A freed UK prisoner of the Ukraine war said his Russian captors forced him to record a heart-wrenching goodbye message to his daughter while tricking him into thinking he was about to face a firing squad.
John Harding, 59, recalled his torturous treatment in captivity in Ukraine after being one of five Brits freed this week and flown home by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, the former owner of Chelsea soccer club.
“There were beatings, electrocutions and more beatings,” Harding told the Daily Mail of his imprisonment after surrendering at the Azov steelworks in Mariupol in May.
“One guy was stabbed in the leg … I think they tortured us for fun. It could go on for an hour to several hours,” he said of his brutish captors, who left them “always blindfolded.”
In the worst beating, his guards laughed as they put a plastic bag over his head and punched, kicked and even jumped on him for 30 minutes while his hands were cuffed, he told the Sun. He broke most of his ribs and was left urinating blood.
But the most torturous abuse came after he was convicted by a kangaroo court of war crimes, he told both outlets.
Then he was told he had been sentenced to death — with his guards making him record a goodbye video to his daughter while convincing him he was about to face a firing squad.
“I thought, ‘I just wish they’d f—ing kill me now,’” he told the Sun of his “appalling” abuse.
“If I’d have known how we’d be treated before we surrendered, I would’ve stayed and set up a sniper’s nest and just tried to take a few of them out before I got killed,” he said.
The cruel treatment continued right until he was on his plane home, one of 10 foreigners released this week, including US military veterans Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh.
Instead of being told he was being freed, Harding said he was convinced he was being taken to his death when he was tied up with a hood on his head in the back of a truck for a 20-hour trip out of Ukraine.
“We’d been on the floor of the truck and all that time it crossed my mind” that it could be his final journey, he recalled of being in the truck with fellow freed Brits Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and Shaun Pinner.
“When someone realized we were in Russia we were like ‘Oh, f–k!’ We weren’t sure if that journey was going to end with us tied to a post.”
That sense of doom continued until the plane they were jetted home on was safely clear of Russia and over Egypt, he said.
“Finally, I lifted the blinds at 30,000 feet and thought for the first time, ‘We’re not going to die,’” he told the Mail.
It was not the only surprise on the flight.
At one point, one of the freed men, Pinner, 48, went up to one of the passengers onboard and told him, “You’re the spitting image of Roman Abramovich,” Harding told the Sun.
“And he went, ‘That’s because I am him!’” Harding recalled, saying they teased the ex-Chelsea boss about Pinner supporting rival London club West Ham.
“He was actually well involved in the negotiations, we found out,” Harding said of the oligarch, who was forced to sell Chelsea amid sanctions after his homeland’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The guy’s a bit of a hero in Ukraine,” he told the Sun. “He’s well respected by Ukrainians and massively by us now, too — he’s done a hell of a lot for us and we couldn’t thank him enough.”