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.

Russian court passes huge sentences against Melitopol mother of two and other Ukrainians on evidently fictitious terrorism charges

Halya Coynash
Yanina Akulova, Dmytro Sergieiev and Anton Zhukovsky were all abducted from occupied Melitopol, with their videoed 'confessions' obtained long before Russia even admitted to holding them prisoner
Yanina Akulova in an earlier photo with her daughters Vika and Zlata
Yanina Akulova in an earlier photo with her daughters Vika and Zlata

Russia’s Southern District Military Court in Rostov has sentenced three Ukrainians abducted from occupied Melitopol to huge terms of imprisonment for supposed ‘involvement in a terrorist group created by Ukraine’s Security Service’.  The charges were almost certainly backed solely by ‘confessions’ extracted through torture, but this proved no impediment for a court notorious for its role in Russia’s persecution of Ukrainian political prisoners.  The two men – Anton Zhukovsky and Dmytro Sergieiev were sentenced to 15 years’ maximum-security imprisonment with the first five years in a prison, the worst of Russia’s penal institutions.  Yanina Akulova, who has two daughters, Zlata who is just 7 and 15-year-old Vika, received a nine-year sentence in a medium security prison colony. Although no damage to property was even claimed, the two men were also ordered to pay an 800 thousand rouble fine.  Akulova was ordered to pay 700 thousand.

Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine has made it next to impossible to monitor even those ‘trials’ of abducted Ukrainians which are not held behind closed doors.  In this case, the court website has not even identified the presiding ‘judge’ in the case, or the prosecutor.  The first of four hearings was held on 19 February with the verdict and sentences announced on 24 April 2024.  The charges, illegally brought against Ukrainians under the occupying state’s criminal code, were under Article 30 § 1 and 205.4 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code (conspiring to commit a terrorist act as part of an organized group), as well as Article 222 § 4 (illegal storage of weapons) and 222.1 § 4 (illegal storage of explosives). 

Anton Zhukovsky, Dmytro Sergieiev and Yanina Akulova From the videos where the men, their faces obscured, repeat the same ’text’ almost certainly demanded of them and do not give their names
Anton Zhukovsky, Dmytro Sergieiev and Yanina Akulova From the videos where the men, their faces obscured, repeat the same ’text’ almost certainly demanded of them and do not give their names

The official report, posted by Russian media, mentions only the claim that the three had, on instructions from Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU], planned to carry out a bomb blast at a market in Melitopol, with this purportedly “to destabilize the activities of the authorities of the Russian Federation and influence them to stop the SVO” [‘the so-called ‘special military operation’, Russia’s euphemism for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine].

There were, in fact, earlier reports that the three Ukrainians had also been accused of blowing up a car on 18 September 2022 carrying two Russians - Mikhail Shchetynin and Sergei Gorbunov – holding high posts in the occupation ‘administration’.

Silence about the latter claim is telling, and only compounds the suspicion that no attack on a market was ever planned or ‘thwarted’.  While Russia has, on countless occasions, bombed residential buildings, hospitals, humanitarian aid points and marks, there has not been one single such attack by either Ukraine’s SBU or Armed Forces, or by partisan groups.  It is unknown who carried out the attack on the two Russian officials, however the latter would certainly have been legitimate targets.

Russia earlier claimed that Dmytro Sergieiev and Anton Zhukovsky had been seized on 11 October 2022, with this supposedly stopping them from carrying out their ‘terrorist attack’. It was asserted that Yanina Akulova had been ‘arrested’ the following day.  In fact, Akulova was taken prisoner on 11 October 2022, with it essentially unclear how long the two men have been in Russian captivity.

What is known is that Akulova had been imprisoned for six weeks before she was as brought before the Lefortovo district court in Moscow and officially remanded in custody.  From the first extremely brief call that she was allowed to make to her sister, it is clear that the FSB used the time when she was held incommunicado to torture her into signing “some kind of documents”.  There are no grounds for thinking that the situation was any different for Sergieiev and Zhukovsky.  The methods of torture include electric currents passed through the body, mock executions and beatings, with the pain so excruciating that few will not sign what is put in front of them.  Typically, the FSB then waits until visible bruises clear before officially admitting that the civilians are in their custody.

On 24 November, RIA Novosti and other Russian state-controlled media claimed that the Russians in occupied Melitopol had uncovered a ‘terrorist gang’ which was supposed to have been planning a terrorist attack on a market.  A video was produced with the men’s faces blurred (but not Akulova’s).  As well as the manner in which both men seemed to recite a learned text, the very story fitted all too closely into the FSB narrative. While such ‘confessions’ are a standard part of Russian anti-Ukrainian propaganda, the FSB invariably claim mercenary or similar motives, to avoid any suggestion that Ukrainians could be motivated by patriotism.  Here both men say that they had committed a crime on government-controlled Ukrainian territory and had been effectively blackmailed by the Ukrainian enforcement bodies into trying to waive prosecution by committing a ‘terrorist attack’ in occupied Melitopol.

The three Ukrainians were all held in Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, with Akulova known to have been kept for some time in solitary confinement.  Once Russia admitted to their imprisonment, Akulova’s family were, at least, able to find her a lawyer and to get food and other necessities to her.  It is now 18 months since she saw her daughters who are being looked after by their grandmother.

Yanina Akulova, who is now 36, and her family had remained in Melitopol after Russia’s invasion, probably hoping that the city would soon be liberated. After Russia’s fake ‘referendum’ in September 2022, she feared that her husband could end up forcibly mobilized into the Russian army and insisted that he leave, together with the children.  She remained in order to find homes for their pets and was planning to leave herself  but was taken prisoner.   Dmytro Sergieiev is 30 and lived in Melitopol.  He is unmarried but, reportedly, has a 12-year-old daughter.  Nothing at all is known about Anton Zhukovsky.

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