Ukraine

Accused of Treason and Imprisoned Without Trial: Journalist Kirill Vyshinsky Recounts His Harrowing Time in a Ukrainian Prison

Mint Press News: Eva Bartlett sat down with recently released Ukrainian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky. Vyshinsky endured 15 months of appalling conditions in a Ukrainian prison after being falsely accused of treason.

WATCH the interview HERE

 

Oct 28, 2019, Mint Press News

In November 2018, I became aware of the case of Kirill Vyshinsky, a Ukrainian-Russian journalist and editor imprisoned in Ukraine without trial since May 2018, accused of high treason. 

Soon after, I interviewed Vyshinsky via email. He described his arrest and the accusations against him as politically-motivated, “an attempt by the Ukrainian authorities to bolster the declining popularity of [then] President [Petro] Poroshenko in this election year.” 

Vyshinsky noted that his arrest was advancing the incessant anti-Russian hysteria now prevalent among Ukrainian authorities, as he holds dual Ukrainian and Russian citizenship. He noted that the charges against him, which pertain to a number of articles he published in 2014 (none of them authored by Vyshinsky), became of interest to Ukrainian authorities and intelligence services four years after they were published. To Vyshinsky, this supports the notion that neither the articles nor their editor were a security threat to Ukraine, instead, he says, they were a political card to be played. 

In early 2019, I traveled to Kiev to interview Vyshinsky’s defense lawyer Andriy Domansky about the logistic obstacles of his client’s case. Domansky viewed the Vyshinsky case as politically motivated and expressed concern that he could himself become a target of Ukraine’s secret service for his role in defending his client, an innocent man. 

Domansky told me at the time,

The Vyshinsky case is key in demonstrating the presence of political persecution of journalists in Ukraine. As a legal expert, I believe justice is still possible in Ukraine and I will do everything possible to prove Kirill Vyshinsky’s innocence.”

To the surprise of those following the case against Vyshinsky, in late August 2019 he was released with little fanfare after serving more than 400 days in a Ukrainian prison but still faces all of the charges brought against him by the Ukrainian government and is “obliged to appear in court or give testimony to investigators if they deemed it necessary.” 

By early September, Kirill Vyshinsky was on a plane to Moscow. Despite never being tried or officially convicted, he found himself the subject of a prisoner exchange between the Russian and Ukrainian governments.

I interviewed Vyshinsky in Moscow in late September. He told me about his harrowing ordeal, the Ukrainian detention system, other persecuted journalists, and what lies ahead for him.

He also touched on the inhumane conditions he experienced in Ukrainian prisons. He noted that a pretrial detention center as we know it in Western nations is a very different entity in Ukraine and that Ukrainian prisons were so over-crowded that it was common for inmates to sleep in three shifts in order to allow enough standing room for inmates crammed into a cell.

 

Ukrainian prisons like a “concentration camp”

Aleksey Zhuravko, a Ukrainian deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of V and VI convocations recently published photos taken inside of an Odessa pretrial detention center showing utterly unsanitary and appalling conditions. Zhuravko noted, “I am shocked at what was seen. It is a concentration camp. It is a hotbed of diseases.”

Another Ukrainian journalist, Pavel Volkov, was subjected to the same types of accusations lobbed against Vyshinsky. Volkov spent over a year in the same pretrial detention center as Vyshinsky. He was arrested on September 27, 2017, after Ukrainian authorities carried out searches of his wife and mother’s apartments without the presence of his lawyer and with what he says, was a false witness. 

Volkov spent more than a year in a pretrial detention center on charges of “infringing on territorial integrity with a group of people” and “miscellaneous accessory to terrorism.” On March 27, 2019, he was fully acquitted by a Ukrainian court. 

Volkov shared his thoughts on the persecution of journalists in Ukraine, saying:

The leaders of the 2014 Euromaidan movement, who subsequently occupied the largest positions in the country’s leadership, repeatedly stated that collaborators from World War II who participated in the mass extermination of Jews, Russians, and Poles are true heroes in Ukraine, and that the Russian and Russian-speaking population of Ukraine are inferior people who need to be either forcibly re-educated or destroyed. 

They also believe that anyone who wants peace with the Russian Federation, and who believes that the Russian language (the native language for over sixty percent of Ukraine’s population) should be the second state language, is the enemy of Ukraine.

These notions formed the basis of the new criminal law, designed to persecute politicians, public figures, journalists, and ordinary citizens who disagree with the above.

Since 2014, security services have arrested hundreds of people on charges of state treason; infringing on the territorial integrity of Ukraine; and assisting terrorism for criticizing the current government in the streets or on the Internet. 

People have been in prison for years without a conviction. And these are not only the journalists included in the ‘Vyshinsky list’. 

