We were detained together with my colleague Stefan Scholl of German Sudwest Presse at night, in the pizzeria, where we were having dinner after finishing reports on the referendum for our papers. Four men set down to our table and one of them said that they did not have questions about Stefan’s materials but they wanted explanations from me.
— We have read your materials. What does it mean: “Such ballots look as if they are printed with a printer”? — one of them asked.
— This phrase: “almost no young men” — is a lie, — another one said. — Everyone was voting!
— But I saw very few young people, — I said.
— It means you were looking in the wrong direction, — they explained to me. — Why did you do so?
— No, he also wrote right things there also — that this bitch mayor jilted us with premises and we settled everything by ourselves.
— This is correct. OK, bro, you just have to realize that all of you, this press is our weapon. What’re we without you? You just write muddily, bro, and you have to do it simply, so that everybody understands that banderas are pressing us here, and we are seriously normal people, not terrorists, all in all – we are standing for truth.
— It seems like you write as it is, but about young men – why is this information needed?
— Well, we just wanted to talk. And now come with us to the square.
It was noisy in the main square of Artemovsk. Some activist had found in Ukrainian lb.ua reprint of my news story about the missing mayor of Artemovsk, Ukrainian colleagues headlined in Separatists Kidnapped Mayor. “So he writes for benderas!”, “You think we’re separatists, bitch?”, “Spying stinker!”
People surrounded only me and did not touch my colleague Stefan Scholl. While I was not thrown into a car and taken away for interrogation yet — it would be a little bit later — Stefan was trying to talk these people into some “amicable settlement”. But they would not listen to him. And at some moment he was threatened: if he kept on interfering he would be shot right here.
Thought there were a few armed militants. Mainly common people came for “lynching”. But it was in vain to explain something to them — people did not want to listen.
They demanded from me, as from a spy, to confess that I worked for the Right Sector; somebody said that it was necessary to receive remorse from me to record it on video, and somebody said that I had to publish a disclaimer immediately.
Every minute my crimes were becoming more and more fantastic and intentions of the crowd were becoming more and more serious.
They would not allow me to explain myself. Maybe around fifty people were surrounding me. At last the people in the square started saying that I was working for SBU (Security Service of Ukraine), CIA, USA, and the man who had taken my press card told that I was an American who had mastered Russian and counterfeited the card of Novaya Gazeta. Somebody grabbed my backpack.
I covered my head with arms — blows rained from different sides, from where it was possible to reach me, so I ducked down to the ground. I was being hit by women and men. Someone said that this was “revenge for our sons who were dying for freedom near Slavyansk and Kramatorsk”; people were crying that they were not heard and “had not been heard for all these years”. Somebody hit me saying: “We’re not terrorists, you bitch!”
The crowd was calmed down by the voice of a cobby robust fellow of about 45. On each of his body side, as I sow it later, there was a short barreled Kalashnikov. He told them: “Everybody quiet!” And he jerked aside the one who kept on kicking me and threw him to the ground. For a couple of seconds he was on the ground close to me. I just saw how he suddenly fell in his old winter boots.
The robust guy was talking quietly and in a low voice.
— We are taking this schnook to Slavyansk, — he said. — We’ll sort it out there in the SBU basement.
At that moment – as well as now – in the SBU basement there were 14 captives including five Ukrainian journalists, and so it turned out that I was to become the first Russian one. For a month already the SBU building itself had been the headquarters of armed militia under control of the Shooter with his assistant Ponomarev, “People’s Mayor” and commandant of Slavyansk.
— The Shooter will sort it out, — the robust guy said.
Everybody in the crowd called the robust guy the Tower or Leonidych. Without any emotion, coolly, he twisted my arms and pushed into a black Chevrolet Epica, ordered to sit, not to stir and to fold my head to my knees. He sat next to me. For a second I lifted my head and asked him:
— What do you want?
He did not answer but just hit me in my jaw with his elbow — a piece of my tooth broke off.
— I told you not to stir, schnook.
A minute later another man took the driver seat and allowed me to raise my head. He introduced himself as Sergei Valeryevich. It was a man around 50, bespectacled, with thin brushed back hair, wearing a white shirt with a tie and a black jacket.
— Pavel, you should understand everything. Tell us why do you write like this? — he said. — You’re Russia after all.
— Rare schnook, — the robust guy said. — We have pulled him up right now.
— Pavel, we hoped only for the Russians, — the man on the driver seat spoke again.
— Valerich, that’s enough, let’s go to Slavyansk, — the robust guy said.
— Leonidych, don’t interrupt me. Pavel, I believe now you realize what and why is happening to you now.
— Let’s go, Valerich.
— I offer to go to Volodarka first, to stay there till morning, then, if he lives to see the morning, to Slavyansk, — Valerich told to the robust guy. — Let them decide there: it would be good to get our boys for him.
