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Freed hostage says captor forced him to record message to his daughter

As he sat tied up and hooded in the darkness of a lorry driven by his Russian captors, John Harding sensed his life was about to end. The former engineer had been in transit for 20 hours – one of five British hostages taped together in the back of an old truck.

Suddenly someone realised they must have crossed Ukraine’s eastern border into Russia. It was then Mr Harding’s pulse quickened and he feared the worst.

Were they being taken from the war zone to be executed with their corpses buried in the soil of ‘Mother Russia’ never to be uncovered? he asked himself.

The 59-year-old, from Sunderland, even pictured in his mind’s eye the stump he would be tied to and the sound of the executioner’s rifle clicking. It would be a tragic end to his four months detained on the orders of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, he thought, during which time he had been tortured and beaten while interrogated.

His sadistic captors had used cattle prods to jab prisoners and adapted an old phone into a torture device. The prisoners of war would be ordered to dial a number and when the dial turned they would receive an electric shock – ‘quite inventive’, says Mr Harding. During his captivity in Russian-occupied Donetsk, he shared a cramped prison cell, measuring 13ft by 6ft, with other inmates who were locked up for 23 hours a day.

Inevitably his health suffered, his legs ‘wasted away’ as his weight plummeted to just eight stone. He also suffered neurological damage to his spine and hands. Worst of all, he had seen a fellow British hostage die in captivity.

The Russians had failed to meet the daily medication requirements of diabetic aid worker Paul Urey, 45, from Warrington, Cheshire, who died in July while Mr Harding was out in an exercise area. He came back to find the body.

Home at last: John Harding with his sister Denise yesterday. While imprisoned, his legs ‘wasted away’ as his weight plummeted to just eight stone. He also suffered neurological damage to his spine and hands. Worst of all, he had seen a fellow British hostage die in captivity

Home at last: John Harding with his sister Denise yesterday. While imprisoned, his legs ‘wasted away’ as his weight plummeted to just eight stone. He also suffered neurological damage to his spine and hands. Worst of all, he had seen a fellow British hostage die in captivity

During his captivity in Russian-occupied Donetsk, he shared a cramped prison cell, measuring 13ft by 6ft, with other inmates who were locked up for 23 hours a day

During his captivity in Russian-occupied Donetsk, he shared a cramped prison cell, measuring 13ft by 6ft, with other inmates who were locked up for 23 hours a day

Mr Harding had been serving as a combat medic in the Ukrainian armed forces when he was captured by the Russians. He was facing the death penalty and his guards made him record a video to say goodbye to his daughter because he was due to be executed by firing squad.

When the truck from Ukraine to Russia finally pulled up. Mr Harding and his friends, Aiden Aslin, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and Shaun Pinner were bundled out as guards barked instructions. When the goons removed his hood, dazed Mr Harding realised he had been driven to an airstrip. There was more shouting and the captives were marched towards a plane.

Read full story on DailyMail

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