Budik is a citizen of Georgia, fifty-two years old. He and his Ukrainian wife have two children. Budik owns an internet business in the city of Horlivka, which since April has been controlled by Bezler’s militia.
Held with other captives in a government office building, Budik has been sleeping in a proper bed, allowed access to television and the internet. He has given interviews to the Ukrainian press and television programs via Skype. Heck, he even called me via Skype a couple of times once we established contact.
Bezler’s militiamen seized Budik May 2 as he was at a shop in the city, buying bread. Bezler has been holding Budik, plus a Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) colonel and an army captain, among seventeen “show hostages,” according to Kateryna Serhatskova, a journalist who has written extensively about the war in Horlivka. Bezler, one of the Russian-backed insurgency’s main leaders, hoped to trade his captives for a Russian woman named Olga Kulygina, whom Ukrainian authorities arrested as she entered Ukraine with more than $20,000 in cash that they concluded was Russian state funding for the war in Ukraine.
Budik has become not only Bezler’s captive, but his intermediary and even at times his spokesman. He described how, in recent days, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry called him to pass on a request to Bezler for a cease-fire to let both sides to collect the bodies of those killed and rescue the wounded. “Bezler is an officer,” said Budik. “He told me ‘I don’t fight with the dead,’ and we arranged for a three-day cease-fire.”
In conversations over the past week, Budik described Bezler as “a man of his word.” He says this with a certain tone of respect.
Still, Budik has had reason to fear his captor. In early June, Bezler subjected Budik and another prisoner, a Ukrainian officer, to a mock execution that he videotaped and posted to the internet. In the video, Bezler addresses the camera, accusing the Ukrainian authorities of not keeping their word regarding a prisoner exchange. He threatens to shoot two prisoners every few hours unless the Ukrainian authorities release Kulygina. He then orders his gunmen to open fire, and the condemned men fall to the floor.
During the incident, “We stood for 40 minutes with our hands tied behind our backs facing the wall expecting to be shot at any moment” said Budik. He and his companion did not cry or panic, and Budik says this calm seems to have instilled in Bezler some respect toward them. But video cameras had already been invited and an execution of some sort had to follow, he said. Budik and his companion were told that the first volley fired would be with blank rounds, followed by a second volley, with live ammunition, forty seconds later. Budik and the Ukrainian officer were told, “If you fall to the ground within those 40 seconds, your lives will be spared.” They played their roles as instructed, bruising themselves in feigning their own deaths by collapsing with their arms tied behind them.
Budik acknowledges the inconsistency of his captivity and his praise, almost as a press secretary, for what he describes as Bezler’s honor. “Yes, it does seem like that at first glance, but I am a detained person and sometimes I am helping both sides to behave” he said in an interview.
Yesterday, Budik called to say that Bezler had fled Horlivka, leaving the hostages under the control of a junior officer. Before leaving, he had planned a prisoner exchange for today. Given the fighting in the city, it is unclear whether it will take place. Unfortunately for Budik, if it does, he will not be one of the hostages slated to be freed.
Irena Chalupa covers Ukraine and Eastern Europe for the Atlantic Council.
Lieutenant Colonel Igor Bezler Leaves as Ukrainian Troops Advance, His Hostage Says
As Ukraine’s army advances against the Russian proxy forces in southeast Ukraine, it has forced one of the rebels’ most prominent and brutal commanders, former Russian army Lieutenant Colonel Igor Bezler, out of his headquarters. Ukrainian troops and Bezler’s rebels fought battles at Horlivka yesterday, and Bezler left the city, turning his command over to one of his lieutenants, said Vasyl Budik, a local businessman who has spent the past three months as Bezler’s hostage – and, at times, his spokesman.
As Ukrainian Army Weakens Kremlin’s Proxy Forces, Putin Steps Up War to Avoid Defeat
The war in Ukraine has heated up significantly in the ten days since the Russian-led and supplied insurgents shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Ukrainian forces retook the city of Lysychansk from the rebels late last week and have established control over most of their border with Russia. They are advancing on the city of Horlivka, a stronghold of the rebels and a gateway to Donetsk, the principal city of the Donbas region.
