Dmitry Vasilets: In Prison Every Day Began with the Question: “Are You Still Alive?”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


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On February 21st, the Court of Appeal of Kiev allowed the journalists Dmitry Vasilets and Evgeny Timonin – accused of assisting terrorists and separatism – to go home directly from the courtroom. The measure of restraint was changed to house arrest for two months with the obligatory wearing of an electronic bracelet. Also, the sentence was cancelled and the case was sent for new consideration in the court of first instance.

The following day after being released from custody “Strana” met with Dmitry Vasilets. First of all we looked at his foot.

And where is the bracelet?

“They ran out, as I was told,” answered Vasilets.

Dmitry met us in his apartment, where he lives together with his wife Tanya. This is a sleepy area, almost a suburb of Kiev. It’s a small, cozy dwelling on the first floor of an old high-rise building. Inside there is an unpretentious interior, old furniture, light green wallpaper, and on the sofa — a checkered plaid in the colour of the walls. On the wide table directly in the living room tea already awaits us.

Dima looks vigorous. His face radiates a good nature, light blue eyes look confidently and directly. He wears a grey vest with a V-shaped cut, and over the top — a black jacket. He admits that he missed classic clothes: in the two years spent in the pre-trial detention center he was tired of a sports attire.

“Although it suited me. I looked like an ordinary real street mugger,” jokes Vasilets.

How does it feel to be free?

“If to be honest, I still haven’t fully realised what happened. I understood that the SBU can stage some mean trick at the last minute.”

What kind of mean trick?

“They could behave like they did with Evgeny Mefedov (the citizen of Russia accused in the case of events in Odessa on May 2nd, 2014). The court decided to release him under house arrest, like me now. But the SBU gave him new charges, directly in the courtroom, and took him back to the pre-trial detention center. Considering the resonance surrounding my case, they could’ve easily done something similar. That’s why I waited for a dirty trick to the last. I didn’t allow myself to feel that I had been released. I am still on alert. It’s too early to relax.”

Now Vasilets is under house arrest — he has no right to leave the limits of his apartment. Although the electronic bracelet was put on Dmitry, he hasn’t violated the measure of restraint: he says that law enforcement authorities can come at any time and check if he is where he should be, or to survey him from a car near the entrance.

Memories of being locked up in a pre-trial detention center are still fresh in Dmitry’s memory, and he willingly tells “Strana” how every life is in a Ukrainian prison.

“I sat in two pre-trial detention centers — in Zhytomyr and in Kiev. And they are very different.”

How do the conditions of the Kiev pre-trial detention center differ from the Zhytomyr one?

“At first in Zhytomyr I spent two winters in general without heating. It happened that searches in cells were carried out twice a day. They searched for phones based on rumours. They even took away the iron spoons that I had been given — meaning that allegedly I could use them as a blade. But in Zhytomyr I had only two neighbours, one of them smoked, and I taught him to smoke near the ventilation shaft in the toilet.”

Describe the pre-trial detention center in Kiev.

“In Kiev the cell was much warmer, but because of this there were a lot of cockroaches, they ran around in whole herds. It is impossible to get rid of them, sometimes I was too afraid to fall asleep. And also in Kiev there were 15 people in the cell, and the majority of them smoked. The room for me, a non-smoker, turned into a gas chamber. My sense of smell became completely neutralised, it would be good if they had non-smoking and smoking cells. By the way, throw the idea to Denis Chernyshov, the deputy minister of justice who supervises the penal system. It doesn’t cost anything for them, while people in the pre-trial detention center won’t ruin their health.”

Let’s start anew — from the Zhytomyr pre-trial detention center. What was your usual day like here?

“In the pre-trial detention center every day begins with the question: ‘Are you still alive?’. Verification happens at 7am. But it is necessary to understand that my day cardinally differed from the day of any other prisoner.”

How so?

“Well, the ordinary prisoner wakes up at approximately 10am. Because even if verification happens 7am, after this it is perfectly possible to sleep further. But, by the way, in the punishment cell that I was periodically put in for ‘good behavior’, everything is more strict. There, at 5am, the gang in blue enters and lifts and folds the bed — it is attached to a wall so after you can’t continue to sleep.”

And what does the ordinary cell in a pre-trial detention look like?

“The cell is about 12 sq.m, taking into account the plank beds, a toilet, and a small little table. And a lattice on the window, through which daylight isn’t visible.”

