Ukrainian soldiers returned from Russian captivity in 2024: 9 life stories of unbreakable defenders
One of the largest exchanges of prisoners of war took place at the beginning of the new year, on January 3, with 230 Ukrainians released from Russian captivity
The exchanged prisoners were Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers, National Guard, emergency workers, Chornobyl NPP prisoners, a police officer, a civilian lecturer at the East Ukrainian National University named after V. Dahl, and a musician from a military orchestra. Most of them had been in captivity for almost two years. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, their relatives have not received any news from them.
Espreso has prepared several stories about the Heroes who survived captivity and violence of the Russian aggressors.
"He could not walk or breathe"
46-year-old defender Ruslan Feleshchuk from the village of Honchyi Brid, Volyn region, was reported missing. Now he is undergoing rehabilitation at home, writes Rayon.Kowel. He did not stay in Russian captivity for long, but during this time he was tortured and beaten. In civilian life, he worked at a meat processing plant. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, he volunteered to defend Ukraine, said his daughter Tetiana.
Ruslan went missing at the end of 2023 in the Zaporizhzhia region. Immediately after his disappearance, his daughter put her father on the wanted list and eventually received a long-awaited call.
"He was in serious condition. He was not given any help in captivity," she says.
The soldier was returned from captivity with severe concussion and injuries. In Kyiv, he was sent to a hospital, and then to a rehabilitation center in Lutsk. Then he was released home for rehabilitation. Ruslan Feleshuk told his family that he was tortured and beaten in captivity.
"My father cried and begged for water, that's all. He was covered in bruises and wounds. It was scary to look at him. He could not walk or breathe," says the daughter. The warrior's most cherished dream is for the war to end soon.
In addition to Feleshchuk, border guard and cynologist Ilya Muzyka from Novovolynsk returned to his native Volyn after Russian captivity. He was taken prisoner on April 12, 2022, from the Illich Steel and Iron Works in Mariupol. The border guard was captured during a breakthrough to Azovstal. By the way, Ilya's girlfriend Alina Panina, also a border guard, was also held captive by the Russians, according to Konkurent TV. She was released in October 2022. The young woman spent five months in captivity.
"I haven't heard my husband's voice for 20 months"
The Russians also held 36-year-old sanitary instructor Ostap Reshitnyk from Lviv for almost two years. After graduating from high school, he enlisted for military service. During his service, he realized that he wanted to devote his life to the state. In 2009, he signed a contract to serve in the Armed Forces. Since 2014, he has been on rotations in the East as part of mobile hospitals. On the eve of the full-scale war on February 18, 2022, he went on rotation again without any doubts. On March 1, his family lost contact with him completely.
The last information the family received about Ostap was in April 2022, a message that read "alive and well. No communication". A few weeks later, they learned that he had been captured from the Illich Steel and Iron Works along with all the other doctors. From that moment on, his family said, there was only silence.
Reshitnyk's wife, Olha, heard her husband's voice for the first time in 20 months, Suspilne reports.
"He said almost nothing, because we had almost lost contact with him since mid-March, when an air bomb was dropped on a hospital in Mariupol. And since then there have been reports from colleagues he was with that he was alive. And from April until yesterday (January 3 - ed.), unfortunately, we saw nothing but his photos in Russian telegram channels for almost 21 months," his wife said.
It is known that Reshitnyk was held in Russia, near the Urals. He was wounded and returned with a bandaged leg.
"We received a call saying that Ostap was already in Ukraine and that we should expect a call from him. To be honest, I was shocked. And this shock still lasts. The children had mixed emotions. My son cried the whole evening until he heard his father's voice. My daughter was walking around, joking, supporting him. And somewhere after 11 p.m. we finally received a call from our dad. We talked for a long time, shared our emotions, experiences, and impressions," said Olha Reshitnyk.
Correspondence - only in Russian and in general phrases
Another soldier released from captivity is Vasyl Danylyshyn, a soldier of the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade from Lviv region. His daughter Natalia told Espreso.Zakhid that her father had been a prisoner of war since March 2022. He volunteered for the war back in 2014.
"I received a call from the coordination headquarters and was informed that my father was exchanged today. At first, I did not believe it," Natalia recalls the news of her father's return.
While Danylyshyn was in captivity, the family appealed to the Red Cross, the coordination headquarters for the treatment of prisoners of war, and contacted the military to get their father released as soon as possible.
Photo: Natalia Danylyshyn
"My father always said that Russia will not stop at what it has achieved. Perhaps he did not say it directly, but we all understood, probably my father among others, that the aggressor would not stop in two parts of Ukraine," Natalia recalls.
During the full-scale invasion, Vasyl Danylyshyn was always in the Zaporizhzhia direction. He was captured there. In two years, his family managed to write three letters to him. I have just found out that he received two of them.
"I was the first to receive a letter from my father. It already had clear instructions on how to respond to him. It's just like it used to be on paper: you write it, send it to the coordination headquarters, and they directly pack it and send it to them. The correspondence was in Russian, written in general phrases," the woman added.
From the first day of the full-scale invasion, Ruslan Oliynyk from the Poltava region was in Russian captivity. In civilian life, he worked as a teacher of military training and physical education. Ruslan's mother, Tetiana Tymoshenko, said she was shocked when she heard her son's voice.
"I have been waiting for this for almost two years. And when I heard those words, I was in a big shock, I believed that this day would come one day," says Tetiana Tymoshenko.
