Kherson war veteran seized by the Russians and hidden for 18 months now faces huge sentence for 'spying for Ukraine’
Russia abducted 54-year-old Oleksandr Zarivny from his home in Oleshky (Kherson oblast) in March 2022 and has been holding him prisoner ever since. For close on ten months, his family had no idea even whether he was alive. Once it became clear that he had been illegally taken to occupied Crimea, the Russians came up with an insane charge under Russian legislation (Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code), claiming that the Ukrainian war veteran, living in his own country, was “spying for Ukraine”.
Zarivny is a chemistry and biology teacher by profession, but was working as the head of the Kherson Regional Administration’s Department for Humanitarian Aid when Russia began its full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022. He was the first Ukrainian in Oleshky to be seized by the Russian invaders, on 17 March 2022, however such abductions were soon to become very common. The Russians themselves made no secret of the fact that Zarivny had been targeted for what one of his abductors described as his involvement “in a civic organization”. Zarivny had been mobilized in 2015 and fought in Donbas [‘ATO’, or the anti-terrorist operation] for a year before leaving, but remaining in the reserves. He went on to head the regional Union of ATO Veterans, helping other former servicemen to organize documents and providing support for the families of men killed in the conflict. The Russian invaders began abducting and, usually, torturing civilians in every part of Ukraine that fell under their occupation, with veterans and those helping other former servicemen high on the list of Russia’s many targets.
Russian soldiers burst into the family’s home at around 6 a.m. on 17 March 2022. They threatened Oleksandr’s wife and daughter, and took Oleksandr away. It is now known that he was held for around four weeks in a temporary holding unit in the then occupied Kherson, before being taken to occupied Simferopol. He has been imprisoned there ever since in SIZO [remand prison] No. 2, which was opened after Russia began abducting huge numbers of Ukrainian citizens from occupied territory.
It was only in early January 2023 that Yulia Zarivna l that her husband was alive, but imprisoned in occupied Crimea. At the end of December 2022, Russian / pro-Russian Telegram channels had posted a video in which she saw Oleksandr. The Telegram channels claimed that the Russian FSB had seized her 54-year-old husband, claiming that he had passed on information about the number of Russian forces in Kherson oblast. The reports claimed that the FSB had only just detained him, although he had, of course, been in Russian captivity since 17 March 2022.
It was [CHRG] which ascertained that Zarivny was being held in SIZO No. 2 in occupied Simferopol. Since then there has been no further attempt to hide Zarivny’s whereabouts and a Russian occupation ‘court’ once every two months or so of extending his ‘detention’.
Of particular concern is the fact that Zarivny has not been allowed a lawyer of his choice. CHRG reported that the Russians have foisted their own ‘lawyer’ - Aleksandr Polyansky, whose collaboration with the prosecution and willingness to turn a blind eye to the use of torture were seen when he was appointed as ‘lawyer’ for Crimean Tatar political prisoner Aziz Akhtemov.
There are very many civilians whose whereabouts Russia is still keeping secret. In some cases, there is near certainty that the hostages are imprisoned in occupied Crimea, but Russia is refusing to explain on what grounds, with the lack of any apparent charges also making it easier for them to deny the hostages access to independent lawyers. While there is a degree of safety in the fact that Russia is not denying that Oleksandr Zarivny is in their custody, the cynicism of the charges against him is extraordinary. An invader waging a war of aggression against Ukraine has abducted the Ukrainian from his hometown in Oleshky and is accusing him of ‘spying’ for his own country. All of this according to Russian legislation which Russia has no right to apply. It may be telling that the FSB appear to be claiming that Zarivny was only seized some 9 months after his abduction. This does not change the fact that Russia is in violation of international law through its abduction of Oleksandr Zarivny, his almost certain torture and illegal transfer to occupied Crimea. A staged ‘trial’ behind closed doors before a Russian-controlled occupation ‘court’ and likely ‘sentence’ of up to 20 years’ imprisonment will not give Russia any jurisdiction for such a lawless travesty.
75-year-old Mariano Garcia Calatayud and Oleksandr Babych