All contact lost with 63-year-old Ukrainian political prisoner in notorious Russian prison
Oleh Prykhodko’s family are increasingly concerned that they have heard nothing from the 63-year-old Ukrainian political prisoner since May of this year. Prykhodko has serious health issues, and there have long been problems with prison staff not passing on the medication which his family sends. Prykhodko is also imprisoned for his unconcealed opposition to Russia’s occupation of his native Crimea and he is quite likely to face particularly bad treatment in what is already the harshest form of Russian imprisonment.
Prykhodko’s daughter, Natalyathat she last spoke with her father in the court premises on 15 May. After his appeal against the 5-year sentence was rejected, he was moved from occupied Crimea to the notorious Vladimir Central Prison, around 160 kilometres from Moscow. She knows that he has been there since 26 June, but has had no contact, and says that her mother is planning to try to visit Prykhodko. It was, in fact, difficult even to ascertain that he had actually arrived at the Vladimir Prison. In late July, Prykhodko’s lawyer Nazim Sheikhmambet about the absurd methods used to obstruct lawyers from finding out their clients’ whereabouts. He had been redirected many times, before being told by somebody on duty at the prison that they did not give “prisoners’ personal data by telephone”. Sheikhambet asked if somebody’s whereabouts was viewed as ‘personal data’, and was told that, for all that this woman knew, “you could be a criminal boss wanting to kill him”.
Any danger to Prykhodko thus far has come from the Russian occupation and Russian authorities. Prykhodko is one of at least three Crimeans, all with strong pro-Ukrainian views, who were arrested in the first three months after Russia’s last release of Ukrainian political prisoners.
The FSB came for Prykhodko on 9 October 2019, and charged him with planning to blow up the Saki City Administration building. Prykhodko’s open opposition to Russian occupation had already led to earlier administrative prosecutions and he had every reason to expect FSB visitations and searches, with this just one of the reasons for profound scepticism regarding the bucket with explosives that the two FSB officers claimed to have found in his garage. Another was that he is a blacksmith and metalworker by profession, who used both garages for welding and soldering work. He would have been suicidal to hold flammable substances near his equipment.
It was also telling that the officers did not want to search Prykhodko’s second garage. This would only make sense if they knew in advance that they would find nothing, because the only explosives or illegal items were those that they had brought with them. Fingerprints were allegedly not taken from the bucket, nor did the investigators ever explain how Prykhodko was supposed to have obtained items which were not freely on sale.
A few months later it became clear that the ‘investigators’ were also claiming that Prykhodko had planned to set fire to the Russian general consulate building in Lviv, Western Ukraine, with the alleged ‘proof’ of this lying in a telephone and a memory stick.
Prykhodko was charged under three articles of Russia’s criminal code: Article 205 § 1 - planning terrorist acts (supposed plans to blow up both 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).
If the only ‘proof’ for the first charge, namely the explosives, seemed extremely suspect, that for the supposed plan to blow up the Russian general consulate was almost comically implausible. It was asserted that he had discussed, via telephone and text messages, these ‘plans’ with an unidentified individual in mainland Ukraine. Prykhodko had extremely basic knowledge of how to use both a smartphone and a computer, and would certainly have had no idea how to send a text message or use a memory stick. The defence was able to demonstrate, via billing records, that the telephone, allegedly found during the search, and the one supposedly used by the person in Lviv, had been bought in the same Simferopol shop shortly before the supposed communication. The lawyers also showed that the phone call which was supposed to have been made by this mystery individual from Lviv, during which he had hinted at Prykhodko’s purported terrorist plans, had, in fact, come 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 the latter showed no wish to identify the mystery person, or to try to ascertain why the phone which was supposed to be Prykhodko’s was registered in another name altogether. The defence also produced an experiment that showed that, when a Ukrainian sim-card is used in occupied Crimea, any call or message received is seen as having come from a Ukrainian user. This means that there would be nothing to stop all of the alleged text message ‘correspondence’ having been generated in occupied Crimea.
In, the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre also considered some phone calls allegedly recorded. These used very heated language, but gave no indication of plans to commit any specific actions. The human rights group points out that the only specific details were from the alleged text messages which could very easily have been fabricated. It was these which were found in an expert assessment to “be of a terrorist nature”.
Prykhodko was tried at the same Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don (Russia) which has been involved in most politically-motivated trials of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners. In December 2020, prosecutor Sergei Aidinov claimed that the charges had all been proven and demanded an 11-year sentence and fine of 200 thousand roubles. On 3 March 2021, presiding ‘judge’ Alexei Abdulmazhitovich Magomadov; together with Kyrill Nikolayevich Krivtsov and Sergei Fedorovich Yarosh, found Prykhodko guilty of all charges, however removed the charge under Article 223.1 (preparing explosives) as being time-barred. They sentenced him to five years’ harsh-regime imprisonment with the first year to be served in a prison, the worst of all Russian penal institutions. He was also ordered to pay a still prohibitive 110 thousand rouble fine. On 17 May 2021, ‘judge’ Sergei Viacheslavovich Vinnik from Russia’s military court of appeal upheld the sentence. The defence is planning to apply to the European Court of Human Rights.
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.
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.
600020 г. Владимир, ул Большая Нижегородская, д.67, ФКУ Тюрьма-2,
Приходько Олегу Аркадьевичу 1958 г.р.
Russian Federation, 600020 Vladimir, ul. Bolshaya Nizhegorodskaya, No. 67, Prison No. 2,
Prykhodko, Oleh Arkadiyevich, b. 1958