Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
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The journalist Dmitry Vasilets, who, together with Evgeny Timonin, was condemned to nine years of imprisonment on a charge of treason and complicity in terrorism, wrote a letter to “Vesti”. In the letter he speaks about the mock trial, and also how in Ukraine those who aren’t afraid to tell the truth are labelled as “agents of the Kremlin”. We present it without redactions.
Hello, my name is Dmitry Vasilets, I am a journalist who was recently put behind bars for 9 years for my journalistic projects. Taking the opportunity, thanks to my lawyer, who will pass on this article to your publication, I with gratitude will use this opportunity and I will describe from behind bars why it is precisely Timonin and I who the SBU threw in prison and also organized a mock trial, which, on the basis of a fake case, gave us 9 years of imprisonment each.
I came into journalism from business, I wasn’t able to observe indifferently how by means of the media the citizens of Ukraine are being pitted against each other, that’s why I decided to act. My business brought me passive income, and at the expense of this I was able to seriously engage in journalism. The particularity and “trouble for the SBU” was that each of my journalistic and public projects had a specific aim, and that I financed them myself. Each of my projects was “a stick in the wheel of the warmongers in Ukraine”, moreover the “sticks were of a different diameter”. For example, the journalistic project “Museum of Information War”, in which I laid down the known principle “everything is learned in comparison” as the basis, was aimed at the formation of immunity in citizens from any propaganda and the instilling of media literacy.
In this project I took any event, for example, the downing of the Boeing in Donbass, and in my program I analyzed the news programs of the media with absolutely different points of view about the topic. In the case of the downed Boeing in Donbass, there was an analysis of the news programs of our media and Russian ones. After viewing one minute of the news of our media the viewer will have the belief that the Boeing was brought down by Russians, and after viewing of one minute of the Russian news the viewer has the belief that the Boeing was brought down by Ukrainians, and, of course, it’s not incidental. In my program “Museum of Information War” I scrutinised simultaneously two programs – one from a Russian TV channel and one from ours, and explained what makes the viewer form such a belief, how propaganda works, and why there is a need to know journalistic standards.
Of course, such a project wasn’t beneficial for anyone other than ordinary citizens, after all, I criticized practically everybody for violating journalistic standards – both foreign media and ours. But because our Ukrainian TV channels lie, kindled war, and pushed out simply rabid propaganda, so they came under criticism more often. It’s not because I am a “bad” one, but because if we compare our TV channels in terms of quality of work with the EU, Russia, or the US TV channels, then ours are at the very bottom. Perhaps because they have small budgets, perhaps because of the inadequate information policy of the authorities, perhaps journalists are less educated, I don’t know definitely, but the fact remains.
Of course I didn’t stop at the project “Museum of Information War”, after all a number of media outlets continued to kindle war, and a couple of tens of thousands of viewers of “Museum of Information War” can’t change the situation cardinally, so then I, with my colleagues Dmitry Todorov, Pavel Tysevich, and others organized the movement “Media lustration”. The purpose of this project was extremely simple – monitoring the media and bringing to visual and legal responsibility those who kindle war through the media, lie, and are engaged in propaganda. For the visual responsibility of journalists we founded the journalistic anti-award of Goebbels, which was gave out to the journalists “at fault” as a warning, and for legal responsibility we organized lawyers and filed lawsuits against those who were “at fault” repeatedly and heavily. As soon as we organized and launched “Media lustration” the SBU understood that we can really prevent the regime from kindling war through the media, and started fabricating a fake case against us. After all, the bulk of journalists are “cowardly people”, and if over their heads our “Sword of Damocles” will hover – in the form of our “Media lustration”, the regime won’t be able to kindle war as simply as it did earlier.
