“Don’t stay aside and don’t forget the prisoners! Say your word about us – at home, at work, on social networks, in the media. We must convey the truth about the persecution of Ukraine’s patriots by the special services of Russia!” The author of this message is 21-years-old, and the past two years he has suffered a lot of tortures and humiliation. Pavlo Hryb, ill since childhood has been sentenced to 6 years.
Ready to sacrifice the most valuable
The appeal of the young political prisoner to the public and to the leadership of Ukraine was posted on Facebook by his father Ihor Hryb on the birthday of Pavlo on July 1. Pavlo’s operation scheduled for 2017 still hasn’t been made. On the eve of treatment, Russian special services detained a 19-year-old young man on the territory of Belarus and sent him to Russia, accusing of “facilitating terrorist activity”.
“Since the first and only exchange of prisoners with the aggressor state, when three people were released from captivity (Savchenko, Afanasyev, Soloshenko – ed.), a long time has passed,” Pavlo wrote. “The number of political prisoners, unfortunately, only increases. From the occupied Crimea to the settlement of Uptar in the Magadan region, there are more than 100 people that are tortured every day in isolators and camps for the fact that one day they challenged the enemy and its aggression. We are forced to suffer. They humiliate our dignity and our character, provoke, in all the possible ways they try to crush us, so that we surrender, betray, and become disappointed in what we fight for, what we believe in. In spite of everything, we remain faithful to our idea and Motherland, for which we are ready to give the most valuable thing we have – our life.”
Pavlo’s health is deteriorating, he needs urgent surgery, but Kremlin’s executioners don’t notice that. Mother’s meeting with her son at his birthday lasted less than an hour in pre-trial detention facility № 4 in Rostov-on-Don.
“Pavlo hopes that there will be some changes in the issue of return,” Ihor Hryb told to Opinion. He asked to buy him a book by Ivan Bahrianyi Garden of Gethsemane and to give the addresses of other political prisoners to correspond with them. He didn’t say anything special, because the meeting was behind the glass and the conversation was conveyed through the telephone in the presence of the employee of the facility. ”
Crimean Tatars are protesting in Moscow
More than three months have passed since mass repressions were conducted by occupiers in the Crimea. On March 27, Russian prosecutors searched dozens of dwellings of Crimean Tatars suspected of being members to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a forbidden organization in the Russian Federation. 23 civil activists charged with terrorism were taken to Rostov-on-Don by plane. On the peninsula persecution continues primarily on a religious basis, special service agents are following members of the Crimean solidarity association. On June 10, more arrests took place in Kerch, Alushta, Bakhchysarai, and Sevastopol.
“Among June detainees there are relatives of March detainees,” noted Olha Skrypnyk, coordinator of the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG). “These people are used to put pressure in order to intimidate and obtain the testimony that FSB wants so much. This is a very threatening trend.”
Every month, the CHRG publishes numbers of people who are behind bars because of political and religious views. At the end of June, there were 93 such people, including Oleg Sentsov, Volodymyr Balukh, and others, however, without 24 Ukrainian sailors – they are prisoners of war. Almost two thirds – 66 people – are accused of affiliation to Hizb ut-Tahrir. All of them are Muslims, the vast majority – Crimean Tatars.
The actions of Crimean Tatar activists are becoming more and more valiant. On July 10, in Moscow, they held a protest rally against persecution in Crimea on Red Square. The Russian police detained 7 people. On the second day, they went to peaceful action in support of convicted compatriots near the building of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. 45 people were detained. The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine expressed strong protest to the actions of Russian security forces.
The health of individual prisoners is in critical condition. At the end of June Volodymyr Balukh has started a hunger strike again, he refused even from water. The reason was non-admission of the Ukrainian consul. It was like Balukh is a citizen of Russia, although he doesn’t have a Russian passport. Attorney Olha Dinze visited the prisoner on July 2. That day the convict left solitary confinement, where he regularly gets, allegedly because of regime’s violations. The last time the punishment was caused by provocation. The prisoner felt bad, he was allowed to lie down, after that he was accused of violating the internal order.
