Home at last! 24 POWs and 11 political prisoners, including Oleg Sentsov arrive in Kyiv
The exchange has finally happened, and some of Kremlin’s Ukrainian political prisoners have been freed, four of them, including Oleg Sentsov, after spending over five years in Russian captivity. The list includes two men with life-threatening illnesses: 58-year-old Edem Bekirov and 21-year-old Pavlo Hryb, as well as the oldest of the political prisoners 62-year-old Oleksiy Sizonovych. Two of the above – Hryb and Sizonovych – were abducted to Russia. In Sizonovych’ case, this was almost certainly with the assistance of the Russian-controlled militants in the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.
More information about each of the men can be found by clicking on their names
The 24 seamen taken prisoner on 25 November 2018, after Russia attacked three Ukrainian naval boats near Crimea. Their release had been demanded in a binding order by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on 25 May 2019 (details about the case, and Russia’s undoubted violations of international law here and here and here)
According to former Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova, the 11 political prisoners were officially ‘pardoned’ by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact, Edem Bekirov had not yet gone on ‘trial’, but in any case these are largely technicalities. The important thing is undoubtedly that men who have been through so much, including torture in almost all cases, are home in Ukraine.
It should, however, be remembered how many Ukrainian political prisoners, including at least 60 Crimean Tatars remain illegally imprisoned in occupied Crimea or Russia. More of them shortly.
The Kremlin does nothing for free, not even obeying a binding order from ITLOS. Ukraine has handed over 35 men, most either facing very serious charges or already convicted over their role in the war in Donbas.
Through its timing of the release, Russia has made no attempt to conceal its highly incriminating wish to have MH17 witness / suspect Volodymyr Tsemakh in Russia. Tsemakh is a Ukrainian citizen, and should logically not have been part of any exchange of prisoners. Since Russia denies involvement in the downing of the Malaysian airliner which killed 298 passengers and crew, it also should not have needed Tsemakh to be prevented from giving vital testimony to both Ukraine and the Joint Investigative Team. This, however, was what it demanded, and it was clearly the highly contentious release of Tsemakh on Thursday that made today’s exchange possible. Details here MH17 suspect release incriminates Russia, but leaves Ukraine compromised .
The list has other Ukrainians on it, including Kirill Vyshynsky, the head of RIA Novosti Ukraine who was charged with treason over his very active role in supporting Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea through propaganda and disinformation.
Yevgeny Mefyodov is Russian, but had been imprisoned facing charges over the disturbances and fire in Odesa on 2 May 2014. Mefyodov’s release will almost certainly spell the end of one of the only likely trials over the events that day, however this is partly because of the shocking obstruction by law enforcement bodies in Ukraine (see: Russia’s most toxic lies about a fictitious ‘Odesa Massacre’ and the responsibility Ukraine bears . There are more details here of Russia’s very active role in the Odesa events about which Mefyodov doubtless had important information.