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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Phil Cardy & Amy Sharpe & Charlotte Hadfield

Hostage delivers final message to daughters of dad who did not make it

A dad who died in detention in Ukraine sent a heartbreaking message to his daughters before his death via his friend who was set free.

British aid worker Paul Urey, 45, from Warrington, died after being captured by Russian separatists during an aid mission in Ukraine with his friend Dylan Healy, the Sunday Mirror reports.

Dylan, who was freed from captivity earlier this month, has now delivered Paul's final message to his daughters Courtney and Chelsea, as he told them “Your dad loved you and thought about you every day.”

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Dylan, 22, told the Sunday Mirror how he and Paul endured a mock execution and were relentlessly tortured by Russian troops. Dylan shared how they were ambushed during an aid mission in Ukraine, when they were ordered out of their cars and forced to kneel by the roadside.

As one solider cocked his gun, Dylan feared the worst. But he said it was a sick hoax as the man fired a shot into the ground between them and they were bundled off to a prison.

After their ordeal, Dylan and Paul vowed to each other that if the worst ever did happen to one of them, the other would contact their family.

Dylan Healy who was captured and imprisoned by Russian forces whilst helping the war effort in Ukraine (Adam Gerrard / Sunday Mirror)

And after father-of-four Paul, 45, later died in captivity, Dylan kept that pledge during an emotional meeting with his friend's daughters Courtney, 17, and Chelsea, 21. They met just days ago – when Dylan had the grim task of explaining how he and Paul had been tortured... but he also had a special message for the girls.

Dylan, 22, said: “Me and Paul promised that if anything happened we would speak to each other’s families.

“He said, ‘Let my family know I love them, that I thought about them every day.’ I never thought I’d have to do it – after we were captured, I thought we’d both die.”

Paul was diabetic and Dylan was at least able to tell Chelsea and Courtney the Russians did give him medication. And he told the girls: “He was desperate to make it home to see you.”

Courtney said: “It was difficult hearing what Dad went through, but at least we know the truth now. At one point there were reports he’d been dismembered. That was awful, but thankfully untrue.”

She and Chelsea, from Warrington, were forced to raise £10,000 to repatriate his body after the Foreign Office refused to pay. The body is now in the UK and a post-mortem will be held before Paul can be laid to rest.

Dylan – who said he has survivor’s guilt over Paul’s death – donated the final £60 to help hit their target. He said: “I was nervous meeting his daughters but it was good... like I’ve known them for years.”

Dad-of-four Paul Urey died in his cell (PA)

Chelsea said the meeting was a relief, adding: “I’m so grateful we heard it from him and not someone else. We didn’t want to pressure Dylan, didn’t want him to think he was being interrogated again. We’re just so happy he agreed to meet us.”

The sisters have invited Dylan to attend Paul’s funeral. Dylan, who was freed on September 21 with four other Brits, said he was beaten with batons, tortured with electric prongs and waterboarded as his captors tried to extract a confession.

Recalling the mock execution, he said: “All the gunman had to do was pull the trigger and we were gone. We were silent. He asked us if we had any last words and we said no. Then he fired a shot into the mud in the middle of the two of us. Paul went, ‘That was a close one’.”

It was a terrifying start to months of mistreatment before Paul’s death in captivity on July 10. His captors cited “stress and medical reasons”, but Ukraine suggested there were signs of torture after the body was released.

Dylan’s life changed when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. An Arsenal fan, he lived in Ely, Cambs, and worked as a hotel chef. Appalled by Vladimir Putin’s aggression, Dylan went to join the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, despite only ever being in the Army Cadets. Parents Helen and Cliff backed him.

Dylan said: “They were really supportive, they said, ‘Go, do it – but make sure to come home’. They were chilled, but Mum cried at the station.”

Courtney and Chelsea Coman with Dylan. (Adam Gerrard / Sunday Mirror)

On March 15 he flew from Luton to Poland and was hailed at the Ukraine border by applauding refugees. Dylan was accepted by the Foreign Legion but changed his mind after growing alarmed by fighters’ lack of organisation and weapons training.

He became an aid worker and met Paul, who was rejected by the Foreign Legion for health reasons. The pair teamed up to extract Ukrainians from danger zones and bonded over football and the fact both were adopted.