In the solitary confinement, Balukh said that the exchange is the only option for him to leave the detention facility alive and that he doesn’t intend to stop the hunger strike until his demands are met. However, the requirements were fulfilled, the consul was let, and from July 5, Volodymyr has stopped his hunger strike. However, the prisoner’s condition may deteriorate due to new punishment. The “persistent perpetrator” of the colony №4 Torzhok (Russian Federation) was placed for six months in a cell-type accommodation, where conditions of detention are much more severe.
The disabled person of the first group, Edem Bekirov, is still in pre-trial detention facilitн of Simferopol. The accusation is absurd – the man without a leg, who can’t lift more than 1 kg, allegedly gave 14 kg of ammunition to another person. Bekirov’s detention was extended until August 12, and the ECHR obliged Russia to examine a state of prisoner’s health and report no later than 27 of July. In addition, Mr. Edem is not allowed to meet with relatives – daughter’s 15 applications for the meeting with the father were ignored.
“Recently, they stated that Edem Bekirov will be taken to the Armiansk, where they will hold him until the hearings on his case,” Olha Skrypnyk said.“ But, as his lawyer Oleksii Ladin has said, there are no normal conditions in Armiansk. This is extremely dangerous for the detainee, he may simply not be able to withstand all this. It’s summer, there is no air conditioning in the cells, and Bekirov has heart problems.”
Dialogue with Presidential Administration is possible
Yevhen Panov is thousands of kilometers from home. Last winter, Opinion wrote that in the Omsk colony the captives were forced to sing the Russian anthem every day, however, Yevhen refused to do it, as well as work for the enemy.
“People are writing letters to Yevhen not only from Ukraine but also from the EU countries, due to this the attention of the colony is concentrated on him, unlike the others, he’s not being repressed because they are afraid of publicity,” said Ihor Kotelianets, chairman of the NGO Association of Relatives of Kremlin’s Political Prisoners. “Each letter to a political prisoner is a contribution to his protection and security. The more attention is drawn to the Ukrainians, the more letters – the less the desire of the colony administrations to mistreat the prisoner.”
Earlier, Mr. Kotelianets pointed out that there is no negotiation platform for our political and civilian prisoners, as opposed to prisoners of war, which are the subject of discussion during the Minsk talks. Last year, President Petro Poroshenko promised the relatives of the prisoners to establish a coordinating council in the President’s Administration on the release of political prisoners, but the promise has not been fulfilled. Do President Volodymyr Zelensky tackle this issue?
“We’re also convincingly suggesting the current authorities to create a state body that would work daily for the release of all hostages,” Ihor Kotelianets continued. “This may be the Presidential Commissioner for the release of hostages or another wing at the Presidential Office (PO). PO doesn’t hide, we keep in touch, exchange thoughts. They’ve indicated that they supported the idea of establishing such a branch and are working to ensure that all bureaucratic circles are passed. I hope this summer we will see a team of people in the PO that will answer these questions.”
However, a politician, a diplomat, a participant of TCG in Minsk Roman Bezsmertnyi against the separation of political prisoners and prisoners of war. After all, those who have been captured since the beginning of the war on the territory of the Crimea, LPR and DPR, the Republic of Belarus and prisoners in the Russian Federation, are prisoners of war.
“It would be advisable for all to use only the ‘prisoners of war’ term,” said Mr. Bezsmertnyi. During the term of previous political leadership, they have long been not recognized as such, because they talked about international conflict and were afraid to name a word that corresponds to the situation. This is a war between Ukraine and Russia, the consequence of the attack – initially the annexation of the Crimea, and then the occupation of part of the Ukrainian Donbas. All these persons fall under the Geneva Convention on the Rights of POW of 1949, despite the fact that one of the parties does not recognize this. ”
While the Ukrainian authorities are looking for ways to return our citizens from captivity, Putin’s friend Viktor Medvedchuk has agreed with leaders of the DPR and LPR to release four Ukrainians. President Zelensky said that he didn’t speak to Medvedchuk, but linked the release with the elections to the Verkhovna Rada.
They don’t lose their fortitude
The issue of the release of Ukrainian sailors captured by Russians on November 25, 2018, near the Kerch Strait, led to a conflict between President Zelensky and Minister Klimkin. Will such a showdown hurt the sailors? According to Roman Bezsmertnyi, this does not affect the release, but it spoils an image of Ukraine:
“The Russian side demanded the trial of sailors in Ukraine. This is a mockery since prisoners of war are not trialed by courts of general jurisdiction, they are not detained as criminal offenders. The International Convention provides for an appropriate procedure for the detention, investigation, conviction, and execution of punishment. Therefore, I don’t know why the discussion between Minister Klimkin and President Zelensky took place. It seems that both have forgotten that Ukraine has ratified the Geneva Convention of 1949 which Russia does not adhere to.”
Ex-Commander of the Navy Serhii Haiduk believes – to hope that a “public statement” can accelerate the release of imprisoned sailors is not logical. No matter how offensive it may sound, there are other forms – agreements, bargaining. But the price is quite high because it is about our people, Ukrainians. Such processes enjoy the silence and not publicity.
“First, the underwater part of the Kerch conflict’s ‘iceberg’, both political and military, is still ‘underwater’,” continued Mr. Haiduk. So, until there is an understanding of the root causes – it is difficult to assess such statements, and even more, the ones made by politicians. But ‘little strokes fell great oaks’, therefore, such statements form public opinion, referring to the internal and external audience, form the position of ‘not forgetting’. Secondly, the position of the Russian Federation, or rather its leader, has two ‘wraps’ – international – the formation of a position through international institutions (in the opinion of the RF, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has no legal authority over the case of November 25, therefore, Moscow has no reason to comply with any of its verdicts), and the internal one – where it’s senseless to hope for the fairness of Russian “puppet” trials”.
Fragmented position of public authorities is unlikely to have a positive impact on the fate of prisoners of war. Such a vision was expressed to Opinion by Russian attorney Nikolai Polozov, who protects our men,
“Regardless of positions, political affiliations, parties, everyone should have a common strategy – the human dimension is a priority. And the priority is the issue of returning back home prisoners of war, seamen, political prisoners, citizens of Ukraine from the territory of the Russian Federation and the occupied Crimea. Therefore, I hope that there will be no similar public and private discrepancies in the governmental bodies on these issues.”
“The term of release will be affected by many factors – apart from political, economic and military ones,” said Serhii Haiduk. We shouldn’t forget that the war on land and on the sea continues. And not only in the military sense. These are also economic wars. Obviously, the Russian Federation will delay the process, but it will depend on the position of Ukraine on the term of the release of our seamen and the return of seized vessels. The process of release and its acceleration will be affected only by the synergy of the process – the consistent “firm” position of Ukraine; continuation of international influence on this process; search for dialogue in different formats, where this topic should be in the public eye.”
During the first communication between the presidents of Ukraine and the Russian Federation on July 11 by phone, Volodymyr Zelensky has raised the issue of the release of prisoners of war, sailors, and other Ukrainian citizens who are detained in Russia. He announced this at the meeting with the mothers of sailors in Kryvyi Rihttps://glavcom.ua/news/zelenskiy-rpozpoviv-pro-zmist-rozmovi-z-putinim-609793.htmlh. And what about Putin? He assembled the Security Council of Russia to discuss the issues of Russian-Ukrainian relations.
The sailors don’t lose their fortitude. According to Nikolai Polozov, they all hope that the release is just around the corner, Ukraine and the world community will do everything they can to ensure that Russia complies with the decision of the International Tribunal of the United Nations.
Maybe this week we will receive a positive signal from Europe. On July 18th, the newly elected European Parliament plans to adopt a resolution on the Ukrainian political prisoners illegally detained in Russia and Crimea.
By Viktor Tsvilikhovsky