Two wives and a girlfriend of Ukrainian soldiers captured by Russian forces or missing after defending the Azovstal factory during a long siege told CNN they had little to no information on the fate of their relatives.
“I haven’t been in contact with my husband or got any information about him lately,” said Anna Ivleva, wife of Anton, a seriously injured sailor in Azovstal. “The last time we spoke was April 13. And then his brothers in arms were texting me saying he was still alive.”
Ivleva said Ukrainian government officials had been in contact, but added there was “no information” about where the Azovstal fighters were being held and under what conditions. She hopes her husband is alive, even though he is in captivity.
“All of us, the families, the wives and the mothers of the Marines, we stick together, we are always in touch with each other 24/7,” she said. “We always exchange all available news, we are like a family.”
The beleaguered Ukrainian port city of Mariupol fell under full Russian control earlier this month with the surrender of Azovstal, the city’s last Ukrainian defense stronghold. It is not known how many Ukrainian soldiers are currently being held by Russia, but the Russian military has claimed that more than 2,000 Ukrainian servicemen have been there. Russian state propaganda has demonized the Azovstal defenders as “Nazis”, raising serious concerns about how they might be treated in captivity.
A woman named Yana helped organize events in Kyiv in support of Azovstal fighters. Her boyfriend is a Marine who was in Azovstal. She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security concerns.
I haven’t heard from him or anything about him,” she said. “The last time we were in touch was May 11.”
She said the Ukrainian government had not provided any information on her boyfriend’s whereabouts.
“My boyfriend’s mother has been contacted by the ICRC [the International Committee of the Red Cross]I don’t remember exactly when,” she said. “They just told him he was alive, that’s all.”
The ICRC has been helping register fighters leaving the Azovstal factory since May 17, in part to help prisoners of war stay in touch with their families. The organization has been working in Ukraine since 2014, when the war in Ukraine’s Donbass region started.
Another wife of an Azovstal defender, Tetiana, said her husband managed to call her from an unknown number after the surrender and said some of his comrades were being held in a town in the separatist-held Donetsk oblast. CNN agreed not to report his last name for the same reasons.
“His voice was calm and confident,” she said. “He said the conditions they were being held in were fine. He said it would be possible in the future that they would be allowed to receive parcels.”
Tetiana said she spoke with her husband for about 10 minutes and her husband said he would try to call back.
“That’s it, no more calls or news,” she said.