Ukrainian tortured in Donetsk concentration camp, then sentenced to 10 years in Russia
A first appeal hearing has taken place in the Russian city of Krasnodar in a case that is likely to prove most incriminating for Moscow when it reaches the European Court of Human Rights, not to mention the International Criminal Court. It is unlikely that Russia’s Third Court of Appeal will overturn the 10-year sentence against Ukrainian Oleksandr Marchenko, but it undoubtedly should, since Marchenko is represented by a lawyer from the renowned Komanda 29, and the evidence against Russia, especially of collaboration over Marchenko’s torture in occupied Donbas, could not be more damning.
Oleksandr Marchenko’s plight was first made public in December 2019 when both Ukrainian human rights groups and the Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre declared him a political prisoner. New and shocking details about the torture he was subjected to in the Russian-controlled Donetsk Izolyatsia secret prison and his experience after being handed over to Russia’s FSB have now come to light, thanks to lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov and an ‘interview’ which he has helped Marchenko give to Ukrainian journalist Dmytro Durnev.
A tale of plunder and naivety
For 49-year-old Marchenko, it all started with the Lamborghini Diablo sports car which he had dreamed of owning since early childhood. A graduate from the Dnipro Mining Institute, he had a good job linked with supplies of mining equipment, and eventually bought an old 1991 model. This was nothing spectacular since the car had been bumped around and had a front part which was not authentic. It also, unfortunately, needed major restoration and repair work, which normal mechanics would not take on. There was only one firm in Ukraine that would do it, and that had been involved in restoring the car since 2009 – NonStop, a Donetsk-based company.
This was no super expensive new model, but it was easily good enough for the Russian-controlled militants of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR] to want to plunder it, and this is precisely what happened in 2014. The car was seized by militants and the company itself didn’t answer Marchenko’s calls. Then in 2017, the car, repainted black, appeared on a video clip about a race in occupied Donetsk. This was an old model that had needed refurbishment, making it possible for Marchenko to easily recognize his car.
From his own sources, Marchenko learned that the car had been appropriated by Alexander Timofeyev, known as ‘Tashkent’, who was the so-called ‘minister of taxes and revenue’ under militant leader Alexander Zakharchenko. When the latter was killed in a bomb blast in August 2018, ‘Tashkent’ lost the ensuing battle for power and fled to Russia.
That was the disastrous point at which a person Marchenko knew, Yury Husakov, got in touch with him, and said that if Marchenko came to Donetsk with all the papers for the car, there was a chance of getting it back. It was Husakov, according to the plan hatched, who was supposed to drive the car, once it had received ‘DPR permission’, across the checkpoint into government-controlled Ukraine.
According to Kateryna Marchenko, she and her husband had been living in Kyiv for several years and knew next to nothing about what was happening in occupied Donbas. It is harder to believe that Husakov could have been so naïve, and in fact he seems to have played a malignant role in this whole disastrous story.
Unfortunately, Marchenko decided to try this attempt to get his car back, and did so in the worst possible way, travelling via Minsk through Moscow and across the Russian / militant controlled part of the border into occupied Donbas.
It was seemingly after Marchenko filed his application for the car to be returned to him, that he was seized at a border crossing on 17 December 2018.
A contact in Donbas was at least able to tell Kateryna that her husband was definitely alive. This was essentially all that she had to go on for the first two months, although Husakov got in touch with her, said that he had managed, for a thousand dollars, to organize a meeting with Marchenko and that she should come immediately. She fortunately did not go, and this was undoubtedly a set up. As Durnev points out, in connection with Marchenko’s words about the systematic and daily raping of young women prisoners, knowing that Kateryna was in the militants’ custody would have made Marchenko agree to anything demanded of him.
Marchenko was held during those two months at the Izolyatsia secret prison in Donetsk which former hostages, such as journalist Stanislav Aseyev, refer to as a concentration camp. The torture people are subjected to there means that just about anybody will sign or say whatever is demanded of them to stop the torment. In this case, Marchenko recounts, they stripped him and attached an electric current, among other things, to his genitals. He was also hung by handcuffs from the ceiling for whole days
Smirnov notes that between torture sessions, the militants in the so-called ‘DPR’ asked the same questions as those later asked by the Russian FSB.
The Russian ‘case’ against Marchenko makes absolutely no mention of the car and of his seizure and imprisonment in ‘DPR’.
On 18 February 2019, Marchenko was taken by force, and with a bag over his head, to the Russian Federation, accompanied first by the ‘DPR security service’, then by the Russian FSB.
In Krasnodar, he was initially told that he had ‘witness’ status, with a Russian court imposing an administrative arrest sentence for supposedly disobeying enforcement officers and a day’s illegal work in Russia.
It was only on 19 February that he was able to send a text message to his family, telling them that he was in Krasnodar. Marchenko’s ‘administrative arrest’ was extended several times, and a court eventually ordered his deportation – a ruling applauded by both Marchenko’s lawyer and the Consul.
Instead, and despite the court order, he was not deported. For around a month and a half, he was held in a deportation centre, clearly while the FSB were fabricating ‘a case’ against him.
The problems with ‘the case’ against Marchenko are legion and go far beyond the the collaboration between thugs from the unrecognized ‘DPR state security ministry’ and Russia’s FSB, and the manner in which he was held on entirely different, administrative, charges.
There is no evidence at all to back the charges, and the claim that there was a bank transfer – from an unidentified Ukrainian bank to an unidentified Russian bank – is obviously absurd.
Smirnov points out that Marchenko was charged, and convicted, of espionage. There are certain criteria that need to be met, he adds, for the crime envisaged by Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code. In this case, they are not met. Marchenko is accused of having gathered information containing a state secret for Ukraine and Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU]. Yet there are no state secrets in the case, only some spare parts to Soviet technology available in Russia and Ukraine. Not only are these pieces of metal in no way ‘state secrets’, but Marchenko never even set eyes on them, and is not claimed to have.
This did not stop the court in Krasnodar from convicting Marchenko on 28 November, 2020 and sentencing him to 10 years’ imprisonment. Even though it found him guilty of ‘spying’, the actions described in the verdict fall entirely under the article of the criminal code on smuggling weapons (i.e. spare parts to very old, and shared, Soviet rockets).. The list of irregularities and serious flaws in the prosecution’s case could be continued. They are unlikely to make a difference in a Russian court, but will almost certainly be condemned later when this case reaches the European Court of Human Rights.
Please write to Oleksandr Marchenko!
Even just a few words will tell him and Russia that he is not forgotten. Letters need to be in Russian, and any political subjects or reference to his case should be avoided. If possible, include an envelope and some thin paper as he may well try to reply. If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card
Желаю Вам здоровья и терпения, и очень 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. ]
350915 РФ, Краснодар, ул. Красноармейская, д. 22, ФКУ СИЗО-5
Марченко Александру Владимировичу, 1971 г. р.
[In English: 350095, Russian Federation, Krasnodar, 22 Krasnoarmeiska St, SIZO No. 5
Marchenko, Alexander Vladimirovich, b. 1971 ]