The New StatesmanThe New Statesman

“The guy I was before the Russians captured me has died”

By Katie Stallard

09 Aug 2023 · 4 min read

informed Summary

  1. Ukrainian journalist Ihor Bondarenko was captured by Russian authorities in 2022. He was tortured and threatened with death unless he agreed to produce pro-Russian propaganda.

KYIV – In August 2022, five months into the Russian occupation of Kherson, the journalist Ihor Bondarenko attempted to escape. Bondarenko, 45, took a bus from the southern Ukrainian city to the border with Crimea, from where he hoped to travel through Russia and the Caucasus, and on to Germany. But Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, was waiting for him. They showed him a thick file they had compiled about his supposed pro-Ukrainian activism and locked him in a metal shipping container overnight.  

The next morning, three masked men with machine guns blindfolded him, tied his hands together with plastic zip ties and loaded him into a van marked with the letter “Z” – a symbol of the Russian invasion. They drove him around for about 40 minutes – he estimated the time by counting the songs on the radio – then dragged him out of the van. When they took off his blindfold, he saw three mass graves. Two of the pits had already been filled in with dirt, but the third was still open. Inside he could see around a dozen bodies. They looked like civilians because they were wearing t-shirts and ordinary clothes.  

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