Interview From Behind the Bars of a Ukrainian Jail: The Luzhetsky Brothers

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The Ukrainian political prisoners Dmitry and Yaroslav Luzhetsky have been in prison for three years, two years of which were judicial proceedings, and they were in a pre-trial detention center and in a prison for a year, after receiving a sentence of 14-15 years of imprisonment. They are charged with infringing on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and financing and assisting the commission of acts of terrorism. Now their case is at the appeal stage.

The two Ukrainians are charged with serious crimes because they took an active part in the Kiev anti-Maidan and the protests against the illegitimate change of power.

The Center for the Freedom of Speech managed to interview the prisoners, where the Luzhetsky brothers share their secrets of survival in difficult prison conditions.

What helps you to not lose courage?

“It is responsibility. Firstly – before our sons, who have been waiting for us for three years. We have no such right for the sake of them. Secondly – before those who follow our example. Throughout all our lives, since our early years, we never dropped our heads because of difficulties. So why should we do it now? Our position is clear – a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbass and special status for these territories, which is stated in the Minsk Agreements. The inhabitants of these regions have the right to decide their fate themselves. Why is there a need to impose on them history, faith, language, and also where they should integrate themselves?”

Why do you defend your innocence? After all, the Prosecutor’s Office and Court are completely deaf in relation to your case…

“Under the present regime, it is unlikely that we can prove something to the judges who remind blind and deaf kittens. While it is the truth, freedom of speech, and the preservation of constitutional rights of each citizen of the country that we defend. If we don’t fight, lawlessness will definitively take over, and we will start living in a country where only chaos and destruction will reign, which already seized all the country and the government of Ukraine.”

We are aware of the articles under which you were arrested, but it is difficult to consider the charges reasonable. Tell us what is the reason for your arrest?

“Our arrest was a well-managed provocation by the SBU on the orders of the authorities in Kiev upon our return from Moscow. Their aim was to discredit us and also to intimidate all those who speak on the contrary to the official propaganda. Already in 2013 we directly expressed our position concerning the occurring events, that’s why our Lvov company, through raider capture, was appropriated by ‘revolutionaries’. And we were compelled to go for a while to Moscow for our own safety. There we in every possible way helped the inhabitants of Donbass and also those inhabitants who were forced to leave their houses because someone decided to stage the genocide of those who are objectionable and didn’t submit to the regime that seized power in Kiev.”

How can you characterize our judicial system? After all, you saw it from the inside completely?

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“Despite all the reforms that are allegedly being carried out, the system is absent. The Court, being engaged in resonant affairs, consults the Prosecutor’s office, very often closing its eyes to violations of the law. All reasoned appeals are rejected in order to fulfil a political order. In three years we saw only one thing – the Court system turned into a political machine of repression. Now any citizen can be captured on the street, arrested, and thrown behind bars, just for having their own opinion. The condemned can be sentenced in absentia to 15 years without being given the last word. It was precisely like this for us. Then the Court of Appeal cancelled this illegal sentence. And it is already a year since the first instance of the Court not wishing to allow the cancellation of a new sentence, simply by month to month postponing the Court hearings it extends our illegal detentions.”

What do you think – when will the employees of the SBU, Prosecutor’s Office, and judges who are involved in political repressions be held accountable?

“Of course such a time will come. And especially it will concern those who fulfilled illegal orders, including the SBU, Prosecutor’s Office, and Court. Maybe it won’t happen today. But the day will come when the regime that sat itself down on Bankova Street will lose its illegitimate legitimacy. And decent and adequate people will come to power in the government, who are currently locked away in prisons for their civic position.”

Could you imagine that “Maidan” will become the cause of political repressions that will affect you too?

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“When Maidan began, it is unlikely that Ukrainians could imagine that everything will turn out exactly in this way; that the legitimate authorities will flee, and ‘revolutionaries’ will come to power on the blood of their adherents. We in December, 2013, clearly saw what this non-peaceful assembly of people brings along with itself, who believed the oligarch and self-loving Poroshenko, and that company with which he together executed this state coup under the name ‘Maidan of dignity’. Already then the groups that were run by those who stage the coup were engaged in a racket and the extortion of money for the needs of Maidan. Already then we understood how it threatens the country and its citizens, and what we openly spoke about.”

Why did the repressive apparatus that is the Prosecutor’s Office fail to “break” you in three years? What do you think?

“Everyone in life has their own path. Each person brings something into this world. We know that we are on the correct way, from which we aren’t going to divert. We didn’t choose silence, and we aren’t going to adapt ourselves to the regime. It is impossible to break those who don’t surrender! The truth will always win, and it is with us. And the cell walls in three years made us only stronger.”

What does the support of people who do everything possible for your liberation mean for you? Does it help for you to keep and not lose courage, that many people morally support you?

“Support has huge value. When you feel things are intolerable and you already have no more strength to continue to fight – you understand for yourself that you have no right to surrender and to betray those who by all means fight for your freedom. Also, we receive many letters with words of support, from people who watch everything that happens around us. The words: ‘keep it up, we are with you’ let us know that we are not alone and it is not only our fight. We continue our fight and we aren’t going to surrender. ‘He who dares, wins’. For the sake of our children and all who support us, we will fight to the end, not allowing the machine of repression to break us.”

Many speak about an exchange, but, after all, you are citizens of Ukraine, you didn’t hold weapons in your hand, the charges are absurd, doesn’t it seem to you that you were jailed just to discredit the adequate patriots of Ukraine, if an exchange will nevertheless take place?

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“Indeed, many of us, those who positioned themselves as political prisoners were discredited in order not to prevent the bloody regime and party of war from committing their crimes. Besides, how else can the exchange of their own citizens for their own citizens be called if not a civil war, which Kiev so carefully hides under the bloody anti-terrorist operation.”

Do you regret anything now you are in prison?

“Nothing. It is necessary to have regret when you made a mistake, when you made the wrong choice. So we have no regrets about anything! Let those who now destroy our country, its economy, and kill our fellow citizens living in Donbass have regrets. And even if we had the opportunity to live again, we wouldn’t change anything in our lives and would act in the same way.”

It is said that a friend in need is a friend indeed, did you learn about your friends?

“In every situation you lose something, and you gain something. In our case it happens in the same way. Most of our friends showed their essence of being malleable – having believed propaganda, having forgotten how we divided the last bread and drank water from one mug. But it doesn’t bother us, after all, having lost false ones, we obtained real ones, who have supported us in every possible way during all this time. Also we are grateful to everyone who remained despite the propaganda.”

What can you say about life in prison and about people who surround you there?

“Life in prison is some kind of test. Prison is such a place that tries to break you and put you on your knees. For two and a half years we were in solitary confinement, which they hoped would break us with. But they failed. Now we are in common cells. Different people surround us, there are those who deserve respect and try to help you, and there are also those who try to put you down. But whatever happens, here there are laws that don’t allow anarchy and chaos.”

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