During the occupation of Trostyanets in Sumy Oblast, looking for veterans of the Anti-Terrorist Operation, Russian troops were detaining innocent bystanders. According to witnesses, people were taken to the local railway station and police station. However, once the Russians withdrew from the city, some of the hostages were nowhere to be found, alive or dead.
Trostyanets resident Oleksandr Sytnyk was detained by russian soldiers on March 12. Oleksandr was headed home to get his things and leave the city. After that, he couldn’t be reached. When his family asked the russians about his whereabouts, they said they would return him – but they didn’t. Instead, they searched their home. According to the family, they were looking for weapons and wanted to check the computer as well, but were unable to because the power was out.
Oleksandr’s namesake, Sergiy Sytnyk, also had his residence searched. According to his sister Tetyana, the soldiers paid him a visit more than once.
«They knew that Sergiy held a military rank. They said they had lists of people like that. Eventually, they found Sergiy too. Our mother was at home, and she understood from the men’s conversation that they were not russian soldiers, they came here from the DPR and LPR,» says Tetyana Sytnyk.
The families of the missing men tried to find them on their own. It became known later that russians had indeed set up improvised prisonsat the local police station and railway station. In addition to holding hostages, the locations were also used for interrogations.
«There was a hospital of sorts for wounded russians in the basement of the railway station. When we went down there after Trostyanets was liberated, we found a lot of makeshift beds, drips and traces of blood. Apparently, there were many wounded there, and it seems that many died there,» says Igor, a local.
Trostyanets resident Oleksandr Faizov was one of those held at the railway station. At first he was the only one there, then new hostages started arriving. As Oleksandr told MIHR, all detainees were subjected to beatings, and some were eventually taken away somewhere. When Trostyanets was liberated, he was able to leave the railway station on his own. The missing men, however, never returned, nor could any bodies be found anywhere. They were apparently taken to pre-trial detention centersin russia.
On April 19, 2022, a prisoner exchange took place, and Oleksandr Sytnyk returned to Ukraine. It turned out that he, along with other hostages and wounded Russian soldiers that required urgent medical attention, had been put in a vehicle and taken to russia. The hostages spent the whole trip blindfolded. There weren’t any stops along the way. All they knew was that they were being taken somewhere. Eventually, it became clear that their destination was the SIZO in Stary Oskol, Belgorod Oblast, Russia.
«The russians didn’t know what to do with us. It was obvious that we were captured only for numbers, so that they had someone to exchange. Then we were told that they “had the right to keep us only for three months,» says Oleksandr.
There were both civilians and servicemen in the cell. According to Oleksandr, all of them were captured without any reasons or explanations given. None were also given when they were released:
«They put us on a plane. There were 23 of us there. The route was Kursk-Voronezh-Taganrog-Sevastopol. In the end, there were 76 people there: 60 military and 16 civilians. All were men.»
During the occupation, Trostyanets was under the control of the 4th Guards Tank Kantemir Division (Naro-Fominsk). Under the procedural supervision of the Okhtyrka District Prosecutor’s Office, the Kantemir Division’s commanding officer has been notified in absentia of suspicion of violating the laws and customs of war.