25.03.2015 | Halya Coynash

Guilty of being Ukrainian: Russian court sentences Maidan activist to 2 years


Yury Yatsenko, the 25-year-old student first detained in May 2014 after Russian officials realized he was from Lviv has been sentenced to 2 years low security prison colony.  The charges were only laid after he and a friend had been in detention for some months and bear no scrutiny, but this did not deter Russian investigators nor the court.

As reported, Yatsenko was detained in early May 2014, together with Bohdan Yarychevsky, a recent law graduate from Lviv.  They were originally stopped by police in the Kursk oblast to check their identity.  During the first months after the end of EuroMaidan and Russia’s invasion of Crimea, simply being Ukrainian was treated as something incriminating in Russia.  This was nothing, however, compared to being from Lviv which one of the officers who’d clearly watched too much Russian television called a “fascist city”.   The Kursk officers responded with immense excitement to the Lviv registration, and immediately contacted Russia’s FSB [Security Service]. 

Given the ongoing detention and likely hefty sentences on fabricated charges which film director Oleg Sentsov and two other Crimeans are facing, the comments by police officers from Kurstk on May 6 and 7, 2014 are highly telling.  Days before Sentsov was arrested, the officers suggested that Yatsenko and Yarychesky might be involved in “another sabotage group” like that, supposedly, in Simferopol planning to blow up a statue of Lenin.  This is only one of numerous reasons for believing that the FSB was concocting a ‘terrorist plot’ trial in Crimea with only the casting of opponents of Russian occupation fixed in advance. 

It is important to note that neither man was detained on any criminal charges.  A court on May 8 found them guilty only of an administrative offence by ticking the box ‘private purpose’ on the border entry form, when they should have ticked the ‘tourism’ box. 

They should have been deported immediately but were instead held, still without access to a lawyer or the Ukrainian consul and unable to contact their families, in a deportation centre for three months.

That time, together with the men’s isolation, was used by the FSB for their ‘interrogation’.  They tried to beat out ‘confessions about plans for some kind of ‘sabotage’ in Russia, about having supposedly been sent by Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] or by Right Sector, the nationalist organization which Russia has persistently demonized.  The FSB also tried to get them to publicly state that military junta had taken over in Ukraine and to ask for political asylum.  Neither was prepared to do so.

When beating and psychological pressure failed, Yatsenko was taken, in handcuffs and with a bag over his head, to the forest and subjected to torture for several hours.

The two young men finally resorted to self-mutilation so as to get to hospital and be able to contact their families.  This gave only temporary respite from the interrogations during which the men were constantly told that if they didn’t cooperate, drugs or weapons would be planted on them. 

Neither ‘cooperated’, however in August Yarychevsky was deported.  Yatsenko, as threatened, was charged, initially with possessing and smuggling 40 grams of black hunting powder.   The charge of smuggling was later removed – either because of the absurdity of smuggling such a tiny amount, or because it clashed with the prosecution claim that Yatsenko was planning an act of sabotage. 

The charge was in any case absurd with the amount in question far too small for the alleged purpose of sabotage.  The expert assessment confirmed that the substance, in itself not illegal and can only have an explosive effective if certain other elements are combined, including a detonator.  None of that was found, and the amount was minimal, yet the judge still  sentenced Yatsenko to two years imprisonment in a low security prison colony-settlement.

Yury’s father, Serhiy Yatsenko, who has been in Russia for the last 6 months in order to be close to his son and try to ensure that the torture methods were not repeated, calls the trial a farce.  Yury’s lawyer, Petr Zaikin has lodged an appeal against a sentence which he calls unlawful and unwarranted.  He believes that the aim is simply to hold Yatsenko in prison for as long as possible, and suggests that the FSB may be hoping to recruit the young man. 

Whether or not that is the case is unclear.  Certainly Russia is persisting in holding a number of Ukrainian nationals in detention on overtly spurious charges.  There are all grounds for concluding that Yury Yatsenko was detained and convicted as a Ukrainian national and that his release as a person unlawfully held is demanded by the Minsk Protocol to which Russia is a signatory.  


New information from a text by Maria Tomak

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