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2019.09.09 17:45

Activists, filmmakers, pensioners: who are the Ukrainian political prisoners released from Russia?

Hromadske2019.09.09 17:45

From alleged attempts to negotiate with Putin's advisers to persecuted Crimean Tatars, LRT partners Hromadske in Ukraine take a look at the stories behind the political prisoners exchanged on September 7, 2019.

Oleksandr Kolchenko is an activist of the Crimean Euromaidan. Kolchenko was detained by Russian special services in May 2014 in annexed Crimea. It was in the same case as Oleg Sentsov, whom the Russian court had condemned for "creating a terrorist group".

Oleg Sentsov is a Ukrainian film director from Simferopol, author of the films ‘Gamer’ and ‘Rhinoceros’ (unfinished). He was an active participant of Ukraine's 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests and the pro-Ukrainian demonstrations during the annexation of Crimea. Sentsov was detained by officers of the Russian FSB in Crimea on May 10, 2014.

During interrogations, they beat, strangled, and threatened to take Sentsov to a forest and bury him. They demanded he give evidence against the leaders of the Euromaidan.

Subsequently, Sentsov was transferred to the Lefortovo detention centre in Moscow, Russia. Sentsov was accused of preparing terrorist attacks (attempts to blow up the Lenin monument and the Eternal Flame Memorial in Simferopol and the arson of the offices of pro-Russian organizations). He was sentenced to 20 years in a maximum-security colony.

The 19-year-old Pavlo Gryb was detained in August 2017 in the Belarusian city of Gomel. According to his father, Ukrainian officer Ihor Gryb, Pavlo was lured to the territory of a neighboring state by Russian security services.

In Gomel, Pavlo was supposed to see a girl he met on social networks. Later, Russian Tatiana Yershova confessed that she had invited the Ukrainian to Belarus because she was forced by the FSB. On March 22, 2019 in Rostov-on-Don, Pavlo Gryb was sentenced to six years in prison for "inciting" Russian citizen Tatiana Yershova to commit a "terrorist attack".

Stanislav Klykh, a history teacher at the Kyiv Transport Academy, was detained by Russian security officers on August 8, 2014, at one of the hotels in the Russian city of Orel. He was there to meet his girlfriend. He was only allowed to call his mother to report the arrest.

After 10 months of isolation, he wrote a letter to the European Court of Human Rights outlining the torture he was subjected to in order to force confessions out of him. On May 26, 2016, a Chechnya court sentenced Klykh to 20 years in prison, accused of killing Russian troops in Grozny during the 1994-95 Russo-Chechen war.

In July 2018, Klykh was transferred to the Magnitogorsk Psychiatric Hospital. Russia claimed that the political prisoners had been "transferred at will", but Klykh told his mother he had been doped with psychotropic drugs there.

On March 17, 2014, Mykola Karpiuk, the deputy head of the Right Sector for ideological work, was detained on the Russian side of the border between the Bryansk and Chernihiv.

A few days earlier, at the country house near Kyiv, the Right Sector leader was deciding how to deal with the possible annexation of Crimea. At this meeting, the head of the Kyiv-based organization, Viacheslav Fursa, offered to go and negotiate with the Russians at the highest level – he called names of advisers to President Vladimir Putin, whose contacts he allegedly had. Supposedly such a meeting would have given an opportunity to resolve the issue with Crimea in favour of Ukraine.

However, according to the participants themselves, everyone was against such a trip. So Karpiuk went against the warnings. According to Dmytro Yarosh, head of the Right Sector at the time, it was Karpiuk's personal decision. On March 17, Viacheslav Fursa and his driver were detained together with Karpiuk. However, the first two returned 15 days later.

In May 2016, a Chechnya court sentenced Karpiuk to 22.5 years in prison, also accusing him of killing Russian troops in Grozny.

Yevhen Panov, a former Donbass war participant and volunteer, was named as the "organizer of terrorist attacks" in Crimea, after Russia’s FSB declared the elimination of ​​the "intelligence network of the General Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine" in annexed Crimea on August 10, 2016.

