Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The journalist gave an interview to “Strana” about life in jail, the prospects of an exchange for Sentsov, and the essence of the charges…
On September 6th the Kherson city court prolonged the detention of the “RIA-Novosti Ukraine” editor-in-chief Kirill Vyshinsky. The day prior he was hospitalised from the courtroom after a suspected heart attack. However, after an examination the hearing continued and ended with the verdict of another 60 days in prison.
“Strana” managed to transfer questions to Kirill and receive answers to them on the day of the court session. We publish expeditious interpretations.
Why do you think you were detained in May, 2018?
“The answer is obvious. Elections will take place soon, and there is nothing to present to voters. Except war, the authorities don’t propose other ways of solving the conflict in Donbass. Communal tariffs are sky-high, the hryvnia falls, and Ukrainians leave for the EU and the Russian Federation to earn money. And against this background there are attempts to present something as an achievement to voters: the parade, the fuss around autocephaly, and attempts to release or exchange citizens of Ukraine condemned in the Russian Federation. The collection is poor, but beggars can’t be choosers.”
What became the direct reason for your arrest?
“The set of charges was pulled from thin air, it is obvious. But ‘the triumph of justice’ definitely wasn’t the reason for my arrest. As the pupils at the school where I worked said: ‘hahaha, x3’. Why was I arrested – it is an operation of the SBU and the Presidential Administration for the reanimation of a [prisoner – ed] ‘exchange’. The Ukrainian authorities needed a cherry on the cake for the exchange list that could be transferred to the Russian side. I treat the importance of myself very quietly, but I worked as a correspondent of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company for more than 7 years, I am a media person — so that’s why I am this ‘cherry’.”
How did your colleagues reacted to your arrest?
“My colleagues, having learned about my arrest, tried to help me as much as possible. And it is this that Bankova Street counted on. It’s not a coincidence that on the same day the surname of Sentsov was sounded by the Ukrainian side. In 2014 the idea to arrest me was expressed by one former Kharkov journalist. But back then I perceived this as nonsense. And now it became a beautiful PR stunt for elections.”
What happened on the day of your arrest?
“Most likely the scale of the special operation that the SBU carried out on May 15th is more important than the circumstances themselves. Searches were carried out at my home, at the home of my elderly parents, and at the office of ‘RIA Novosti Ukraine’. They even searched the apartment in Dnepropetrovsk where my mother lives and the apartment of the family of the father, who my mother divorced over 40 years ago. It is me who is accused, but it is my relatives who are searched and cynically intimidated. This requires huge resources. I was ‘taken’ in the parking lot when I had just got into my car. I refused to enter my apartment without a lawyer and called him by phone. Then my hands were put behind my back and I was searched, although they had no warrant to do this. They opened the door using my keys and began a search without the presence of a lawyer.”
What was happening during this time at the office of the publication?
“And meanwhile at our publication they were going to look under the floor. I didn’t know what they expected to find there. High-ranking SBU employees made loud statements, People’s Deputies suggested to ‘exchange’ me immediately on the day of the search, without any court hearings or an investigation, which were necessary to nobody. Only an exchange was interesting [for them – ed].”
What are the charges based on?
“The suspicion that was handed to me after the search contains only lies and manipulations. The SBU stated that I ‘openly declared’ that the purpose of my work as the editor-in-chief of RIA is waging information war, and not journalistic activity. In the case materials there is a lot more farce. According to the SBU, I planned to create fake websites and then spread information from them. The investigation can’t provide a hyperlink to such absurdities on the website of ‘RIA Novosti Ukraine’.”
Where did they take it from?
“About me openly ‘declaring’ that I wage ‘information war’? From my personal correspondence. A beautiful ‘open declaration’. What’s more ridiculous is how they interpreted this correspondence. In the spring of the 2014 I argued with my vis-a-vis in correspondence about whether it is necessary to leave on our website the opinion of one ‘independent’ political scientist, who at that time frankly worked for the authorities. My interlocutor tried to prove that the comment should be removed since there is ‘an information war’, but in my answer there was the phrase ‘I understand that for them it is an information war’, then I tried to prove that for the sake of objectivity we must give different viewpoints and this comment too. But the SBU took just one phrase out of context – and this is how I became a participant of an information war without even knowing about it. I wasn’t involved in ‘information war’, I was and still am involved in journalism.”
