"I was detained January 21, 2015, captured by Ukrainian soldiers from 128 mountain-infantry brigade... Sentenced to 15 years in prison... I was a mechanic-driver of the T-62 tank as a Russian volunteer... I believe that I fulfilled my patriotic international duty... " This is a letter from a Russian national Ruslan Hajiyev, and there are several dozens of similar appeals. The addressee remains the same: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Some tell stories of their military path in Ukraine before they were captured, some complain about their health, and some, like the Russian spec-ops soldier Viktor Ageyev, complains about nothing. This is the same guy whose mother, an English teacher, asked the president of Ukraine to free her son.
All these letters to the head of the Russian state have one thing in common – soldiers plead to exchange them for Ukrainian political prisoners.
Russian officials believe that when sending Russians to the war in Ukraine, they offer them a "safari" trip, where Russians face no threats
However, there has been some kind of metamorphosis with the appeals to the Russian president: these letters were received in Russia's permanent representative to the tripartite contact group, Boris Gryzlov, and they were also brought to the office of Tatyana Moskalkova, the Russian human rights. However, there has been no reaction to them at all.
Or, let's put it this way. The names of Russian prisoners of war have been spun for months on the Russian ombudsperson's website in the section "Monitoring of Human Rights Violations in Ukraine." This leads us to conclude that Russian officials believe that when sending Russians to the war in Ukraine, they offer them a "safari" trip, where Russians face no threats.
But in real life, everything is different.
For example, Hajiyev was the only survivor of three tank crews who took part in an offensive on Ukrainian positions. It was a battle of Debaltseve. All other Russian crew of the three tanks were killed, while the Ukrainian side also suffered casualties in that clash. But this man survived, and this obviously upsets Moscow. Had he died, he would have simply been buried in an unmarked grave along with other unnamed soldiers, and everyone in the Kremlin would better off. They could have kept on singing the same old song titled "We're Not There." And now it turns out that he is there, and wants to go home, a real "patriot" he is.
His Motherland does not notice him and gets offended when its representatives are asked why they gave up on Russian citizens held in Ukrainian prisons. For example, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned me that I should choose my phrasing more carefully because her briefing is "not a rally."
I understand that for those Russian officials who are used to living in a paradigm of "where is Putin there is victory" it is difficult to admit that the phrase "Russians do not abandon their people" is nothing but fiction. They abandon, forget, ignore and don't notice them – that's what happens in real life.
The Kremlin's attitude to the issue of exchange is really absurd: the main public figure from the Russian side, ombudswoman Moskalkova, says bluntly that she has no authority to negotiate such exchanges
The Kremlin also says it knows nothing about the fact that Russian citizens asked their president to return them home. They even treat such appeals with understanding, but for some reason they put the blame for the unwillingness to agree... on the Ukrainian side.
The Kremlin's attitude to the issue of exchange is really absurd: the main public figure from the Russian side, ombudswoman Moskalkova, says bluntly that she has no authority to negotiate such exchanges. And she even claimed that of the fact that the presidents of Ukraine and Russia had agreed to allow visits of prisoners by ombudspersons of the two countries she learned from mass media. In fact, no one gave her any instructions. See, it turns out that the ombudsperson acts solely on the orders of the authorities!
The Kremlin bargains Ukrainian political prisoners. Presidents of other states and heads of large and influential international organizations appeal for the release of Ukrainian nationals held in Russian prisons…
But who cares about the fate of Russians? It looks like no one does. "Motherland will leave you behind, son. It always will."
Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow