Belarus arrests Ukrainian Radio journalist probing abduction to Russia of 19-year-old Pavlo Hryb
Belarus’s KGB (security service) has detained Pavlo Sharoiko, Ukrainian Radio’s correspondent in Minsk, reportedly accusing him of ‘spying’. Virtually no information is available about the arrest which comes in the wake of tension in relations between Ukraine and Belarus following the Russian FSB’s abduction from Belarus of Pavlo Hryb, a 19-year-old Ukrainian student. Since Hryb is now in Russian custody, Russia’s abduction cannot have taken place without some degree of involvement from the Belarusian authorities.
The news of Sharoiko’s arrest was only reported on November 17, probably because Sharoiko’s wife and daughter are now safely back in Kyiv, however the Ukrainian Radio correspondent was arrested on October 25, with a search carried out that same day of the family’s apartment in Minsk. This was while nobody was home, with the owner of the flat having let the KGB officers in.
Olena Sharoiko told Ukrainian Radio that the only contact she has had with her husband has been by letters, with the first from Pavlo coming only after a week and a half. She says that nobody has given her any information, they just talk of suspicion of spying which is totally incomprehensible to her. The state-appointed lawyer has told her that he has given an undertaking not to divulge any information so she knows nothing.
Zurab Alasania, Director of Ukrainian TV and Radio Broadcasting wrote on November 17 that the Belarusian authorities are avoiding providing any response to their questions. They too know only from unofficial sources that the journalist is charged with the standard ‘spying’.
Serhiy Tomenko from the National Union of Journalists says that as far as they know the Ukrainian consul has been able to visit Sharoiko, though no further details are available. The union is hoping for help in ensuring that the journalist is provided with an independent lawyer. The Russian FSB and Investigative Committee generally use their ‘own’ lawyers whose services are confined to signing documents and trying to persuade the people in custody ‘to confess’. It is likely that the same situation applies in Belarus.
Sharoiko is 46 years old, and has worked in the past for military publications. He has taken a strong interest in cases involving Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners closely, and was following the abduction of Pavlo Hryb. He had also reported on military exercises taking place in Belarus. According to Svitlana Myalik, from Ukrainian Radio’s Foreign Desk, Sharoiko’s last material before his arrest was on a meeting in Minsk of the trilateral contact group on Donbas.
Pavlo Hryb in a Krasnodar (Russia) court on 18.10.2017 Photo: Andrei Sabinin
19-year-old Pavlo Hryb disappeared on August 24, after going to Gomel, in Belarus. His father sounded the alarm almost immediately, although Russia’s FSB took 13 days to admit that the young man was in Russian custody in a Krasnodar SIZO [remand prison]. It claimed that he had been arrested on August 25 on charges of ‘terrorism’, though that date was almost certainly a cover for both the FSB and Belarusian authorities to hide the fact of his abduction. Russia has given no explanation for its assertion that Hryb was detained in Smolensk, and there is no possibility that a young Ukrainian who has openly criticized Russia’s aggression against Ukraine would have voluntarily crossed into Russia.
The FSB has since come up with preposterous claims, based on correspondence between Hryb and a 17-year-old Russian girl. It is ignoring Hryb’s serious medical condition and need for constant medical supervision, with this despite intervention from the European Court of Human Rights (more details here). Belarus has rejected any suggestion that it was involved in Hryb’s abduction, yet has not explained how the young man crossed freely into Belarus from Ukraine and then ended up in a Russian prisoner, assuredly not of his own free will.
There are around 60 Ukrainian held prisoner on politically motivated charges in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, including one journalist, Roman Sushchenko. Russia’s FSB has also claimed that Sushchenko was ‘spying’ or, according to his lawyer, gathering proof about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
The arrest of Pavlo Sharoiko by the Belarusian KGB is a new and worrying development, and Ukrainian media organizations are hoping for support from colleagues abroad to help secure his release.