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.

Russia stages ‘trial’ of young Ukrainians abducted and tortured into ‘confessing’ to terrorism

Halya Coynash
There is every reason to believe that Roman Zarubaiev and Artur Nesterenko are illegally held incommunicado and deprived of independent lawyers

From left Roman Zarubaiev and Artur Nesterenko, from the propaganda video posted by the pro-Kremlin Izvestia

From left Roman Zarubaiev and Artur Nesterenko, from the propaganda video posted by the pro-Kremlin Izvestia

The first, and possibly only hearing has taken place in the ‘trial’ at the notorious Southern District Military Court in Rostov of two Ukrainians from occupied Melitopol, abducted by the invaders in October 2022.  Both men had earlier been shown on Russian propaganda media, ‘confessing’ to planning an explosion.  Both men had clearly been beaten and were, almost certainly, reading out what they had been forced into saying..

Roman Zarubaiev and Artur Nesterenko are claimed to have been planning an explosion near a so-called ‘polling station’ during the fake referendum that Russia staged in September 2022 to try to justify its invasion and annexation of occupied Zaporizhzhia oblast. 

The only ‘evidence’ that such an attack was planned and that the two young men were involved came from their ‘confessions’.  These were obtained while the men were held incommunicado, and without access to independent lawyers. In all cases where Ukrainians who gave such videoed ‘confessions’ have later been released, they have confirmed that they were tortured into giving them, usually being forced to learn them off by heart.  There are no grounds for believing the situation here to be any different.  Russia is in violation of international law through its abduction of the two men and their illegal transfer to Russia, not to mention its use of Russian legislation against citizens of the country that Russia is illegally occupying.

Virtually nothing is known about the two young men except that they were abducted at different times, with Zarubaiev’s abduction reported by the telegram channel ‘Abducted Melitopol residents’ to have taken place on 8 October 2022. The Russian court site only gives the men’s names, without even their ages. 

The Russian state TASS press agency reported on 10 October that the two men had admitted guilt in court.  It is claimed that “from September to October 2022 Ukrainian Roman Zarubaiev entered into a terrorist organization created in the city and that he drew his compatriot Artur Nesterenko into it.”   They had, supposedly, received information via the Internet about hiding places, holding explosive devices and used these as per instructions from the leaders of this purported organization. It is even asserted that they both established and set off an explosive device in School No. 15 which the invaders were using as a ‘polling station’ for their fake referendum. They had allegedly also used such a device which they exploded at the gate of the home of a member of this illegal ‘election commission’.

‘Searches’ at the apartment where it is claimed that the men stored the explosives, supposedly also found electronic detonators and grenades.

Both men are charged under Russian legislation with ‘involvement in a terrorist organization’ (under Article 205.4 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code); ‘a terrorist act, carrying out an explosion’ (Article 205.2. items a & b); illegal purchase, possession or carrying of explosive devices or substances (Article 222.1 § 4) and illegal preparation of explosive devices carried out by an organized gang (Article 223.1 § 3).

This, typically, differs slightly from the propaganda video posted in October 2022 showing the two men, although slightly distorting Zubaraiev’s name (calling him ‘Zubarev).  Both men talk of plans to carry out an explosion at School No. 15 during the pseudo-referendum, and to kill a member of the fake ‘commission’.  Nesterenko can be heard claiming that those giving instructions were from Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR] and that they on several occasions threatened to shoot him if he didn’t carry out the task. 

Such claims are absolutely typical of Russian televised ‘confessions’, with HUR or Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] typically claimed to be behind any alleged acts.  Those ‘confessing’ almost always say that they were threatened or bribed.  Most importantly, the charges prove later to have little or nothing to do with the ‘confessions’.  There would be no reason for the Russians to leave those details out were they true.  Their omission only confirms the suspicion that they were false, and that the men were forced into making them.

The prosecution was passed to the Southern District Military Court on 4 September 2023, with the first ‘hearing’ once postponed, before taking place on 10 October.  Since both men are alleged to have admitted to the charges, it is likely that the next hearing, scheduled for 21 November, will be to pass sentence, with this by a panel of three ‘judges’.  Only the presiding ‘judge’ is named as Denis Aleksandrovich Galkin.  

Zarubaiev and Nesterenko were among 14 residents of occupied Zaporizhzhia oblast whom Russia has placed on its notoriously long and politically motivated ‘list of terrorists and extremists’ over recent months.  The lack of information about them, and the fact that they are claimed to be still ‘admitting’ to the charges makes it ominously likely that the men have remained in total isolation and deprived of independent lawyers.

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