As he sat tied up and hooded within the darkness of a lorry pushed by his Russian captors, John Harding sensed his life was about to finish. The previous engineer had been in transit for 20 hours – one among 5 British hostages taped collectively behind an outdated truck.
All of the sudden somebody realised they will need to have crossed Ukraine’s jap border into Russia. It was then Mr Harding’s pulse quickened and he feared the worst.
Have been they being taken from the warfare zone to be executed with their corpses buried within the soil of ‘Mom Russia’ by no means to be uncovered? he requested himself.
The 59-year-old, from Sunderland, even pictured in his thoughts’s eye the stump he can be tied to and the sound of the executioner’s rifle clicking. It will be a tragic finish to his 4 months detained on the orders of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, he thought, throughout which era he had been tortured and crushed whereas interrogated.
His sadistic captors had used cattle prods to jab prisoners and tailored an outdated cellphone right into a torture gadget. The prisoners of warfare can be ordered to dial a quantity and when the dial turned they might obtain an electrical shock – ‘fairly creative’, says Mr Harding. Throughout his captivity in Russian-occupied Donetsk, he shared a cramped jail cell, measuring 13ft by 6ft, with different inmates who have been locked up for 23 hours a day.
Inevitably his well being suffered, his legs ‘wasted away’ as his weight plummeted to only eight stone. He additionally suffered neurological injury to his backbone and fingers. Worst of all, he had seen a fellow British hostage die in captivity.
The Russians had failed to fulfill the each day treatment necessities of diabetic assist employee Paul Urey, 45, from Warrington, Cheshire, who died in July whereas Mr Harding was out in an train space. He got here again to search out the physique.
Dwelling ultimately: John Harding together with his sister Denise yesterday. Whereas imprisoned, his legs ‘wasted away’ as his weight plummeted to only eight stone. He additionally suffered neurological injury to his backbone and fingers. Worst of all, he had seen a fellow British hostage die in captivity
Throughout his captivity in Russian-occupied Donetsk, he shared a cramped jail cell, measuring 13ft by 6ft, with different inmates who have been locked up for 23 hours a day
Mr Harding had been serving as a fight medic within the Ukrainian armed forces when he was captured by the Russians. He was going through the dying penalty and his guards made him document a video to say goodbye to his daughter as a result of he was attributable to be executed by firing squad.
When the truck from Ukraine to Russia lastly pulled up. Mr Harding and his buddies, Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and Shaun Pinner have been bundled out as guards barked directions. When the goons eliminated his hood, dazed Mr Harding realised he had been pushed to an airstrip. There was extra shouting and the captives have been marched in the direction of a aircraft.
Describing his ordeal for the primary time to the Day by day Mail yesterday, he mentioned: ‘We’d been on the ground of the truck and all that point it crossed my thoughts [it was our final journey]. And when somebody realised we have been in Russia we have been like “Oh, f***!” We weren’t certain if that journey was going to finish with us tied to a put up. We obtained to the airstrip and we have been instructed to get on the aircraft.
‘We nonetheless didn’t know the place we have been going. The window blinds have been down as weren’t allowed to open them. However we got meals. We took off and we have been flying for a very long time.
‘Then somebody instructed me we have been over Egypt. Lastly, I lifted the blinds at 30,000ft and thought for the primary time “We’re not going to die”.’ His ordeal and people of the 4 different British PoWs was over.
Their launch had been negotiated as a part of a prisoner change between Russia and Ukraine, with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman performing as an middleman.
Mr Harding was additionally instructed that former Chelsea soccer membership proprietor Roman Abramovich was concerned within the negotiations, however this has not been confirmed.
On the frontline: Mr Harding is pictured serving in war-torn Ukraine earlier than his seize. The 59-year-old was ready for a tragic finish to his 4 months detained on the orders of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin
Kremlin ally in prisoner swap
Viktor Medvedchuk, pictured shortly after his arrest, was reportedly launched in change for the ten prisoners of warfare which included 5 Brits
Russian nationalists reacted with fury yesterday after Ukraine secured the discharge of greater than 200 prisoners of warfare.
