Interview with the Ukrainian Political Prisoner and Journalist Kirill Vyshinsky

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On December 11th the next hearing concerning the case of the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine” Kirill Vyshinsky took place in Kherson. The court once again rejected the appeal of the defence to change the measure of restraint, having remanded the journalist in custody until December 28th.

As a reminder, Kirill Vyshinsky was detained by the Security Service of Ukraine in May. Charges under article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine were brought to him (state treason). The journalist has spent 7 months in a pre-trial detention center without an alternative. The website of RIA “Novosti Ukraine” was immediately blocked after Vyshinsky’s arrest.

Having studied the reply of the government of Ukraine addressed to the European Federation of Journalists, the human rights platform “Uspishna Varta” found out that in the charges brought to Vyshinsky law enforcement bodies refer not to the results of an official examination of the contents of the website, but to the information of the NGO with a dubious reputation “StopFake”. On July 6th Vyshinsky was handed suspicion of committing one more criminal offence under article 263-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Illegal acquisition and storage of firearms and ammunition).

The representative of Ukraine at the negotiations in Minsk Irina Gerashchenko publicly stated that it is possible that Vyshinsky could be exchanged for Ukrainian political prisoners being held in the Russian Federation.

During a court hearing the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” managed to communicate with the journalist. In his interview with “Uspishna Varta” Kirill Vyshinsky talks about his health, the conditions of his keeping in a pre-trial detention center, the charges, and the possible options for a deal. Below is the full text.

The video interview is available on the “Uspishna Varta” YouTube channel.

What is imputed to you, what evidence has the prosecutor’s office shown you?

“The first thing that is imputed to me by the investigation is that I am not a journalist, but a participant of the information war. This is a frank lie, since in none of my public statements or texts signed by my hand or posted publicly on the pages of any agencies or newspapers have I ever denied that I am a professional journalist. In response to this the SBU claims that I am not a journalist, but a participant of the information war. In alleged confirmation of this fact, they twisted the sense of quotes from my personal correspondence. The accusation that I am not a journalist is nonsense, slander, and a lie.

The second point, about me allegedly violating professional standards. The placement of 16 publications on the website of RIA ‘Novosti Ukraine’ that I edited are presented as an example of this, claiming that they harm the state. Concerning these articles, none of them belong to me personally, I personally didn’t write any of them. As for the editorial policy of the website, you can open and see that facts were always clearly stated on the website. And these facts were always separated from comments. And it is these texts that were authored and published in 2014. By the way, there is also an interesting fact. Everything that is imputed to me today was created in 2014. I.e. I allegedly ‘harmed’ the country for 4 years. And here in the 4th year the SBU seemingly decided to remember this. It is like in the children’s joke: ‘Chingachgook on the 3rd day saw that in the shed there were not 3, but 4 walls’. So they also noticed on the 4th year that I am the ‘main traitor of the country’.

The articles [that Vyshinsky is charged with state treason for – ed] are comments authored by people who state their position. In every article there is an editorial note stating that it isn’t material we authored. And this note sounds like this: ‘The opinion of the author may not coincide with the editorial opinion. Responsibility for the quotes, facts, and figures specified in the text belongs to the author’.

Back to the topic of professional standards. Everything that we state and everything that is signed by our authors is the responsibility of RIA ‘Novosti Ukraine’ and clearly conforms to editorial and journalistic standards. That’s why among what is imputed to me there is no material from our journalists. All the rest is on the conscience of the authors.”

What is specifically said in the articles that incriminate you with state treason?

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“2014 is such a year when opinions were politicised. We published different points of view. We published Yarosh [Dmitry Yarosh – ed] and his associates from ‘Right Sector’. And we also published the diametrically opposite point of view of Yarosh and people who supported Maidan. We published also those and other opinions. The investigation factors in only one side and proves that this is state treason. For me this is absurdity.

And the most absurd thing is that the SBU understood that it needs to show something not only concerning 2014, but also concerning 2018. As the investigator later explained, it is very important for them to slot into the concept of a so-called ‘lasting crime’, that I committed crimes not only in 2014, but also for 4 years. As facts confirming my criminal activity, he [the case prosecutor – ed] presents the protocol of an examination and quotes an article entitled ‘The attack on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church led to the refusal to grant Autocephaly’ published on the website in the morning of May 15th on the day of my detention. What is this article? It is the opinion of the political expert Dmitry Korneychuk taken from his Facebook page and which states that the authorities already invented a scheme: it will reason Constantinople’s refusal to grant Autocephaly to the Ukrainian church. I will stress, this concerns a publication from May 15th of this year. Korneychuk expresses his scepticism that Constantinople will grant such Tomos of Autocephaly. We presented this opinion. And this same article cites the appeal on the website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP) concerning the question of granting Tomos of Autocephaly, and that this an affair that is being sorted out directly between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Constantinople Patriarchate. I.e. the point of view of the expert, who doubts the possibility of such realisation, and the point of view of the UOC-KP are stated.

