Russians abduct 132 Ukrainian officials: 14 still in captivity, 4 killed – ZMINA

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Since the beginning of the full-scale war, the Russians have abducted 132 representatives of Ukrainian local self-government bodies and government agencies. More than half of abductions (71 cases) occurred in Kherson region, another 30 cases – in Zaporizhzhia region. 

Human Rights Centre ZMINA announced this at a press conference in Kyiv on September 27. Human rights defenders collected information both during interviews with victims and from open sources. 

Fifty percent of the detainees are the heads of united territorial communities / town mayors, another 22% are members of local councils. The majority, namely 98 officials, were freed. Fourteen people are still in captivity. Nothing is known about the fate of 16 people. Unfortunately, four of the kidnapped were found dead. 

Often nothing is known about the fate of those who are still in captivity: the Russian Federation usually does not confirm their whereabouts, they often do not have any official status. We do not know anything for sure about their health status, conditions of detention, cases of violence, and so on,” says Borys Petruniok, researcher and documentator at Human Rights Centre ZMINA. 

Most officials were kidnapped by the occupiers during the first months of the full-scale war. As Petruniok explains, representatives of local self-government bodies became one of the primary targets of enforced disappearances because they were leaders in communities and possessed important information. 

Another reason for the abduction of local government officials, according to researchers, is that officials are carriers of significant social capital and influence the region. Another motivation is the attempt of the occupiers to persuade officials to cooperate. 

Oleksandr Babych, mayor of Hola Prystan town territorial community, is still in captivity. The Russians kidnapped Babych from his home on March 28, 2022. According to unofficial information, he is currently in the Simferopol pre-trial detention center No. 2. The Russian side refuses to recognize this. 

The wife of the abducted mayor, Olha Babych, said that her husband had arranged the supply of products since the beginning of the occupation of the community and continued to support the locals because they were waiting for help. 

Mykola Sikalenko and Olha Babych 

Olha Babych also believes that the state should make efforts to release civilian prisoners in the same way as to release military personnel. During the event, she called on international bodies and institutions to put pressure on Russia because the return of civilian prisoners to Ukraine depends on its decision only. 

Anatoliy Siryi, headman of the village of Novi Borovichi, Chernihiv region, is still in Russian captivity as well. The Russians kidnapped him from the village council on March 29, 2022. During his detention, he was interrogated, beaten and abused. Then he was taken in an unknown direction. His whereabouts are unknown. 

Olena Sira and Yevheniy Siryi 

His relatives Yevheniy Siryi and Olena Sira said during the press conference that Anatoliy Siryi always lived for the village and always helped the villagers. He also had a clear civic stance and motivated the entire village to stand up for the state. When he found out that the Russians were coming for him, he refused to hide and waited for the invaders in the village council. According to relatives, Russia does not recognize that Siryi is in captivity. 

Mykola Sikalenko, the head of the Tsyrkuny Village Military Administration, was first kidnapped by the occupiers on March 3, 2022. Sikalenko was taken away for the second time on March 21, then he was held for about a week, being transported to different places in Kharkiv region. Each time a bag was pulled over his head and his hands were tied. The man was not given food and was not allowed to sleep, he lost 10 kg in a week. It was cold in the cellars where he was kept. The man was freed after the de-occupation of Kharkiv region. While he was in captivity, the occupiers robbed his house. 

Oleksandr Slobozhan, Executive Director of the Association of Ukrainian Cities, said that their organization involved the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Regions of the European Parliament, the Red Cross, and UN bodies in the process of release of officials. 

During the event, he called for the release of Kherson mayor Ihor Kolykhayev, Dniprorudne mayor Yevheniy Matveyev, Hola Prystan mayor Oleksandr Babych. 

Watch the video from the press conference here. 

The event was held with the support of Freedom House Ukraine