Ukrainian volunteer tortured by Russian FSB to fake evidence for ‘international terrorism’ show trial
As of April 2023, at least 19 people, most, if not all, Ukrainians, were held prisoner in Moscow, facing surreal ‘international terrorism’ charges. The number of Ukrainians whom Russia is illegally imprisoning on such charges is likely to be much higher, as some of those seized after Russia’s full-scale invasion and tortured into signing ‘confessions’ are held in occupied Crimea. The vast majority were held for long periods incommunicado, without access to lawyers, with the FSB almost certainly using this period to extract ‘confessions’ and faked ‘evidence’ through torture and other illegal forms of duress.
The independent Russian publication explains that the charge of ‘acts of international terrorism’ was only added, as Article 361, to Russia’s criminal code, in 2016, and has thus far not led to any convictions. This new charge, it appears, stands together with three international crimes, two of which Russia is itself committing in Ukraine (waging a war of aggression and genocide).
According to the criminal code, ‘an act of international terrorism’ refers to an explosion, act of arson or other actions, committed outside Russia and jeopardizing the life, health, freedom or inviolability of Russian citizens “for the purpose of violating the peaceful co-existence of states and peoples, or aimed against the interests” of Russia. You can be convicted of such a purported ‘act’ even if nobody was killed or injured. If there were fatalities, then the minimum sentence rises from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, with up to life imprisonment envisaged. The scope for abuse of this charge is huge, as one can even be convicted under this article for “a threat to commit such actions”, with such a ‘threat’ likely to be backed solely by ‘evidence’ or ‘testimony’ obtained by the FSB while a person was under their total control and without access to a lawyer. The minimum sentence possible (8 years) is for something called ‘financing an act of international terrorism’.
Verstka has managed to communicate, via his lawyer, with Yuriy Kayov, one of the Ukrainian volunteers held at Lefortovo on ‘international terrorism’ charges. He is 40 and was born in a village near Kherson, and was seized by the Russians early in August 2022, while trying to deliver urgently needed humanitarian aid.
The charges against him and eight other people, at present unnamed, are of immense cynicism. Kayov, a Ukrainian national, is charged with ‘international terrorism’, although the supposed crime is alleged to have been committed on Ukrainian territory against a Ukrainian citizen, albeit a collaborator working for the Russian invaders.
The FSB accuse Kayov and eight other men of an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Kyrylo Stremousov, a collaborator installed by the Russians as so-called ‘deputy head of the military-civic administration’ in occupied parts of Kherson oblast. Stremousov was killed three months later on 9 November, two days before the liberation of Kherson.
It is highly suspicious that the first mention of the men’s ‘arrest’ appears to have been on 8 November 2022, the day before Stremousov was killed, and a full three months after the purported assassination attempt. The Russian state-controlled that “SBU [Ukrainian Security Service] saboteurs” had been detained, with the FSB claiming that Kayov and his alleged accomplices had joined a ‘sabotage gang created by SBU officer Samir Shukorov on 5 August that year and that they had received instructions to blow up Stremousov’s car. According to the FSB, Kayov was supposed to prepare a homemade explosive device, filled with bolts. One of the alleged nine men had been an infiltrator, with this purportedly enabling the FSB to thwart the plan.
Such an assertion does not explain why the FSB claim to have detained nine men, but only ever identify one man, namely Yuriy Kayov.
Verstka has managed to speak with Kayov’s wife, Olha. She explains that her husband was born in a village near Kherson and studied engineering in the wine making industry, although he later worked with a friend in retail and supplies of goods. The couple have two children, aged 16 and 13.
Kayov himself was able, via his lawyer Anastasia Samorukova, to answer questions put by the Verstka team. He explained that he has many relatives in Russia, but that his relations with them ended in 2014 (when Russia invaded Crimea and parts of Donbas). His wife, however, had worked as a Russian teacher and his children had studied in a Russian school. That, however, was until the summer of 2022 when they had decided to speak Ukrainian.
Like many other Kherson residents, Kayov helped patrol the district after Russia’s full-scale invasion. While during the day he tried to continue working, at night he was part of a volunteer unit protecting the areas from looters, etc.