— Well, …*Obscene word for whack out him right now out in the wood.
It became quiet in the car for a second. But the car never stopped. Sergei Valeryevich said:
— Don’t say that, Leonidych. We are civilized people after all, aren’t we, Pavel? — Valerich said for some reason. — We won’t do it like this.
In Volodarka (a township between Slavyansk and Artemovsk) there was something like headquarters. Fires were burning in barrels. A big frame tent was lit with electric light. Around the tent there were several women and about twenty young men with submachine guns and handguns, some of them were masked. I was taken out of the car and led to the tent.
The Tower told me to undress. I specified how exactly.
— Take everything off. All stuff to the table, — the Tower repeated. — Take of your shoelaces and belt as well.
Other militants were already examining my bag and backpack. I was sat on a bench are surrounded with people. A masked militant demanded passwords to my phone and notebook. I refused. Then the Tower het my face with his elbow once again.
— You do not understand yet, do you? Password!
— Let him write it on a piece of paper, — somebody said.
— He won’t give it.
— What a bitch.
I rose from the ground. An unmasked militant took me by my wrist and said he was going to break my finger if I did not dictate the password. I dictated.
First, after opening the computer, as I understood, they started looking at pictures from the gallery.
— Where were you, abroad? Some towers, pictures, — a militant with a handgun said. — How much is gasoline there?
— One euro sixty in Italy.
— …Shoot! And what about people, do they shuffle?
— Why are you talking to him, this is a CIA louse.
— How much are you paid? For whom do you work?
— He works for Ukrainian media, he wrote, this stinker, that we were separatists, cheating with the referendum.
— He wrote that ballots were lousy, that we printed them with a printer.
— We are being killed here! Crushed with tanks! You think we can print normally here?! You’re Russian, aren’t you? You must be with us!
— And what pictures are these? You were on Maidan?
The militants tuned on the video I had recorded in the center of Kiev back in December. Everybody crowded in front of the screen.
— Guys, everything’s clear! He’s a spy!
— So tomorrow morning we’ll take him to Slavyansk, alive. And now tie him up and put into the trunk. No beating, — the Tower said. — I’m tired and going home.
— Maybe a little packing?
— I told everything. Further. All his stuff must be safe, don’t take anything.
Then I was interrogated for another hour. Somebody was ready my old articles. “Why on earth did you interview Poroshenko? You should have better interviewed Dobkin!” “Here it is about Crimea. Have you been to Crimea? How are people there, happy?” “He writes that everybody is celebrating, long live Russia!”
After the Tower left the interrogation became less severe. Militants’ phones were constantly ringing. They also were calling somebody informing that they “have caught good loot for exchange”. But after one call the people in the tent decided to move me urgently to another place. They even did not tie me up, there was not time for the trunk either — they just threw me to the car floor between the seats. The car was speeding along a bad road and stopped somewhere in the middle of the route. Here there were also fires in barrels, piled up tires, crowding people with submachine guns; a masked man with a traffic wand was standing on the roadside.
My computer and documents with a wallet were changing hands. And there was nobody of those who had interrogated me in the tent. The car in which they were moving me was also gone.
My new bosses new vey little about me and were not interested much. They knew just that “in the morning the client is to be delivered to SBU in Slavyansk”. They were not eager to do this at all. Somebody even offered to hide me here and to demand ransom — they were speaking about $30 thousand.
— Well, they will be waiting for him in Slavyansk, — some militant said.
— We’ll tell them we blotted him out at attempt to flee. He tried to escape.
— Then how will you get the cash, dude?
— Hey, buddies, what’s the buzz?
I told them I could get money in Moscow but I had at least to call my colleagues. I asked them for a phone. But after a discussion the fellows decided they should not give me a phone: “Dangerous guy, he may call a wrong place”. After a minute a new plan was ready: the kidnappers said they would take everything I had – stuff and cash – and would let me go. But after taking everything out of the wallet the kidnappers became very angry — there were thirty-nine rubles in cash. They did not pay attention to the cards.
— You have anything else? What’s the kettle? Is this ring platinum?
The watch seemed cheap to them – they were really not expensive. But they liked my wedding “platinum” ring. “You don’t wear normal gold ring, too choosy, are you?!” I decided not to tell them that the ring was made of silver.
Then the militants asked me if I had acquaintances and colleagues in Artemovsk who could “throw some dough”. “They were talking about some German. Let him prepare dough if he wants to live”.
Using the loud speaker of my phone we called Stefan. And he said he had €600 and 2 thousand hryvnas which could be taken from an ATM. Almost one thousand dollars. We settled to meet at 4 a.m. near the hotel.
— But this is not a ransom, this is your contribution into our war, — said a masked man addressed as the North by everyone.
