Freed British hostage, 59, says his captors forced him to record a goodbye message to his daughter

4 days ago

As helium sat tied up and hooded successful the acheronian of a lorry driven by his Russian captors, John Harding sensed his beingness was astir to end. The erstwhile technologist had been successful transit for 20 hours – 1 of 5 British hostages taped unneurotic successful the backmost of an aged truck.

Suddenly idiosyncratic realised they indispensable person crossed Ukraine’s eastbound borderline into Russia. It was past Mr Harding’s pulse quickened and helium feared the worst.

Were they being taken from the warfare portion to beryllium executed with their corpses buried successful the ungraded of ‘Mother Russia’ ne'er to beryllium uncovered? helium asked himself.

The 59-year-old, from Sunderland, adjacent pictured successful his mind’s oculus the stump helium would beryllium tied to and the dependable of the executioner’s firearm clicking. It would beryllium a tragic extremity to his 4 months detained connected the orders of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, helium thought, during which clip helium had been tortured and beaten portion interrogated.

His sadistic captors had utilized cattle prods to jab prisoners and adapted an aged telephone into a torture device. The prisoners of warfare would beryllium ordered to dial a fig and erstwhile the dial turned they would person an electrical daze – ‘quite inventive’, says Mr Harding. During his captivity successful Russian-occupied Donetsk, helium shared a cramped situation cell, measuring 13ft by 6ft, with different inmates who were locked up for 23 hours a day.

Inevitably his wellness suffered, his legs ‘wasted away’ arsenic his value plummeted to conscionable 8 stone. He besides suffered neurological harm to his spine and hands. Worst of all, helium had seen a chap British hostage dice successful captivity.

The Russians had failed to conscionable the regular medicine requirements of diabetic assistance idiosyncratic Paul Urey, 45, from Warrington, Cheshire, who died successful July portion Mr Harding was retired successful an workout area. He came backmost to find the body.

Home astatine last: John Harding with his sister Denise yesterday. While imprisoned, his legs ‘wasted away’ arsenic his value plummeted to conscionable 8 stone. He besides suffered neurological harm to his spine and hands. Worst of all, helium had seen a chap British hostage dice successful captivity

During his captivity successful Russian-occupied Donetsk, helium shared a cramped situation cell, measuring 13ft by 6ft, with different inmates who were locked up for 23 hours a day

Mr Harding had been serving arsenic a combat medic successful the Ukrainian equipped forces erstwhile helium was captured by the Russians. He was facing the decease punishment and his guards made him grounds a video to accidental goodbye to his girl due to the fact that helium was owed to beryllium executed by firing squad.

When the motortruck from Ukraine to Russia yet pulled up. Mr Harding and his friends, Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and Shaun Pinner were bundled retired arsenic guards barked instructions. When the goons removed his hood, dazed Mr Harding realised helium had been driven to an airstrip. There was much shouting and the captives were marched towards a plane.

Describing his ordeal for the archetypal clip to the Daily Mail yesterday, helium said: ‘We’d been connected the level of the motortruck and each that clip it crossed my caput [it was our last journey]. And erstwhile idiosyncratic realised we were successful Russia we were similar “Oh, f***!” We weren’t definite if that travel was going to extremity with america tied to a post. We got to the airstrip and we were told to get connected the plane.

‘We inactive didn’t cognize wherever we were going. The model blinds were down arsenic weren’t allowed to unfastened them. But we were fixed food. We took disconnected and we were flying for a agelong time.

‘Then idiosyncratic told maine we were implicit Egypt. Finally, I lifted the blinds astatine 30,000ft and thought for the archetypal clip “We’re not going to die”.’ His ordeal and those of the 4 different British PoWs was over.

Their merchandise had been negotiated arsenic portion of a captive speech betwixt Russia and Ukraine, with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman acting arsenic an intermediary.

Mr Harding was besides told that erstwhile Chelsea shot nine proprietor Roman Abramovich was progressive successful the negotiations, but this has not been confirmed.

On the frontline: Mr Harding is pictured serving successful war-torn Ukraine earlier his capture. The 59-year-old was prepared for a tragic extremity to his 4 months detained connected the orders of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin

Kremlin state successful captive swap 

Viktor Medvedchuk, pictured soon aft his arrest, was reportedly released successful speech for the 10 prisoners of warfare which included 5 Brits

Russian nationalists reacted with fury yesterday aft Ukraine secured the merchandise of much than 200 prisoners of war.

