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.

Open death threats against Ukrainian political prisoner in Russian captivity

Halya Coynash
There is every reason to believe that the appalling treatment that Ivan Yatskin is facing in Russian captivity is, like his very arrest, linked with his firmly pro-Ukrainian position

Ivan Yatskin Earlier photo

Ivan Yatskin Earlier photo

“We can always find something to write on your death certificate”, Ivan Yatskin was told by Russian prison officials.  The recognized Ukrainian political prisoner has experienced enough torture and ill-treatment from his Russian captors to not dismiss such words as empty threats. Nor should he, as Russia has already caused the death of two Ukrainian political prisoners (Dzhemil Gafarov and Kostiantyn Shyrinh) and it is knowingly depriving Yatskin of urgently needed medication. 

It is likely that the appalling treatment that the 44-year-old Crimean is getting in Russian prisons is, like his very arrest, linked with his firmly pro-Ukrainian position, as well as with the fact that he openly speaks of the fabricated nature of his ‘case’.  He is still suffering head and chest pain after he was, almost certainly deliberately, placed in a cell while awaiting ‘trial’ with some kind of pro-Russian ‘militant’.  His feet are still a blue-purple colour, probably as a result of the frostbite suffered after the prison staff at Lefortovo left him in the courtyard, wearing only flimsy clothing and slippers, for around an hour when the temperature was minus 14.   All of that was before Russia began its full-scale invasion and life in Russian prisons became even more intolerable for Ukrainian political prisoners.

Russia is in direct violation of a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in imprisoning Yatskin some five thousand kilometres from his family in occupied Crimea.  His wife, Gulnara Kadyrova, was expecting their third child when he was arrested, and Ivan has scarcely even seen his 3-year-old daughter, Riana.  On 25-27 May, Gulnara travelled to the prison colony in Belovo, together with the couple’s sons – 6-year-old Rinat and Arsen, who is a year younger.  This was the first extended visit since Yatskin was seized in October 2019, and the journey alone took the family several days, as well as being prohibitively expensive.  Gulnara was, furthermore, terrified that they might still not be able to see Ivan, that he would be placed in a punishment cell [SHIZO].  Since any pretext can be found or, more likely, invented for such ‘punishments’, this was a real danger.  The visit did, thankfully, take place, however Gulnara is fairly sure that he was immediately placed in SHIZO after their departure, as there has been no contact with him since.  For this reason, and because of the prison’s refusal to at least pass on the medication that she obtains, she is desperately trying to find a lawyer in Kemerov oblast to represent her husband. 

A lawyer is probably the only chance of ensuring that Yatskin receives treatment for his thrombophlebitis and very painful vascular ulcers on his legs. Even before his arrest in 2019, Yatskin suffered from chronic problems of the circulatory system and had undergone a number of operations.  Instead of providing medication and the medical supervision he needs, Russia’s penal institutions have refused him any real treatment and have systematically blocked his wife’s efforts to provide him with the necessary medication and bandages, etc. to ensure that the sores on his legs from the vascular ulcers do not get infected. The constant fabrication of grounds for placing him in SHIZO is also having a gravely detrimental effect on his health as in SHIZO you’re forced to stand from early morning till late evening. For a person with vascular ulcers and feet damaged by frostbite, this much be agonizing.

During the almost four years in captivity, Yatskin’s eyesight has seriously deteriorated, and he now has limited sight even when wearing glasses.  During the visit in May, Gulnara noticed, with concern, that her husband’s hand shakes when writing, especially if he needs to concentrate.

Ivan Yatskin is one of at least four Ukrainians who were arrested in occupied Crimea shortly after Moscow was essentially forced to release 35 Ukrainian political prisoners in exchange for Volodymyr Tsemakh.  The latter was an important witness (and possible suspect) able to provide vital information about the downing, by a Russian Buk missile of Malaysian airliner MH17, and the Kremlin needed to keep him away from the Dutch prosecutors investigating the crime.

Armed FSB officers, many in masks, burst into the family’s home in the village of Volkovo on 16 October 2019 and took Yatskin away.  He was charged with ‘state treaon in the form of spying’.  This is a favourite for the FSB.  Essentially any of Russia’s political trials of Ukrainians ends in a conviction and sentence, however the FSB also likes to be able to get the ‘trials’ closed to the public and to force lawyers into signing non-disclosure commitments. From the initial arrest warrant, it appeared that Russia was claiming that Yatskin had, from 14 February to 30 March 2018, following SBU instructions, spoken with acquaintances from among law enforcement officers, “gathered personal data of officers of the police search and operations office in Crimea.” He was supposed to have passed this “personal date, constituting a state secret” to the SBU while in mainland Ukraine from April to July 2016. 

In declaring Yatskin a political prisoner, the Memorial Human Rights Centre noted that there was some suggestion that Yatskin might, at some earlier stage, have served in the Ukrainian police force and could well have known former Ukrainian offices who later breached their oath and joined the Russian police.  Any information that Yatskin had, would have been from before Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, and would have pertained to activities under Ukrainian law, and not applicable under Russian legislation.  

Yatskin was moved almost immediately, and in total secrecy, to Lefortovo SIZO [remand prison] in Moscow.  He was, at least, represented by Nikolai Polozov, a Russian lawyer who has defended several Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners, however could not, on pain of criminal prosecution, reveal any more information about the charges against Yatskin.

Gulnara saw her husband for the first time after his arrest on 21 May 2021 when the Russian occupation ‘Crimean High Court’ sentenced him to 11 years in a harsh regime prison colony. That sentence was, on 16 September 2021, upheld by Russia’s Third Court of Appeal.


The letters tell him, and Moscow, that he is not forgotten and that Russia’s treatment of him is under scrutiny.  Letters need to be handwritten and in Russian.  Please avoid any political subjects, mention of the war or reference to the charges against him. If possible, enclose an envelope and some thin paper, as well as your return address.

If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card.  The envelope can be written in Russian or English letters, but do add Ivan’s year of birth (as below).

Здравствуйте, Иван!

Желаю Вам здоровья и терпения, и очень надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним. 

 [Dear Ivan,  I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ] 


652600 Россия, Кемеровская область, г. Белово, ул. Аэродромная 2 б, ФКУ ИК-44

Яцкину,  Ивану Григорьевичу, 1978 г.р.

[or in English: 652600 Russia, Kemerov oblast, Belovo, Aerodromnaya St. 2b, Colony No. 44

Yatskin, Ivan Grigorevich, b. 1978

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