Moreover, in order to be completely precise concerning proof, I counted that Korneychuk’s scepticism concerning the possibility of Autocephaly took up 11 lines, and the position of the UOC-KP took up 17 lines. All of this is present in the text. This is classical journalistic material concerning conflicts in which two different points of view are stated. The investigative department of the SBU concerning Crimea considers that I personally undermined the possibility of the UOC-KP receiving Autocephaly by publishing this material. Moreover, I again harm Ukraine and I am a state traitor.”

Do you consider that your case is connected to an attack on freedom of speech in Ukraine in general? Or is this case specifically against you?

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“It is specifically me who is in prison now. But since I am a journalist, it is clear that my colleagues see that it is possible to detain a person in this way over material made in accordance with journalistic standards, and to jail them having presented this material as an accusation. So then everyone starts reflecting: maybe they don’t write what they should, maybe they don’t interview who they should, maybe it’s not worth quoting Korneychuk and in general to refrain from communicating with this person. And in general, maybe it’s better to write about butterflies, flowers, and the weather, but not about politics.

I will repeat that I am in prison. And more than 40 of my colleagues were left without work. I don’t know where they are now or whether they changed their profession or not. For example, colleagues from the ‘112’ and ‘NewsOne‘ TV channels also started to think that they may be left without work, because they invite people onto the airwaves who say things that the authorities don’t like. It is clear that global processes stem from concrete names, TV channel names, publications, and so on. Nowadays my colleague Igor Guzhva is practically an emigrant. He asked for political asylum. And ‘Strana‘ still exists, although the number of searches that were carried out there also, probably, demonstrates that in this country not everything is normal with freedom of speech. ‘112’ and ‘NewsOne’ are still working. Nobody knows if martial law will be prolonged or expanded to the entire territory of the country. Maybe all TV channels will be closed under the veil of martial law. All of this stated in the law and it is possible to do it.”

Since you are a journalist, do other journalists defend you? Do you feel support from your colleagues?

“It does exist, but it varies agency to agency – it depends on whether they are close to the authorities or oppositional, it depends on where they are located. But I feel the support of my colleagues. And I am grateful to them for this.”

Describe the conditions of your detention and your health.

“This summer I had problems with my health. But since medicine in prison is now modest, both in terms of the range of medicines and the number of specialists who constantly are now in the pre-trial detention center, there were suspicions that I have heart troubles. My lawyers made an appeal in front of the investigation concerning the carrying out of a medical examination. This was one more curious action because I was taken to, and brought back from, hospital 3 times on the day when lawyers made an appeal for the carrying out of a medical examination. I don’t know why this was done. But I think that it was done only for one purpose: to not allow a normal examination to be carried out. As a result, the last time I was taken there I was examined by the doctor on duty. He said that I will live and wrote out a certificate stating that I can take part in court hearings.

Thanks to my lawyers, I was examined by a doctor/neuropathologist in the pre-trial detention center and was prescribed medicines. And again, thank you to my lawyers, because not all medicines that I was prescribed were available in a pre-trial detention center. This doesn’t mean that nobody wants to help me. The staff of the pre-trial detention center want to help me, since it is also in their interests that I leave the pre-trial detention center alive and healthy. Now I already feel better in comparison with the summer.

As for the conditions of detention, they are usual and standard. I have no preferences. I am in a cell with 5 more cellmates. From my point of view, they are very worthy people who receive less attention. But their personal tragic element is connected to imprisonment, which in many respects is groundless. I’m not saying that it is illegal, but, as usual, it is groundless. It’s no less groundless in my case. It is necessary to say that there, in some respects, there are special relations between cellmates, and not only in the cell but also along the whole floor, because everyone perfectly understands that political prisoners started appearing in Ukraine after a long interval of them not being here. This is especially seen here in Kherson, where people who came from Crimea are being caught, and the proof connected to their treason in Crimea is being found. Although the main treason was committed by the Ukrainian authorities. But this is already a separate, debatable question. And for them it was in a purely political form. This is a person who has never held a weapon, and who hasn’t been charged with physical abuse, fraud, or something else before.”

Have employees of the SBU or Prosecutor’s Office offered to “reach an agreement” or to “sort things out the easy way”?

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“‘Sorting things out the easy way’ is when I leave here with a verdict of not guilty, to which I agree. I won’t even consider other offers.”

And have such offers been made at all?

“There were different people in my cell. I talked to different people. I also communicated with the Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Denisova, twice. It was a different conversation. And I would like to keep the official tact of conversations. I don’t know what the consequences are for this. But I consider that it is impossible to overstep a certain line.”

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