A volunteer Ukrainian paramedic who was captured in the port city of Mariupol and held for three months told U.S. lawmakers on September 15 about the deplorable conditions of her captivity and how she comforted fellow Ukrainian detainees before they succumbed to torture and untreated wounds.
Yuliya “Taira” Paievska spoke to lawmakers with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, describing the “hell” of her Russian captivity.
Paievska described “prisoners in cells screaming for weeks, and then dying from the torture without any medical help.”
The paramedic said she cradled male, female, and child prisoners alike before they died after “abuse and additional beating.”
Senator Ben Cardin (Democrat-Maryland), co-chair of the Helsinki Commission, said the conditions she described for civilian and military detainees violated international law. He said the Geneva Conventions single out medics, both military and civilian, for protection “in all circumstance.”
Representative Joe Wilson (Republican-South Carolina), another member of the commission, called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal.
“It is critical that the world hear the stories of those who endured the worst under captivity,” Wilson said. “Evidence is essential to prosecution of war crimes.”
Paievska and her driver were taken into custody after being stopped in a routine document check in March in Mariupol, which at the time was under siege. They were held at various locations in territory occupied by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk region before getting free in June.
She has already received global attention for her bodycam footage of her team’s effort to save wounded people in Mariupol. Before she was captured she gave the data card that held the recordings to AP journalists, who smuggled it out.
Her testimony on September 15 before the commission was her most detailed public account of the deplorable conditions of her captivity, the plight of Ukrainians who continue to be detained, and her work since 2014 providing medical assistance to those wounded in the war.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said Paievska’s testimony to the commission is “a very powerful statement of the truth about the horrors of the Russian blockade of Mariupol and about the three-month stay in inhumane conditions in captivity of the occupiers.”
Her testimony is crucial to hold Russia accountable and draw attention to the need to increase joint efforts to release all Ukrainians illegally held by Russia, Markarova said on Facebook.
The U.S. Helsinki Commission is an independent commission of the U.S. government that monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords and works to advance security through the promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental, and military cooperation in the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.