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19.08.2016 | Halya Coynash

Ukrainian civic activist tortured & ‘sentenced’ by Donbas Kremlin-backed militants

   

23-year-old Volodymyr Fomichov was taken hostage by Kremlin-backed militants from the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DNR] over 7 months ago when he tried to visit his family in Makiyivka for New Year.  He is now reported to have been ‘tried’ by the militants and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

Fomichov left Donbas after the war began in 2014, and had been working in Kyiv for Centre UA, an NGO campaigning for greater transparency and accountability from politicians. 

The young Ukrainian was seized on Jan 4, 2016 in Makiyivka and has been held, like other hostages, in basements ever since.  For some time, his parents asked people not to give any publicity to his plight, fearing that this could hamper efforts to secure his release. 

Grounds for real concern prompted friends to sound the alarm around a month ago.  Well-known journalist Denis Kazansky, for example, reported that Fomichov had been subjected to torture and was in an obviously bad state.  The situation is particularly grave since his name does not even seem to be on the list for possible exchange and publicity is urgently needed. 

It has now been learned that a so-called ‘court’ in DNR passed a 2-year ‘sentence on August 16, with Fomichov accused of bringing two grenades from Kyiv to Makiyivka. 

Ihor Fomichov says that the militants burst into their flat on Jan 4.  His wife arrived home to find her son in handcuffs and with signs of having been beaten.  The militants took the computer and some Ukrainian flags.  They claimed that Volodymyr is a well-known blogger and activist from the Regional Foundations Initiative which they falsely called an ‘extremist organization’. 

There were no official witnesses, with the militants claiming that none could be found.  Shortly afterwards they claimed that they had ‘found’ two hand grenades in Fomichov’s winter jacket.

Fomichov was taken away with his parents long unable to even find out where he was being held.  They were finally told on Feb 26 that he had been detained, allegedly for possession of weapons and for ‘taking part in armed formations’.  The militants claimed that he was a member of the far-right ‘VO Svoboda’ party which Fomichov seemingly has no connection with.

In the end, he was charged only with possession of the grenades.  His father notes that for this, even if it were true, you would normally get a suspended sentence, and adds that in the areas under militant control virtually everybody has a weapon.  His father is quite sure that his son did not smuggle in the grenades which would have been incredibly stupid given the controls he was likely to pass through.

In May Fomichov’s parents were returned some of the things that the militants had taken away, including their son’s jersey which was totally covered in blood.  They believe that his supposed ‘confession’ to having brought in the grenades was extracted through torture.

At the ‘court’ Fomichov said that he had smuggled in the grenades.  According to his father the lawyer had told him that if he ‘confessed’, he would be released. If he then changed his testimony in court, they would add the charges about alleged links with ‘VO Svoboda’, and sentence him to 7 years.  

His parents are now planning an ‘appeal’, though there are no illusions about its chances.

As reported earlier, Kazansky and others forced to leave Donbas have been very critical of certain civic activists from the volunteer initiative ‘Responsible Citizens’, and especially Enrique Menendes who wrote a post effectively encouraging Donbas residents to return.   

Fomichov is bitter proof that the advice was wrong.  He had, unfortunately, believed that things were ‘stabilizing’ and decided to travel to Makiyivka.  He is believed to have been handed over to the militants by a highly dubious individual called Roman Khuzyakhmetov, who probably wanted to thus demonstrate his ‘loyalty’ to the militants.  Khuzyakhmetov appears to have played a double game from at least the time of Euromaidan.  He told Donetsk Maidan supporters that he had ‘infiltrated’ the anti-Maidan movement to gain insider information.  Kazansky now assumes that he told this to both sides with his main aim being to ensure he was on the winning side whatever happened.

Fomichov was a young student and civic activist for the Regional Initiatives Foundation before the war in Donbas.  Although the Foundation was a decent NGO, it was there that Fomichov met Khuzyakhmetov.  

Both men were actively involved in Euromaidan, and Fomichov doubtless had no idea that Khuzyakhmetov’s motives were far different from his own.  Kazansky has described Khuzyakhmetov’s activities after the militants seized control and the picture is an ugly one.

Fomichov may simply not have realized any of this.  Like many others who had supported Maidan and were in danger for their pro-Ukrainian position, Fomichov left Donbas in the first months of the military conflict, and had not followed what was happening there.  He not only believed the assurances that the situation was stabilizing, but actively sought out Khuzyakhmetov who is believed to have personally handed the young man over to the DNR’s so-called ‘security service’.

Volodymyr Fomichov is paying a very high price for being trusting. 

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