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.

Ukrainian abducted, tortured and sentenced in Russia to 14 years on grotesque ‘international terrorism’ charges

Halya Coynash
Yaroslav Zhuk was subjected to relentless torture, including electric currents attached to genitals, and savage beatings to force out a ‘confession’ to absurd charges

Yaroslav Zhuk Screenshot from the video where Zhuk was forced to read the ’confession’ tortured out of him

Yaroslav Zhuk Screenshot from the video where Zhuk was forced to read the ’confession’ tortured out of him

Russia’s Southern District Military Court in Russia has sentenced Yaroslav Zhuk to 14 years’ imprisonment two years after the 35-year-old was abducted from near his home in occupied Melitopol.  The aggressor state has accused a Ukrainian citizen, living in his own country, of ‘international terrorism’ on charges almost certainly based solely on a videoed ‘confession’ obtained through torture.

Both the court in Rostov-on-Don and the two prosecutors involved in the trial (Sergei Vladimirovich Aidinov and Vladimir Viacheslavovich Kuznetsov are notorious for their role in imprisoning Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners.  In this case, the prosecutors had demanded an incredible 27-year sentence, while the panel of ‘judges’, under Oleg Aleksandrovich Cherepov (presiding) settled for 14 years, with the first four in a prison, the harshest of Russia’s penal institutions and the remainder of the sentence in a maximum security prison colony.  harsh-regime imprisonment.  All those implicated ignored Zhuk’s own detailed account of the torture used to extract the ‘confession’ he retracted as soon as he was given access to a proper lawyer (Alexei Ladin) and compelling evidence that the ‘case’ against him was fabricated.  Such evidence included, for example, a laptop which was effectively empty aside from the alleged ‘proof’ of Zhuk’s guilt.  He himself had stated that he was made to put his hands on a laptop that he had never set eyes on before.   The same ‘court’ had refused to recall a prosecution witness despite proof from the defence that the man had lied in court about his identity.

Yaroslav Zhuk, who is married with a small son, began working as a volunteer after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Melitopol.  He was seized by the Russians on 17 June 2022, although for a long time the invaders denied any knowledge of his whereabouts. It was only after he was illegally taken to occupied Crimea that he was able to smuggle out details of the torture used to extract a ‘confession’ shown on Russian propaganda media a month after his abduction.

First in that letter, then later in court, he explained that a car had blocked his path on 17 June and, when he was forced to brake, an armed man dragged him out of his car, beating him, and then put handcuffs on, and a bag over his head.  He was then taken to a basement where he was held for about a week.  He is not certain how long he was there as he kept losing consciousness as a result of the torture he endured.  His torturers attached wires to his genitals, earlobes and other parts of his body and then turned on electric currents, causing excruciating pain. He was also beaten with a blunt instrument over his entire body.  They burned his feet with a lit gas burner , and also applied psychological torture. He was not given any food at all during the first week, only a tiny amount of water each day.

After the pain became too agonizing to endure, he agreed to sign whatever they demanded of him.  He was made to sign three separate ‘confessions’ and then forced to learn the text of one of these off by heart.  It was that which he effectively read out during the video the Russians circulated.  On the video, Zhuk was made to ‘confess’ to the attack and to claim that he was part of a partisan movement taken orders from Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU[.

It was only after such a ‘confession’ had been extracted and around six weeks after his abduction, that a Russian-controlled ‘court’ in occupied Crimea ordered that Zhuk be remanded in custody in the Simferopol SIZO.

Zhuk became one of several Ukrainians abducted by representatives of the aggressor state and then charged with something Russia chose to call ‘an act of international terrorism’.  This is under Article 361 of Russia’s criminal code which Russia is prohibited under the Geneva Convention from applying on occupied territory.  The article in question was only introduced in 2016, and had not, until Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, ever been applied.  A so-called ‘act of international terrorism’ refers to an explosion, act of arson or other actions, committed outside Russia and jeopardizing the life, health, freedom or inviolability of Russian citizens “for the purpose of violating the peaceful co-existence of states and peoples, or aimed against the interests” of Russia.  

This surreal nonsense was used about an attempt on the life of a collaborator working for the Russian invading state, and to convict, on 25 June, a Ukrainian who had been held incommunicado when he ‘confessed’ and who later, consistently and in detail, retracted this confession and explained how he had been forced to give it.

An appeal will certainly be lodged, however these are conveyor belt political ‘trials’, with the relevant court of appeal in Moscow region having thus far shown no more interest in justice than the court in Rostov.

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