Being Ukrainian is not a crime: Free Yury Yatsenko!
A Russian court has postponed until April 29 the appeal hearing due on Monday against the two-year sentence passed on 24-year-old Yury Yatsenko. The young law student was first detained just before Crimean political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko, and was almost certainly sentenced to 2 years in a low security prison colony for being Ukrainian.n.
Yatsenko was detained in the Kursk region on May 6, 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. One of the officials had clearly watched too much Russian propaganda and on seeing the young men’s Lviv registration called Lviv a “fascist city” and contacted Russia’s FSB [Security Service].
It should be noted that their detention came just before the arrests on fabricated ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’ charges of Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It is therefore significant that on May 6 and 7 the Kursk officers suggested that Yatsenko and Yarychevsky might be involved in “another sabotage group” like that in Simferopol which was planning to blow up a statue of Lenin.
If everything points to the four Crimeans as having been chosen for their political opposition for a supposed ‘terrorist plot’, the Kursk officers and soon the FSB appear to have simply reacted to a good opportunity when they came upon Yatsenko and his friend.
They were initially taken into custody because of an irregularity in their papers and on May 8 a court found them guilty of an administrative offence because they’d ticked the box ‘private purpose’ on the border entry form and not ‘tourism’. They should have been deported immediately, but were instead held in custody for three months, without access to a lawyer or the Ukrainian consul, and without being able to contact their families.
Throughout those months the FSB subjected them to a specific form of ‘interrogation’. This entailed trying to beat ‘confessions’ out of the young men about supposed plans for some kind of ‘sabotage’ in Russia. They wanted them to claim that they had been sent by the SBU [Ukraine’s Security Service] or by Right Sector, the national organization whose influence Russia has consistently exaggerated and demonized. The FSB also demanded that they publicly state that a military junta had taken over in Ukraine and to ask for political asylum.
These reports are eerily close to those by both Sentsov and Kolchenko. As reported, the other two men did ‘confess’ and agreed to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators in order to get shorter sentences – in return, unfortunately, for giving testimony against the others.
Like Sentsov and Kolchenko, neither Yatsenko nor Yarychevsky was prepared to provide the lies demanded by the FSB. After Yatsenko was taken to a forest and subjected to torture, the two resorted to self-mutilation so that they could get to hospital and contact their families.
It should be noted that Yury Yatsenko’s father, Serhiy, has spent the last half-year in Russia, near where his son is in detention. He hopes that through his presence he can at least ensure that no further torture trips are tried to put pressure on his son.
Yarychevsky was finally deported in August, but Yatsenko was instead initially charged with possessing and smuggling 40 grams of black hunting powder, then only of possessing it, with the prosecution claiming that this was an explosive with which Yatsenko was planning an act of sabotage.
Yatsenko in fact denies that the powder was his, but even if it was not planted, the amount was pitifully small. The substance is not in itself illegal and can only have an explosive effect if certain other elements are combined, including a detonator. This was all confirmed by the explosives expert, however the court took only a part of the assessment ignoring the fact that other components (which were not found) would be required for any explosion.
A criminal charge was manufactured three months or more after the young man was detained over an administrative offence, and does not warrant any scrutiny. The SBU is understood to have included Yatsenko in a list of prisoners for exchanges with the Kremlin-backed militants, and certainly he seems to fall under the category of ’persons illegally held’ and due to be released under the Minsk Protocol. It is to be hoped that judges will be found in the court of appeal who can understand that more than being Ukrainian is required to justify a prison sentence.