Let’s return to the daily routine. For example, the ordinary prisoner wakes up — then what?

“Then it is toilet, washing, food, and the TV is turned on. And it is switched off only when it’s bedtime — i.e., at about 2am.”

Really, a TV? In a pre-trial detention center a prisoner is allowed to have a TV in the cell?

“Yes, if the administration allows it. But only under the condition that it was given from outside – and with all checks that it wasn’t stolen. Or if in the cell it was left behind by the previous prisoner.”

You’ll tell me next that there are plasma TVs in the pre-trial detention center…

“Yes, generally there are some. In my cell, for example, there was a plasma. One good person sent one.”

And phones?

“Phones are forbidden.”

An agreement can’t be reached?

“Well, let’s just say that in a pre-trial detention center they are forbidden.”

Well, let’s return to your daily routine. How did it differ from other prisoners’?

“For me it was more strict. I got up somewhere around 9am, and immediately it was walk time. In the court yard of 6х6 meters with gymnastic bars and a horizontal bar. With an iron lattice and a grid over the head. But nevertheless, the sun could shine through it. Prisoners were taken there one cell at a time, and as my cellmates in 99% of cases preferred to remain in the cell, usually I walked alone. Although, honestly, I don’t understand how people in a pre-trial detention center cannot have the desire to breathe fresh air and to do sport. But it happened that they could not leave the cell for months. I think that this is because of the TV. Although under the law every prisoner has the right to an hour of walking every day.”

And what happened after walking?

“At around 11-12am I watched the news about what is happening in the world. From 12 to 5pm I have a working day. I decided to use the time in the pre-trial detention center to my advantage. As a journalist and businessman I thought up for myself a lot of affairs. In the evenings I wrote in my daily log tasks for the next day. I wrote specifications for my future IT projects, including mobile applications, blogs, and, by the way, I wrote a book — how in general such a life came to me. But they are not memoirs, but rather instructions. If to be brief — I described there why I was jailed and explained what to do in order to not be jailed anymore.”

And were you forced to do socially-useful labor?

“Under the law, while you are in a pre-trial detention center and haven’t yet been convicted, they have no right to force you to work. But if you were already sent to prison to serve a sentence, there is obligatory work at plants, factories, and so on.”

I.e., in fact, after the morning walk you had free time up to 5pm?

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“In the pre-trial detention center all your time is free in general.”

And what about food? Describe your prison menu.

“There are no common dining rooms, the food is brought to the cell and handed over through the window in the door. For breakfast I was brought a loaf of white broad, and at 1pm they brought something similar to soup.”

What, and this is all the food in the day?

“The rest was sent to me in parcels by relatives and people who simply weren’t indifferent. By the way, in the pre-trial detention center they didn’t give anything to drink. The only water came from the tap. If you want to ruin your health, then drink it. I was lucky, good people sent me bottled water. Thanks to this I, after all, didn’t fall ill with any kidney stones.”

Vasilets in general looks surprisingly vigorous and healthy. If one didn’t know that he had spent the last two years of his life in a pre-trial detention center, one wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at him. Dmitry says this himself — all of this is thanks to daily sports activities.

Were you and Evgeny Timonin sat in different cells?

“Under the law we had no right to be in the same cell. Evgeny sat in a single cell, but he wanted it this way.”

He wanted solitary confinement?

“Yes. He had a difficult psychological state, he didn’t get on with his cellmates, and the administration at his request transferred him to a single cell. Evgeny read a lot there, I gave him books, and when I had the opportunity, also a TV. He rarely went outside to walk.”

Psychologically speaking, isn’t it more difficult to sit in solitary confinement than with cellmates?

“For me, in any case, it was simpler with people. But here a lot of things still depend on who is put in the same cell as you. If nearby there is a thick skull, who isn’t even able to play chess…”

And you were lucky when it came to cellmates?

“Not really. There in general wasn’t anything to talk to them about, but sometimes interesting people were put in my cell, but this was rare.”

And who were these people, why were they put in a pre-trial detention center?

“For murder, theft, double murder … Such are these neighbors. Although actually — they are ordinary people. We interacted minimally. They didn’t bother me, and I didn’t bother them.”

You were put through initiation?

