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The son of one of the Ukrainian marines who famously told a Russian warship “Go f*** yourself” on the opening day of the war has pleaded for the world not to forget his father and comrades who are still being held as prisoners of war.
The strategically important Snake Island was targeted as the invasion began, with the heavily outnumbered Ukrainian troops coming face-to-face with the Russian flagship Moskva.
Sailors contacted the island to warn: “This is a Russian military warship. You better surrender, put down your weapons.
“Give up. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”
The defenders replied: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.” Contact with the island was then lost.
The episode became symbolic of Ukrainian defiance, with stamps and posters produced commemorating the bravery.
Ukrainian military authorities assumed that the defenders were dead but it emerged shortly after that they had been captured.
To date, 41 have been returned in prisoner exchanges but almost the same number remain in Russian hands. The Kremlin attempted to use them in a propaganda coup, claiming they were being well treated.
But Yuriy Kuzminskiy, 21, who was held for nine months, told a different story on his return.
While at the Belgorod pretrial detention centre in Russia, he and his fellow troops were kept undressed in temperatures of -20C, forced to eat crumbs from the floor and drink water instead of being given soup.
“We were given nine minutes for lunch. During this time boys had to distribute food for 110 prisoners, and clean tables so there were no crumbs left,” he said.
Disobedience was met with beatings and the captives were forced to sing patriotic Russian songs.
Yuriy was beaten with stun guns while being told Ukraine had lost the war.
Released soldiers had lost up to 40kg in weight and fears are growing for those who remain behind bars.
Lungu’s father Okeksandr is one of those still being held.
The more the prisoners disappear from the public eye, the more at risk they are of not returning home.
In a letter to me, Artem, 21, wrote: “More than a year has already passed and my dad is still in captivity. He is being tortured there.”
Artem said that he is worried that people have forgotten about his dad and the other defiant heroes of Snake Island.
He has joined forces with other relatives of the captives to try to keep their profile raised, under the Twitter hashtag #FreeZmiinyi- Defenders.
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