АвторAuthor: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Roman Klochko
20 October 2022
Chaplain Vasyl Vyrozub, together with his colleagues and a doctor, was on board the Sapfir ship to evacuate the bodies of the dead servicemen. They never got to the island — the Russians seized the rescue boat and everyone on board. The priest was held captive for 70 days. Father Vasyl told about the filtration camp, the torture in the pre-trial detention center, the interrogations on Bandera, and how the Russians reacted to the photo of Yarosh in Monologues of the War.
There was information that Snake Island was bombed. We had to evacuate the bodies of our servicemen from there. With a humanitarian mission on the Sapfir rescue ship, I went there with two chaplains and a pediatrician. The Russian side was to give a “green corridor”. However, it was a deception.
When we approached Snake Island, the Russians ordered our captain to stop, drop the anchor and wait for the inspection team. And if he did not obey the order, they would destroy the ship. Needless to say, the captain threw the anchor, and we waited for the inspection team. They boarded the Sapfir, and in fact from that moment the vessel was seized. It was on the morning of February 26. We asked the military about our fate and asked why we were detained. They told us that they should either immediately release us or detain us until the end of the operation, that is, their special operation. I’m shocked because the military operation can last a month, three, six months, and a year. And he says, “Are you out of your mind, priest? Such a might. 7-8 days and we will let you go.”
We were taken from Sapfir to their ship Shakhtar, and it was moored near Boyko’s oil derricks. There were plenty of Russian militaries, they were running back and forth like ants. There were so many different weapons that I didn’t even see them on TV. So I’ll be honest, when I saw it all, I thought, “Lord, will this horde really capture our state in 7-8 days?” But how long has it been, and they have already been hit in the teeth, and repelled, and to this day Ukraine is Ukraine.
We were held in Crimea for 11 days. Their constant interrogations began. They interrogated us as if we were some special agents. They thought we were the task force that was going to capture Snake Island. We even joked that three priests and a baby doctor were going to take over the island! They asked me what kind of intelligence I work in. “What SSU (Security Service of Ukraine) department do you work in, priest?” They were asking that all the time: what intelligence, what department of the Security Service of Ukraine, and so on. Everyone interrogated us: the FSB, their intelligence, investigators, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. So many of my fingerprints were taken! It seems to me that my fingerprints would be enough for two Russias, for each police station. DNA, photos, interrogations, interrogations, interrogations.
When asked about the SSU, we replied that we have not cooperated with the KGB, the FSB, or anyone for 30 years. We are both an independent state and a church. They didn’t believe it, they couldn’t even imagine it. “There can be no such thing. Then what is the meaning of your position if you are not working with the security service?”. They did not even think that we could really not cooperate with the SSU, they did not assume such a thing. That is, it can be concluded that all priests there work with the FSB.
In Crimea, they were still quite tolerant of prisoners. At least I speak for myself – I did not see how they treated our servicemen. It was then when we were transferred to the filtration camp that I saw how they beat us with bats, with сlubs, how they tortured us, how they baited our guys with the dogs. And in Crimea, they still believed that they came as “victors” and as “liberators”.
In Crimea, we were psychologically pressured. They told us: “We are near Kyiv, we have already taken Mariupol. There is no Ukraine anymore so tell us everything”.
From there, we were delivered to Belgorod Oblast to a filtration camp in Belgorod oblast by plane. There we were treated very cruelly. At that time, our Azov warriors were containing Russians and stopping them. The Second Army of the World has been stopped! The Azov warriors were the ones they said about: “Naked-bare. We will beat them in a couple of days “, then they began to understand that they are not welcomed in Ukraine. That no one was waiting for them with herringbone bread, there will be no Crimea No. 2. And then they started to beast up and behave like fascists.
When we left Odesa, it was +8, and when we got to Russia, it was -22. Some of our soldiers were in torn things, it was like one foot had a shoe and the other foot had not. We were forced to stay in the snow in this frost for 2-3 hours, put on our knees, with hands behind our heads. If I was lifting my head and wanted to see where I was they hit my head with a club. During their interrogations, they said: “You don’t have any last names, you don’t have any first names. You only have a number”. Like that cattle. Mine was 27. When asked, “What’s your name?” I say: “Father Vasyl Vyrozub”. And they hit me with a club to the abdomen. “You have a number! Neither is your God here.” So there is no God in their souls or heads.
