Empty promises from Ukraine’s leaders as release of Kremlin’s hostages ‘buried’
It is almost exactly a year since Russia finally freed Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, 24 prisoners of war and 10 other political prisoners in an exchange almost certainly aimed at getting important MH17 witness and likely suspect, Vladimir Tsemakh, out of the reach of the Dutch prosecutor. At the time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was full of optimism that other political prisoners would shortly be released. He and his people are continuing to make assurances, but Archbishop Klyment, Head of the beleaguered Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea is not alone in believing that the subject of such releases “has been buried”. Not only is there no sign of progress, but there is little or nothing to suggest that any efforts are actually being made. This is while Russia has imprisoned as many Ukrainians on politically motivated charges or for their faith in occupied Crimea as the number of political prisoners freed on 7 September 2019.
As well as largely futile efforts to get Ukraine’s leaders to meet with them and discuss tangible measures, the Association of Relatives of the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners have also turned to the diplomatic missions of Ukraine’s western partners. On 24 August, Petro Vyhivsky, whose son Valentin Vyhivsky has been imprisoned in Russia since September 2014, passed on an appeal to Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas.
The authors of the appeal note that over the past two months, Andriy Yermak, the Head of the Office of the President, has twice spoken of a possible exchange of prisoners which could take place in the near future. How can you get used to the bitter disappointment when such assurances come to nothing? The same is true of the President’s upbeat words back in winter that the public would soon learn the names of those released in a new exchange. Six months have passed since then, and no news at all.
“The families are worried that since the release of well-known political prisoner Oleg Sentsov and the Ukrainian seamen in September last year, that the question of the return of Ukrainians illegally held in Russia has virtually vanished both from the agenda of the Ukrainian authorities, and from that of the international community”.
The appeal was specifically aimed at asking the Germany Foreign Ministry to help get the subject of the release of political prisoners on the agenda of the meeting in the Normandy format which had been scheduled for 28 August . That meeting was, however, cancelled, seemingly by the Russian side and there is nothing to indicate when the next meeting will take place.
In the meantime, arrests are continuing, with over 100 political prisoners now held in occupied Crimea and Russia. This number can only increase while Crimea remains under occupation, as Russia is clearly using the persecution to try to drive Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians out of Crimea, and for show trials aimed at claiming that Ukrainians are carrying out sabotage and / spying for Kyiv in occupied Crimea.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin was clearly concerned to get the MH17 suspect out of the way, in case he revealed incriminating details about Russia’s role in the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17, it is likely that he hoped the release of Sentsov and several other prominent political prisoners would silence the international community.
It was a cynical, and partially justified, calculation. There was a huge international campaign to secure Sentsov’s release. Despite the filmmaker’s own efforts, that campaign has not been rechannelled into getting the release of other political prisoners.
There really is no need to wait for a major campaign to be initiated. Some acts of support and solidarity need only the Internet. You can use Twitter or social media to circulate information about political prisoners and make calls to government representatives in your country, the EU, etc. to demand their release in the face of the grave threat posed by Covid-19.
Write to the men! Russian FSB and other ‘investigators’ spend a lot of time trying to convince political prisoners that Ukraine has abandoned them, that nobody knows what they are going through, nor cares. Even if it’s hard to write in Russian, your very letters will demonstrate that this is not the case.
The most urgent need for action is in those cases where men’s lives are in danger.
Details can be found and circulated here about 58-year-old Dzhemil Gafarov. He is suffering from a condition that, even according to Russian legislation, should have precluded his detention.
There are similar concerns about 55-year-old Volodymyr Dudka who, together with 44-year-old Oleksiy Bessarabov, was sentenced to 14 years after a grossly falsified trial (See: 14 year sentences for Russia to present Ukraine as the enemy in occupied Crimea )
The list below is very long but please do not be overwhelmed, and simply choose one or more political prisoners – however many you or your group think would be realistic to write to or whose cases you could publicize.
ANY help in making these cases known and in giving the prisoners moral support is important!