“You know, no. I made it immediately clear that such a thing won’t work with me. Otherwise, in such places you won’t survive. If you are a normal and adequate person and can stand up for yourself — I, after all, have nine years of boxing experience, so just give me a reason … It was I, on the contrary, who tried to restrain myself from beating anyone up. Because if I did so then I could receive another article [charges – ed]. And people there are mostly sickly, and have weak health, so I didn’t risk it.”

What, you didn’t even take part in a fight in the pre-trial detention center?

“Never. There were occasions, but it didn’t reach fights. How to explain it … There is unique communication between prisoners. And as soon as they learned who I am, all questions immediately disappeared and conflictual situations were solved peacefully, by themselves.”

And why weren’t you touched?

“I am a political prisoner. There is special behavior towards political prisoners like me. After all, political prisoners suffer for their beliefs, for something human. It is the opposition who is put in prison, and not pro-government deputies from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko. That’s why among prisoners it is considered that if you are a political prisoner, you are worthy of respect. In many respects it is thanks to this that I had no issues in the pre-trial detention center, nobody looked at me sideways. And I didn’t even need to beat anyone up. If to be honest, I didn’t meet anyone in the pre-trial detention center who don’t hate these authorities. Moreover, both among prisoners and among employees. When I was released my cellmates purely in a human way told me: ‘We hope that you don’t have to come back here’.”

What is the hierarchy in prison like?

“In any prison there are big fishes — they are the main ones. And you know, these people helped me in many respects. And I, as a journalist, have a rule — don’t do any harm. I don’t want to expose them, describing what they get up to there. I will only say that the majority of prisoners are adequate, normal people who in 80% of cases sit in jail in general for nothing, who were simply set-up. Either because they were drunk, by accident, or because of personal conflicts with police officers, the prosecutor or the judge. Many for foolishness or for trifles — one guy stole an aluminium basin in order to buy a beer bottle. And it happens that a bunch of people have a drunken fight and someone dies. Then 10 people who participated in the fight are found by the police, and are told: if you blame these five people — well, we just don’t like their faces, so you are free to leave; if no — then you will all be jailed. Very often the investigators via blackmail force to give false testimonies against those who refuse to do this. And those who gave false testimonies are released, while honest and principled guys are put in jail. And the police puts a cross in the ‘crime detection’ column. Our justice system is in many respects built precisely on such blackmail.”

Dmitry knows what he is talking about — he faced it when the SBU forced him to give false testimonies against Zhan Novosseltsev, Aleksey Kutepov, and Andrey Pavlovsky, and the leadership of “Channel 17” in exchange for freedom.

“If I understand correctly, the SBU had the task to shut down the leadership of ‘Channel 17’ for separatism, and they needed someone to denounce them. After a conversation with the investigator of the SBU Sergey Fedorenko, who suggested to me to give false testimonies, I wrote an open letter to ‘Channel 17’, who published it. And the SBU’s plan failed.”

“Channel 17” was closed as a result anyway.

“Yes, in two weeks the SBU changed tactics and simply employed titushky so that they destroyed the studio of ‘Channel 17’, intimidated management, and as a result the channel was closed anyway.”

So it turns out that your heroism didn’t rescue the situation.

“It’s not heroism. Any normal person would behave in the same way. And this was justified, I would behave in the same way even now. Although after this case the SBU, to put it mildly, strongly took offense from me. Just after this I started being regularly put in the punishment cell. According to their narrative, they allegedly found a phone on me. And if initially I sat in a rather warm cell, then after I refused to give testimonies against ‘Channel 17’ I was transferred to a special place. This was the coldest cell in the entire prison, here there was a wiretap and around-the-clock video surveillance. And the investigator already communicated with me in a different way.”


“Earlier he tried be friendly with me. He brought me tea, removed my handcuffs. He provoked the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ in me so that I, as his hostage, felt gratitude and sympathy towards him. But after this case he communicated with me only according to instructions. We sat there like school students, in general they didn’t talk to me without the presence of a lawyer. Although we appealed for the removal of this investigator, but the court didn’t satisfy it. I understand it as being exactly he, Sergey Fedorenko, who was ordered by Kiev to fabricate a case against us. And the prosecutor Lina Romanenko. By the way, behind the fabrication of a case against the journalist Vasily Muravitsky stand the same persons, this same investigative department of the Zhytomyr SBU and this same prosecutor.”