The Ukrainians’ steady advance, and the prospect that they might seal the border and cut insurgent supply lines, have led the government of President Vladimir Putin to again escalate its intervention in Ukraine. In addition to keeping up a steady flow of armored vehicles, missile systems and fighters to its agents in southeastern Ukraine, the Kremlin has sent heavy artillery. Russian forces along the Ukrainian border are directly attacking the Ukrainian military with artillery fire. In some locations, Ukrainian forces are under fire by the separatists to their west and the Russians to their east.
John E. Herbst is director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. He served as the US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006.
With Early Elections, Will Political Infighting Revive?
Yesterday’s announced resignation of Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is a potential step toward strengthening Ukraine’s government – but also a political risk that deepens the uncertainties facing Ukraine at least for the coming months.
The potential to strengthen the government is this: Ukraine needs a new parliament, and the breakup of the existing coalition is the only way to get it.
Khodakovsky Blames Ukraine for Provoking What He Says Indeed May Have Been a Rebel Shootdown of MH-17
A senior commander of Russian-backed proxy forces fighting in southeast Ukraine confirmed today that the separatist militias indeed have been armed with the model of medium-range anti-aircraft missile that the US and Ukrainian governments say was used last week to destroy Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, based in Donetsk province, told Reuters news agency that another militia group had moved a battery of the SA-11 (or “Buk”) missiles into the area where the airliner was shot down. He gave a lengthy account of the attack suggesting that the rebels had indeed fired one of the missiles to destroy the plane, and then removed the launcher to avoid having it discovered.
Russian Soldiers and Paramilitaries Post Stories and Pictures of Their War on Ukraine
Perhaps he was bragging, perhaps he thought he was doing his job and being patriotic. Whatever the reason, Russian army soldier Vadim Grigoriev recently piled on further evidence of Russia’s escalating – and increasingly direct – attacks on Ukraine. Using Russia’s version of Facebook, the website VKontakte, Grigoriev not only boasted that his artillery unit had been shelling Ukraine, he posted pictures to document it, under the heading “All night we pounded Ukraine.”
President, Prime Minister and Civil Society Groups Push for Transparency; Parliament and Bureaucracy Will Be ObstaclesThe past week’s news from Russia’s mad proxy war in southeast Ukraine has been brutally shocking: the shooting down of Flight MH17, the remains of passengers left in wheat fields and train cars as investigators negotiated with separatist thugs, and the continued warfare.
This painful news has obscured better developments elsewhere in the country, as Ukraine’s pro-democracy forces and the still-new government fight back with one of the strongest weapons they can use: reforms to combat corruption and strengthen Ukraine’s vibrant but still very incomplete democracy. In his seventh week in office, President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree July 23 creating a National Reform Council to coordinate work across the government, and with civil society, on administrative and economic changes.
International Diplomacy on the Russia-Ukraine War Has Been Dominated by MoscowAs the international community works both to calm the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in southeast Ukraine and to assure a credible investigation of the Malaysian Airlines disaster there, the main body in that effort is the Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe. But the OSCE is limited in its roles because it relies on the consensus of its fifty-seven members, and thus needs Russia’s permission for the missions it takes on. Those limits are so severe that that a broader diplomatic engagement, and perhaps the creation of a new forum to support Ukraine, is required, several analysts write in the past week.
Alternate Reality Presented to the Russian Public by its Media
Four days after the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, Russia’s state-dominated news media are bending fact and credulity in an effort to blame Ukraine for the disaster. Within hours of the crash, Russia’s second largest news agency, RIA Novosti, announced that the Boeing 777 was shot down by the Ukrainian military. Citing the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic press service as their source, RIA reported that “eyewitnesses reported that the Malaysian jet was attacked by a Ukrainian fighter plane, after which the plane broke in midair into two sections and crashed on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic. After the attack the Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down and crashed. ”