war crimes in Ukraine

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Fears for safety of tortured Ukrainian hostage after Donbas militants claim he is in hiding

Halya Coynash
29-year-old Hryhory Sinchenko has been placed on the ‘wanted’ list by the same Russian-controlled Donbas militants who took him prisoner in October 2019

29-year-old Hryhory Sinchenko has been placed on the ‘wanted’ list by the same Russian-controlled Donbas militants who took him prisoner in October 2019.  His mother is worried that they may have killed her son, and are now trying to pretend that he wasn’t imprisoned.

There had been no information about Sinchenko’s whereabouts since he was brought, covered in blood, to his grandmother’s home by men from the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR].  They carried out a search, supposedly for explosives, which they did not find, and then took Sinchenko away again.  He was thus clearly imprisoned by the so-called ‘DPR ministry of state security [‘security service’]’.

On 21 May 2020, the ‘DPR police’ issued a ‘wanted notice’ which says nothing about Sinchenko having been imprisoned.  It claims that he is wanted “for a grave crime”, describes him, and offers a reward for information leading to his capture. 

The photos of him were very clearly taken while he was in their custody, and Tetyana Hulyevska fears that the marks on her son’s face are burn marks from electric shock torture.  He has almost certainly also been beaten.

Hulyevska has spoken of some of the reports on ‘DPR’ television claiming that Sinchenko escaped from a police temporary holding facility.  These are heavily guarded, so that seems unlikely, however it is also most improbable that he was held there, given that he has been imprisoned by the ‘DPR ministry of state security’ since late October last year.  Enough is known about the ‘basements’ and secret prisons used by the ‘DPR security service’ to make it seem unlikely that Sinchenko was able to escape. 

The Ukrainian Association of Hostages is demanding an adequate response from the Ukrainian authorities.  They point to the case of POW Roman Bespaly, one of seven Ukrainian soldiers taken prisoner by the militants on 22 May 2019.  The militants claimed that he had killed himself, but for a long time refused to hand over his body.  The Association says that when the body was finally returned, it was without internal organs, yet the Ukrainian authorities have ignored evident signs that this was no suicide.

It should be said that the militants did something similar with Donetsk journalist and blogger Stanislav Aseyev back in July 2017, over two months after they had seized him and begun torturing him in the Izolyatsia secret prison in Donetsk.  He had not been killed, and was finally released in the December 2019 exchange.  Nonetheless, the silence about Sinchenko’s whereabouts and this new development are very worrying, and maximum publicity is needed.

This is the second time that Sinchenko, who is from Makiyivka in occupied Donbas, was taken hostage.  The young man was involved in a partisan group opposing the Russian-controlled militants, and taken prisoner by the same ‘DPR security service’ on 2 December 2016.  He was accused then of blowing up cigarette kiosks, and was savagely tortured, including with the use of electric shocks, asphyxiation and being suspended for several hours by handcuffs.  His mother says that he was so badly beaten that he suffered a collapsed lung and almost died in the prison.  In typical fashion, the militants’ ‘search’ on that occasion equated to primitive plundering of everything valuable from their house, including home appliances and her sons instruments for fixing things.

Sinchenko was released in the last exchange of Donbas hostages and POWs on 27 December 2017.  According to his mother, Sinchenko has a strong sense of justice and, despite her pleas, returned to Donbas.  He had not come to his grandmother’s home, but according to his mother, the ‘DPR security service’ had already once come to them, on 27 September, searching for him. 

It is believed that militants suspect Sinchenko of involvement in the blowing up of a Donetsk radio tower on 27 October 2019.  As reported, on that occasion a video of the blast at a radio tower servicing the Fenix mobile operator was posted on YouTube, together with an ultimatum.  The latter made it clear that those who had planted the explosive device did it in protest at the widespread use of torture and ill-treatment in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’s’ illegal prisons.

The video shows the blast and then a black-gloved hand holding up a sign holding the words typed out:

“This was done in order to draw attention to the inhuman torture in the basements of the MGB [the so-called ‘DPR ministry of state security’] Ill-treatment and having ones extremities connected to electric wires have become the norm in the “people’s” republics.

The people of Donbas must come out in protest against torture or the fascist republic will remain without communications.”

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