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The Great Exchange: Whom Did Ukraine Send to Russia?
7 September, 2019
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Yevgeniy Mefiodov, a defendant in the investigation surrounding the 2014 May 2 massacre in Odesa, Ukraine, could have been sent to Russia on September 7, part of the prisoner exchange. Oleksandr Himanov / UNIAN

35 political prisoners and prisoners of war returned to Ukraine. Click here to find out who they are and how they were illegally convicted in Russia.

In return, Ukraine gave away those convicted of terrorism, overthrowing the constitutional order, participation in illegal armed groups, or those under investigation, to Russia. Last year, some of these people wrote letters to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to be exchanged for the Ukrainian political prisoners.

READ MORE: These 22 Russian Prisoners Want to Be Exchanged for Sentsov

Then, the Presidential Administration of Ukraine said that Petro Poroshenko was ready to pardon them at any moment given Russia shows a “political will” to liberate Ukrainian political prisoners.

The final list of those who were sent to Russia in exchange for the Ukrainians is not yet available. We looked at who these people could be.

Kyrylo Vyshynsky

Kyrylo Vyshynsky is formerly a Ukrainian journalist and editor-in-chief of Russia's RIA News agency department in Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian prosecution, he wrote 72 articles of "anti-Ukrainian nature." He was detained and placed in custody in May 2018. During the searches at Vyshynsky's home and office, a Russian passport, as well as awards presented to the journalist by the Russian state for his service to the country, were detected. Since then, on June 1, 2018, Vyshynsky admitted to having a Russian passport (dual citizenship is not allowed by the Ukrainian law) and renounced his Ukrainian citizenship.

Kyrylo Vyshynsky, editor-in-chief of Russia's RIA News agency department in Ukraine, at a hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 19, 2019. Photo: Volodymyr Hontar / UNIAN

According to Ukraine's Security Service (SBU), Vyshynsky worked for the aggressor country as part of a hybrid information war against Ukraine. Subsequently, the chief editor of RIA Novosti-Ukraine was informed of a new suspicion of illicit handling of weapons.

On March 14, 2019 Vyshynsky was transported from Kherson to Kyiv. After that, the court extended his detention several times. On August 28, the court released Vyshynsky from custody: his preventive measure was replaced with personal recognizance.

READ MORE: RIA News-Ukraine Editor-In-Chief Kyrylo Vyshynsky Released From Custody

Volodymyr Tsemakh

Volodymyr Tsemakh is a former anti-aircraft defense commander in the village of Snizhne in the occupied part of the Donetsk region. It was near Snizhne that the Malaysia Airlines Boeing MH17 was shot down in July 2014. 298 passenger and members of crew died.

According to the BBC’s Russian service, Tsemakh was arrested in his flat in Snizhne on June 27, 2019. Ukrainian intelligence transferred him to the government-controlled area – in what many regard as one of their most successful operations – where Kyiv’s Shevchenkivskyi District Court sentenced him to a two-month arrest on June 29 for “creating a terrorist group or terrorist organization”.

Bellingcat investigators expected the arrest would help the JIT joint investigative team advance in the MH17 case, as it was Tsemakh who allegedly helped to hide the Buk rocket launcher (from which Boeing was shot down) on July 17, 2014. Dutch law enforcement officers wanted to question Tsemakh, and MEPs called on Volodymyr Zelenskyy not to give him to Russia.

In spite of this, Tsemakh was released from custody on September 5 under personal recognizance.

MH17 suspect and former Donetsk "people's republic" soldier Volodymyr Tsemakh at a hearing at the Kyiv Court of Appeal on September 5. Volodymyr Hontar / UNIAN

Tsemakh was not on the original list of prisoners for exchange but many believed he was Putin's last request for the exchange to go ahead. Minutes after Tsemakh's release was announced, the Russian president announced a "large-scale" prisoner exchange.

READ MORE: MH17 Suspect Tsemakh Was Questioned Prior to Exchange - Zelenskyy

Yevgeniy Mefiodov and Sergey Dolzhenkov

Yevgeniy Mefiodov and Sergey Dolzhenkov were defendants in the investigation surrounding the 2014 May 2 massacre in Odesa, in which pro-Russia and EuroMaidan demonstrations ended in violent clashes. Six people were killed in the fights, and a further 42 people died in a fire at city’s Trade Unions’ Building.

In 2017 a court in Chornomorsk acquitted all those accused as the “investigation could not gather enough evidence of guilt.”  Mefiodov was accused of organizing and participating in the mass riots that led to deaths.

