Dozens of women rescued in Ukraine’s first female prisoner swap have spoken of horrific torture inflicted by Vladimir Putin’s forces after reuniting with their family members in Zaporizhzhia.
The women were beaten with hammers, electrocuted and doused with boiling water.
The torture of prisoners of war is considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention.
A woman named only Hanna, 26, a serviceman from the 36th Marine Brigade, was held captive for six months and four days.
A woman released from Russian captivity as part of a large-scale prisoner exchange, is hugged as she arrives on the Ukrainian side in Zaporizhzhia. The women spoke of horrific torture at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s forces
She was a defender at the Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol and said the forces there would have died if they had not surrendered.
“I can’t believe it now…I’ve dreamed so much of being home…” Hanna said.
The military woman has not heard from her relatives for more than six months. Hanna told Ukrinform how women were treated.
“They beat the girls, they tortured the girls with electric current, beat them with hammers, that’s the easiest thing,” she said. “They hanged the girls. I’m not talking about the food at all, because it was sour. Even dogs do not get this food.
Her husband is still being held captive and his whereabouts are unknown. She has a child in Ukrainian territory occupied by Russians whom she has not yet been able to contact.
“Those who had tattoos…they wanted to chop off our hands, cut off our tattoos, scald us with boiling water just because you exist, because you’re a sailor, because you speak Ukrainian,” she said.
About 96 of the exchanged prisoners are female soldiers, including 37 evacuated from Azovstal, while 12 are civilians.
Some of the women were forced to give interviews to Russian media while in captivity, threatening to beat them if they refused.
The women did not know that they were prepared for the exchange.
They were taken to Taganrog, a Russian town near the Ukrainian border, before crossing for the prisoner exchange.
Ukraine swapped more than 100 prisoners with Russia in what it called the first all-female swap since the war began. Pictured: Women march to loved ones in an all-female prisoner swap
The Russians had told them that they would not be exchanged and that they would instead be imprisoned until the end of the “special operation”, the name given by the Kremlin to the war in Ukraine.
In the end, they were “shooting us like dogs,” Hanna recalls the soldiers telling them.
The women only learned they were being rescued when they started hearing Ukrainian after being put on the bus.
Among those rescued was a military doctor from Azovstal, separated from his 4-year-old child by the Russians during the May 8 evacuation.
Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine, has withstood weeks of relentless Russian bombardment, with resistance concentrated in a dense network of underground tunnels at its Azovstal steelworks.
Alisa, her four-year-old daughter, lived in Poland with her grandparents before reuniting with her mother.
None of their belongings have been returned, and many women will have to start from scratch, but they cried with joy after being reunited with their loved ones.
The women will undergo a medical examination and rehabilitation.
The women didn’t realize they were being rescued until they started hearing Ukrainian after being loaded onto the bus.