In many cases the investigators allow themselves to use physical abuse towards the suspects…

“No, my case was completely different. I, after all, am a more or less public person. They simply couldn’t afford to do something scandalous. Although they weren’t ashamed to beat up and keep other prisoners in any place. Plus, good lawyers appeared for me. However, before this we changed many lawyers because our views concerning the line of defence didn’t coincide. Initially, we were proposed to partially admit our guilt, trying to reach a compromise with the SBU, and Timonin and I didn’t agree with this. Then a new group of lawyers came into the case, some of them then left for various reasons, from all of them only Svetlana Novitskaya remained in Zhytomyr.”

But then you refused her services too — because of the story concerning the prisoner exchange. Tell us, what happened back then? At first the media wrote that you allegedly agreed to an exchange, and then changed your mind. Clear this up, please.

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“We were persuaded by everyone to opt for an exchange, including by this same investigator of the SBU Fedorenko. He proposed an exchange to us for the first time literally a few weeks after the open letter on ‘Channel 17’, approximately in March, 2016.”

And should there have been an exchange back then?

“I understand that it was assumed. And the investigator hoped that we will agree, and that he will receive a star on his epaulettes. But I told him to shove it. Then this case was softly transferred to court, and it is the prosecutor who tried to persuade us through lawyers. We were informed that allegedly we were already on lists for an exchange of prisoners, although we didn’t give any consent for this. Just at this moment, somewhere at the end of 2016, the new group of lawyers, including Novitskaya came into the case. Novitskaya persuaded me to write an appeal to a human rights organisation in order to learn what terms of an exchange they can offer: maybe a not-guilty verdict, maybe the closing of the case? I tried to find out whether it will be an official or unofficial statement, so that it wasn’t interpreted as me allegedly already agreeing to everything. The lawyer told me that it will be unofficial, and that it is just to understand the conditions.”

And what was the result?

“Nobody responded with any terms. At some point the prosecutor along with SBU employees came to us in the pre-trial detention center and said: you can leave right now, literally in three-four days. If you abandoned the appeal and write a request for pardon, we will exchange you. But you will be able to then half a year later quietly return from the so-called ‘DPR’ to Ukraine and live here quietly, we won’t come after you.”

And what was the sense in them achieving your exchange if they directly stated that they are not against you later returning to Ukraine?

“They simply wanted to close the case as soon as possible and to decline all responsibility. Abandoning the appeal assumed that we admit our guilt.”

Did you refuse their proposal?

“Yes, categorically. Timonin, by the way, in this situation behaved like a man. We were given five minutes to discuss all of this alone. He said: ‘Dmitry, we were jailed together, and we will leave together. Whatever you decide to do is what will happen. If you say that we’ll opt for on an exchange, then I will agree. If you don’t want to, then I won’t opt for an exchange alone’. I told the prosecutor: ‘We refuse the offer’. And they said to us — everything has already been decided, you were already included in the lists …”

And on what basis were you included there? On the basis of the statement that you wrote upon the advice of the lawyer?

“Honestly — I don’t know. The request that I wrote isn’t a document, it’s unlikely that we could be included somewhere on its basis. Most likely, the issue was being decided somewhere above, without us.”

If everything was already decided for you, then why did they need your consent?

“A formality. Maybe they were recording us. It’s not clear. After this we had a videoconference from the Court of Appeal, and it is precisely during this court session that Timonin and I signed documents for the refusal of an exchange. Despite this, Novitskaya directly at a hearing persuaded us to nevertheless agree to an exchange.”

And why did they, as your lawyers, need this?

“I don’t know. They had their own vision of the situation. Also Novitskaya had some personal conflict with the new lawyers – Nataliya Voznyuk and Elena Lyoshenko, who by then were involved in this case. Perhaps this played a role. But Evgeny and I decided how we decided. In court we again refused an exchange in front of the whole country, and explained that this, in essence, is human trafficking. How can citizens of Ukraine be exchanged for citizens of Ukraine? It would seem that in court we burned all bridges. But the next day after the appeal a delegation from the SBU, already without the prosecutor, came to us in the pre-trial detention center. Now they wanted to incline at least one of us to an exchange. They summoned Timonin – they thought that it would be simpler to incline him.”

And this isn’t the case?

“If Timonin and I agreed on something, he would stick to it, however difficult it may be for him. SBU employees during 90 minutes tried to persuade him, but they couldn’t obtain anything from him except the words ‘it will be how Vasilets says it will be, I won’t go anywhere without him’. Then they summoned me. The first deputy head of the Zhytomyr SBU for two-three hours tried to persuade me to opt for an exchange. He said that I can go right now without any conditions to the line of differentiation [Donbass – ed]. In a private order.”

