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For them, people are a propaganda tool: the story of a civilian hostage Oleh Bohdanov

The story of Oleh Bohdanov, illegally imprisoned in Russian Lefortovo prison, is recounted by Oleksandr Tarasov, a freed civilian hostage of the Russians.

For them, people are a propaganda tool: the story of a civilian hostage Oleh Bohdanov
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Oleh Bohdanov, a civilian hostage of the Russians, previously served as the deputy head of one of the departments of the Kherson City Council. He was abducted in Kherson during the summer of 2022 amid the occupation.

«He risked his life to get people out»

Oleksandr Tarasov: The article attributed to Oleh by the Russians is very serious. His relatives and lawyers hope that by not drawing too much attention to this case, they will be able to reduce the sentence. As for Oleh’s story, despite holding a public office, he did not seek any fame; instead, he focused on solving specific issues.

I knew Oleh before these events. He was very surprised to see me in SIZO No. 1 in Kherson. We stayed in the same cell for several days until Oleh was extradited to Lefortovo, and the case of so-called international terrorism began. They try to talk about this case very carefully due to fear of harm.

Oleh endured the torture chamber of the temporary detention center in Kherson. He knew he was being taken to Crimea. During our time in the cell with him, he exhibited a sense of anticipation and a certain fear of what would happen next. He recounted being tortured and abused in the detention center, mentioning that his kidneys were nearly shattered and he was subjected to electric shocks.

Oleh is a deeply patriotic person, dedicated to his work. He implemented essential reforms in the city’s transportation sector, even confronting the Kherson transport mafia, which led to significant conflicts.

From the first day of the full-scale invasion, he began volunteering and delivering humanitarian aid. As the occupation expanded and intensified, he demonstrated fearlessness, venturing out under fire to procure and deliver medicines and essential equipment for medical workers. He also evacuated people on a voluntary basis, despite coming under fire multiple times.

I talked about Oleh on my interview when I first came out from illegal detention. I received letters from people whom he had rescued and evacuated. They expressed deep gratitude to Oleh and asked how they could assist him. He risked his life to save people.

Read also: How the Moscow Mechanism will help release illegally detained civilians

«The issue of release should be addressed comprehensively»

Oleksandr Tarasov: I am in contact with Oleh Bogdanov’s relatives. They are bewildered and unsure of what steps to take in this situation. With a criminal case against him and his registration in all registers, they are uncertain about what to do next and how to proceed, considering the potential consequences. Fear is prevalent among them.

I maintain contact with the relatives of everyone who was detained with me and those from whom I have received communication. The matter of their release is complex and requires a comprehensive approach. Returning these individuals without international pressure and action will be challenging. Regarding Oleh, his name is gaining recognition, and I consistently highlight it in my reports and appeals to international organizations and institutions.

His current challenge lies in securing effective legal representation. Although he has a lawyer appointed to him, it’s understood that this representation is inadequate.

Communicating with Oleh is challenging. While we can send letters, not everything is permitted by the censors.

Read also: Political sponsor for those illegally imprisoned by the Russians — explains the wife of the civilian hostage

«For them, people are a tool of internal propaganda plus a tool of pressure»

Oleksandr Tarasov: There are nine people involved in the case. They are all facing charges related to an alleged sabotage group attempting to assassinate occupation officials. Additionally, it’s worth noting that all confessions were obtained through torture and beatings. They were also coerced into filming propaganda videos, which were aired, falsely claiming that they had captured a group of international terrorists.

I find the article confusing. Even if we were to assume that all the accusations made by the Russians were true, their actions wouldn’t meet the criteria for terrorism. These individuals are Ukrainian citizens, and it’s their constitutional duty to defend their country. International terrorism typically involves committing violent acts to achieve political goals. If they were to establish this as the motive, these individuals should be treated as prisoners of war.

This case is ostentatious. I’m truly sorry for the individuals who got caught up in it. It appears that the Russians arbitrarily selected these individuals to label them as international terrorists.

This is a recurring pattern with them. Take the case of Konstyantyn Zinovkin from occupied Melitopol, for instance. He vanished, leaving his wife unaware of his whereabouts or activities. Then, suddenly, a propaganda video emerges claiming that the FSB has uncovered a network of Ukrainian saboteurs in Melitopol, implicating him.

For them, people are a tool of internal propaganda plus a tool of pressure.

Oleh was not acquainted with all the other members of the group. What he is acused of is that alegedly one member would contact him, and his task was to provide them with explosives. However, there is no evidence or witness account confirming the existence or whereabouts of these explosives. It’s crucial to note that all confessions were coerced through torture.

He was detained in full view of his 5-year-old son, who witnessed the distressing scene as his father was grabbed and arrested. The ordeal continued as he was subjected to physical assault and had a gun pointed at him. It was only through considerable effort that he managed to convince the occupiers to contact his ex-wife so she could take care of the child. The entire experience was undoubtedly traumatic for the child.

There is no humanity in them. Take the case of Mykyta Chebotar, who was detained along with his 85-year-old grandmother. When the occupiers discovered Ukrainian content on her phone, they subjected her to brutal beatings, threats, and even fired a shot over her head. These horrific acts underscore Russia’s status as a bona fide terrorist state.

It seems that Oleh drew the occupiers’ attention due to his active involvement in patriotic volunteer work. His efforts included evacuating Ukrainians from the occupied territory and openly expressing his opposition to the occupation. Additionally, as an official of the city council, he refused to comply with certain agreements. Notably, he declined an offer from Kirill Stremousov (Ukrainian pro-Russian collaborator -ed.) to join the civil-military Kherson regional administration as the head of the transport department.

Read also: Helping civilians in illegal detention and their families — NGO «Egida-Zaporizhzhia»

Forecasts on the case

Oleksandr Tarasov: Oleh remains hopeful for an exchange. However, according to various sources, including the Coordination Headquarters, it’s unlikely that he will be returned until a verdict is reached. It’s believed that the authorities need to fabricate a verdict to portray them as terrorists.

The future remains uncertain. What’s certain is that the Russians will likely keep the individuals detained for another year and a half. After that period, the situation may become clearer. There’s a possibility they could be repatriated, but unfortunately, there’s also the chance they could be transferred to a penal colony. Either way, the fight for their freedom will continue.

Read also: The «Chameleon» — a course about avoiding captivity and the psychology of survival in captivity

In times of war, the program «Free our relatives» tells the stories of people, cities, villages, and entire regions that have been captured by Russian invaders. We discuss the war crimes committed by the Kremlin and its troops against the Ukrainian people.

The program is hosted by Ihor Kotelyanets and Anastasia Bagalika.

This publication is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the framework of the Human Rights in Action Program implemented by Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Opinions, conclusions and recommendations presented in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government. The contents are the responsibility of the authors.

USAID is the world’s premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results. USAID’s work demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience, and advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity. USAID has partnered with Ukraine since 1992, providing more than $9 billion in assistance. USAID’s current strategic priorities include strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health care systems, and mitigating the effects of the conflict in the east.

For additional information about USAID in Ukraine, please call USAID’s Development Outreach and Communications Office at: +38 (044) 521-5753. You may also visit our website: http://www.usaid.gov/ukraine or our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USAIDUkraine.


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