He is a peaceful man, but his indictment reads: being a radical person, not accepting the current government, acting at the direction of the government of the self-proclaimed LDPR, under the leadership of the FSB, for a reward, carried out an attack with the aim of politically destabilising the region. Only in 2019 did his release become possible.
“We’ll drive a BTR to your garage!”
On April 4th 2015 it was cold in Zaporozhye, freezing rain. At 5:45 am, 33-year-old builder Vasily Kolesnik started to suffer from an attack of cholecystopancreatitis. Because he lived in the private sector, and there were two houses on the site – one was his and one was his mother and father’s – Vasily went to his parents for medicine. Leaving the yard with a syringe in one hand and an ampoule of “spazmalgon” in the other, he was surprised to find that three unknown men in combat attire with assault rifles and in camouflage bearing the inscription “SBU” were following him to his house. His Moscow Watchdog ran out of its enclosure and started barking at the armed people. The trailing group pointed a gun at the dog.
“Don’t touch the dog!” What happened?!” screamed Vasily, running into the yard, trying to save the animal.
“On the floor!” yelled the armed man.
Vasily, with a syringe and ampoule in the rain, was sprawled on the ground. They put a pistol to his neck and stepped on his back with heavy boots so that later in the pre-trial detention center they could laugh, looking at the print of a SBU member’s boot on his entire back. Lifting his head, Vasily saw his scared mother come out of the house and put the dog in the enclosure. Then two investigators and a dozen operas and Alpha employees in masks and with assault rifles entered the yard.
“Tell me, where!”
“Come on, come on, where is it all?”
“You know what!”
“I have no idea. What are you even looking for?”
An answer did not follow.
His father and the brother-in-law laid face down on the floor, handcuffed. His mother started to protest, then she was also floored, and so roughly that bruises were left on her wrists. But she did not dare to write a statement and document the injuries, as she worried about her son’s life and health – just to not be beaten, just to not be crippled. And the attack of cholecystopancreatitis did not abate, Vasily lost consciousness in pain. An injection of “spazmalgon” was allowed by SBU officers only after they were shown a certificate of diagnosis and a report from the hospital.
Then the investigator obtained a search order signed by the Zhovtnev District Court. It is a so-called SBU court, which always signs everything to them and sends suspects to the pre-trial detention center. It turns out that a case had been initiated under article 296 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – “hooliganism”. Is the SBU dealing with a “hooligan”? But no, just a couple of days before the arrest, the article was reclassified as 258 – terrorism.
“I have the right to a lawyer. Under a particularly serious article, during the search, a lawyer is obliged to be present,” said Vasily, demanding the realisation of his legal rights before the beginning of the search.
“Who do you want? No, there won’t be a lawyer, I’ll tell you right away.”
“How so?” On what basis are you going to do a search without a lawyer?”
“Under article 208.”
Under article 208, detention is made directly at the scene of a crime. Naturally, there was no crime scene at home. This article was entered into the protocol specifically so that a person can be detained without a decision of the investigating judge, and the judge themselves, as a rule, then does not understand why article 208 is used if the offence the person is accused of committing occurred sometime a few years before detention.
While Vasily was in handcuffs, 6-7 people were digging around his house, rummaging through everything – drawers, mattresses. The house had three rooms, a hall, a kitchen, and a bathroom, and it was impossible to follow them, although the law suggests that a search should be carried out in the presence of the owner. An operative, by the way, took part in the search, which is also not provided for in the Criminal Procedure Code. When it became clear that there was nothing in the house, investigators went to the kitchen and started to discuss something there. Vasily stayed with the operatives and “Alfa” [a specialised SBU unit – ed] members.
“What did I do?” he asked again.
“There’s a war going on in the country, and you’re a traitor.”
“What kind of traitor am I? I came back from Spain 4 years ago, I could’ve lived there.”
Indeed, Vasily Kolesnik, with two higher educations and knowing several languages, lived and worked in Spain for 10 years, received a permanent residence permit and a visa-free entry permit to 92 countries of the world. However, he decided to return to his motherland, married, and had a son.
So, after investigators talked to each other about something in the kitchen, one of the operatives went to the bathroom without the detainee and without the witnesses and shouted a couple of minutes later:
“Oh, what’s here? Let’s see, there’s some kind of package there.”