Following tradition, in Ukraine if someone does at least something against the regime, they are immediately labelled “Agent of the Kremlin”, “Hand of Putin”, and “separatist”. The SBU decided to choose something from these for me. As I hadn’t been in Russia for 7 years, didn’t receive money from there, the “creative department of the SBU” decided to fabricate a case on the basis of my trip to Donetsk for three days in the summer of the 2014. It is in this way that in the sick heads of the “creative department of the SBU” that the fable was born: that I, with Evgeny Timonin (the system administrator in my business and my colleague), “setup a YouTube channel for terrorists”. For everyone who knows me and saw my journalistic projects, it is obvious that I’m not connected in any way to any “Novorossiya-TV”, but the SBU used a legal loophole, according to which it is possible to call any person who, after Maidan, was in the Donetsk and Lugansk region “an assistant of terrorists” and simply like that, peremptorily, put them behind bars for any term.
It was convenient for the SBU. Firstly, it is “a star on the epaulettes” for them, and secondly – for me, from prison, it is practically impossible to wash away the label of “assistant of terrorists”. I, an inhabitant of Kiev, in order to have less resonance, was thrown into the Zhytomyr region, and they started carrying out court hearings in villages behind closed doors, maximally forbidding journalists from filming at least something. But the SBU miscalculated, and people who know me immediately understood that the official charge that was brought against me is a sham, and that the case is fake, and understood what in reality they arrested me for. That’s why they didn’t remain silent, and came even to the villages of the Zhytomyr region for my mock trial. As soon as I was arrested, many people involved themselves, started to help and support Timonin and I in different ways. Among them, the head of the “Center for Freedom of speech” Dmitry Todorov, the journalist Ruslan Kotsaba, the head of the association “We are Together” Artur Zhurbenko, the chairman of the “Center for Freedom of speech” and experienced politician Elena Bondarenko, the Deputy Head of the party of “Rozumna Sila” Aleksandr Savchenko, the leadership of the “Institute of Legal Policy and Social Protection” Elena Petrovna Berezhnaya and Irina Berezhnaya, the journalist Vladimir Skachko, and also many others whose surnames it is better to withhold for now.
It’s not a secret for anybody that now in Ukraine there are thousands of political prisoners, and nobody knows anything about 99.9% of them, besides relatives, and it is awful. And I was lucky, many know about me, and you can’t imagine to what extent it is strong support in prison when people who don’t know me personally, who simply watched my programs, during these two years that I’ve been in jail, transferred money to me for transport to court, for lawyers, and for food transfers to prison, some give 100 hryvnia, others 1500, even sent from abroad, I periodically receive my bank statements, and I know by surname everyone who has helped during all these years. Thanks to such support for me and my family it was much simpler during these years to endure the lawlessness of the repressive apparatus, great thanks to you!!!
It was very difficult for my relatives during these two years, the SBU often employed “titushky“, they burned down the door of the apartment of my parents, burned down mailboxes, broke my mother’s car, issued threats. I didn’t want to write about this, but I will say that during one and a half years the SBU blackmailed my mother regarding the passport office so that she refuses Ukrainian nationality, in exchange for the SBU’s loyalty to my case, when I was arrested they confiscated her passport and didn’t give it back, under different pretexts. My mother even went to these beasts in the Zhytomyr SBU and asked to return the passport, but without result. In order to “help me” she refused Ukrainian nationality, as was requested by these beasts. I learned about this recently, my mother is a pensioner, and although she made a mistake under the pressure of these beasts, I understand that she wanted so much to help me. The most difficult thing of all in prison pertains to relatives, I would do everything so that the blow to me doesn’t touch them, but alas.
However let’s return to the reasons of my arrest, and here it is worth mentioning that I, with my colleagues on “Media lustration”, actually received control in the public council at the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine. It was clear to all why the Ministry of Information Policy led by the President’s godfather was formed, but all journalists went to a meeting a few times, shouted “no to censorship”, expressed their indignation on social networks, but that’s all. But me – no. I studied the legislation, and having agreed with labor unions, I and my co-thinkers, were officially included in a legislative order in the public council at the Ministry of Information Policy. Naturally, we began in a rigid form, already on legal grounds, to demand from the godfather of the President to cease to be engaged in stupid propaganda and censorship, after all, with this they dishonor Ukraine. And as a warning, we, at a meeting of “Media lustration”, gave out the anti-award of Goebbels to Yury Stets [former Minister of Information Policy – ed]. And it’s very possible that Yury Stets strongly took offense at this, that’s why he ensured that we were thrown in prison. But where’s the logic? And what if we prevented the Ministry from shaming Ukraine, after all, we did it out of patriotic feelings! Well, they could jail us for a few months, I could understand this, well at most for 6 months, but 9 years is obviously overkill.
