11 years for opposing Russia's occupation of Crimea?
63-year-old Oleh Prykhodko gave his final address to the court in Russia which is due to hand down a verdict on 3 March. The defence demonstrated over and over again that the charges against Prykhodko were absurd and the evidence falsified. This, however, is the court which has been issuing huge sentences against Ukrainian political prisoners since the trial of Oleg Sentsov, and the chances for justice here do not seem high.
According to his lawyer, Nazim Sheikhmambet, Prykhodko’s final address was emotional, but to the point. He said that he is “an ordinary Christian, and blacksmith, who opposed “Crimea being joined to Russia” and openly said so. He expressed his certainty that this opposition was the reason for the FSB’s “attention”.
The defence also addressed the court, pointing out the failings in the prosecution’s evidence and all the many discrepancies in the case.
Prykhodko has been held in the appalling conditions first of the SIZO [remand prison] in Simferopol, then in a Rostov SIZO since October 2019. Such conditions are difficult even for a young man, and are positively dangerous for a 63-year-old in poor health. The only good thing is that the prison administration have finally begun giving Prykhodko the medication that his wife and adult daughter obtain for him.
It is not clear why over two months have passed since the previous hearing when
prosecutor, Sergei Aidinov claimed that Prykhodko’s ‘guilt’ had been proven and demanded an 11-year sentence, with the first three years in a ‘prison’, the harshest of all Russia’s penitentiary institutions, followed by another 8 years in a prison colony. Aidanov also asked for a prohibitive 200 thousand rouble ‘fine’
Prykhodko was arrested on 9 October 2019 after two FSB officers, Vladimir Stetsyk and Andrei Zemlyakov, both of whom are former Ukrainian Security Service turncoats, supposedly ‘found’ explosives in a bucket in one of his garages. Prykhodko’s pro-Ukrainian views had already prompted one search and (unrelated) administrative charges under Russian occupation, and there was realistically every reason for the Ukrainian to expect a repeat visitation (or many). This alone meant that, even if he had wanted to hold something illegal, the last place he should have kept it was in his own garage. In addition, the officers ‘found’ the explosives almost immediately and later rejected Prykhodko’s suggestion that they search his other garage. There can surely only be one reason for such extraordinary behaviour, namely that the officers knew they would find nothing because they had brought the explosives ‘discovered’ with them..
During the evening after his arrest, a person claiming to be a doctor tricked Prykhodko and obtained his biological traces. There would have been no point in doing this illegally, in the absence of Prykhodko’s lawyer, had the aim not been to use the DNA to falsify evidence. This is a repeat of the methods used in November 2016 against Volodymyr Dudka and Oleksiy Bessarabov. The biological traces were later ‘found’, although only on the rim of the map of Crimea that the men had supposedly used to plan their terrorist acts (details here).
Prykhodko is charged under three articles of Russia’s illegally applied criminal code: Article 205 § 1 (planning terrorist acts – the Saki Administration in Crimea and Russian general consulate in Lviv; Article 223.1 (illegally preparing explosive substances) and 222.1 § 1 (purchasing or storing explosives). The prosecution is claiming that Prykhodko was both a ‘Nazi’ and a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and that he planned such terrorist acts, one from a significant distance, out of the wish to force Russia (or “the authorities in Crimea”) to return the peninsula to Ukraine.
It is claimed that Prykhodko had a phone call with an unidentified individual from Lviv in Western Ukraine, and that he afterwards discussed, via text messages plans to carry out a terrorist attack on the Russian consulate in Lviv. Both Prykhodko and his wife denied from the beginning having ever seen the telephone which the FSB allegedly found during a search of their home, and there is considerable testimony from friends and colleagues, confirming that Prykhodko had extremely basic knowledge of how to use either a smartphone or a computer.
The defence brought in expert witnesses and also produced evidence demonstrating that the phone call during which the ‘unidentified person from Lviv’ had hinted at Prykhodko’s terrorist plans, had in fact came from the Kherson oblast, more precisely somewhere around the administrative border with occupied Crimea.
Such a call could easily have been made by the FSB, which would explain why they have been so curiously uninterested or incapable of identifying this mystery individual. It is also doubtless the reason that they showed no interest in the fact that the phone which Prykhodko has always said was planted on him is registered in somebody else’s name, claiming this to be a fictitious name requiring no further investigation. The defence also produced an experiment demonstrating that Ukrainian sim-cards work in occupied Crimea, but mean that any call or message is receiving as from a Ukrainian user. This presumably means that there would be nothing to stop all of the alleged text message ‘correspondence’ to have been carried out in occupied Crimea.
The verdict will be announced at 13.00 on 3 March. As Sheikhmambet put it after the hearing on 25 February, while they do not particularly have any illusions, they hope that the court “will carry out its function and administer justice, and will not be an instrument of repression against people with a different point of view”.
PLEASE WRITE TO OLEH PRYKHODKO!
Letters send an important message, telling him that he is not forgotten, while also showing Moscow that the ‘trial’ is being followed. Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, use the sample letter below (copying it by hand), perhaps adding a picture or photo. Do add a return address so that he can answer.
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.
[Hi. I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ]
The envelopes can be written in Russian or English as below.
344022, Россия, Ростов-на-Дону, ул. Максима Горького, 219 СИЗО-1.
Приходько, Олегу Аркадьевичу, 1958 г.р.
[In English: 344022 Russian Federation, Rostov on the Don, 219 Maxim Gorky St, SIZO-1
Prykhodko, Oleg Arkadievych, b. 1958 ]