Virtual museum of Russian aggression.

Virtual museum of Russian aggression.



Russia grabs first hostages in Crimea

Civilians were the first to be hit by the invaders and their accomplices. The seriousness of the threat was clearly demonstrated by the case of the kidnapping of Reshat Ametov by the so-called "Crimean self-defense" group on 03/03/2014 in the center of Simferopol, his body with evidence of cruel torture was found on 03/15/2014.

By 20/03/2014, several dozen Ukrainian citizens were kidnapped in Crimea, including Euromaidan activists, journalists, and the crew of the Babylon'13 documentary filmmaking group. Militants of the so-called "Crimean self-defense" and the Russian cossack groups, officers from the disbanded riot police unit Berkut, were checking the travelers at the entrance to Crimea, patrolling the streets and train stations, allegedly searching for "Ukrainian saboteurs." They were thus trying to break the resistance to the occupation of the peninsula, sow fear among the Crimeans and in the Ukrainian society as a whole. The Ukrainian side provided evidence to the European Court of Human Rights that officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) supplied weapons to paramilitary groups in Crimea. A significant part of the crimes committed by the occupying forces and their accomplices was documented.

Some of the Ukrainian citizens kidnapped in Crimea were released after being subjected to threats, robbery, beating and torture. This happened, for example, on 03/04/2014 to Gennady Balashov, the Ukrainian politician and businessman, who was captured at the exit from the police station in Simferopol, or to Levko Stek, the journalist of Radio Liberty, who was kidnapped on 03/18/2014 from a public bus near Bakhchysaray and a few hours later was thrown out in a field.

Some of the kidnapped people were held in captivity for several days. This is what happened on 03/09/2014 to activists of Automaidan Kateryna Butko and Oleksandra Ryazantseva, as well as to the journalist Olena Maksymenko, photojournalist Oles Kromplyas, and the driver Yevhen Rakhno, who were seized at the illegal checkpoint Perekop. During illegal detention, citizens were beaten and robbed, and the journalists’ Jeep Wrangler vehicle was damaged. A group of journalists was being held inside the SBU office in Sevastopol, and the activists of Automaidan were interrogated at the Russian Black Sea Fleet base in the same city. On 03/11/2014 they were set free. 

On 03/15/2014, the occupation authorities in Crimea grabbed the activists of the Student Assembly Marta Pohorila and Alik Sardaryan, who were going to record the violations during the illegitimate referendum. Ex-Berkut men beat them up, the activists were abused and Marta was sexually harassed. After the end of the so-called "referendum" they were released.

Some of those who demonstrated a clear civic stance were forced to leave their homes and flee Crimea under pressure and threats from the occupiers and their accomplices. On 03/10/2014 in Balaklava, a group of people wearing the "Russian Bloc" armbands (probably the so-called "battalion Russian Bloc") burst into the apartment of a 63-year-old Euromaidan activist and scholar Ihor Kiryushchenko, who took part in the occupation resistance rally on 03/09/2014 in Sevastopol, and made him flee the peninsula. On 09/15/2014 in Sevastopol, "self-defense" militia kidnapped Mykola Kvich, the priest of the Dormition of the Theotokos parish of Sevastopol, chief military chaplain of the Crimean Exarchate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, right at the time of the service. He was subjected to physical violence, while the occupation authorities threatened to instigate his prosecution. After his release, the priest had to leave Crimea.

The fate of some Ukrainian patriots was especially tragic. On 03/07/2014 in Simferopol, Euromaidan activists, residents of Rivne, Valery Vashchuk and Ivan Bondarets, who came to Crimea from Kyiv to support the resistance to the occupation, vanished without a trace. On 03/15/2014 in Sevastopol, people in police uniform took the pro-Ukrainian activist, ex-SBU officer Vasyl Chernysh out of his apartment; the man is still missing. On 03/17/2014, Valid Abu Yusuf (aka Sergei Selentsov – an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam) went missing in Crimea.

On 03/09/2014 in Sevastopol, militants of the illegal paramilitary "Russian Bloc battalion" seized the participants of the Revolution of Dignity who had been earlier noticed at the rallies of resistance to the occupation in the Taras Shevchenko park. Participants of the rally were attacked and some of them ended up in hospital. Under the assault, Mykola Shyptur shot several rounds blindly in an attempt to break away from the pro-Russian militants. Vladyslav Polishchuk and Serhiy Tkachuk were beaten but released a few days later. Olga Chernyatynska was also set free.