In May 2022, he officially became a volunteer, working under the auspices of the Ukrainian Red Cross, getting humanitarian aid – food, medicines – from Zaporizhzhia to hospitals, etc. in occupied Kherson. According to his wife, he also helped evacuate people who urgently needed medical assistance.
Olha explains that shortly before her husband was taken prisoner, the Russians told him that they were not going to allow any more Red Cross humanitarian loads. There was no choice, she says, since the medicines were badly needed, and so her husband and the other volunteers simply removed the Red Cross stickers from their cars and tried to get the loads through as private individuals.
Olha now knows that her husband was seized on 5 August 2022, when he and other volunteers had stopped for the night in the village of Skelki. He spoke, for the last time, with his daughter at seven in the evening. The Russians arrived at around 21.30 and took him away. Olha learned soon afterwards from neighbours that the Russians had also ‘searched’ their home, and had stolen her father’s car which they were holding for him. The family, however, had to wait a full month before they received confirmation, from a man who had also been imprisoned, but only for five days, that Kayov was alive and “more or less healthy”.
It was only on 6 October 2022 that the FSB officially detained Kayov and he was provided with an appointed lawyer, Anastasia Samodrukova , who contacted his family.
Two months of torture,
Kayov himself has provided details of the torture he endured during those two months when he was held incommunicado. He was taken by the Russians to a SIZO in occupied Vasylivka, and then, with a bag over his head, to Melitopol, where he was first beaten. After that, they were driven, for around four hours, to still occupied Kherson, with the Russians periodically beating him. At the police building in Kherson, he was taken to the invaders’ torture chamber where they tortured him with electric currents, as well as beating him. Kayov says that he was taken to the search at his home, and then taken to another torture room where he saw his storekeeper who had also been tortured, and who had broken ribs. Olha has confirmed that two of her husband’s employees were seized. One was later released, however the whereabouts of the other remain unknown.
Kayov also saw how the Russians tortured another hostage, and his friend, Denys Lialka. He was suspended by handcuffs, being held in that position until he lost consciousness.
There were eight or nine such rooms in this torture chamber basement, Kayov says, and he believes there to have been four or five such ‘basements’ in occupied Kherson.
“The torture was constant, from 6 in the morning until 10 in the evening. They would bring people and take them away. We were tortured and interrogated twice a day. They periodically took us away to different places, filmed staged videos (of the detention)”. They were also taken upstairs to a room containing the so-called ‘material evidence’ which Kayov says, he was forced to hold, so as to leave fingerprints, etc. on them. The men were also subjected to a mock execution, with two men taken from the cell, “and shot”, with the others left to believe that they were awaiting their ‘turn’. There was also a sadistic form of ‘Russian roulette’ which their captors played, using the men as targets. These same captors also occasionally took the men out and tortured them as a form of ‘self-assertion’. He was later told that a prisoner had died in another cell.
The men were only given food once in 2-3 days, although, Kayov says, there were some more decent guards who gave them a bit extra. The conditions were clearly horrific, with their captors sometimes not even taking them out to the toilet.
One of the most shocking details is that, according to Kayov, an 11-year-old boy was held prisoner in this hell for two weeks. “He spoke Ukrainian and cried at night. He was also taken to the torture room, but I don’t know whether they beat him.”
Although eleven is horrifically young, other cases are known where the Russians held children as young as 14 prisoner. , one of the basements in which the Russians had imprisoned and tortured civilians while occupying Kherson, there was even a room which the Russians themselves had ‘the children’s room’. The children were given water only every second day and received virtually nothing to eat. Brutal psychological pressure was applied, with the children, for example, told that their parents had rejected them.
Another chilling aspect of Kayov’s account is that he recalls a representative of Russia’s Red Cross coming in and claiming that the conditions were fine. More information is clearly needed about this visit and the representative’s actual comments however there has been concern about the role of Russia’s Red Cross since the full-scale invasion. Not least because the Russian branch has taken part in activities essentially supporting Russia’s war effort (details here).
Kayov explains that he was forced to sign documents which he wasn’t allowed to read or that were entirely blank, before being taken to occupied Simferopol where he was officially remanded in custody. Not, however, before his appointed lawyer told him that if he refused to carry out the FSB’s will, for example, by signing blank pages of the interrogation protocol, “nobody will be able to guarantee his safety.”