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.

Abducted and tortured Ukrainian writer and journalist Serhiy Tsyhipa sentenced to 13 years on surreal charges

Halya Coynash
18 months after the Nova Kakhovka journalist was abducted by its solders, Russia has claimed that he turned up in occupied Simferopol to ‘confess to spying’ for his own country in his own country

Serhiy Tsyhipka on 6 October 2023 Photo on Russian social media site posted by the Crimean Human Rights Group

Serhiy Tsyhipka on 6 October 2023 Photo on Russian social media site posted by the Crimean Human Rights Group

A Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea has sentenced Serhiy Tsyhipa, a Ukrainian writer, journalist and civic activist abducted from occupied Kherson oblast, to 13 years’ harsh regime imprisonment.  Russia used a charge of ‘spying’ against Tsyhipa, with this enabling it to hold the entire travesty of a ‘trial’ behind closed doors.  According to Tsyhipa’s wife, Olena, Russia has also claimed that the journalist, whom it has held prisoner since 12 March 2022, “voluntarily” turned up in occupied Simferopol ‘to confess’.

This was the third ‘spying’ sentence passed against Ukrainians abducted by the invaders from occupied Kherson oblast in just over a week.  The same level of secrecy was applied in imprisoning 29-year-old Mykola Petrovsky, a disabled Kherson volunteer, to 16 years and 50-year-old Serhiy Kotov from Oleshky to 15 years.   The sentences were all passed by ‘presiding judge’ Viktor Nikolayevich Sklyarov and two others, whose names are not given on the occupation ‘Crimean high court’ website. In all three cases, there is every reason to believe that the men were subjected to torture while being held incommunicado.  This, unfortunately, is so typical that it would not, in itself, prompt such a level of secrecy, where even the men’s identity is concealed on the ‘court’ website.

Spying changes are entirely surreal, since Tsyhipa and the other men are all Ukrainian civilians, who were abducted from Ukrainian territory and have been illegally held prisoner by the country waging an illegal war of aggression against Ukraine. Russia’s violation of international law through such abductions and torture of civilians is further compounded by such extraordinary use of Russian legislation (Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code) to ‘try’ Ukrainians for alleged activities in their own country.  The Russian FSB would appear to be trying to clean up their paperwork since they are claiming that Tsyhipa ‘arrived to confess’ after the fake referendum that Moscow stage at the end of September to try to claim justification for annexing the occupied territory.  Such attempts would be comical, were their consequences not so serious, since they are not only wildly implausible, but also powerless to change the fact that Tsyhipa has been in Russian captivity since early March 2022.

The 13-year sentence against Tsyhipa was passed on 6 October 2003, with this the fifth ‘hearing’ in the case.  Tsyhipa rejected the charges, and his wife has already said that an appeal will be lodged. While difficult to talk of ‘show trials’ amid such secrecy, Olena Tsyhipa is surely right in saying that the occupiers are deliberately holding such ‘trials’ and passing such sentences in order to deter those Ukrainians remaining on occupied territory from showing resistance, helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces, etc.  She told the ZMINA Human Rights Centre that the prosecutor had, in fact, demanded 19 years.  It is not clear what she meant in saying that the sentence was reduced to 13 years after lengthy discussion, but it does, at least, sound as though Tsyhipa has a proper lawyer representing him.

Serhiy was and remains a patriot of his own country. He lives in his own land. What right did the Russians have to abduct him, and then also try him on absurd charges?  They invaded Ukraine, abducted people from another country, tortured them and [in some cases] killed them.  They are doing whatever they feel like here and the whole world is silently observing this – the UN, the Red Cross and other organizations. They simply shrug their shoulders and say they can’t do anything,”  Olena says, bitterly.

Tsyhipa, who is from Nova Kakhovka and headed a regional NGO, disappeared on 12 March 2022 after setting off for Tavriysk to take his mother-in-law some medication. It was from fellow journalist Oleh Baturin, who was released after being held hostage for a week, that his family learned that Tsyhipa was being held and interrogated by the invading forces.  

Olena earlier explained that her husband, at 60, was too old to join the Ukrainian Armed Forces.  He had hoped to join the Territorial Defence, however the Russians’ swift advance meant that the Ukrainian military and police left Kherson and there was no way to get weapons.  Her husband had, instead, become a volunteer, helping deliver humanitarian aid, while also using his pages on social media to provide accurate information, organize and post videos of the pro-Ukrainian protests that demonstrated the real opposition to Russia’s invasion.  

All of this made him extremely inconvenient for Russia and he became one of the first of a huge number of public officials; civic activists; journalists or others, whom the invaders have abducted.  

In the second half of April 2022, the Russians posted a video in which Tsyhipa could be heard saying that he had been in Russia for several weeks, without mentioning that he had been taken there by force.  He then repeated standard Russian lies, such as that the horrific atrocities discovered at Bucha and other occupied parts of Kyiv oblast had been staged in order to blame Russia and get it expelled from the UN Security Council.   Everything about this video, including Tsyhipa’s use of the Russian euphemism ‘special military operation’, makes it near certain that his participation in it was obtained through torture.

It was only learned in October 2022 (and not then from any official source) that Tsyhipa had been illegally taken to occupied Crimea, where he was being held in remand prison [SIZO] No. 1 in Simferopol.  At the beginning of December he was moved to SIZO No. 2, a prison which Russia is using for the huge number of Ukrainians it has abducted since its full-scale invasion.

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