In March 2014, many actively patriotic Ukrainian citizens were kidnapped, arrested, tortured and interrogated. Their life and health were under material threat. On the morning of 03/09/2014 militants of the so-called "Crimean self-defense" seized the co-coordinator of the Euromaidan-Crimea movement Andriy Shchekun and an activist of the Euromaidan-Crimea movement, ex-head of the Republican Forestry Committee of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Anatoly Kovalsky at the Simferopol railway station. They were held at the transport police precinct at the railway station, then moved to the basement of the central military commissariat in Simferopol that had been converted into a prison. They were kept blindfolded all the time, they were stripped naked and beaten at the first interrogation. In addition, Shchekun was tortured with electricity, the tormentors also used non-lethal weapons to shoot at his legs and arms (the surgeon later retrieved two bullets from his arm). The hostages testified that they were interrogated by Crimean collaborators and the Russian special forces operatives.

On 03/11/2014 in the center of Simferopol, persons with truncheons, who introduced themselves as "guys from Rostov", searched Mykhailo Vdovchenko, found a Ukrainian flag and took him to the office of the Russian Unity party. The Euromaidan activist was beaten and interrogated there, and later sent to the same basement of the military commissariat, where he was subjected to torture, psychological pressure and interrogations for several days.

On 03/14/2014  Automaidan activists Oleksiy Hrytsenko, Natalya Lukyanenko and Serhiy Suprun were delivering humanitarian aid to the blocked Ukrainian military bases in Crimea, their car was chased by several cars, fired at with automatic weapons and then seized. The Ukrainians were beaten and thrown into the basement prison where the men were tortured. The day after, Oleksiy Hrytsenko was taken to Sevastopol for several days of interrogation. Serhiy Suprun was held in Simferopol for more tortures. Yaroslav Pilunsky and Yuri Gruzinov, cameramen of the Babylon’13 group, were also kidnapped on 03/16/2014.

In mid-March 2014, more Ukrainian civilians were captured. In the same basement of the ARC military commissariat, activist Maksym Kryvydenko and Yuri Shevchenko, resident of Pavlohrad who were detained in Simferopol by accident, were tortured. Shevchenko got shot into both legs (later the surgeon removed a 9-mm rubber bullet from the right popliteal plane), and part of his ear was cut off.


Enforced disappearances in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol


Russia captures Ukrainian servicemen

In late February and early March 2014, Russian troops and their accomplices began to block and later seize the Ukrainian military bases and facilities, putting pressure on the servicemen. The defenders of Ukraine suffered their first losses – killed, wounded and taken prisoners.

On 03/14/2014, people in military uniforms seized Yevhen Pyvovarov, head of the military hospital in Simferopol, demanding to take an oath of allegiance to the people of Crimea or resign.

On 03/17/2014, Lieutenant Colonel Oleksandr Kalyan, commander of the radio navigation system harrison of the Long-Range Aviation Command, was kidnapped during the assault, and another serviceman – Vladyslav Nechiporenko – was kidnapped on 03/18/2014. On the same day in Simferopol, Colonel Andriy Andryushin, commander of the photogrammetric center, was captured by the Russian military during a parley at the checkpoint of the same center. The Ukrainian serviceman, Serghiy Kokurin was killed in the line of duty as the Russian military stormed his base; he was the first military defender of Ukraine to fall to Russia's armed aggression. Valentyn Fedun, Captain of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, was wounded on the same day.

On 03/19/2014, hundreds of men wearing the so-called "self-defense" uniforms and cossack groups seized the headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy in Sevastopol. Before that, the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Alexander Vitko, initiated a meeting with the commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Serhiy Hayduk, where he failed to persuade the Ukrainian Rear Admiral to commit treason. Serhiy Hayduk was captured by a team of Russian servicemen during the assault. Controlled by the invaders, Sevastopol Prosecutor's Office claimed that the commander was detained by the prosecutor's office, for allegedly communicating to the military units of Ukraine an order from Kyiv to use weapons on civilians.

SBU detains Russian spy

On 03/12/2014, the operational group of the SBU Counterintelligence Department captured four Russian spies in Kherson Oblast who were acting under legal cover, driving a van in the area of deployment of the Ukrainian units. Holding valid passports with Crimean registration, the spies entered the territory of Kherson Oblast bypassing the border checkpoints and installing infrared guidance beacons near the Ukrainian military facilities. The beacons could provide accurate guidance for the Russian aircraft to target and hit the Ukrainian air defense systems. Electronic equipment and beacons were found on the detained individuals.

