17-year-old Ukrainian describes his experience as a prisoner of war

Vlad Buryak, 17, was traveling by car on the morning of April 8 and stopped at a Russian checkpoint. Within hours, he would find himself in a Russian prison.

Russian soldiers had seen his cellphone and accused him of filming it, he told ABC News’ Britt Clennett in a Zoom interview. They took his phone and checking his photos and social media, they found a pro-Ukrainian Telegram group.

The soldiers were furious, he said, and threatened to kill him on the spot. Instead, he was taken to a filtration camp and then to a prison where he spent 48 days before finally being released.

Thousands of Ukrainians were reportedly held as prisoners of war and hundreds of thousands were forcibly expelled from the country through so-called filter camps.

The children’s experience during the war, which spanned more than six months, was particularly traumatic and offers a chilling portrait of the painful reality on the ground in Ukraine.

The UN estimates that nearly 1,000 children have been killed or injured during the conflict and more than 5 million Ukrainian children, both inside the country and living as refugees, are in need of humanitarian assistance. .

Firefighters work to put out a fire in Sloviansk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, August 29, 2022.

Leo Correa/AP

The prison he was placed in is ‘so horrible and so difficult’, he said, adding that hearing constant cries of ‘help me’ and ‘don’t beat me’ breaks you inside .

His job was to wash floors, clean rooms that had been used for torture “three or four days a week”, he said.

He helped pass information between prisoners, written on small pieces of paper which they tried to smuggle outside the prison walls to their family members.

He was not beaten, but saw others being beaten and tortured. Although he noticed everything going on around him, he tried to be invisible, he said, concentrating on his work. He didn’t want the Russian soldiers to know what he was seeing.

PICTURED: A soldier with the call sign Bury walks through one of the villages near the Kherson frontline in the Mykolaiv region, Ukraine, August 8, 2022.

A soldier with the call sign Bury walks through one of the villages near the Kherson front line in Mykolaiv region, Ukraine, August 8, 2022.

The Washington Post via Getty Images

During the interview with ABC News, he admitted that he probably blocked many aspects of his time in prison. “If you see horrible things, your brain forgets it.” If he dwells too much on the past, “I can have problems in my head,” he says, “and I don’t want to have [that].”

So, he says, “I’d rather not think about it.”

It was very difficult to maintain his psychological health in prison, he said. If you show emotion, there is fear of being beaten and tortured, and never being released, he said.

“If you start crying, if you start getting mad at these Russian soldiers, these Russian soldiers can kill you or torture you.”

To stay sane, he talked to himself. “I think about what I do when I have freedom. What I do after prison, what I do with my family, how I visit my friends, how I go to coffee, how I go to McDonalds “, did he declare.

After 48 days, he finally found his father.

“You can’t explain this emotion,” he said, displaying a maturity beyond his years. “That emotion you can only feel.”

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