68-year-old Crimean Halyna Dovhopola imprisoned in Russia for 12 years on ‘treason’ charges for supporting Ukraine
The FSB officers in occupied Sevastopol who came for Halyna Dovhopola on 27 November 2019 brought an ambulance with them. The calculation was brutally correct, and the ambulance indeed required that day, when the 64-year-old pensioner’s blood pressure shot up from the shock of finding herself imprisoned and facing mystery charges of ‘treason through spying’. Now 68, she has been in Russian captivity ever since, with the charges remaining as secret as the ‘court hearings’ behind closed doors, without an independent lawyer, which sentenced her to 12 years’ harsh-regime imprisonment.
Halyna Dovhopola was one of at least four Ukrainians arrested soon after the Kremlin was, almost certainly, forced into agreeing to the release of 35 prominent Ukrainian political prisoners in exchange, mainly, for Volodymyr Tsemakh, an MH17 witness and possible suspect whom Moscow needed to keep from Dutch investigators. There are strong grounds for believing that all four Ukrainians were targeted because they had never concealed their opposition to Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Russian prison colonies pose a threat to the health of people half Dovhopola’s age, and it is also likely that she, like other Ukrainian political prisoners, has suffered even worse treatment since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Crimea.
In a letter in October 2021, Dovhopola described her detention, and her first interrogation by the FSB in occupied Sevastopol, including one exchange which is particularly chilling in the light of later events. She recalled being asked if she had been in Kyiv in 2019. “I answer: Yes, I was, my fourth granddaughter was born, and ask: Have you ever been to Kyiv?” He answers: “I’ll enter Kyiv in a tank!” Everything went dark. “And how many people, on one side and the other, will perish for you to enter Kyiv in a tank?” Silence in response”.
She was handed a document with charges. “I understand only that I’m a dangerous swine, that I’m a spy and sold Ukraine ‘secret information’.”
It was some time after this that an ambulance needed to be called, with the 64-year-old given an injection and some tablets to lower her blood pressure – and ensure that she did not die before Russia’s FSB got their latest ‘Ukrainian spy conviction’. Little more is, after all, needed, when total secrecy is maintained, and when the person detained has no access to anybody but a ‘lawyer’’ appointed by the FSB ‘investigator’. Such lawyers virtually never to more than simply sign documents and / or try to persuade the person to admit to all charges laid. In occupied Crimea, some of these individuals have been present and done nothing when the detained person was being tortured.
Dovhopola was taken almost immediately to Moscow and held prisoner at the Lefortovo SIZO [remand prison]. Both there and later, back in Sevastopol (for the ‘trial’) she was subjected to physical and verbal abuse.
The charge of ‘state treason in the form of spying’
The FSB claimed that Dovhopola, who was living in Sevastopol, worked for Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR] and had gathered “information about a particularly aviation regiment of the Black Sea Fleet”. The charges were under Article 275 of Russia’s criminal code (‘state treason in the form of spying’). During the closed ‘trial’ before the Russian occupation ‘Sevastopol city court’, the prosecution claimed that Dovhopola had been “recruited by a representative of a foreign state to work covertly for the Military Intelligence Service of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry.” She was alleged to have carried out “intelligence tasks aimed at gathering information about a separate aviation regiment of the Black Sea Fleet, its call-signals and other information linked with radio communications. This was supposed to have included ‘state secrets, the passing on which could be used to harm the security of the Russian Federation”.
It is not even clear how many ‘hearings’ there were in this ‘trial’ behind closed doors. Suspicion that the case was politically motivated was only compounded by the fact that the ‘judge’ in the case was Igor Kozhevnikov, a Russian citizen who was the presiding judge in the show trial and 14-year sentences passed against Oleksiy Bessarabov and Volodymyr Dudka. Dovhopola was sentenced on 24 March 2021 to 12 years’ imprisonment and a further year’s restriction of liberty, with the appeal later rejected without any information having been revealed.
Russia is violating international law by applying its legislation on occupied territory and by making it impossible to live in Crimea without taking Russian citizenship. With immense cynicism, that citizenship is then used to justify a charge of ‘treason’ against a Ukrainian living on occupied Ukrainian territory and accused only of communicating with Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.
Please write to Halyna Dovhopola!
It is important that she knows and Moscow also understands, that she has not been forgotten. The letters need to be in Russian and on ‘safe’ subjects (i.e. not about the war or politics). If Russian is a problem, the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card
Желаю Вам крепкого здоровья и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.
[Hi. I wish you good health 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. ]
Address (this can be written in Russian or English)
601395 РФ, Владимирская область, Судогодский район, п. Головино, ул. Советская, 50 «а», ФКУ ИК-1