On May 16 two Russians were captured on Ukrainian held territory (see here for a summary). Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Evgeniy Erofeyev (or Yevgeny Yerofeyev). The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published interviews with them on May 22 (Novaya Gazeta, May 22). The following is a complete translation of these interviews. Interviewer was Pavel Kanygin.
Q. Is your name Aleksandr Aleksandrov?
A. Yes, Aleksandr Anatolyevych. Born 7th January 1987 in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. At present time registered in Kirovska oblast. My parents live there. I’m a citizen of Russian Federation. An actual military man (of the RF armed forces – P.K.). I was at any rate.
Q. You were?
A. Well, as far as I know, I didn’t get my discharge, I didn’t write any reports.
Q. So do you consider yourself as an actual serviceman of the Russian army?
A. I do.
Q. What do you think, what is your current status here? Are you a prisoner of war or any other status?
A. I wish I was a prisoner of war. I like this status more, let us say so, than the status of a mercenary or a bandit.
Q. You probably know already, that the Ukrainian side accuses you of terrorism, are you already informed?
A. I am…
Q. What would you say in this respect?
A. I don’t know how to answer this question.
Q. You can refuse to answer.
A. I’d better refuse, may I?
Q. You said there was a command [to send you there]. Whose command was it?
A. There was a command, and I carried it out as a military man. It’s a kind of mission.
Q. Tell me please, how did you get to the Shchastye settlement?
A. On the 16th of May I was doing the reconnaissance of locality with the group commander. We went through the positions of the armed forces of Ukraine. We looked at them. Positions were empty, there was no one. No people, no voices. We came closer, silence again. When we came even closer, my companions were behind me, I heard the shots… I was running about 15 metres. I was wounded, I crawled away as I could. I was detained by soldiers of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Q. Have you already met the Russian Embassy representatives?
Q. Do you want to leave a message for them?
A. Maybe, so that they’ll come to see me.
Q. Any message?
A. Is there a sense? I think they know that the citizens of the Russian are here.
Q. Have you heard the Russian Ministry of Defense reports that you are not a serviceman of the Russian Federation anymore since December 2014?
A. I hear it for the first time from you.
Q. Yesterday some mass media published a conversation with your wife, she claims that you left the service in Russian Federation army in December and went to Samara, and she didn’t know where you were.
A. I didn’t know that. Frankly speaking, you have just shocked me a little…
Q. Did you talk to her?
A. I couldn’t contact her. Phone calls don’t work…
Q. How do they treat you?
A. They treat me well.
Q. You are accused of terrorism.
A. I didn’t commit the acts of terrorism, I performed my task concerning the reconnaissance service only. I did no diversions.
Q. How would you comment your country’s government and its chairmen’s statements that there is no Russian army on the territory of Donbass?
A. As you can see, there is. It’s just not advantageous to admit it.
Q. Sasha, the Security Service of Ukraine representatives say that you tried to kill yourself with a grenade in order not to be detained.
A. No, I didn’t even think about it (captain Erofeyev tried to kill himself – P.K.).
Q. Being here, aren’t you afraid for your life?
A. Strangely enough, I’m not. Everyone says: awful or not, what if they torture you? But I’m calm.
Q. Tell me, did the SBU workers put pressure upon you during the interviews?
A. No. They speak all right, adequately. As if I’m a prisoner of war.
Q. Would you inform the society of something?
A. I would come back home. And I wish nobody was sent there [to the war].
Q. Tell me, is the service on the territories controlled by «DNR» and «LNR» payed in a special way for?
A. I don’t know. It’s like the same as on the territory of Russia. They only promised. But nothing more than promises.
Q. What did they promise?
A. Double wages. But there is nothing of it, there wasn’t.
Q. The SBU has spread the information today that you had a car on credit.
A. This question doesn’t concern my service.
Q. They say that it’s allegedly the reason why you had gone to fight in the war. You can refuse to answer, I’d just specify if this information is true or not.