In October 2017, the Odesa Court of Appeal released Mefiodov from custody, but he was arrested in a courtroom for other criminal proceedings — actions aimed at forcibly changing or overthrowing the constitutional order or seizing state power. He was held in the Mykolaiv pre-trial detention center.

Russian citizen Yevgeny Mefiodov awaits his verdict at a court in Odesa on June 7, 2016. Photo: Hromadske

On August 16, 2019, Anti-Maidan participants Mefiodov and Dolzhenkov withdrew from the Mykolaiv pre-trial detention center on bail of 153,680 hryvnias (nearly $6,200) for each.

READ MORE: Four Years Later: Odesa Massacre Remains Unpunished

Igor Kimakovsky

Igor Kimakovsky was captured in July 2015. The SBU said it “had caught a FSB agent” back then. According to intelligence services, he allegedly collected information about the redeployment of Ukrainian troops. Kimakovsky spent three years in a pre-trial detention center, and the case hearing was postponed several times. During the first hearing in February 2018 the border guards who detained Kimakovsky told that the man had left for a checkpoint and showed a “DPR sniper's certificate” in the name of Artem Sergeyev, however with a photo of Kimakovsky himself. The car was searched and a Russian passport with the Kimakovsky name and a Makarov pistol were found. 

The Russians argued that Kimakovsky was just a university teacher and allegedly came to Donbas as a volunteer — to help restore the destroyed houses, as he himself said.

Igor Kimakovsky in a detention center in Bakhmut, Donetsk region on December 21, 2017. Photo: screenshot from a video by Spectr.online

Despite such serious allegations, Kimakovsky was released twice. He was last detained on June 18, 2018. Kimakovsky said he was about to be exchanged in December 2017. He’s accused of encroaching on territorial integrity. There was no verdict and, most recently, his sentence was extended until September 29. He was held in Bakhmut Prison №6.

Maksym Odyntsov and Oleksandr Baranov

There are people whom Russia regards as its citizens and Ukraine as its own. One of them is Maksym Odyntsov.

In November 2016, the SBU announced the detention of two deserters on the border with Crimea — Oleksandr Baranov and Maksym Odyntsov, who after the annexation of the peninsula moved to serve in the Russian army. The detainees were arrested for two months. Later the arrest period was extended.

Subsequently, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the detention of military men Baranov and Odyntsov "treachery" and legitimized the military ranks of Ukrainian deserters.

During her visit to Ukraine, Russian Ombudsperson Tatiana Moskalkova wanted to see Odyntsov explaining that he had a Russian passport. However, she was refused access because Ukraine does not recognize passports received in the annexed Crimea, and Odyntsov himself never renounced Ukrainian citizenship and is considered a citizen of Ukraine.

Maksym Osyntsov at a hearing in Kyiv in February 2018. Photo: Krym.realii / RFE/RL

The then SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said the detainee had gone to Chonhar to illegally obtain university graduation papers in Ukraine and become an officer in the Russian army. Hrytsak also said that the military had pleaded guilty to treason. They were charged with desertion.

Oleksandr Baranov at a hearing in Kyiv in February 2018. Photo: Krym.realii / RFE/RL

In February 2018, the Podilskyi District Court of Kyiv sentenced Baranov to 13 years in prison. Odyntsov was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Both pleaded not guilty.

Aleksey Sedikov

Sedikov was detained by Ukrainian military on July 11, 2016 during clashes in the Donbas. Within two days, the SBU opened criminal proceedings against Sedikov for setting up a terrorist group. At the SBU interrogation, Sedikov confessed arriving from the Arkhangelsk region in Russia. According to the General Staff, he is a senior lieutenant in the Russian Armed Forces. Sedikov said that the fighters receive a salary of 15,000 rubles ($227 at the 2016 rate), and that he saw Russian officers and military acting as advisers or leading military units in the occupied territories. In 2017, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for terrorism. He was serving his sentence in the Bucha penal colony near Kyiv.

On August 3, 2018, Sedikov wrote a statement addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking him to be exchanged for a Ukrainian political prisoner in Russia.

And a year later - at the beginning of August - Sedikov told Hromadske reporters that he also asked for pardon from the President of Ukraine:

“About two weeks ago, the SBU staff came to me and asked if I wanted to be exchanged. I said yes and was offered to write an appeal for pardon. And about a week ago I wrote this appeal. Now I'm waiting for news, I don't know anything else,” the prisoner said.

Aleksey Sedikov talks to Hromadske's Anastasia Stanko at the Bucha penal colony near Kyiv, Ukraine on August 22, 2019. Photo: Oleksandr Pavlichenko

Also, during Russian Ombudsperson Moskalkova’s visit to Kyiv this June, Sedikov was her number one priority to visit.

