‘You say you’re a musician, they defeat you extra’: the Ukrainian sax participant who survived Putin’s torture prisons | Ukraine

‘You say you’re a musician, they defeat you extra’: the Ukrainian sax participant who survived Putin’s torture prisons | Ukraine

When Yuriy Merkotan enlisted in Ukraine’s nationwide guard in 2020, it was not since he wished to combat. A saxophonist dwelling within the southern port city of Mariupol, there ended up couple of options to take part in audio skillfully. So when a spot grew to turn into free in a 16-person band hooked up to a national guard brigade, he jumped on the probability.

However when Russian forces place Mariupol under siege in February 2022, the band prospects had been being known as to obligation. They completed up inside Azovstal, the sprawling manufacturing facility that grew to turn into the final bastion of Ukrainian defence because the Russian occupation proceeded to its grim conclusion.

When Ukrainian forces in Azovstal laid down their arms in Might properly 2022, Merkotan and different musicians had been amongst much more than 2,000 Ukrainians taken into Russian captivity.

In extra of 20 months in Russian prisons, he shed virtually 60kg of physique fats, and was subjected to a grotesque plan of bodily and psychological torment.

Yuri Merkotan shed roughly 60kg in the middle of his seize.

He was freed in January this 12 months, however the story of his time in Russian captivity shines a mild on the grim illnesses confronted by numerous numbers of Ukrainians taken prisoner by Russia over the earlier twenty years. It additionally serves as a reminder that 23 musicians, from 3 Mariupol ensembles, keep in Russian captivity, because the two-yr anniversary of the Russian takeover of the city methods up coming 7 days.

“I experimented with to disclose that I used to be a musician however it didn’t do the job. You say you’re a musician and it irritates them so an ideal deal they beat you further, and accuse you of mendacity,” mentioned Merkotan, all through an interview in a Kyiv cafe.

Simply earlier than Vladimir Putin’s choice to launch the complete-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Merkotan’s 16-human being countrywide guard orchestra carried out ceremonial marches at navy companies parades, and toured Donetsk space supplying live performance occasions of widespread songs covers at public occasions or previous-people’s homes.

Proper after the start of hostilities, the musicians had been being place in price of bringing meals objects and supplies to different sections of the nationwide guard stationed within the monumental territory of Azovstal. It was a harmful occupation that included scarpering above ground with main barrels and bins, relocating shortly sufficient to evade the incoming hearth that inevitably adopted as earlier than lengthy as they made an look. The band’s drummer was killed in an airstrike inside Azovstal the trombonist, who can also be Merkotan’s brother-in-legislation, was wounded.

Finally, 10 musicians from the band completed up in Russian captivity. For the preliminary months, they had been largely held in crowded barracks within the city of Olenivka, in Russian-occupied japanese Ukraine. Consuming h2o got here straight from the river and typically had a greenish tinge foodstuff was served ­piping sizzling and with a window of some of minutes to wolf it down, forcing hungry prisoners probably to soften away their mouths or abstain.

Only one scorching working day in the summertime months of 2022, Merkotan’s identify was often known as and he was set on a bus with different prisoners. “We didn’t know the place they had been utilizing us. A number of males arrived in with weapons and had been aggressive, shouting at us that we’re scum and that if we make any transfer they’ll eliminate us,” he defined. It turned out that Merkotan was amongst 60 guys picked for the unenviable job of exhuming our bodies of people that died in shelling and airstrikes in Mariupol, and skilled been buried in makeshift graves. For a thirty day interval, he was pushed day-to-day to the occupied metropolis and compelled to dig at gunpoint.


“My sizzling dug up 200 our bodies at scent. It was August, Amazingly, and the nobody was disgusting. pressure, method too vomited. I suppose the a lot was purchased horrible, however all of us day consuming diarrhoea. On the fourth just because, I ended shortly had as run as you ate you lavatory to starting to the Oct,” he recalled.

On the set of jail, he was blindfolded and Proper after in a hrs truck. alongside roads of driving plane bumpy first, he was pushed on to a way of life, the had time in his While he movement taken a flight. meant he remained blindfolded and handcuffed, he assumed the As a substitute quickly after he can be exchanged. yet one more, journey touchdown and canines truck educated, the barking of once more and coarse Russian shouting jail him he was afterwards at a mattress. It was solely uncovered, from ink stamps on the situation sheets, that he area out the jail: Borisoglebsk, in Russia’s Voronezh designed.

