63-year-old Ukrainian in a prison for “particularly dangerous prisoners” after opposing Russian occupation of Crimea
63-year-old Oleh Prykhodko is suffering from painful swelling of the legs due to the appalling treatment the recognized political prisoner is receiving in a Russian prison ‘for particularly dangerous criminals’. The Ukrainian, who never concealed his vehement opposition to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, is being kept in a total information vacuum, and is not being passed the important medication that his family sends.
It was only in the second half of October, three months after Prykhodko had arrived at one of Russia’s worst types of penal institutions, Prison No. 3 in the Vladimir oblast (Russia) that his lawyer, Sergei Legostov was finally able to see him. Legostov reports that there were flagrant infringements of his client’s rights during the meeting and that he is, in general, facing appalling treatment.
There was no confidentiality with the entire meeting taking place in the presence of a prison employee with a video camera who recorded their conversation. The prison officer claimed that this was because Prykhodko had not written ‘an application’ for the meeting to be confidential. This is evident nonsense, as Prykhodko had not been informed that he needed to do this, and he should have the right to meet with his lawyer in privacy. The men were, furthermore, separated by a glass barrier with the connection for speaking of poor quality, which was a major problem since Prykhodko has hearing difficulties. They were stopped after 25 minutes because it was the lunch break, and Legostov was not allowed to return to continue the conversation. This was all very clearly deliberate, since Legostov himself had arrived at the gates of the prison much earlier, but had been forced to wait outside, in the rain, for two hours.
There were other violations with potentially grave ramifications. Legostov had brought important documents for Prykhodko to sign, including one about a cassation appeal against his five-year sentence, and another authorizing the lawyer to represent Prykhodko at the European Court of Human Rights. He also needed to sign a form permitting his lawyers to reveal information about medical records; personal data and his answers to questions about the prison conditions. The prison staff refused to let him hand the documents over, with this potentially meaning that they could miss crucial deadlines. Legostov was told that he could send the documents by post so that they could “check them for the presence of extremism or terrorism”. Legostov believes that all of this, like the fact that the meeting was cut short, was deliberate and notes that, in practice, the constitutional right to legal assistance is not being observed.
During the meeting, Prykhodko did manage to inform him that he was not being handed the medication that his family are sending for him, and that he had not received any medical examination since arriving at the prison three months earlier. This is ill-treatment for any prisoner, and is especially worrying given Prykhodko’s age. He is held in an information void with the prison administration not passing him letters, and clearly also not sending Prykhodko’s letters, which he writes each day. The swelling is a clear consequence of the fact that, in his solitary confinement cell, he is only allowed to sit or lie down during night hours. There seems no limit to the brutality, with the prison staff even refusing to hand Prykhodko his personal items, including his family’s phone numbers. Without them, he cannot write applications for phone calls to his family.
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 declaring Prykhodko a political prisoner, 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 and the prison staff that people from all over the world are watching their treatment of him. Letters need to be in Russian, and on ‘safe’ subjects. If that is a problem, you could copy out the letter below, maybe attaching a photo or picture of your own. Please do give a return address, so that Oleh can reply.
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