As Russian law enforcement formalizes the detention of Pavlo Gryb, a Ukrainian teenager abducted in Belarus and transferred to Russia on vague terrorism charges, more details are emerging about his arrest and the role of a mysterious Russian female friend in his capture.
On September 11, Russian lawyer Andrei Sabinin managed to meet with 19-year-old Gryb, who agreed to be represented by him. In a subsequent interview with Hromadske, Sabinin recounted what Gryb said about his kidnapping in the city of Gomel, Belarus.
Gryb had come to Gomel in August 24 to meet an online female friend from Russia. According to Sabinin, he was walking toward the bus station in the early evening to head back to Ukraine when he was approached by several people in plain clothes. They detained him, bound his hands, put him in a minibus, and took him away.
“At dusk in some forest, they handed him over to other people,” the lawyer said. “These other people took him somewhere. He doesn’t remember how long it took to get there because there were no windows [in the transport vehicle.]”
The convoy eventually arrived at a building, where Gryb was held for up to several days. Then, an investigative brigade arrived and they “formalized his status in accordance with the Russian criminal code,” Sabinin added.
The brigade then took Gryb to a police station, where he discovered he was in Russia’s Smolensk region. There, they took his fingerprints and photographs, and then departed with him for the Krasnodar region, where he was wanted on charges of “abetting terrorist activities.” It remains unclear what Gryb — who did not serve in any Ukrainian military formation and had not visited Russia — could have done to violate Russian law.
Since arriving in Krasnodar, Gryb has been held largely incommunicado. Before Sabinin, neither a lawyer, nor Ukrainian consular officials were allowed to meet with him.
Sabinin attributes this to the nature of Russian pre-trial detention. The detention center where Gryb is being held belongs to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service. However, it shares a building with the FSB.
As a result, Penitentiary Service officials “do as their ‘neighbors’ tell them,” Sabinin said. The FSB instructed them to break the law by not allowing Gryb a first meeting with a lawyer, he believes.
Russian lawyer Andrei Sabinin. Photo credit: facebook.com
In the wake of Gryb’s disappearance, his family and rights activists in Ukraine have raised urgent concerns about his health in custody. Gryb suffers from portal hypertension, a chronic illness that affects the function of his organs. He requires regular medication and a special diet, his father Ihor told Hromadske.
“Even if supposedly no one physically hurts him there, just his presence under the conditions they have [in detention]...could lead to fatal consequences,” Ihor Gryb said.
However, according to Sabinin, Pavlo Gryb is holding up fairly well in custody. The jail food is bad, but soon Ukrainian consular officials will put money on his account, allowing him to purchase food for himself in jail.
Additionally, the detention center is prepared to accept medications for Gryb, provided they are purchased at a pharmacy that provides the necessary documentation for them to be brought into a correctional facility, Sabinin said. He expects that Gryb could receive his medications in the coming days.
“[Gryb] does not have any special instructions or medicines that could affect his body’s vital functions,” he said. “These are supportive therapy drugs.”
Additionally, the detention center’s doctor has stated that all of Gryb’s tests appeared normal, Sabinin added. But the lawyer had no means of verifying this claim.
On September 15, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry told Hromadske that Gryb was removed from the pre-trial detention center and taken to a specialized medical facility for examination. However, the ministry lacks information on where specifically Gryb is being taken. Ukrainian doctors have also not been allowed to meet with him.
Ukrainian consuls will visit Gryb on September 18, Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Maryana Betsa said.
Besides his lawyer and the Ukrainian consuls, Gryb can also likely expect a visit and a parcel from Tatiana, the young woman he traveled to Belarus to meet. For around a year before his disappearance, Gryb had communicated with her over Russian social network VKontakte and Skype. According to Gryb’s father, their conversations were romantic in nature and, oddly, entirely in Ukrainian.
In the wake of Gryb’s disappearance, 17-year-old Tatiana told journalists, including Hromadske, that the FSB had blackmailed her into luring Gryb to Belarus, where he could be detained. However, her statements have been difficult to verify.
Photo credit: EURORADIO.FM
On September 12, Tatiana resurfaced and told Belarus’s EuroRadio that she had received two letters and a video message from Gryb. In the video, “he didn’t say anything in particular. He just reassured me and said that he was doing fine,” she told EuroRadio. But the letters, in which Gryb requests clothing and hygienic products, also paint a complicated picture of their relationship.
The first was written in Ukrainian:
“Dear Tutenia [i.e. Tatiana], how are you? I need help. As I said, you need to bring [me] three sheets, pants, shorts, shampoo, soap, a washcloth, deodorant, slippers, two pairs of underwear, definitely food, biscuits, tea, cheese, and whatever else you want. I am waiting to see you. You can tell me about how you’re doing and ask me how I’m doing. P.S.:You can give me a printed photo of you. P.S.S. Everything will be fine. I’m holding up and I love you.”
The second letter was in Russian:
“Dear Tanya, I am writing to ask you to answer me. I am here and am waiting to meet with you. You can ask me questions if you have them and can give me a parcel. You’ll tell me about everything. The most important thing is not to worry and don’t despair. P.S. Bring me nail clippers and a razor for shaving.”
Tatiana told EuroRadio that she was planning to deliver a parcel of clothing, food, and medicines to Gryb. If her statements are true, they likely suggest that she was indeed an unwilling participant in the FSB operation to arrest Gryb.
“An Extremely Serious Matter”
Pavlo Gryb’s disappearance has come as a shock to Kyiv’s relations with Belarus, its neighbor and the site of international negotiations to halt the conflict in Ukraine’s east.
In the wake of Gryb’s disappearance, Olena Zerkal, Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister for European Integration, said that Belarus “behaves like a partner in words, but in reality acts completely differently.” Belarus’s Ministry subsequently termed Zerkal’s statement “un-partnerlike.”
On September 14, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin took those criticisms a step further in an interview with the UkrInform news agency. He termed Gryb’s kidnapping “an extremely serious matter” that will require a strong official response once the Ukrainian authorities have a “full picture” of the case.
“A situation has been created where we see that the Russian security services also operate on Belarusian territory,” he said. “And I think Ukrainian citizens should consider whether to travel there.”
Background: On August 24, Pavlo Gryb departed from the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv for Gomel to spend the afternoon with a girl he had previously only spoken with online. When he failed to return home by the next morning, his father Ihor, a former Ukrainian border guard, departed for Belarus to search for his son.
There, he managed to discover that Pavlo was wanted in Russia on terrorism charges initiated by the Krasnodar regional office of the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) — despite the fact that Pavlo had never served in the Ukrainian armed forces or visited Russia. Ihor Gryb alleged that his son had been illegally kidnapped by FSB and spirited away to Russia. That accusation has increasingly proven true.
On September 7, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry confirmed to Ihor Gryb that his son was being held in Pre-Trial Detention Center No.5 in Krasnodar. And, earlier this week, Russia’s TASS news agency reported that, on August 17, a Krasnodar district court had ordered Gryb’s arrest until October 17 on charges of “abetting terrorist activities.” The arrest order came a week before Gryb was abducted in Belarus.
/By Matthew Kupfer