Maksym Butkevych made his identify in Ukraine as a journalist and human rights activist, campaigning on behalf of refugees and internally displaced folks and serving on the board of Ukraine’s chapter of Amnesty Worldwide.
On the finish of June, he was captured by Russian forces whereas combating for Ukraine, and that hard-earned repute grew to become a probably harmful legal responsibility.
Russian propaganda started bragging about Mr. Butkevych’s detention nearly as quickly as he was taken hostage, in an ambush on his platoon through the battle for the japanese metropolis of Sievierodonetsk. His household and pals selected initially to remain quiet, hoping silence would hasten the method of bringing him residence.
However as pro-Kremlin media retailers have denounced Mr. Butkevych in wild phrases — as each a “British spy” (he as soon as labored for the BBC) and a “Ukrainian nationalist,” each “a fascist” and a “radical propagandist” — his colleagues and family members have come to worry for his life, and have determined to talk publicly about him to set the file straight.
The person they know, they are saying, is the other of the one portrayed on Russian tv.
“He by no means accepted both the extreme-right views or the intense left,” mentioned his mom, Yevheniia Butkevych. “He took form as an individual who is totally alien to excessive positions, which, as a rule, are aggressive.”
Higher Perceive the Russia-Ukraine Struggle
Actually, mentioned Ms. Butkevych, her son was a pacifist who had maintained after Russian proxies invaded japanese Ukraine in 2014 that one of the best use of his skills was as an activist. However that modified on Feb. 24, when Russian missiles went crashing into his hometown, Kyiv, and cities and cities throughout the nation.
The identical day, Mr. Butkevych, 45, reported to a navy recruitment heart.
“He mentioned, ‘I’ll go away my human rights work for some time, as a result of now it’s crucial, to begin with, to guard the nation, as a result of the whole lot I’ve labored on all these years and the whole lot that all of us labored for, the foundations of our lives and of our society at the moment are below risk,’” mentioned Ms. Butkevych of what her son, her solely youngster, had instructed her.
He was known as up on March 4 and have become a platoon commander round Kyiv, earlier than being despatched in mid-June to attempt to reinforce the military because it fought to maintain Sievierodonetsk.
On June 24, Ms. Butkevych mentioned, a volunteer known as to inform her that there was a video circulating on-line of her son in captivity. His platoon had misplaced reference to their commanders. When two males went on the lookout for water, she mentioned, they have been captured, after which they lured the remainder of the group right into a Russian entice.
“There has by no means been a worse interval in my life,” Ms. Butkevych, 70, mentioned.
Her son is one in every of an estimated 7,200 Ukrainian prisoners of warfare within the custody of Russia and its proxies in japanese Ukraine. It’s a quantity that dims the prospect of a swift change.
“The scenario may be very difficult, as a result of now we have fewer prisoners of warfare than Russia,” mentioned Tetiana Pechonchyk, a co-founder alongside Mr. Butkevych of the human rights nonprofit group Zmina. “Russia additionally captures civilians and holds them as hostages, and we have to change these folks, too. It’s a direct violation of human rights worldwide legislation.”
Mr. Butkevych’s public profile could assist him keep alive, however it might additionally make him susceptible to ill-treatment. In an interview with The New York Occasions, the outstanding Ukrainian medic Yulia Paievska detailed torture and relentless beatings throughout her three months in Russian custody. She was additionally dragged in entrance of tv cameras and used as a prop in an try to color Ukrainians as “Nazis,” one of many Kremlin’s justifications for the invasion.
She mentioned that as onerous as her therapy was, she feared that male prisoners confronted “far worse.”
Mr. Butkevych final spoke with The Occasions in Could, on the day that the Kyiv Opera reopened; he had come from his barracks to attend the primary efficiency.
“It’s a form of promise that we are going to prevail. Life will go on, not demise,” he mentioned. “It will be significant to not overlook that that is what we’re combating for.”
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.