July 29, 2022
KYIV — Russia has been waging full-scale war in Ukraine for five months. Media attention remains high, but reports from the frontlines are gradually becoming eclipsed by other stories that affect the daily lives of global audiences. For those of us in Ukraine, and for those closely following Russia’s ongoing war, the name “Mariupol” has been etched into our memories. Mariupol — technically, “the city of Mary” — has come to symbolize the resilience of Ukrainians. Yet these days, Mariupol and its valiant defenders seem to have been forgotten.
Before the Russians began their onslaught, Mariupol was home to over 400,000 inhabitants. For over three months, the city resisted an unprecedented onslaught of Russian artillery, infantry, rockets and aerial bombardment. It was eventually lost as a result of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s order to “preserve life” — to surrender.
One of the lives supposedly “preserved” was that of Artem Fedosiuk — a 2012 graduate of the prestigious Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, whose master’s studies in history were interrupted by the 2013-14 protests in Kyiv’s Maidan square, and then by Russia’s invasion of the Donbas and Crimea.
In 2014, Fedosiuk volunteered to fight the Russian invaders who were fostering separatism in the Donbas. Six months into the war, he found himself near the town of Ilovaysk, where Ukraine’s volunteer forces first engaged Russian regulars in battle. Over 400 of his comrades perished.
This year, Fedosiuk again faced Russian forces directly in Mariupol, as a sergeant in Ukraine’s Azov Regiment. In March, he was wounded. The shrapnel in his leg was never removed, but the wound healed itself.
After the order to cease fire, Fedosiuk was taken prisoner. For the past two months, he has been held captive in the Olenivka penal colony in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region. According to the Ukrainian parliamentary commissioner for human rights, the Olenivka correctional facility was recently reorganized by the Russians into a “filtration camp.” Its detainees are regularly tortured with electric shock and day-long interrogations.
Several of Fedosiuk’s badly wounded comrades were returned to Ukraine a month ago in a prisoner exchange. Yet despite being promised a swift release, Fedosiuk continues to be held by the Russians. Last week, Fedosiuk was allowed to speak briefly by phone with his wife, Yulia. This was only the second conversation they’ve had since he was taken prisoner in May.
The eastern city of Mariupol — “the place where Ukraine’s sun rises everyday” — was defended by Ukraine’s most valiant sons and daughters. During the spring, they diverted Russia’s forces
away from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy and other key centres, which helped change the course of the war.
At the start of the war’s sixth month, Russia continues to ravage Ukraine. Last week, rockets were fired on civilian targets in Vinnytsia, Mykolaiv and Dnipro. Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, has been bombed almost continuously for the past five months. The war grinds on, with new atrocities and crimes reported daily.
On July 29, the Olenivka correctional facility where Fedosiuk has been held was targeted by rockets. Although Russian sources claim the prison was destroyed by Ukrainian forces, credible sources report that there were prison riots by Ukrainian POWs reacting to torture, and that the Russians resolved the issue by destroying the facility. Russian officials claim that 53 Ukrainian POWs were killed in the rocket attack, and another 75 were wounded. It is unclear if Fedosiuk is among the casualties.
Amid the endless destruction, amid the stories of valour, resilience and bravery demonstrated daily by Ukrainians, we must not forget the courage and devotion of individual heroes. Ukraine, and its defenders like Fedosiuk, must not be forgotten by Canada and other western allies, so that this war can be ended and people like Fedosiuk, if he is still alive, can be returned home.
Mychailo Wynnyckyj is a Ukrainian-Canadian who teaches sociology at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kyiv.