They were making a 460-mile journey from Odessa to Zaporizhzhia to rescue a mum and two children when they were captured in May. A nine-hour trip in a Skoda Fabia took them via a 50-yard minefield, following existing tracks to get past safely.

Before crossing they messaged loved ones, saying: “If we don’t make it out, know it was worth it.”

Then, 30 minutes from their destination, they were stopped by a guard after passing a Russian checkpoint. They were ordered from the vehicle and put through the mock execution.

Dylan said: “My last thought was that I wanted to call my mate Paddy and say he was a good friend and I wasn’t going to make it.”

After the merciless ordeal, the duo were cuffed, bags put over their heads, and taken to a facility near Mariupol. They were in separate cells and, Dylan says, tortured for days by the FSB – Russia’s Federal Security Service.

He said: “There was no panic, I was resigned. I didn’t want to cry because it wasn’t going to change it. They shouted at you if you slept.

"They waterboarded me. They put me on a table, put a rag in my mouth and poured water in until I was choking.

“When I spoke to Paul he said this hadn’t happened to him. They wanted to know how we’d got behind the lines and why – and if we were British spies.

Dylan Healy reunited with his parents Cliff & Helen, (Steve Reigate)

“There were regular beatings, every day. They had old-style police batons and my ribs were broken. The Russians have a love of Tasering, they had these long prongs which they put in your skin. Paul had been Tasered, he said it was easier than he thought it would be.”

The pair were taken to the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and bundled into cells the size of a single mattress. Heavy metal music by the likes of AC/DC, Rammstein and Slipknot was blasted out.

There were 63 songs in a four-hour loop – and that’s how Dylan kept a check on the time. During his two weeks there Dylan said he was Tasered several times.

In June, he and Paul were moved to a prison in Makiivka, where they were given toothbrushes and allowed to watch football.

There, they learned fellow hostages Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner had been sentenced to death. Dylan said: “I knew we were in a bad situation and the verdicts did not come as a surprise.

“Shaun is a good person to try and rationalise things with. Like me, he doesn’t really cry. We got through with the stereotypical British humour.”

But Paul – in a different cell – was “quiet and really struggling”, said Dylan.

On July 8 the pair were dragged to a prosecutor’s office and presented with charges of “mercenary activities”. Dylan was told he faced 14 years in jail and the death penalty, while Paul faced seven years.

Held in a room full of armed guards, they signed a confession “to minimise risk to ourselves”, said Dylan.

They were still subjected to a beating. On their way back to jail, Paul was taken out of the van to be sick.

Dylan said: “They did something to make him scream for 10, 20 seconds. I don’t think I’ll ever hear someone scream like that again. That was the last time I saw Paul alive.”

Two days later, fellow Brit captive John Harding called for medical help as Paul began coughing and choking.

“At that point we said, ‘Paul’s dead’,” said Dylan. “I couldn’t take it in. He was a very good friend – I honestly would have swapped with him straight away.”

He said the beatings then stopped and the hostages were given salad and extra water. Dylan and four others appeared in a “circus” court on August 15 where he switched his plea to not guilty to being a mercenary and “undergoing training to seize power by force”.

The case was adjourned. His lowest moment came before his release.

Fearing he was being driven to his death, Dylan was “cuffed, bagged and gagged” – struggling to breathe inside a vehicle with 20 others for 18 hours.

“I was given the best right hook to the face I have ever received in my life,” he shudders. “I thought we would end up in a ditch or mass grave somewhere.”

Instead, he, John, Shaun, Aiden and fellow Brit Andrew Hill found themselves at a Russian airstrip where representatives from Saudi Arabia said they were safe. They were joined on a flight out by ex-Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, said to have helped broker their release.

They travelled via Saudi to Heathrow. Reunited with his parents and labradoodle Arthur, Dylan is slowly processing his ordeal.

He told the Sunday Mirror: "I can’t shake the sense of hyper awareness. I spent five months noticing every little change – so I’m struggling to sleep.”

He will see Chelsea and Courtney again at Paul’s funeral. And he adds: “I’ll definitely stay in touch.

“This is not over for them or any of us – they’re going through something completely different and I can only try to help them.”


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