KYIV – In between comments and pictures of his beloved tabby cat on Facebook, Eduard Nyedyelaev, 46, would publish critical posts about the Kremlin proxies who have occupied Luhansk since April 2014.
He often employed deeply ironic language reminiscent of the style that Soviet writers used to avoid censorship. But the subtext was always clear: he didn’t care much for the Moscow-controlled authorities who were running his native city in easternmost Luhansk Oblast.
“My age and health condition didn’t allow me to fight for the armed forces, but I didn’t want to run away while looking at how the enemy captures my land,” Mr. Nyedyelaev said of his reason for staying behind in Luhansk in an e-mailed message on January 5 to The Ukrainian Weekly.
He also ran a blog at smartelectronix.biz based on his passion for designing various electronic devices. Along with a less active Twitter feed, his posts stopped on November 21, 2016, the day that Kremlin proxies arrested him initially for writing unfavorable passages about the occupying authorities.
“I didn’t always hold back my emotions on Facebook and the blog,” Mr. Nyedyelaev wrote in Ukrainian from the state-run Feofaniya hospital for government officials, where he is recuperating following his release on December 27, 2017, after spending 13 months in captivity.
He would not elaborate on his ailments or respond to questions about whether he was tortured.
Eventually, the blogger was sentenced to 14 years in prison and had his property frozen because Moscow-led security officials discovered that he had been sending the Ukrainian army information about the movement and location of Russian-controlled forces in the city.
“After that I was charged with spying for the benefit of another country – Ukraine,” Mr. Nyedyelaev said.
He was incarcerated for the first six months in cell No. 5 of the basement of the former Security Service of Ukraine building that Kremlin proxies now call the Ministry of State Security. Mr. Nyedyelaev got fed and was allowed to use the bathroom twice a day. He was awakened at 6 a.m., with lights out at 10 p.m.
“They led us from the cell in handcuffs fastened behind our backs with sacks over our heads,” he said.
Once he was moved to the Luhansk pre-trial detention facility, he ate three times a day and was allowed to take walks on the rooftop. He had a window in the cell. He even had a television starting in August.
“It was almost like a resort,” Mr. Nyedyelaev said.
He said he never changed his views about the war since Russia invaded in April 2014.
“I believe the Donbas is an integral part of Ukraine and that’s how the majority of people think who live in the occupied territories. But unfortunately, they can’t do much about it,” Mr. Nyedyelaev said. “People have grown tired of the war.”
He said that he prefers “peace” and the war should stop, and that “people are suffering on both sides of the front line.”
Mr. Nyedyelaev said that freedom to him is a “positive shock.”
“I’m quietly adapting to it… I haven’t been to Kyiv in 15 years, when before I would visit once-twice a year for work,” he said. “The city has changed a lot since. Life here strongly contrasts with the existence that people lead in the occupied lands.”
Asked what it means for him to be Ukrainian, Mr. Nyedyelaev said it’s to “love your land and its people, to do something beneficial for those around you, and defend your homeland.”
He was part of a prisoner exchange on December 27, 2017, that saw 73 additional Ukrainians freed from Moscow control in the Donbas. In turn, Kyiv released 306 people, but only 237 prisoners decided to return to the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. It was the biggest exchange since the war started and the first in 15 months.
One hundred-sixty Ukrainians still are held against their will in Russia, the occupied Donbas or Crimea, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.
Asked what his plans are once he is released from the hospital on January 12, Mr. Nyedyelaev said: “I will look for a place to live and find gainful employment… I really miss working… I have many ideas that I would like to put into practice.”