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24.10.2019 | Halya Coynash

Ukrainian journalist Haivoronsky jailed in occupied Crimea for failing to treat politically motivated ‘drug dependence’

   

Yevhen Haivoronsky, a journalist and blogger from occupied Yatla, has been jailed for 15 days after allegedly having his head banged against a police car several times during his detention.  According to his lawyer, Alexei Ladin, Haivoronsky was charged with refusing to undergo ‘treatment’ for drug dependence, with the court order for such treatment having closely followed Haivoronsky’s public call for Crimea “to be saved from Russia”. 

During the hearing at the Russian-controlled Magistrate’s Court in Yalta on 22 October, Haivoronsky called the Russian judicial bodies illegitimate and said that they had no right to try him. He informed the court that the police had hit his head against their car several times, however the ‘judge’ refused to issue a separate ruling regarding the police officers’ behaviour. 

On 6 March 2019, a search was reportedly carried out of Haivoronsky’s home, with documents, computer and electronic devices removed.  All information about that search came from the journalist himself, or from pro-Russian blogger and activist, Ilya Bolshedvorov. The latter said that Haivoronsky had been tested for drugs or alcohol in his body, with nothing found.

It was after this that Haivoronsky gave a number of interviews in which, for example, he said that most Crimeans want “to return to Ukraine”.  He named economic factors as the main reason, but also spoke of repression against ordinary citizens,

By 22 March, in an article entitled “A patriot whom we have lost’, the Crimean newspaper Primechania announced that they would no longer be publishing any texts by Haivoronsky due to his pro-Ukrainian statements.

An interview with Haivoronsky was published by Krym.Realii on 26 March.  This actually begins with Haivoronsky’s words “Crimea must be saved from Russia” and again repeats that Crimeans have understood their mistake and wish to return to Ukraine.

He was detained that same day, and later jailed, once again by a de facto magistrate’s court, for 12 days.  The administrative sentence was over his alleged use of a narcotic substance without a doctor’s prescription.  As well as the 12-day period of administrative arrest, Haivoronsky was ordered to undergo ‘treatment for drug dependence’. He has consistently denied having any such dependence.

Haivoronsky has continued making extremely critical and pro-Ukrainian comments about Crimea.  On his release from the first administrative arrest, for example, he told Krym.Realii that “the FSB say with horror that Crimeans want to return to Ukraine”. 

In response to a fairly blunt question about his former support for the so-called ‘Russian spring’ and specifically Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, Haivoronsky said that he had repented in the previous interview given hours before his arrest.

In that 26 March interview, he gave a rather blurred account of what appears to have been very active support in 2014 for Russia.  Haivoronsky is from Donetsk, but says that he came to Crimea in 2013. He reportedly worked as press-secretary for the pro-Russian ‘People’s Unity’ organization in Yalta, and in March 2014 collected signatures for the supposed ‘referendum’ on ‘joining Crimea to Russia’. He was for some time editor of two pro-Russian publications, and during his time on the first publication publicly praised Putin

In the 26 March interview, Haivoronsky said that his support for Russia had ended a couple of years earlier, when he understood “that the entire system of state power in Russia is flawed and anti-human” and that “an unhealthy experiment has been carried out on people.”

“Russia can be seen as a kind of mental prison.  People are subjected to constant torrents of harsh, obtuse propaganda from the television”.  All of this prevents people from understanding what is really happening. “However in the end I understood that we had been cynically deceived, that during the time that we had lived behind a specific kind of iron wall, that very many positive changes, reforms had been taking place in Ukraine, and that the current model of Ukraine of much more healthy for society which wants to live harmoniously.  I now read Ukrainian news, bloggers and feel fresh air from them”.

“I believe that Crimea is Ukraine, that Ukraine will return here and justice will triumph.  We need to save Crimea, this is generally a task for mankind.”

There are very many people here who have become disillusioned with Russia, they dream of returning to Ukraine”.

Over the last five and a half years, Russia has systematically crushed freedom of speech and any independent media in occupied Crimea.  Mykola Semena was given a suspended sentence and has been prevented from receiving vital medical treatment in mainland Ukraine merely for making his opposition to Russian occupation clear in an opinion piece.  There are currently nine Crimean Tatar civic journalists imprisoned, with most facing huge sentences on trumped-up charges.  62-year-old Oleh Prykhodko is now facing equally implausible charges with these evidently linked with his openly pro-Ukrainian position.

Haivoronsky has, in contrast, at least up till now mainly faced harassment and administrative proceedings, although his utterances, at least since February 2019, have been very strong.  This and Haivoronsky’s recent past have made many Ukrainian observers loath to jump to conclusions about his change of heart.  It is possible, however, that something similar to the Soviet uses made of punitive psychiatry is being seen, specifically because the person in question was previously so pro-Russian.  Just as it was convenient to pretend that those who demanded freedom in Soviet times were mentally ill, Russia may well be trying to present Haivoronsky as a man with a drugs problem in the hope that his new position will be viewed as drugs-related impaired understanding.  If the latter is the case, Haivoronsky has reason to fear that the measures against him can only escalate. 

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