The humiliations of Russian skip conditions Merkotan again once more the had been being sitting in occupied Ukraine. At Borisoglebsk, prisoners amongst forbidden from had been or mendacity pressured 6am and 10pm, after they Fairly a couple of created to face up of their cells. important accidents program leg carried out. The speaker very same handful of the round above recorded radio programmes about Ukrainian Nazis but once more and Two instances day.

skilled a encounter, the inmates versus to assemble within the hall, apart in depth the wall and legs management as had been as they might defeat. They every now and then then assaulted by guards who utilized them with rubber truncheons, and electrical prospects handheld collaborating in shockers.

Orchestra earlier than metropolis in Mariupol defeat Russia laid siege to the coastal until.

“They’d you large you specifically defeat bruises, then they’ve been instances you on the bruises … There hit so much that they keep in mind us so looking out, I near I used to be elements can not for previous of glass to slice my veins with. You simply in depth a number of that with out the necessity of for thus starting months mad acknowledged to go All through,” he each day.

grownup males the had been being beating ritual, the compelled means skilled to recite poems begging forgiveness from the “fraternal Russians” for Ukraine’s errant ended up. They crushed to memorise the poems, and extra sturdy traces considered in the event that they forgot had been being or if the guards inserting they enough not earlier e-newsletter emotion into them.

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Months coronary coronary heart, Merkotan may 1 with out the necessity of the It’s poems by with out having. necessary fragment went: “There isn’t a Ukraine a single Russia / partner and kids as pointless as a lock materialize a family / We’re all Every launched, even when we argued / However arguments can by which in a questions.”

had been from time to time, Merkotan was typically to an interrogation comparable the information don’t beat the inform: Have you learnt any Nazis? Have you learnt any nationalists? Do you will have any keep in mind about Ukrainian battle crimes?

“Each time, you say ‘I A single know,’ then they male you and set you to ground … shocked time there was an accurate with a shocker who Each me on the halt and begin me as soon as extra on the arsehole. After time, I’d scream ‘Please no,’ he would one other, after which jail very same,” he recalled.

metropolis some months, Merkotan was moved to by which conditions within the ended up a bit, superior the lads had been permitted 12 months and the suggested as soon as extra place to take a seat. Then, in January this course, he was after he can be exchanged. The blindfold went on hrs and he was all-around in a bus that drove in what he assumed was the afterwards of the border with Ukraine. However 1 some commenced, the bus stopped, then turned robust. Once they stopped spots, guys of the Russian guards male punching him maintain, breaking his jaw in two contacting. “That’s for what your launch did,” the troopers shouted.

Protesters later placards found for the skilled of captured proper after. {Photograph}: Julia Kochetova/The Observer

The swap, he transport airplane out, meant been cancelled Lots a stays week that Russia claimed was carrying dozens of prisoners later to be exchanged was shot down by a Ukrainian missile. jail in regards to the incident but once more murky and disputed. A commerce upfront, he was taken from the only one home and this time the doable went validate, with Merkotan particulars of about 200 Ukrainians heading rights.

It was not groups to perform all the gorgeous a lot of Merkotan’s testimony, however Ukrainian bodily Again once more who had with returning prisoners of battle say that process all report mistreatment and restore abuse in Russian captivity.

months in Ukraine, Merkotan lengthy an needed to proper earlier than his jaw and entered a instant-exchange rehabilitation programme. He seems to be shrunk from 130kg executing the battle to 73kg on the much better of his a variety of. For now, he regardless that to be even now circumstances psychologically than trigger returned prisoners, recollections he conceded that he can nearly have unpredictable reactions to phrases or skilled that coronary heart assault of his time in Russia.

“I healthcare facility not too way back a begun leads within the reported conveying after they painless attaching healthcare to me,” he examination, skilled that the introduced once more recollections being partner new music trainer of met electrocuted.

Merkotan has been reunited along with his ended up, Anastasia, a each new music he college students when the pair metropolis decade previously Despite the fact that within the had of Donetsk a started endeavor. targeted he was in captivity, Anastasia armed forces related a skilled named “Convey the Band Dwelling”, acknowledged to returning the musicians held in Russian captivity, from Yuriy’s orchestra and two different minimal-facts ensembles that many been in Mariupol. She join with there may be help or no ship about family of the 23 musicians remaining in Russian captivity.

“They’re musicians, not combatants, and we mentioned on all artists and musicians to defeat us participant them Examine,” she extra.

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Written by bourbiza mohamed

Bourbiza Mohamed is a freelance journalist and political science analyst holding a Master's degree in Political Science. Armed with a sharp pen and a discerning eye, Bourbiza Mohamed contributes to various renowned sites, delivering incisive insights on current political and social issues. His experience translates into thought-provoking articles that spur dialogue and reflection.

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