A. It is not [true].
Q. What do you know about the Minsk agreement?
A. Well, it was mostly for a withdrawal of heavy armament, the establishment of armistice. What else…
Q. What do you think about the armistice? Was it observed where you were?
A. Mostly it was, of course.
Q. Could you tell how Russia helps the Donbass?
A. Well, humanitarian aid and escorts are sent, you probably saw it more than once.
Q. How would you call your missions on the territories of these two regions?
A. I don’t know. Official missions. I’m a small man, we were told, I came here. I carried out an order.
Q. Would you like to leave a message for your relatives?
A. For my wife. That I love her very much. And I hope that I’ll be back. I’m sorry […]
Evgeniy Erofeyev [Yevgeny Yerofeyev]
Q. Please tell something about yourself. Are you Evgeniy Erofeyev?
A. Yes, and you’re not the first one who is interested in my fate. I’m already a bit famous here in the media environment. So it happened. I’ve already said that I only want to get home. They bring against me the paragraph of «terrorism». But still they treat me in the hospital.
Q. I’ve already asked Aleksandr about his status here. How would you define your status at the moment?
A. Well, the news from Internet come to us, they allegedly reject us, that we’ve been discharged since the new year.
Q. Discharged by whom?
A. We left the army by ourselves. And came here by ourselves.
Q. But you didn’t leave?
A. I haven’t left yet. It’s just such a situation, informational vacuum, nobody comes to us from our so to say embassy, nobody meets us, nobody talks. I never saw any representative of our country, though I’m a citizen of Russia. I don’t know what’s going on now and what results there will be. But I hope everything will be good. I’ll come back to parents, to wife.
Q. Could you tell how did you find yourself near the Shchastye settlement?
A. Well, I carried out there the military mission of observing the confronting sides.It happened so that I probably lost my way. During the skirmish I got a wound on the battle field. The SBU forces helped us.
Q. You say you were observing?
A. Well, I was, there was no command at all, I didn’t carry out any special mission of destruction, of annexation of territory. I didn’t kill anybody, there wasn’t even an order to shoot. There was only an order to shoot back – for the self-protection.
Q. The SBU says that there was a skirmish between you and the soldiers of the Ukrainian armed forces.
A. Yes, there was, all of a sudden.
Q. Tell me, were Ukrainian military men notified that you were only observers watching the confronting sides?
A. No, we were doing it secretly. How can I explain? Not within the observing mission.
Q. Could you tell about this mission of yours in detail?
A. Well, we were investigating, keeping a look-out. Well, we noted who was the first to open fire, which side – that’s all.
Q. Did you have to shoot?
A. At that moment only when there was a collision, when I was already running away.
Q. In the «LNR» they call you a worker of the «people’s militia».
Q. So you are a Russian army observer and a worker of the «people’s militia» at the same time?
A. No. I had a status of the serviceman [of Russia], carried out an order, I killed no one. It happened so that the events started to develop that way.
Q. You probably know about the Minsk agreement?
A. I do.
Q. How does your activity correlates to this agreement?
A. I don’t know how to say it precisely. I didn’t carry out any operations. I reported [only] about the violations of the Minsk agreement by both sides. Well, it wasn’t within the observing corps of any… It’s just a sad situation that we are left and forgotten, they want to charge us off.
Q. How would you comment such situation?
A. It is incorrect.
Q. What about the Russian Ministry’s of Defense statement that you haven’t been registered in the ranks of army since the new year?
A. Frankly speaking, I was only told by word of mouth that there was such a statement… There are many prisoners of war from both sides indeed. And there is always an opportunity to exchange them. “LNR” has prisoners, Ukraine has prisoners. I wish very much to be exchanged.
Q. Do you consider yourself as a prisoner of war?
Q. A prisoner of war of the “LNR” or Russia?
A. Well, there is no state of war, of course. But if I were or, most probably, I am a serviceman [of the Russian Federation], I don’t know already how I should call it – and if I would be taken prisoner, there is a possibility of my exchange.
