UKRAINE – ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Free’– Ukrainian ex-prisoner of war describes how faith helped him survive his ordeal
Krypychenko, a private in the Ukrainian army, found himself alone in no man’s land when his vehicle broke down. When an enemy intelligence unit appeared with weapons drawn, he assumed they were going to kill him.“I was mentally ready to die. It was a wonder that I lived” Krypychenko said.
Krypychenko said his captors tortured him with electric shocks and beat him with their fists and wooden planks during interrogation. He was never threatened with execution, but the guards occasionally made offhand death threats.
Months into his captivity, isolated in solitary confinement for 195 days and with his body covered in torture wounds, Krypychenko turned to his religious faith, and even a little humor, to avoid succumbing to despair. “I felt grateful to God,” he says. “I’m a believer. I was grateful that God saved me from the worst. I was still alive at least. But the hardest part was not knowing what to expect each day.”
In the dark solitude of his cell, Krypychenko would laugh to himself as he recalled funny childhood memories. “A couple of times, I felt like I was losing hope,” he said. “But I strengthened myself.”
Krypychenko was held in three separate locations. His captors placed a bag over his head when transporting him, which robbed him of any sense of his surroundings. “There was no possibility to escape,” he said. “I never knew where I was.”
While never denied food or water, sparse meals left Krypychenko weak. He wore no shirt, only trousers and sandals. Inside his cell he had nothing but a mattress, a blanket, a plastic water bottle he used as a pillow and a few cigarettes- all gifts from a benevolent guard. “He was the only one to show me kindness,” Krypychenko says. This guard allowed Krypychenko to leave his cell and go outside under open skies twice at night to smoke a cigarette, call home on a cellphone from time to time, and ultimately delivered the news that he was going to be released.
Before he was drafted into military service in 2014, Krypychenko was an auto mechanic living in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine’s third largest city. Following his release, he plans to return home and resume his old life when he is discharged from hospital. Alexander Naumenko, the civilian doctor who first treated Krypychenko and the three other prisoners of war released last month said they were in stable condition with no fresh wounds when they arrived. Their bodies, however, offered clues to their ordeals in captivity.
As part of ongoing negotiations between Kyiv and the Russian-backed separatist territories in eastern Ukraine, the separatists released four Ukrainian prisoners of war, including Krypychenko. According to Ukrainian news reports, Ukraine released five captured separatists and a priest in exchange for the servicemen.