If we were beaten and tortured, you can imagine what happened to our military. We didn’t see what they were doing to them during the interrogations. We saw the result when they came and held on to one side or the other. Or bruises. We also saw the result of the torture in Olenivka – they just burned them in order to hide their crimes. Because once again, if they tortured civilians for nothing – not because they need to be questioned, not because they need some information but simply because you are Ukrainian, how did they torture our soldiers? It seems to me that this is just excessive anger and hatred for everything Ukrainian.
“The Patriarch blesses the war in another country and says ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’. That is, to kill Ukrainians.”
And this is blessed by the patriarch!
We had been to the filtration camp for 7 or 8 days. There we were interrogated: perhaps, they thought where to send us next. They knew we were from Odessa, so they asked: “Where were you on the 2nd of May? What were you doing, and whose side were you on during the events? How do you feel about the persecution of the Russian language?” We answered: “Where? Does someone put down the Russian language in Odessa? Really?” Really, go to Privoz to Aunt Sonia, she will tell you in 8 languages what she thinks about you!
From the filtration camp, we were sent to pre-trial detention center No. 2 in Staryi Oskol. It was even worse. We were already in the full power of internal troops, pre-trial detention center workers, and special forces of the Russian under-imperial army. And there we were very abused.
It was the time when Russians began to see their killed and wounded soldiers. Their ship Moskva has already gone to the bottom. They got very angry and started hitting just to hit. It could have happened on a walk. And when I was going for interrogation, they did not touch me during the interrogation – you are sitting there in such a cage that they did not have the opportunity to approach. I was beaten on the way. Everywhere there were no cameras, we were beaten, they could just hit us with a bat or hit us in the breath. We were beaten with both rubber bats and electric shock. Breaking hands. They did learn to torture! We have even calculated the following formula: the worse we are treated, the more victories our soldiers have on the front lines.
When they seriously beat the chaplain Oleksandr Chokov, he asked “Why are you beating me?” And got a reply: “If I had a reason why I would kill you”.
In one of the interrogation letters, we asked whether we saw the shelling of the civilian population of Luhansk or Donetsk, or whether we saw something else. One of the questions was: “Do you know Bandera’s whereabouts?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He looks at me: “Are you stupid?” “But the whole world knows. In Munich”. (Translator’s note: Stepan Bandera was a leader of the Ukrainian nationalists during WWII. He was killed by KGB in 1959.) And these people came to liberate us, you see?
I lost as much as 15 kg in 70 days of captivity. I ate sauerkraut 50 years in advance. Sauerkraut with water was a starter. Sauerkraut without water was the main course. Medical care was even worse. It was hard to get it, to get a painkiller or something else. Neither doctors nor the Red Cross was allowed to visit us, lawyers were not allowed, and representatives of international missions were not allowed to visit us.
The scariest thing was the information vacuum. We didn’t know what was going on at home. Whether they were already bombing Odessa, or not bombing, where they were. In the beginning, we were forced to listen to the propagandists Soloviev and Skabeeva so we heard from them: “heroically reached the center of Mariupol”, heroically captured Mariupol, “liberated”, “heroically took a village, heroically took Izyum, heroically already near Mykolaiv”, then in one and a half or two weeks we again hear “heroically took Izyum”. That is, we realized that they were thrown back. When the “negative upsurge” of Moskva occurred, our people shouted “hurrah”, and “Glory to Ukraine” or sang “our father Bandera”. The whole detention center was buzzing, because Moskva was drowned. After that, they turned off the radio, and we were no longer allowed to listen because they realized that we were analyzing information.
