Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike has now lasted over 100 days. And while chances of his release from Russian prison where he is held remain slim, as many as 22 Russian citizens serving sentences in Ukraine have recently asked president Vladimir Putin to be freed in place of Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.
Interestingly enough, the initiative did not come from the prisoners themselves but rather cost Ukrainian Ombudsperson Lyudmila Denisova some strenuous effort. Denisova spent at least a week paying visits to each prison and detention center in order to speak with the Russians. Some did not want to write to Putin, some didn’t believe this would change anything, Hromadske was told.
Photo credit: Oleksandr Himanov/UNIAN
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has agreed to release these Russian citizens if Kremlin shows the political will to free the Ukrainians held in Russia in return. The issue was supposed to be discussed in Minsk on August 21-22 but, according to the August 21 Facebook post by representative from the humanitarian subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group Iryna Gerashchenko, Russia rejected Ukraine’s offer to hold talks on the topic.
So who are these 22 people appealing to Putin for exchange? Kept secret at first, their names, along with photographs showing them writing the letters, have finally been revealed in recent Facebook posts by Denisova. Hromadske has gathered information about each convict.
Viktor Ageev, a Kazakh-born Russian citizen, was arrested by Ukraine’s Armed Forces near the village of Zholobok in Luhansk region in June 2017. His indictment states that he came to Donbas in spring 2017 after seeing an Internet advert about “recruitment to serve as a contract soldier for the “LPR” (Luhansk People’s Republic) terrorist organization.”
In a July 2017 interview with Ukraine’s 1+1 television channel, Ageev did not deny being an officer in the Russian military. However, he refused to call Russia’s military invasion in Ukraine war, referring to it as “humanitarian help” instead.
Ageev was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for taking part in the military action on behalf of the Russia-backed separatists in Luhansk region, illegal arms and ammunition possession. He is serving his sentence in a correctional facility in the Sumy region of Ukraine.
Anatoliy Busygin, who is being held in a pre-trial detention facility in Mariupol, was born in 1984 and comes from the Tyumen region of Russia.
Denisova’s August 16 Facebook post only states Vyacheslav Vysotskiy’s name and the location of the prison he is being held in, which is the correctional facility number 62 in the Cherkasy region of Ukraine. Sepatist media claim that Vysotskiy is a 72-year-old man with severe health problems who was detained on April 6, 2016, at the Senkovka checkpoint on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border in the Chernihiv region. He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for treason.
According to the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) website, Aleksandr Valekhidis is a Russian intelligence services employee detained on July 30, 2014, in Lviv region while sharing secret information. He was sentenced to 10 years and is currently serving his time in a correctional facility located in the western Ukrainian city of Drohobych.
A video published by the SBU in January 2015 shows Russian citizen Ruslan Gadzhiyev describing how he was detained for drink-driving in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don in December 2014. A couple of weeks later, a police commander offered to drop the charges, as well as those of several other inmates, in exchange for help “washing and transporting some military tanks.” Gadzhiyev says that that’s how he ended up in the Russian town of Donetsk, located on the Russian-Ukrainian border, from where he was illegally transported to the occupied parts of Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
The SBU say that Gadzhiyev was captured on the battlefield outside Sanzharivka, Donetsk region. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for participation in a terrorist organization and leading a war of aggression. He is currently imprisoned in Bakhmut, Donetsk region.
Ukrainian border guards detained Valeriy Gratov on July 9, 2017. He was reportedly attempting to enter the unrecognized Transnistrian Moldovan Republic on a false Ukrainian passport under the name of Valeriy Voytenko. Upon his arrest, law enforcement officers found a list of names and telephone numbers of people from the unrecognized Transnistrian republic and several Russian citizens, an Order of the Red Star Soviet military badge, and a USB stick containing pictures of places in Donbas where fighting has taken place, including Debaltseve, Donetsk airport, Horlivka, and Ilovaisk. Gratov is now in a pre-trial detention facility in Dnipro.
Vladislav Grechin is a Russian citizen, but resident of Odesa, where he was detained on March 17, 2016. At the time, the SBU stated that they had neutralized a so-called LPR sabotage group, who were planning to blow up a pre-trial detention facility in Odesa. They were charged for making a public call to commit an act of terrorism. Grechin has been kept in pre-trial detention, along with two others, since then.
According to the SBU, Russian citizen Oleg Doronin was made an offer to fight in Ukraine after his outstanding conviction for grievous bodily harm resulted in a rejection from military service within Russia. Doronin arrived in Ukraine in April 2015 fighting in the separatist Prizrak (Ghost) Brigade first and then moving to the Platov First Cossack Regiment. The SBU say Doronin went on at least six reconnaissance missions with the Cossack regiment.
The now-27-year-old was detained in July 2015 in Popasna, Luhansk region. In January 2016, he was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for participating in a terrorist organization.
Murat Dzhemiev is reportedly a native of North Ossetia. He was detained by the SBU in November 2017 for “anti-state” activities.” According to the SBU press service, Dzhemiev and another Russian citizen were instructed by the Kremlin to organize an act of protest involving blocking transport highways. Dzhemiev is also suspected of trying to set Ukrainian MP Anton Herashchenko’s car on fire. He is currently in a pre-trial detention facility in Kyiv.
Human rights activists told Hromadske that Sergey Egorov is a real volunteer who came from Russia to fight in Donbas after being influenced by Russian propaganda. He has been held in a pre-trial detention facility in Mariupol for a few years already. His court hearings are constantly being postponed.
