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'You've Lived Enough Already': What Two Ukrainian Women Endured In Russian Captivity

Viktoria Andrusha (left) and Lyudmyla Huseynova both endured months of Russian captivity.
Viktoria Andrusha (left) and Lyudmyla Huseynova both endured months of Russian captivity.

BROVARY, Ukraine -- Three days after Russian forces poured across the border into Ukraine, moving toward the capital, Viktoria Andrusha, a 26-year-old teacher of mathematics and computer science, was helping to look after her parents in a village about 90 minutes east of Kyiv.

Russian troops conducted house-to-house searches in the village, called Stariy Bykiv. At her parents' house they found Andrusha, and they found her mobile phone, which had photos and videos of Russian military equipment.

"They just said that you have the status of a 'gunner' -- a gunner-spotter," she told Current Time, a role also known as an artillery observer, someone who helps direct artillery or mortar fire at an enemy target. "And it was specifically people with this status that they hated the most."

They arrested her. For the next six months, she suffered beatings, electrical shocks, blindfolding, exhaustion, hunger, endless boredom, and a terrifying uncertainty: she did not know if she would ever get out alive.

Ukrainian authorities estimate that more than 25,000 Ukrainians are currently being held in Russian captivity -- some of whom, in the Donbas and Crimea, have been held since well before the full-scale invasion of February 2022. Of that figure, 126 are women, 80 of them civilians, as of June 30.

Andrusha is one of them. Lyudmyla Huseynova is another.

'This Was The Scariest Thing For Me'

Huseynova, a 61-year-old former workplace-safety engineer, said she was detained by unknown men on October 9, 2019, more than two years prior to the full-scale invasion, in Novoazovsk, a coastal Donetsk city just west of the Russian border.

"I was just stopped on the street, next to a car. They jumped out, shoved me into that car. They took me to my home, searched it, found Ukrainian books, a Ukrainian flag, then put a bag over my head and drove me on further," she said in an interview on July 4 in Kyiv.

She said she was driven to the city of Donetsk, about 2 1/2 hours' drive to the north, with the bag still on her head, and no explanation of what would happen. She ultimately was brought to a prison known as Izolyatsia (Isolation) at a former factory that had later housed a center for contemporary art.

"When they brought me there, they forced me to undress. When the bullying began and they threw me into a cell, they let me take off the bag, and another girl told me what kind of place it was," Huseynova said.

"I wasn't allowed to sit down or go to bed from six in the morning until 10 at night," she said. "Very hot lamps were installed nearby, a close distance from my bunk. And it just burned out your eyes."

"And the first four days, what I heard were terrible screams. I just prayed to God that these were not the screams of my relatives," Huseynova said. "This was the scariest thing for me."

For her part, Andrusha said she was brought to a detention center across the border, in the Russian region of Kursk, where she was blindfolded, her hands bound. "They just forced us to our knees and said, 'We will shoot you now,'" she said in an interview recorded on June 29.

When the detainees arrived at the detention center, everyone went through the process of "admission," she said. She said detainees were taken into an interior corridor where there were no surveillance cameras and beaten.

'That's It For You'

She said she was beaten so badly, including being shocked with a stun gun, that she lost consciousness at one point.

Her captors would say, she recalled: "You've already lived a little. Well, that's enough for you, you've already tried it out. That's it for you."

"There was a moment when I said that I was already passing out, I was losing consciousness," she said. "They did not believe me, they threatened, 'We're going to burn you alive now.'"

From the first day of her captivity, Andrusha said she and other detainees were expected to learn the Russian national anthem and were reprimanded or punished for any errors or perceived violations. "God forbid you say the wrong word somewhere, or sing softly or something," she said.

"I was especially annoyed by their song Uncle Vova. This [song] was just in praise of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," she said. "There were moments when they forced me to learn poetry. And one of these poems was called Forgive Us, Dear Russians."

Andrusha said she cried often.

"Even if I cried, I did it in such a way that the [guards] wouldn't see it," she said. "Then there was a moment when they simply took us out into the corridor and turned on a video about Mariupol, when they showed the bombed-out city, and they showed children who were living in a basement. Then all these emotions just came pouring out."

'I Still Don't Feel Like Eating'

Hunger and thirst were commonplace in the detention centers. "There were days when they gave us only two small pieces of bread, very small, for the whole day. And you have to somehow make this bread last," Huseynova said. "And water, and that's all."

Other times, she said, captives were given barley porridge that was "like rocks. And they mixed in some kind of soil, and mouse droppings, and it was impossible to eat. I still can't really taste food anymore. There's nothing I want to eat," she said.

Andrusha, who was released from Russian captivity on September 22, 2022, continues to work as a schoolteacher.

Huseynova, who now lives in Kyiv and volunteers for a nongovernment organization that advocates for detained women, was released on October 17, 2022.

Written by Mike Eckel based on reporting by Yulia Zhukova
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    Yulia Zhukova

    Yulia Zhukova is a Kyiv-based correspondent for Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. She was born in Ukraine and graduated from Karazin National University in Kharkiv. Before joining Current Time in 2018, Zhukova reported for a number of Ukrainian television channels based in Kyiv.

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

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