Activists from Odessa, Sergey Dolzhenkov and Evgeny Mefedov, have spent more than five years in jail just for laying flowers at a memorial to the liberators of Nikolaev [Ukrainian city] from Nazi invaders. 

Sergeyev and Gorban, taxi drivers, have spent two and a half years in a pretrial detention center because they transported pensioners from Donetsk to Ukraine-controlled territory so that they could receive their legal pension.

The entrepreneur Andrey Tatarintsev has spent two years in prison for providing humanitarian assistance to a children’s hospital in the territory of the Lugansk region not controlled by Ukraine.

Farmer Nikolay Butrimenko received eight years of imprisonment for paying tax to the Donetsk People’s Republic for his land located in that territory.

The 85-year-old scientist and engineer Mekhti Logunov was given twelve years because he agreed to build a waste recycling plant with Russian investors. The list is endless. 

People often incriminate themselves while being tortured or under the threat of their relatives being punished, and such confessions are accepted by the courts, despite the fact that lawyers initiate criminal proceedings against the security services involved in the torture. These cases are not being investigated.

The only mitigation that has happened in this direction after the change of government was the abolition of the provision of the Criminal Procedure Code stating that no other measure of restraint other than detention can be applied to persons suspected of committing crimes against the state. 

This allowed some defendants to leave prison on bail, but not a single politically-motivated case has yet been closed. Moreover, arrests are ongoing. 

The only acquittal to date from the so-called journalistic cases on freedom of speech is mine. However, it is still being contested by the prosecutor’s office in the Supreme Court. 

Ninety-nine percent of the media continue to call all these people ‘terrorists’, ‘separatists’, and ‘enemies of the people’, even though almost none of them have yet received a verdict in court.”

Volkov’s words lay bare the true nature of the allegations made against Kirill Vyshinsky as well as the countless other journalists and citizens of Ukraine that have fallen victim to the heavy hand of Ukrainian authorities.

Under Fire from Ukraine and Misperceived by the West, The People of the DPR Share Their Stories

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DPR Peoples Militia Platoon Commander Ryka.  Photo | Eva Bartlett

October 16, 2019, Mint Press News

On September 2, I left the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don via minibus heading northwest to the border of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and on into Donetsk. For my first few days there, I rented an inexpensive apartment in the heart of the city. Walking on a long tree-lined and cafe-filled pedestrian walkway, life seemed normal. But I would soon find that for the people living in Donetsk, it is anything but. 

I passed a cafe where a former DPR leader and military commander, Alexander Zakharchenko, was assassinated by a remotely detonated bomb in August 2018. He was beloved, and as I stood there, two women stopped to pay respects and pray.

Memorial to former DPR leader, and a former military commander, Alexander Zakharchenko who was assassinated in 2018

Days later, at a transit hub in Donetsk, I met with Alexey Karpushev, a resident of the northern city of Gorlovka, an area hard-hit by Ukrainian bombing, and whose outskirts continue to be shelled near-daily.

A long line of mostly students extended around the corner waiting for the next available minibus to Gorlovka. After an hour of waiting, the minibus arrived and we boarded for the bumpy ride north.

Alexey deposited me at a hotel, a rambling Soviet-era structure just off a pedestrian area that during the evenings becomes crowded with families, lovers and friends strolling, and children bicycling.

In the morning he took me to a central park where a chess tournament was taking place. For the next five hours, fourteen adults and eight children played chess. A hundred meters away, an old but functioning children’s park with small amusement rides attracts more kids as the morning morphs into the afternoon.

Chess in a central Gorlovka park. Four years prior, all of Gorlovka was repeatedly targeted by Ukrainian missile fire.JPG

In the tranquility and normalcy, it was hard to believe that Gorvloka’s central areas were terrorized by Ukrainian-fired bombs just a few years prior. “Summer 2016 was last time city center was bombed,” Alexey would tell me later. “We still hear the shelling, but it’s on the outskirts. People are sniped there, too.”

Gorlovka was hardest hit in 2014, especially on July 27, when the center was rocked by Ukrainian-fired Grad and Uragan missiles from morning to evening. After the dust settled and the critically-injured had succumbed to their wounds, at least 30 were dead, including five children, Alexey tells me. The day came to be known as Bloody Sunday.

Alexsey and I walked around the city, where he showed me the Bloody Sunday sites. We passed a busy bus stop on a busy street where residents were amassed waiting for their buses. This bus stop was one of the Bloody Sunday sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Alexey told me:

The largest number of victims happened near this bus stop. There were mainly babushkas (grandmothers) here, selling flowers and vegetables. They came under Grad strikes and they died.”

