Maksym Butkevych made his identify in Ukraine as a journalist and human rights activist, campaigning on behalf of refugees and internally displaced folks and serving on the board of Ukraine’s chapter of Amnesty International.
At the top of June, he was captured by Russian forces whereas preventing for Ukraine, and that hard-earned status grew to become a doubtlessly harmful legal responsibility.
Russian propaganda started bragging about Mr. Butkevych’s detention virtually as quickly as he was taken hostage, in an ambush on his platoon throughout the battle for the jap metropolis of Sievierodonetsk. His household and buddies selected initially to remain quiet, hoping silence would hasten the method of bringing him residence.
But as pro-Kremlin media retailers have denounced Mr. Butkevych in wild phrases — as each a “British spy” (he as soon as labored for the BBC) and a “Ukrainian nationalist,” each “a fascist” and a “radical propagandist” — his colleagues and family members have come to concern for his life, and have determined to talk publicly about him to set the report straight.
The man they know, they are saying, is the alternative of the one portrayed on Russian tv.
“He never accepted either the extreme-right views or the extreme left,” stated his mom, Yevheniia Butkevych. “He took shape as a person who is absolutely alien to extreme positions, which, as a rule, are aggressive.”
In reality, stated Ms. Butkevych, her son was a pacifist who had maintained after Russian proxies invaded jap Ukraine in 2014 that one of the best use of his skills was as an activist. But that modified on Feb. 24, when Russian missiles went crashing into his hometown, Kyiv, and cities and cities throughout the nation.
The identical day, Mr. Butkevych, 45, reported to a navy recruitment heart.
“He said, ‘I will leave my human rights work for a while, because now it is necessary, first of all, to protect the country, because everything I have worked on all these years and everything that we all worked for, the rules of our lives and of our society are now under threat,’” stated Ms. Butkevych of what her son, her solely little one, had advised her.
He was known as up on March 4 and have become a platoon commander round Kyiv, earlier than being despatched in mid-June to attempt to reinforce the military because it fought to maintain Sievierodonetsk.
On June 24, Ms. Butkevych stated, a volunteer known as to inform her that there was a video circulating on-line of her son in captivity. His platoon had misplaced reference to their commanders. When two males went searching for water, she stated, they have been captured, after which they lured the remainder of the group right into a Russian lure.
“There has never been a worse period in my life,” Ms. Butkevych, 70, stated.
Her son is one in every of an estimated 7,200 Ukrainian prisoners of struggle within the custody of Russia and its proxies in jap Ukraine. It is a quantity that dims the prospect of a swift trade.
“The situation is very complicated, because we have fewer prisoners of war than Russia,” stated Tetiana Pechonchyk, a co-founder alongside Mr. Butkevych of the human rights nonprofit group Zmina. “Russia also captures civilians and holds them as hostages, and we need to exchange those people, too. It’s a direct violation of human rights international law.”
Mr. Butkevych’s public profile might assist him keep alive, however it could additionally make him susceptible to ill-treatment. In an interview with The New York Times, the outstanding Ukrainian medic Yulia Paievska detailed torture and relentless beatings throughout her three months in Russian custody. She was additionally dragged in entrance of tv cameras and used as a prop in an try to color Ukrainians as “Nazis,” one of many Kremlin’s justifications for the invasion.
She stated that as exhausting as her remedy was, she feared that male prisoners confronted “far worse.”
Mr. Butkevych final spoke with The Times in May, on the day that the Kyiv Opera reopened; he had come from his barracks to attend the primary efficiency.
“It is a kind of promise that we will prevail. Life will go on, not death,” he stated. “It is important not to forget that this is what we are fighting for.”
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.