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Mother says Ukrainian sailor held by Moscow 'always dreamed of sea'

3 min

Naditychi (Ukraine) (AFP)

Pensioner Olga Oprysko only found out her son had been captured by Russian forces after a neighbour in her small western Ukrainian village told her about an incident in the Azov Sea.

When she switched on her television, the 74-year-old saw that Russian border guards were holding Ukrainian sailors after a confrontation in the Kerch Strait -- a waterway that gives access to the Azov Sea from the Black Sea.

At first, she did not think he was involved, Oprysko told AFP in her house in Naditychi, a village south of Lviv in western Ukraine.

"The next day, I found out on the news that he was among the prisoners."

Her son Andriy Oprysko -- a 47-year-old able seaman -- is one of 24 Ukrainian sailors held captive by Moscow since the incident.

He was on the Nikopol, one of the three Ukrainian ships heading through the Kerch Strait last weekend when Russian border guards fired on them and seized the vessels.

Moscow said the Ukrainians entered Russian waters illegally and, after putting them on trial in Russian-annexed Crimea, ordered them detained for two months.

The Kremlin has resisted calls to release them, and US President Donald Trump called off a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over their detention.

"I have only one request: for all the boys to be freed. All of them," Oprysko told AFP.

- A childhood dream -

One of the walls in Oprysko's house has a giant picture of a sailing ship that Andriy put up. A wooden model ship sits on her windowsill.

In joining the navy, she said, her son fulfilled a childhood dream.

"Since he was a child, he always dreamed of the sea," she said. "He always wanted to be near the water."

She showed AFP childhood photographs of Andriy -- now a father of two -- posing in a sailor's hat as a toddler.

Oprysko is a widow and lives alone. She can only afford to heat the room in which she sleeps.

Now retired, she used to teach Russian at a school in a neighbouring village in the predominantly Ukrainian-speaking region.

"I never thought that in Russia my efforts to teach the Russian language would be appreciated like this," she said.

"Instead of a reward, they punish me by imprisoning my son."

- Taken to Moscow -

The sailors were initially held in Simferopol, the main city in Russian-annexed Crimea where they were put on trial earlier this week.

But Crimea's human rights ombudsman said Friday they were being transferred to Moscow. Two of their lawyers told AFP that the sailors had been taken to the Russian capital.

Putin has insisted that the Russian border guards were right to seize the ships, saying they "fulfilled their military duty".

He said the Ukrainian ships had entered Russian territorial waters and refused to respond to requests to stop from Russian patrol boats.

"What were they (Russian forces) supposed to do?" Putin said this week.

Oprysko thinks her son's fate should be decided at the highest level.

"I'm not afraid because I am a religious person, I have no anger," she said.

"I am proud of my son."

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