Under the toilet there was a rolled-up pillowcase, which had been taken out of the laundry cabinet and wrapped with insulation tape from the tool box. And in the pillowcase – two grenades. Such is a cache for grenades under the toilet. They put a fuse of a TNT detonator in the basket next to the toilet, and in the corridor “unexpectedly” found a glass of “Jacobs” coffee – which Vasily had never used since he drank only natural coffee – full of gunpowder.
“That’s not gonna work, I demand a lawyer, I won’t sign anything until they arrive. This is lawlessness, my fingerprints aren’t even there.”
“Now they will be.”
“What are you talking about?”
In front of the witnesses Vasily was brought into the room, closed in, and inflicted on a person suffering cholecystopancreatitis several blows to the solar plexus.
“Listen, now we will make a reservation to you, we will drive a BTR to your garage and we will find assault rifles!”
The beatings and threats worked. The result of the search was a 30-second video, it is posted on the official YouTube channel of the SBU, where Vasily Kolesnik, repeating what he was told by the investigators, says that his friend brought him gunpowder and he at the request of this friend made explosives.
At the end of the search, the detainee was given 4 empty sheets of А4 paper.
“Sign it, be quick!”
“Come on, come on, we will fill it out later!”
In the basement of the SBU with the wife of the investigator
In the indictment it is said: being a radical person, not accepting the current authorities, acting at the direction of the government of the self-proclaimed LDPR, under the leadership of the FSB (everyone receives the same indictment wording when it comes to article 258), for remuneration, committed a terrorist act with the aim of politically destabilising the region. What terrorist attack? Near the so-called Maidan self-defence headquarters, which was setup in the building of the Regional Administration, there was a bang. The indictment says an explosion. However, according to the register of criminal case materials, this alleged explosion occurred between 23:50 and 00:10 from 25th to 26th March, and the desk of the duty police reported it at 01:30. It turns out that for an hour and a half nobody noticed the explosion that destabilised the political situation in the region. Nevertheless, Kolesnik was accused of organising this explosion.
“And in fact it was so,” says Vasily. “Like-minded people and I wanted to create a public organisation to collect aid for victims of the conflict and to protest against the tariff increase. They decided to start with a peaceful rally, read out an appeal, and hand it over to the government. We prepared a notification to the City Hall about the holding of the rally and the appeal itself, but we did not have time to submit it. It is not clear why the notice sheet was added to the criminal case file. And the text of the appeal with the truth about anti-human tariffs was not included: it was not profitable to publish it even in the courtroom. The manuscript of the appeal is missing for inexplicable reasons.”
At around 8 a.m., three suspects – Vasily Kolesnik and two of his friends, were brought to the basement of the SBU. The basement of the SBU is a former laboratory that has been converted to an old detention facility: a convoy room, a passage to a large hall, as creepy as in Hitchcock films, resembling a torture chamber with stains on the walls and inscriptions like “Death to all of you”. And before this hall there is a utility room with a pipe for air circulation. When the extractor was turned on, the detainees were twitched: when the extractor was working, nothing was heard. It is the basement, baby!
“So that there were no bruises, no injuries, they have one machine,” says Vasily, explaining the methods of SBU. “Hands are strapped, a dynamo spins, there is high voltage and low current, in fact, a very powerful electric shock. I don’t know if there are people on the planet who can handle this. I think not. Unless they are super-prepared intelligence officers. It’s enough for me just speaking about it.”
So Kolesnik gave statements that incriminated himself and others.
Already in the evening, 8-10 hours after detention, a lawyer from the Center for Free Secondary Legal Aid arrived in the SBU to sign documents. Then everyone was taken to the temporary detention facility, and the next day – to the same Zhovtnev court. The prosecutor and the investigator said that they found grenades and that the investigating judge authorised the arrest for 2 months. The position of the suspect and the lawyer at that time was of no interest to anyone: Poroshenko sold changes to the Criminal Procedure Code, namely the infamous unconstitutional Part 5 of Article 176 on the unopposed detention of people suspected of state crimes. It was not cancelled until summer 2019 after pressure came, especially from the global public.
“We sat in a police van in an extremely demoralised state, in tears, at 33 years of age a freedom-loving person who visited almost half of the countries of the world, to be in prison… I didn’t really cope with it,” recalls Vasily Kolesnik.
But even in this state, he noticed an important detail from the police van’s window. The judge, in his robe, along with his secretary, went to the porch to smoke, and in conversation mentioned some attack in Donetsk, when a “Grad” shell landed on his house and it seems that someone died. At this point it became clear that the judge came from Donetsk, which means that there is a conflict of interest. In such situations, so that no one is suspected of prejudice, judges recuse themselves. Not this time.
