Maxim Butkevich's mother Yevheniya told The Insider that her son led a platoon for three months, completed a training course, and very soon found himself on the front line along with his subordinates.
“We don’t know where they were taken next, but a day later the platoon ended up in the Donetsk region, not far from the border with Luhansk,” says Yevgenia Butkevich. - Settlement Mirnaya Dolina near Severodonetsk. Maxim completed a training course, but we did not expect that he would actually be at zero level in a day, on the most difficult, difficult and bloody section of the front at that time. On June 18, communication with him was interrupted. We know that on June 19 he wrote to his colleague: "We are moving to the front."
Already on June 24, five days later, a volunteer, who provided Maxim's platoon, contacted her mother and said that she had a video of interrogations of Ukrainian prisoners. On the recording, Evgenia saw her son. She and her husband, who visited Butkevich at the base, also recognized 13 of his colleagues. In fact, Butkevich, by his actions, saved the life of the entire platoon, Yevgenia says.
“Maxim was hard to listen to. They practically did not get the opportunity to defend their country the way they wanted, the way they intended and the way they needed, because everything ended very quickly. They were surrounded, from the encirclement into an ambush, and he, as a platoon commander, decided to lay down his arms so that they would not be shot as targets in a shooting gallery. He decided to save the life of the personnel, as they say in the army. They laid down their arms, the Russians came out of the ambush, and so they ended up in captivity.
After it became known that Maxim was in captivity, his wife turned to the Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, who advised her to contact Tatiana Moskalkova, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation. According to Yevgenia, Gannushkina herself turned to the Ombudsman, but two weeks later, no one received an answer either.
"Nazi commander", "Russophobe" and other epithets from Russian propaganda
According to Butkevich's mother, two of the 14 people in the platoon got in touch on June 25, the day after the Russian Defense Ministry video was released. They were able to report. that are located near Lugansk, but could not give more information. None of the relatives could contact the rest of the prisoners. There is no access to them, no one says where they are, and no one lets anyone in,” says Yevgenia Butkevich.
She noted that most likely her son is alive, this is evidenced by the reports and news of the state media in Russia. Every day, state propaganda "denounces" Butkevich that the journalist is "a Nazi platoon commander and a Russophobe."
“We hope that he is alive, because the campaign that has unfolded in the Russian space continues to walk in circles and creates in the minds of people who read this, the image of a Nazi who is hiding behind human rights activities,” Evgenia notes. - The husband says that if Maxim were no longer there, then she would stop as unnecessary. But it continues, which means that someone needs it.”
Whether the commanders really betrayed the Ukrainian soldiers, because of which the platoon was surrounded and forced to surrender, is unknown to Yevgenia. Now this version is actively broadcast by the Russian media. However, she notes that the command did not withdraw troops, even when active battles near Severodonetsk began, although Butkevich's group had just begun to fight and did not have sufficient experience.
“They said that the withdrawal from Severodonetsk was smoothly organized, but they were in the fields, and they had to first return to Severodonetsk in order to leave well from there. They didn't stand a chance. Many more lives could have been saved if they had begun to withdraw earlier. Perhaps I am mistaken, because I am a civilian, but they have not repeated this mistake with Lisichansk.”
Journalist and public figure, ex-head of Hromadske TV, Natalya Gumenyuk, told The Insider that Butkevich is a human rights activist with deeply humanistic views, who, in particular, actively supported lawyer Stas Markelov and Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasia Baburova, who protested against the felling of Khimki forest through which the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation was going to build a highway (both were killed). She noted that Butkevich could be confused with a namesake, a Ukrainian presenter who represents conservative views.
Like the deceased Baburova, Butkevich is an anti-fascist, a person who “was engaged in protecting the rights of people in any legal way,” the journalist says. Because of this, the attitude of the Russian military towards him may be different than towards other prisoners.
“This is something that needs to be emphasized, because we are afraid that in Russia, and in power, and in the so-called DPR and LPR, there may be chauvinists, Nazis and ultra-rightists who may pay attention to this,” the journalist noted.
Gumenyuk recalled that Butkevich lobbied for a humanitarian policy that would help people regardless of their political views. He stood up for the rights of internally displaced persons, in particular from Donbass, and took a peacekeeping position regarding the resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“In 2014, like any independent journalist who fights for human rights, Maxim was the founder of Hromadske Radio, he adhered to the positions of non-violent protest against the dictatorship. He dealt with the case of Sasha Kolchenko, who is also an anti-fascist and who was indiscriminately accused. He is now a prisoner of war, there are certain conventions that must be followed.”
Where exactly Butkevich is now is unknown, says Gumenyuk. There has been no news of him for two weeks.
Who was Maxim Butkevich before February 24
In recent years, before the war, Butkevich, who founded Hromadske Radio, was a media trainer, Yevgeniya says. He was invited to trainings on hate speech in journalism, he met with students, journalists, taught lessons on the topic of caution with terms and words.
Butkevich helped people who came to Ukraine with a request for asylum, in particular, refugees from Asian countries, for many years he was the coordinator of the Without Borders project. Its creators believed that a person who is persecuted in his own country for political or religious reasons has the right to seek asylum in another country, and this other country should provide him with this asylum. Since the beginning of 2014, he actively helped those who were forced to leave Crimea and those who left Donetsk and Luhansk. They tried to help people who lost their homeland, a roof over their heads and came in the hope that they would be accepted here.
Whether Butkevich will end up in a prisoner-of-war exchange is unknown, but he would not want special treatment, Gumenyuk says. “All are equally worthy of liberation. But due to his anti-fascist position, there are certain risks. And I think it's right to attract attention, especially from international organizations with which he collaborated. For example, he worked in the Committee on the Rights and Protection of Refugees, worked for some time with the Ukrainian Amnesty International.”