Despite journalist Anastasiya Stanko taking every precaution to safely travel through conflict-torn Eastern Ukraine, she and her cameraman were kidnapped and held for three days in a dark, cold basement. Her captors told her, “You are here because you are a journalist of the enemy state.” In this exclusive interview, Voices in Danger speaks to the recently released Anastasiya Stanko.
A friend of a friend had arranged for Stanko and her cameraman, Ilya Bezkorovaynyi, to be escorted through Eastern Ukraine by members of the high-profile security unit known as “Death to Spies” (SMERSH). Hours after their fact-finding mission began, five men yielding AK-47s stormed their bus and pulled black hoods over their heads.
Amid the chaos they were ordered to board a mini-bus. Individuals believed to be members of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) held the crew down on the floor of the mini-bus throughout the journey to the final destination - a basement.
Stanko later learned that the basement belonged to “the local oligarch”, located near separatist headquarters and the regional state administration of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR). On 1 July, Valeriy Bolotov, leader of LNR, announced that the journalists from Hromadske TV had been charged with “spying for the Ukrainian army”.
“I thought they would kill us,” recalled Stanko. She described how, “The last 24 hours they didn't feed us or let us go the toilet.” The one thing Stanko said she can never forget about her ordeal is a phrase uttered by the NKVD leader: “Ukrainian journalists call us terrorists but terrorists kidnap people, torture them. What about us?” This while Stanko, Bezkorovaynyi and two other prisoners were forced to squat on a cold basement floor.
Only a few days have passed since Stanko's living nightmare came to an end, but the repercussions have already begun. She has received several lovesick texts by one of her captors who held her prisoner in the basement. Plus, her husband has since joined the Ukrainian Army and now risks his life on a daily basis.
Stanko continues her search for the truth. She said, “Almost no journalists, except Russian ones, can work in the territory of the self-proclaimed LNR. Ordinary citizens of Luhansk are frightened of the Ukrainian army, who they believe will come and kill all of them. We cannot find truth.”
Amnesty International has expressed concern about the impact of the current conflict in eastern Ukraine on the civilian population. Information gathered from official sources indicate that from 15 April to 20 June, 423 people, including servicemen and civilians, have been killed. There may have been violations of international humanitarian law by both sides, including the use of civilian buildings (particularly schools and hospitals) from which to fire at aircraft by the anti-Kyiv forces.
Voices in Danger contacted LNR for comment. There was no response.
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