war crimes in Ukraine

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Russia to pay large compensation for torturing 16-year-old Ukrainian to death

Halya Coynash
A court in Krasnodar has ordered Russia’s Finance Ministry to pay 4.5 million roubles in compensation for torturing five adolescents in a ‘corrective institution’, with two million of that sum awarded to the mother of 16-year-old Ukrainian, Vitaly Pop, who was savagely beaten to death

A court in Krasnodar has ordered Russia’s Finance Ministry to pay 4.5 million roubles in compensation for torturing five adolescents in a ‘corrective institution’, with two million of that sum awarded to the mother of 16-year-old Ukrainian, Vitaly Pop, who was savagely beaten to death.  The other lads said that Vitaly had been targeted for ‘special treatment’ because of his Ukrainian accent, and that his torturers had used nationality-linked words of abuse while beating him. 

The prison staff may, however, have used any excuse to torment the young men on their arrival, and the treatment they were meted was probably not unusual.  The fact that this case became known and criminal proceedings were initiated was not even because of Vitaly’s death, but because the local hospital had become involved.  It was only after repeated refusals to call for outside medical help and claims that Vitaly had ‘abused the nurse’ and refused treatment, that an ambulance was finally called.  It was thanks to this that the ongoing attempts at a cover-up, and claims that the young man had “fallen down the stairs”, eventually failed.

Ten men ended up on trial, though eight of them were only accused of abusing or exceeding their powers despite the appalling torture of Vitaly and some other young lads, who also received serious injuries.

It was reported earlier that the initial brutality came from prison ‘educator’ Valery Zadneprovsky, but that he was joined in the latrine by Arsen Shamkhalov and Andrei Krivolapov.  It was the latter two who seized Vitaly and thrust his head into the toilet.

The other six teenagers have said that all three men, including Zadneprovsky continued hitting Vitaly around the head and chest.  Krivolapov is reported to have personally held his head and smashed it several times against the toilet basin.  The other lads cannot identify specific officials since they were masked, however one reports that an official jumped on Vitaly, while others say that two of the masked torturers took him by the neck and hit his head against the tiled floor.  One of the lads was ordered to urinate on Vitaly.  He says that he only pretended to do so.

Seven young lads, including Vitaly Pop, were beaten, with each supposedly receiving 13 blows around the head, stomach and other parts of the body.  The lads were also subjected to insults and other forms of humiliating behaviour.  They were forced to strip naked, urinate on each other and dunk their heads in the latrine. 

The lads had first been forced to strip naked in late November and to walk through a corridor.  Masked men were awaiting them there and ordered them to do sit ups, then other exercises, and beat and kicked them, ostensibly if they weren’t doing them well enough. 

Their torturers had been instructed to avoid hitting the lads on the face so that there were no obvious traces.

One of the seven teenagers reported having been kicked in the stomach and chest, while also being beaten around the head.  The men accompanied their torture with questions like why the young lads were there and what kind of attitude they had. This continued for 40-50 minutes. 

Shamkhalov and Krivolapov were the only officers who were charged and convicted of inflicting fatal injuries. Both were sentenced on 12 May, 2017, by Judge NIkolai Stohniy from the Belorechensk District Court, to 11 years.  The prosecutor had asked for 13 years for Shamkhalov, but the judge decided that his small children constituted an extenuating circumstance.

Zadneprovsky’s mother burned her son’s clothing and shoes, and the investigators were only able to prove that Zadneprovsky had inflicted one blow (to the back).  He and seven other defendants received sentences from two and a half to five years.  

Vladislav Ivanov, the acting head of the prison, only received a five-year sentence, although the investigation had found that he had brought in the guards and other officials who were supposed to beat up new arrivals and have ‘talks’ with them.

On 17 October, 2017, the Krasnodar Regional Court allowed the appeal from the prosecutor reducing the sentences in seven of the ten cases, though only very slightly.

As reported soon after the killing on November 24, 2015, Vitaly Pop was no hardened criminal.  He had been at school in the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine until the summer of 2015 when he and his mother joined his father who had been forced by poverty to seek employment in Kuban (Russia).  Vitaly was working with his parents, though he hoped to enter a trade college.  His mother, Svitlana, said that he had virtually no friends in Russia.  He didn’t drink and went running every evening.  

Vitaly had apparently gone into a shop in June 2015, hit the shopkeeper twice on the back of her head and grabbed a gold chain.  He did nothing with it and is said to have returned it to the investigators following his arrest. 

Vitaly never said anything to explain his actions, if these they were. Neighbours assumed he had got into a bad crowd, although there seems to have been no evidence of this.  Alexander Popkov and Andrei Sabunin represented Vitaly’s mother after his death, and know only that the lad had not denied the crime.

He was sentenced to 4.8 years, despite his age, the fact that his father was very ill, and lack of any previous conflict with the law.  He had been held in a SIZO [detention centre] after his arrest.  There he heard shocking stories about the treatment prisoners got at the Belorechensk ‘corrective prison colony’ and told his brother that he wasn’t sure if he would return.

The Russian authorities even tried to prevent Vitaly’s parents taking his body home to Ukraine.  It was only after efforts by Alexander Popkov and rights groups that on December 7, 2015 that Vitaly was buried in his native Hrushove, in the Transcarpathia oblast.  Vitaly’s father died nine days later.

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