Imprisoned Ukrainian civic journalist declares dry hunger strike in occupied Crimea
As feared, Iryna Danilovych has declared a dry hunger strike, seeing no other option since her captors in Russian-occupied Crimea are refusing to provide her with vitally needed medical care. She announced the hunger strike in a statement reported by the ZMINA Human Rights Centre on 22 March.
It is almost a year since the Ukrainian nurse, human rights defender and civic journalist was first abducted by Russia’s FSB. She has been held in appalling conditions ever since, and her health has seriously deteriorated. Although she recently fainted when being taken to the occupation ‘Feodosia municipal court’, she is not receiving proper medical treatment and now sees no other option, but to go on a dry hunger strike.
Bronislav Danilovych says that his daughter often loses coordination and is either close to fainting, or actually faints, as when being taken to the ‘court’ last week, in order to read the material of the ‘case’ prior to her appeal. She even asked for the trip to the ‘court’ to be postponed because she was so unwell but was ignored. Instead, the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison] where she has been held since early May last year came up with documents claiming that there are no medical obstacles to any transfers.
Iryna has been suffering from an acute ear inflammation since October 2022, with this leading to a loss of hearing and also to the problems with balance, etc. She is herself an experienced nurse, but the only reaction to her repeated requests for medical intervention was a superficial medical ‘examination’ which appears to have been restricted to some formal questions and did not result in any diagnosis. Due to the possible danger to life from failure to treat the condition, Danilovych’s lawyers are planning to report the doctor for having committed a crime under Article 124 of Russia’s criminal code (failure, without reasonable grounds) to help a person who is ill). Iryna’s family are also adamant that a competent doctor be allowed to see her, and stress that this should be in the presence of her lawyer.
Russia has already caused the deaths of two Ukrainian political prisoners: Dzhemil Gafarov and Kostiantyn Shyrinh, and it is hard to feel optimistic that they will react adequately to Iryna’s hunger strike.
Everything about the Russian occupation regime’s treatment of Iryna Danilovych has been flagrantly lawless. It seems likely that this is, in fact, quite deliberate – a message to other Ukrainians in occupied Crimea that the FSB can abduct them, torture and openly fabricate criminal charges, and do so with total impunity.
As well as working as a nurse, Iryna headed the Crimean branch of the Alliance of Doctors trade union and had taken part in attempts to obtain the promised, yet never provided, pandemic-linked supplementary payments for medical workers. Despite understanding that she was likely to face reprisals, she spoke publicly about the lies that the occupation authorities were telling about the real number of covid patients. She was also active as a civic journalist, writing on human rights violations for INzhir Media and the Crimean Process human rights initiative. All of the above made her, unfortunately, a target for Russia’s FSB [security service].
“I was abducted, not arrested”
The FSB seized Danilovych on 29 April 2022 while she was waiting for the bus home from her night shift and held her incommunicado for a week before being formally detained on 7 May. It was a further five days before her lawyer, Aider Azamatov, received confirmation that she was imprisoned in the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison].
The FSB held Iryna, tortured and threatened her throughout that first week, trying to break her into ‘confessing’ to non-existent contacts with foreign organizations and ‘state treason’. When, as she stated in her final address, they found only “the truth and my opinions”, they claimed to have ‘found’ explosives in her glasses case (under Article 222.1 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code).
During the subsequent ‘trial’ in the occupation ‘Feodosia municipal court’, the FSB came up with evident nonsense about how three officers, one of them Yury Chevalkov, had ‘discovered’ Danilovych at the bus stop. They had purportedly stopped, with Chevalkov showing his ID and saying that they were carrying out ‘an investigative measure’ and that she had agreed to go with them. They claimed that Danilovych had ‘voluntarily’ remained in their basement, and was perfectly ‘comfortable’ in near-hotel conditions It is worth reading the FSB’s alternative reality, as they had clearly understood that they could get away with saying anything.
Ukrainian civic journalist was ‘voluntarily’ abducted, asphyxiated and beaten by Russian FSB.
As the ‘trial’ approached the end in late 2022, prosecutor Dmitry Lyashchenko (together with Yulia Matvyeya) demanded an extremely harsh seven-year sentence (and 60-thousand rouble fine). On 28 December 2022 ‘judge’’ Natalia Kulinskaya handed down the demanded 7-year sentence, and 60 thousand rouble fine. She must have understood how fabricated the charges were, and actually excluded the part in the indictment about obtaining the explosive, although this made the supposed carrying of ‘explosives’ in a glasses case to Danilovych’s night shift at a clinic even more incomprehensible
The sentence received international condemnation and was clearly understood as yet another act of reprisal aimed at silencing independent journalists in occupied Crimea.