Accessibility links

Breaking News

'It'd Be Better To Die' -- Ukrainian Journalist Talks About Ordeals In Captivity

A pro-Russian fighter leads Ukrainian journalist Irma Krat away from a news conference in Slovyansk on April 21.
A pro-Russian fighter leads Ukrainian journalist Irma Krat away from a news conference in Slovyansk on April 21.

"I would ask my captors if they were going to rape me. 'No.' Were they going to kill me? 'No.' Then a man told me in a very serious tone, 'We will bury you alive.' And for three months I thought they would indeed bury me alive."

Ukrainian journalist and Maidan activist Irma Krat still finds it difficult to talk about the 77 days she spent in captivity after being captured on April 20 by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The 29-year-old was detained in the city of Slovyansk -- then a bastion of separatist militants -- during a reporting trip.

Krat, a member of the Women's 100 organization, which guarded pro-European protests camps in the Maidan -- was recognized by the rebels and swiftly sent to their regional security services headquarters.

She would spend the next 2 1/2 months there in captivity, mostly isolated from other detainees.

"They wrapped my head with a cloth and secured the cloth with a tape. Then they dragged me down the stairs into a basement," Krat told RFE/RL's Russian Service in her first exclusive interview following her release in early July.

Read RFE/RL Russian Service's wide-ranging interview with Irma Krat in Russian

Describing her first day in detention, Krat said her captors accused her of killing and torturing members of the Berkut, the now-disbanded Ukrainian riot police who employed brutal tactics against participants in the Maidan protests in Kyiv.

"They said to one of the men: 'Bring a knife.' I was afraid they were going to cut me. My hands and legs were trembling. I nearly fainted. 'Hands up.' I raised my arms. Then he reached for my zipper, my pants. I was thinking about what they would do. They pulled up my blouse, and then began cutting buttons off my pants."

"Half an hour later one of them told me: 'You are accused of cutting off the heads of Berkut members on the Maidan," Krat recalled.

Krat says her captors claimed they possessed a video recording that showed her pulling out a Berkut member's fingernails and inserting needles under his fingernails.

Hours later her captors acknowledged that they were mistaken, and that the woman in the alleged torture video was not Krat. She has consistently denied allegations that she was involved in the interrogation of Berkut members.

Later, Krat was paraded before journalists in Slovyansk -- blindfolded and escorted by a man in a balaclava who claimed she had not been detained and was an "invited guest" who came to the separatists to see how it feels to be a detainee. Separately, she was interviewed by Russian media outlets NTV, and LifeNews, a news site with alleged close ties to Russian security services.

While she now describes being frightened and holding a hunger strike to protest her detention, Krat said at the time before the cameras that she was being treated well by her captors.

"What else I could say? I couldn't possibly say I had been subject to insults, to torment," Krat told RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"It's true they didn't beat me. They didn't break my ribs, they didn't beat my face," Krat says. "But I'd prefer if they had beat me up and let me go instead of insulting me. For me, facing psychological abuse is a lot worse than any physical pain. They simply killed me in that sense."

"It'd be better to die," Krat said, who was freed after Ukrainian forces took control of Slovyansk in early July.

Krat says she was drugged with what she describes as "truth serum" before her interview with LifeNews.

"Not everyone can take that injection. If your heart isn't strong enough, it can kill you," Krat says.

She describes her interview with LifeNews to a staged interrogation.

"It took place in the early morning hours, around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. They waited until the truth serum began to work, and then started interrogating. In that video I don't speak the way I normally do. Of course, my friends noticed it wasn't the Irma they knew, and that something was wrong. I looked confused.... At some point I briefly passed out."

Krat accuses Russian NTV of manipulating and editing footage.

"The interview was cut and spliced so that it makes me appear to have almost admitted to being a killer, a sadist, and as if I was renouncing the Maidan," she told RFE/RL. "I will never renounce the Maidan – we started it, and we will follow it through to the end."

Krat says she will sue the journalists from LifeNews and NTV once the "war is over."

However, despite her ordeal, the journalist has no hard feelings toward her former captors in eastern Ukraine.

"I feel sorry for them," Krat said. "They are being deceived.... They believe the lies they are being told. The saddest part is that they don't understand that nobody needs this war."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on an interview conducted by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Dmitry Volchek

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.