Ukrainian political prisoner held in vermin-ridden basement without vital medication
Russia is clearly planning a new ‘Ukrainian spying trial’ in occupied Crimea, with the victim, 42-year-old Ivan Yatskin brought to Simferopol, from Moscow, where he has been imprisoned since October 2019. The sadistic treatment he was subjected to in Moscow is continuing, with Yatskin’s medication taken from him, including painkillers. The Simferopol SIZO [prison] officials even cut up the sole of the new trainers which Russian volunteers had managed to get for him. They claimed that, since the Ukrainian is accused of ‘spying’, they were looking for a ‘bug’. They also took his jacket away, claiming the colour did not meet SIZO rules.
Yatskin’s lawyer, Nikolai Polozov, says that they were able to speak a little before the ‘High Court hearing’ which, predictably, extended his detention for another two months. It transpires that Yatskin was brought to Simferopol on 9 April. It was, at least, by plane which is something since the train journeys are especially long and arduous, with prisoners vulnerable since their lawyers cannot even follow their whereabouts. That was the only positive development, however, since at the Simferopol SIZO he was placed in a ‘quarantine cell’ in a basement with conditions even worse than the ‘ordinary’ filth and unsanitary conditions for which the Simferopol SIZO is notorious. The ceiling of his cell was covered in mould, and as well as bedbugs, there were also rats coming out at night from the ‘toilet area’ within the cell. Polozov notes that he heard all about this four years ago from Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader and political prisoner Akhtem Chiygoz, and nothing has changed.
Yatskin is one of several Ukrainians seized over the first months after the Kremlin handed over 35 Ukrainian political prisoners and POWs, including Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. That operation in September 2019 had been by far the largest release of Kremlin hostages, with Moscow almost certainly motivated by the need to get key MH17 witness Vladimir Tsemakh away from the Ukrainian and Dutch prosecutors (details here). Although there were still very many Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners in custody, it was noticeable that some of the new arrests echoed the cases of men finally freed.
Yatskin is from the village of Voikovo in Crimea. The Ukrainian is charged with ‘state treason’ by the country that invaded and annexed his homeland. He is supposed to have revealed ‘state secrets’ to Ukraine’s Security Service, probably about Russian police officials, however what such ‘secrets’ were, or were not, will likely only be learned when Yatskin is safely back in Ukraine. What we do know is that Yatskin never concealed his pro-Ukrainian views, and that this has been enough to prompt the shockingly flawed ‘trials’ and long sentences against several other recognized political prisoners.
Yatskin has an older son and daughter from a previous marriage, and two sons, and a baby daughter with his second wife, Gulnara Kadyrova. The latter was around six months pregnant when, on 16 October 2019, the FSB turned up at their home, took Yatskin away and carried out a search of their home. The ‘search’ was highly specific with the officers not, for example, taking mobile phones away which would be an obvious thing to do where a person is accused of having passed on ‘state secrets’ to Ukraine’s SBU. It has been noticeable in a number of political cases in Crimea (those of Volodymyr Dudka, Volodymyr Balukh, Oleh Prykhodko) that the FSB have left after supposedly ‘finding’ something incriminating. The FSB were led by a Russian investigator, Sergei Makhnev, who has been involved in several political trials, especially involving Crimean Tatars.
Gulnara was prevented even from saying goodbye to her husband. The arrest fell on the eve of his mother’s birthday, and the elderly lady was expecting them to visit that day. Gulnara recounts how she arrived at her mother-in-law’s home with the children. Taisya Ananyivna came out to greet them with a big smile and asked: “but where is Ivan?” That was one of the hardest moments, Gulnara says, having to explain that Ivan had been taken away.
Since Ivan is now in occupied Crimea, it is no longer possible to give an address for letters. Please help him, however, by informing politicians and the media in your country about his case, and that of 66-year-old Halyna Dovhopola, sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment on equally implausible charges.