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 passes huge conveyor belt sentences against Ukrainians tortured for propaganda videos

Halya Coynash
Russia is using other ‘courts’ to pass secret ‘spying’ sentences against Ukrainian civilians abducted, tortured and illegally taken from Ukrainian territory

Serhiy Butnar from the propaganda video

Serhiy Butnar from the propaganda video

Three Ukrainians abducted from occupied Melitopol in April 2022 have received long sentences from a Russian court after a ‘secret trial’ only reported after it ended. These are the latest in at least seven such sentences which the same Russian court has churned out since December 2023.  All are passed behind closed doors, with no details provided of the supposed ‘spying’’.  What is certain, however, is that Russia, as an occupying state, is violating international law by abducting all of these Ukrainians and forcibly taking them to Russian territory and ‘trying’ them under Russian legislation. 

The men sentenced on 22 February and several others whose ‘trials’ have yet to be reported, were abducted in April 2022.  All of them were almost certainly targeted as Ukrainian police or State Emergency Service officers.  On 15 May 2022, the independent Ukrainian agency RIA-Melitopol reported  that Russian propaganda media had, on 13 May, posted a video in which the Ukrainians had been tortured into providing supposed ‘confessions’.  The men said on video, undoubtedly as ordered, that they had passed on information to Ukraine’s Armed Forces about Russia’s movement and deployment of men and military hardware  and had directed fire on places in occupied Melitopol where the Russians were storing weapons, etc.   All of the men, RIA-Melitopol noted, showed signs that they had been subjected to torture for the Russians to come up with “a propagandist thriller”.  

Over 18 months later, Russia has illegally tried the men under Russian legislation and on Russian territory with ‘spying’ (Article 276 of Russia’s criminal code).  The three Ukrainians seen on the videos and now ‘convicted of spying’ are: Serhiy Butnar, the head of an anti-corruption department within Ukraine’s State Emergency Service; Oleh Zubov, a lawyer and the former head of a police criminal investigation unit; and Ihor Artemenko, the head of security for the Melitopol Grain Elevator.   The only ‘evidence’ came from ‘confessions’ which, we know from countless victims of such methods, were certainly extracted through beatings, electric shocks and other forms of torture.  Butnar was sentenced to 13 years; Zubov to 12 years and Artemenko to 11 years, with all these sentences in maximum security prison colonies.

The report from May 2022 named two others also abducted and tortured for the Russians’ “propaganda thriller”: Borys Klishchov, the head of a fire brigade within Ukraine’s State Emergency Service and Vitaly Hvozdenko, a former Ukrainian border guard.  It is known that Oleh Zubov was abducted together with his adult son, Hlib Zubov, who is also a lawyer, were abducted from their home in Melitopol on 20 April 2022.

According to Artemenko’s daughter, Anastasia, her father was 52 when abducted by the Russians on 21 April 2022 from Melitopol.

The same conveyor belt ‘Rostov Regional Court’ has passed at least ten such mystery ‘spying’ sentences since July 2023, with a minimum of seven, counting the three men sentenced on 22 February, Ukrainian citizens, abducted from occupied parts of Ukraine.

Oleksandr Tsunahutulin, a 24-year-old from Kherson oblast was sentenced on 7 December 2023 to 11 years’ maximum security imprisonment.  In reporting this, the Russian publication Kommersant noted that there had been only one ‘hearing’ which might mean that the young man had agreed to not deny the charges.  If, as is likely, he was told that he would get a lower sentence, he was deceived

Oleksandr Protsiuk, from Kherson oblast, was sentenced by three ‘judges’ from the same court to 11 years’ maximum security imprisonment.

Oleksandr Nechaev from occupied Makiivka (Donetsk oblast) was sentenced on 19 January to 13 years.

Olha Maksymets, who was abducted from Mariupol, was sentenced by the same court on 8 February to 10 years.  She was charged, like all the others, with ‘spying’ (under Article 276), but sentenced to a medium security prison colony.

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