Russia’s Ukrainian Hostage abducted, tortured & now held in solitary confinement
Russia’s FSB may well consider the ‘trial’ and 11-year prison sentence passed on Ukrainian aviation enthusiast Valentyn Vyhivsky to be one of their successes. Other Ukrainians have also provided ‘confessions’ while held for long periods incommunicado, but they have later had real lawyers and a chance to expose the lack of any evidence and use of torture. In Vyhivsky’s case, virtually nothing was known about him until after the 11-year sentence, and to this day it remains largely unclear what his ‘spying’ was supposed to entail.
Vyhivsky is turning 34 on August 3, almost four years after he was first taken prisoner. He has not seen his small son since then.
Vyhivsky was seized at Simferopol railway station on 17 September 2014 by armed paramilitaries who presumably handed him to the FSB. He was taken against his will to Russia where he was held incommunicado for eight months, without a proper lawyer or contact either with the Ukrainian consul or his family.
He was initially charged under Article 183 of Russia’s Criminal Code with illegally receiving and divulging commercial, tax or banking secrets. This was then changed to the much more serious charge of trying to gather Russian state secrets to pass on to the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU].
The FSB version after his conviction was that Vyhivsky had “come to their attention in 2012 and was suspected of gathering information containing commercial secrets through bribes, as well as information containing state secrets in order to pass them to a representative of a foreign state.
Why hold a man incommunicado for eight months if you have strong evidence of a crime committed? That and the fluid charges give stromg grounds for suspecting a lack of any substance to the charges.
Vyhivsky, who had graduated from the Electronics Faculty of Kyiv Polytechnic, had been fascinated in aviation since childhood and spent a lot of time on the Internet chatting with other enthusiasts, many of whom are in Russia. It is possible that one of the enthusiasts, fearing that they could be accused of suspicious contact with a Ukrainian, and one who had taken part in Euromaidan, could have themselves ‘reported’ him. His arrest and that of several other Ukrainians in 2014 coincided with Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and virulent anti-Ukrainian propaganda in the media.
During the initial period of enforced isolation, Vyhivsky only once met anybody unrelated to the ‘investigation’. Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova, who had been approached for help by the young Ukrainian’s parents, reported that Vyhivsky was clearly frightened and refused to say anything to her, even what article of the criminal code he was charged under.
According to Petro Vyhivsky, his son was only allowed a visit from the Ukrainian consul after eight months, and then in the company of two guards who immediately stopped them if they tried to talk about anything but ‘neutral subjects’. The same thing happened when his mother was allowed a visit after nine months. He managed to tell her only that “they know how to persuade you”.
The secrecy has been applied also to the lawyer Vyhivsky finally got after the original conviction for the appeal hearing at which Russia’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction on March 31, 2016. Ilya Novikov was even forced to sign an undertaking not to divulge any information about the appeal, which is likely to have provided details about the torture used to ‘persuade’ Vyhivsky to confess.
Halyna Vyhivska has since been allowed proper visits, and more details are therefore available, although Valentyn has asked his parents not to divulge some information for safety reasons. Some of the scars from the methods of ‘persuasion’ are still visible, and Vyhivsky has told his mother (and probably the lawyer) that he was taken to a forest where he was subjected to two mock executions and other forms of torture.
Petro Vyhivsky reports that his son is still being held in solitary confinement, with the cell so cold during last winter that two of the walls were iced over. He was put in another cell in the Spring, and with another prisoner, but that was only for 1 month.
He knows of particularly brutal forms of ill-treatment such as when his son was ‘forgotten’ while on his daily period outside the cell, and left for three hours with the temperature at -40.
When it first became clear that he was being held in solitary confinement, local human rights monitors from the Kirov oblast suggested that it could be for his safety since there are prisoners in the prison who were involved in the fighting in Donbas.
The other side of the coin is that Moscow needs to ensure that former fighters do not provide Vyhivsky with important information about the undeclared war that Russian is waging in Eastern Ukraine.
Russia has not responded to Ukraine’s request, lodged back in February under a bilateral agreement, for Vyhivsky to be extradited to Ukraine.
Birthday 3 August
PLEASE write to Valentyn Vyhivsky! Even just a few words will tell him and Russia that he is not forgotten.
Letters need to be in Russian, and any political subjects or reference to his case should be avoided. If possible, include an envelope and some thin paper as he may well try to reply.
If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.
Russia 613040, Utrobino, Kirov oblast, Prison colony No. 11,
Vygovsky, Valentyn Petrovych, born. 1983
(or in Russian) Кирвская обл. г. Кирово-Чепецк. д. Утробино ФКУ ИК-11 УФСИН Россия 613040
Выговскому Валентину Петровичу 1983 г.р.