Shaun Pinner: Former soldier from Sandy captured and tortured by Russia after he fought for Ukraine writes book about his ordeal

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A former British soldier from Sandy who was captured and tortured while serving in the Ukrainian army has spoken about his time in captivity in a new book released yesterday (September 28).

Shaun Pinner, 50, had lived in Mariupol for nearly five years when Russia invaded the country last February. He had married his Ukrainian wife, Larysa, and was on routine deployment when the war began.

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A year on from his release, Shaun has written a book about his life in the country and his survival. His book is titled: Live. Fight. Survive. These were the last words his wife said to him as he called her amid the chaos of Russian forces advancing into his city.

Shaun Pinner's book launch in Sandy. Picture: Tony MargiocchiShaun Pinner's book launch in Sandy. Picture: Tony Margiocchi
Shaun Pinner's book launch in Sandy. Picture: Tony Margiocchi

In April 2022 Shaun left Mariupol but was captured and taken to a so-called ‘black site’. He said: “I was interrogated, stabbed in the leg, electrocuted, starved for 50 days. Then I was put on a propaganda trial, a sham trial in which we were not allowed to plead not guilty.

“Then I was given the death penalty, followed up by a real bizarre twist of fate where I was negotiated in a prison swap with Viktor Medvedchuk and some Russian officers in a deal brokered by Roman Abramovich and the Saudi prince.”

This is a story that, as Shaun agrees, could not be made up.

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You can hear Shaun speaking about his experience in the video above.

Shaun Pinner with his mum Deborah, Picture: Tony MargiocchiShaun Pinner with his mum Deborah, Picture: Tony Margiocchi
Shaun Pinner with his mum Deborah, Picture: Tony Margiocchi

Shaun was labelled a mercenary by Russian state media, despite being a legitimate Ukrainian soldier. He explained: “I was there as an instructor first initially and then did a three-year contract. You do your time serving and, in return, you'll get citizenship and residency.

“I got to speak to my mum who told me that [Ukraine] had written and sent my contracts to the Russian embassy. They had copies of all the paperwork to say I was legally in the Ukrainian military service, just with a British passport. They decided to ignore it and still put me through a trial where I got the death penalty.”

Writing the book has been “therapeutic” for him. He said: “I wrote a book because it's an obligation for me being British to be able to tell that story of the inhumane treatment that Russia has given its POWs.

“I sleep like a baby, I don't drink very much and I talk about my way of dealing with it. Not everybody’s got a good family network but I've got a wife and some people can't talk about it. Those are the big important things that enabled me to deal with it. “

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The story follows Shaun from starting his life in Ukraine in 2018, right up to the invasion, capture and eventual release. Geolocation tags, texts, and videos from Russia were used to put the book together, making an otherwise unbelievable story real.

He said: “We've got a timeline from when I was first captured to the emaciated state I was in when I went to the court trial, I was down to about 60 kilograms.”

Shaun’s book, Live. Fight. Survive.: A Former British Soldier’s Harrowing Account of Front-line War in Ukraine and Russian Torture, can be found here.

But the book isn’t about him. Shaun explained: “The will of the Ukrainian people and the will to fight for their sovereignty is what the book’s about really, I'm just the backstory.”

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Shaun has spoken to NATO soldiers about tactics he used to survive in captivity. But he hopes his experiences will help to dispel some of the lies told by Russia. He said: “I'd married a Ukrainian. I learned Russian, not Ukrainian, because most people in Mariupol spoke Russian.

“So all those Russian narratives about saving Russian speakers in Donbas just didn't resonate because all my Russian-speaking Ukrainian friends are now dotted around Europe. They didn't want Russia to come in. Mariupol was very much a Ukrainian city.

“It’s now our time to be able to really challenge those false narratives, being one of the handful of British people that actually lived in Donbas prior to the invasion.”

When asked what he hopes people will get from his book, he said: “Hopefully inspiration to never give up. Live, fight, survive. As Churchill said: ‘You're going through hell, keep going.’ It's always been a mantra that in the worst-case scenarios, there's always a way out.”

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While active combat might be over for Shaun, he says he won’t stop championing the people of Ukraine. Shaun said: “There are early reports and minor underestimates that over 25,000 people were killed, butchered in just Mariupol. They're saying that there could be up to 50, 60, 70,000 people dead. The message I am putting out now is to tell people about that and keep it in the public eye.

The 50-year-old added: “As the war goes on, Ukrainians should be left alone to fight the war. They've beat the odds so many times now everyone's underestimated them since day one of the invasion.”

Shaun and his wife were forced to flee their home, and have moved to a safer city in the country. He added: “I fight in a different capacity now. I'm not on the front lines. I help support my wife, we're trying to get some normality.

"I don't think I'll ever be able to enlist again, because of my back from the treatment I received electric shocks. It's going to take some time to really heal.”

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