A 26-year-old Ukrainian woman, who was part of the first all-female prisoner exchange since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February, has described the torture they faced while being held captive for months.
Identified as Hanna O., the woman spent six months and four days in captivity before being one among the 108 women that walked free in the exchange, according to Business Insider India.
As she waited to return to her child, mother and sister, the woman said her husband “is held in captivity somewhere.”
“I don’t know where he is,” Hanna told Ukrinform.
Hanna said she and her fellow service members of Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol surrendered to Russian forces in May after the Azovstal steel plant was bombed.
The captors “treated us like animals,” she said in an interview with the outlet.
“I’ll tell you more: Even animals don’t behave like that. They beat the girls, they tortured the girls with electric current, beat them with hammers, that’s the easiest thing. They hung girls. I don’t talk about the food at all, because it was sour. Even the dogs are not given such food,” she continued.
“Those who had tattoos… they wanted to cut off our hands, cut off the tattoos, scalded us with boiling water just because you exist, because you are a marine, because you speak Ukrainian,” Hanna went on to say.
It was the “dream of returning home” that Hanna said kept her alive.
“We did not betray our oath, the women doctors did not betray theirs. This is what we lived on. Just the hope that we will return home,” she said.
The Ukrainian soldier also said she did not know they were on exchange lists.
“They [Russians] said that we would not be exchanged, that we would sit until the end of the ‘special operation,’ and then maybe we would be lucky and we would go home or maybe not,” Hanna told the outlet. “They said that, as a last resort, they would simply shoot us like dogs. They said that no one needed us here, they insulted us with vile words and that’s all.”
It was only when they arrived in temporarily occupied Crimea that they realized they might be returning home.
“There was a boy, I don’t know how old he is, and he said: ‘Girls, don’t worry, you’re going home,’ because we all started to cry. But we didn’t believe him. We realized it was true just when we heard our native language… ” Hanna recalled, as per the outlet.
“I dreamt so many times about being at home…” she added.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, previously said the prison swap was “extremely emotional and really special.”
“We freed 108 women from captivity. Mothers and daughters. Their relatives have been waiting for them to come back,” Yermak noted in a tweet.