One more reason in the “piggybank” for my arrest is the program “What the Media is Silent About” program. I learned that “temniks” (lists of topics that are forbidden to speak about, or it is specified how exactly they should be spoken about) are being distributed to the leadership of the pro-authorities media, that’s why having made friends with some of them, I agreed that they share these “temniks” with me. And it is precisely the topics forbidden in the media that I discussed on my program “What the Media is Silent About”, together with different guests in the studio. We also with my colleagues from “Media lustration” monitored the media and revealed the forbidden topics, well, and naturally, discussed them on the program. There are also other reasons for my imprisonment, for example, highlighting the mass bribery of voters by the candidate of Bloc of Petro Poroshenko in the mayor’s elections in Chernigov, which was “covered” by the SBU. By the way the candidate from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko won the elections thanks to bribery. This is also the preparation of documents in the International Criminal Court against the IMF for economic genocide of the Ukrainian people; it is also actions with anti-corruption videos screened via a projector on the Khreshchatyk; it is also highlighting corruption in the Social Security Fund, and so on.
Honestly, I don’t know how this lawlessness concerning Timonin and I will end, perhaps we will be obliged to sit in jail for 9 years. Perhaps because the UN and OSCE keeps our case under their control, we will be able to repulse the “dark forces”, or the conscience of the judges will awaken, it is difficult to say, time will tell. Now lawyers prepare many claims and statements about the crimes of those who organized and promoted repression concerning me, at last such an opportunity appeared for us. Previously it was the lawyer Svetlana Novitskaya who was burdened with this, and Tatyana Montyan helped her wherever it was possible, and now Elena Leshenko and the team of Andrey Portnov has now joined, now there is hope that through joint efforts we will win.
After all it is wrong, even according to human concepts. How was it possible to arrest me, a journalist, who, in difference to many, wasn’t afraid in the summer of 2014 to go to Donetsk in order to see and tell people what is actually going on there, while most journalists, sitting in Kiev in warm offices, were inventing “news about Donbass”! To arrest and, with the help of pocket courts, to also condemn me for 9 years for the fact that with my own money I was engaged in journalism and did everything I could so that in Ukraine there could be peace! Not to mention the fact that the SBU destroyed my business in the sphere of Internet providing – after my arrest, having deliberately confiscated all my servers. They obviously did it so that if I will exit prison, I won’t be able to finance my journalistic projects myself any more. As is said – “be thankful that they didn’t kill”.
But despite all of this, I call on you – dear readers – to understand one truth. If you see injustice, it is precisely you who needs to fight against it. Nobody except you will do anything. It is precisely for this reason that I did both my journalistic and public projects. I could have lived quietly and luxuriously, engaged in business, without noticing in general how us, Ukrainians, are being pitted against each other and killed, but I chose another way. And I progressed down this path so much that I really started resisting the incitement of war through the media, otherwise I wouldn’t have been condemned for 9 years for my projects by Poroshenko’s regime clique. The delirium of the SBU about “help in setting up the YouTube of ‘Novorossiya-TV'” and other nonsense, perhaps only utterly crazy brainwashed people will believe such propaganda, while for adequate people it was obvious since the first day of my arrest why I was thrown in prison.
“Vesti” managed to ask Dmitry some questions through his lawyer…
Dmitry, please give 5 pieces of advice for modern youth. After all, after looking at you, your fight, and its consequences, many will reconsider their views and degree of activeness.
