Agent of Influence & National Security Demolisher: The SBU in Kherson Grabbed a Russian Language Teacher

On August 20th, the Kherson SBU detained a 52-year-old Russian language teacher, Tatiyana Kuzmich. The press service of the SBU reported that the woman in 2015 was recruited by the FSB during her trip to Crimea, after which she collected and transmitted to the Russian special services some information about military facilities in Ukraine and employees of the SBU.

During the search, as usual, they seized computer equipment and, of course, Russian rubles (100-ruble bills are visible in the photo), which, apparently, are supposed to prove her cooperation with the special services of the Russian Federation.

If Russian, then a spy

As is usually the case with all “terrorists” and “separatists”, Tatiyana Kuzmich was detained under article 208 of the Criminal Procedure Code (during the commission of a crime), although there is no information that she directly transmitted any information at the time when the SBU officers came to her for a search. This is a standard technique used in political cases to intimidate people, since being detained with one’s face on the floor by the capture group and sent to a temporary detention facility before trial is psychologically quite different from arriving at court with a pre-sent summons and a pre-hired lawyer.

So, the teacher was handed a suspicion of committing a criminal offence under part 1 of article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (state treason). This is a particularly serious article (up to 15 years of imprisonment), and for all actions that fall under it, including search and detention, the investigator can only carry them out in the presence of a lawyer. This is never done, and investigating judges prefer to turn a blind eye to such violations. Moreover, free state lawyers, who are usually called after detention to the SBU office just to wave around the protocol, do not write complaints about this. By the way, early in the morning on August 21st, the speaker of the Kherson regional prosecutor’s office wrote on Facebook that a suspicion was handed to a resident of Kherson, who “since 2017 handed over materials for carrying out subversive work in the region and Ukraine as a whole”. If she was recruited in 2015 and only started performing the task in 2017, what did she do for 2 years? But let’s sort things out in order.

Tatiyana Kuzmich is not just a Russian language and literature teacher with many years of teaching experience in various schools in Kherson. She is a candidate of pedagogical sciences, co-author of a textbook on Russian language for 8th and 9th grades of Ukrainian secondary schools that teach in the Russian language (2008), head of the scientific-methodological laboratory for managing educational institutions of the communal higher educational institution “Kherson Academy of Continuing Education” of the Kherson Regional Council, and head of the public organisation “‘Rusich’ Russian National Community”.

For many years, Tatiyana Kuzmich held events for schoolchildren, students, teachers, and public figures in Ukraine, Russia, as well as on the territory of the Crimean Peninsula. The “Pushkin Beauty” contest, the united cultural project “Slavic Land”, and the celebration of Russian national holidays are just a few of the things that the teacher and scientist did. Even before Maidan and the armed conflict in Donbass, she, as the head of the Russian community of Kherson and collaborated with the Russian Consulate General in Odessa, the Rossotrudnichestvo office, as well as the “Russian Unity” and “Russian World” foundations. I.e., everything that all the leaders of national public organisations do – Jews, Armenians, Poles, Greeks, Germans, and many others. Nobody, except Russians, is persecuted in Ukraine for receiving cultural and educational grants from the state structures of “mother” states.

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Without the right to choose

On August 21st, the day after the arrest, the investigating judge Oksana Chernysh elected for Tatiyana Kuzmich a measure of restraint in the form of detention until October 9th 2020, and the teacher went to the pre-trial detention centre as a criminal.

The Kherson Prosecutor’s office reported that a bail of more than 500,000 hryvnia had been set for the suspect. The average salary in Kherson is about 10,000 hryvnia. We do not know what property the teacher may have in order for her to be assigned such a huge amount of bail. However, there is judicial practice in such cases, when Odessa political prisoners Evgeny Mefedov and Sergey Dolzhenkov paid 150,000 hryvnia of bail, and Kiev political prisoner Oleg Sagan – in total 80,000 hryvnia. Perhaps a question for a lawyer.

According to journalists who were present in the courtroom, Prosecutor Bondar requested that the hearing be held behind closed doors, referring to the fact that the disclosure of a number of case materials may harm the investigation and SBU employees. The prosecutor’s behaviour is clear: the attention of the media and international human rights defenders often does not allow the court to make illegal decisions in politically motivated cases, so it is advantageous for the prosecution to keep everything closed.

For example, in the similarly closed case of Kharkov political prisoner Mekhti Logunov, even representatives of the UN OHCHR and the OSCE mission were not allowed in the hearing room. Thus, the public does not even know what exactly the 85-year-old was sentenced to 12 years in prison for. Only the so-called exchange of detained persons with the L/DPR saved him from certain death in prison. The Prosecutor’s Office obviously wanted to do the same thing with the case of Tatiyana Kuzmich.

But why did lawyer Irina Kovaleva support the prosecutor’s request? On September 1st, we contacted Irina by email. She replied that at the moment she is not a defender of Tatiyana Kuzmich, but represented her interests, as a free state lawyer, exclusively during her detention.