His brother believes that Panov was abducted and taken to Crimea because "there is no other way that he could have ended up there". Panov and Andriy Zakhtey were held in the Lefortovo pre-trial detention centre in Moscow.

Volodymyr Balukh, a Crimean farmer, hung a Ukrainian flag on his house in the village of Serebryanka at the end of 2013. The flag was removed several times, but Balukh hung it up again.

After the annexation of Crimea, the persecution began. In August 2017, a local court sentenced Balukh to 3.5 years in prison. He was charged with "ammunition storage". At the beginning of October 2017, the ‘court’ quashed the sentence and ordered a new trial. In January 2018, Balukh was sentenced to 3 years and 7 months of penal settlement and a fine of 10,000 rubles (around $150).

In the summer of 2018, Balukh was found guilty of allegedly beating a detention centre chief and sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 rubles.

While in prison, Balukh fasted for 206 days, consuming only a few tablespoons of oatmeal, breadcrumbs, water and tea with honey. However, he stopped the hunger strike for the duration of the transportation.

Roman Sushchenko worked as a France correspondent for the Ukrinform news site. He arrived in Russia in September 2016 to visit his relatives. He was detained and charged with espionage in October. During the trial, Sushchenko was held in the Lefortovo prison.

On June 4, 2018, a court in Moscow convicted Sushchenko to 12 years in a maximum security prison. During his imprisonment, Sushchenko painted pictures. In February 2019, an exhibition of the journalist's work from Lefortovo in 2016-2018 took place in Paris.

Oleksiy Syzonovych, a Ukrainian pensioner, was abducted in Luhansk and taken to Rostov in August 2016, where he was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined 250,000 rubles (3,800$) for allegedly preparing terrorist attacks in Russia.

During the trial, Syzonovych was kept in a pre-trial detention center in Rostov-on-Don, where he was severely beaten – this was reported by Diana Ivanova, the Consul of Ukraine in Novosibirsk, Russia. She was first allowed to visit Syzonovych a year and a half after his detention.

Edem Bekirov, a Crimean Tatar, was detained by the Russian security forces at the administrative border near Crimea in December 2018 – he was accused of allegedly transporting 10 kg of TNT and 190 rounds of live ammunition.

Shortly before his arrest, Bekirov – who lives with diabetes – underwent heart surgery and leg amputation. Because of his serious health condition, Bekirov constantly needs medicine.

His lawyer repeatedly stated that Bekirov was not being given medical treatment in jail. The European Court of Human Rights reacted to Bekirov’s case and ordered the Russian Federation to conduct an independent medical examination of the political prisoner.

Artur Panov, a native of Krasnodon in Ukraine's Luhansk region, was detained in December 2015 after allegedly crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border under the guise of a refugee.

According to Russian prosecutors, Panov was going to blow up the Rostov Theater named after Maxim Gorky. While on the Russian territory, he allegedly even managed to assemble an explosive device. Panov himself claimed that it was an explosive package that would not harm anyone.

In the Rostov pre-trial detention centre, where he was held, Panov's health started deteriorating. He claimed that someone tried to poison him. Panov went on a hunger strike demanding to be extradited to Ukraine.

Other exchanged prisoners include all 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in a November 25 Russian attack near the Kerch Strait. All men said they considered themselves prisoners of war.

Lithuania calls on Russia to release all Ukrainian prisoners

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement urging "Russia to unconditionally free other Ukrainian citizens who are illegally detained in the territory of the Russian Federation".

Moscow also did not implement an international tribunal ruling on May 25 to release the detained sailors, as the 24 men became part of the exchange, according to the Lithuanian MFA.

Among those sent to Russia was Volodymyr Tsemakh, a key suspect in the MH17 case, who was questioning by Dutch investigators prior to the exchange, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"We hope that the prisoner swap will not affect the investigation of the tragic disaster of downing Malaysian Air flight MH17. as well as the identification and prosecution of perpetrators," the Lithuanian MFA said.

This story was orginally published on Hromadske