war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia is risking the life of imprisoned Ukrainian civic journalist on hunger strike

Halya Coynash

Iryna Danilovych imprisoned Photo provided to Graty by her family

Iryna Danilovych imprisoned Photo provided to Graty by her family

Iryna Danilovych has been on full hunger strike for ten days, yet the prison authorities in Russian-occupied Crimea are refusing to hospitalize her and provide urgently needed medical care.  The Russian occupation authorities’ refusal to provide a proper examination and treatment for an excruciating ear infection is already tantamount to torture, and they are now risking Iryna’s life.

The 43-year-old civic journalist, nurse and human rights defender has been imprisoned for almost a year and was recently sentenced on evidently fabricated charges to seven years’ imprisonment.  She declared hunger strike on 21 March, demanding that the prison authorities stop their torment of her and promising to continue her dry hunger strike “until they organize diagnosis and begin treatment, or until my biological death”.

Iryna was demanding only what is her undoubted right, even according to the Russian law illegally applied in occupied Crimea.  Despite this, she has remained ever since, either in the appalling conditions of the Russian occupation SIZO [remand prison] in Simferopol or in the Feodosia police temporary holding facility. The promise given by the SIZO head to her father, Bronislav Danilovich, that she would be placed in hospital has not been kept.

On the tenth day of the hunger strike, Bronislav Danilovich told the journalist initiative Graty that his daughter has spoken of feeling extremely bad, and writes again of intolerable pain in the head and ear.  He met with Viktor Kharchenko, acting head of SIZO No. 1 in occupied Simferopol, on 28 March and was assured that his daughter would be given medical care, and that she would be taken to one of the civilian hospitals in Simferopol.  “At the beginning of the week” he says, “she was taken, as planned, to the Feodosia temporary holding facility to read the case material in the local ‘court’, and was then returned for a day to the Simferopol SIZO.  She has not been taken to hospital, which means that I was simply deceived.  They told me that they would take her for examination on Wednesday 29 March.  As of yesterday [31 March], she was still at the Feodosia holding facility”.

Iryna was forced to take such a radical step because of the pain she was enduring, and the danger from failure to provide proper treatment that she, as a nurse, understood all too well.  Not only have the occupation authorities refused to rectify the situation, but they have twice ignored her gravely weakened state and dragged her to Feodosia to acquaint herself with the material of the absurd charges against her.  Each such visit involves being treated like some kind of dangerous criminal and exposed to conditions which are difficult even for a person in good health. 

There have been protests over Iryna Danilovich’s treatment from Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists; a number of prominent Ukrainian human rights NGOs, as well as from the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Dmytro Lubinets and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.   The Dublin-based human rights NGO Frontline Defenders have spoken out in defence of Iryna Danilovych since her abduction on 29 April 2022, and reiterated their demand for her release, as well as concern over the lack of medical treatment on 21 March.  The Committee to Protect Journalists also called for the journalist to receive “swift and thorough medical care” and demanded that the occupation authorities release all journalist held prisoner because of their work.  Amnesty International has warned that Iryna’s life is in danger.

Iryna Danilovich became the latest victim of Russian FSB repression on 29 April 2022.  She had long known of the danger she was facing under Russian occupation, and regularly wrote for the human rights initiatives Crimean Process and INzhir Media, both of which provide vital information about political persecution in occupied Crimea.  She also 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. 

During her final address to the ‘court’ on 27 December 2022, Iryna explained how she in the first hours of her abduction, she had been sure that she was to become the latest victim of the enforced disappearances that the occupation regime had brought to Crimea. 

It is possible that this was the plan, however Iryna’s abduction attracted considerable attention and the FSB eventually chose a different route.  Having held and tortured and threatened her for a week, trying to break her into ‘confessing’ to non-existent contacts with foreign organizations and ‘state treason’, but finding only “the truth and my opinions”, they decided to claim to have ‘found’ explosives in her glasses case (under Article 222.1 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code).

The FSB officers involved in her abduction and torture (Yury Chevalkov; Oleg Savchenko; Sergei Suvorov; and Ruslan Narimanov) clearly believed in their own impunity and that shoddy falsified ‘evidence’ would be sufficient.  They, unfortunately, proved to be right.  Despite clear evidence that she had been seized and held against her will, without any procedural formalities, and without access to a lawyer,  and despite the simply preposterous nature of the charges, ‘prosecutors Dmitry Liashchenko (and Yulia Matveyeva) demanded a 7-year sentence and 60 thousand rouble fine.  Although this was over ‘explosives’ supposedly carried for no evident reason in a glasses case which Iryna had taken to work with her, and which were only ‘found’ a full week after she had disappeared without trace, ‘judge’ Natalia Kulinskaya from the occupation ‘Feodosia municipal court’ obliged, passing a 7-year sentence, only slightly reducing the fine to 50 thousand roubles.  Kulinskaya was evidently in no doubt about the absurdity of the charges as she removed the part in the indictment about obtaining the explosives as the FSB had not even bothered to explain how Danilovich was supposed to have obtained them.

This appalling sentence is now awaiting appeal, though this will, unfortunately, be heard by yet another puppet occupation ‘court’, and justice is not expected.

For details of the brazen fabrication of charges against Iryna Danilovich, see:

Ukrainian civic journalist was ‘voluntarily’ abducted, asphyxiated and beaten by Russian FSB

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