However, the website “Judicial Power of Ukraine” shows us that on August 25th an appeal was filed against a measure of restraint in the case of Tatiyana Kuzmich (consideration is scheduled for September 23rd), where her lawyer is also indicated as Irina Kovaleva.

Since the case was closed at the joint request of the prosecutor and the lawyer, it is not possible to get acquainted with the decisions on it on the specified website. But you can do something else. There is a so-called electronic system of automatic distribution of judges, where the robot randomly selects judges for each case in order to avoid all sorts of corruption violations and other such things.

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But experience shows that the courts have found a way to deal with a soulless robot that can neither be bought nor terrorised. In the case of political prisoner Dariya Mastikasheva, the auto distribution of the Krasnogvardeysky district court of Dnepropetrovsk chose three judges from three available ones. Magically, it was on the day of auto-distribution that all the other judges found themselves without specialisation to deal with criminal cases. The next day, everyone had such a specialisation with the wave of a magic wand.

Thus, on August 25th, the Court of Appeal of the Kherson region similarly selected three judges from three available ones, namely Litvinenko, Batrak, and Zaychenko. Other judges who usually consider criminal cases (Kalinina, Kalinichenko, Kolomoets, and Korovayko) suddenly lost their specialisation. However, on August 15th and August 19th (6 days before the described case), judges Kalinina, Kalinichenko, and Kolomoets had the necessary specialisation, and they held hearings (Korovayko is on vacation). On 31.08 (5 days later) they all have, including Korovayko, who has returned from vacation, a specialisation anew and they again hold court hearings.

Under such circumstances, one can bet that at the end of September, the measure of restraint for Tatiyana Kuzmich will remain unchanged.

FSB agents and agents of influence

What kind of facts did the prosecutor cite for a person to be sent to a pre-trial detention centre with a disproportionate bail? According to our information, Tatiyana Kuzmich is suspected specifically being recruited during a trip to Crimea by a certain FSB officer named Yu. Didenko in approximately 2012-2013 (the press service of the SBU writes that it was in 2015 – before Maidan and the beginning of the armed conflict). After that, the woman allegedly started transmitting to him “information about the political, socio-economic, cultural, and educational situation in the region, regarding the president of Ukraine, his external and internal political activities, his environment, the ‘Servants of the People‘ party, employees of the Kherson regional state administration, the mayor’s office, people’s deputies, law enforcement officers, military personnel and public figures, and employees of the Security Service and Foreign Intelligence Service, who came to her attention, for the use of the FSB in subversive activities.”

How such information can get “into the field of view” of a Russian language and literature teacher remains a mystery, but if the process is not made open after the investigation, it will remain like that.

By the way, the proof of involvement in the FSB case was “Yandex”, the mail service of which the suspect allegedly used to send the specified information. We also went through all this, for example, in the case of political prisoner Stanislav Ezhov, who sent a “state secret” (eventually it turned out that there was no state secret) to the “Yandex” mail inbox of “Vasilisa the Wise”. Since it’s “Yandex”, it must be the FSB…

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But which Yu. Didenko? A couple of simple logical deductions – and it turns out that this is not a regular employee of the FSB, but from July 2011 to November 2014 he was the consul of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Odessa and Deputy Head of the Representative Office of “Rossotrudnichestvo” in Ukraine. Of course, the head of the Russian community of Kherson, who held a lot of cultural events, was familiar with him. It can’t be otherwise.

But what does the FSB have to do with it? Yury Didenko has been working at “Rossotrudnichestvo” in various positions since 2009. Since 2014, he has been an assistant to the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Crimea – permanent representative of the Republic of Crimea to the President of the Russian Federation, and since 2020 – Deputy Head of the “Risk Assessment and Prevention of Emergencies” 1st research centre of the federal state budgetary institution “all-Russian Research Institute for Civil Defence and Emergency Situations of the Russian Emergencies Ministry”. Where the information came from that he is a career FSB officer, no one knows.

But this is not the most mysterious thing in the case of Tatiyana Kuzmich. According to the results of the examination of the information transmitted by her (how could the examination be carried out if there is a state secret?), the I. F. Kuras Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies determined that the teacher is an “agent of influence of the Russian Federation”. I immediately remember how, after a 14-hour search of the apartment of journalist Vladimir Skachko, the same expert wrote: “He was guided by the narratives and markers of Russian propaganda”. Nothing is clear, but very scary.

I would like to know if the institute’s employees are “agents of influence of the Russian Federation”, since the institution’s website states: “The Institute’s researchers maintain extensive contacts with research and educational institutions in the United Kingdom, Israel, Italy, Canada, Germany, Poland, Russia, the US, and France, and carry out common international research projects.”

As for the powers of the institute: in its charter, one of the activities is the implementation of scientific expertise. And what exactly is indicated in the section of the site called “areas of activity”: “examination of draft laws and state and non-state development programs in various spheres of public life”. What does an agent of influence have to do with it, you ask?

And we will answer that soon as we will definitely find out everything.

Pavel Volkov

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