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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Russia’s medical torture of Ukrainian political prisoners continues unabated

Halya Coynash

54-year-old Volodymyr Dudka’s health has deteriorated dramatically, yet the prison administration in Russian-occupied Crimea is providing only minimum treatment, and has refused to hand over the results of the last medical examination, carried out almost a year ago.  It seems likely that Dudka is suffering from a stomach ulcer and enlarged prostate, and his blood pressure is fluctuating dangerously. 

Dudka’s lawyer, Sergei Legostov sounded the alarm after visiting his client on 2 September, and finding him in a great deal of pain, with only tablets that are clearly not an adequate response to his medical issues.  For the moment he remains in the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] where the conditions are appalling, however he and Oleksiy Bessarabov are about to be transferred to Moscow for their appeal hearing.  This is an additional reason for concern since the journey to Moscow is likely to be long and gruelling, with the men denied any contact with their lawyers or family.

Despite a written application from Dudka, as well as constant requests from his other  lawyer, Oksana Zheleznyak, the SIZO has still not provided the results of Dudka’s medical examination, which took place back on 10 October 2018.  It was only on 8 August that Dudka was verbally told the results of that examination.  The latter mentioned a white scar in the stomach, suggesting that he had had a stomach ulcer, as well as an enlarged pancreas (benign prostatic hyperplasia) and kidney stones.  His son, Ilya, stresses that Dudka had not suffered from either of the latter two conditions before his arrest and imprisonment.  

In reading out this assessment, some 10 months after it was issued, the doctor asked whether Dudka was taking any medicine, yet did not himself prescribe anything.  Without a physical copy of the document, Ilya Dudka cannot turn to a urologist in order to get the appropriate medication for his father.

It will soon be three years since Dudka, Bessarabov and Dmytro Shtyblikov were arrested in Sevastopol in Russia’s second attempt in the space of a few months to concoct a ‘Ukrainian saboteur’ plot

There had not been a single act of sabotage on the occupied peninsula, and the choice of would-be ‘saboteurs’ was extremely suspect: Shtyblikov and Bessarabov were world-known academics, while Dudka is a former naval captain who had retired early for health reasons.  He had recently become a grandfather, and spent most of his time with his granddaughter, making the suggestion that he was planning serious acts of sabotage that could have hurt his own family simply preposterous.

The FSB claimed  on 10 November that the men seized the day before 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”.  Two younger men  - Oleksiy Stohniy and Hlib Shabliy were arrested 10 days later. That, at least, was what the FSB claimed, though, in fact, Stohniy was arrested at a different time and place, with the videoed images of his apparent arrest staged for the camera. Both Stohniy and Shabliy were later convicted of charges that had virtually no connection to the sabotage that they had ‘confessed to’. 

The FSB placed all men under enormous pressure and prevented Shtyblikov, whom they had designated as the leader, 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). 

Bessarabov and Dudka were sentenced on 4 April 2019 to 14 years’ imprisonment, with the sentences so high almost certainly because both men had refused to ‘cooperate’ with the FSB.  They consistently denied all the charges, and spoke of the electric shocks used initially to torture them into ‘confessing’. The verdict and sentences were passed by Igor Vladimirovich Kozhevnikov; Vasily Aleksandrovich Avkhimov; and Vladimir Ilych Reshetnyak.

These ‘judges’ ignored gross falsification in this case, some of which the ‘prosecutor’, Sergei Tokarev, was himself forced to acknowledge, and the lack of any evidence to back the charges.   It was claimed, for example, that ‘biological traces’ from both defendants had been ‘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 had 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 quickly ‘found’ what they had brought, and then left, without bothering to pretend to search the kitchen or bathroom.  

The appeal hearing will presumably be soon after the men reach Moscow.  Both have prepared a number of comments on the verdict, and their defence will certainly point to the above and other falsifications.  Both Dudka and Bessarabov are planning to challenge the fact that their Ukrainian citizenship is not mentioned in the documentation.

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