A woman whose public abuse by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine roused anger over her treatment and concern for her fate has been freed from detention and allowed to leave rebel-controlled territory.
The woman, Irina Dovgan, who is 53 and a grandmother, was accused by separatists of assisting the Ukrainian army by acting as an artillery spotter. Separatist soldiers had wrapped her in a Ukrainian flag and forced her to stand on a sidewalk holding a sign saying “She kills our children,” while passers-by slapped and kicked her and spit on her.
A photograph of her mistreatment published by the New York Times stirred widespread outrage in Ukraine, prompted a social media effort to identify Dovgan and drew the attention of UN human rights monitors. The mounting attention precipitated her release.
On Thursday last week, Mark Franchetti, a reporter for British newspaper the Sunday Times, and Dmitry Beliakov, a Russian freelance photographer, raised her case in a meeting with a senior rebel military commander, Aleksandr Khodakovsky, the leader of the Vostok Battalion, who ordered her release late on Thursday evening in Donetsk, the capital of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.
Khodakovsky said those responsible would be disciplined.
“It does not matter what she did,” Khodakovsky said in an interview. “She should not have been treated that way.”
“I was prepared to die,” Dovgan said as she arrived at a hotel lobby minutes after her release in a dazed state, still in the clothes and flip-flops she wore when she was arrested five days earlier, her face puffy with bruises.
On Khodakovsky’s orders, rebel soldiers allowed Dovgan to retrieve her dog and three cats from her house, which had been looted during her detention, and escorted her to the last separatist checkpoint outside Donetsk.
From there, Dovgan crossed to the Ukrainian lines and rejoined her family — her husband, Roman Taibov; her 16-year-old daughter, Tatyana; her 32-year-old son, Aleksei; and her one-year-old granddaughter, Sofia — in a town near the Ukrainian-controlled city of Mariupol, where they had fled earlier.
Dovgan denied that she was a spotter aiding Ukrainian artillery units and said that the separatists never had any evidence that she was. She said she had been forced to stand on the sidewalk while passers-by hit her because she refused to incriminate herself after a night-long beating.
“I just wanted to die,” she said of the ordeal. “I lost myself.