On February 5, 2015, he was leaving his parents’ house when two men attacked him, hitting his face and stomach. Then he was lifted and forced inside a bus where further torture and interrogations followed.
These are just some of the gruesome details that emerge from Oleksandr Kostenko’s interview with the Crimean Human Rights Group published on November 29. Kostenko – who comes from Crimea himself – arrived in Kyiv on August 3 after completing his 3.5-year sentence in a penal colony in Kirov, Russia. Russia accuses him of assaulting a Crimean officer of Ukraine’s infamous former riot police – the now disbanded Berkut – during the 2014 Euromaidan protests.
Photo credit: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN
“My hands were tied with a clamp,” Kostenko described tortures experienced in Russia to the Crimean Human Rights Group. “They started beating me up, I started suffocating inside that bag, then I felt my nose and ear being broken. While I was being beaten, the car carried on driving… I had to gnaw a hole in a bag so as not to suffocate.”
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group article, back in Ukraine, Kostenko was diagnosed with a series of injuries including a closed dislocation of the left forearm, displacement of the bones of the elbow joint, ligament ruptures and post-traumatic deforming arthrosis of the left hand. He has since undergone surgery and is slowly recovering, although he is now finding it difficult to secure a job because of the injuries.
In the interview, Kostenko also identified the two men questioning him during the tortures as former Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) employees: Andriy Tishenin and Artur Shambazov. Both men now work for Russian State Security Service or FSB.
Photo credit: Crimean Human Rights Group
Kostenko also described the threats he received from his detainers, including those concerning his child.
“They threatened that my child would grow up in an orphanage. And if I was to sign everything, they would inform my relatives about my location... I signed everything without even reading. That protocol has stains from the blood that was dripping down my face,” he said.
Kostenko was among the first political prisoners convicted by Russia with his sentence being announced on May 22, 2015. The assault he was accused of took place prior to Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea, which means that Russia had no jurisdiction over the offense at the time it was supposedly committed. Russia also charged Kostenko with illegally storing part of a weapon.
The Crimean activist denied the charges and pleaded not guilty. Nonetheless, he received a sentence of four years and two months, which was later reduced to three and half years.
Since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Donbas, the Kremlin has sentenced over 70 Ukrainian political prisons, many on falsified, trumped-up or politically motivated charges. High-profile cases, such as that of Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, have attracted international attention from both media and human rights groups.