Russia passes insane sentences for ‘spying for Ukraine’ against Ukrainians it abducted from occupied Kherson and tortured
Two Ukrainian civilians, one of whom is disabled, have been given 15- and 16-year sentences by an illegal ‘court’ in Russian-occupied Crimea on charges of astounding cynicism. Russia has claimed that the two Ukrainians whom its invading forces illegally abducted from Kherson oblast soon after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine ‘committed espionage’ for their own country.
The charges are preposterous and in flagrant violation of international law. It is, therefore, typical that from the Russian state-controlled TASS agency states only that “two Ukrainian citizens” were sentenced in Crimea, omitting such incriminating details as where the two men were abducted, and how long they were held entirely incommunicado before Russia at least admitted that it was holding them prisoner. TASS cites the press service of the so-called ‘Crimean high court’, however is more cagey still, with even the two names of the Ukrainians ‘convicted of treason in the form of spying’ (Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code) concealed. We know only that the ‘guilty’ sentences were handed down on 27 September 2023 by ‘judge’ Viktor Nikolayevich Sklyarov.
The two men appear to have been ‘tried’ together although this too is baffling. Disabled Kherson volunteer Mykola Petrovsky was 28 when he was seized by the Russians in the centre of Kherson, then under Russian occupation, on 27 March 2022. He has been sentenced to 16 years’ harsh regime imprisonment. 50-year-old Serhiy Kotov, who got 15 years, was abducted from his home in occupied Oleshky on 7 April 2022. Both men are known to have been tortured before being illegally taken to SIZO-2, the new remand prison opened in occupied Simferopol in 2022 to hold the ever-increasing number of Ukrainians abducted from occupied parts of mainland Ukraine. It is likely that any ‘link’ between the two men has been fabricated, with the ‘case’ against each of the men almost certainly based solely on ‘confessions’ extracted through torture.
As reported, Petrovsky holds strongly pro-Ukrainian views and had refused to leave Kherson after the Russians invaded. He played an active role in helping to evacuate people from the occupied city and taking food to those most in need.
The young man sustained grave injuries when he was hit by a car while riding his motorbike ten years ago and lost part of his left foot, as well as receiving a head injury and damage to the left side of the face. His mother explains that, as a result, he has difficulty both seeing and hearing. He was also provided with a poor-quality prosthetic foot which left him with wounds that need constant treatment, as well as acute back pain from resulting spinal problems. He was under specialist care before his abduction and urgently needs a proper examination and health care which he is not receiving in Russian captivity. Quite the contrary, since he has now also developed a stomach ulcer, doubtless because of the appalling conditions in the SIZO.
Petrovsky was held totally incommunicado for around six months after the Russians abducted him, with his family effectively not even knowing if he was alive. They learned in September 2022 that he was imprisoned in the Simferopol SIZO with this at least making it possible to have some limited contact via the lawyer appointed. They now know that he was moved to occupied Crimea back in April 2022.
His mother says that Mykola was savagely tortured, with fingers broken, and damage to his healthy leg and shoulder. It is clear from her words that the young man has lost a huge amount of weight, with none of Russia’s Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilian hostages receiving anything like enough to eat.
In early October 2022, the FSB produced which was widely shown on Russian state television. Petrovsky was first shown being led, bent over, with arms twisted behind his back and in handcuffs, and then providing the ‘confession’ doubtless demanded of him.
The reports did not name him, claiming only that they had seized ‘a Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] agent.” They asserted that he had been ‘recruited’ back in 2021 and had provided them with information about Russian deployment of forces, weapons, etc.
There are no grounds for believing a ‘confession’ obtained while the Ukrainian was held totally at the mercy of the FSB, without any access to properly legal aid or contact with his family.
The Russians came for 50-year-old Serhiy Kotov at around 6 a.m. on 7 April 2022. According to his elder daughter, Viktoria Barabash, they told him to take her mother and 14-year-old sister outside, and then carried out a search, before taking him away. It was almost a year later before they received any official confirmation that he was in Russian captivity. They now know that Kotov was held and tortured in occupied Kherson for about a week, with the torture including mock executions, threats to his life and savage beating. The torture was so savage that he would lose consciousness and they would take measures to bring him around, and then continue the torture.
Kotov has Grade III disability status due to osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone) in the leg. His daughter has told that her father needs an operation on his leg. Not only are his captors refusing to carry this out, but are failing to provide him with vital medication.
It is unclear as yet even if Petrovsky and Kotov will be appealing against these horrific sentences, with any such ‘appeal’ also certain to be heard behind closed doors.