— If everything goes all right in the morning you’ll go to Donetsk, — I was told by a masked militant called the Khan. — You will thank us for not giving you to Slavyansk.
|"You will thank us for not giving you to Slavyansk", they said. That's how it looks. Fortunately, Pavel wasn't taken there
I asked him what would have been in Slavyansk.
— Your FSB people and Chechens are there. They would not have talking to you. At best you will be sitting in the basement, and at worst – well, you understand.
The militants were glad that in Artemovsk they could get more cash and even relaxed a little. “With such speed we’ll soon get these thirty!” I was seated into another car and for several minutes I was left alone with my phone which they had forgotten to take from me after calling Stefan. I had time to send some SMS to colleagues.
There were three of us going to Stefan in Artemovsk. The militant called the Khan was driving keeping his handgun on the front seat. The North was keeping his Makarov gun ready and pulled on his mask. It was 4:30 already but Stefan did not come out. The North racked the slide and said we would go to the hotel for him and ordered me to move first. A guard was lying on a sofa in the hall and when seen me asked who I was. “Oh, yeah, I see”, — the guard said when he saw the armed North and returned back to the sofa.
We went to the suite but there was nobody there and we went back outside. The North was sure that Stefan had run away.
— The German has suckered you, — the militant said. — This is your end.
I supposed that Stefan was walking around all ATMs of the city trying to get the necessary amount: in restless cities near Slavyansk banks restricted cash withdrawal — maximum 200 hryvnas a day. But for the safe sake I offered to call somebody else of my colleagues and friends in Donetsk, but the North refused and said that if there was no money I would either stay here or go to Slavyansk.
— This German bitch, I knew it, — the North said. — All they want is to sucker Russian.
— He’s been living in Russia for sixteen years already, — I said.
— And still remains rotten. He got off.
Fifteen minutes later at a distance we saw Stefan hurrying to us. After running around Artemovsk at night the German managed to get the necessary amount and not to get into any trouble.
— Will you let him go now? —Stefan asked.
— He will go with me to Gorlovka and there we’ll transfer him to right people – and ahead to Donetsk.
— Will he be safe?
— The main thing for him is to behave himself.
And we got into the car again. On the road it got it wheels into two large potholes. When we were approaching Gorlovka the North said that I was to pay to them ten thousand more for each pothole. I said I had no more cash.
— Well, you have card there, let’s see what it is. Look, just two “Khabarovsk” banknotes for each, alloy wheels are more expensive.
The North looked into my wallet again: “…Shoot, so many cards you’ve got here! Damn, we’re fighting here, shedding blood, and you, …, in clover out there!” The North also found my receipts for staying in the Odessa hotel for 500 hryvnas/night. “Your freak. You lived three days for this dough, and here people live three weeks on it!”
Khan’s phone rang, for the first time during our drive. The Khan was telling that I was OK and they were just driving me to the hotel in Donetsk.
At the militant checkpoint in front of Gorlovka there was a small line of cars. Each one was searched by armed people with flashlights. But they did not search our car – the North showed them a pass and we entered the city.
The Khan offered mineral water to me. I refused and then The Khan did order that adding: “Drink it, you’ll live, it’s not poison”, — and laughed.
We stopped at an ATM to which I was followed by the North. But here there was the same problem with limited withdrawal. There was about one hundred thousand rubles of overdraft in the card but it was impossible to withdraw the whole amount.
— I wanted to leave some dough to you for return but now it’s somehow pity, — the North said.
I asked him if they were going to let me go as they had promised before.
— It would be better to pass you to our people here, — the North answered. — But you’re already somehow pale, are you a junkie?
— I’m tired.
— Now you’ll get your rest. Relax at last, you don’t have any more money.
The North laughed. And they first led me to the Khan’s car and the North stayed outside. Very soon another car arrived and the North said that further we would drive in it and helped me to get out.
— Well, he’s a real junkie, — the Khan was laughing. — He’s staggering.
I remember how I was seated in the car, the North lit a cigarette and I close my eyes and I was woken up by a girl who was saying that I had either to extend my staying or to check out. It is 11:45 a.m., hotel Liverpool, Donetsk. I am lying in bed in clothes. The administrator is telling me that I was brought be people in a car, I was not drunk but was like a sleepwalker and was walking on my own feet.
Shoes without shoelaces, jeans without a belt, SIM card on the table, ransacked bag on the floor.
P.S. Stefan Scholl after paying the ransom also left Donetsk Oblast and now is in Russia.
Novaya Gazeta thanks for assistance officials of Russia and Ukraine helping to free Pavel Kanygin, our colleagues showing solidarity and calm. Special thanks to Vladimir Lukin, Maxim Shevchenko, Nadezhda Kevorkova, Sergei Ponomarev (The New York Times), Ilya Azar (Ekho Moskvy), Svetlana Reiter, Peter Shelomovsky (Fontanka.ru) and of course to Stefan Scholl.