Russia drops all pretence in ‘trial’ of Ukrainian hostages imprisoned since 2018 in occupied Donbas
A ‘trial’ has begun in Russia of three Ukrainian hostages seized almost five years ago, when Russia was claiming that the military conflict in Donbas was a ‘Ukrainian civil war’ in which it was not involved. It is now violating the most fundamental principles of law by trying Ukrainian citizens under Russian legislation over alleged actions five years ago in an illegal entity (the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’) which Russia at the time had not even recognized.
It is extremely likely that the charges against the three Ukrainians: Andriy Harrius; Yuriy Ivanov and Stanislav Surovshev are based solely on the men’s videoed ‘confessions’. These were obtained from men held totally incommunicado and without independent lawyers. That alone, as well as the accounts from hostages later released in exchanges of prisoners, would point to the use of torture to extract such ‘testimony’. In this case, however, there are also some other telling details, such as that the men had not only been planning acts of sabotage on the instructions of Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU], but that they had been trained for such ‘sabotage’ by instructors from the USA and Canada’. Another ‘giveaway’ sign that the men were repeating what they were told to say is that they claim that they acted purely on promises of money and that they had not even seen much of the latter.
The ‘trial’ is, typically, taking place before presiding ‘judge’ in Rostov. Saprunov (and others from his court) have been imprisoning Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners since soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, and there are no grounds for expecting that the men will receive anything resembling a fair trial. Each is facing a huge number of charges, mainly under Articles 205.2 (carrying out acts of terrorism) and 205.3 (undergoing training to carry out acts of terrorism) of Russia’s criminal code with sentences of 15 to 20 years.
As before, the only information not from Russian propaganda sources is about Andriy Harrius, who is now 35 and a former police driver. He was seized by militants from the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’], on 11 December 2018 just days before the birth of his second daughter. He had moved from his native Krymychna (near Makiivka) after the Russian/Russian-controlled militants seized control, however later moved back to Krymychna as it was difficult to find work to support his growing family.
It was in Krymychna that Harrius disappeared on 11 December 2018. He was brought back to their home for a search the following day and, according to his wife, Viktoria, he had obviously been beaten and could scarcely speak. Harrius’ captors turned the place upside down, stole anything of value, and took Harrius away again. Viktoria left occupied Donbas immediately, giving birth in the train on the way to Lviv.
Harrius had been held prisoner for almost two months when the so-called ‘DPR police’ claimed to have arrested three men accused of carrying out several acts of terrorism and sabotage. There was wide coverage of these supposed ‘arrests’, together with the claims about American and Canadian instructors, in Russian state media.
The only ‘evidence’ to back the charges comes from the ‘DPR’ video showing men ‘confessing’ and entirely inconclusive images of the alleged explosives, etc. which were claimed to have been ‘uncovered’.
Until recently, Harrius, and presumably Ivanov and Surovshev, were held in SIZO [remand prison] No. 5 in occupied Donetsk. All three men are now held in SIZO No. 1 in Rostov (Russia), with the first ‘hearing’ in the ‘trial’ having taken place on 26 October.
Serhiy Harrius told the that they had learned by chance that his son had been moved to Rostov two months ago. Andriy is in a cell, intended for four people, but holding eight. Two of the men are clearly Ukrainian prisoners of war from the Aidar Battalion and three are Russians imprisoned because of pro-Ukrainian comments on social media and accused of ‘treason’, Serhiy Harrius recounts. All of the civilian hostages held together with his son are accused of ‘terrorism’. He says that they are being held in windowless cells and without watches, so that they have no idea even whether it is day or night. They are also held in a total information blackout. The treatment of prisoners of war is particularly bad, with the men not even given clothing, with some held only in underway and without proper footwear. All of this, unfortunately, corresponds to accounts from those Ukrainian POWs who have finally been released.
The next ‘hearing’ at the Southern District Military Court is scheduled for 7 December 2023, almost exactly five years after Andriy Harrius was seized in a different country by an illegal armed formation which Russia was pretending to not control.