Abducted and tortured Ukrainian political prisoner faces additional prosecution for calling Russia's invasion of Ukraine a war
Oleksandr Marchenko has been fined 30 thousand roubles in a Russian harsh-regime prison colony for supposedly ‘discrediting the Russian army’ by calling Russia’s war against Ukraine a war. The fabrication of the charges against him will have come as no surprise to the 52-year-old recognized Ukrainian political prisoner who was earlier abducted, savagely tortured and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment on overtly grotesque charges.
The new charge against Oleksandr was brought in December 2022 under one of the administrative and criminal charges hurriedly introduced after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Marchenko was charged under the new Article 20.3. of Russia’s administrative code, with ‘discrediting the Russian Federation armed forces’. It was claimed that, while in a cell, together with two other prisoners, Marchenko had commented on the news from the radio about what Russia calls its ‘special military operation’, but quite rightly calling this a war. His cellmates were supposed to have sent a denunciation of Marchenko to the prison administration.
Oleksandr himself has pointed out that the radio stations that are broadcast in the cell do not have any news at all. His lawyers have, therefore, asked to see a timetable of the particular radio station played and an analysis of the signature on the denunciation. They also want a formal meeting with the purported authors of the denunciation. The latter will not, however, happen as one of the prisoners was clearly recruited to fight in Ukraine, while the other was released at the end of his sentence.
This absurd charge ended up at a local court which duly found him guilty of ‘discrediting’ the Russian army and imposed the 30 thousand roubles. The ruling has, however, been appealed and, because of that, Oleksandr’s relatives cannot send him money as this will immediately be deducted to pay the fine. His wife, Kateryna, is, understandably, worried as a second administrative prosecution in the space of a year could be used as pretext for further criminal charges. That would lead to his being transferred to a SIZO [remand prison], with this then used as a pretext for refusing to include him in any exchange of prisoners.
There is every reason for concern, as Russia’s treatment of Oleksandr Marchenko has demonstrated since 2018. Marchenko is originally from Dnipro where he graduated from the Dnipro Mining Institute. He and Kateryna had, however, been living in Kyiv for several years, when he made a disastrous mistake that resulted in his being seized and tortured at the notorious Izolyatsia secret prison in occupied Donetsk and then imprisoned on absurd charges in Russia.
Marchenko had been obsessed with sports cars since childhood, and in adult life satisfied his passion for cars by buying old versions that needed work done on them. He had earlier bought a 1991 model Lamborghini Diablo which had been bumped around and had a front part which was not authentic. The car required major restoration and repair work, which normal mechanics would not take on. From 2009, therefore, the car had been undergoing restoration work at NonStop, a company based in Donetsk.
The car was in Donetsk in the spring of 2014 when Russia began its military aggression, with this resulting in the formation of the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic], or ‘DPR’. 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.
Marchenko had, unfortunately not been following events in occupied Donbas, and believed an acquaintance, Yury Husakov, who 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. Husakov’s role in the subsequent events remains unclear, but Marchenko made another serious mistake by 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.
He was held during those two months at the Izolyatsia secret prison in Donetsk where horrific forms of torture are used to force hostages to sign or say whatever the militants demand. Once he finally had access to a proper lawyer, Yevgeny Smirnov, Marchenko was able to say that his captors had 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. According to Smirnov, the ‘DPR’ militants would take breaks in the torture during which they asked the same questions of Marchenko as those he was later asked by the FSB in Russia.
The Russian ‘case’ against Marchenko makes absolutely no mention of the car nor 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. Instead, unfortunately, he was simply held in the detention unit until the FSB had fabricated preposterous charges against him.
At the beginning of May 2019, Marchenko was finally charged with ‘espionage’ under Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code. He was accused of having gathered information containing a state secret for Ukraine and Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU]. The FSB (‘investigator on particularly important affairs of the Krasnodar regional FSB, G. Gerasimov) asserted that Marchenko had planned to smuggle ‘military technology’ and had, on 12 May 2018 entered into a criminal conspiracy with a Russia identified as V. I. Fedorenko. The two had supposedly held a meeting in Moscow where they discussed the cost of two had set up a plan to purchase and smuggle across the border into Ukraine two sets of specialized linear-beam vacuum tubes, designed for use in S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. It was further claimed that Marchenko had, on 21 May 2018, “organized the transfer of 130 thousand USD from an unidentified bank in Kyiv to an unidentified bank in Moscow”.
There was no evidence to back these extraordinary charges, including the movements from a mystery bank to a mystery bank of an extremely large amount of money. The charges appear to have been based solely on ‘testimony’ from ‘V. I. Fedorenko’. The original Krasnodar Regional Court had turned down the defence’s application to have Fedorenko questioned in court, as well as the authors of FSB correspondence which was also cited in the indictment. In declaring Marchenko a political prisoner on 27 December 2019, the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre pointed out that it is a standard ploy to extract such testimony under threat that the person (in this case Fedorenko) will himself be imprisoned on such charges.
The lack of any evidence was no impediment to the Krasnodar Regional Court which on 26 November 2020 sentenced Marchenko to 10 years’ imprisonment in a maximum security (“harsh regime”) prison colony. On 1 April 2020, this sentence was upheld by the Russian Third Court of Appeal.
Oleksandr once survived thyroid cancer, but needs to regularly receive thyroid hormone medication to compensate for the removed thyroid, and prevent the cancer from returning. His Russian captors have ignored this and other obvious health needs, and the fact that his family cannot even get money to him means he is left without any way of getting the proper nutrition and other essentials that he does not receive in the appalling conditions of the Russian prison colony.
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. ]
670042 Российская Федерация, Бурятия, Улан-Удэ, Спиртзаводской тракт, 4 км, ФКУ ИК-8
Марченко Александру Владимировичу 1971 г. р.
[In English: 670042, Russian Federation, Buryatia, Ulan-Ude, Spirtzavskodskoy Trakt, 4km, Prison Colony No. 8
Marchenko, Alexander Vladimirovich, b. 1971 ]