The astonishment woody saw commanders and soldiers from the elite Azov regiment freed with conscionable 55 Russian detainees handed to Moscow, including staunch Putin state Viktor Medvedchuk, pictured. But Kremlin hardliners said Russia should person sought much concessions.

Former Russian colonel Igor Girkin branded the pact ‘treason’. He said the captive speech ‘was worse than a transgression and worse than a mistake. It is unacceptable stupidity’.

‘We person freed 215 of our people... of whom 124 are officers. Of those we person freed, 108 are Azov fighters,’ said Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s main of staff.

Moscow besides released 10 foreigners, including 5 British nationals.

Last night, Ukraine’s subject quality portion said galore of those freed showed signs of torture.

 As portion of the Gulf state’s relation successful the captive exchange, Mr Harding and his friends were flown to Saudi Arabia connected Wednesday evening. He said: ‘I was flown to Riyadh, fixed a aesculapian check-up and we were met by British consular representatives. They provided america with exigency passports and enactment america connected a British Airways formation to Heathrow.

‘All america English lads were unneurotic – me, Aiden, Dylan, Andrew and Shaun. They gave america existent nutrient for the archetypal clip successful months. We had beef and rice, chicken, outpouring rolls. My eyes were bigger than my stomach.’ Their in-flight meals were a satellite distant from the nutrient served successful the prisons successful Donetsk wherever helium had been held pursuing Mr Harding’s seizure successful Mariupol, the larboard metropolis besieged by Russian forces earlier this year.

After weeks of bombardment, Ukraine subject units, which included galore overseas fighters, were moving retired of ammunition. Inevitably they were forced to enactment down their weapons.

Mr Harding said: ‘We surrendered astatine the Azov steelworks due to the fact that we couldn’t support up the fight. We had injured radical excessively and we were disquieted however we’d get them done force lines.

‘The Ukrainians negotiated a surrender woody which the Russians instantly reneged on. We were told we would beryllium treated arsenic PoWs nether the Geneva Convention but wrong 48 hours we were successful the custody of the MGB – Donetsk’s mentation of the KGB.

‘There were beatings, electrocutions and much beatings. One feline was stabbed successful the limb and they stitched him up aft that. I deliberation they tortured america for fun.

‘It could spell connected for an hr to respective hours.

‘Our captors would instrumentality america to the “prosecutor’s office” wherever we had our interviews. During the transport was erstwhile we’d usually get a spot of a beating. Sometimes they’d locomotion you into doorway posts past you’d deed your head. You were ever blindfolded.’

Mr Harding present faces perchance months of physiotherapy and counselling. He spent his archetypal fewer hours successful Britain with his aged parent Lilian, sister Denise and different adjacent relatives. He is yet to talk to his daughter.

His sensation for escapade had antecedently taken him to the erstwhile Soviet authorities of Georgia.

In 2015 helium travelled to bluish Syria erstwhile helium joined a Kurdish portion to combat Islamic State. On his return, helium was questioned by UK counter-terror police, but released without charge. He said helium went to Ukraine to service arsenic a combat medic, hoping to marque a difference. He stressed: ‘I telephone myself a state fighter, not a mercenary. My idiosyncratic presumption is it doesn’t truly substance wherefore radical came present arsenic agelong arsenic the results are valid. What isn’t invited is erstwhile radical travel present to termination people. While that whitethorn beryllium portion of the job, it cannot beryllium the motivating factor.

‘Some radical are politically-motivated, immoderate radical person the tendency to combat a war. Some radical are ex-military but ne'er deployed anyplace truthful they consciousness they person thing to prove.’

He added: ‘I’m not going to prevarication to you, being successful conflict is simply a scary thing. But radical bask the accomplishment of doing it. And the camaraderie is thing that’s undeniable.’

Back location with their families, Britons released in Ukraine deal

Five British hostages who faced the menace of a Russian firing squad successful Ukraine made an affectional instrumentality to Britain yesterday.

After months of imprisonment, torture and fearfulness of execution, the men were yet reunited with their loved ones.

Last night, beers were raised and steak and reddish vino was connected the paper for astatine slightest 1 of the captives arsenic they tasted state again.

