Following the exchange of prisoners that took place between Ukraine and Russia on September 7, it was necessary to give one of the youngest Ukrainians, Pavlo Gryb some time to recover due to his health condition which only grew worse during his illegal detention by the FSB. European Radio for Belarus journalist spoke to Gryb a few weeks later in Kyiv to find out how the events unfolded in 2017. We publish the interview in English.
Ukrainian citizen Pavlo Gryb went to Gomel in Belarus on August 24, 2017 to meet with a Russian citizen Tatiana Yershova, whom he met on the social network “VKontakte”. Gryb crossed the Ukrainian-Belarusian border and disappeared. It was only two weeks later that the Consulate General of Ukraine in Rostov-on-Don received a message from the FSB that the teenager had been placed in the Krasnodar detention center. Later, we learned that the 19-year-old Ukrainian had been kidnapped by unknown persons and taken to the Russian Federation. He was accused of preparing a terrorist attack in one of the Sochi schools. In court, Gryb fully denied the charges. In an interview with Euroradio, Yershova confessed that she did not agree on a meeting in Gomel with Gryb on her own initiative — it was a requirement of the FSB staff.
Whose proposal was it to meet in Belarus – yours or your girlfriend’s from Russia?
It was, of course, definitely not my proposal because, as I explained numerous times in court and one can check it, that was an offer by the FSB officers who used her account. Even in the early days of July 2017, I received an offer to meet in Minsk, but I flatly refused because I knew about the kidnapping. Toward the Independence Day of Ukraine [on August 24] much has changed... I hope that everything that was happening at that time will be fully known someday since it is too early to tell a part of it. All this, in general, made such a meeting possible. Not in Minsk, but in Gomel. On the Independence Day of Ukraine on August 24, 2017.
Nevertheless, you agreed that both you and Tatiana will come to Gomel to meet in real life?
No. The problem was that the whole special operation was carried out and a legend was developed. And it’s not just, as people usually think, building some speculation that we planned to just meet, see each other or something. No, there was a completely different reason connected to receiving a foreign passport, as I said during the trial. But the whole picture will become clear to us later. Because so far we only know what is known on my part. Even not completely, because I have not yet fully returned home.
I talked to Tatiana, and she admitted that she was forced with threats from the FSB to participate in a provocation directed against you. Going to Gomel, she knew that your meeting is likely to end badly for you. So did you meet in the end?
Of course, we met... As for her words, everything she told you and representatives of other media was part of the information war against me personally. It was a propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting me and presenting me not as a patriot and a Ukrainian nationalist, but as some kind of a vagabond who does not have patriotic views, who had unclear reasons for going to this meeting.
To put it simply, they created the image of you as a “womanizer” who was ready to do anything for a girl?
And that too. They put up certain things, and you think what it means. It’s like in the situation with [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy, with whom I did not shake hands. Like, you think up the reason yourself. And everyone will come up with everything that he wants about me, but that does not correspond to reality.
But that girl, so you understand, did not appear in court. Who spoke on her behalf is unknown – maybe her little sister – because she is not mentioned in the criminal case. And it is still unknown whether she really was at that meeting in Gomel. I can not give a one hundred percent guarantee that it really was her. I hope that when everything is over, we will know all the details of this case. And when we defeat our enemy, all the detected participants in this matter will give the true information. In may be completely different from what she said to you.
So even after all the courts, you’re not sure that you know the whole picture of what happened to you, who organized and participated in the operation directed at you?
It is clear that the entire operation was led by the FSB bandit nest in Moscow. Their branch in Krasnodar carried out the investigation and everything else, but everything was directed not by the people in Krasnodar.
Why did you decide to go against the words of your father and travel there?
As I’ve said before, there were certain circumstances and guarantees, like with Mykola Karpiuk. I knew I was risking and that everything was possible back then.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t careful enough. Not just that I went there, but also that I went alone without an appropriate accompaniment.
If the operation involved not only the capture group, but also the people who “led” you from the border, then two options are logical: either there was not one group of Russian agents in Belarus, or they acted together with...
KGB, absolutely correct. Because there was an order to let me through the border, there was an order to accompany me. And they did accompany me. I don’t know if someone was getting on the bus that I took from Chernihiv to Gomel, but the car was accompanying us. In Gomel, I didn’t have a secure opportunity to escape. I don’t know yet who they were and how many. However, the KGB officers were definitely involved.
What was the reason to conduct such a large–scale special operation against you?
Already in the 9th grade, I decided that I would do everything in my power for the benefit of Ukraine. Usually, we tell the media that I have never been abroad, and in the East of Ukraine. But if everything was so, would they abduct an ordinary person? And also they won’t capture a person because of what was written on social networks, as it was originally reported.
So why, just because of the pro-Ukrainian position?
Of course not. Both they and we know something different. The time will come, and we will completely restore the whole picture. I won’t even say anything about my father – it sounds pointless. They knew everything about him before starting this operation.
And I want to say right away: no matter how they asked, I did not give out any state secrets or official information that I knew.
And did you have this kind of information?
Of course, they captured me for a reason.
But I didn’t tell them anything significant. That’s most important for me.
How did the kidnappers behave and how did you behave? Could you understand by accent who they were?
They didn’t speak ... They threw me into the front seat, pulled off my backpack, put a hood and a balaclava on my head, started beating. Then, on the way, they clasped my hands with a fishing line ... And the scar here remains on my hand, my hands were turning blue. It was hard.
On the way, did you try to speak with them, to find out what was the matter?
No. I knew that these were bandits and that all attempts would be meaningless.
Did you have hopes that your disappearance would raise a racket in Belarus and the Belarusian security forces, the police would start looking for you, the Ukrainian services would join in?
Belarus, the Muscovy’s province, is under the dictatorship of Lukashenko is only cooperating. That’s why they, their authorities and their KGB are the same kind of bandits ... As for the racket, I did not expect any. And therefore, due to threats to my life and other circumstances, in order to save my life, then I was not able to do everything possible to make this ruckus work. Especially since they started a campaign to discredit me. On the other hand, no one really knew me, unfortunately – I am a low-profile person for most of the time, actually, I don’t even have any photos.
How did the stay in jail affect your health considering that you were not provided with medical assistance by the FSB?
My physical condition worsened, it needs to be restored. But I lost not only health, time as well. There are health problems, and lost time is a pity. But thank God that I returned uncrippled. Some people are more unlucky. Their health and at the same time life are broken.
You have already said that you will no longer risk going to Belarus. And if you have personal security guarantees from Lukashenko?
And who is Lukashenko? He’s Putin’s lackey. What guarantees can he give? Lukashenko will not decide anything without Putin, otherwise, he will simply be destroyed. But I believe he will pay the price even in this life, very soon, and Belarus will be a free country. Long Live Belarus!
/Courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange