• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
14-year sentences because Russia needed a Ukrainian saboteur show trial to justify annexing Crimea
The whereabouts have finally been learned of two Ukrainian political prisoners given horrifically long sentences for refusing to ‘confess’ to an implausible ‘sabotage plot’ in Russian-occupied Crimea. Both 55-year-old Volodymyr Dudka and Oleksiy Bessarabov (43) are in harsh-regime prison colonies in Stavropol itself, or the Stavropol area of Russia, very far from their families in Sevastopol.
Dudka’s son, Ilya reported on 18 January that Ukraine’s Consul Taras Malyshevskyi had visited his father at Prison No. 11 in Stavropol. His report is alarming, with Dudka’s health seriously deteriorated after well over three years in Russian and Russian-controlled prisons. He is suffering from permanently high blood pressure, headaches and pain in the stomach and groin, as well as a strange rash and unexplained weight loss. His condition was particularly exacerbated by the gruelling journey to Stavropol, during which on at least one occasion he was held first in a freezing van for over 3 hours and then in the extremely cold ‘quarantine’ cell. His medical condition makes any such periods of extreme cold dangerous.
Dudka, Bessarabov and Dmytro Shtyblikov were arrested on 9 November in Sevastopol. This was Russia’s second attempt in the space of a few months to concoct a ‘Ukrainian saboteur’ plot, with the FSB presumably learning from earlier mistakes and making sure this time that the ‘suspects’ at least knew each other. Plausibility, however, remained minimal, given their targeting of a retired naval captain, doting on his infant granddaughter, and two world-known academics. Arrests on dubious ‘sabotage’ or ‘terrorism’ charges, without a trace of a real crime, began soon after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. All such cases help the FSB to improve their statistics on supposed crimes ‘solved’ and ‘criminals’ caught. They also enable Russia to push the claims of ‘danger’ from Ukraine that are to justify Russia’s ongoing occupation of Ukrainian territory.
The FSB claimed on 10 November that the men seized the day before were “members of a sabotage – terrorist group of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Central Intelligence Department” who were planning acts of sabotage on military and other infrastructure”. Two younger men - Oleksiy Stohniy and Hlib Shabliy were arrested 10 days later. That, at least, was what the FSB claimed, though, in fact, Stohniy was arrested at a different time and place, with the videoed images of his apparent arrest staged for the camera. Both Stohniy and Shabliy were later convicted of charges that had virtually no connection to the sabotage that they had ‘confessed to’.
The FSB placed all men under enormous pressure and prevented Shtyblikov, whom they had designated as the leader, from seeing an independent lawyer at all. Under conditions that remain unclear, he agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced on 16 November, 2017 to five years’ imprisonment after a ‘trial’ lasting just minutes (details here).
Bessarabov and Dudka were sentenced on 4 April 2019 to 14 years’ imprisonment, with the sentences so high almost certainly because both men had refused to ‘cooperate’ with the FSB. They consistently denied all the charges, and spoke of the electric shocks used initially to torture them into ‘confessing’. The verdict and sentences were passed by Igor Vladimirovich Kozhevnikov; Vasily Aleksandrovich Avkhimov; and Vladimir Ilych Reshetnyak.
These ‘judges’ ignored gross falsification in this case, some of which the ‘prosecutor’, Sergei Tokarev, was himself forced to acknowledge, and the lack of any evidence to back the charges. It was claimed, for example, that ‘biological traces’ from both defendants had been ‘found’ on a map of the city which allegedly showed the places where the men were supposed to have been planning acts of sabotage. An expert analysis, however, demonstrated that the traces were only on the edge of the map and not over the entire surface, which would make no sense if this were really, as asserted, a map that the men were using.
Both men had previously complained that non-procedural measures had been used to obtain biological traces. Saliva and other samples were taken without any protocol being drawn up and without his lawyer present. Under such circumstances, it would be easy to later use the samples to fabricate incriminating evidence.
There is a similar situation with the telephones that the men said were planted on them. The prosecution had claimed that some person involved in Ukrainian military intelligence in Kharkiv had asked a stranger in Crimea to buy the telephones and pass them over to the defendants. Dudka’s lawyer, Sergei Legostov was scathing about such nonsense, saying that it was worse than the shoddiest detective novel.
Dudka’s son reports that the men who came to ‘search’ his father’s home quickly ‘found’ what they had brought, and then left, without bothering to pretend to search the kitchen or bathroom.
Despite the lack of any convincing evidence and testimony of torture, the 14-year sentences were upheld by Russia’s Supreme Court on 15 October 2019.
Please write to Volodymyr Dudka and Oleksiy Bessarabov!
Even just a few words will tell them and Russia that they are not forgotten. Letters need to be in Russian, and any political subjects or reference to their case should be avoided. If possible, include an envelope and some thin paper so that they can respond.
If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card (the address on the envelope can be in Russian or English)
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.
Алексей Евгеньевич Бессарабов, 1976 гр
ФКУ ИК-1 УФСИН России по Ставропольскому краю,
357000, с. Кочубеевское
[or in English Bessarabov, Aleksei Yevgenievich, b. 1976
Russia 357000, Stavropol Krai, Kochubeyevskoe, Prison No. 1
Владимир Михайлович Дудка, 1964 гр,
ФКУ ИК-11 УФСИН России по Ставропольскому краю,
355044 г. Ставрополь-44.
[Or in English: Dudka, Vladimir Mikhailovich, b. 1964
Russia 355044, Stavropol-44, Prison No. 11]