The shock deal noticed commanders and troopers from the elite Azov regiment freed with simply 55 Russian detainees handed to Moscow, together with staunch Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk, pictured. However Kremlin hardliners mentioned Russia ought to have sought extra concessions.
Former Russian colonel Igor Girkin branded the pact ‘treason’. He mentioned the prisoner change ‘was worse than against the law and worse than a mistake. It’s unacceptable stupidity’.
‘We have now freed 215 of our folks… of whom 124 are officers. Of these we’ve freed, 108 are Azov fighters,’ mentioned Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of employees.
Moscow additionally launched ten foreigners, together with 5 British nationals.
Final evening, Ukraine’s army intelligence unit mentioned a lot of these freed confirmed indicators of torture.
As a part of the Gulf state’s position within the prisoner change, Mr Harding and his buddies have been flown to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday night. He mentioned: ‘I used to be flown to Riyadh, given a medical check-up and we have been met by British consular representatives. They offered us with emergency passports and put us on a British Airways flight to Heathrow.
‘All us English lads have been collectively – me, Aiden, Dylan, Andrew and Shaun. They gave us actual meals for the primary time in months. We had beef and rice, rooster, spring rolls. My eyes have been greater than my abdomen.’ Their in-flight meals have been a world away from the meals served within the prisons in Donetsk the place he had been held following Mr Harding’s seize in Mariupol, the port metropolis besieged by Russian forces earlier this 12 months.
After weeks of bombardment, Ukraine army models, which included many overseas fighters, have been working out of ammunition. Inevitably they have been pressured to place down their weapons.
Mr Harding mentioned: ‘We surrendered on the Azov steelworks as a result of we couldn’t sustain the battle. We had injured folks too and we have been fearful how we’d get them by way of enemy strains.
‘The Ukrainians negotiated a give up deal which the Russians instantly reneged on. We have been instructed we might be handled as PoWs below the Geneva Conference however inside 48 hours we have been within the custody of the MGB – Donetsk’s model of the KGB.
‘There have been beatings, electrocutions and extra beatings. One man was stabbed within the leg they usually stitched him up after that. I believe they tortured us for enjoyable.
‘It might go on for an hour to a number of hours.
‘Our captors would take us to the “prosecutor’s workplace” the place we had our interviews. In the course of the transport was after we’d often get a little bit of a beating. Generally they’d stroll you into door posts then you definately’d hit your head. You have been all the time blindfolded.’
Mr Harding now faces probably months of physiotherapy and counselling. He spent his first few hours in Britain together with his aged mom Lilian, sister Denise and different shut kin. He’s but to talk to his daughter.
His style for journey had beforehand taken him to the previous Soviet state of Georgia.
In 2015 he travelled to northern Syria when he joined a Kurdish unit to battle Islamic State. On his return, he was questioned by UK counter-terror police, however launched with out cost. He mentioned he went to Ukraine to function a fight medic, hoping to make a distinction. He careworn: ‘I name myself a freedom fighter, not a mercenary. My private view is it doesn’t actually matter why folks got here right here so long as the outcomes are legitimate. What isn’t welcome is when folks come right here to kill folks. Whereas which may be a part of the job, it can’t be the motivating issue.
‘Some individuals are politically-motivated, some folks have the will to battle a warfare. Some individuals are ex-military however by no means deployed anyplace in order that they really feel they’ve one thing to show.’
He added: ‘I’m not going to deceive you, being in battle is a scary factor. However folks benefit from the achievement of doing it. And the camaraderie is one thing that’s plain.’
Again house with their households, Britons launched in Ukraine deal
5 British hostages who confronted the specter of a Russian firing squad in Ukraine made an emotional return to Britain yesterday.
After months of imprisonment, torture and worry of execution, the lads have been lastly reunited with their family members.
Final evening, beers have been raised and steak and purple wine was on the menu for no less than one of many captives as they tasted freedom once more.
Aiden Aslin is pictured returning house in arrives house in Balderton, Newark, after months of imprisonment, torture and worry of execution
Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and John Harding appeared exhausted however elated as they arrived within the UK.
