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Russia sentences Ukrainian political prisoner to 10 years after abducting him from Donbas

30.11.2020
Halya Coynash

A Russian court has sentenced Oleksandr Marchenko to 10 years’ imprisonment, despite the evidently flawed nature of the charges against him and his consistent account of torture inflicted by Russian-controlled militants in eastern Ukraine before being abducted to Russia.  In reporting the verdict, Marchenko’s wife, Kateryna, wrote that they had, of course, known that an acquittal was not to be expected,  but could not help hoping for some kind of miracle. 

Acquittals in Russia’s political trials of Ukrainians are, indeed, virtually unheard of, especially in cases like this where there was flagrant collaboration between militants from the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR] and Russia’s FSB.  There was no suggestion that the court was unaware of the circumstances by which Marchenko came to be held prisoner in Russia.  In October 2020, Marchenko had described in detail the torture he faced from the DPR militants and the fact that he had only signed the ‘confession’ forced out of him later, without a lawyer being present, because the Krasnodar FSB threatened, if he didn’t, to send him back to Donbas for more torture.  As reported, the court had even ordered ‘a check’ to be carried out into these allegations, before the hearing on 26 November.

That ‘check’ was clearly a fiction, as were all other aspects of the right to a fair trial, and on 26 November, a 10-year sentence was handed down.

Marchenko, who recently turned 49, was living in Donetsk with his family when Russian and Russian-backed militants seized controlled in 2014.  They fled 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.

It is no easy matter living as ‘displaced persons’, so when, in December 2018, a person they knew from Donetsk phoned and said that the man who had appropriated their car had fled from the city, Marchenko decided to set off for Donetsk to try to retrieve the car.

It was logical, since Marchenko was hoping to drive the car back, but was to prove a fatal mistake that on 15 December 2018, the Ukrainian began his journey to occupied Donetsk via Minsk (Belarus), then Moscow and Rostov-on Don.  From there 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 claimed 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 – were seemingly based solely on Fedorenko’s testimony.  In declaring Marchenko a political prisoner on 27 December 2019, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre 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

Memorial studied all the material in the case and concluded that both administrative and criminal charges were politically motivated.

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

Привет,

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. ] 

Address

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 ]

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