“The first thing that should be done is to stop believing in fairy tales about a ‘bright future’, ‘European integration’, ‘European and Eurasian Union’, ‘families of the European people’, ‘civilized European choice’, and other nonsense. It is time to remove the rose-tinted glasses and to understand that NOBODY HELPS OUR UKRAINE DISINTERESTEDLY, NOBODY! All statements that any country helps Ukraine is the purest lie. For every such ‘help’ from abroad in the form of money, credits, supplies of equipment, and others, the State of Ukraine and every citizen will be obliged to pay very dearly – with both money and sovereignty. That’s why in order to withhold the conditions of receiving this alleged ‘help from abroad’, they always try to disguise it as ‘reforms’. Credits of the International Monetary Fund, which 100 times per day on TV are called ‘help’ is a bright example of this. For this alleged ‘help’, the Verkhovna Rada along with the President, like obedient executive doggies, adopts those laws and decisions that the IMF dictates, and this isn’t even a secret for anybody anymore. However difficult it may be, it is necessary to understand that it is possible to count only on yourself, and no circular dances, tridents made from water-melons, or russophobia will help us build a strong State. I write this because I am a patriot of my country, I am not a future emigrant who loudly shouts for money ‘Glory to Ukraine’. It is necessary to understand, at last, that in the EU, the US, nor in Russia there aren’t ‘kind uncles’ who dream of helping Ukraine disinterestedly because we are ‘classy’ and because we have ‘beautiful songs’.
Secondly, I consider that patriotism in a healthy country must be measured by quantity of taxes paid to the budget of the country, and not by shouting out slogans, russophobia, and embroidery. The patriot must seek to pay more taxes and to ensure whenever possible that they weren’t looted. That’s why I suggest to all to measure every month their patriotism by their sum of paid taxes. Even a parrot can shout ‘Glory to Ukraine’, try to confirm this with your money. I, for example, did it in this way until I was thrown in prison.
Thirdly, it is necessary to understand that in our country, in our house, it is us who are the owners, and if you see any injustice, it is precisely you who should solve it. You analysed the situation, consulted knowledgable people, threw together a plan of action, organized co-thinkers – if there are any, and now go forward to get a result. Only in this way is it possible to win, without demagogy, hysterics, and PR. Remember that behind every injustice that you decided to defeat, there are tens, even hundreds of hours of Your work, heavy, perhaps financially expensive, sometimes monotonous, but Your work. For which, perhaps, nobody will say thank you, but it isn’t a reason to be indifferent to the fate of your country.
Fourthly, remember the proverb: ‘the enemy can be always found’. The media will constantly try to find an enemy for you, to pit you against somebody, therefore never fall for it. Study economics – and you will understand what real enemies look like, you will learn how they act and where their weak places are. I believe that every patriot must understand such questions: who prints money, what is inflation, emission of money, reserve currency, refinancing rate, and so on.
Fifthly, remember that for every person who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink alcohol, or do drugs, at least ten people take the former for example. Try to always show by your own example that a healthy nation is the pledge of a healthy country – I’ve done this already for 11 years. What for sure shouldn’t be done is to be afraid. After all, it is precisely by fear that criminals, corrupt persons, and traitors try to control us. They need you to be afraid whilst they systematically sell off sovereignty, land resources, and your future. Do your part, be vigilant, and remember that there is no law in Ukraine, the regime turned it into a certain ‘conditional concept’, which is being extended only to ordinary people, such as us.”
What in life are you personally afraid of most of all?
“In life I am mostly afraid of wasting time for nothing. Life is very short, and it is necessary to do as much as possible to live it with dignity. It is necessary to constantly develop yourself, to study the world around you, to travel and self-actualize. Even in prison I use the time that I am fated to spend here beneficially. Yes, Poroshenko’s regime clique deprived me of freedom for an undefined period of time, but it isn’t a reason to drop my head and degrade.”
How do you fight against attacks of despair, after all, they visit you today for certain. Do you regret what happened? And what would you change if there was an opportunity to turn back time?
“Sometimes indeed it is very difficult, after all, already for years I haven’t been able to touch my relatives, to see them, to talk to them, but if God gave me this test, I will pass through it with dignity and with my head held high. If there was an opportunity to turn back time, I would do everything the same anyway, so that peace comes to Ukraine, and all the same I would maximally counter our media’s attempts to kindle war. But I would do everything already to a higher quality (now I have more experience), and then Poroshenko’s regime clique most likely would give me not 9 years, but 15. After all, the media for the regime is an element of governance, and those who force the media to sabotage the implementation of orders from above and to work for the benefit of the citizens of Ukraine become much more dangerous for the regime than ordinary murderers, rapists, and bandits.”
