Israeli captured by pro-Russia forces in Ukraine reportedly released

An Israeli citizen captured by pro-Russian forces as he fought on behalf of Ukraine has been released and will head to Israel, Russian state media reported on Thursday.

Vladimir Kozlovsky was handed over to the Russian Jewish community and will later fly to Israel to join his wife in Tel Aviv, according to the Russian Television and Radio report.

A video report circulated on social media with English subtitles for the Russian narrative.

The clip showed Kozlovsky being released and beginning his journey to freedom. He was also shown speaking by video call to his wife, joking with her about “how good I look. How handsome I am.”

According to the report, Kozlovsky’s story is “typical.” It claimed that after being pressed into service to fight for the Ukrainians, he surrendered to Russian forces and “collaborated in captivity.”

The video showed him “praying freely in Luhansk, after he shared all the information known to him,” the report said, referring to a city in eastern Ukraine. Images showed Kozlovsky with a prayer shawl and tefillin praying in a synagogue.

Kozlovsky was also shown criticizing his Ukrainian commanders as being “generally inadequate all the time” and saying “they drunkenly came up with orders and then issued them.”

“They got drunk every evening. I smoked pot while I was on my post,” he told an interviewer in the report.

Shown sitting in a minibus after his release, Kozlovsky said, “I didn’t expect to survive. According to the stories I thought they would torture and kill me.”

A previous video of Kozlovsky, purportedly filmed in captivity and identifying himself as Israeli, began circulating on social media two months ago. The Foreign Ministry said at the time that it was aware of the case and was handling the situation.

In the earlier video, Kozlovsky — who had been living in Ukraine for many years — was seen displaying his Israeli ID card and identifying himself as a signal operator in the Ukrainian intelligence forces. The video was distributed with a watermark associated with the Luhansk pro-Russian separatists.

Vladimir Kozlovsky displays his Israeli ID card in a video apparently taken after he was taken captive by pro-Russian forces in Luhansk after fighting for the Ukrainian army, June 30, 2022. (Screenshot/Twitter)

In comments apparently forced out of him by his captors, Kozlovsky said he tried to exit Ukraine after the Russian invasion through the border with Slovakia, after Israeli consular officials handed him a document allowing him to leave, but that border officials stopped him and recruited him to the military, while letting his wife and child leave.

Over 30,000 Ukrainians have fled Israel since the start of the war, many as refugees, some of them as returning Israeli citizens. In the early weeks of the conflict, consular officials worked around the clock to ensure the safe passage of as many Israelis in Ukraine as possible.

After being stationed in Luhansk with Ukrainian soldiers, Kozlovsky said his force was bombarded with artillery and he was taken captive after his commanders fled.

“We had weapons but we didn’t know how to use them,” he said in the video. “They didn’t train us and sent us to the battlefield without telling us we were going to fight. They threw us like cannon fodder.”

Circulating coerced footage of prisoners of war — in particular those in which they are humiliated or forced to divulge identifying information — violates the Geneva Conventions, the statutes that aim to provide a framework for humanitarian law in conflict.

In June, two British and one Moroccan citizen were sentenced to death by separatist forces that captured them during fighting in eastern Ukraine. The court in the Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced them to death by firing squad after convicting them of terrorism and an attempt to overturn constitutional order.

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