war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russians call to release mother of 7 accused of revealing ’state secrets’

Halya Coynash
In the last 48 hours well over 20 thousand Russians have signed a petition calling for the release from custody of Svetlana Davydova who is breastfeeding her youngest child and facing charges of ’state treason’ by informing Ukraine of Russian soldiers probably deployed on Ukrainian territory

In the last 48 hours well over 20 thousand Russians have signed a petition calling for the release from custody of Svetlana Davydova who is breastfeeding her youngest child and facing charges of ’state treason’ by informing Ukraine of  Russian soldiers deployed on Ukrainian territory

When in April 2014 Svetlana Davydova informed the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow that Russian soldiers from Vyazma in the Smolensk region might have been sent to fight in eastern Ukraine, she hoped to save lives.  The mother of 7 is now in Lefortovo Prison facing charges of state treason.  She faces a 20-year prison sentence if convicted.

As reported, Davydova was arrested on Jan 21 and immediately taken to Moscow from her home in Vyazma.  The judge in Moscow remanded her in custody despite the fact that she is still breastfeeding the youngest of 7 children.  The case has appalled many Russians and a petition calling for her release from custody, initiated by Novaya Gazeta on Friday had by Sunday evening been signed by over 20 thousand people.  Russia’s Ombudsperson for Children Pavel Astakhov is also reported to have said that detention is inappropriate.

A report by Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova on Jan 30 first raised the alarm.  She asserted that the lawyer appointed by the prosecution had concentrated on getting Davydova to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators and had not even tried to appeal against her detention. 

Davydova’s husband, Anatoly Gorlov came to Moscow where he arranged that well-known lawyer Ivan Pavlov would act for them.  He had left the children with their aunt and grandmother, but was forced to return to Vyazma after the social services turned up and threatened to place the children in care.

Radio Svoboda reports that Pavlov’s first task will be to get Davydova released from custody and to ascertain why the appointed lawyer, Andrei Stebenev failed to appeal against her detention during the legally established timeframe.

Since Svetova’s damning report, Stebenev has begun speaking about the case.  He announced on Jan 31 that he would be appealing against both the detention and the charges of state treason.   10 days in detention for a feeding mother and for her young children is a significant period of time and aside from saying that Davydova would need a Moscow address for the court to release her, Stebenev gave no explanation as to why the appeal had not been lodged immediately.  

Stebenev also says that Davydova has not ‘confessed to everything’ as was originally reported.  She confirms that she made the call, but does not accept that the information contained a state secret and that it could harm Russia.  Stebenev stated that he would be seeking an expert assessment as to whether the information was secret and whether it could damage Russia.

Arresting a mother who is still breastfeeding her 2-month-old baby certainly seems designed to damage Russia’s reputation. So too is this demonstration of the Russian FSB’s vigilance in seeking out ‘traitors’. 

Davydova phoned the Ukrainian embassy in April 2014 because she suspected that the men from the military unit near her home in Russia were being sent on assignment to Donbas.  According to Stebenov, the file includes an opinion from Russian Defence Ministry specialists who say that the information provided by Davydova was accurate and a state secret. In Ukraine’s hands, they claim, the information “could be used against Russia’s security, in particular threaten the effectiveness of measures to strengthen the state border with Ukraine.

On April 6 2014 administrative buildings were seized in a number of Donbas cities during operations reminiscent of the seizure of government buildings in Crimea by Russian soldiers on Feb 27.  Many of the reports then and later mentioned that the people seizing control were not from the area. 

Over the many months since there has been confirmation from NATO, western countries and media, that Russian soldiers and military equipment are being deployed in Ukraine.

Since August there have been more and more reports in the Russian media about Russian soldiers being sent to Ukraine, and of the Russian authorities trying to conceal details about soldiers killed in Donbas.

Davydova’s attempt to inform the Ukrainian embassy preceded those reports by several months.  Her call was doubtless intercepted by the Russian security service and remembered.  We can only guess whether she was not apprehended soon afterwards because the authorities were still keeping any information secret, or because it became clear that she was pregnant.

It certainly seems that somebody has miscalculated, and badly.  Her arrest is not the first attempt to intimidate journalists and activists or penalize NGOs probing the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine.  Imprisonment of charges of state treason may be a deterrent, but when the target is still feeding her new-born child, publicity both within Russia and beyond is guaranteed.  Equally inevitable are questions, and not only regarding the investigators and judge prepared to remand a mother in custody over a phone call made in April 2014.  We can also ask whose state security is imperilled when Russian forces are illegally sent to fight in Ukraine.  Let’s hope that other countries in Europe and beyond have finally understood that this is also a question to them. 

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