But this is, in fact, kidnapping.

“Exactly. Lawfully they couldn’t take me somewhere from the pre-trial detention center, because for this they needed a court decision at minimum. I perfectly understood that it was a setup. They could quietly bump me off somewhere, and then present it as an escape. I said that I needed some time to think it through, but in reality I informed my lawyers about this – the new ones — Lyoshenko and Voznyuk. I refused the services of Novitskaya already at that session of the Court of Appeal”

Did the story with the exchange end on this?

“Later Novitskaya tried again to persuade Timonin when she understood that it is senseless to discuss this question with me. But Evgeny didn’t change his point of view, which I have huge respect for. Even the SBU couldn’t break him, although they offered freedom in exchange for a testimony against me. We understood that the story with an exchange is beautiful bonuses for the political devils in power, when patriots of Ukraine are dressed up as separatists by the so-called ‘media’, which thus wanted to raise their viewership.”

And you consider yourself to be a patriot of Ukraine?

“Of course. Otherwise I, probably, would have immediately opted for an exchange.”

What, in your opinion, played a key role in your release from the pre-trial detention center?

“The fact that the best lawyers of Ukraine were involved in my case became a turning point. Nothing would be achieved without the new group of lawyers, which was headed by Andrey Portnov. I am madly grateful to Elena Lyoshenko and Natalia Voznyuk. Also, help came from the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Center for Freedom of speech, the UN, OSCE, and a number of really professional bloggers and journalists, including employees of your publication.”

Is there something that in everyday life reminds your about the imprisonment?

“He chronically doesn’t turn off the light in rooms,” responded Tanya on behalf of Dmitry. She came into the living room, and brought us pancakes with cottage cheese and sour cream. “You, probably, got hungry,” she said – we had been speaking for nearly two hours.

Vasilets laughed.

“In the pre-trial detention center there aren’t any switches in general. There they switch on and off the lights centrally. Also I start to get used to knives again. I don’t eat with a fork, only a spoon. And also it happens that I approach the door of the room and wait until someone opens it. In the pre-trial detention center it’s like that — all doors are without handles, only supervisors can open them when you are taken somewhere.”

Tanya and Dmitry exchange glances and again laugh. The SBU did everything to complicate his life in the pre-trial detention center. They were allowed to meet each other only once in 2 years of imprisonment. They saw each other at court sessions, for a moment, through the lattice. It is visible that they missed each other. “In the pre-trial detention center I missed communicating with my relatives most of all,” said Dmitry.

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What do you plan to do in the future?

“Now I try to understand together with lawyers approximately how much time is needed so that this falsified case is definitively dismantled in court. I feel that not long is left. As for work, I have drafts of certain projects that I made in prison, now I need to test them in reality. Now I would like to first of all be engaged in human rights activity — the release of political prisoners. In reality there are thousands of such people like me. It’s just that nobody knows about them. I was lucky that adequate media, including yours, switched on to our case, that bloggers joined it, and thus our story became resonant.”

Besides you, were there other unknown political prisoners in the pre-trial detention center? Can you please speak about them.

“Yes, some of them were even with me in the same cell. There is one wild example: my cellmate Andrey Dezhin called his father who lives in Debaltsevo. Andrey worked at the railroad, and told his father: ‘Just imagine, I saw how many tanks arrived here!’. SBU employees took this phone conversation and jailed him for assisting terrorism, as if he leaked confidential data.”

Do you keep in contact with one more journalist political prisoner Vasily Muravitsky, who is accused of treason?

“Of course. We are well acquainted. When he was detained, initially the SBU foolishly put him in my cell in the Zhytomyr pre-trial detention center. A certain local supervisor decided — ‘Oh, it’s a journalist, so let’s put him with another journalist’. Probably, the SBU due to negligence didn’t give him any instructions, and the local law enforcement bodies were incompetent.”

How did Muravitsky comport himself?

