Ukrainian teenager witnessed torture while illegally detained by Russian forces

10 mai, 2024

Vlad Buryak was 16 years old when he was illegally detained at a Russian checkpoint as he tried to flee from the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol in southeastern Ukraine. Russian officials there had discovered he was the son of Oleh Buryak, the head of the Zaporizhzhia State Military Administration.

Buryak, who is now 18, spent three months in Russian captivity where he witnessed physical and psychological torture. The Russian officials who detained Buryak issued a blunt ultimatum to his father: he would get his son back, but only in exchange for the son of a Chechen leader who was fighting for Ukraine.

Before Russia fully invaded Ukraine in 2022, the teenager lived with his mother and younger sister in the city of Melitopol, which was quickly taken by Russian forces after the invasion. When the war started, Oleh Buryak urged the family to flee to Zaporizhzhia where he worked as an official, but the family was reluctant to leave because his wife’s father was seriously ill.

“For a month I kept calling them, and eventually I managed to convince Vlad’s mother. On 1 April, she left with our daughter Yaroslava for Zaporizhzhia,” Oleh Buryak told Context. “There was an evacuation convoy there, and I arranged for them to be taken on a bus.”

The next day, he drove his wife and daughter to Dnipro, and from there they travelled to Switzerland on a humanitarian bus. “Vlad stayed in Melitopol because he said he would not leave his ill grandfather and wanted to stay with him,” Buryak added. 

A week later, Vlad’s maternal grandfather died.

“Vlad said goodbye to him and called me… I told him to leave,” Buryak said.

But his teenage son had reservations about leaving his paternal grandfather behind. 

“I told him: ‘I would take care of grandfather Mykola, and you should leave’ – After all, saving a child’s life is a priority for a father.”

Vlad joined another family and set off for Zaporizhzhia. But at the last Russian checkpoint in occupied Vasylivka, their evacuation convoy was pulled over. “When the Russians approached the car Vlad was sitting in, the occupier demanded documents,” Buryak said. 

Vlad’s father said his son was playing a game on his phone but the Russian soldier believed his son was filming him. “He got angry, pulled Vlad out of the car and pointed his gun at him,” he said. “Then he took the phone and started looking through the information on it.”

Buryak said the Russian checkpoint official found a video on his son’s phone that depicted Russian prisoners calling their relatives back home from Ukraine. “The military officer did not like this and took Vlad away with threats,” he said. “They started checking who his parents were, and I was in all the registers,” he said. His son was immediately detained, and taken to Vasylivka district police station.

“There was a pre-trial detention centre on the ground floor, and Vlad was immediately placed in solitary confinement there,” Buryak said. “Vlad remained in this detention centre for 48 days.”

The teenager’s duties while he was held there included cleaning torture rooms, working in the kitchen, and distributing food to people held in other cells. He said his son was subjected to the dark reality of hearing other detainees being tortured. Then, one of his son’s cellmates, Oleksiy, tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. 

“He told Vlad that he couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “Because in addition to beating him, they were constantly torturing him with electricity, and they also passed a stun gun over his genitals. This guy was psychologically broken.”

As his cellmate was bleeding profusely Vlad was holding his hand. “When he started to lose consciousness, a guard came. The whole cell was covered in blood… We don’t know what happened to him,” his father recalls his son telling him.

“Every day (Vlad) heard how people were being tortured, how they were moaning, screaming, begging for mercy,” he added. After Oleksiy’s attempted suicide, his son “washed the entire cell of blood himself,” Buryak said. “When he was washing the torture chambers, he saw people suspended from the ceiling by wire. He saw the tools used to torture them.”

After 48 days in the detention centre in Vasylivka, Vlad was transferred to a different location in Melitopol, where he spent the remaining 42 days of his captivity. “Vlad was there alone and under constant guard,” said Buryak. “He spent 90 days in captivity.”

Negotiations for his son’s release reached a standstill, but then came unexpected news – the Russians had decided to release his son. “I was honestly shocked. So many options had been discussed… and everything was in vain. Nothing was accepted, and then he called me.”

“On 7 July 2022, in the evening, Vlad arrived,” he added. “And that was it, we left for the city of Zaporizhzhia.”

Statistics compiled by Ukrainian officials have determined that more than 19,000 children have been illegally deported or forcibly displaced, since the start of the full-scale war. More than 2,000 have been declared missing; around 1,300 have been injured and more than 500 children have been killed. However, there is no date specifically on illegal detentions of children.

Tatyana Matviychuk, a child psychologist based in Khmelnytskyi, said that children from the war-torn country will face difficulties “overcoming the traumas they have faced” and that some will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We see a lot of requests from parents with children when one of their relatives has been killed,” she said. 

Vlad was sent to the U.K. where he is now studying and working, recovering from his ordeal with the help of some other family members while his father remains in Ukraine.       

“Because in captivity he realised how much he wanted to live,” Buryak said. “Now he is making plans for the future and preparing to enter university.”

Despre autor: Alina Okolot

Avatar of Alina Okolot
Alina Okolot este o jurnalistă ucraineană din Kiev care lucrează în presă din 2017. Alina a lucrat ca reporter TV în departamentul de știri al canalului PravdaTut TV unde a documentat știri din sectoare diverse, de la politic la economic, cultură și sport. Ea a lucrat de asemenea ca editor de programe educaționale și de divertisment pentru canalul Kiev TV și pentru ediția online a Adevărului de Irpin. Alina spune că jurnalismul este vocația sa. Ea s-a alăturat echipei CONTEXT, după ce s-a mutat în România. Ca jurnalist, ea se ocupă de investigarea crimelor de război comise de Rusia în Ucraina, țara sa natală. Ea scrie des despre corupție și documentează poveștile martorilor în subiecte legate de război. Țelul Alinei este să arate lumii adevărul printr-un jurnalism de calitate.

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