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.

Ukrainian journalist abducted, tortured and sentenced to 13 years for writing about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Halya Coynash
For all its secrecy about the ‘spying’ charges it laid against Serhiy Tsyhipa, Russia is scarcely trying to conceal that he was targeted for his patriotism and opposition to Russia’s invasion

Serhiy Tsyhipa in ’court’ Photo posted by Crimean Process

Serhiy Tsyhipa in ’court’ Photo posted by Crimean Process

A Russian court of appeal has upheld the 13-year sentence against Ukrainian writer and journalist Serhiy Tsyhipa on grotesque charges concocted many months after Russian soldiers abducted Tsyhipa from Nova Kakhovka (Kherson oblast) and subjected him to horrific torture.  The aggressor state claimed that Tsyhipa ‘spied for Ukraine’ by reporting on the Russian army’s invasion of his country and on their movements around Kherson oblast.   In a recent interview, Olena Tsyhipa confirmed that, yes, her husband certainly had shared information on Facebook about what was happening, about how much military hardware had gone past, etc.  But he was in his own home, his own native Ukraine, she stresses, unlike the invaders who seize patriots and claim that they are ‘spies’ for their own country.

Crimean Process reported the hearing on 13 February 2024 before presiding judge Yelena Kaporina at Russia’s Third court of appeal in general jurisdiction cases. Like in all such supposed ‘spying’ cases, the hearing was behind closed doors, with even Tsyhipa’s name concealed.  Crimean Process states that the details provided make it clear that this was the appeal against the 13-year harsh regime sentence passed against Tsyhipa by the occupation ‘Crimean high court’ (presiding ‘judge’ Viktor Sklyarov) on 6 October 2023.  The earlier sentence was also passed in such secrecy, however the ‘court’s’ press service reported that Serhiy Tsyhipa, a journalist from Nova Kakhovka, had been found guilty of “passing information about the places of deployment, numbers and routes taken by Russian soldiers to remembers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and SBU [Security Service].”  It was known that Tsyhipa, a Ukrainian citizen, seized on Ukrainian territory, was charged under Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code, and there were no other ‘spying’ cases that day.

In declaring Tsyhipa a political prisoner on 27 October 2023, the Memorial Support for Political Prisoners Project suggested that the claims about passing on information were a pretext and that he had been persecuted for organizing protests against the Russian occupation of Nova Kakhovka.  In fact, it is clear from Olena Tsyhipa’s account that there was no single organizer for the protests, and Tsyhipa was a well-known writer, journalist, head of a regional civic organization, a Donbas war veteran and Ukrainian patriot. Any or all of those reasons would have been enough for Russia to make him a target.   

Tsyhipa had hoped to become part of the Territorial Defence, however Russia’s swift invasion and seizure of control made any such defence unrealistic.  Like others, he therefore concentrated on volunteer work, helping to get food and medicine to those residents most in need.  He did, indeed, also use his social media pages to provide accurate information, organize and post videos of the pro-Ukrainian protests that demonstrated the real opposition to Russia’s invasion.  

He was seized by the Russians on 12 March 2022.  He disappeared that day while delivering medication to his mother-in-law, and it was only 8 days later, after fellow journalist Oleh Baturin was released from Russian captivity, that it became clear that he had been seized by the Russians and was being subjected to savage ‘interrogation’.

In the second half of April 2022, the Russians posted a video in which Tsyhipa could be heard saying that he had been in Russia for several weeks, without mentioning that he had been taken there by force.  He then repeated standard Russian lies, such as that the horrific atrocities discovered at Bucha and other occupied parts of Kyiv oblast had been ‘provocation’ staged in order to blame Russia and get it expelled from the UN Security Council.   Everything about this video, including Tsyhipa’s use of the Russian euphemism ‘special military operation’ make it near certain that his participation in it was obtained through torture. We know from other hostages and prisoners of war who have been released that essentially all Ukrainians seized are subjected to savage beatings, electric shocks, and other forms of torture and ill-treatment.  Olena Tsyhipa has also been told by former hostages who were briefly held with her husband that the Russians did not confine themselves to physical torture, but also threatened to come for her and the rest of the family, and do the same to them.

For months, the family knew nothing about Serhiy’s whereabouts.  It was only in November 2022 that Russia confirmed that it was holding him, with the formal charge of ‘spying’ under Article 276 laid in December.  It had, in fact, been known, through unofficial channels, since October 2022 that Tsyhipa had been illegally taken to occupied Crimea, where he was being held in remand prison [SIZO] No. 1 in Simferopol.  He was moved to SIZO No. 2, a prison which Russia is using for the huge number of Ukrainians it has abducted since its full-scale invasion, in December that year. Olena reported after the ‘trial’ that the Russians were claiming that her husband, who had been in Russian captivity since 12 March that year, had “voluntarily” turned up in occupied Crimea to ‘confess’.

The ‘case was passed to the occupation ‘high court’ on 13 July 2023, with all five (possibly six) ‘hearings’ held behind closed doors.  As Memorial points out, Russia has flagrantly violated the Geneva Convention in its abduction, ill-treatment and torture of civilians, and in moving them from occupied territory.  It violated Tsyhipa’s right to a fair trial, and is also illegally applying its own legislation on occupied territory. 

Serhiy Tsyhipa is now 62 years old and has been in Russian captivity for almost two years.  Russia’s ‘charges’ against him are manifestly illegal and based solely on his pro-Ukrainian position and activities in his own country. Olena notes that, before Russia’s full-scale invasion, Serhiy had, in his military capacity, and as a journalist, tried to help highlight the plight of hostages and political prisoners held captive by Russia or its proxy ‘republics’.  He is now one of these civilian hostages and needs our voices.

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