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.

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Arrested for protest over Russia’s war against Ukraine, sentenced to 10 years for ‘sabotage’

Halya Coynash
The emergence of ‘sabotage’ charges long after Ihor Kulich was arrested is just one of many reasons for deep scepticism about his ‘trial’

From an FSB video

From an FSB video

A Russian-controlled ‘court’ has found Ihor Kulich (b. 1983) guilty of a minor Molotov cocktail attack on a military recruitment office and on highly questionable charges of ‘sabotage’., and passed a ten-year sentence. The charges and other aspects of this case, as well as its use for Russian propaganda purposes are all cited by the head of the Crimean Human Rights Group for viewing Kulich’s ‘trial’ to be politically motivated. Imprisoned Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Nariman Dzhelyal mentioned Ihor Kulich in his list of political prisoners he had met while himself a victim of political persecution.  All such cases, he said, are similarly fabricated and differ only in details.  The main distinguishing factor is that some of the victims had never imagined that they could end up in such a position, whereas others, like Dzhelyal himself, had always recognized the danger they faced.


Russia’s sentences over attacks on military recruitment offices have become increasingly savage over the last 15 months, as such attacks grew more and more  widespread in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Kulich was detained back in June 2022 after an attack on the illegal Russian military recruitment office in occupied Simferopol.  The alleged attempt to throw a Molotov cocktail through a window of the building in the early hours of the morning on Saturday 28 May failed, according to pro-Russian Telegram channels, as the bottle broke against the windowpane. Russian-controlled Crimean media suggested, rather, that the ‘fire’ had been discovered swiftly and put out before it could cause harm.  In either case, the timing of the attack meant that the most that was intended was damage to the offices, with no people likely to suffer.  

On 2 June 2022, a Russian Telegram channel reported that enforcement officers had carried out a search at the home of 39-year-old Ihor Kulich from the village of Pionerske, and that he had been arrested. The occupation authorities did not officially report this detention, which they would certainly have done had there been any suggestion then that they planned to also accuse him of involvement in ‘sabotage’. 

Crimean Realities reports that the main information available about Kulich is from the ‘court’ material.  This describes him as being a citizen of both Ukraine and Russia (with the latter, therefore, most probably obtained after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and made it near impossible to live in Crimea without taking its citizenship.  He apparently has a higher education, and was not officially employed anywhere.  He is unmarried, but has an underage child. 

He was initially charged with ‘hooliganism’, under Article 213 of Russia’s criminal code.  After his arrest, they also added a charge under Article 222.1 of illegally purchasing, selling, possessing, etc. explosive devices or substances.

From some point in the prosecution, Kulich was represented by a Crimean lawyer Yury Berdnikov.  In his appeal against his client’s detention, Berdnikov stated that Kulich had been held under the total control of the occupation police control since 18.00 on 31 May 2022 and that ‘investigative measures’ had been carried out over days when he was held without sleep or rest.   He also said that Kulich denied the charges.

From ‘hooliganism’ to supposedly thwarted ‘saboteur’

Particular concern in Kulich’s case is aroused by the addition, at some point after his arrest and detention, of another, very different indictment.  In the original sentence, Kulich was convicted of the above charges, and also of planning to blow up railway tracks in occupied Crimea.  It is claimed that he previously purchased an anti-tank mine and photographed a railway bridge in order to determine where to install the explosive device. This led to charges of ‘sabotage’ and ‘planning an act of sabotage’ (both under Article 281 § 1), as well as an extra ‘episode’ on the above charge regarding explosive devices and substances (Article 222.1 § 1). 

He was sentenced to ten years harsh-regime imprisonment, with the first three years in a prison, the worst of Russian penal institutions. He was also fined 70 thousand roubles.  The sentence was passed by ‘judge’ Alla Khinevych from the Russian occupation ‘Crimean high court’. 

The Crimean Human Rights Group points to many indications that Kulich’s prosecution was of a political nature.  As the Head of CHRG, Olha Skripnik, explains, these include the fact that both ‘investigators’ and ‘court’ constantly stressed that Kulich’s alleged actions had been in protest over Russia’s so-called ‘special military operation’ (i.e. its full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine).  There was a clear violation of the presumption of innocence, with Kulich effectively assumed to be guilty from the outset, despite the only ‘evidence’ being from Russian operational activities and so-called ‘expert assessments’.  The latter are invariably provided by FSB-loyal ‘experts’ who provide the conclusions required of them.  In essentially all such alleged ‘thwarted sabotage’ prosecutions, including those against Nariman Dzhelyal and two cousins, Asan and Aziz Akhtemov; journalist Vladislav Yesypenko and civic journalist and human rights defender Iryna Danilovych, to name only the most recent, there have been flagrant violations of the Ukrainians’ right to a fair trial and to liberty.  Unfortunately, there seems every reason to believe that Ihor Kulich has also become victim of the occupation regime’s hunt for fictitious ‘Ukrainian saboteurs’.

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