Trans-Dniester captivity over


The Ukrainians abducted last July from the Odessa region and held in a SIZO [remand unit] in Trans-Dniester have returned to Ukraine.

As reported, three residents of the village of Samiylivka in the Odessa region Ihor Koval, Roman Hotko and Yury Bondarenko were illegally taken by police officers of the local police station without their passports across the border between Ukraine and Trans-Dniester where they were arrested by the Trans-Dniester authorities on suspicion of having committed offences there.

The news that the men have been freed is cheering, particularly in the light of new information making the whole case quite bizarre.

The police arrived on 30 July when Ihor Koval was sitting down to a meal. They gave no details, but assured him that there were simply some formalities to go through and that it wouldn’t take long. Ihor is a law-abiding man and saw no possible reason to worry. Nor, it transpires, did Roman Hotko, the other tractor driver the police were looking for. When he learned that they had come while he was out, he decided to cross the border himself.   Most unfortunately, since this was the last their families saw of Ihor Koval or Roman Hotko until this week. A third man from the village, Yury Bondarenko, was taken across the border in circumstances similar to those of Ihor Koval.

From the border straight to SIZO [remand unit]

It was only after a couple of days that the men’s families found out that they were being held in the Grygoriopol SIZO [remand unit] in Trans-Dniester. Their families are in no doubt that it was the police officers who took them away who bear responsibility for this. As Yury Bondarenko’s wife puts it: “”I didn’t expect anything like this from them. I thought that they were supposed to protect us, and they hand our people over”,

The next shock came for all involved when it was learned what the men were charged with. A few days earlier, some hooligans had overturned things, tried to steal honey, teased the dog, etc in the courtyard of a pensioner, Grigory Maslov, in the village of Krasnaya Bessarabiya.

The men’s families were totally baffled.  Why on earth should the men cross the border to wreak havoc in somebody’s yard? Why steal honey when they have their own bees, their own honey?  All three are grown men, with children of their own, and the whole idea that they would travel 5 kilometres, cross into “enemy territory” in order to break a window in the home of a pensioner they’d never even heard of, was absolutely absurd.

And yet the three men were held in the SIZO, suffering torture and beatings, for 9 months. It is worth noting that the Ministry of Internal Affairs has acknowledged that the police officers broke the law and passed the case to the Prosecutor’s Office.  The latter however twice refused to initiate a criminal investigation over the unlawful actions of the police officers. It was finally forced to do so after numerous appeals from human rights groups, in particular the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.

The three men say that they are determined to see those responsible brought to answer.

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