problem. I want Ukraine to be an integral - but at what cost? Let us say we will win in this confrontation by force, return back our territory. But these people will still be considered, "You have not conquered, you recaptured the territory." All the same, they will hate Ukraine as long as their attitude to the understanding of Ukraine does not change. This is not the spawn of evil, the embodiment of evil, but it is the home country. While people do not like the country, there is no sense to return them. They told me: "We do not care, we will rebel." Therefore, the price of the deaths of so many people ... Mentally, it is just a new generation. Even the already five-year children are brought up on propaganda magazine with "green men", they are taught that Ukraine is bad. I do not know what kind of work to be done in order to free people from the idea that Ukrainian government is evil.

Related: Only 20 Ukrainians remained in captivity, - DPR – LPR representative

Do you think that they have better promotion than we do?

We have no promotion or propaganda at all. Perhaps they are watching Ukrainian TV channels, just as I watch Russian ones. I watch them no to know the news, but know how their media cover the events. They watch  them not to know the truth.

Ukrainian presidential press secretary Sviatoslav Tsegolko came to visit you in the hospital. What did he ask you?

We were talking about the overall situation. He asked me about my experiences. We talked very positively.

If President Poroshenko came to you, what would you say to him? What would you ask him?

When I was there, people often ask me why the president or the prime minister are doing something or saying something.

That is, they are interested in what is happening in Ukraine?

It is positioned that there are some events in Ukraine, and here comes a comparison: "But we live better." In fact, not a bit better, but they think that it is.

Would you like to come back to Luhansk?

Actually, I arrived in Lugansk to take care of my grandmother. Grandmother died, and now it makes no sense to go back there. Nothing connects me with this city.

Related: Donbas: “all for all” prisoner swap currently impossible, - OSCE

You said that you would like to work as a journalist. What are your interests?

Now I just cannot adapt, come back to the normal world.

Are those people, who were close to you before you had left Kyiv, together with you now?

Yes, I am very grateful that all these people are worried about me, trying to make at least a small contribution to my release. Even people, whom I do not remember, support me.

What would you like to say to the people who live here, where there is no war?

The First revaluation of values ​​I had when in Luhansk, in my area, there were no water and electricity for five months. Only when you start to appreciate these benefits of civilization. Then, while you are not deprived of their liberty, you do not even think how hard it is to be limited in movement, limited in communication. Five minutes for talking to someone - it always was such a joy. Let them have told all their nonsense, but it was much better than silence. My family did not forget me, they liked me, and it was very important not to let an evil that surrounded me. Everyone hated me, and it was very important not to hate in return. I would like to thank all the people who fought for me to support me now, help me get back to normal life. And I thank God that I am not crazy, in these conditions - I read the Bible. I want people who have difficulties in life, to turn to God, and wait for his support.

Related: OSCE: Conflict in Donbas led to groundless imprisonment of people

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