And what happened to that comment?
“It remained on the website. But the SBU isn’t that interested in it, since they found the words they needed in the correspondence. Most of the charges concern 16 articles published on our website in the spring of 2014. The fact that they remembered about them four years later is ridiculous in itself. And at the same time we were never included in the list ‘media that threatens the national security of Ukraine’ made by the SBU and the Ministry of Information Policy. In four years there were no official claims, although I, after all, am a ‘state traitor’ and ‘a participant of the information war’ with experience, if to believe the SBU.”
What is the actual problem with these texts?
“These texts are mainly devoted to the events in Crimea. The country at that time was reminiscent of a raging cauldron that was close to blowing up. There was no sense in speaking about unanimity in the country after Maidan. In this situation I understood that it is possible to avoid reproaches about the level of engagement only be quoting all parties. We gave the floor to Yarosh, we did an interview with the leader of the most radical wing of ‘Right Sector‘, ‘White Hammer’, Goran. We published all the materials that were authored and were sharp under the heading ‘Point of View’ with the disclaimer: ‘The opinion of the author may not coincide with the opinion of the editors. Responsibility for quotes, figures, and facts provided in the text belongs to the author’. And it is precisely these texts that I am blamed for today. They chose only texts where the Crimean referendum was supported. The fact that there were materials with opposite assessments of events doesn’t bother anyone. This manipulation isn’t smart. Such criminal proceedings can be initiated against many Ukrainian media agencies that at that time tried to uphold the standards of the profession.”
How does the court react to the arguments of lawyers?
“The judges perfectly understand that I am supposed to sit in jail and they swallow the ‘proof’ of the SBU.”
But all of this happened rather long ago. The SBU had its sights on your for 4 years?
“Not completely. In 2018 the SBU found more ‘betrayal’ at our editorial office. On May 15th we published the material ‘Attack on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Who is guilty of refusing autocephaly’ in the ‘Opinions’ section. According to the SBU this article ‘was published in the interests of the Russian Federation, for the purpose of assisting it in carrying out subversive activities against Ukraine, namely the Ukrainian local church receiving Autocephaly’. Although the text itself is the comment of the expert Dmitry Korneychuk taken from his Facebook page. In the text there is 10 lines of Korneychuk’s skeptical point of view, and another 17 lines that are a quote from the appeal of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate) concerning the granting of Tomos. Does the betrayal lie in citing materials from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate)? The material was written in line with the canons of highlighting the conflict – two opinions pro and two opinions contra. The reader decides by themselves whose arguments are more convincing! But the SBU throws even this into the furnace of ‘state treason’.”
How do you feel in the Kherson pre-trial detention center?
“The Kherson pre-trial detention center is an old prison unit made from red brick. It is meters in terms of thickness of walls, the ceilings are four meters high, and the plank beds are in two rows. They are constructions from Catherine II.”
Who are your neighbors?
“I can’t say much, I don’t think that I have the right to speak about their private life. Privacy in prison is very much appreciated. But I can say for sure that ‘political prisoners’ isn’t a new experience for them. Crimeans are also kept here who, also for different far-fetched reasons, had state treason ‘sewed’ to them, and then attempts are made to try to include them in exchange lists.”
What do you think about an exchange?
“The word ‘exchange’ causes mixed feelings inside me”.
What offers were made to you? And will you agree to an exchange if an offer is made to you?
“An ‘exchange’ is from the lexicon of the military and philatelists. I not a military soldier or a stamp. I am a journalist. But the authorities try to turn me into a trump card in the process of exchange, which loses traction and doesn’t bring political dividends. If to compare the facts, the whole story with an exchange isn’t that complicated. Sentsov goes on a hunger strike ‘for the liberation of all political prisoners’ the day before my arrest. SBU employees hadn’t even finished rifling through my things before some politicians already demanded my exchange for Sentsov. But they didn’t even have enough time to accuse me of anything. All of this is nothing more than petty overzealous fuss: who will be the first to pronounce the needed theses. I don’t think that there is anyone left who isn’t aware that the authorities just needs my exchange, and not the security of Ukraine.”
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