Kangaroo court in Russian-occupied Crimea sentences abducted and tortured Ukrainian naval captain to 8.5 years
A Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has sentenced Oleksiy Kiselyov to eight and a half years imprisonment on charges evidently fabricated after Russian soldiers abducted and tortured the 58-year-old former naval captain. The ‘court’ ignored, not only the legal nihilism around the charges against Kiselyov, but also the fact that he had been illegally abducted from mainland Ukraine and the torture he endured while held incommunicado.
This latest travesty of a ‘trial’ took place at the ‘Dzhankoy district court’ in occupied Crimea, with ‘judge’ Liliana Solovyova on 17 February 2023 sentencing a Ukrainian citizen to a hefty term of imprisonment for entirely unproven involvement in a legal Ukrainian organization while on the territory of mainland Ukraine. The peaceful Noman Çelebicihan Battalion is not, despite its name, an armed formation. It was founded by Crimean Tatar activist and businessman Lenur Islyamov on 1 January 2016, with the first members people who had earlier taken part in the civic blockade of occupied Crimea. Although there had been discussion regarding the possible inclusion of the Battalion within Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies, this did not happen, and the Battalion members essentially acted as part of the ‘Asker’ civic organization, promoting the goods and energy blockade and providing backup for Ukrainian border guards in areas near the administrative border with occupied Crimea. Moscow was undoubtedly angered by the civic blockade and by the Battalion members’ ultimate objective, namely the liberation of Crimea from Russian occupation, but this does not make the activities illegal.
This has not stopped Russia from using claims of unproven involvement in the Battalion to imprison Crimean Tatars since 2018. The charge is invariably of “taking part in the activities of an unlawful armed formation acting on the territory of a foreign country for purposes which are against the interests of the Russian Federation”, under Article 208 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code. In June 2022, the increasingly politicized Russian Supreme Court declared the Battalion, which had effectively ceased to exist, a ‘terrorist organization’. This was almost certainly an attempt to justify the ever-increasing number of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians whom the Russian invaders had abducted from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. The number of abductions and long sentences passed has more than doubled since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. For the moment, those abducted are not charged under Russia’s ‘terrorism’ legislation, however this may simply be a matter of time.
Oleksiy Kiselyov is the former commander of the Ukrainian Navy’s Slavutych Command Ship, and was evidently targeted both because of his naval career and because of his civic activism on behalf of Ukrainians forced to flee Crimea and Donbas after Russia’s invasion in 2014. After he was himself forced to leave his home in Sevastopol in 2014, he moved to Henichesk, in Kherson oblast, where he co-founded the civic organization ‘Pereselenets SOS’ [‘Displaced Person SOS’]. He was at the administrative border between mainland Ukraine and Crimea in 2015 as head of the above NGO, not as a member of the Battalion which was also present. Kiselyov knows Lenur Islyamov, but maintained no relations with him. Islyamov in his turn has confirmed that Kiselyov had no relation to the Battalion.
Kiselyov was seized by armed and masked men outside the Red Cross building in occupied Henichesk in the afternoon of 22 July 2022. They forced him into a minivan without number plates, where they tied his hands and put a bag over his head, and also twisted a joint in his right shoulder. With a gun pointed at his left knee, they asked him questions, such as where the ‘partisan unit’ was located that he purportedly ‘commanded’, where their supposed hiding place of weapons was kept, when members met, etc. They claimed also that he had a nom de guerre, ‘handlers’ within the Ukrainian Armed Forces and SBU [Security Service], etc. In seizing him, they twisted a joint in his right shoulder.
His Russian abductors took Kiselyov to the place where he has been living since Russia’s invasion and annexation forced him to leave Crimea. At one point, they took the bag off his head and took a photo of him which they sent to somebody. Having received confirmation that “it’s him”, they again put the bag over his head and continued driving. At his flat, one of the abductors took the keys out of Kiselyov’s pocket and opened the door. During the search, Kiselyov was held in the kitchen, still with his hands bound and unable to see. He was not presented with any search or arrest warrants. The term ‘search’ can only be used very loosely as his abductors found nothing of interest except his car; money in both Ukrainian hryvnia and US dollars; and deposit and credit cards, all of which they simply stole.
He was then taken to the basement of Henichesk Technical College No. 17 where he was held prisoner until 10 a.m. on 27 July. “All of that time, five days and nights, I was subjected to beatings and the most savage torture with electric currents.” They continued asking about the partisan movement; if he was involved in it; and about a supposed hiding place for weapons. They added two other questions, about alleged involved in the civic blockade of Crimea and about homes being built for members of the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion and for displaced people in general.
At 10 a.m. on 27 July, he was taken by car to occupied Crimea where, in the FSB building in Simferopol the torture continued. Now, however, they demanded only one thing, that he ‘confess’ to taking part in the blockade of Crimea and being a member of the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion.
Neither in Henichesk, nor in Crimea, did Kiselyov provide any of the demanded ‘confessions’, despite the torture leaving him with broken ribs, twisted joints in his arms and legs, and a broken tooth.
It was only on 29 July, a full week after his abduction, that ‘investigator’ Sergei Bushuyev applied to the Russian-controlled ‘Kievsky district court’ in Simferopol for Kiselyov to be remanded in custody for two months, with this duly rubberstamped by ‘judge’ Valentina Kamyanina. The sentenced passed by Liliana Solovyova on 17 February is for 8.5 years in a harsh regime prison colony, with the first year in a prison, the absolute worst of all Russian penitentiary institutions. The sentence is not final, and Kiselyov and his lawyer, Alexei Ladin, will be appealing, but there are no grounds for optimism in such an evidently political prosecution.