Russia sentences Ukrainian pensioner captured by Donbas militants to 12 years for ’sabotage’
A military court in Rostov has sentenced 61-year-old Oleksiy Sizonovych to 12 years in a maximum security prison on charges of planning acts of sabotage and terrorist both in Russia and in the militant-controlled Luhansk oblast of Ukraine. The panel of judges chose to ignore clear indications that Sizonovych had been brought against his will to Russia by Kremlin-backed Donbas militants, despite the fact that this would prove his innocence of the charges laid.
It is not only the same prosecutor – Vladislav Kuznetsov – that makes this case ominously reminiscent of the experience of Nadiya Savchenko in June – July 2014. The former military pilot and MP was captured by militants of the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [LPR] and forcibly taken to Russia. Then and in this case, Russia came up with nonsensical explanations for how Ukrainians captured in Ukraine were now on trial in Russia. Moscow’s attempts to deny that the two Russian military intelligence officers captured in the Luhansk oblast of Ukraine were in active service were equally unconvincing and Russia had strong grounds for ensuring that they did not reveal too much. In May 2016, Savchenko was therefore exchanged for the two military men, Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Aleksandrov.
A very similar situation is seen now, though unfortunately Sizonovych’s case is unlikely to receive the same publicity. One problem is that he has ‘admitted the charges’, although this must be viewed with scepticism since he has clearly been held incommunicado and with access only to a state-appointed lawyer. In such cases, the lawyers appointed by the investigators are normally there to persuade the person to ‘confess’ and to sign all documents.
Nothing was known of Sizonovych until the beginning of the ‘trial’ on July 26, however Donbas militants back in March 2017 used the capture of at least two Ukrainian soldiers to make similar claims that they were involved in plans to carry out acts of terrorism in both the Luhansk oblast and Russia.
Kuznetsov, who was one of three prosecutors who came up with an absurd story to explain how Savchenko had come to be in Russia, appears to have been the only prosecutor in this ‘trial’. He claimed that Sizonovych had, together with an unidentified man known only as Vladyslavovych, way back in April 2014, formed a group which supposedly “decided to carry out explosions and terrorist acts on Ukrainian and Russian territory”.
He told judges at the North Caucuses District Military Court that “Sizonovych gathered information about forms of transport infrastructure, and, having special knowledge in the explosives field, prepared various types of explosive devices”.
The prosecution claimed that Sizonovych had received instructions in May 2016 to go to Kamensk-Shaktinsky in the Rostov oblast to look over and photograph the railway station and identify a place to put a bomb. He supposedly chose a rubbish bin near the station, with the ‘terrorist act’ planned for Election Day in the Russian parliamentary elections in September. There was no bomb, with it claimed that this was because the secret stockpile of weapons and explosives had been found in advance.
The person who allegedly found the stockpile told the police in September that he had been walking past it on July 8 and had seen two men digging something into the ground. For all that he remembered the date so well, he claimed to have only seen the need to inform the police two months later, and then ‘recognized’ Sizonovych as one of the two men.
Sizonovych has been found guilty of preparing a terrorist act (Article 30 § 1 and Article 205 § 2 of the Russian criminal code) and unlawful possession, purchase, etc. of explosive devices or substances (Article 322 § 1).
The prosecution, which demanded 12 years, did not explain how Sizonovych was supposed to get the explosives to Russia, although a trail was asserted as leading from Kyiv to the Luhansk oblast in Ukraine. The mysterious ‘Vladyslavovych’ is supposed to have looked for explosives in Kyiv and delivered them to two places in the Luhansk oblast.
The chronology of alleged events is, at very least, original. Sizonovych is supposed to have gone to Kamensk-Shaktinsky twice on ‘Vladyslavovych’’s instructions – in May 2016, then two months later, in July – in order to be seen burying the explosives by the prosecution witness.
On August 26, however, he was seized by LPR militants, whom the Russian indictment refers to as ‘law enforcement bodies’ in militant-controlled Rovenky. This was purportedly while he was endeavouring to blow up railway lines, having received the explosives, via ‘Vladyslavovych’.
The story turns surreal after his capture by the militants. The frail-looking 61-year-old, a former miner, claims to have run away from the militants while they were checking his testimony and “jumped from the river into the Kamenka river”.
This aroused the mirth of the panel of judges and one asked if he had really jumped into the river. He quietly answered that he can’t swim.
Nonetheless, it is claimed that he succeeded in losing his doubtless armed captors.
His written testimony states that “on September 27, realizing that in self-proclaimed LPR, I faced criminal liability, I decided to illegally, without confirming documents, cross Russia’s state border near Vlasovka and was arrested”.
Vladyslav Ryazantsev, who has fortunately drawn attention to this trial, notes that there is nothing in the file material to indicate where Sizonovych was during the month between his seizure by the LPR militants and his arrest in Russia.
It is noteworthy that Sizonovych refused to give testimony in court, saying that he had nothing to add, at which point the prosecutor suggested simply reading out his earlier testimony. Since all the prosecution’s witnesses refused also, everything was read out.
This assertion about a leap into the river was reiterated, virtually verbatim, by a prosecution witness from the so-called ‘LPR ministry of state security’s counter-intelligence service’.
The reason for pushing such a story, however absurd, is self-evident. The Russian-backed militants have clearly abducted another Ukrainian and handed him over to Russia who decided to try him on charges that bare no scrutiny.