23.02.2016 | Halya Coynash

Poklonskaya goes after brother of Crimean political prisoner Oleksandr Kostenko


A new investigator has tried to get the brother of recognized political prisoner Oleksandr Kostenko to undergo a psychiatric assessment.  Yevhen Kostenko is facing criminal charges for allegedly ‘insulting’ the judge involved in the surreal trial in Russian-occupied Crimea of his brother on charges over which Russia has no jurisdiction.

The charge of ‘insulting’ the judge in question – Vladimir Mozhelyansky - dates back to the court hearing prior to announcement of the verdict against Oleksandr Kostenko.   The latter had been subjected to torture, resulting in evident bruises and a broken arm.  In protest that even on the eve of the sentence his client was being beaten and refused food, the defence lawyer Dmitry Sotnikov left the court.  So too, in solidarity, did Oleksandr’s mother and brother.  The latter had a nervous twitch because of the strain they were under.  The court bailiffs interpreted his movement as an indecent gesture and demanded a formal explanation.  He explained that it had been a spasm and apologised to the judge if his gesture had been misinterpreted.  No medical examination was carried out.

Sotnikov reports that 9 months have now elapsed, but that on Feb 16, Yevhen Kostenko was summoned for interrogation without a lawyer.  He appeared in response to the summons, but only to state that he would not take part without his lawyer.  The investigator tried to get him to agree to undergo psychiatric assessment voluntarily.  When the young man refused, the investigator began threatening him with a forced assessment.   Sotnikov points out that Russian legislation clearly stipulates the circumstances where such mandatory assessment is possible, and such actions by the investigator would be unlawful.

Sotnikov was forced to ring the investigator to ascertain which investigative activities had been undertaken with respect to his client in his absence.  At that point, the investigator claimed that he was doing nothing under Sotnikov, who is based in Moscow, arrives and that he had summoned Yevhen simply to “meet him and see what kind of person he is”.

It was Natalya Poklonskaya, the person installed as prosecutor after Russia’s annexation, who personally ran the extraordinary prosecution of Oleksandr Kostenko.  Sotnikov accuses her now of ineptly trying to concoct a trial, without any offence, of Kostenko’s brother.  This is not the first time that Oleksandr Kostenko’s family has been targeted (details here).   

Oleksandr Kostenko is a Ukrainian citizen sentenced by a Russian-occupied Crimean court to 4 years imprisonment over an alleged offence in Kyiv, before Russia invaded and annexed Crimea.  The court ignored considerable evidence that his first ‘confession’ had been tortured out of him, and flagrant infringements of procedure from the moment of his arrest.

The Ukrainian Euromaidan activist was charged and convicted by a court in Russian-occupied Crimea of slightly injuring a Ukrainian Berkut riot police office in Kyiv on Feb 18, 2014.

The alleged offence was thus in Ukraine and under Ukrainian law.  The court lacked any jurisdiction for such a prosecution, and the charges were not just unproven, but fundamentally unprovable.

Despite this, Kostenko was convicted of having deliberately aimed a cobble stone at V.V. Poliyenko, an officer of the Crimean Berkut special force unit.  This had allegedly resulted in Poliyenko receiving an injury “in the form of a large haematoma on the left shoulder”.

Kostenko was supposed to have been motivated by “a feeling of ideological hatred and enmity to law enforcement officers”.

Since the Berkut officer had not been a Russian national at the time of the alleged incident, there was no possibility of keeping Kostenko in detention and then imprisoning him.  Kostenko was therefore later also accused of ‘”unlawfully obtaining, keeping or carrying the main parts of a firearm”).  The investigators claimed to have found a rifle barrel when searching his home. 

Not one of the official witnesses of the search confirmed that weapons were found in Kostenko’s flat.  The investigators claimed that Kostenko’s father, Fedir Kostenko had identified the gun barrel as belonging to his son.  They also claim, however, that it was Kostenko Senior who gave permission for the search.

Fedir Kostenko disappeared shortly after this in circumstances which also arouse concern.

Detention, torture

Kostenko is a former police officer, who took part in Euromaidan from December 2013.  He asserts that he was abducted in Kyiv in February 2015, and taken by force to Russian-occupied Crimea.

He was officially detained on Feb 6, but he and witnesses assert that he was held by  FSB [Russian Security Service[ officers in Simferopol from Feb 5, 2015. 

During those 24 hours he received multiple injuries, including a broken arm.  The only ‘lawyer’ present was one appointed by the investigators, and a ‘confession’ was obtained from Kostenko, as well as a statement that he had been beaten on the street by unidentified individuals. 

Kostenko retracted all such ‘confessions’ as soon as he was able to see to a real lawyer, and Sotnikov has since repeatedly endeavoured to get criminal investigations initiated over both the initial torture, and ongoing ill-treatment of his client while he was held in detention.  Appeal proceedings against the refusal to investigate evidence of torture were simply ‘terminated’.

The court ignored Kostenko’s retraction of his initial ‘confessions’, despite the ample evidence of ill-treatment.took only the original ‘confession’ and first interrogation into account and found Kostenko guilty of both charges, and sentenced him to four years imprisonment.  The court of appeal upheld the conviction, but reduced the sentence to 3 years and 11 months.

The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has condemned the entire trial of Kostenko and declared him a political prisoner

Please write to Oleksandr Kostenko

If you can write in Russian, then a few words about yourself would be appropriate, but please avoid politics or any mention of Kostenko’s case. 

If Russian is not possible, then even a letter with the following will give an important message to both Oleksandr and the Russian authorities that he is not forgotten.

Добрый день, Олександр!

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.   Держитесь!

Hello, Oleksandr,   I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  You are not forgotten.  [The last word is like ‘hang in there’)


613049 Russia, Kirov oblast, Kirovo-Chepetsk, Prison Colony No. 5, Ovranzhnaya St, 16

(ФКУ ИК-5, ул. Овражная 16, г. Кирово-Чепецк, Кировская область,  613049 Россия) 

Костенко Александру Федоровичу,

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