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Ukrainian political prisoner hospitalized after 9 years of Russian brutal torment

07.12.2023   
Halya Coynash
66-year-old Viktor Shur has served nine of the twelve year sentence that Russia imposed on grotesque ‘spying charges’ over a photo of cows grazing at a disused aerodrome

Viktor Shur (an earlier photo) and works from late 2023 posted by his daughter

Viktor Shur (an earlier photo) and works from late 2023 posted by his daughter

Viktor Shur is in a Russian hospital after suffering a haemorrhage and losing a huge amount of blood. The 66-year-old Ukrainian political prisoner’s pulse was so dangerously low that the prison authorities did, at least, react, with the doctors saying that this was just in time.  He was given a blood transfusion and has since had tests which uncovered several ulcers in the duodenum.  He was able to ring his daughter on 5 December and tell her that he is receiving injections and has been put on special diet.  Olha Nalimova, is, unfortunately, not alone in doubting how this will be possible in the appalling conditions of a Russian prison colony, but at least the immediate danger to her father’s life has been averted.

It is exactly nine years since Viktor Shur was seized by the Russian FSB, with only fellow Ukrainian political prisoner Valentin Vyhivsky having spent longer in Russian captivity.  He was sentenced to 12 years and, unlike convicted murderers and other real criminals, will, if Russia has its way, serve that sentence to the very last day.

Viktor Shur has become known beyond Ukraine because of his magical drawings and paintings which he shares with his daughter and all those who write him letters. Olha says that she has the feeling that her father is not simply drawing, but also creating stories as he once did for her and her brother when they were children.

The conditions in Russian penal institutions are a strain on anybody’s health and Shur is not a young man.  While the haemorrhage seems to have come without any warning, he has suffered other health issues over the years, including chronic bronchitis and a bone-related problem.  He has also complained that his eyesight is deteriorating with this of major concern as his artwork is essentially the one lifeline which Russia has not managed to take from him.

Both Viktor Shur and Valentin Vyhivsky are imprisoned on unexplained ‘spying’ charges.  These enable Russia’s FSB to conceal virtually all details about the indictment and to hold all court hearings behind closed doors.  Both men had been held for long periods incommunicado, and neither had access to an independent lawyer.   

Viktor Shur is the son of a well-known Chernihiv art collector, and was himself involved in business, with this entailing regular travel between Ukraine and Russia.  It was for this reason that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he opted for Russian citizenship, while having permanent resident status in Ukraine.  His family is Ukrainian and he himself now holds Ukrainian citizenship, received when he was already imprisoned. Shur’s wife died several years ago, and he had been living in Chernihiv, helping his elderly father.

Shur had first supported Euromaidan, and later helped Chernihiv volunteers, with this possibly why he was deliberately targeted by the FSB, with the phone call from a client a trick.  His father later explained to journalists that his son had told him in early December 2014 that he needed to urgently travel to Russia.  He had arranged to drive to the Bryansk oblast (across the border from Ukraine)) and was supposed to return straight away, but simply vanished.  A week later Shur phoned and said that he had been arrested for fighting with a policeman and that he would return in another week.

The family were then told that he had been arrested for infringing the rules for a state-guarded site, with that subsequently stepped up to a charge under Article 275 of Russia’s criminal code – ‘state treason’ by spying for the security service “of a foreign state”.   It was later that his family discovered that he had been seized in the zone between the Ukrainian and Russian borders by men in masks who broke the windows in the car and used smoke bombs against him.

The ’spying’ charge later concocted appears to have been over a photo of cows grazing on an abandoned aerodrome that had not been used since the 1980s. There was no reason for Shur to have known that the field he was photographing had once been a defence ministry aerodrome.  Since it had ceased to be so before the Soviet Union collapsed, this could scarcely be a ‘Russian state secret’, and most certainly  not one that could be of use to its security service. That may well have changed by 2022, when Russia was preparing for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but it was disused in late 2014.

Shur was initially held in the Bryansk SIZO [remand prison] and then taken to the FSB’s Lefortovo prison in Moscow. Olha reports that the so-called investigators used psychotropic drugs to get information out of her father, and it is likely that other forms of torture were also  applied. During all her visits to the prison, a guard is present and Shur would certainly be stopped and then face reprisals if he was to talk about the treatment he had received.  

There are other standard FSB methods, including threats and promises that a ‘confession’ will minimize the sentence.  Such promises were a cruel lie.  Having signed all the documents they put in front of him, Shur was sentenced on 7 October, 2015 by the Bryansk Regional Court to 12 years’ maximum security imprisonment.   The court website reported that he been convicted of ‘state treason in the form of espionage’ (under Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code’). .  He was supposed to have “on 9 December 2014 carried out reconnaissance activities on the territory of the Bryansk oblast – he gathered information constituting a state secret about a protected site belonging to Russia’s defence ministry with this ordered by Ukrainian State Border Service. Were this information to be handed to Ukraine’s Security Service, the latter could have used it against Russia’s security”.

The reason for holding men like Shur incommunicado and using ‘spying charges’ is that the level of secrecy makes it harder to prove that a person is a victim of repression.  There was, however, enough information for the renowned (and later forcibly dissolved) Memorial Human Rights Centre to identify Viktor Shur as a likely victim of political persecution. He is recognized by Ukrainian human rights groups as a political prisoner and his release has been demanded in resolutions from the European Parliament and other European and international bodies.

PLEASE WRITE TO VIKTOR SHUR!

It is very important to him to know that Ukraine and people beyond are concerned about him, and any letters or cards also send an important message to Moscow that he is not forgotten.  If possible, include an envelope and a return address, so that he can write back.  The messages need to be in Russian.  If this is difficult, you could just copy the following.

Здравствуйте!

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь, что Вы скоро вернетесь домой.  Простите, что я мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним.

[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be be home.  I’m sorry that I write so little, it’s hard for me to write in Russian, but you are not forgotten.  

Address

241021, Bryansk, 30 Komarova St., Prison Colony No. 1,

Shur Viktor Valentinovich (born 1957),

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