Ruslan Gadzhiev

He came to Donbas from Adygea Republic of the Russian Federation. He had fought in the so-called "LPR" since December 2014, in particular, he participated in the battles for Debaltseve. When giving evidence to the SBU he argued that he was recruited by Russian law enforcement officers and illegally sent to Ukraine.

Gadzhiev’s wife told Russian media that he had been recruited by a priest of a local church, who was later seen in Luhansk. The SBU also said that Gadzhiev was taken directly at the battlefield near Sanzharivka. All fighters of the unit except Gadzhiev were killed.

Ruslan Gadzhiev in a detention center in Bakhmut, Donetsk region on December 22, 2017. Photo: screenshot from a video by Spectr.online

After receiving 15 years' sentence for terrorism, involvement in a terrorist organization and waging a war of aggression — he served his sentence in a prison in Bakhmut.

Viktor Ageyev

He is a Russian citizen and a resident of the Altai Krai. He and three other militants were detained in June 2017 near Zhelobok village. Court hearings in the Ageyev case began six months later.

The indictment states that Ageyev arrived to Donbas in the spring of 2017 “having learned about the recruitment of a contracted service in “LPR” terrorist organization through advertisement on the Internet”.

Ageyev's mother said in an interview he was a career military man. Yet the Russian Defense Ministry reported that Ageyev was discharged in May 2016. Later the so-called “LPR” reported they had put Ageyev on the exchange lists.

Viktor Ageyev and his mother Svetlana at a detention center in Starobilsk, Luhansk region on July 22, 2017. Photo: Novaya Gazeta

Ageyev was sentenced to 10 years for fighting on the “LPR” side, illegal storage and carrying of firearms and ammunition. He was serving a sentence in the Romny penal colony in the Sumy region.

Olga Kovalis and Pavel Chernykh

According to the investigation, the couple had formed a network of informants and probably monitored the movement of troops in the Ukrainian-controlled territories in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya regions. They were detained on April 30, 2015 at a checkpoint near Mariupol. According to sources close to the detainees, Kovalis was allegedly gathering military information for the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

Aleksey Gruby, the former Consul of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, is officially in charge of custody of the prisoners. At the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he is responsible for issues related to CIS countries, as well as Ukraine. Kovalis and Chernykh were sentenced to 10 years in prison for setting up a terrorist organization. They were held in Mariupol pre-trial detention center.

Mykola Ruban

In January 2015, in Stanytsia Luhanska, a local pensioner brought to the checkpoint a package containing a blasting device concealed under a jar of honey. The sabotage killed one Ukrainian military and three were injured.

In March 2016, Svativskyi district court of the Luhansk region sentenced Ruban for this terrorist attack to 15 years in prison with confiscation of all property. He was being held in a penal colony in the Rivne region.

READ MORE: 5 High-Stakes Cases of Ukraine’s (Outgoing?) Prosecutor General

Oleksandr Sattarov

Sattarov was detained on December 19, 2017. He is accused of "actively participating in the seizure of administrative buildings" in Crimea in March 2014, "creating conditions for the penetration" of Russian troops there. Sattarov served in Berkut special police and was in Kyiv during the EuroMaidan. After that he worked at a security firm in Dnipro where he was detained by the SBU staff. He was serving his sentence in the Lukyanivskе pre-trial detention center in Kyiv.

On August 22, 2019, Kyiv's Holosiivskyi District Court changed his pre-trial restrictions and released him. On the same day, Sattarov's lawyer, Igor Svintsytsky, announced that he was scheduled to be exchanged for one of the Ukrainian seamen captured in the Kerch Strait at the end of August.

Sergey Yegorov

According to human rights activists, he is a real volunteer who came from Russia to fight in the Donbas under the influence of Russian propaganda. For several years Yegorov had been in the remand prison of Mariupol. The court hearings in his case were constantly postponed.

On top of that, according to Ukrainska Pravda, the list of those who were handed over to Russia includes the following: Aslan Baskhanov, Elena Bobova, Andrey Vaskovsky, Vladimir Galichy, Sergey Gnatiev, Anna Dubenko, Stanislav Yezhov, Arkady Zhidkikh, Sergey Kovernik, Dmitry Korenovsky, Andrey Kostenko, Alexey Lazarenko, Sergey Lazarev, Yuri Lomako, Petr Melnichuk, Yulia Prosolova, Alexander Rakushchin, Antonina Rodionova, Taras Sinichak, Alexander Tarasenko, Andrey Tretyakov, Victor Fedorov, Denis Khitrov.