Maksym Butkevych made his title in Ukraine as a journalist and human rights activist, campaigning on behalf of refugees and internally displaced individuals 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 fame 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 in the course of 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 dwelling.
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 alternative 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 completely alien to excessive positions, which, as a rule, are aggressive.”
In reality, mentioned Ms. Butkevych, her son was a pacifist who had maintained after Russian proxies invaded japanese Ukraine in 2014 that the perfect use of his abilities 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 army recruitment heart.
“He mentioned, ‘I’ll go away my human rights work for some time, as a result of now it’s vital, to start 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 beneath menace,’” mentioned Ms. Butkevych of what her son, her solely youngster, had advised her.
He was referred to 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 referred to 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 in search of water, she mentioned, they had been captured, after which they lured the remainder of the group right into a Russian lure.
“There has by no means been a worse interval in my life,” Ms. Butkevych, 70, mentioned.
Her son is considered one 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 could be very sophisticated, as a result of we’ve got 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 individuals, too. It’s a direct violation of human rights worldwide regulation.”
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 distinguished 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 laborious as her remedy was, she feared that male prisoners confronted “far worse.”
Mr. Butkevych final spoke with The Occasions in Might, 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’ll prevail. Life will go on, not loss of life,” he mentioned. “It will be important to not overlook that that is what we’re combating for.”
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.