Yulia Paevskaya: Ukrainian doctor released on exchange accuses kidnappers of torture

53-year-old Yulia Paevskaya, widely known in Ukraine under the pseudonym Taira, has become a folk heroine. According to her, the abuse began immediately after she was identified at a checkpoint near Mariupol and taken prisoner along with her driver on March 16.

“For five days I didn’t eat and hardly drink,” Paevskaya told CNN on Tuesday, almost three weeks after she was released in a prisoner exchange on June 17. “didn’t stop for a minute all these three months.”

According to her, from mid-March to mid-June, the couple was kept in the occupied territory in the Donetsk pre-trial detention center by a group of forces from Russia and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

“You are constantly told that you are a fascist, a Nazi,” she said, comparing the conditions to the Gulag. She said she was told that “I’d rather you die than watch what happens next”.

Frustrated that Paevskaya did not give her Russian and pro-Russian separatist kidnappers an on-camera confession of alleged links to neo-Nazis, she said they “threw me in solitary confinement, in a dungeon without a mattress, on a metal bed.”

Paevska’s prominence in Ukraine has risen since she first rose to prominence during the 2014 Maidan uprising, when she supported protesters against the then pro-Russian president as a volunteer medic. From there, she traveled east to the front lines where Ukrainian forces fought separatist forces in the Donbass, eventually officially joining the Ukrainian armed forces.

Russian military patrol near the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, June 13, 2022.

Videos propaganda

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February this year, Paevska was in the southern city of Mariupol wearing a body camera and filming for hours the dramatic scenes of the arrival of the wounded in the emergency room and the efforts to rescue them.

As the Russian troops approached, Paevskaya managed to hand over one of her memory cards to the Associated Press journalists, who were among the last to leave the city. According to Paevskaya, the card was hidden in a tampon. She told CNN that she destroyed another card with her teeth and threw it away as she approached the checkpoint where she and her driver were taken.

According to Paevskaya, the forces at the checkpoint soon recognized her, and a few days after her abduction, she was forced to sit in front of Russian television cameras for several days for what later became a skillfully filmed 47-minute propaganda video accusing her of being that she uses children as people. shields and organ harvesting and compares her to Hitler.

In the film, Paevskaya is led into an interrogation room, handcuffed and hooded, and forced to sit down under harsh bright lights while the narrator plays up the perceived danger she poses.

The video, broadcast by the state channel NTV, was published 12 days after the capture of Paevskaya. All this time and throughout the entire period of detention Paevskaya was not allowed to contact her husband Vadim Puzanov.

“You watch too many American films,” she was told. “There will be no call.”

Instead, according to Paevskaya, she was constantly fed false claims about Russia’s non-existent military successes in eastern Ukraine. Eventually, she and the other detainees were able to piece together some of the facts about what was happening with the help of the various pieces of information they gathered.

When Paevskaya was arrested, she was told that she could face the death penalty. But one day she was taken out of her cell and the possibility of an exchange of prisoners was mentioned, which gave her hope.

On June 17, an exchange took place, and Paevskaya managed to call her husband for the first time in more than three months.

“I didn’t recognize her [voice] because I didn’t expect her to call me,” Puzanov said. Together with her daughter, the family was reunited in the hospital, where Paevskaya was taken by Ukrainian forces, a moment Puzanov called “the most joyful event.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made the announcement in a late-night video message, saying: “Tyra is already at home. And we will continue to work to free everyone else.”

“Ruthless Mode”

Paevskaya declined to say where the exchange took place and for whom she was exchanged. Since the kidnapping, the already skinny, heavily tattooed Paevskaya says she has lost 10 kilograms (more than 20 pounds) and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

She won’t be returning to the front lines anytime soon, she said, fearful of becoming a burden to the troops.

Instead, she focused on qualifying for the 2023 Invictus Games for injured swimming and archery veterans. She suffered a hip injury aggravated by her work at the front, and she had both hips replaced.

Paevskaya blames the Kremlin’s powerful propaganda machine for fueling Russia’s war effort and, like Ukraine’s leaders, says Ukraine needs more Western help to defeat Russia.

“This is an absolutely ruthless regime that wants to dominate the world,” she said. “I was told that the whole world should submit only to Great Russia and:“ This is your fate. You have to accept, just stop resisting.”