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.

Russia abducts, tortures and ‘sentences’ disabled Ukrainian to 16 years on legally absurd charges

Halya Coynash
Both Mykola Petrovsky and Serhiy Kotov were seized by the Russian invaders back in March 2022, held incommunicado and tortured for many months before Russia came up with insane ‘spying’ charges

From left Serhiy Kotov, Mykola Petrovsky Posted by Crimean Process, though doubtless from Russian propaganda media

From left Serhiy Kotov, Mykola Petrovsky Posted by Crimean Process, though doubtless from Russian propaganda media

A Russian court has upheld huge sentences passed in total secrecy and with astounding illegality against two Ukrainian civilians who were abducted from occupied Kherson oblast in March and April 2022.   There are no grounds for doubting that the Russians mercilessly tortured both Serhiy Kotov and Mykola Petrovsky despite Petrovsky’s physical disability and both men having other serious medical issues.

Russia uses ‘spying’ charges when it can’t come up with anything else, with the main advantage being that it can effectively conceal everything about the charges and the ‘trial’.  Even the appeal hearing, reported first by Crimean Process, was deducted from certain details on the court website, since the names of all participants were concealed.  It is clear that the appeal ‘heard’ and rejected by Russia’s Third court of appeal in general jurisdiction cases on 13 February 2024 was that lodged by Kotov and Petrovsky because of the few details given about the original ‘trial’.  Although the Russian occupying forces have abducted a very large number of Ukrainians from occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, relatively few have reached ‘trial’ stage at the Russian occupation ‘Crimean high court’, and only this case, where there are two defendants, has been reported.  Russia’s state media gave surnames and initials, and also identified the men as Ukrainian citizens.  It saw fit, however, to omit the telling fact that both Ukrainian citizens had been seized by an illegal invading army on Ukrainian territory, long before the aggressor state staged a fake ‘referendum’ to try to legitimize its invasion and annexation. The ‘Crimean high court’ website informed only that the ‘guilty’ sentences had been handed down on 27 September 2023  by ‘presiding judge’ Viktor Nikolayevich Sklyarov and two others (unnamed) and that the charge was under Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code (‘spying’)   It was the TASS agency that specified that 29-year-old Mykola Petrovsky had been sentenced to 16 years; Serhiy Kotov – to 15 years, with both in a maximum-security prison colony.  TASS explained that the ‘trial’ had been held behind closed doors “due to information containing a state secret”. 

Judging by the equally secretive information on the appeal court’s website, there were two hearings (or one, with the hearing at 12.00 on 13 February used merely to announce that the appeal had been rejected.  Only ‘presiding judge’ Viacheslav Mykhailovych Slepchenko is named.

Russia’s application of its own legislation on occupied territory is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.  It is also absurd to abduct Ukrainians from Ukrainian territory which they had every right to be on, unlike the Russian invading forces, and then charge them under Russian legislation with ‘spying for their own country’.  How they are supposed to have done so remains unclear and why they were ‘tried’ together although Mykola Petrovsky was abducted from Kherson on 27 March 2022, and Serhiy Kotov – from his home in occupied Oleshky on 7 April 2022.  There is nothing to suggest that the two men ‘tried’ and sentenced together had ever met before.

Mykola Petrovsky

Petrovsky was 28 when he was seized by Russians in the centre of Kherson on 27 March 2022.  His fiancée Diana Demchemko and parents had no idea where he was, or even if he was alive, for almost six months. They only discovered that he had been moved to a SIZO [remand prison] in occupied Crimea in September that year, although they later learned that he was moved much earlier, in April.

The conditions in this, and all Russian-controlled, SIZO are tantamount to torture, and Petrovsky is disabled, having sustained grave injuries when he was hit by a car while riding his motorbike ten years earlier.  He lost part of his left foot, and received a serious head injury and damage to the left side of the face.  According to his mother, he has difficulty both seeing and hearing. He was also provided with a poor-quality prosthetic foot which left him with wounds that need constant treatment, as well as acute back pain from resulting spinal problems.  He was under specialist care before his abduction and urgently needs a proper examination and health care.

His mother has reported that Mykola was savagely tortured, with fingers broken, as well as damage to his healthy leg and shoulder.  This was doubtless how they forced him into making a propaganda video, widely shown on Russian state television on 3 October 2022. The timing, as well as the TASS headline, are tellingly incriminating, with the clear implication being that Petrovsky had been “detained” by the FSB on or shortly before 3 October, and not seized by Russian soldiers nearly six months earlier.  Moscow had staged a fake ‘referendum’ in September 2022, with the fictitious ‘result claimed to justify its annexation of Ukrainian territory under its control. 

Petrovsky was first shown, being led bent over, with arms forced behind his back and in handcuffs, through a prison corridor.  He was limping heavily, and his mother reported that he looked horrifically thin. Without naming him, the FSB claimed that he had been ‘‘recruited’ by the SBU (Ukraine’s Security Service) back in 2021. And that he had purportedly been used by them to gather information about the places of deployment, the numbers of divisions of the Russian armed forces, the routes of their movement on the territory of the Kherson oblast, as well as the types of military technology and arms used in particular places.”

Mykola Petrovsky holds strong pro-Ukrainian views.  He had refused to leave Kherson after the Russians invaded and actively worked as a volunteer, helping to evacuate people from the occupied city and taking food to those most in need.  Even were Russia’s claims about help in gathering information true, the aggressor state would still be illegally abducting, torturing and then deporting a Ukrainian citizen from his own country and charging him under the invader’s legislation for seeking to help his country which was in peril.

Serhiy Kotov

The Russians came for 50-year-old Serhiy Kotov in Oleshky at around 6 a.m. on 7 April 2022. According to his elder daughter, Viktoria Barabash, they told him to take her mother and 14-year-old sister outside, and then carried out a search, before taking him away.  It was almost a year later before they received any official confirmation that he was in Russian captivity.  They now know that Kotov was held and tortured in occupied Kherson for about a week, with the torture including mock executions, threats to his life and savage beating.  The torture was so savage that he would lose consciousness and they would take measures to bring him around, and then continue the torture.

Kotov has Grade III disability status due to osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone) in the leg.  According to his daughter, he urgently needs an operation on his leg, however his Russian captors do not even provide vital medication.

On 13 February, the same appeal court also rejected two other appeals. One was that lodged by Serhiy Tsyhipa, Ukrainian journalist, writer and civic activist, who was also abducted from Kherson oblast in March 2022.  There is also, however, a third case with even less clear, although the charge was also of ‘spying’.

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

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