Aiden Aslin is pictured returning location successful arrives location successful Balderton, Newark, aft months of imprisonment, torture and fearfulness of execution

Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and John Harding appeared exhausted but elated arsenic they arrived successful the UK.

They had spent the erstwhile 2 days successful transit, archetypal being driven bound and blindfolded from eastbound Ukraine to an chartless destination successful Russia.

They were past flown to Saudi Arabia wherever they received aesculapian attraction and were met by British consular officials earlier a British Airways formation brought them home, wherever their delighted relatives were waiting.

Mr Aslin arrived astatine his mother’s location successful Newark, Nottinghamshire, astir 2pm. The erstwhile attraction idiosyncratic had spent 5 months down bars, during which clip helium was stabbed by situation guards and endured mock executions.

He told reporters: ‘I person been done a traumatic acquisition and I conscionable privation to get into my house. I besides privation to convey everyone who helped unafraid our release, particularly president [Volodymyr] Zelensky and the Saudis.’

Mr Aslin was accompanied by his Ukrainian fiancée Diana and his member Nathan.

His parent Angela Wood said: ‘We are truthful relieved to person Aiden home. I person not slept each night. Aiden needs clip to recover. We person each had a truly agelong day.’

Mr Aslin’s grandma Pamela Hall added: ‘I haven’t slept for 24 hours. This is astonishing news. We’re truthful happy.’

Posts connected societal media by Mr Aslin’s friends yesterday suggested helium had been stabbed and beaten portion successful captivity. His look had appeared swollen and bruised successful video recordings of his interrogation by Russian forces.

The hostages besides suffered intelligence torture. They were told, ‘say goodbye to your families, you’re going to beryllium killed’.

Before his capture, Mr Aslin often posted connected Instagram from the frontline, utilizing the illustration ‘cossackgundi’. The relationship was tally by a person and remained progressive portion helium was imprisoned successful Donetsk, eastbound Ukraine.

Last nighttime a station connected the relationship read: ‘I had my archetypal telephone telephone with Aiden successful astir 5 months this afternoon.

‘He sounds amazing, and is afloat of energy. What helium went done was worse than what I thought. He lived up to his favourite Winston Churchill quote, “if you’re going done hell, support going”. It is simply a caller time and a precise bully one. Aiden is free! Our boys are free! Ukraine and her radical volition ever beryllium free! Thank you everyone for your support, from Aiden and me.’

Mr Aslin’s adjacent friend, and comrade successful a Ukrainian marine unit, Shaun Pinner, returned to his mother’s location successful Luton, Bedfordshire, yesterday.

His jubilant step-father Lyndon Price said: ‘He has conscionable got home. We picked him up from the airdrome this morning. All the families were determination and, arsenic you can, ideate it was precise emotional.

Pinner is pictured with his service gear. Pinner and the different Brits: Aslin, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and John Harding appeared exhausted but elated arsenic they arrived successful the UK

Shaun Pinner, 1 of five Britons released from captivity by Russian-backed forces, is shown middle-right with his family, astatine his mother’s location successful Luton, Bedfordshire

‘Shaun has been done rather a lot. We are very, precise blessed helium is home. It is fantastic news. We are each together, Shaun’s son, my woman and Shaun’s sister.

‘I person conscionable fixed him a shave. I took each his beard disconnected for him. He is good and looks fine. He is truthful pleased to beryllium home.

‘What Shaun has gone done isn’t for the faint-hearted. He’s tired, he’s had a mates of beers. He’s going to person steak and reddish vino contiguous and helium is looking guardant to that.’

According to their families, the hostages were unaware of the negotiations intended to unafraid their release. As portion of the aforesaid deal, hundreds of captured Ukrainian and a fistful of Russian troops were acceptable free.

Saudi Arabia acted arsenic an intermediary betwixt the governments of each country.

Remarkably, Mr Pinner is not ruling retired a instrumentality to Ukraine.

Mr Price added: ‘At immoderate stage, I deliberation helium volition privation to spell back. He loves Ukraine. He mightiness privation to get progressive successful humanitarian work. His woman is inactive determination too, we are hoping to get her implicit here.’

Mr Pinner, a erstwhile worker successful the Royal Anglian Regiment, enlisted successful the Ukrainian equipped forces successful 2018. He was sent to the frontline successful the eastbound region, known arsenic the Donbas, and was captured by Russian forces successful the confederate larboard metropolis of Mariupol successful April this year.

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