71-year-old Ukrainian seized on fake 'spying' charges dies in Russian captivity
Russia has abandoned another illegal ‘trial’ of an elderly Ukrainian citizen following the death in detention of 71-year-old Viktor Demchenko. News of this new death comes exactly a year after Russia effectively tortured to death 60-year-old Crimean Tatar political prisoner Dzhemil Gafarov, and caused the death of a third political prisoner, Kostiantyn Shyrinh who was also 60.
It was Russia’s Memorial Society which Demchenko’s death, noting that extremely little is known about the 71-year-old Ukrainian who almost certainly died in one of the SIZO, or remand prisons, in Rostov oblast. In all such Russian SIZO, the conditions are appalling, and healthcare needs are typically ignored.
Viktor Pavlovych Demchenko was born in 1952 and had lived his life in Moslino, a city in Donetsk oblast that has been part of Russia’s proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ since 2014. It is not known when he was ‘arrested’ nor why, however the ‘spying’ charges alone have become a standard part of Russia’s arsenal of politically motivated charges since the beginning of its military aggression against Ukraine in 2014.
There were, in fact, three charges against Demchenko under Russia’s criminal code which the aggressor state is illegally applying against Ukrainians seized on occupied territory. The Ukrainian was accused of ‘spying’ under Article 276; ‘participation in a terrorist organization’ (Article 205.4 § 2) and illegal possession of weapons or ammunition (Article 222 § 1). Russia has named at least two regiments within the Ukrainian Armed Forces ‘terrorist organizations’ and has, since 2022, used ‘spying’ charges against a number of Ukrainians that its soldiers abducted from newly occupied territory. The Russian proxy ‘Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics’ have also used equally mysterious ‘spying’ charges to ‘sentence’ Ukrainian hostages to ten years or longer.
According to posted on the site of the notorious Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia), the charges against Demchenko were passed to that court on 28 September 2023. There were a number of hearings, which suggests that Demchenko denied the charges, with the hearings before Alexander Vasilyevich Generalov and two other judges. The case was “terminated due to the death of the defendant” on 25 January 2024, with the previous hearing having, seemingly, taken place on 18 January.
No details are known about the charges against Demchenko, however this is not especially new. Russia’s FSB seem to particularly like ‘spying’ charges as they enable a dangerous level of secrecy. Even where the person has access to an independent lawyer (and the FSB generally do everything to prevent this), the lawyer is forced, on pain of criminal prosecution to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Russia is violating international law through its forced deportation of Ukrainian citizens to Russian prisons and concoction of such trials. In at least three cases since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, those of journalist and civic activist Serhiy Tsyhipa, Ukrainian veteran and civic activist Oleksandr Zarivny; and IT specialist Ivan Kozlov, the victims have been abducted, tortured and held incommunicado for many months before being charged and ‘convicted’ by illegal occupation ‘courts’ of spying. Russia has also sentenced a number of Ukrainians, including 68-year-old Halyna Dovhopola; 66-year-old Viktor Shur; Valentyn Vyhivsky and Ivan Yatskin on spurious ‘spying’ charges, with all of them recognized as political prisoners.
As mentioned, Russia has already caused the death of two recognized political prisoners – Dzhemil Gafarov and Kostiantyn Shyrinh. It is also directly endangering the lives of a number of other political prisoners. The situation with Crimean Solidarity civic journalist Amet Suleimanov is particularly critical, however concern is warranted for the health and safety of many others.
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