Seven Lankans Survive Awful Ordeal in Ukraine

Sofia Bettiza, in BBC News Item, 19 September 2022, with the title “Sri Lankans freed from Russian brutality in Ukraine” .… the highighting here being impositions by the Editor, Thuppahi

Ukraine’s recapture of the city of Izyum has brought multiple allegations of atrocities under Russian occupation. Among the accounts emerging is that of a group of Sri Lankans held captive for months. Here, they tell their story.

The liberated Sri Lankans with Ukrainian police in Kharkiv

“We thought we would never get out alive,” says Dilujan Paththinajakan. Dilujan was one of seven Sri Lankans captured by Russian forces in May. The group had just set out on a huge walk to safety from their homes in Kupiansk, north-eastern Ukraine, to the relative safety of Kharkiv, some 120km (75 miles) away.

But at the first checkpoint they came across, they were captured by Russian soldiers. The Sri Lankans were blindfolded, their hands tied, and taken to a machine tool factory in the town of Vovchansk, near the Russian border.

It was the start of a four-month nightmare which would see them kept prisoner, used as forced labour, and even tortured.

The group had come to Ukraine to find work, or study. Now, they were prisoners, surviving on very little food, only allowed to use the toilet once a day for two minutes. On the occasions they were allowed to shower, that too was restricted to just two minutes.

The men – mainly in their 20s – were all kept in one room. The only woman in the group, 50-year-old Mary Edit Uthajkumar, was kept separately.

Mary Edit Uthajkumar
Mary Edit Uthajkumar, 50, said months of solitary confinement had taken a toll

“They locked us in a room,” she said “They used to beat us when we went to take a shower. They didn’t even allow me to meet the others. We were stuck inside for three months.” Mary, her face already scarred by a car bomb in Sri Lanka, has a heart condition, but didn’t receive any medicine for it. But it was the impact of the solitude which really took its toll.

“Being alone, I was so tense,” she says. “They said I was having mental health issues and gave me tablets. But I didn’t take them.”

Others have been left with even more visible reminders of what they had endured: one of the men removed his shoes to show his toenails had been torn off with pliers. A second man reportedly also suffered that torture.

The group also spoke of being beaten for no apparent reason – of Russian soldiers who would get drunk and then attack them.

“They hit me across the body many times with their guns,” said 35-year-old Thinesh Gogenthiran. “One of them punched me in the stomach and I was in pain for two days. He then asked me for money.”

“We were very angry and so sad – we cried every day,” Dilukshan Robertclive, 25, explained. “The only thing that kept us going was prayer – and family memories.”

Russia has denied targeting civilians or committing war crimes, but the Sri Lankans allegations come alongside many other reports of atrocities committed by Russian occupying forces.

Ukraine has been exhuming bodies from a burial site in forest near Izyum, some of which show signs of torture. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said “more than 10 torture chambers have already been found in the liberated areas of Kharkiv region, in various cities and towns”.

Freedom for the seven Sri Lankans finally came when the Ukrainian military began retaking areas in eastern Ukraine earlier this month – including Vovchansk. Once again, the group was able to begin their walk towards Kharkiv. Alone, and without their phones, they had no way to contact their families.

But finally, their luck changed: someone spotted them along the way and called the police. One officer offered them their phone.

The moment Ainkaranathan Ganesamoorthi, 40, saw his wife and daughter on the screen he broke down in tears. Other calls followed, more tears flowed. Eventually, the group huddled around the surprised police chief, engulfing him in a hug.

The group have been taken to Kharkiv, where they are getting medical attention and new clothes, while sleeping in a rehabilitation centre with a pool and gym. “Now I feel very, very happy,” says Dilukshan, with a broad smile.

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3 responses to “Seven Lankans Survive Awful Ordeal in Ukraine

  1. darini

    Hi, there may be a Disinformation campaign against Russia! The GoSL has asked for verification of the story from the Ukrainians..
    This story is like the “Lawfare” operation earlier this year when an Aeroflot Airlines flight was held back in Colombo at BIA to damage relations between Lanka and Russia. This was to prevent Sri Lanka de- dollarizing, and buying oil and gas at reduced prices from Moscow
    Disinformation campaigns against Russia and China are evident in the global and local corporate media as Colonialism and Cold War 2.0 escalates in the Global South.. with the Washington Consensus, WB, IMF, and Colonial Club of Paris using debt Colonialism to erode Sri Lanka’s Economic and trade policy autonomy and Sovereignty.

  2. Fair Dinkum

    I am highly sceptical about the claims made in this essay which has all the hallmarks of Ukranian disinformation.

    Ukranian claims of mass graves in a forest near Izyum, like the Bucha mass grave claim, is disinformation. It is more likely that those buried in the forest outside Izyum are Ukranian soldiers who died in battle which the Ukranian army couldnt or wouldn’t bury themselves. Footage of the graves released by the Ukranians reveals some of those buried there (based on dates on wooden tomestones) as having died in or before March 2022, prior to the Russians taking control of the city.

    For every claim of Russian atrocities, we can find ten claims of Ukranian atrocities, but the West don’t report those. This is the most intense propaganda war we have ever seen.

    The Russian military are a professional army and, on the whole, have avoided targetting civilians in this conflict, unlike the Ukrainians who regularly shell civilian infrastructure in the Dinbass.

    I can see no reason why Russia would bother to detain Sri Lankan citizens, unless they had a good reason to do so, for instance, if the Russians suspected or had evidence the Sri Lankans were assisting the Ukranians in the war against Russia.

    There are two sides to every story.

    The claims made in the essay are not believable.

    With Izyum now under Ukranian control, credible stories are emerging of Ukranian forces taking reprisals against those who cooperated with the Russians, or received assistance from them.

  3. Fair Dinkum

    As an addendum to Darini’s comment about the extraordinary case of Sri Lanka arresting the Russian Aeroflot plane, preventing it from departing Sri Lanka which inconvenienced some 200 passengers, Sri Lanka’s Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardane turned up in Russia recently to apologise to Russia saying the detaining of the Russian plane was “a terrible mistake” and promising the Russian authorities “it will never happen again”.

    Gunawardane said:
    “Unfortunately, there was a mistake with the Russian Aeroflot plane – it was arrested by court order. It was a terrible mistake. And the Sri Lankan authorities apologize for what happened. The president, the prime minister and the entire government of Sri Lanka guarantee you that something like this will never happen again. We do not want to arrest any aircraft in Sri Lanka.”

    The details of the case are bizarre after the High Court in SL dismissed the claims of an Irish leasing company which led to the plane being arrested. The case demands an urgent in-depth investigation to establish whether the arresting of the plane was politically motivated.

    Sri Lanka needs tourists to recover from the economic crisis and I can understand why Gunawardane visited Russia to apologise and to announce that flights between Russia and Sri Lanka are expected to resume in mid October. But Sri Lankans shouldn’t have high expectations that tourism will return to pre 2019 levels given the tremendous upheavals and uncertainties all over the world which will carry on for years.

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