Q. The Ukrainian side announced the possibility of exchange for the pilot Savchenko. Do you know that?
A. I haven’t heard about it. In fact they wanted to make an exchange immediately, just after detention. But apparently, as I understood, they had no time to give me a help. So they brought me to the hospital.
Q. Tell me please, is that true that you are a contract serviceman of the GRU (main intelligence directorate of the Russian General Staff)?
A. Well, it’s a label indeed, a template – the GRU intelligence officer.
Q. What is the correct name of your service then?
A. Well, the officer of an intelligence unit at the most. There are many such units in the country. Including Ukraine.
Q. What would you leave to your relatives?
A. Patience, of course. You can imagine how they would react after getting to know that their son found him self in such situation. The main thing is that there must be no influence on their health. And I hope they will be given some help.
Q. To your mind, are there any Russian forces on the territory of Donbass?
A. That’s just the point that there aren’t. Two of us, observers, were caught, and they want to pass us off as the Russian army of invasion of Ukraine. But the forces mean much material, much infantry, some aviation, what else. There are no such units on the territory of the «LNR» and «DNR». There is enough of their own. They just want to play a political game with us. To show the aggression and the whole army of Russia on behalf of us.
Q. But your presence, what is it?
A. Do you imagine what army is? It’s more than one thousand men. It’s hundreds of thousands of material, it’s headquarters. All of that must work as a single mechanism. And all of that is absent. Two of us were caught and they want to pass us off as the whole army.
Q. You have probably heard about the Buryat tankists. What would you say as for this?
A. The Buryat tankists? (smiles – P.K.) Well, I heard that Russia transfers its last reserves from Sakhalin.
Q. Did they also just observe? From tanks?
A. I haven’t heard, I have no idea. There are many nationalities in Ukraine, everything is possible. But I didn’t see the Buryats.
Q. You, the group commander, were detained – how is it possible to call that?
A. It’s a failure. A failure of my intelligence mission. Is it right?
Q. I don’t know, I’m asking you.
A. It’s a failure.
Q. When you come back to Russia, what reaction do you expect from your command?
A. I don’t know. I don’t want even to surmise. I’d rather complete my cure at first. Then I’ll retire on a pension for health reasons. It’s one of the best variants for today.
Q. What would you say about this war?
A. Well, I had an opportunity to observe the conflict from both sides (someone comes into the ward, Yeroveyev asks him to wait – P.K.). Here the both sides did many bad things. The volunteer units and the militiamen – all of them violated justice.
Q. Whom is this war between?
A. It’s a civil war.
Q. Does Russia take part in it?
A. It is drawn into it… But I see that now the burnt material is being taken away, the repair works are being done [in the “LNR” and “DNR], the shops are being opened, people are getting jobs, if there are holes in the asphalt, they are patched up, buildings are reconstructed, it seems schools are working. Yes, there are food problems, but delivery is going on.
Q. Does Russia help?
A. With a humanitarian aid.
Q. Does it help with material?
A. Old men and women don’t need it there.
Q. What about “LNR” and “DNR” armies?
A. I hope everything will be over soon. There are many people tired of all of that. I think it’s time to stop fighting. A bad peace is better than a good war. That’s all.
Q. Did anyone visit you here in the hospital?
A. The situation is that everyone visited. The UN visited, the Red Cross came, the OSCE. Everybody asked if I was alive, in good health. If I got a treatment. Everyone came except the embassy [of Russia]. I understand that they rejected me as a military man, the hell with that. But I’m still a citizen of my country. And I’d like to see here any representative.
Q. Of the Russian embassy?
A. Of the Russian embassy, of anything. Of the council, of the embassy! Everyone was except them. To hell with them, they rejected me as a military man, but I’m a citizen so far. So far… (after a long pause – P.K.) Pavel! Could you go there and ask them to visit me?