Who is Dmitry Bodyu? American pastor kidnapped by Russian forces in Ukraine
Wife confirms the Ukrainian-American was kidnapped in Mariupol on March 19, Russians also took phones and passport in supposedly targeted kidnapping
Over the course of the past month, Russian forces have been accused of grave human rights violations in Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee, while thousands have died, or suffered from serious injuries as a result of the war. On March 24, we learned that Ukrainians weren't the only ones being targeted. Helen Bodyu said her husband, Ukrainian-American pastor Dmitry, was kidnapped by Russian forces on March 19.
In an attempt to force Ukraine into submission, Russia has resorted to tactics like kidnapping, and even shooting civilians. On March 11, Russians kidnapped Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov, in a bid to replace him with a pro-Russian Mayor. Days later, shocking drone footage caught Russian soldiers shooting an unnamed civilian who had surrendered, then kidnapping his apparent wife and child from the car. Ukrainians aren't the only victims though, Vladimir Putin has since been accused of using Joseph Stalin's 'commissar squads' to kill Russians who flee, surrender, or abandon their posts.
Adding to that long list is the report that Russians appear to be targeted foreign nationals still in Ukraine. We've seen this before, after reports of Russian troops firing on press squads despite them clearly being marked as journalists. However, it appears Putin is desperate to get his hands on any Americans he can.
'Are you guys American citizens?'
Helen spoke about her husband's abduction from Mariupol to NBC News. "They just came in in the morning. They took our phones, gadgets, computers, documents — and took him somewhere. I don’t know where," she said. Stunningly, Helen said the Russian soldiers "just started kind of questioning him right away, like, ‘Are you guys American citizens?’ — that’s kind of like one of the first questions they had."
Helen said around eight to 10 soldiers walked into her home on March 19, took her husband, the family's cell phones, and other electronic devices. They also apparently seized his passport, which was American. The family has several theories about why Dmitry was kidnapped, with his daughter Esther Bodyu-Ogawa noting, "It could be because we're American citizens. It could be because he's, you know, a big influencer. A lot of people follow him and really want to know what he's preaching about and what he's telling people, making sure he's not like talking about Russia and trying to tell people 'Yes, this is a bad thing.'"
On March 21, the troops returned the family's phones and computers, but not Dmitry. Instead, they took a Bible and sleeping bag from the home, indicating he is still being held somewhere. "We're just hoping for the best and we're praying for him, and we're praying that he's strong," said Esther.
Who is Dmitry Bodyu?
The 50-year-old is pastor for Word of Life Church in Melitopol, which he opened as a shelter when the invasion began. Born in the erstwhile Soviet Union, Dmitry emigrated to the USA as a 17-year-old with his parents. After years in the USA, he decided to return to Ukraine, and initially settled in Crimea. However, he was forced to leave the region after Russia's annexation in 2014, fearing his American citizenship would cause trouble.
Sadly, it appears his notion was right. Dmitry decided not to leave Mariupol after the war broke out, and paid the price. "All he's doing is just helping such a huge amount of people that were hiding in the church, which was like over 50 people," noted his daughter, who currently lives in Hawaii. The US State Department acknowledged it is aware of the kidnapping, but declined to comment further citing privacy.
As for Ukraine, the nation's deputy prime minister, Irene Vereshchuk, said the government was not aware of the kidnapping, likely because the family had no way to contact anyone till their devices were returned. However, Vereshchuk did note that Russians have so far kidnapped 14 local leaders, indicating that this isn't uncommon news amidst the war.