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Relatives identify bodies of soldiers killed after being captured by Russians in Avdiivka

Sunday, 18 February 2024, 16:16
Relatives identify bodies of soldiers killed after being captured by Russians in Avdiivka
Photo: Slidstvo Info

Relatives of some seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers who were taken prisoner after Russian forces captured the Zenit position in Avdiivka have recognised their loved ones’ bodies in a video circulating on Russian social media.

Source: Slidstvo Info, an independent Ukrainian investigative reporting outlet; journalist Yurii Butusov on Facebook

Details: Slidstvo Info journalists spoke to the relatives of three seriously injured Ukrainian soldiers who were left behind at the Zenit positions after Ukrainian forces withdrew from Avdiivka.


Ivan "Django" Zhytnyk had spent two years in Avdiivka with the 110th Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. His sister Kateryna told Slidstvo Info that a few days ago she got a call from Ivan, who told her that he was wounded and in a hideout with four other wounded soldiers from his brigade, as well as one soldier who was not wounded but decided to stay behind to keep them company.

"[The wounded soldiers] were told to wait for a vehicle [that would evacuate them] while everyone who wasn’t wounded left. They waited for that vehicle for a day and a half. When they realised no one was coming to get them, they started calling everyone they knew. When [Ivan] called me, he was in so much pain. They’d given him every painkiller they had, but they were running out of medicine and food," Kateryna says.

Kateryna’s conversation with Ivan was leaked to social media, though she says she did not share the recording with anyone other than some of her relatives.

Kateryna’s brother-in-law video-called Ivan that afternoon.

"My brother said their commanders had agreed that the Russians would take them away, because [Ukrainian forces] would no longer be able to get to them," Kateryna says.

During his video call with Ivan, Kateryna’s brother-in-law saw Russians enter the hideout and tell everyone to get out. He told Kateryna: "I saw the Russians come in and say: ‘Get up and get out, we’re not going to carry you.’" Kateryna says her brother-in-law tried to keep talking to Ivan, but Ivan was told to switch off his phone.

The Slidstvo Info journalists came across a video circulating on Russian social media which shows dead soldiers wearing Ukrainian Armed Forces uniforms. The video was recorded at the Zenit position. One of the dead Ukrainian soldiers had his head bandaged and another one had a cross tattoo on his arm. Viktor Biliak, who served in the 110th Brigade and had remained at the Zenit position with the wounded soldiers up until he was evacuated, identified the man with the tattoo as Andrii "Bairaktar" Dubnytskyi from the 110th Brigade. Andrii was among the soldiers who had remained at the Zenit position on 14 February.

Andrii’s wife Liudmyla says she last heard from her husband at 12:00 on the day he was taken prisoner; he had told her he would be.

On 16 February, Liudmyla went to a military enlistment office to find out what had happened to her husband, but they didn’t tell her much: "I was told they’d get in touch with me again, but they didn’t, and I fell asleep."

When Liudmyla woke up in the evening, she started looking for information about her husband on Russian social media and recognised his body in the video seen by Slidstvo Info. Andrii had served in Avdiivka since March 2022. His daughter was only four when he was mobilised.

The Russian video also shows the body of Heorhii "Panda" Pavlov. His mother Inna recognised his body.

"They were waiting for an [evacuation] vehicle for three whole days. He wasn’t injured at the beginning, but then on the 14th he got an injury too, shrapnel wounds to his back… I begged him to surrender, I told him I needed him to stay alive – he has a son, Andriusha, who’s only five – but he said: ‘Mum, I’m a soldier.’ I’d like to believe they’re still alive. I want to find my son more than anything in the world. I want to see my son. He’ll be 30 this year," Inna said.

Several hours later, she told Slidstvo Info she had identified her son’s body in the Russian video. 

Kateryna, like Inna, had hoped that her loved one would be given medical treatment and returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap, but she recognised her brother in the video by his clothes and the water bottle he was holding when the Russians escorted him and the others out of the hideout.

Journalist Yurii Butusov shared the names of all six Ukrainian soldiers who had remained at the Zenit position and were captured by Russian forces. The surnames of the other three soldiers are Baranovskyi, Savosik and Zinchuk.

Quote from Butusov: "These are the names of six seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the 110th Mechanised Brigade who were left behind during the evacuation from the Zenit position near Avdiivka on 14 February. These wounded soldiers could not walk and there was no way to evacuate them. Zenit was fully encircled, which made it impossible for any sort of vehicles to break through to evacuate them.

On 16 February, the Russians posted a video that shows five dead Ukrainian soldiers at the Zenit position. Their bodies had been dumped into some water.

Relatives have identified three wounded soldiers who had remained at the Zenit position: Heorhii Pavlov, Andrii Dubnytskyi and Ivan Zhytnyk.

The Russian forces shot unarmed and helpless wounded soldiers who couldn’t even walk and who had been taken prisoner.

We still don’t know what happened to the other three wounded soldiers who were taken prisoner at the Zenit position. It is not possible to identify all the bodies in the Russian video."

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