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Russian occupiers of Crimea puts 66-year-old Ukrainian on trial for ‘state treason’
The trial has begun in Russian-occupied Sevastopol of Halyna Dovhopola who will be 66 in March, and has spent well over a year imprisoned in Moscow on mystery charges of ‘spying’ for Ukraine. The country which invaded and annexed Ukrainian Crimea is illegally applying the norm in its criminal code on ‘state treason’ in its trial of the elderly Ukrainian.
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, the proceedings were registered with the Russian-controlled Sevastopol City Court on 4 February 2021, with the preliminary hearing taking place on 17 February. Such preliminary hearings are always behind closed doors, however it seems likely that the entire ‘trial’ will be hidden from the public. Russia’s FSB have been seizing Ukrainians either in occupied Crimea or in Russia and charging them with ‘spying’ since mid-2014, with the secrecy behind all of these cases making it very easy to fabricate evidence and to use illegal methods to extract ‘confessions’ and obtain sentences of 12 years or more. It was typical in this respect that the Crimean Human Rights Group was only able to identify the woman whom the FSB arrested in November 2019 when the first 2-month detention period was extended in January 2020.
Dovhopola’s arrest was widely reported in Russian and Russian-controlled media on 29 November 2019. She was referred to as a ‘Russian citizen’ and said to be accused of having been recruited by Ukraine’s Military Intelligence and of having “deliberately gathered secret information of a military nature”. Dmitry Belik, a supposed Russian State Duma deputy from Sevastopol, claimed that the woman had been a civil servant working for the Black Sea Fleet. The report asserted that from 2016 to 2018 there had been six arrests of supposed members of sabotage groups (including citizens of Russia and Ukraine). They were, so this version went, supposed to have “gathered information about the Russian security service, units of the Russian defence ministry, the Black Sea Fleet and planned terrorist acts.” There were, in fact, around 10 men seized, with each of the arrests trumpeted on Russian propaganda channels, while being condemned by the international community (see Russia’s FSB needs Ukrainian ‘saboteurs’ in occupied Crimea – fictitious ones will do).
Judging by an interview Dovhopola gave to a Ukrainian website in May 2014, she and her adult daughter openly held pro-Ukrainian views. In March, the Russian soldiers who had seized control told her daughter that if she did not remove the Ukrainian media that she sold in the kiosk she ran that they would set it alight, with her inside. Understandably, she left for Kyiv with Dovhopola’s grandson who was then 9. Dovhopola herself said that she dreamed of being with them, but could not abandon her home. She herself was born in Bakhchysarai, but had spent all her life just outside Sevastopol.
Russia uses arrests and ‘trials’ of Ukrainians to try to justify its occupation of Crimea, and Dovhopola’s pro-Ukrainian views may well have been enough to prompt her arrest. While that will only become clear when she is released, her imprisonment is undoubtedly illegal. Russia is an occupying state which has no right, under the Geneva Convention, to apply its legislation in occupied Crimea. It is also simply grotesque that a Ukrainian should be charged with treason against the Russian occupiers of Ukrainian Crimea.
The charges under Article 275 of Russia’s criminal code (‘state treason’) carry a sentence of from 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. There are no grounds for expecting a fair trial, with the case under judge Igor Kozhevnikov, a Russian citizen who was the presiding judge in the politically motivated ‘trial’ and 14-year sentences passed against Oleksiy Bessarabov and Volodymyr Dudka (see 14 year sentences for Russia to present Ukraine as the enemy in occupied Crimea