Captured Sri Lankans Escape Russian Cruelty in Ukraine

Following Ukraine’s liberation of Izyum, there have been multiple allegations of atrocities against Russian occupation.

Among the accounts emerging is that of a group of Sri Lankans held captive for months.

One of seven Sri Lankans who was captured by Russian forces in May, Dilujan Paththinajakan said, “We thought we would never get out alive”.

The group had just set out on a huge walk to safety from their homes in Kupiansk, north-eastern Ukraine, to the relative safety of Kharkiv, some 120km away but at the first checkpoint they came across, they were captured by Russian soldiers.

The Sri Lankans were blindfolded, their hands tied, and taken to a machine tool factory in the town of Vovchansk, near the Russian border.

It was the start of a four-month nightmare which would see them kept prisoner, used as forced labour, and even tortured.

The group had come to Ukraine to find work or study but now, they were prisoners, surviving on very little food, only allowed to use the toilet once a day for two minutes.

On the occasions they were allowed to shower, that too was restricted to just two minutes.

The men – mainly in their 20s – were all kept in one room.

The only woman in the group, 50-year-old Mary Edit Uthajkumar, who was kept separately, said months of solitary confinement had taken a toll.

“They locked us in a room,” she said “They used to beat us when we go to take shower. They don’t even allow me to meet others. We were stuck inside for three months.”

Mary Edit Uthajkumar, 50, said months of solitary confinement had taken a toll

Mary, her face already scarred by a car bomb in Sri Lanka, has a heart condition but didn’t receive any medication for it.

The group also spoke of being beaten for no apparent reason – of Russian soldiers who would get drunk and then attack them.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or committing war crimes, but the Sri Lankans’ allegations come alongside many other reports of atrocities committed by Russian occupying forces.

Ukraine has been exhuming bodies from a burial site in the forest near Izyum, some of which show signs of torture and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said: “more than 10 torture chambers have already been found in the liberated areas of Kharkiv region, in various cities and towns”.

BBC/Maxwell Oyekunle

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