Lankans stranded in Ukraine: What happened?

Lankans stranded in Ukraine: What happened?

Lankans stranded in Ukraine: What happened?

Written by Amani Nilar

19 Sep, 2022 | 6:53 pm

COLOMBO (News 1st) – On 17th September, the Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelenskyy in his briefing noted that seven Sri Lankan students were found in 'torture chambers' where civilians were abused by Russian soldiers in areas of the Kharkiv region in Ukraine. 

The Russian Invasion

On 24th of February, Russian forces initiated what they dubbed as a 'special operation', which was a month later, rebranded by Russia as an operation for the “liberation of Donbass” – broadly referring to Ukraine’s regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

More than a third of this area was already seized by Russian proxy forces in a war that began in 2014.

The liberation of Izium

Izium was subject to intense Russian artillery attacks in April. The city, which sits near the border between the Kharkiv and Donetsk, became an important hub for the invading military during five months of occupation. 

Ukrainian forces took back control of the city on Saturday (17), delivering a strategic blow to Russia's military assault in the east.

The recapture of the east Ukrainian city resulted in the discovery of a mass burial site, where Ukraine's Defense Ministry said at least 440 "unmarked" graves were found in the city in recent days.

The country's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that some of the bodies found in Izium showed "signs of torture," blaming Russia for what he called "cruelty and terrorism."

Sri Lankans found in Izium

Ukrainian President Voldomyr Zelenskyy said that seven Sri Lankan students have been rescued from 'torture chambers' where civilians were abused by Russian soldiers in areas of the Kharkiv region in Ukraine. 

Zelenskyy said those rescued included foreigners and made particular reference to the Sri Lankan students whom he said had been kept in a basement since March. 

The Sri Lankan students were studying biomedicine at Kupyansk Medical College when the area was captured by the Russian army in March.  

"Only now, after the liberation of the Kharkiv region, these people were rescued and are being provided proper medical care," Zelenskyy added. 

Sri Lankans in Ukraine; what happened?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, in February intiated an operation to repatriate all Sri Lankans in the region, and in statements, said that they continued to monitor the situation.

"The Ministry has strengthened the provision of resources to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Warsaw in order to ensure the effective facilitation of the evacuation process. The Ambassadors of Sri Lanka in Ankara and Warsaw continue to maintain close contact with the Sri Lankan nationals leaving Ukraine, in order to enable their safe passage and return to Sri Lanka." the Ministry said in a statement.

Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry stated that as the war broke against Ukraine, it had facilitated the return of over 90 Sri Lankans, including 16 students living in Ukraine, in the period February to June 2022, with the support of the Ukrainian authorities, and in coordination with the Sri Lanka Missions in Ankara and Warsaw.

The Ministry's response

After the news item was published, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it has sought further confirmation of information with regard to the seven Sri Lankan medical students who were discovered in the recaptured region of Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The Ministry also stated that it has requested to provide more information on it as a matter of priority, given the need to ensure the welfare of Sri Lankan nationals in Ukraine, and assures that it is in contact with Ukrainian Government through the Embassy in Ankara.

Ukrainian Police

The Ukrainian Police in a statement said that the rescued Lankans are being provided with medical assistance and provided with all conditions for proper living.

Serhiy Bolvinov, the Head of the investigative department of the police of the Kharkiv region said that the Sri Lankans arrived in the territory approximately three weeks before the full-scale invasion of Russia on the territory of Ukraine, 

The Sri Lankans have rented a house in Kupyansk, and when the war started, have hid in the house.

Subsequently, after some time they have decided to evacuate and went on foot to Kharkiv, at which at the very first checkpoint, which was already occupied by Russian troops, they were detained, their hands were tied and their eyes were blindfolded.

"After that, they were taken to an unknown destination. As it turned out, they were brought to the city of Vovchansk, where they were held until the end of the  occupation of this territory. These foreign citizens were held captive until September 10th," Bolvinov said.

Meanwhile, investigator Volodymyr Yakymenko stated that a pre-trial investigation is being conducted in accordance with the Criminal Code of Ukraine, and the Consulate was notified about the foreign nationals.

The torture

According to Bolvinov, the foreign nationals including the Lankans have claimed that the Russians tortured them and beat them constantly, and forced to clean up after them.

They have also demanded money, and two of the Sri Lankans have been tortured. 

"The occupiers used pliers to tear off the nails on one man's big toe. Another had his toenail torn off, pinned between the doors and was beaten on the head. This is evidenced by the scars on the head behind the ears," Bolvinov explained.

Russian response

The Embassy of Russia in Sri Lanka has not yet given a statement with regard to the events, while Moscow dismissed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s statement about Russia’s war crimes in the liberated territories in northeast Ukraine as a “lie” accusing Kyiv of using “the same scenario” in Kyiv’s suburb of Bucha.

“This is the same scenario as in Bucha,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday. “This is a lie. Of course, we will defend the truth in this whole story.”


(Image credit: Kharkiv Police)

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