Kyiv, 18 March 2014 – During a press briefing at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, AutoMaidan activists Kateryna Butko and Oleksandra Ryazantseva, who were abducted by insurgents on March 8 and held captive for three days, called on the law enforcement authorities of Ukraine to investigate the abductions that took place in Crimea.
On March 8, Butko and Ryazantseva were on their way to Crimea to see Oleksandra’s parents, learn about the events at the peninsula and support the Ukrainian troops. They were carrying letters to the soldiers and also a Ukrainian flag with words of support written on it.
According to Oleksandra, there were Berkut officers, Russian “Cossacks” and members of local self-defense at the Crimean border. Those people were fully equipped and had bullet-proof vests and automatic rifles. The young ladies were asked to get out of the car and open the trunk. After seeing a Ukrainian flag in the trunk, the armed men got into the car and drove it to the side of the road, and the ladies were forced to kneel. Before that happened, Oleksandra, who was born and registered in Yalta and whose car had Yalta number plates, had managed to use her cell phone to call her father.
The armed men took the girls’ personal belongings and scattered them all over the place, then they took their phones and laptops. The insurgents saw the activists’ social network posts they had on their cell phones which made them angry. They then took them to the insurgents’ camp. At the camp, Oleksandra was approached by a man who wanted to see her tattoo. He saw that Oleksandra’s tattoo read “Nebesna Sotnia” (“Heavenly Squad”, a phrase used to refer to the victims of Maidan killings). “Then it got scary. They wanted to cut off my arm. They cut off my hair”, said Oleksandra. According to her, Kateryna was hit on the knees with a shoulder stock and also had some of her hair cut off. The girls were threatened to be shot. “They were provoking us. If we had reacted harshly, we would have been killed”, said Ryazantseva.
Oleksandra and Kateryna were kept in the camp until evening and then they were taken to a basement. According to Oleksnadra, they were not the first to have been taken to that basement. “Everything was prepared. The mattresses we were given were not new. You could see bullet holes and blood stains on them”, she said.
The girls had their arms tied and were beaten from time to time. Then Oleksandra’s parents arrived, but the captives were not released, instead they were put into a Kamaz truck and convoyed to the suburbs of Sevastopol. “We were on the premises of the Russian navy base”, said Oleksandra.
She said that at the base they had been forced to stand facing the wall while the insurgents behind their backs were whispering something to each other and reloading their guns.
The girls spent three days in captivity. All this time they had been kept in individual cells and interrogated one after another. Kateryna said that during the interrogations she had been asked questions about AutoMaidan funding sources, its activities and management, and also about which members of parliament supported this initiative.
“What is going on there is not normal. Even though we were no longer beaten, all human rights that could be violated were violated”, said Kateryna. “We were basically abducted by the citizens of another country”, she emphasized.
After three days, the girls were released. On their way back, their security was ensured by a representative of the Russian Navy. Oleksandra got her car back, but it was vandalized and robbed. The girls were robbed of everything except for their cell phones and laptops.
Kateryna Butko emphasized that people were still being abducted in Crimea. The whereabouts of three AutoMaidan activists are still unknown. “What scares me is that we are not the only ones who experienced this. Oleksiy Grytsenko, Sergiy Suprun, and Natalia Lukyanenko are still held captive”, said the activist. According to her, today it is unsafe to go to Crimea not only by car, but also by train as inspections conducted, followed by people being taken off the train, held captive in basements and beaten. Butko gave an example where a group of Red Cross employees delivering medications to Crimea was apprehended and beaten at the border.
Kateryna said that AutoMaidan had decided to launch another hotline to gather information in the missing persons. The hotline number is 093 717 61 15.
Speaking at the press briefing at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, representative of the Babylon ’13 creative union Roman Klympush said that on March 16 Yaroslav Pilunskyi and Yuriy Gruzinov went missing after going to Crimea to film a documentary about the events at the peninsula.
According to Klympush, on March 16 Pilunskyi and Gruzinov were at a polling station at Studentska Street in Simferopol. They had their video equipment with them. The men were forced into a car and taken in an unknown direction. Klympush called on all non-governmental organizations and mass media to spread the information as much as possible to help find the missing. “Our law enforcement authorities are no help”, he said.