I was treated a bit differently. In my phone, they found photos of me and the soldiers standing in the parade, on the front line in 2015. And one of the pictures was just a cherry on the cake – I’m standing with Yarosh. It was something when they saw it! It’s even worse than Yarosh’s business card (translator’s note: it’s a reference to the Russian fake news about Dmytro Yarosh’s business card found in a wholly burned car), it’s the whole Yarosh! They thought I was a kind of his agent.
They didn’t let me out until 11 or 12 exchanges had passed. Twice they took me out, dressed in their clothes, and then they said, “That’s it, cancel. Your Ukies don’t want to take you away.” It seems to me that there was psychological pressure to break us down and make us cooperate with them. Virtually everyone was forced to give up exchanges. We had to say on record that we are afraid to return to Ukraine because we are “afraid of nationalists”.
Russians forced us to record propaganda speeches on camera. They let our doctor call home. Needless to say, the wife asked him: “How are you, are you not beaten, or tortured?”. Well, what would you say to a woman who feeds an infant? You’re not gonna say, “Oh, help me, I’m beaten, tortured, get me out of here.” Of course, you would assure her that everything is ok, everything is fine. And they’re recording your answer that it’s okay, don’t worry. And they displayed this recorded answer later: “You see how well we treat your captive servicemen.” They are good at manipulating.
70 days of captivity. 70 days of mockery, torture, and not understanding of what will happen to you. When we were transported for an exchange, we didn’t know where we were going. They give us our belongings, we changed clothes. Then they put hats on our heads and tied our eyes with Scotch tape. We were delivered to Simferopol by plane. There were four of us and we carried our wounded serviceman on a stretcher. The bridge was blown up, we were crossing the river on stones near it. When we saw the Ukrainian flag, tears began to appear in our eyes. And when our doctor in our uniform with the Ukrainian flag tells us: “Glory to Ukraine”, I didn’t know what to say. Well, I knew what to answer, but these words already had a different meaning for me. Really glory.
Thanks to Iryna Vereshchuk and her team. Still, they released a lot of our people – both civilians and military. We had an agreement not to give interviews so as not to harm the exchange. But when this horde burned our warriors from Azov, when our children began to come from there and tell how they were tortured, it became clear that there was no need to be silent. Here we must shout to the whole world that this horde has come to destroy us.
Someone asks what Putin thinks. But should there be a question of what a madman thinks? Only a madman could start a full-scale war in the center of Europe in the 21st century. And now we need to ask the whole world not “what does a madman think?”, but “what to do with a madman, how to stop him?”. Because he has a nuclear button in his hands. This is what the questions should be now, what to do with Putin, what to do with his advisers. What to do with the nation that supported the word of the leader? Because they are all responsible. The war goes on not six months or 8 years. We are denazified and demilitarized for more than 300 years, beginning with kings Ekaterina the Second and Peter the First. The Cossacks were destroyed, and the Sich was wiped out. Also, there were the famines, the deportation of Ukrainians to Siberia, and Stalin’s repressions. Have we seen at least one mass protest in Russia over these 300 years against going to war on Ukraine? We see only that the Muscovite Church blesses the murder of Ukrainians. Maybe, at least one of Putin’s advisers told him to stop? Looking at and keeping silent about sin is also a sin. All who support or remain silent and inactive are complicit in this war. And it doesn’t matter where these people are — whether they are in Russia, or in Ukraine, or Europe. All who support war are sinners.
We have to stand up and teach this horde a lesson. But teach them as much so that they would be afraid of coming here for more than one hundred years. We now live on this land, which was borrowed from grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. What kind of state we leave depends only on us. Will it be a powerful Ukraine, or will it be the outskirts of some empire again?
I want to say to the entire Ukrainian people that we are all at war. A soldier who defends Ukraine with a weapon, a volunteer who helps a soldier, a student who goes to school, a farmer who collects bread, a baker who bakes this bread, a journalist who is at the forefront of war. Everyone should put their efforts to victory. There are people who cannot help, then let them pray to God in temples for Ukraine, for her freedom. Those who cannot pray, let them just not interfere. God said: “Stand bravely, fight. And you will see that God is fighting on your side.”
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Kateryna Bankova | Translation: Roman Klochko