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.

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15-year sentences demanded for Ukrainians accused of invented ‘Crimean sabotage’ plot

Halya Coynash

The ‘prosecutor’ in Russian-occupied Sevastopol has demanded 15-year sentences for retired Ukrainian navy captain, Volodymyr Dudka, and Oleksiy Bessarabov, an academic, despite acknowledging that the FSB falsified ‘evidence’ in the case. 

The closed ‘trial’ of the two men at the Sevastopol City Court has come to an end, with the Russian-controlled prosecutor on 2 April asked for a 15-year sentence in the case of 54-year-old Dudka, and just two months less for 43-year-old Bessarabov.  In both cases, the prosecutor asked that the first four years be in a prison where the conditions are particularly severe, with the rest of the sentence in a harsh-regime prison colony.   A further huge fine of half a million roubles each was demanded.

According to Dudka’s lawyer, Sergei Legostov, the prosecution also asked the court to issue a separate ruling regarding the FSB’s behaviour since some of the material had been falsified. 

In fact, the only ‘evidence’ in this appalling case was falsified, and simply withdrawing the charge of illegal possession of a firearm cannot change that. 

‘Biological traces’ from both defendants were ‘found’ on a map of the city which allegedly showed the places where the men were supposed to have been planning acts of sabotage.  An expert analysis, however, demonstrated that the traces were only on the edge of the map and not over the entire surface, which would make no sense if this were really, as asserted, a map that the men were using.

Both men previously complained that non-procedural measures had been used to obtain biological traces.  Dudka, for example, was seized on the way to the doctor where he was being treated for an ulcer.  Saliva and other samples were taken without any protocol being drawn up and without his lawyer present.  Under such circumstances, it would be easy to later use the samples to fabricate incriminating evidence.

There is a similar situation with the telephones that the men said were planted on them. The prosecution had claimed that some person involved in Ukrainian military intelligence in Kharkiv had asked a stranger in Crimea to buy the telephones and pass them over to the defendants.  Legostov was scathing about such nonsense, saying that it was worse than the shoddiest detective novel. 

In virtually all such prosecutions, the FSB arrives with their own ‘witnesses’ which is a gross infringement of procedural legislation and makes it very easy for those carrying out the search ‘to find’ whatever is needed for their case.  Dudka’s son reports that the men who came to ‘search’ his father’s home ‘found’ the telephone very quickly, then left, without bothering to pretend to search the kitchen or bathroom. The defence has already demonstrated that there are discrepancies in the testimony given by one such ‘witness’ present during the search of Bessarabov’s home and by two who were present when a secret hiding place with explosive devices was allegedly found.

It is clear just from the above that removing the relatively minor charge of possession of a firearm cannot explain away the irregularities.  The prosecutor has also refused to investigate both men’s allegations of torture, with the use of electric shocks, after their arrest.  Since the third man seized, Dmytro Shtyblikov, was never allowed to see an independent lawyer, and Bessarabov was also prevented from seeing one for a long period, it is extremely relevant that Dudka retracted any confession as soon as he saw such a lawyer, and stated that it had been given under duress.   

The FSB’s first ‘Crimean saboteur’ arrests in August 2016 were evidently flawed for numerous reasons, including the signs of torture and the fact that they had grabbed four total strangers.  On 9 November that year, they began again, targeting three friends – Dudka, Bessarabov and Shtyblikov.  The latter two were well-known academics who had worked together for many years. 

The FSB claimed that they were  “members of a sabotage – terrorist group of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Central Intelligence Department” who were planning acts of sabotage on military and other infrastructure”. There had never been any such acts of sabotage, nor, judging by the initial videos demonstrated, was there any evidence of plans to commit a crime. 

The FSB placed all men under enormous pressure and prevented Shtyblikov from seeing an independent lawyer at all.  Under conditions that remain unclear, he agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced on 16 November, 2017 to five years’ imprisonment after a ‘trial’ lasting just minutes (details here). 

Having extracted a ‘confession’ from Shtyblikov, the FSB was then able to bring him into the ‘trial’ of the other two men as ‘witness’.  As Dudka’s lawyer Sergei Legostov puts it, Shtyblikov was placed in an impossible position, since any rejection of the charges would mean, at very least, that the shorter sentence that he received for the guilty plea, would be changed (as well as placing him in danger of reprisals in prison). 

Both Dudka and Bessarabov have been held in the appalling conditions of the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] for two and a half years and subjected to enormous pressure to ‘cooperate’ by not affirming their innocence.  The pressure against Dudka has included depriving him of urgently needed medical care, yet both he and Bessarabov have refused to ‘confess’ to crimes they did not commit.  It is likely that this is the real reason for the brutally long sentences demanded.  There is certainly no proof of wrongdoing against any of the men who have been recognized as political prisoners by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre. 

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