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engineer had been in transit for 20 hours – certainly one of 5 British hostages taped collectively at the back of an outdated truck.
All of the sudden somebody realised they will need to have crossed Ukraine’s japanese border into Russia. It was then Mr Harding’s pulse quickened and he feared the worst.
Have been they being taken from the conflict 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 could 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 overwhelmed 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His sadistic captors had used cattle prods to jab prisoners and tailored an outdated cellphone right into a torture gadget.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 conflict can be ordered to dial a quantity and when the dial turned they’d obtain an electrical shock – ‘fairly ingenious’, 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 harm to his backbone and arms. Worst of all, he had seen a fellow British hostage die in captivity.
The Russians had failed to fulfill the day by 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.
House ultimately: John Harding along with his sister Denise yesterday. Whereas imprisoned, his legs ‘wasted away’ as his weight plummeted to only eight stone. He additionally suffered neurological harm to his backbone and arms. 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 demise penalty and his guards made him file a video to say goodbye to his daughter as a result of he was because of be executed by firing squad.
When the truck from Ukraine to Russia lastly pulled up. Mr Harding and his pals, 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 stated: ‘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 positive if that journey was going to finish with us tied to a publish. We bought 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 alternate between Russia and Ukraine, with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman appearing 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 alternate for the ten prisoners of conflict which included 5 Brits
Russian nationalists reacted with fury yesterday after Ukraine secured the discharge of greater than 200 prisoners of conflict.
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 stated Russia ought to have sought extra concessions.
Former Russian colonel Igor Girkin branded the pact ‘treason’. He stated the prisoner alternate ‘was worse than a criminal offense and worse than a mistake. It’s unacceptable stupidity’.
‘We’ve got freed 215 of our folks… of whom 124 are officers. Of these we’ve freed, 108 are Azov fighters,’ stated Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of workers.
Moscow additionally launched ten foreigners, together with 5 British nationals.
Final night time, Ukraine’s navy intelligence unit stated lots of these freed confirmed indicators of torture.
As a part of the Gulf state’s position within the prisoner alternate, Mr Harding and his pals have been flown to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday night. He stated: ‘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 navy models, which included many international fighters, have been operating out of ammunition. Inevitably they have been pressured to place down their weapons.
Mr Harding stated: ‘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 nervous how we’d get them via 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 beneath 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 and so they 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 once 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 at all times blindfolded.’
Mr Harding now faces probably months of physiotherapy and counselling. He spent his first few hours in Britain along with his aged mom Lilian, sister Denise and different shut kinfolk. 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 stated he went to Ukraine to function a fight medic, hoping to make a distinction. He confused: ‘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 that could be a part of the job, it can’t be the motivating issue.
‘Some individuals are politically-motivated, some folks have the need to battle a conflict. 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 mislead 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 dwelling 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 night time, beers have been raised and steak and pink wine was on the menu for at the very least one of many captives as they tasted freedom once more.
Aiden Aslin is pictured returning dwelling in arrives dwelling 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 certain and blindfolded from japanese 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 dwelling, the place their delighted kinfolk 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 via 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 stated: ‘We’re so relieved to have Aiden dwelling. I’ve not slept all night time. Aiden wants time to get better. We’ve got all had a extremely lengthy day.’
Mr Aslin’s grandmother Pamela Corridor added: ‘I haven’t slept for twenty-four hours. That is superb information. We’re so completely happy.’
Posts on social media by Mr Aslin’s pals yesterday recommended he had been stabbed and overwhelmed 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 regularly 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, japanese Ukraine.
Final night time a publish on the account learn: ‘I had my first cellphone name with Aiden in about 5 months this afternoon.
‘He sounds superb, and is stuffed with vitality. What he went via was worse than what I believed. He lived as much as his favorite Winston Churchill quote, “for those who’re going via hell, hold going”. It’s a new day and an excellent one. Aiden is free! Our boys are free! Ukraine and her folks will at all times be free! Thanks everybody in your help, 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 Worth stated: ‘He has simply bought dwelling. We picked him up from the airport this morning. All of the households have been there and, as you’ll be able to, think about it was very emotional.
Pinner is pictured along 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, certainly one of 5 Britons launched from captivity by Russian-backed forces, is proven middle-right along with his household, at his mom’s home in Luton, Bedfordshire
‘Shaun has been via quite a bit. We’re very, very completely happy he’s dwelling. It’s unbelievable 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 high-quality. He’s so happy to be dwelling.
‘What Shaun has gone via isn’t for the faint-hearted. He’s drained, he’s had a few beers. He’s going to have steak and pink wine tonight and he’s trying ahead to that.’
In keeping with their households, the hostages have been unaware of the negotiations supposed to safe their launch. As a part of the identical deal, tons of of captured Ukrainian and a handful of Russian troops have been let loose.
Saudi Arabia acted as an middleman between the governments of every nation.
Remarkably, Mr Pinner isn’t ruling out a return to Ukraine.
Mr Worth 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 continues 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 japanese area, often called the Donbas, and was captured by Russian forces within the southern port metropolis of Mariupol in April this 12 months.