Then the pre-trial detention center and pre-trial investigation. Two or three times a week there is transportation to the investigator for interrogation in the SBU basement and the free lawyer with a smile playing on his phone. Three months passed in this way. It’s been three months. And one day before another interrogation Vasily was led along the corridor of the SBU. In one of the offices he saw a sign with the same name as his lawyer. The surname was uncommon, and therefore Kolesnik immediately had suspicions. Having made inquiries in the pre-trial detention center, Vasily made sure that the officer of the SBU, whose office he had passed by, and the lawyer are husband and wife.
“Are you the wife of the SBU member?” he said, directly asking her the question before the case was referred to court.
“Well, yes”, she smiled, “but let us not voice it anywhere.”
And Vasily decided not to voice it. The prosecutor requested 11 years and 6 months of imprisonment for him on charges of a terrorist attack and possession of explosives, and for the rest – 10 years each.
Before the investigation was closed and the case was brought to court, the prosecutor slipped the suspects some papers – if signed, he would allegedly ask for less than the minimum, “only” 5 years.
The lawyer, the investigator’s wife, did not care:
“It does not change the essence, you can sign, or you can not sign.”
“How can you not sign it? It is necessary to sign it,” the prosecutor insisted.
His perseverance was understandable. Kolesnik was asked to sign a confession. The signature on such a document decided a lot: the case would be considered in a simplified manner, and the prosecutor could not give the court questionable “evidence” collected by the investigation by fraud, threats, and beatings. Kolesnik refused to sign, citing a harsh attack. The rest also did not sign, and in court they in general rejected all their testimonies made at the investigation stage.
The trial court lasted a year and a half. An investigator of the SBU for some reason came to almost every hearing. The accused drew the attention of the court to the fact that the investigation had been completed long ago, the investigation team was disbanded, and he was not required to attend the hearing. The judge asked what he was doing in the courtroom.
“I am present here as a citizen of Ukraine!” answered the ‘citizen’ with pride, who for some reason regularly came and left along with the prosecutor.
Judge Apollonova, the presiding judge of the Ordzhonikidzevsky Court’s collegium, listened carefully to the testimony, and asked the prosecutor uncomfortable questions, which he could not give clear answers to. It seemed that everything could end well. Alas, it was only an impression. Kolesnik was given 8 years and 8 months, two of his friends – 8 years and 7.5 years respectively.
Since Vasily learned the Criminal Procedure Code off by heart during a year and a half’s stay in the pre-trial detention center, he suggested to write two appeals – one from him and another from his lawyer. Three days before the scheduled hearing, he received copies of the appeals of all the participants – his friends and his lawyer. The final text was actually a confession – I am sorry, I accidentally, I did not want, it just happened, you formed the wrong opinion, I sincerely repent and believe that there is no article 258 (terrorism), but there is after all article 296 (hooliganism).
“I immediately made a decision and got my version of the appeal on 18 double-sided A4 sheets,” said Vasily Kolesnik.
The first thing he said at the trial was the long-overdue rejection of the lawyer. A person who is a close relative of an investigator, prosecutor, etc., shall not be entitled to participate in criminal proceedings.
“Where it is recorded?” asked the judge.
“The name of my lawyer’s husband is on the second page of the indictment on the list of the investigation team.”
“It is the truth?”
“Yes, it is true,” the lawyer stands up. “Your Honour, but there was no conflict of interest.”
Three heads of judges turn towards the prosecutor, the prosecutor becomes covered by blots, and Vasily exults. It was the first win in the process. He could’ve mentioned it earlier, but then it wouldn’t have produced anything. Most likely, they would simply appoint another similar lawyer and given the same sentence. He had to wait and endure this year and a half, whatever the cost.
After gathering his thoughts, the prosecutor stated that as soon as the pre-trial investigation started, they had removed this investigator from the group.
“And where it is recorded?” the judge irritably flips through the papers. “Where is the document with which you excluded him from the list?”
“Well, we excluded him orally,” the prosecutor mumbled.
Then the accused simply shook with laughter. It was checkmate. Apparently, the court’s decision to leave the sentence unchanged was ready, but since they sat in the deliberation room for a very long time, everything probably had to be retyped.
Nonsense, but all three lawyers supported the prosecutor’s refusal to challenge. They stood up and said, “We support the prosecutor”. The defendants looked at each other with surprise. And the parents of Kolesnik, who were present at the meeting, at the exit heard how one of the lawyers was very indignant:
“Why, why did he do this?”
