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Prisoners of war

Vicious Circle: Where Russia Holds Defender of Kherson Andriy Horshkov

A year ago, on March 30, 2022, the Russian military kidnapped Andriy Horshkov, a resident of Kherson, from his own home. About ten Russians, in three cars, lurked awaiting Andriy near his apartment. In an attempt to escape, the man jumped out of the entrance window and broke his arm. He was seized and accused of preparing an assault on Natalia Poklonska, the former Prosecutor of the Crimea, who was visiting Kherson at that time.

For the whole year, Andriy’s mom, Maria Horshkova, has been trying to establish the place where her son is held and to bring about his exchange.  We meet Maria in the residential building from which Andriy was kidnapped. “This is the window from which he jumped when he was running away,” shows Maria when walking up the stairs. 

The Russians searched the apartment: they took away laptops and phones and turned everything upside down. Maria confesses that it is morally hard to stay in this apartment: “My thoughts go out to him.”

Maria Horshkova

“He went to the recruitment office right on February 24”

Andriy Horshkov is a former policeman. He served in a tactical and operational response unit. Then he resigned and tried to arrange his civil life: he tried himself at the seaman’s profession, had one voyage, and was getting ready for the next one. A month before Russia’s full-scale invasion, he offered his mom to go abroad. As Maria says, it was only later that she understood that Andriy had realized there was a high risk of invasion. He himself was also getting ready for that, clearly knowing that he would go to defend the city right away.

On February 24, when the Russians attacked, Andriy went to the recruitment office and entered the Territorial Defense Forces. He received firearms and took part in battles on Antonivskyi Bridge. And since March 1, when the territorial defense was disbanded, and the Russians entered Kherson, Andriy and his comrades-in-arms started operating in the conditions of occupation.

Antonivskyi Bridge in Kherson. Photo of Viktor Kovalchuk/MIHR

Late in March of 2022, the Russians openly hunted the territorial defense members in Kherson: they often arranged to meet them on behalf of other, already captured, Kherson defenders and activists. “He might have been also lured out in such a way,” assumes Maria Horshkova. “Why he decided to come to the apartment when the Russians were already detaining the military and policemen is unknown. He might have had an appointment.”  

When the full-scale war started, Andriy said to his mom: “When everything is O.K., I speak Ukrainian to you, but if I speak Russian, it means that things are bad.”  

“And when he was detained, — tells Maria Horshkova, — I was receiving voice messages in Telegram. The first message was: “Mom, I’m O.K., cannot respond right now, will call back when I can.”  But I knew he had been kidnapped, and we posted that information on Facebook. Almost immediately, one more message came, where he said in Russian: “Mom, please, delete the Facebook messages because everybody already wants me. I’m O.K., will call you back when I can.”   

Maria got to know about the guy’s injured arm soon after he had been detained when the Russians posted a video of Andriy’s interrogation. There the propagandists called the territorial defender “an organizer of a terrorist group nicknamed Batman.”  

“They held him in a basement for two months and then sent him to Olenivka”

From one of the liberated residents of Kherson, Maria found out that Andriy had been held in a basement in Kherson for two months. From that place, he would be taken out for the recording of the so-called “interviews.”  And then he was sent to Olenivka, a colony in Donetsk Region.

The Russians confirmed that fact only in the seventh month of the man’s captivity, but they do not say where specifically he was held.

In September, Maria received a letter from Andriy passed by the International Committee of the Red Cross. In the letter, the man wrote: “Mom, I am alive. I am glad to have a chance to write you a letter. I’m O.K., and I hope to see you soon. I love you very much. Kiss you.”  

“It’s all in Russian, of course,” says Maria in tears. “Where he is, in what state he is, nobody says.”

Andriy Horshkov’s letter to his mom

The official structures in the Russian Federation direct the lady to the Red Cross. The latter, in its turn, responds that Russia does not give them any information.

“Such a vicious circle,” says Maria. “And the Ukrainian authorities just tell me to inform them if I find out anything.”  

“Not a single document”

The most disappointing thing, Maria Horshkova says, is that she still cannot prove Andriy’s participation in the territorial defense of Kherson.  

“I do not have a single document on that. In the recruitment office, they explained to me that the documents were to be issued in the military unit.  And there, all the lists have been allegedly destroyed. And it takes time to restore everything,” Maria says.

Instead, she has secured the status of Ukraine’s defender for her son through court. For that purpose, she hired a lawyer. In accordance with the procedure, three witnesses had to be found who were fulfilling the missions of Kherson defense. Maria, jointly with the lawyer, succeeded in finding such people, and they testified.

As of last October, the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War reported more than six thousand applications for such status.

“Our demands and the demands of family and friends should be primarily addressed to the Russian Federation, which forcibly holds our people. And there should be full assistance and support to the Ukrainian state in the issues of return,” declared Hanna Maliar, Deputy Minister of Defense.  

Currently, Maria Horshkova only knows that her son is on the list of prisoners of war. The lady hopes for the exchange and goes on struggling to receive at least the news on his state and on the place where he is held. 


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