They’d spent the earlier two days in transit, first being pushed sure and blindfolded from jap Ukraine to an unknown vacation spot in Russia.
They have been then flown to Saudi Arabia the place they acquired medical consideration and have been met by British consular officers earlier than a British Airways flight introduced them house, the place their delighted kin have been ready.
Mr Aslin arrived at his mom’s home in Newark, Nottinghamshire, round 2pm. The previous care employee had spent 5 months behind bars, throughout which era he was stabbed by jail guards and endured mock executions.
He instructed reporters: ‘I’ve been by way of a traumatic expertise and I simply wish to get into my home. I additionally wish to thank everybody who helped safe our launch, particularly president [Volodymyr] Zelensky and the Saudis.’
Mr Aslin was accompanied by his Ukrainian fiancée Diana and his brother Nathan.
His mom Angela Wooden mentioned: ‘We’re so relieved to have Aiden house. I’ve not slept all evening. Aiden wants time to recuperate. We have now all had a extremely lengthy day.’
Mr Aslin’s grandmother Pamela Corridor added: ‘I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours. That is wonderful information. We’re so pleased.’
Posts on social media by Mr Aslin’s buddies yesterday recommended he had been stabbed and crushed whereas in captivity. His face had appeared swollen and bruised in video recordings of his interrogation by Russian forces.
The hostages additionally suffered psychological torture. They have been instructed, ‘say goodbye to your households, you’re going to be killed’.
Earlier than his seize, Mr Aslin steadily posted on Instagram from the frontline, utilizing the profile ‘cossackgundi’. The account was run by a buddy and remained energetic whereas he was imprisoned in Donetsk, jap Ukraine.
Final evening a put up on the account learn: ‘I had my first cellphone name with Aiden in about 5 months this afternoon.
‘He sounds wonderful, and is filled with vitality. What he went by way of was worse than what I assumed. He lived as much as his favorite Winston Churchill quote, “should you’re going by way of hell, maintain going”. It’s a new day and an excellent one. Aiden is free! Our boys are free! Ukraine and her folks will all the time be free! Thanks everybody to your assist, from Aiden and me.’
Mr Aslin’s shut buddy, and comrade in a Ukrainian marine unit, Shaun Pinner, returned to his mom’s home in Luton, Bedfordshire, yesterday.
His jubilant step-father Lyndon Value mentioned: ‘He has simply obtained house. We picked him up from the airport this morning. All of the households have been there and, as you may, think about it was very emotional.
Pinner is pictured together with his military gear. Pinner and the opposite Brits: Aslin, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and John Harding appeared exhausted however elated as they arrived within the UK
Shaun Pinner, one among 5 Britons launched from captivity by Russian-backed forces, is proven middle-right together with his household, at his mom’s home in Luton, Bedfordshire
‘Shaun has been by way of quite a bit. We’re very, very pleased he’s house. It’s incredible information. We’re all collectively, Shaun’s son, my spouse and Shaun’s sister.
‘I’ve simply given him a shave. I took all his beard off for him. He’s properly and appears fantastic. He’s so happy to be house.
‘What Shaun has gone by way of isn’t for the faint-hearted. He’s drained, he’s had a few beers. He’s going to have steak and purple wine tonight and he’s trying ahead to that.’
In accordance with their households, the hostages have been unaware of the negotiations supposed to safe their launch. As a part of the identical deal, a whole lot of captured Ukrainian and a handful of Russian troops have been let out.
Saudi Arabia acted as an middleman between the governments of every nation.
Remarkably, Mr Pinner is just not ruling out a return to Ukraine.
Mr Value added: ‘At some stage, I believe he’ll wish to return. He loves Ukraine. He may wish to get entangled in humanitarian work. His spouse remains to be there too, we hope to get her over right here.’
Mr Pinner, a former soldier within the Royal Anglian Regiment, enlisted within the Ukrainian armed forces in 2018. He was despatched to the frontline within the jap area, generally known as the Donbas, and was captured by Russian forces within the southern port metropolis of Mariupol in April this 12 months.