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Abducted, tortured and spending seventh Christmas in Russian solitary confinement

07.01.2021
Halya Coynash

Valentin Vyhivsky was just 29, with a 5-year-old son, when he became one of the other victims of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine  - those it seized, tortured and imprisoned on fabricated charges.  He remains imprisoned in Russia, having now spent longer in Russian captivity than his grandfather, a victim of Soviet repression.

On 7 January 2020, he will be spending his seventh Orthodox Christmas in near solitary confinement, thousands of kilometres from his family in Ukraine.  

Ukrainian, Maidan activist and aviation fanatic

Vyhivsky has been fascinated in aviation since early childhood. Although he wasn’t able to get a job in this field after he completed his studies, he did read huge amounts on aviation issues and chat with other enthusiasts on the Internet, including many in Russia.  It is possible that one of these contacts was either working for the FSB, or was threatened by the latter with trouble because of her contact with a young man who was not only Ukrainian, but had also taken part in the Revolution of Dignity (Euromaidan).  The woman claimed that she urgently needed money for a relative’s cancer treatment, but could not come to mainland Ukraine herself, due to her line of work.   Unfortunately, Vyhivsky believed her and, having managed to get her the money, set off on 17 September for Crimea which was already under Russian occupation.

He vanished more or less on arrival, and his family began desperately trying to find out what had happened. It was only on 6 October that Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry ascertained that he had been ‘detained’ on 18 September, although not his whereabouts.

Just over a month later, the family received a letter from Vyhivsky, saying virtually nothing, but with a return address that made it clear that he was being held in Moscow.

Mystery charges

Incredible as it sounds, Vyhivsky’s family still does not know what exactly Vyhivsky’s ‘spying’ was supposed to consist of. 

He was initially charged with ‘illegally receiving and divulging commercial, tax or banking secrets’ (article 183 of Russia’s criminal code).  At some point, this was changed to the much more serious charge of trying to gather Russian state secrets to pass on to the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU].

It was the FSB who first reported that Vyhivsky had been sentenced to 11 years in a maximum security prison on 15 December 2015.  The FSB claimed that Vyhivsky had come to their attention in 2012 and was suspected of gathering information containing commercial secrets through bribes, as well as information containing state secrets in order to pass them to a representative of a foreign state. 

He was alleged to have “recruited employees of the aviation and space part of the Russian military industry to gather secret technical documentation on leading promising designs and pass them to him for financial remuneration”.  

Means of persuasion

The FSB’s claim that Vyhivsky had ‘confessed’ to the charges when captured in Crimea fails to explain why they illegally took him to Moscow and held him incommunicado for eight months. It was only on 27 May 2015 that the Ukrainian consul was able to visit Vyhivsky, although then, and then a month later, when his mother was allowed a visit, two guards were present, stopping any subject concerning the charges and Vyhivsky’s treatment.  He managed to tell his mother only that they know how to persuade you”.

Vyhivsky had contact only with  Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova, who had initially come upon Vyhivsky while visiting another Ukrainian political prisoner.  She reported that Vyhivsky was clearly frightened and refused to say anything to her, even what article of the criminal code he was charged under.  Petro Vyhivsky has since explained that his son only opened out to Svetova after she passed on particular words from his father aimed at proving that she really was in contact with the family. 

That secrecy was later also applied to the lawyer Vyhivsky finally got for the appeal against the original conviction, which was rejected on March 31, 2016.  Ilya Novikov was even forced to sign an undertaking not to divulge any information about the appeal, which is likely to have provided details about the torture used to ‘persuade’ Vyhivsky to confess. 

Brutal isolation

Both Vyhivsky’s father Petro, and his brother, received emphatic ‘invitations’ to come to Russia which they were strongly advised by the SBU to reject.  It was not at all improbable that they would be seized as well, so that the FSB could concoct a ‘Ukrainian conspiracy’.  t is really only from the earlier visits by his mother, Halyna Vyhivska, that we know about the ‘methods of persuasion’.  These included two mock executions in a forest, and other forms of torture, with Valentin still bearing the scars of some of these on his body.

It is not fully clear why Vyhivsky has been subjected to such extreme restrictions on contact with others.  Even after his sentence and being sent to a prison colony, he has effectively been held in some form or other of solitary confinement.  The imposition, on entirely fabricated pretexts, of penalties to enable his imprisonment in a punishment cell also makes it possible for visits from his mother and wife to be severely curtailed, with this now made even worse by the pandemic.  

PLEASE write to Valentin!  

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

Здравствуйте, Валентин!

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. 

 [Dear Valentin,  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  (Valentin’s year of birth needs to be given, as here)

Russia 613040, Utrobino, Kirov oblast, Prison colony No. 11,

Vygovsky, Valentyn Petrovych, born. 1983  

[or in Russian) Кирвская обл.  г. Кирово-Чепецк.   д. Утробино  ФКУ ИК-11 УФСИН Россия  613040

Выговскому Валентину Петровичу 1983 г.р.]

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