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In one year, my father aged ten years — the story of Oleksandr Zhukov, kidnapped by the Russians

A civilian from Melitopol, Oleksandr Zhukov, is on trial in Russia. His daughter, Yevheniia Skrypnichenko, tells us what is happening to him now.

In one year, my father aged ten years — the story of Oleksandr Zhukov, kidnapped by the Russians
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Oleksandr Zhukov is a civilian from Melitopol who was illegally imprisoned by the Russians. He served in the ATO/JFO area from 2015 to 2021. At the time of the full-scale invasion, he was a civilian. The Russians abducted him after the occupation of the city on April 7, 2022.

What do we known about Oleksandr Zhukov at the moment

Yevheniia Skrypnichenko: Currently, there is no new information about my father. The trials continue, with the next one scheduled for June 5. Nothing significant happens at these trials; they merely extend the preventive measures. It is still unknown how long his sentence will be or what exactly he is accused of, as new charges are presented at every trial.

They frequently delay the trials. The last one was postponed to June 5 because the judge was sick. Prior to that, they only interviewed witnesses. Before that, they changed the judge, causing the process to almost start over.

However, I can communicate with my father through a lawyer. When the lawyer comes to court, I write a message to her, she passes it on to my father, he responds, and she writes his response to me.

Before my father was found in the Russian detention center, we had no information about each other for more than a year.

Read also: Crimean Tatar political prisoners: who are they, how many are there now and where are they being held

How the detention took place

Yevheniia Skrypnichenko: We had no idea that they might come for my father. We did not prepare for this, did not pack our things, and did not discuss what we would say in case of interrogation. I started thinking about it when the occupiers took Andrii Holubiev away on April 6. I began telling my father that something had to be done, maybe he should leave. But he replied that they would not come for him. However, the occupiers came to us at dawn on April 7.

No one expected the Russians to stay in Melitopol for long.

The occupiers did not comment on their presence in our house. They just came and started searching. I don’t know what they were trying to find. They asked very stupid questions that did not concern my father, such as, «Where do the Nazis live? Where do drug dealers live?»

They searched the whole house and found nothing. They took my father’s documents, his phone, and my father himself. When asked when he would be released, the occupiers said they would interrogate him and let him go because they didn’t seem to need him. We called the commandant’s office, as it was the only place where we could at least find out something about him. For several days, they answered that they would interrogate my father and release him. When we called again, they replied that they did not have such a person and had never had one.

We know now that at the time they said they would release him, my father was already out of town. Since he was taken away immediately, it seems to me that it was premeditated.

For a very long time, we knew nothing about my father or his whereabouts. It was unclear how to look for him.

Anastasia Bagalika: Last summer, there was news in the media that the Russians had started trials of prisoners of war. Yevheniia saw not only Azov men but also her father in the photos. Was it a shock for you?

Yevheniia Skrypnichenko: It was a very big shock for me. My father lost a lot of weight during that time. It was obvious that he was under a lot of stress. During that year, he aged ten years.

Does the abductee have protection

Yevheniia Skrypnichenko: We received no information about my father from the Russian side at all. If we had not tried to find some lawyers ourselves, I think we would still not know what was happening. No one gave us any information.

The only thing we received was a short letter from my father from Lefortovo, with the coordinates of a lawyer. The letter took a month to arrive, and during that time my father was already in Rostov. I contacted this lawyer, but she told me that she had no right to provide me with information. She said she had not signed any contract with me and would not tell me anything. She informed me that my father had already been transferred to Rostov-on-Don and that she did not plan to go there. Therefore, my father would have another lawyer there, but she also refused to give me his coordinates. This lawyer was appointed by Russia.

Now, he also has a lawyer who was appointed to him. However, this lawyer explains everything and writes to us. For example, once when my father was feeling very ill, she wanted to send him for an examination. In the end, he was denied this examination. The head of the pre-trial detention center called my father and ordered him to write a refusal for the examination. He told him that even if he was examined, they would write in the report that he was absolutely healthy.

Regarding his health problems, we realized that they were all due to stress. My father did not know where we were or how we were. As soon as he found out that we were fine, he started to gain weight and his condition improved. However, we don’t know anything specific, because he was not allowed to be examined.

Read also: What is happening to the political prisoners held by Russia — the story of Nariman Dzhelyal

How the Russians manipulate court hearings

Yevheniia Skrypnichenko: Court hearings are held every month, but nothing happens at them. It’s just a circus for the public, portraying that they went to save them and they wanted to blow us up. They claim they are dealing with them justly, not shooting them or giving them life imprisonment.

Everyone understands that this is absurd. It already dictates what to do and how to do it, and the Russians are just going through the motions. I asked my lawyer, «What can we do to get him released, or at least ensure the sentence is minimal?» It is clear that no one will be released just like that. She answered that there was no point in doing anything. It is not yet clear what the sentence will be, but there will definitely be one.

Ihor Kotelyanets: Russian journalist Daria Kornilova reported that at a meeting on January 3, the term of their detention was extended. There was also information that written descriptions of the torture applied to all the defendants were attached to the case file. Do you know anything about the use of torture against your father and the fact that information was added to the case file?

Yevheniia Skrypnichenko: This is the first time I have heard about this. No one told me about it.

Perhaps my father could have been tortured, likely done carefully so that it would not be visible. Because, again, these trials are held to be photographed and published, showing how good the Russians are.

I’m looking for information on the Internet and talking to my lawyer. She told us to write a petition to have my father examined and treated more humanely because it was obvious that he was sick. We received refusals written in his hand, which he wrote because he was ordered to do so.

About communication with the services

Yevheniia Skrypnichenko: The Red Cross refused to recognize him as a captive, even though at the time I filed my application, there were photos of court hearings and information that these hearings were actually taking place. They did not explain the refusal.

Only later did the Ukrainian service explain that the Red Cross confirms a person as a captive only when it is confirmed by both sides. That is, if Russia says they do not have such a person, the Red Cross does not recognize him as a prisoner.

The Ukrainian side keeps telling us that my father is on the exchange list. It is clear that no one will tell us his position on the list or in which list.

Read also: Mykola Medyk’s health has not improved — the story of a 69-year-old man illegally detained by the Russians

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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