Ruslan was mobilized to the Armed Forces in 2014. In 2017, he signed a contract and participated in the ATO.
"His last business trip was to the city of Tokmak on January 26, 2022. That's where he met the war. His unit was bombed and he was taken prisoner. They put him on the list of prisoners, and there was confirmation from the Russian side that he had been in captivity for almost two years," says his mother.
From captivity - down the aisle
A couple of marines - Halyna Fedyshyn from Rozhniativ district in Prykarpattia and Mykola Hrytseniak from Donetsk region - have survived the ordeal of captivity and separation. The warrior waited for his beloved girl to return from captivity and the next day proposed marriage to her.
The young woman studied at the Zviahel Professional Medical College and graduated in 2015. Halyna Fedyshyn was wounded. She was taken prisoner while leaving Azovstal in May 2022. At the same time, her military boyfriend, who is from Donetsk region, was taken prisoner," Suspilne wrote.
"They did not see each other in captivity, he only managed to somehow find out that Halyna was alive. As far as I know, the guy was released from captivity a little earlier," said Nina Moroz, director of the social and psychological service of the Zviahel Medical College.
While in captivity, Halyna Fedyshyn spoke only Ukrainian. "The Russians imitated her transfer for exchange several times, but eventually returned her back to the place of detention," the General Staff reported.
From a teaching department in the Luhansk region to Russia's captivity
Andriy Nishko, a 22-year-old National Guard soldier, returned to his family in Odesa region. He had also been in captivity for almost two years, since March 2022. For a long time, Russia did not confirm the fact that he was a prisoner of war," the Konopliane village community said.
"Andriy's relatives were constantly trying to find him, collecting information from Russian TV channels and websites. The Red Cross gave the family hope and sent letters from his aunt and father through their representatives. Andriy confirmed that he had received those letters, and that they raised his morale and gave him strength," the community page said.
Andriy is a member of the Ukrainian National Guard and was a border guard. He was captured near Sievierodonetsk. At first, he was held in the temporarily occupied territory, and two weeks later he was transferred to Smolensk, where he remained until his release.
The Russians also captured young scholars. This is what happened to Kostiantyn Litvinov, a lecturer at the Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian National University. He was taken prisoner by Russia in March 2022. Kostiantyn was taken from Oleksandrivka, Sievierodonetsk district, to the territory of Russia. The man was held in captivity for almost two years.
"We applied for his exchange three times, but the Russians kept refusing. From today, the young scientist is free. On his native land!" emphasized the head of Luhansk region Artem Lysohor.
Kostiantyn was born in 1992 in Sievierodonetsk. After graduating from high school, he entered the Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian National University, where he received a degree in Automated Control of Technological Processes. He received a research engineer qualification in computerized systems and automation and a master's degree. He decided to work at his university. In 2019, at the age of 27, he defended his dissertation and received the title of Candidate of Technical Sciences.
Kostiantyn Litvinov has seven publications in periodicals included in the list of professional publications of Ukraine, three patents for inventions, several textbooks, monographs, and training manuals.
Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian National University in Sievierodonetsk was destroyed by the Russian troops in early April 2022. Dahl University evacuated to the Khmelnytskyi region. And then to Kyiv. It should be reminded that Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian National University is originally from Luhansk. During the temporary occupation of the city by the Russians in 2014, the university moved to Sievierodonetsk.
"I love you. I will try to survive"
Seven defenders of Snake Island, who were captured by the Russians after fierce fighting on February 24, have returned to their homeland. One of them, Oleksandr Kurtiev, a native of Odesa region, a border guard medic and the youngest of the island's defenders, was held captive for almost two years.
His parents and girlfriend Yaroslava were waiting for him at home. Their love story began when they were very young - at the age of 15, according to the Bessarabia INFORM website.
After graduating from the Izmail Medical College, he signed a contract with the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine and worked in a village. Six months later, he was transferred to the outpost of Snake Island, where he continued to serve as a military medic. On February 24, he was on duty.
That morning, Oleksandr called his fiancée at 5:30 am with the words: "Honey, wake up, the war has started. Pack your stuff, I'll call your mom and you'll live with them."
"Until the last moment, we hoped that everyone on the island would be evacuated. It should have been so, but at the last minute we found out that the Russians allowed only civilians to be evacuated. The military - border guards and marines - were staying to the last. Unfortunately, Olexander did not have time to tell me that they were being captured. Finally, he wrote to me: "Sunshine, I love you. I will try to survive". These were very painful words for me. Before them, I had never even thought that the boys could be killed," Yaroslava said.
The family received the only letter from him, dated June 2, in August, Suspilne reports.
"He writes: "Mommy, Dad Slava, Yaroslava, hello! I will be very happy if my letter reaches you." They were not even sure that the letters would reach us. "I love you very much and am counting the days until I return. I hope you are doing well, don't give up hope." And here are his words on the T-shirt: "There is always white behind the black," said Oleksandr's mother Kateryna Kurtieva.
The family waited for Oleksandr, and his girlfriend Yaroslava wrote: "Relax, you're home. I can't believe it, but we won you back."
At the beginning of the full-scale war, the border guards on Snake Island refused to surrender to the Russians and instead sent the Russian warship Moskva to go f*ck itself. Later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that some of the border guards who were on the island had been killed. Some time later, Russian media published a video showing Ukrainian soldiers, and the State Border Guard Service responded to it.