NewsUkrainian ex-prisoner of war recounts harrowing ordeal

Ukrainian ex‑prisoner of war recounts harrowing ordeal

He spent 10 months in a Russian prison. When he was released, his loved ones did not recognise him.
He spent 10 months in a Russian prison. When he was released, his loved ones did not recognise him.
Images source: © Pixabay, X | @derspiegel
Malwina Witkowska

25 June 2024 07:22

Oleksiy Anulia enlisted in the military when Russia invaded Ukraine. Shortly after, Russian soldiers took him prisoner. The former prisoner of war recounted his story to the German weekly "Der Spiegel". "At night, I prayed I wouldn't survive to the next day," he said.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both countries have conducted prisoner exchanges more than 50 times. As a result of these actions, over 3,000 Ukrainians have been freed, including Oleksiy Anulia. The thirty-year-old man is currently recovering from shoulder surgery in a trauma surgery ward.

For 10 months, he was a prisoner of war held in Russia. The man was emaciated, had lost many teeth, his legs were rotting, and several bones were broken. Anulia, a former kickboxing champion, lost significant muscle mass. Despite the passage of a year, he still struggles with health problems.

He was captured by the Russians

Oleksiy Anulia worked as a bodyguard for a Ukrainian oligarch. After the Russian invasion began, he enlisted in the military to defend the country. In early March, he was in Lukashivka, scouting for enemy troops. "Our mission was to protect the village so that civilians could continue escaping along the country road," he said in an interview with "Der Spiegel".

Unfortunately, he was captured by four Russian soldiers. They took his knife, watch, and phone. "When their commander arrived, I was told to remove my coat. Underneath, they saw my wounds and my torn uniform - and realized I was a soldier, an enemy, a Ukrainian," Anulia recounts.

The soldiers took him to an old farm near the Belarus border. They tied him up, beat him, and raped him. "They came back the next morning. They tied my hands with a cable and pulled me up to the ceiling. And there I hung. Before long, I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. They turned purple and swelled up to the size of my thighs," the 30-year-old recalls.

He spent 40 days in detention in Kursk. Later, he was transferred to Penal Colony No. 1 in Donskoy near Tula. "The guards beat us with clubs and tasered us. They pushed 50 of us into a small yard where we had to wait for hours. We were told we had to pee in a canister, but we weren’t allowed to empty it on Russian soil. Whoever filled the canister had to drink it," said Oleksiy Anulia in his interview with "Der Spiegel".

Spent months in Russian captivity

The guards called the captured prisoners "fascists" and said, "We'll set up your very own Auschwitz"

"At night, I would pray that I wouldn’t live to see the next day. My heart was pounding 24/7. I was constantly expecting them to open the cell, beat, choke, humiliate me. There was always somebody screaming in the hallway. When I looked at my fellow prisoners, I saw the fear in their eyes," recalls Oleksiy Anulia.

The memories from the prison are shocking. On one occasion, he was forced to chew dirty socks for three hours. They pulled out his teeth for fun. Fourteen times, he sat in the electric chair.

Later, he was transferred to a penal cell. He survived on toothpaste from the rubbish and chewed toilet paper to fight hunger. In the yard, he collected earthworms. Once, he managed to catch a rat.

The prisoner of war returned to his family

Eventually, along with other prisoners of war, he was exchanged.

"I was free, but I felt nothing. No joy, no anger. My family came that same day. My wife didn’t believe until the last moment that I had been released. My son, now five years old, didn’t recognize me. My older daughter cried when she saw how emaciated I was," said the 30-year-old in an interview with the German weekly "Der Spiegel".

Before being imprisoned, Oleksiy Anulia weighed 100 kilograms. He lost 40 kilograms. "My nose was broken, my jaw dislocated. My collar bone and eight ribs fractured. My muscles were torn, my meniscus damaged. In some spots, my rotting legs had turned black. When the camp doctors saw them, they put me in a wheelchair and brought me to a hospital," he adds.

He was treated in Ukrainian hospitals for six months and four months in Israel and Latvia.

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