Ukrainian writer and civic activist abducted and tortured for Russian propaganda video
Eight months after Serhiy Tsyhipa, a writer, journalist, and civic activist from Nova Kakhovka (Kherson oblast) was abducted by the Russian invaders, it has been learned that he is being held prisoner in occupied Crimea. It is likely that Russia is planning yet another show trial involving the civic activist, and certain that any ‘evidence’ produced at this event will have been obtained through savage torture.
The Crimean Human Rights Group was only able to confirm that he is alive and, as much as this is possible in the appalling conditions of the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] is well.
Tsyhipa, the head of the regional NGO, Kakhovka Springboard, disappeared on 12 March as he was heading to Tavriysk to take medicine to his aunt. It was confirmed that he had been seized by the Russian soldiers swarming Kherson oblast when fellow journalist Oleh Baturin was released by the Russians eight days after being set up and abducted. Since Baturin had been taken prisoner after receiving a phone call he took to be from Tsyhipa, it seems likely that the latter was already being subjected to torture. Baturin has said that he heard Tsyhipa’s name, and his voice from one of the rooms that the Russians used for interrogation (and torture).
At the end of September, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] reported that their lawyers had approached the European Court of Human Rights on Tsyhipa’s behalf. Tsyhipa’s wife Olena explains that her husband, at 60, was too old to join the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Like many other Ukrainians from Kherson oblast, he had hoped to at least resist the invaders by taking part in the Territorial Defence, however the Ukrainian military and police left Kherson due to the swift advance of the invaders, and he was unable to get weapons. Instead, he became a volunteer, helping to provide residents with humanitarian aid, while also using his pages on social media to provide accurate information, organize and post videos of the pro-Ukrainian protests that demonstrated the real opposition to Russia’s invasion.
All of this made him extremely inconvenient for Russia and he became one of the first of a huge number of public officials; civic activists; journalists or others, whom the invaders have abducted. Baturin has reported that the Russians had detailed biographical information about each of their hostages, with some of this not information that would be available from open sources. He himself does not understand how they obtained it.
Until the second half of April, Tsyhipa’s family knew nothing more about what had happened to him. Then a video appeared on the Internet where Serhiy was seen saying that he had been in Russia for several weeks, without mentioning that he had been taken there by force. He then repeats standard Russian narrative about the Russian atrocities in Bucha and other occupied parts of Kyiv oblast, saying that these were staged in order to blame Russia and get it expelled from the UN Security Council. There are other accusations, such as that Ukraine could use chemical weapons in order to blame Russia. Tsyhipa had made his opposition to Russia’s invasion and pro-Ukrainian position very clear, and he would never have voluntarily used the official Russian euphemism ‘special military operation’, as he does on the video, let alone repeat pro-Kremlin excuses for Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The video appears, in short, to be a variation on the multiple ‘videoed confessions’ that the Russian FSB regularly produce after illegally imprisoning Ukrainians on occupied territory. In essentially all cases where the imprisoned person has received access to an independent lawyer or been released, they have described the electric shocks; beatings or other forms of torture used to force them into speaking before the camera.
Tsyhipa remains in Russian captivity without any contact with his family or independent lawyers. His wife and step-daughter both note serious differences in Tsyhipa’s appearance and his behaviour on the video. He is thinner, and gives the impression of being tired and intimidated. He keeps looking upwards, as though at somebody standing behind the camera and controlling what is happening. His speech is much slower, and his very voice seems changed, with the suspicion being that he may have been given some kind of substance. There are also dark yellow-blue marks on his nose and fingers, like injuries from beating that have healed, and other signs of bruises. His wife noticed that Tsyhipa kept clutching his right hand with his left, and believes that his captors may have twisted or broken it.
UHHRU lawyer Olena Kuvayeva explains that they turned to the European Court of Human Rights with both a full application, and a request to apply Rule 39 and impose temporary measures. The application asserts violation of several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights – the prohibition of torture (Article 3); the right to liberty and security (Article 5) and freedom of expression (Article 10). The Court allowed the request under Rule 39, although there is nothing to suggest that this has made a difference. Russia is, in fact, claiming that the Court’s jurisdiction ended in March this year, although this is not true. Even if there eventually is accountability via ECHR or other international courts, it is publicity right now that has more chance of helping to security the release of Serhiy Tsyhipa and others abducted like him. Please help circulate information about him.