“Tiger in a skirt”
The challenge was granted and even the investigator’s lawyer wife admitted that it was a trump card that could not be used. The next day, however, she came to the pre-trial detention center in tears:
“Why didn’t you talk to me? We would make some decision”.
“I’m sorry, but my freedom is at stake,” replied Kolesnik.
And for such tricks they can also deprive the lawyer of her license. She should have recused herself the same day she was recruited from the Center for Secondary Legal Aid. The lawyers of the center, there are 75 of them, are kind of on duty – today there is one, tomorrow the other leaves for a client according to the schedule of their duties. How did it happen that out of 75 people it was she who was appointed exactly on that day to defend a client in a case where her husband is part of the investigation team? After the recusal a new lawyer was appointed – Olga Zelinskaya.
“I call her ‘tiger in a skirt’,” says Vasily. “She carefully understands everything, clings to every inconsistency. We’re fighting with her now. I write petitions on 15 sheets, find Supreme Court decisions, and go into the jungle.”
The sentence was overturned thanks to the work of the lawyer Zelinskaya. According to the law, Kolesnik and his friends had to come out as early as August 22nd 2017, when the sentence was annulled. Zelinskaya wrote a motion and voiced it at a preparatory hearing in the first instance, stating that the lawyer was not allowed to familiarise herself with the materials of the criminal case.
“How weren’t you allowed?!” shouts the prosecutor.
“Who was allowed?” A lawyer who was subject to recusal? The suspect in fact was without a lawyer in general.”
The judge assumed that everything was bad and returned the indictment to the prosecutor. But he filed an appeal and the court granted it. So the case started again. The prosecutor has big problems with the Ukrainian language. He can’t read the text he wrote normally, he reads for a very long time. And he has a lot of cases, he “floats” between them, flips papers, can’t quickly find the right page. Thus, now only the 2nd volume of 6 – 500 pages each – is being read.
“I want to get an acquittal,” explains Vasily Kolesnik, “but it is necessary to understand that to acquit me is to punish someone. And the prosecutor laughs, says, ‘Do you really think you’ll have an acquittal?'”
The guys managed to leave the pre-trial detention center, having come under the Savchenko law – one day for two. The friends of Vasily were “expelled” first, December 26th 2018 and April 4th 2019. From the received 8 years and 8 months of imprisonment in a pre-trial detention center, Kolesnik had to spend 4 years and 4 months. And he stayed there alone until August, i.e., until the deadline. The next hearing was held on April 16th. Olga Zelinskaya, as usual, filed a motion for a change to the measure of restraint.
“I was angry, because of him I missed a hot bath and a walk, and this for a prisoner is the most valuable thing. I was already using swear words without restraining myself. I said that they, under the cover of the law, don’t give a f*ck about the principles of law, that I’m here illegally and that I will sanctify my life, but I will obtain justice. As it is said in prison – if you’re gonna go get the truth, you’re gonna erase yourself up to your ass.”
No one was hoping for anything. The lawyer Zelinskaya even left the court before the decision was announced. Kolesnik, while the judges were in the advisory room, collected his folder and prepared to travel back to the pre-trial detention center. But the court, having returned, refused to satisfy the prosecutor and to extend the measure of restraint.
“I almost lost consciousness, you should have seen it. I had tears, I was chocking up in the court cell. I didn’t listen any further, I just sat down, I was shaked by everything. The escort said: ‘Vasily, it’s okay, calm down’.”
Having washed away the smell of prison that had entered his pores, Vasily ran to school to see his son, who he had not seen for more than four years. He wanted to surprise him, but Grandpa wouldn’t let him – so he called him and said Dad was waiting in the lobby. His son ran out, threw his jacket on the floor, a bag with a change of shoes…
The joy of reuniting with his son was beautiful, but still somewhat overshadowed.
“They destroyed my family. A year-and-a-half is still nothing, but when my wife heard about 8 years and 8 months in prison, she told me to forget about her. The person simply gave up – young, beautiful, it is necessary to continue to live and everything else,” says Kolesnik.
The father and son left the school, and an escort of guards came to meet them, standing on duty. It turned out to be the same escort that was present in court at the time of Vasily’s release. Such a coincidence.
On June 6th 2019, at the request of Olga Zelinskaya, the first decision was taken in favour of the accused. They found it obviously unacceptable and stopped investigating some of the materials prepared by the investigation and the prosecutor ‘s office. To achieve this in post-Maiden Ukraine after being accused of terrorism is fantastic.
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