Ukrainians Tortured & Imprisoned in Russia’s Revenge for Maidan
How large a role the Kremlin played in trying to crush Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests still needs to be established, but Russia’s politically motivated prosecutions of Ukrainians who took part in Maidan certainly suggest an element of revenge. On this third anniversary of Euromaidan, spare a thought for the Maidan activists now serving grotesque sentences in Russia.
If some political prisoners, like Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, were targeted in part because of their active Maidan roles, Russia has totally breached fundamental principles of law, and its own legislation, in convicting two men of alleged offences supposed to have taken place on Maidan. Lack of any jurisdiction has not stopped courts in Crimea from sentencing Oleksandr Kostenko to 3.5 years imprisonment, and Andriy Kolomiyets to ten years. In both cases, the alleged ‘victims’ were former Crimean officers of Ukraine’s Berkut riot police who changed citizenship and switched allegiance after Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Both real victims – Kostenko and Kolomiyets – were viciously tortured following their arrest.
Kostenko is a former police officer who took part in Euromaidan from the beginning. He was arrested in Russian-occupied Crimea on Feb 5, 2015, and savagely tortured for over 24 hours before the officially recorded time of arrest. The injuries he sustained included a broken arm which has never been properly treated, and he is now in danger of losing any movement in that 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 his real lawyer, Dmitry 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.
Kostenko was charged with slightly injuring a Ukrainian Berkut officer in Kyiv on Feb 18, 2014. He had, it was claimed, deliberately aimed a cobble stone at V.V. Poliyenko, with this allegedly resulting 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 in Feb 2014, 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 have confirmed this. 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 remain of the greatest concern.
The court ignored both the surreal absurdity of the indictment and Kostenko’s retraction of his initial ‘confession’. On May 15, 2015, Judge Viktor Mozhelyansky from the Kievsky District Court in Simferopol found Kostenko guilty of both charges, and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. The sentence was later reduced to 3.5 years. The Memorial Human Rights Centre soon afterwards declared Kostenko a political prisoner.
The trial of 22-year-old Kolomiyets on June 10, 2016 sent a chilling message to all Ukrainians in Crimea, as well as those living or simply visiting Russia. The young man was sentenced to 10 years in a maximum-security prison with the main ‘offence’ something which almost certainly never happened, but over which no Russian court could have any jurisdiction. Unlike Kostenko, there was nothing to link Kolomiyets with Crimea. He is from the Kyiv oblast, and was living in the North Caucasus with his partner, now wife Galina and her children. He was seized by local police on May 15, 2015, tortured, and then taken to Crimea.
Kolomiyets was charged with ‘attempted murder’ of two Ukrainian Berkut officers during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv. It was claimed that he had thrown a Molotov cocktail at the men which “caused them pain”. They had never made any complaint at the time, nor sought medical treatment, yet two and a half years later claimed that they remembered Kolomiyets and “their pain”. The prosecution was under Article 30 § 3 and 105 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code, namely “attempted murder of 2 or more people in connection with their official activities … out of motives of political and ideological hatred”.
Like with Kostenko, a second charge was thrown in – this time of allegedly transporting hashish, with the investigators making no effort to render the story credible.
Kolomiyets was sentenced to 6 years on the ‘attempted murder’ charges and 4 years over the hashish charge.
The Memorial Human Rights Centre has also declared Kolomiyets a political prisoner. It dismissed the first charges as something Russia has no jurisdiction over, and believes it likely that the hashish was planted.
This appalling travesty of justice was recently upheld by the Crimean Supreme Court. The only positive news is that Andriy and Galina Zalikhanova were finally allowed to get married.
Please write to Oleksandr Kolchenko and Andriy Kolomiyets! Any letters are an important message to them – and to Moscow – that they are not forgotten.
Letters need to be in Russian, and on totally ‘innocuous’ subjects. If that is a problem, please just copy-paste the message below. Letters need to weigh no more than 100 g. or they simply won’t be delivered, and it’s a good idea to give your return address, since they may well want to reply.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним. Держитесь!
[Hello, 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’)]
Oleksandr Kostenko (just copy and paste the address below)
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,
Andriy is being taken to a prison in Russia and the new address will be posted here in the next few days.