“Muravitsky’s wife had just given birth, and they detained him the next day directly in the maternity hospital. SBU employees pressured him morally so much so that it already looks grave, they will give him 15 years, and in the pre-trial detention center he in general can be killed as a traitor to the Motherland. I passed through this myself, I understand what this emotional and psychological pressure is. When he came into our cell he whispered his words. He was shocked. We immediately gave him tea to drink and convinced him that nobody will touch him in here. And the next day he had to give evidence — they persuaded him to admit his guilt on camera, and in exchange they promised to bring him to meet his wife in the maternity hospital and to see his son. I explained to him just who these beasts are, how they work, why they are so tender, why they remove the handcuffs and bring a little cup of tea carry so that he plays by their rules, and how he should communicate with them. After all, it’s not the SBU — it is an organised criminal group, their name is just spelt wrongly. Vasily has three articles [charges – ed], from 8 to 15 years — if he recognised one of them, then he wouldn’t see his son for another 8 years.”

And what happened afterwards?

“On the next day joyful SBU employees popped up, they had already installed the camera, and brought their little cup of tea. And Vasily said: ‘Guys, today I, for some reason, am not in the mood. Give me guarantees, invite my lawyer. Leave only one soft article on me, and then I will speak on camera …’ And here the SBU employees understood that they had already heard this before. Further, they had such dialogue: ‘And are you with Vasilets in the same cell by coincidence?’, he answered — ‘Well, yes,’ and the SBU employees said: ‘f*ck’. After this Muravitsky was immediately removed from my cell. And the SBU again ‘incidentally’ found a phone on me and sent me to the punishment cell.”

Do you already have an idea about who gave the instruction to initiate a case against you?

“So far I have only guesses, but it is clear that it came from the very very top. While I was free I managed to do a lot [against the authorities – ed] that I don’t even know specifically why I was jailed. It is 100% not for this YouTube channel ‘Novorossiya TV’, we have no connection to this at all. Perhaps, it is for our project ‘What The Media Is Silent About’.”

Poroshenko was a topic of this?

“Of course. After all, 80% of corruption in the country comes from him. Although we also spoke about other politicians. It was good example when Lyashko organised his ‘Maidan’ near the Presidential Administration. And when Mosiychuk was released, the next day this ‘Maidan’ was sharply removed. There was obvious collusion. We tried to dig into and shed light on such topics that are non-obvious and forbidden for many journalists.”

By the way, concerning forbidden topics. What do you think about the situation in Ukraine’s media market? About the observance of standards and ethics, and journalistic solidarity?

“I will say this – if the law worked in our country, then under the law many employees of Ukrainian TV channels should now be sitting in jail, because they were kindling war, hatred, and ethnic strife. They work in order to pit as many citizens of Ukraine as possible against each other so that war lasts as long as possible, because it is profitable for certain people in power.”

Incitement of hatred is a conscious policy of the leadership and owners of such media agencies, or it is simply the absence of professionalism, or maybe a lack of knowledge?

“In Ukraine there are a number of organisations that define who is a bad and good journalist, who will be awarded or given another grant and who won’t. These people kindle discord and hang labels on ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ journalists in order to be given money and a little statuette. Now ‘Detektor Media‘ and other grant-receiving organisations are involved in this — they promote the division of our country. The most corrupt and deranged journalists receive a tribune to sell the theses of the client, and people who understand the situation at least a little bit aren’t allowed to speak up. But at the same time I see that adequate media agencies, because of the nightmare that is happening in Ukraine, are slowly consolidating. Of course, so far this cooperation is at the rudimentary level, but it should be developed. And I would like to make every effort so that in the Ukrainian media field there is as much high-quality work of journalists who show the situation objectively according to journalistic standards as possible. But it is difficult to say whether I will continue to be solely involved in journalism.”

Did you lose confidence in our media after what they wrote about you? When you were called “journalists” in quotation marks and they didn’t hesitate to use the terms “separatist”, “propagandist”, etc.

“Are they really the media? For me, what they write is like awards on my jacket. For me, this nine-year sentence for my work is the best award. Poroshenko’s regime gave me a whole nine years for my projects, which I did being free! Can you imagine? I, as a journalist and human rights activist, couldn’t have imagined better medals for myself. It is better than any figurine or the Pulitzer Prize.”

What main lessons did you learn from all of this?

“Firstly, that the SBU is an organised criminal group. Secondly, that if in Kiev the courts still try to keep at least an illusion of independence, then in regions, including Zhytomyr, it became grave. Thirdly, if earlier I questioned whether there was sense in journalistic work – for example, now I will write about this corrupt official, but he all the same won’t be jailed and nothing will change – then now I understand that to have the opportunity to speak is very important. Without freedom of speech we won’t build a country.”

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