‘Ukrainian Saboteur’ cases without any acts of sabotage or proof
Valentin Vyhivsky Imprisoned since September 2014
Vasyl Vasylenko - a 53-year-old former footballer whose arrest on spying charges was announced recently, nine months after his arrest
‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ conveyor belt prosecutions - fake ‘terrorism’ charges, used increasingly against civic activists and journalists
Yalta Six - the first gratuitously violent ‘operation’ on 11 February 2016, and then arrests of two very young men on 18 April 2016.
Emir-Usein Kuku, the first human rights activist, against whom Russia used ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges, after other persecution failed to silence him. See:
Bakhchysarai Four - four men arrested on 12 May 2016
Simferopol Five - five men, including two brothers, both of them lawyers and Ukrainian sports champions
22 March 2018 Nariman Memedeminov (a civic journalist)
10 May 2018 Enver Seytosmanov
14 February 2019 ‘Krasnogvardeysk group’ - three men, including a civic activist and a 22-year-old
27 March 2019 ‘Operation’ against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists in which 23 men were seized and almost immediately taken to Russia. Two other men – Rayim Aivazov and Eskender Suleymanov were arrested later.
Izet Abdulayev, actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Tofik Abdulgaziev, Crimean Solidarity activist
Vladlen Abdulkadyrov. activist involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners
Medzhit Abdurakhmanov Crimean Solidarity activist
Bilyal Adilov religious figure who also actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Rayim Aivazov Crimean Solidarity activist
Enver Ametov actively attended politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Osman Arifmemetov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist
Farkhod Bazarov Crimean Solidarity activist
Akim Bekirov civic activist involved in organizing parcels of food, etc. for political prisoners
Remzi Bekirov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Dzhemil Gafarov actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. Gafarov has a serious kidney disorder and even according to Russian law should not be in detention.
Servet Gaziev, 15.04.1960, actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Riza Izetov human rights activist and Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Alim Karimov Crimean Solidarity activist
Seiran Murtaza actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings. He has two children.
Yashar Muyedinov Crimean Solidarity activist
Erfan Osmanov actively attended all politically motivated ‘court’ hearings
Seitveli Seitabdiev Crimean Solidarity activist
Rustem Seitkhalilov Crimean Solidarity activist
Rustem Sheikhaliev Crimean Solidarity civic journalist
Eskender Suleymanov, Crimean Solidarity activist.
Ruslan Suleymanov Crimean Solidarity civic journalist and activist
Shaban Umerov Crimean Solidarity activist
Asan Yanikov civic activist involved in organizing food parcels for political prisoners.
10 June 2019 FSB “We’ll get around to shooting you all”
‘Belogorsk group’ - including a father and son
11 March 2020 Another wave of armed searches and arrests in Bakhchysarai, targeting civic activists or their relatives
Osman Seytumerov (the sons of renowned Crimean Tatar historian Shurki Seytumerov)
Rustem Seytmemetov (the Seytumerovs’ uncle)
Amet Suleymanov – a Crimean Solidarity activist and journalist (streaming information about arrests and political trials onto the Internet). He had recently restricted such civic activism, but only because of very serious heart problems. This is one of only two cases where death in detention was presumably deemed so likely that Suleymanov was placed under house arrest.
7 July 2020 New FSB low, with arrest of a blind man with limited mobility and many others. At least four of the men Vadim Bektemirov; Alexander Sizikov; Alim Sufianov and Emil Ziyadinov all took part in measures to help political prisoners and ensure circulation of information about such repression
Alexander Sizikov(placed under house arrest due to his severe disability, but Russia is still trying to claim that he “led a Hizb ut-Tahrir cell”)
Other religious persecution
Talyat Abdurakhmanov(suspended sentence)
Arsen Kubedinov(suspended sentence)
Seiran Mustafaev (suspended sentence)
Punishment for Euromaidan or for opposing Russia’s annexation of Crimea
Mykola Shyptur imprisoned since March 2014
Accused of membership in Ukraine of perfectly legal organizations which Russia demonizes and has banned for political reasons.
Alleged membership of the Noman Çelebicihan (or Asker) Battalion
Other Ukrainian political prisoners