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 stages secret ‘spying trial’ two years after forcibly disappearing Ukrainian patriot Iryna Horobtsova

Halya Coynash
Russia has held the IT specialist from Kherson in near total isolation for almost two years, without any formal status or charges

Iryna Horobtsova

Iryna Horobtsova

A mystery ‘trial’ has, seemingly, begun in Russian-occupied Crimea of Iryna Horobtsova, a Kherson IT specialist whom the Russians abducted on 13 May 2002, her 37th birthday.  After illegally holding her prisoner in occupied Crimea, without any formal status or charges laid for almost two years, Russia has come up with its ‘default charge’ of spying.  This bears the advantage that the entire ‘trial’ can be held in secret, with Russia never forced to explain how they can justify staging a ‘trial’ under Russian legislation of a Ukrainian citizen illegally abducted by an invading army from her native Kherson.   under Russian legislation.

Iryna’s mother, Tetiana Horobtsova and Yulia Kovlenko from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Centre for Strategic Litigations, told the Kherson publication Vhoru that the first hearing was scheduled for 28 March.  The information available is very limited.  A free ‘lawyer’ has supposedly been appointed for Horobtsova by the occupation Crimean bar association, although her family agreed that an independent lawyer would represent their daughter, and he has been prevented from seeing her.  The family know nothing about the lawyer who will supposedly be representing Iryna in ‘court’.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Iryna worked as an IT specialist, testing software, and also spent a lot of time travelling, both around Ukraine and abroad.  She was very interested in psychology and was due to complete a second university degree in this, when Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine changed everything.  Iryna was employed by a leading IT company who suggested she work from abroad, but she refused to leave Kherson and became very active as a volunteer.  From the first days of the invasion, she bought bandages, painkillers, etc. and took them to the local hospital to help the wounded.  She ignored the danger and drove medics to work in Kherson and the oblast, as well as delivering food and medicines to those in Kherson most in need. 

Iryna made no secret of her opposition to the Russian invasion and took part in the mass protests in the centre of Kherson which ended only after the Russians began shooting at protesters and mounting a terror campaign. She wrote about the protests on social media, with her posts clearly demonstrating her pro-Ukrainian position and support for Ukraine’s Armed Forces.  

Such open opposition has been quite enough in any part of Ukraine that falls under Russian control for a person to be seized and, usually, savagely tortured.

Horobtsova was seized by the Russians on 13 May 2022, and has been held prisoner for most of the time since in SIZO No. 2 in occupied Simferopol.  This is one of two extra SIZO, or remand prisons, which Russia has opened since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, almost certainly to imprison the ever-mounting number of civilians abducted from other occupied Ukrainian territory.

She was held without any formal status and without criminal charges having been laid, although the Russians had admitted to the family that she was in their custody.  Her parents approached Russia’s FSB [security service] several times.  On each occasion, they were told that Iryna was not in danger but that she would be held in detention until the end of what the Russians euphemistically call ‘the special military operation’ and the world condemns as Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

In April 2023, prominent Crimean rights lawyer Emil Kurbedinov reported that the FSB were not only preventing him from seeing Horobtsova, but were also refusing to provide any information about her.  They claimed that this was “to protect state secrets”. 

Human Rights Watch drew attention to Russia’s forced disappearance of Horobtsova in December 2022 and cited a woman who had contacted Iryna’s parents in November to say that she had been held prisoner with their daughter. Iryna had told her that she had been held in solitary confinement for over three months, and that she had been blindfolded by her captors and taken to occupied Crimea “where she was interrogated twice about her pro-Ukraine position. Horobtsova also told her that her interrogators had placed an AK-rifle on the table in front of her and hung a clothing iron on the wall in the interrogation room, threatening to use it on her if she did not “tell [them] everything.” 

It is likely that Iryna has been held in near total isolation, with Russia’s actions in preventing Kurbedinov from seeing her making it extremely improbable that the appointed ‘lawyer’ will be properly representing her interests.

There are particular grounds for concern as Horobtsova was diagnosed as having a brain (or cerebral) aneurysm in 2021, and needs regular medication to prevent this from progressing.  There is no chance that she is receiving any proper medication or healthcare in Russian captivity.

Russia has already used ‘spying’ charges to bring huge sentences against journalist Serhiy Tsyhipa and several other Ukrainians abducted from Kherson oblast and held incommunicado for long periods.   Like Iryna Horobtsova, they were seized for their pro-Ukrainian position and opposition to Russia’s invasion of their country. 

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