The leader of the spy group held a passport issued to the name of Arbuzov, a native and resident of Dzhankoy. However, the head of the SBU operational group, a resident of Crimea, detected inconsistencies in his statements. In Kherson, the spy confessed that his true name was Roman Filatov and he was an officer of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation. This became the proof of Russia's direct participation in the aggression against Ukraine, which the military command and political leadership of the Russian Federation was trying to deny. It was also established that Filatov had worked undercover on the territory of Ukraine for four years, which is another evidence of Russia’s gross violation of the Ukrainian-Russian agreements prohibiting the conduct of intelligence operations against a partner.

Release of Ukrainian hostages in exchange for a Russian spy

In mid-March 2014, the Acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov handed over to Andriy Senchenko, Member of Parliament of Ukraine, ex-Deputy Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the list of names of 18 hostages taken in Crimea, including Haiser Dzhemilev the son of Mustafa Dzhemilev, Member of Parliament of Ukraine, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people. Senchenko received orders to start working on their release. To strengthen the bargaining power, he was appointed Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine.

With a proposal to release the citizens of Ukraine illegally captured in Crimea, he turned to the so-called "minister of defense" of Crimea, General Valery Kuznetsov, whom he had known since the 1990s as the commander of the 32nd Army Corps deployed in the autonomy, and as an adviser to the Crimean president. The latter replied that the issue was within the competence of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Senchenko made a call with a similar request to the Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Anatoly Antonov, whom he had known for a long time as a diplomat. In exchange for 18 hostages, the Russians demanded the return of Filatov. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also urged Serhiy Pashinsky, head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, to return the Russian intelligence officer in exchange for the Ukrainian hostages; pointing out that the Russian leadership could not guarantee their survival otherwise.

On 03/19/2014, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine brought the Russian military intelligence officer Filatov to the Russian Embassy in Kyiv for identification. The day after, the first major release of Ukrainian hostages and prisoners of war took place in exchange for the captured Russian spy. Filatov was sent from Kyiv to Moscow by plane; for their part, the Russians released 8 Ukrainian citizens who left the temporarily occupied territory through a checkpoint on the Chonhar Peninsula. Among those released were the Commander of the Ukrainian Naval Forces Serhiy Hayiduk, Euromaidan activists Andriy Shchekun, Anatoly Kovalsky and Oleksiy Hrytsenko.

On 03/21/2021, Russian invaders released two more citizens of Ukraine. The process continued until May 2014 when the issue of the Crimean hostages was generally transferred from the Russian Ministry of Defense to the FSB. According to Andriy Senchenko, in exchange for Filatov, Ukraine managed to achieve the release of 40 Ukrainian citizens.


Kidnapping, torture and murder of pro-Ukrainian activists in the temporarily occupied Crimea and certain areas of Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast, illegal convictions of Crimeans and residents of other regions of Ukraine by the illegitimate Crimean or Russian courts continue to this day.

On 04/07/2021, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine reported that Russia was illegally persecuting 133 Ukrainian citizens for political reasons, 114 of whom were arrested: 97 are now held in the Russian Federation, 17 – in Crimea. Moreover, 78 of these Ukrainian citizens are Crimean Tatars. In the temporarily occupied territories of Crimea and the Donbas, Russia and its proxy forces are holding 376 captives. Human rights activists reported 45 missing persons in Crimea in the period from 2014 to 2020, the fate of 15 of them is still unknown. Experts believe most of them have been killed.

From 2014 to 2020, there were three waves of release. Most of the hostages (2,957) were released during the first wave from March 2014 to December 2015, thanks to the firm pressure exerted on Russia by the international coalition, the Minsk agreements, as well as to the Ukrainian military capturing a significant number of Russian citizens who fought in the east of Ukraine. From 2016 to November 2017, there were isolated hostage releases. According to the SBU, in 2016, for example, the Ukrainian side got back 16 of its citizens.

A large-scale exchange happened on 12/27/2017. Previously, the Ukrainian authorities agreed to hand 306 detainees over to the militants, and the Russian-controlled militant groups otherwise known as the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) returned 74 persons. However, only 233 people actually moved to the occupied part of Ukraine, whereas the remaining 73 chose to stay. 73 persons returned to the territory controlled by Ukraine (one was not released by the militants). In 2019 and 2020, over 130 persons returned to the free territory of Ukraine.

Published on 2021-09-01

Andriy Ivanets, PhD in History


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