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 sentences abducted Ukrainian Baptist volunteer to 20 years on insane ‘terrorism’ and ‘spying’ charges

Halya Coynash
Both Margarita Kharenko and Serhiy Avramenko were seized by the Russians from their homes in Melitopol in January 2023, and very likely subjected to torture

Serhiy Avramenko, photo social media, Margarita Kharenko Photo posted by ZMINA

Serhiy Avramenko, photo social media, Margarita Kharenko Photo posted by ZMINA

Two Ukrainians abducted from occupied Melitopol [Zaporizhzhia oblast] in January 2023 have been sentenced by Russia’s Southern District Military Court to a total of 36 years.  It is quite possible that Baptist volunteer Margarita Kharenko and sportsman Serhiy Avramenko  did not even know each other before the Russians who invaded their country decided to stage a ‘trial’ in which both were accused of planning the same ‘act of terrorism’.  The extra charges laid against Kharenko and massive 20-year sentence were very likely based solely on photos, etc. found on her telephone or tablet after the Russians burst into her home and took her prisoner on 9 January 2023.

The Russian prosecution claimed that Kharenko and Avramenko had both worked in a sports centre in Melitopol from May to December 2022 and had observed and gathered information about visitors to the centre.  Considering one of the visitors to be a Russian military man, they had, supposedly obtained an explosive device and placed it under the man’s car on 23 December 2022, “causing grave damage to his health”.

A car was indeed blown up on 23 December, however it is only the aggressor state that would call an act of partisan resistance against legitimate military targets ‘an act of terrorism’.

The same indictment claims that Kharenko and Avramenko had “via communication on Messenger with unidentified employees of the Ukrainian security services … joined … a terrorist society.”

The two Ukrainians living in their own native Melitopol were both charged under Article 205 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code (‘an act of terrorism’) and Article 205.4 § 2 ‘participation in a terrorist society’.  Kharenko was, in addition, charged with ‘spying’ (Article 276) and with involvement in a civic or religious association that Russia has banned as ‘extremist’ (Article 282.2 § 2).  The latter charge is linked with the claim that Kharenko was involved with ‘Sich – C14’, an ultra-nationalist Ukrainian organization, considered by many to be neo-Nazi.”  According to her friend, Hanna Podorozhna, Kharenko had worked as a pharmacist until Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and was active in a volunteer charity, as well as being a member of a Melitopol Baptist community.  Russia’s persecution of most faiths on occupied territory, and especially Protestant churches, is notorious and it seems much more likely, as Podorozhna suggested back in May 2023, that Kharenko was targeted as a Baptist, than that she was ever involved in C14. 

Russia has also accused Kharenko of ‘spying’, claiming that, at the suggestion of Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU], she had provided photos and information about the movement of Russian forces.  Whereas the claim about the ‘terrorist society’ cites “unidentified SBU officials”, here three specific dates are given (27 and 28 June and 3 July 2022), with these presumably linked to images, or similar, found on her telephone.  It should be stressed that, whatever these were, it is Russia as an invading power that is in violation of international law through its application of Russian legislation on occupied territory, its abduction and forced transfer to Russia of Ukrainian citizens.

In May 2023, Podorozhna knew about ‘extremism or terrorism’ charges, but had clearly heard nothing about any suggestion of involvement in an attempt to blow up an invader’s car.  It is not at all unlikely that the charge was laid later, and Kharenko and Avramenko joined in the same ‘trial’ purely because they had both been seized in January 2023.  In the case of Serhiy Avramenko, it is known only that he is a sportsman, involved in heavy athletics, and that he was abducted on 14 January 2023.  He was sentenced to 16 years maximum-security imprisonment with the first five years in a prison, the harshest of Russia’s penal institutions.  Margarita Kharenko was sentenced to 20 years, but, probably because she is a woman, with this in a medium-security prison colony.  

The ‘trial’ which ended on 3 April 2024 was held at the same Southern District Military Court in Rostov which has been churning out politically motivated sentences against Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners since 2014.  This was not the first such political trial in which presiding judge, Aleksandr Vasilyevich Generalov was involved.  There were several hearings which would suggest that Kharenko and Avramenko denied the charges, however there is essentially no information beyond that provided by the court.  The sentence can still be appealed, though there are no grounds for expecting any greater concern for rule of law from a Russian military court of appeal

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