Did you ever think about being engaged in something narrow, but important, while you had the time for this – for example, to learn a language, to enter in absentia to any university. Many universities – not from Ukraine, of course – will respond and will organize for you some individual course…
“I don’t waste time in prison, I play sports, I learn economics, models of creation of the State, Law, I study the classics of literature, I develop an online system of referenda and think about how to implement it. I am convinced that it is the people who must make key decisions, that’s why such an online system of referenda is necessary, this is the future. Universities are of course good, but my mother always told me: ‘It is necessary to be, and not to seem to be’, therefore a diploma means little to me, I like results. Although, perhaps, in the future I will do the second level of higher education on economics if suddenly I will need a diploma for the implementation of my plans.”
Do you have any idols?
“I don’t have any idols, I appreciate adherence to principles, personal good qualities, and decency in people. Many people deserve respect, for example, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Charles de Gaulle, Bogdan Khmelnytsky, Aleksandr Suvorov, Georgy Zhukov, and so on. So many should follow the example of such people, but to make idols of them, I believe, is superfluous.”
In 2014 where did your strong desire for justice and objectivity come from? You are young, and objectively you should’ve been on the other side of the barricades?
“Probably, I have a good memory, after all, the ‘Orange revolution’ was staged by the same people who staged Euromaidan. They didn’t even change the slogans. If they lied back then, then why would they suddenly start to tell the truth during the second time? I remember ‘improvement’ back then, the dollar to hryvnia exchange rate jumped up from 5 to 12. Even though I am young, I don’t consider myself to be stupid, it is very very difficult to hook me on phrase-mongering and empty slogans. I didn’t believe and don’t believe in ‘kind uncles’ from the EU, US, and other countries that want ‘good’ for us. Already before 2014 I was engaged in my social projects, but when I saw how citizens were pitted against each other it was necessary to act rigidly, which I indeed started to do. It is a pity that the youth is always used as cannon fodder, but in order to not be caught, read attentively the aforementioned five pieces of advice for youth.”
How do you receive information about what is going on in the country now? Has anything changed in your views?
“My views haven’t changed, on the contrary – they became stronger, after all, I saw the machine of repression from within and felt on myself all the lawlessness of the regime. Conclusions were drawn, I won’t forget the bestial grin of this power, which is shouting about ‘European values’ and killing my compatriots to please their mercantile interests. In my cell there is a TV and I am often sent the books and information I ask for. I like to watch Poroshenko on TV, when he talks about ‘an unheard of level of freedom of speech’ and ‘breakthroughs in the economy’, it is really laughable, the ’95th quarter’ [Russian stand-up comedy show – ed] can have a rest. Sometimes I like to listen to a lie when I perfectly know the truth.”
What do you think about Ukrainian politics as such? After all, in essence you became a political prisoner?
“Yes, I became one, politics ‘engaged with me’. In reality, politics concerns every one of us and it is impossible to hide from it. The lawlessness that now takes place is the consequence of the majority’s passivity and non-participation in the life of the country. I hope that in the future we will manage to change this situation and to make up for lost time.”
Well, is there really anyone in power, in particular in the SBU, who is understanding?
“I didn’t see adequate people there, probably, they all resigned after Maidan, after all, not everyone would like to dirty their hands with political repressions.”
Do you believe in God? You know, there is such an expression: that it is possible to take everything away from someone except Faith.
“Faith for me, first of all, is knowledge, which leads to full conviction. And I have enough knowledge even now at my age that tells me that in the universe such an amount of coincidences is impossible. Over time my faith, as practice shows, will only strengthen.”
Thank you! We will do our utmost so that the maximum amount of attention of society is drawn to your case.
“Thanks a lot to your publication for the opportunity to tell people what people are now put in prison for. Consider my experience in your undertakings.”
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