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.

Illegal Russian occupation ‘court’ sentences Ukrainian veteran to 13 years on grotesque ‘spying’ charges

Halya Coynash
54-year-old Oleksandr Zarivny was held for almost ten months before his family even learned of his whereabouts.

Oleksandr Zarivny Photo posted by

Oleksandr Zarivny Photo posted by

18 months after Russian soldiers abducted Oleksandr Zarivny from his home in Oleshky (Kherson oblast), a fake occupation court has sentenced him to 13 years’ imprisonment.  The charge could not be more cynically surreal, with the invading power having illegally used its legislation to accuse a Ukrainian of ‘spying’ for Ukraine on Ukrainian soil where, unlike the Russian army, he had every right to be. Such ‘spying’ was, moreover, claimed to have consisted of providing information to the Ukrainian Armed Forces as to the size of the invading army and where it was illegally deployed.

The Crimean Human Rights Group reported on 30 November that this ‘ruling’ had been passed by the occupation ‘Kherson regional court’ with the charge under article 276 of Russia’s criminal code (‘spying’).  The report points out that 18 occupation ‘courts’ have been created in occupied parts of Kherson oblast and a further eight in occupied Zaporizhzhia oblast, with this in accordance with a Russian presidential order from 3 April 2023.  These unrecognized and illegal bodies have undoubtedly been created to enable Russia to stage ‘trials’ of men and women abducted from occupied territory.  It is not, however, clear whether Zarivny is the first and other such judicial travesties are now to be carried out by these new ‘courts’, or whether Russia will continue staging some in occupied Crimea, and others at the notorious Southern District Military Court in Russia.  After all, Ukrainian writer, journalist and civic activist Serhiy Tsyhipa was also abducted by the Russians in Kherson oblast and, like Zarivny, was taken to occupied Crimea.  Tsyhipa, however, was ‘tried’ by an occupation ‘Crimean court’ and sentenced to 13 years, also on secret ‘spying’.  charges.  It became clear that his sentence was one of three passed in just over a year on Ukrainians illegally abducted from Kherson oblast and imprisoned in occupied Crimea.  29-year-old Mykola Petrovsky, a disabled Kherson volunteer, was sentenced to 16 years and 50-year-old Serhiy Kotov from Oleshky to 15 years.   

Zarivny is 54 and a teacher of chemistry and biology by profession. He was, however, working as the head of the Kherson Regional Administration’s Department for Humanitarian Aid when Russia began its full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022.  He was the first Ukrainian in Oleshky to be abducted on 17 March 2022, however such abductions were soon to become very common.  The Russians themselves made no secret of the fact that Zarivny had been targeted for what one of his abductors described as his involvement “in a civic organization”.  Zarivny had been mobilized in 2015 and fought in Donbas [‘ATO’, or the anti-terrorist operation] for a year before leaving active service, while remaining in the reserves. He was head of the regional Union of ATO Veterans, helping other former servicemen to organize documents and providing support for the families of men killed in the conflict. Veterans and volunteers helping former servicemen are high on the Russians’ list of targets for abduction and torture.

Zarivny was taken away after armed Russians burst into the family’s home in the morning of 17 March 2022.  For almost ten months, his family had no idea even whether he was alive.  It was only in early January 2023 that Yulia Zarivna learned that her husband was alive, but imprisoned in occupied Crimea.  At the end of December 2022, Russian / pro-Russian Telegram channels had posted a video in which she saw Oleksandr. These channels claimed that the Russian FSB had seized Zarivna, accusing him of passing on information about the number of Russian forces in Kherson oblast.   The reports claimed that the FSB had only just detained him, although he had, of course, been in Russian captivity since 17 March 2022. 

It is now known that he was held for around four weeks in the Kherson police holding unit, which this was under Russian control, and was then taken to occupied Simferopol.  There he was held in SIZO [remand prison] No. 2 which Russia opened in 2022, almost certainly to hold the huge number of civilians it was abducting from newly occupied territory.

Russia’s ‘trials’ on supposed spying charges are dangerously secretive, with this compounded on territory seized since 2022 by the lack of any access or reliable information.  The situation here is even more worrying as Zarivny has been prevented from having a lawyer of his own choice.  The Crimean Human Rights Group reported earlier that that the Russians have foisted their own ‘lawyer’ -  Aleksandr Polyansky, whose collaboration with the prosecution and willingness to turn a blind eye to the use of torture were seen when he was appointed as ‘lawyer’ for Crimean Tatar political prisoner Aziz Akhtemov.  With such ‘lawyers’, it is unclear even whether this appalling sentence will even be appealed.

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