A Ukrainian marine who fought in Mariupol at a steel plant taken by Russian forces was taken prisoner after being injured.
Hlib Stryzhko was wounded on April 10 and regained consciousness inside an ambulance. He was brought to a hospital controlled by separatists.
“I was told by a Russian soldier, ‘You’ll have to forget Ukrainian now. You will only get help if you ask in Russian,’” he told CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh.
He was kept alive so the Russians could exchange him for their own soldiers.
“There were two of us bedridden. So we had to be fed by nurses. So they would say, ‘Because of you, my son got killed.’ I tried to be understanding, but they were accusing us of things we never did. And we had Russian news read to us all the time, in the morning and evening. That was a lot of pressure on the mind, a distortion of reality,” he said.
The prisoner exchange happened on April 22, and he is recovering from a crushed pelvis, broken jaw, concussion and vision impairment.
“My body was broken, but not my spirit,” Stryzhko said.
He recalls the fierce fighting that took place in Mariupol.
“Very often when I close my eyes, I see that moment when the tank was firing at me and my side getting injured,” he said.
Every time he heard a fellow soldier was dead, “it was personal,” he said.
“There is a point where the brain accepts it. … When this became normal, that was scary. We learned how to fall asleep with this accompaniment. Instead, it became scary to fall asleep in the silence,” he said.
His two most vivid memories include the first time he had to use a tourniquet on a friend and watching Russian aircraft destroying whole hangars.