Many of them are languishing in detention centers located in Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia. Sometimes without being able to give news to their loved ones. Often by being deprived of daylight and fresh air. And almost systematically by suffering psychological, physical or sexual violence. Two Ukrainian women, a civilian and a military doctor, agreed to deliver Duty their testimonies after being released from Russian jails.
Three years and thirteen days. This is the time that Lyudmila Huseynova, a volunteer who provided humanitarian aid to Ukrainian orphans, spent in a Russian prison. “But it doesn’t matter three days, three weeks or three years because the trauma and the damage are done for life,” breathes the lady, who was arrested in 2019 in the Donetsk region.
Lyudmila’s words are chilling and her testimony disturbing.
Before the Russian invasion in 2014, the lady, now 61, worked as a safety engineer on a poultry farm, in addition to being involved with children in her locality of Novoazovsk.
When pro-Russian troops began the occupation of part of Donbass, she and a friend launched donation collections to help the children of the Primorske orphanage, located on the front line.
“I took the packages and went through the front line to distribute the donations to the children,” she explains. These donations included warm winter clothes, shoes, but also books and educational materials in Ukrainian.
Lyudmila also organized fundraisers for the Ukrainian army. According to her, “it is for these reasons that they decided to arrest me”.
On October 9, 2019, around 8 a.m., the woman was heading to work when a car stopped next to her. The Donetsk region was then under Russian occupation. “People brought me on board. […] That’s when my freedom disappeared. »
“I spent three years in hell”
Lyudmila was then taken to Izolyatsia prison in Donetsk, which already had a well-established reputation for torture. Beaten and sexually assaulted, she was kept captive in inhumane conditions, she says.
“I did not have access to a lawyer or a telephone to contact my loved ones. » From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., he was forbidden to sit or lie down. Then, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., she had to be in bed, without moving or making noise.
“We couldn’t see outside, there was paint on the windows. There was video surveillance 24 hours a day. The lights were always on, we were continually deprived of sleep,” she testifies. Whenever there was noise outside, the prisoners had to stand facing the wall. “When we left our cell, they put a black bag over our head and beat us on the back or side if we were too slow. »
On the second floor of the detention camp are military barracks. “Soldiers from the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics went to carry out military operations and when they returned, they drank alcohol and made noise. At any time, they would come and pick up prisoners, men or women, and take them upstairs to beat and rape them. »
Alerted after some time of the hell in which Lyudmila found herself, her family managed, thanks to the services of a lawyer, to obtain her transfer to the Donetsk pre-trial detention center. But there too, the conditions were horrible, she says.
“I was in a cell with around twenty women, most of them soldiers from the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics accused of drug trafficking, arms trafficking or murder,” she says. We had to sleep in the same bed. »
“I spent three years in hell,” says Lyudmila, who indicates that the Russian authorities accused her of espionage and extremism.
An impossible freedom
One day, the 60-year-old had 20 minutes to gather her things. In the prison yard, his eyes were blindfolded and his hands tied. Along with other prisoners, she was taken by car to another building, then placed in a basement, without food or water. “When a woman asked the soldiers what was happening, they said they were going to shoot and kill us. »
The group of prisoners was then taken to Russia to the tarmac of a military airport and then transferred to Crimea, under Russian occupation since 2014. There, Lyudmila boarded a bus which headed towards the Ukrainian border. . And she was able to remove the blindfold placed over her eyes.
“I saw a man with a white flag about 100 meters in front of me,” she recalls. I walked up to him. » On October 17, 2022, with 107 other Ukrainian women, Lyudmila was able to regain her freedom.
Today, to try to heal her wounds and help her compatriots, she is involved with the organization Sema Ukraina, which helps women who experienced gender-based violence under Russian occupation.
“We help each other, we share information on the psychological and medical help we can receive,” she explains. The NGO also calls for the perpetrators of sexual violence to be brought to justice and for sexual violence to be recognized as a war crime “carried out by Russia against Ukrainian women and men”.
All my thoughts are with these women who are still in captivity. I cannot enjoy freedom knowing that they suffer every day.
However, the road to recovery will be long for Lyudmila. “It’s impossible to return to a normal life,” she says. All my thoughts are with these women who are still in captivity. I cannot enjoy freedom knowing that they suffer every day. »
A freedom that devours her from the inside. “When I don’t feel well, I can rest, take a walk, go to the doctor or take a pill to help. But I am constantly reminded that women are in the horror of torture chambers. » Women who don’t see the sun, don’t breathe fresh air and don’t hear the voices of their loved ones. But who cling to the dream of one day being part of a prisoner exchange.