Valeriy Ivanov was detained by Ukrainian servicemen in Stanitsa Luhanska in August 2015. During questioning, which was filmed by the SBU, he stated that he had traveled from Arkhangelsk, Russia, to “help the [so-called] LPR fight the fascist regime.” He crossed the Russia-Ukraine border at the Izvarine checkpoint, which was not controlled by Ukrainian soldiers at the time. He also stated that he fought in two campaigns in Chechnya and had “become a volunteer through the recruitment station.” He is now in a prison colony in Drohobych, western Ukraine.
Farukh Kamalov served as the so-called “deputy minister of sport” in annexed Crimea between April 21, 2015, and April 21, 2016. According to the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Crimea project Krym.Realii, Kamalov represented the ministry at government events, working groups and sporting competitions. In particular, he attended the Crimean Tatar Kuresh Fighting Championships. He was also an advisor within the Crimean pro-Russia movement K’yryrm.
On February 2, 2018, the SBU detained Kamalov at the Kalanchak checkpoint. According to the agency’s spokesperson Olena Hitlyanska, Kamalov traveled to mainland Ukraine to obtain a biometric external passport. Kamalov is currently held in Kyiv’s Lukyanivska pre-trial detention center and faces 12 to 15 years’ imprisonment for state treason.
Igor Kimakovskiy came to Ukraine from Saint Petersburg. When he was detained in July 2015, the SBU reported that they had “arrested an FSB agent.” According to the SBU, he gathered information on the redeployment of Ukrainian military personnel. He has been in pre-trial detention for three years. Definitive hearing on the case has been postponed several times. In February 2018, the border guards who detained Kimakovskiy stated that he “served” at the checkpoint using documents of a sniper for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) under the name Artem Sergeev, although the photo depicted Kimakovskiy. They searched the car and found a Russian passport in Kimakovskiy’s name along with a gun.
A former university teacher, Kimakovskiy states that he traveled to Donbas as a volunteer carrying humanitarian aid. Despite the severity of the charges against him, Kimakovskiy has been released from custody twice. The last time he was arrested was June 18, 2018. He is accused of threatening Ukrainian territorial integrity. He has not been sentenced yet.
Olga Kovalis and Pavel Chernykh
Olga Kovalis and Pavel Chernykh are a married couple who, according to investigators, established a network of informers in the government-controlled territories in Donetsk and Zaporizhia and tracked the movement of Ukrainian soldiers. They were detained in 2015 at a checkpoint near Mariupol. According to Hromadske’s source from within their inner circle, Kovalis gathered information on the military for the so-called DPR. Kovalis and Chernykh are accused of creating a terrorist organization. They are both being held in a pre-trial detention facility in Mariupol.
According to the investigation, Vasiliy Kusakin messaged a militant in the so-called DPR in June 2015 on the Russian social network Odnoklassniki, saying that he wanted to serve as a mercenary. This militant then arranged his trip to Donetsk, where Kusakin passed his combat training. He then fought against Ukrainian soldiers, for which he earned around $300 a month, according to the indictment. In August 2017, a court in the Dnipropetrovsk region sentenced Kusakin to eight years’ imprisonment. He pleaded guilty in court.
Yevgeniy Mefedov was a defendant 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.”
Photo credit: facebook.com
The Odesa court of appeals released Mefedov in September 2017, but he was arrested in the courtroom on another charge – “actions aimed at forcible change, or overthrowing constitutional order, or of the government, or seizing state power,” for which he could face five to ten years’ imprisonment. He is now in a pre-trial detention center in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine.
Aleksandr Sattarov was detained in December 2017. According to the Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko's press secretary Larysa Sargan, he is accused of “actively participating in the takeover of administrative buildings” in Crimea and facilitating the entry of Russian forces into these buildings. Sattarov also served in the now disbanded Ukrainian riot police, the Berkut. The Berkut were responsible for a number of the fatalities during the Euromaidan protests, in which Sattarov, according to his lawyer, also participated. Sattarov’s father Valeriy, who also happens to be a former colonel at Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, denies his participation in the Euromaidan clashes. Aleksandr Sattarov also later worked for a security firm in Dnipro, which is where he was detained by SBU officers. He is now held in a pre-trial detention facility in Kyiv.
Ukrainian soldiers detained Alexei Sedikov in July 2016 during clashes in Donbas. The SBU then opened a criminal case accusing him of creating a terrorist group. During questioning, Sedikov admitted that he came from Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia. He also revealed that militants earn a salary of around $227 (according to the exchange rate at the time) and he saw that Russian officers and soldiers were going to the occupied territories as advisors or heads of military units.
According to the data gathered by the Ukrainian General Staff, Sedikov was a senior lieutenant in Russian Armed Forces. He was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in 2017 on terrorism charges.
Denis Sidorov arrived in Donbas in 2015 from Moscow, where he was a police officer. In the video of his questioning, Sidorov explains that he was detained by Ukrainian soldiers on September 8, 2016, after crossing the contact line near the village of Novhorodske in Donetsk region. In the same video, Sidorov also addresses Putin, saying that he is “sorry for coming to Donbas to take part in military actions,” and he urges fellow Russians not to travel to the occupied parts of Ukraine. According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, Sidorov previously took part in the Chechen wars. He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Yevgeniy Shatalov came to Donetsk in 2013 from the town of Kurganinsk in the Krasnodar Krai region of Russia to “find a life for himself,” as he explained during his questioning. He said that he first worked in Donetsk as a loader, and only joined the so-called DPR militant forces when he started struggling financially. He left the occupied territories in 2017 to be with a girl living in Ukrainian government-controlled Mariupol. He was detained by Ukrainian soldiers while on his way there. He is now in pre-trial detention in Zhytomyr, Ukraine.
Aleksey Shybaiev, born 1975, is from the city of Dzerzhinsk in the Nizhny Novgorod region of Russia. He is in pre-trial detention in Mariupol.
/By Anna Tokhmakhchi and Yulianna Skibitska
/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko