Belgorod volunteer who aided hundreds of Ukrainian refugees dies in detention. The tragic story of Alexander Demidenko
Анна Павлова
Belgorod volunteer who aided hundreds of Ukrainian refugees dies in detention. The tragic story of Alexander Demidenko
9 April 2024, 9:37

Alexander Demidenko. Photo: personal VK account

Alexander Demidenko, a 61-year-old volunteer from Belgorod who had sheltered up to 900 Ukrainians fleeing the war in his home, died in a local pre-trial detention centre. He had been under arrest for six months—in October, security forces abducted him at the “Kolotilovka” border checkpoint while he was accompanying an elderly Ukrainian woman to the border. They accused him of illegally storing explosives. Demidenko passed away on April 5, but his lawyer and family were only informed three days later. The cause of death, according to the prison authorities, was suicide. This is a story of Demidenko, who criticised the war and helped its victims.

On February 24, 2022, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Demidenko staged a one-man protest in central Belgorod with a blank sheet of paper. He explained to the local outlet that he had planned to write an anti-war slogan but didn’t have time. Half an hour later, he was detained but ultimately released without charges. A plainclothes operative tore up the paper.


Demidenko’s wife, Natalia Vishenkova, later told 7×7 that her husband had become a pacifist back in his university days at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, where he studied rocket engineering. “Maybe he was disappointed by the Soviet Union’s military doctrine, maybe because of Afghanistan,” she said.

He worked briefly at a rocket design bureau, then as a computer science and geography teacher at a school. In the 1990s, he went into business: first selling textbooks, then opened a store for foreign language textbooks in Tula, which later closed due to the COVID pandemic.

Demidenko has two adult sons from a previous marriage. He and Natalia Vishenkova met in 2014 and, after getting married, bought a house in the Belgorod region.

From May 2022 until his arrest in October 2023, Demidenko’s house provided shelter to nearly a thousand refugees from Ukraine. Some with documentation issues stayed for a long time, while others only needed a place to sleep before heading to the Kolotilovka checkpoint—the only active border crossing between Russia and Ukraine. Despite the lack of proper conditions, this route is often used by Ukrainians trying to return home as it is the shortest and cheapest option.

Demidenko drove refugees to the checkpoint and helped them cross the border. His son Oleg said that refugees with cars could get there themselves, while others used his father’s help or the services of Belgorod taxi drivers who profited from the long journey. “Once, taxi drivers even beat up my father when he started giving free rides in a minibus—they were angered by such competition,” Oleg said.

Volunteer Yulia described Demidenko as “principled and stubborn” when it came to helping refugees. She noted that he was outraged by the conditions at the checkpoint and demanded that local authorities improve them. For example, after the collapse of the Kakhovka dam in the summer of 2023, when the flow of refugees was very high, people had to wait for a long time under the scorching sun. Demidenko planned to “build a canopy so that people could at least sit in the shade.”

Demidenko openly criticised the authorities for deliberately creating queues at the border, with some refugees forced to pay to advance. He was repeatedly summoned to the checkpoint for “educational talks” and was of interest to the local FSB office.

On October 17, while driving an elderly Ukrainian cancer patient to the border, Demidenko was stopped by two members of the territorial defence. He helped the woman find an escort to cross the neutral strip to the Ukrainian checkpoint but was unable to leave himself as border guards confiscated his passport. Soon after, he stopped communicating with friends.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing two cars with Rosgvardia (Nationial Guard) symbols arrive, and “bearded men in camouflage” insistently asking Demidenko to go with them, suspected to be Chechen security forces. A week later, it turned out that Demidenko was arrested for ten days for drinking alcohol in a prohibited place. His son wrote that he was “allegedly found in a drug-induced state” and FSB officers persuaded him to “refuse a medical examination.”

Alexander Demidenko after the beating. Photo: Mozhem Obyasnit Telegram channel

On October 20, a search was conducted at Demidenko’s home, during which he was also brought in. His laptop and “some kind of flare gun or pistol” were seized. His wife noted “many bruises” on his body.

While serving his administrative arrest, a criminal case was opened against Demidenko for illegal storage of explosives. On November 1, the Shebekinsky District Court sent him to pre-trial detention. Demidenko claimed he had found the explosives and hadn’t had time to hand them over to the police.

In mid-November, Demidenko’s son reported that a second criminal case had been initiated against his father, this time for treason, allegedly related to passing “secret information” to Ukrainians, or confidential cooperation with a foreign state.

In January, his son wrote that FSB officers had “stopped coming with various questions,” apparently having “found nothing suspicious in the end.”

However, on March 27, he revealed a possible new accusation. “Father didn’t know about this case. But upon learning about it, he told the lawyer that he had informed his sister from Kharkiv about the alleged raids from Russia so that she would have time to hide (after all, father lives near the border, [planes] flew over him, and artillery units that carried out shelling were stationed not far from his village).”

On April 5, Alexander Demidenko died in the pre-trial detention centre; his lawyer was only informed three days later. His son quickly suggested possible suicide because “for such an active and freedom-loving person, the thought of probable future imprisonment was unbearable.” “He had already been psychologically murdered for six months in the pre-trial detention centre without visits from relatives or even books,” Oleg Demidenko wrote.

Today, a local publication,, reported based on information from prison officials that it was indeed a case of suicide.

Volunteer Yulia said that while the Kolotilovka border crossing is still functioning, there are no longer any people in the Belgorod region who openly help Ukrainian refugees like Alexander Demidenko did. “I think people are scared and simply afraid to do anything because we see what happens to those who disagree with the authorities”, she said. “Alexander was not worried about the danger his actions could pose to him (perhaps this was a bit reckless). He wanted to help and do what he could.”

Editor: Maria Klimova

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