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.

Revenge imprisonment in Russia extended of young Crimean Tatar woman seized for trying to visit her gravely ill father

Halya Coynash
It is 18 months since the Russians took Leniye Umerova prisoner, with the accusation of mystery ‘spying’ only emerging after a string of wildly implausible other charges
Leniye Umerova
Leniye Umerova

18 months after Leniye Umerova was first seized by Russian enforcement officers on an entirely different pretext, a court in Moscow has extended the 26-year-old Crimean Tatar’s detention on ‘spying charges’ by a further three months.  Leniye has already paid a huge price for her attempt in December 2022 to see her father in occupied Crimea, following his cancer diagnosis.  She faces a sentence of up to 20 years, which her family view as revenge for her refusal, following Russia’s invasion in 2014, to take Russian citizenship. 

The new ruling, from the Moscow municipal court, on 2 May 2024 came almost exactly a year after Russia’s FSB first laid criminal charges after a series of absurd administrative prosecutions used to keep the young woman imprisoned.  According to Leniye’s lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, the claim is that the ‘criminal investigation’ is still continuing.  Since Russia’s ‘spying trials’ are always held behind closed doors, with even lawyers forced into silence, it seems likely that the FSB are using Leniye’s ongoing detention, most of which has been in solitary confinement, as a means of pressure.  The aim is, presumably, to break the young woman and get her to admit to whatever charges are put before her.   These methods have been used on multiple occasions since 2014 against Ukrainian political prisoners, with the FSB generally also blocking the person’s access to independent lawyers.  In this case, Leniye Umerova’s ongoing detention on evidently fabricated charges was reported almost from the beginning and she is fortunate in being represented by Dinze, a lawyer who has already defended several Ukrainian political prisoners.

Although the secrecy around Russia’s ‘spying charges’ can make it difficult to prove that they are fabricated, it is hard to find any other explanation for the circumstances around the young woman’s initial detention and the string of administrative charges used to keep her in detention.

Leniye had left Crimea in 2015, a year after Russia’s invasion.  She moved to Kyiv where, after finishing her studies, she worked as a marketing specialist.  Until 2022, she encountered no difficulty in returning to occupied Crimea each year to visit her family.  All of that changed after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, both because of the physical difficulty of getting to occupied territory, and because of the increased danger for any Ukrainian citizen, especially for those, like Umerova, who had clearly not supported Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

Having learned of her father’s cancer diagnosis, Leniye set off for Crimea in early December 2022.  Since there was no longer any direct route between mainland Ukraine and Crimea, she was forced to travel through Bulgaria and Romania into Georgia. 

It was at a checkpoint in Northern Ossetia during the night from 3-4 December 2022 that Leniye was taken off the Tbilisi – Simferopol coach by Russian border guards (who are under the FSB).  She was told that this was “for a further check and conversation”, with the Russians taken her internal ID, her passport and her telephone away. They told her that the border guards would speak with her the following day, and sent her to the Sova Hotel outside the city.  All of this was, doubtless, a setup, with the taxi taking her via a road which was off limits to foreigners where she was duly stopped by traffic police.  This served as the pretext for the first administrative charge of “infringing the rules for crossing the Russian state border (Article 18.1 § 1 of Russia’s code of administrative offences).  A local court found her guilty of this and fined her (the fairly small amount of) 2,000 roubles, as well as ordering her deportation.  Since there is currently no mechanism for organizing such expulsion, she was simply sent to a temporary holding unit for foreign nationals.   Her parents found a lawyer who succeeded in getting the deportation order revoked, with the court even noting that Leniye posed no threat to Russia.  All of this meant that there was no requirement for her to be imprisoned in a temporary holding unit.

She was released for around 30 seconds, with unidentified individuals seizing her as she left the holding unit.  They put a bag over her head, forced her into their car and took her to a district in Vladikavkaz where she was dumped just in time for a police car to turn up and demand that she come with them to the police station.  Her attempt to ask why was used as the excuse for a further charge and 15-day term of imprisonment for supposedly ‘disobeying the orders of an enforcement officer’. There were five administrative arrests in total, with human rights groups sounding the alarm and fearing that the FSB were fabricating charges against the young woman. 

On 4 May 2023, Leniye was taken to Moscow where, the following day, she was remanded in custody for two months by ‘judge’ Sergei Ryabtsev from the Lefortovo Court.  The secrecy then regarding the grounds, or lack of such, for accusing the young woman of spying, continues to this day.

Please help by publicising Leniye’s plight!  If possible, also write to Leniye, since the letters tell her, and Moscow, that she is not forgotten.  Unfortunately, the letters need to be handwritten and in Russian.  Please avoid any political subjects or mention of the war (or of the charges against her).  If possible, enclose an envelope and some thin paper, as well as your return address.

If Russian is a problem, even just the following would be fine, maybe with a photo or card.   

Привет, Ление! 

Желаю Вам здоровья, терпения и успехов в изучении английского языка! Очень надеюсь на скорое освобождение. Простите, что мало пишу – мне трудно писать по-русски, но мы все о Вас помним. 

 [Dear Leniye,  I wish you good health, patience and success with your English studies! I very much hope you will soon be released.  I’m sorry that this letter is short – it’s hard for me to write in Russian., but you are not forgotten. ] 


111020 Россия, г. Москва, ФКУ СИЗО-2 ул. Лефортовский вал 5.

Умеровой, Ление Резвановне, г.р. 1998

[Or in English

111020 Russia, Moscow SIZO-2, Lefortovsky Val, No. 5

Umerova, Leniye Rezvanovna, b. 1998 ]

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