One year without Iryna The father of one of the thousands of Ukrainian civilians in Russian captivity refuses to lose hope
More than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians are currently in Russian captivity, according to Ukraine’s Security Service. These prisoners aren’t allowed to communicate with their loved ones or their lawyers, and most of them haven’t even been charged with any crimes. Iryna Gorobtsova was abducted by Russian forces from the home where she grew up in Kherson. She’s now spent a year in a Crimean prison, with virtually no contact with the outside world. Journalists from the independent outlet iStories spoke to her father. In English, Meduza is publishing an excerpt of his account.
Since the start of its full-scale invasion, Russia has been abducting civilians from Ukraine’s occupied territories en masse. As of the end of April, Ukraine had secured the return of 2,238 people from Russian captivity, but only 140 of them were civilians; according to the Ukrainian Security Service, about 2,000 Ukrainian civilians are being held captive. Most of them have not even been charged with a crime.
One of those civilians is Iryna Gorobtsova, a Kherson resident who was taken from her parents’ home in May 2022. Iryna’s family and friends are certain she was targeted because of her pro-Ukrainian views; she attended multiple rallies against Russia’s invasion and wrote openly about her position on social media. After her abduction, Iryna was taken to Crimea, where she was imprisoned. To this day, she hasn’t been charged with any crimes, but she’s restricted from calling or meeting with her loved ones, receiving packages, and even meeting her lawyer. It’s been more than six months since Iryna’s parents last heard anything about their daughter’s fate.
‘Just a few days later, she would have been gone’
Vladimir Gorobtsov, Iryna Gorobtsova’s father
We marked one year since Iryna was taken on March 13 — her birthday. Not taken, but kidnapped, to be precise. She was getting a third degree here, in psychology, and she was finishing up her exams. There were just a few more days before she would have left. She planned to go to Bulgaria. But she ultimately wasn’t able to do that or even finish her exams.
In late June, we went to Simferopol, hoping we’d be able to talk to someone, some investigators or the FSB, so we could figure out what had happened. We wanted to give her a message. But nobody would respond to us. Just one officer on duty told us that no case had been opened against her and that an investigation was ongoing. He sent us home and promised we’d get an answer in writing. We did actually get a response, but it was a form letter that said she would be held until the end of the special military operation.
In September, we got letters from Iryna. These two letters were the brightest, most joyful part of our year. She said that she spent the first three months in an isolation cell and that she’d been working out and reading a lot of books. She was terribly worried about us. She asked us not to worry about her.
‘We’ll stay here until she returns’
One of Iryna’s cellmates was released in November and called us. She told us that Iryna was having a very tough time coping and processing what was happening to her. And that she was distracting herself with books. The cellmate said that they were first put in SIZO (Detention Center) No. 1 and then moved to SIZO No. 2. It’s cleaner there and conditions are better, and they were given a warmer cell since they’re women. But the rules there are stricter. She said that they’re given everything they need. They’re given a change of underwear and warm clothes. But it’s not home, of course, nor is it freedom. That was the last time we heard how she was doing, in November, and it’s now been six months since we’ve learned anything.
The woman who was in the cell with her said that Iryna knows that Kherson’s been liberated. She was so looking forward to the city’s liberation, and so were we. But we were around to see it, whereas she… We’re doing fine, thank God. We’re worried for her, because she’s incarcerated, while we’re free. And now all of our hope has gone into awaiting her return. We need to survive long enough to see her come back. That’s our only task.
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Right now, we hear blasts every night and every day. The shellfire is constant. Both the city and the rest of the region get hit. We try not to go too far from home. But even still, we’ve gotten caught in shellfire twice already. Once was in January, when we were going to the hospital, and a shell hit a gas station just 50 meters (about 160 feet) from us with a huge boom. Luckily we weren’t injured and we got out of there fast. And there was one case when we planned to go to the market but we changed our minds, and there was a strike there that very day. People died.
We’re not going to leave, because we have a lot of responsibilities here. We have an apartment, a house, and cars here, and we need to feed the animals; we can’t leave them behind. Our older daughter left for Poland. She offered to take us with her, but we’re going to stay here until our daughter returns.