The families of Ukrainian soldiers who were eventually deported to Russia. For months they have been waiting for a signal from their loved ones. The International Red Cross wants to visit the Ukrainians, but does not get permission from Russia. Daria Tsikonova is also seeking to contact her fiancé, Ilya Samoylenko. “The pressure on Moscow should be increased as much as possible. The Red Cross should be able to visit our men,” she says in a conversation with NU.nl.
On May 20, Tsikonova (22 years old) called her fiancé for the last time. Samoilenko was one of the defenders of Azovstal, a steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. In this complex, elite units of the Ukrainian army fought for 82 days against a superior Russian force.
Samoilenko (28 years old) became an icon: a man with a big beard, an artificial eye and a hook instead of a hand on his right arm. He had previously suffered these injuries during the Eight Years’ War with the Russians in eastern Ukraine. Samuelenko, in fluent English, spoke to the world press about the situation in Azovstal, from a room thirty meters underground.
On May 20, the last Ukrainians left in the factory complex surrendered to the Russians. They were taken to a prison in the village of Olenivka in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine. It is unclear how Samuelenko and the other prisoners of war are doing now. Tsynokova is very worried. “It was really terrible at Azovstal.”
“And now two months in a prison where the food is poor and the medical care is substandard,” she continues. I heard from men who had returned through a prisoner exchange that conditions in Olinevka were poor. “These guys looked bad when they came back.”
Daria Tsykanova, second from left, at the premiere of a documentary about Ukraine earlier this summer.
53 prisoners were killed in an attack
None of the released soldiers with whom Tiskonova spoke had seen her friend in Olinevka. Her fears increased after the explosion in the prison complex on July 28. It was reported that 53 prisoners of war were killed and 75 wounded.
According to the Russians, the Ukrainians fired a missile that fell on the complex. But international experts have called this claim implausible. Earlier there was a Russian operation to erase the traces of war crimes.
The United Nations wants to conduct a fact-finding investigation, but the Russian authorities have not yet allowed this. So Tsykunova relies on the unofficial lists of dead and wounded circulating on social media. Samoilenko is not into it yet.
Love blossomed during music festival
Tsykunova met six-year-old Samoilenko in the summer of 2021 during a music festival he attended with mutual friends.
Samoilenko was already out of the army at that time. He became a 21-year-old soldier to serve in the east of the country in the fight against the Russians and Ukrainian separatists who had already taken over parts of the country. He was seriously injured and returned to his men with an artificial eye and an artificial arm. At the time of acquaintance with Tsykunov, he was in the process of returning to civil society.
“We immediately liked each other,” says Tsykunova, who is an IT specialist herself. “In the months that followed, we got to know each other better and better. On February 11 this year, it officially continued between us.” Eight days later, Samoilenko returned to Mariupol for the last time to address the new recruits about his experiences in the war. The plan was to return to Kyiv on February 25. The day before, Vladimir Putin started the war. Samoilenko decided to stay, again joined the army, and was one of the last survivors of the Azovstal.
Thus, the love of a young man was nipped in the bud. “It was exactly eight days before the outside world,” Tsikonova says with a sad face.
She joined the “Association of Relatives of Azovstal Defenders”. It concerns a core group of twenty women surrounded by a network of family members. Tsikonova and three others went to Paris in June to draw attention to the fate of their men. They are organizing demonstrations, defying and now trying to draw attention to the fate of the men through an international media campaign.
“Western governments must put pressure on Russia. Under the Geneva Conventions, Moscow must ensure that prisoners of war are appropriately dressed and fed and can maintain contact with their families. These rules are being violated.”
Samoilenko’s birthday was on July 10. “I wish we were together on this summer’s day,” Tsikonova wrote in a Facebook post. “I’m proud of you, your choice, of your position, I respect your strength and your intelligence. We’ll meet soon, I feel like it. I’ll wait as long as it takes.”
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