Hero Square, not far away, also came under fire: “There was mainly youth there, students. Several people died from the blasts, including the ‘Madonna of Gorlovka’, Kristina Zhuk, with her infant daughter Kira.” CONTINUE READING

DPR Frontline Village Resident Question to West: “Why do you support (Ukrainian) Nazis?”

 

In Krutaya Balka, a village north of Donetsk which is routinely attacked by Ukrainian forces with shelling and heavy machine gun fire, I meet a man standing outside his home, where he lives with his wife, roughly 600 metres from the front line.
 
To my question about where his home has been damaged he laughs, “Many times. Which house hasn’t been? The roof, the wall… from mortar fire and heavy machine gun fire.”
 
He replies are in line with the others I’ve spoken with: things got worse after Zelensky became president; the attacks are daily; where would he leave to? He is in favour of joining Russia.
 
“We should go to Ukraine, which damaged my house? I’m Russian, this is Russian land. Everyone who knows history knows this. Of course I want to join Russia! In earlier times, before the war, I didn’t care either way. But after all Ukraine did what it has done, absolutely I want to be a part of Russia. I can’t imagine being back in Ukraine. Anyway, most of the people here would be killed as ‘separatists’. A known Ukrainian politician (Boris Filatov) said: ‘At the beginning, give them what they want, later hang them.’

CONTINUE READING

Donbass Defender: “Those who support Ukraine should come talk with civilians, to understand how much they suffer”

North of Donetsk, I visit Krutaya Balka village, on the outskirts of Yasinovataya, another heavily hit area.

The village is divided into two parts: one part exposed on the front-line, we can’t go there, the road leading to it is under sniper fire; the other half of the village is slightly further away, and has 15 people still living there, again mostly elderly.

Just off a road prone to Ukrainian sniping, I interview Ryka, the young-looking DPR Platoon Commander who has accompanied me here.

CONTINUE READING

DPR Older Couple: “the Ukrainian side shoots whenever they want; no one holds them accountable”

 

When in the Donetsk People’s Republic and visiting the Mine 6-7 area, I saw a school whose basement is now used as a shelter.

There, I met an elderly couple who have been living in that dank, stinking, basement for six years, their home destroyed.

Outside the battered school, Dmitry commented: “You see, each dot on the wall is from shrapnel. Of course there were direct hits also.” One of the direct hits is a hole in the roof of the building.

In the basement a musty stink overwhelmed.

Sitting in one corner of the paint-chipped, barebones, room, what possessions they were able to salvage piled near them, an older couple explained that their house was destroyed by two direct hits with heavy artillery, and that their only hope is to get Russian passports, that this will somehow end the war.

They agreed to talk but didn’t want to have their faces filmed.
 

“Before the ceasefire, when Ukraine would shell, the DPR military would respond and the Ukrainian side would be stop shooting for a couple of weeks, because they were afraid. Now, we are in a ceasefire, the Ukrainian side shoots whenever they want and no one holds them accountable.”

RELATED:

Civilians Remain in Bombed & Machine-Gunned Frontline DPR Village, Facing Near-Daily Ukrainian Attacks

 

In Krutaya Balka, a frontline village north of Donetsk and just outside of Yasinovataya, 15 people (mostly elderly) remain, under near-daily Ukrainian shelling & heavy machine gun fire.

I spoke with those I could find at home while I was there. All told me they were constantly being assaulted by Ukrainian forces, by heavy machine gun fire and shelling.

The machine gun fire not only punctures the walls but also can set fire to the roof, thus the whole house.

All said they had no where to go, so they stay, living in hell in an area otherwise quite lovely. Same as I heard in Zaitsevo, further north in the Donetsk People’s Republic.

This video is the first of a few I’ll upload from Krutaya Balka, letting the civilians speak about what corporate owned media will not.

CONTINUE READING

From Frontline Village of Krutaya Balka, Where Residents Under Constant Ukrainian Machine Gun Fire, Sniping, Bombing

IMG_1258

The other day I went to Krutaya Balka, a frontline village N of Donetsk and just outside of Yasinovataya. Around 15 people (mostly elderly) remain in this village, under Ukrainian shelling & heavy machine gun fire.

I spoke with those I could find at home while I was there. All told me they were constantly being assaulted by Ukrainian forces) by heavy machine gun fire and shelling. The machine gun fire not only punctures the walls but also can set fire to the roof, thus the whole house.

All said they had no where to go, so they stay, living in hell in an area otherwise quite lovely. Same as I heard in Zaitsevo, further north in the Donetsk People’s Republic.

The man in the photo (walking down the lane) allowed me to interview & film him, but without including his face because every day he has to walk across an extremely dangerous area to reach his home. He said he had already been shot in the leg by a Ukrainian sniper crossing in that area. But what to do? Where to go? So he daily faces death, walking without any sort of body armour.

CONTINUE READING