Ukrainian arrested in Crimea says his Russian girlfriend falsely accused him to save herself
More details have emerged about Russia’s latest ‘Ukrainian saboteur’ who appears now to be charged only with ‘spying’ for Ukraine. 60-year-old Kostiantyn Shyrynha denies the charges and asserts that his partner, the mother of their small daughter, gave false testimony against him.
According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant , Shyrynha is accused of spying for Ukraine together with his partner, a Russian military servicewoman working in Feodosia. They are both supposed to have been in a group run by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Military Intelligence [HUR].
The FSB’s original report, posted on 15 April, claimed to have “broken up activities of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Military Intelligence Department aimed at organizing and carrying out acts of sabotage – terrorism, stealing information containing state secrets and recruiting Russian citizens”. These alleged ‘activities’ were purportedly organized by Lieutenant Oleh Alisherovych Akhmedov, the head of a department of military intelligence located in Kherson. His was the only name given, with the allegedly exposed members of the ‘group’ described only as a Russian military servicewoman and a male Ukrainian citizen.
The woman remains unnamed, but she is known to have been charged with state treason (Article 275 of Russia’s criminal code) and, according to Shyringa , is accused of gathering information about weapons and the number of members of her missile regiment. Kommersant reports that this was supposed to have been in 2017-2018. She was placed under house arrest, because she ‘admitted guilt’ and repented, as well as because of her young child.
In her ‘confession’, she appears to have also implicated Shyrynha , who says that she did so falsely. Shyringa appealed unsuccessfully against his detention and is imprisoned in the Lefortovo SIZO [remand prison] in Moscow. His lawyer, Oleh Hlushko asserts that the investigators have not provided any evidence that his client was involved in spying.
According to his lawyer, Shyrynha is from Kyiv and came to Crimea from Zaporizhya in 2015. In Feodosia, he met his future partner who is considerably younger than him and who was working in a military unit. They had lived together, in rented accommodation from then, and have a young daughter.
The investigators assert that it was Shyrynha who persuaded his partner to provide secret information about her unit. Kommersant says that, according to its information, this is the 18th Sevastopol – Feodosia Guards Rocket Regiment which is part of the 31st Russian Air Defence Division. This was formed after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and is armed, among other weapons, with S-400 missile systems.
Russia is illegally occupying Crimea and is, in violation of international law, turning it into a military base. Under such circumstances, Ukraine would be fully within its rights to obtain information about military deployment. That having been said, there are several features of this case that are ominously similar to Russia’s many politically-motivated ‘Ukrainian saboteur’ show trials.
The first lies in the discrepancies between the initial assertions and the actual charges which clearly do not include any plans to commit acts of sabotage.
The second is the FSB’s assertion that information about the activities of the two individuals was received as part of ‘an investigation’ linked with the prosecution of another Ukrainian, Denis Kashuk. He was sentenced on 6 April 2020 to 3 years and 8 months’ imprisonment by ‘judge’ Larisa Likhacheva from the Armyansk District Court on charges of possession of ammunition and explosive substances and of smuggling explosives. Kashuk agreed to plead guilty and it is, therefore, impossible to state with any certainly that the charges were unfounded. There are, nonetheless, enough reasons to feel strong concern that his testimony is now being used in other prosecutions.
During the ‘court hearing’, Kashuk stated that in the Spring of 2016 he had applied to renew his Ukrainian passport in Kherson and had been invited for a chat by officers from Ukraine’s military intelligence (HUR). During this conversation, he was told that the advertising agency where he was working had carried out several contracts for the Russian occupation authorities. He was told that this constituted collaboration with the occupation regime and that he could rectify the situation by providing HUR with information they needed. He asserted that he had been forced to agree, and that in November 2017 he had been given literature about various forms of explosives, and trained in using a pistol and machine gun. He claimed that on the same day, he had returned to Crimea, being given a plastic bag with a liquid explosive substance and explosives concealed in washing powder. He had purportedly communicated with the HUR officer via WhatsApp, and had repacked the explosives and hidden them in two different hiding places.
There is no verifiable evidence to back these charges, only the testimony of a man who had been held incommunicado for at least 24 hours before the FSB admitted to holding him. It is possible that physical methods of torture were also applied, but we do know from Kashuk’s mother that her son told her that he had agreed to plead guilty in order to protect his family from persecution. A week later, from mainland Ukraine, she informed Krym.Realii that, in her very brief conversation with her son before the detention hearing on 20 December, he had asked that the entire family leave Crimea immediately.