Kremlin hostage tells Russian court how he was tortured in occupied Donbas & abducted to Russia
Russia’s ‘trial’ of Oleksandr Marchenko took an unexpected turn in October, after the Ukrainian political prisoner stood up in court and described the torture he had been subjected to by Russian-controlled Donbas militants before being abducted to Russia. It seems unlikely that the court was genuinely unaware of this, but since the charges against Marchenko are based solely on the ‘confession’ he says was forced out of him, the court ordered a ‘check’ to be made with the trial adjourned until 26 November.
Marchenko’s wife, Kateryna, explained to the Memorial Human Rights Centre that the court questioning of Marchenko took place on 8 October, with the verdict / sentence scheduled for the following day.
Marchenko explained that he had been seized in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR] and tortured, before being taken by FSB officers and DPR militants to Krasnodar in Russia. This had been without any explanation or formal accusations, and, clearly, against his will. According to his wife, Marchenko described being taken to an illegal interrogation on 23 February 2019, while under arrest on fabricated administrative charges. It was the protocol from that interrogation, which was carried out without a lawyer being present, that have been used for criminal charges against Marchenko. He explained to the court that the FSB had threatened to take him, as well as members of his family, back to ‘DPR’, where he had been savagely tortured.
Marchenko also told the court that he had addressed a complaint over this to Russia’s Investigative Committee, to the Russian Human Rights Ombudsperson and to the Russian prosecutor’s office. He had been assured that a check had been carried out, but that “it had not found any violations”. There are, unfortunately, few grounds for optimism about ‘the additional check’ ordered by the court, to be carried out before the next hearing on 26 November.
There are, on the other hand, very strong grounds for concern about the 49-year-old Ukrainian’s state of health. The conditions in any Russian SIZO [remand prison] are appalling and Marchenko also requires, and is not receiving, regular monitoring of his thyroid hormones following removal of his thyroid due to cancer. He needs medication to reduce the risk that the cancer will return.
As reported, Marchenko and his family were forced to leave their home in Donetsk back in 2014. They left in haste, and could not collect the car which Marchenko had left for its regular servicing. They were later informed that one of the so-called ‘DPR ministers’ had been seen driving around in the car.
In December 2018, a person they knew from Donetsk phoned them and said that the man who had appropriated their car had fled from the city. They were in a difficult financial position so, on 15 December 2018, Marchenko set off for Donetsk to try to retrieve the car.
Since he wanted to retrieve the car and bring it back with him, Marchenko took the fatal decision to travel to occupied Donetsk via Russia. He flew to Minsk, then Moscow, and then to Rostov-on-Don, from where he crossed into occupied territory through the Russian and militant-controlled border.
He arrived in Donetsk on 17 December and on the following day, together with his friend, went to report the theft of his car in 2014 to the ‘DPR police’.
He appears to have been seized immediately and held in solitary confinement for 20 days, from where he was taken for ‘interrogation’. This involved torture aimed at forcing him to sign a ‘confession’, “admitting to the real reason” for his arrival in Donetsk. He held out for a long time, but eventually, after they held him suspended by handcuffs, threatened to cut of his fingers and applied electric shocks, on around 12 or 13 January 2019, he signed the papers they put in front of him.
On 18 February 2019 he was taken by force, and with a bag over his head, to the Russian Federation, accompanied first by the ‘DPR security service’, then by the Russian FSB.
In Krasnodar, he was initially told that he had ‘witness’ status, with a Russian court imposing an administrative arrest sentence for supposedly disobeying enforcement officers and illegal work in Russia.
It was only on 19 February that he was able to send a text message to his family, telling them that he was in Krasnodar. Marchenko’s ‘administrative arrest’ was extended several times, and a court eventually ordered his deportation – a ruling applauded by both Marchenko’s lawyer and the Consul.
Instead, and despite the court order, he was not deported. For around a month and a half, he was held in a deportation centre, clearly while the FSB were fabricating ‘a case’ against him.
Even without the clear collaboration between the unrecognized ‘DPR security service’ and Russia’s FSB, and the manner in which he was held on entirely different, administrative, charges, there would be multiple reasons to doubt the criminal charges eventually laid on 30 April 2018. There is no evidence at all to back the charges, and the claim that there was a bank transfer – from an unidentified Ukrainian bank to an unidentified Russian bank – is obviously absurd.
The FSB are now claiming that Marchenko was in conspiracy with another person – seemingly a Russian citizen, identified only as Y. Fedorenko. The charges against Marchenko – of having planned to smuggle military technology - appear to be based solely on Fedorenko’s testimony. Memorial HRC has pointed out that it is a standard ploy to extract such testimony under threat that the person (in this case Fedorenko) will himself be imprisoned on such charges
Having studied the material regarding the period since Marchenko was brought to Russia, Memorial HRC has concluded that both administrative and criminal charges are politically motivated and that he is, therefore, a political prisoner. Marchenko is one of at least three Ukrainians who have been seized by Donbas militants and then abducted, by the militants and Russian FSB, to Russia.
Please write to Oleksandr Marchenko!
Even just a few words will tell him and Russia that he is not forgotten. Letters need to be in Russian, and any political subjects or reference to his case should be avoided. If possible, include an envelope and some thin paper as he may well try to reply. If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card
Желаю Вам здоровья и терпения, и очень надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.
[Hi. I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ]
350915 РФ, Краснодар, ул. Красноармейская, д. 22, ФКУ СИЗО-5
Марченко Александру Владимировичу, 1971 г. р.
[In English: 350095, Russian Federation, Krasnodar, 22 Krasnoarmeiska St, SIZO No. 5
Marchenko, Alexander Vladimirovich, b. 1971 ]