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«No one has seen my son» — mother of Mykola Shcherbyna, illegally detained by the Russians

The story of Mykola Shcherbyna, who was illegally imprisoned by the Russians, begins when he was just 21 years old. His mother, Valentyna Shcherbyna, recounts the anguish of not having enough information about her son.

«No one has seen my son» — mother of Mykola Shcherbyna, illegally detained by the Russians
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Mykola Shcherbyna, a resident of Kherson Region, is a civilian unlawfully detained by the Russians. During the de-occupation of the right bank, he found himself on the left bank of the Dnipro River and was unable to return home before the frontline shifted. On November 14, 2022, he was abducted by the occupying forces.

How the detention took place

Valentyna Shcherbyna: At the time of his abduction, Mykola was a 21-year-old student. When the occupation began, my son was with me and my husband, who is an Anti-Terrorist Operation participant. That’s why we were hiding him. There were many occupiers. They would come to our house, usually in the early morning, around 5 or 7, when people were still sleeping. They checked my son’s documents and phone. They undressed him and examined his tattoos.

I was very worried about my son. Since there were many occupiers here, and they rarely went to the left bank, we decided to send our son there. He left in October, and in November we were liberated.

My son and I were always in touch. He knew how worried I was. But when I called him on November 14, he was offline.

Then my brother told me that the neighbors had said the Russian invaders came and took Mykola away with a bag over his head, in an unknown direction.

Read also: The Russians said: «We need your house» — the story of Serhii Dorokhov, abducted from Irpin

Do we know the reason for the detention

Valentyna Shcherbyna: At first, the Russian police told us it was just filtration process and that he would be released in 10 days. Then they said they would release him in 15 days. Then – in 30 days.

On our side, I wrote a statement to the police, called the National Information Bureau, and turned to the Find Our Own project. They provided me with a roadmap of where to go and what to do.

Later, I received a reply from the regional office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kherson Region that counterintelligence officers, call sign Rapier, had detained Mykola Anatoliyovych Shcherbyna, who was allegedly involved in transferring the coordinates of the Russian troops’ deployment. According to the report of the counterintelligence officer, Mykola was taken to a pre-trial detention center in Simferopol.

Where is Mykola now?

Valentyna Shcherbyna: I thought Mykola was in SIZO No. 2 in Simferopol, but the people who came out of there did not see my son.

I then turned to the owner of a private Telegram channel, Anton Shevtsov, to help me find my son. On September 1, 2023, he confirmed that he knew where he was. He wrote to me that Mykola was in the town of Kamyshin, Volgograd region, in the SIZO-2 detention center. However, there is no official confirmation of this.

My mum was informed from the occupied territory that Mykola’s trial was scheduled for spring 2023. Later, they said it was cancelled. Then, in December 2023, my mother received information that a certain Oleksandr from the Novotroitsk police was collecting information about my son. My mother tried to contact him, and he replied that he was waiting for the military to contact her. She has been waiting since December, but no one has contacted her.

We wrote to Zonatelecom twice. I sent more than 20 letters through the National Information Bureau and then the Red Cross. However, there has been no response.

Read also: «We need to get access to prisoners and give people clarity» — CEO of Amnesty International Ukraine

«He was taken to Crimea, and he will not return here»

Valentyna Shcherbyna: I follow all the exchanges and am very worried. I communicate with those released if I have the opportunity. Unfortunately, no one has seen my son.

The Russian authorities, particularly the FSB, don’t talk to us or let us in. When my mother wrote a statement, she had to do it on the doorstep. The only thing she was told was: «Your grandson was taken to Crimea, and he will not return here.»

I turned to our Ombudsman to write a request to Moskalkova back in 2023. I have not received any response.

I received a response from the Coordination Centre that my son was confirmed by the aggressor country through the Red Cross. He is also confirmed by the Ministry of Reintegration. I also have an extract that states Mykola is considered missing due to special circumstances. I am applying everywhere.

On 14 May, I visited a representative of the Red Cross. They did not tell me whether they had seen Mykola or not. They said that he was on the Russian lists.

I am very grateful to the Civilians in Captivity organisation. These people do a lot. If it were not for them, no one would probably remember civilian prisoners.

I believe that an algorithm for the return of civilian prisoners should have been developed long ago. But nothing has been done for a long time. I don’t know where to go or where to knock – I don’t know.

Read also: Labour rights of illegally detained civilians — a legal perspective

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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