Prisoner of Conscience Vasily Muravitsky: The Ukrainian Authorities Need War to Justify Repression

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The journalist Vasily Muravitsky, who is accused in Ukraine of high treason for writing articles in the media, on July 27th was released under house arrest. Muravitsky stayed in a pre-trial detention center for 11 months…

The journalist is under house arrest until August 25th.

In an interview with “” Vasily Muravitsky spoke about life in prison, the death of journalism in Ukraine, and the continuation of the fight for freedom and the truth.

Your release under house arrest is a victory or a respite?

“Of course, it is a respite. Because this is a preliminary victory. In Ukraine people were never released under house arrest under such articles [of the Criminal Code – ed]. People were released, these are isolated cases if the person stayed in jail for 2-3-4 years — under those articles that I was accused and am still accused.

But the fact is that the case was so flagrantly fabricated, so crazily that the judges already simply couldn’t listen to the prosecutor and released me under house arrest. Because this case is sewn with such white thread that it even dazzle the eyes.

It is a preliminary victory, but a victory all the same. A full victory lies ahead. The fight continues and, maybe, heads towards the sharpest conflict.”

What did you do first of all when you entered your house after being released, even if it is under house arrest?

“I crossed myself. Because many people prayed for me. I am very grateful to them. Both priests and ordinary laypeople asked about my release. And, of course, I thanked them as I could… The patroness of Zhytomyr is Anastasia Rimlyanynya. The day of her memory is June 26th. And on June 26th the decision on my release under house arrest was made. And I also turned to her for help.”

How does your child feel? Is it true that you saw him for the first time after he was born? After all, you were arrested directly in the maternity ward where your wife was just after childbirth.

“My son is 11-months-old. But after his birth I saw him for only 3 days. SBU employees came directly in the maternity ward – they weren’t ashamed by this at all, including with weapons, there was task forces and a bus with ‘Alpha’ members with all weapons and regimentals, with assault rifles, crowbars, tools to break open doors … I don’t know why they would need such things in a maternity ward?

Now I meet my son anew. And he meets me.”

Did you expect on this day or earlier that you will be released from the pre-trial detention center before a verdict was announced?

“No, I didn’t expect it. Nobody expected it. This was a little miracle, an astonishing fact. I prepared myself for a long and persistent fight for a full victory. Moreover, I prepared myself for at least a year passing before being sentenced – and this still lies ahead – and that then there will be the Court of Appeal and the fight there…

But, fortunately, now the situation has now turned in such a direction. But we will fight and destroy these charges — we won’t leave a stone unturned.”

After 11 months in prison what changed in you and your perception of the world around you? Do you consider that you were somehow wrong? That it would be possible to write or do something differently in order to avoid imprisonment?

“Concerning being somehow wrong: there is such traits of a decent person, it is such a catch-22 that, unfortunately, the SBU also use it. The conscientious person, decent when people in epaulettes come to his home and say that you are guilty of something, starts looking for guilt in his conscience, to torture and torment themselves. After all, it is people who came; after all, they simply can’t be mistaken! After all, this is a government institution!

But no, they can be mistaken! And they are not just mistaken, they falsify things.

Moreover, they don’t have even an ounce of regret present in their conscience. Because I understood that I am not guilty of anything. But guilty are those who decided to earn the epaulettes of a Colonel or General at the expense of a journalist in order to please their political environment and the political moment.

These persons are known: they are the investigators Veselsky, Fedorenko, and Truliy. They are also the head of the regional department of the SBU, who tried to present me as some awful saboteur or spy. A saboteur who signed an employment contract with a foreign publishing house?!

Did my attitude towards people change? Of course, and cardinally too. It verified who is a true friend, and who is a so-and-so; who it is impossible to remain acquainted with. Moreover, this imprisonment revealed the purulent abscess of snitching in the journalistic environment of Zhytomyr. These are vile mean people who aren’t worthy of respect at all. Okay, they slandered me. But they will continue to slander and snitch on those who they work and live with. I would like to say hello to the mayor Sukhomlin – after all, your press secretary is a SBU informant.

And once again about changes: in prison I met more decent and honest people among some robbers who were jailed on charges under theft articles and also those accused of murder than I did among some of the journalists of Zhytomyr and among some officers of the SBU of the Zhytomyr region. Such is the situation.

Friends and people are vetted by trouble — I know who my friends are.”

Are you happy with your lawyers?

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“I want to say that the lawyers Berezchenko, Gozhy, and Domansky are professionals in their domain. Not everything in the country is decided by lawyers, regardless of how clever and outstanding they may be. Because the telephone law and the law on pressuring the courts is in effect. And unfortunately the courts cave in.

But what these guys [Muravitsky’s lawyers – ed] did is inconceivable! These are high-level professionals. They are deeply moral and honest people. For example, Domansky was reproached because he defends a person who is accused of separatism. But he said: I defend anyone who I consider to be innocent.

These people don’t undertake cases if they consider that the defendant is guilty. They have my most sincere gratitude.

But I consider that the case hasn’t yet finished and it is impossible to speak about any result yet. Not because I am dissatisfied with my lawyers, but because there is a need to bring this case to a victorious end.”

Did you feel the support of your friends and colleagues during these 11 months in a pre-trial detention center?

“Of course, if the regional office of the Union of Journalists of Ukraine hadn’t approached this situation with false charges so honestly, professionally, and objectively… Pressure was put on them, including by the SBU. The SBU came to them and said: ‘Expel him from the Union of Journalists!’ And the Union of Journalists, including at the national level, answered: ‘Let’s try to find out what these charges are. Why is there such pressure if we haven’t even seen the charges? If there is a verdict, then we will make a decision. Until then we have to defend the journalist’.

This is an absolutely weighed, respected, human, and courageous position — despite the pressure.

And I received the full support of a considerable part of the journalists in Zhytomyr and the journalists of Ukraine. I was also supported by the human rights activists of Zhytomyr, as well as public activists. I won’t thank everyone here and now, but many people participated in my defence. And this fight hasn’t yet ended, and it’s not known how much longer it will continue for. But I thank everyone, what they did is striking. And it gives me the hope that Zhytomyr journalism hasn’t decayed and that there is solidarity.”

Do you know that one of the Ukrainian media agencies – RIA Novosti Ukraine, which supported you during all these 11 months – no longer operates. And its editor-in-chief, Kirill Vyshinsky, is now in the Kherson pre-trial detention center, where he was sent under such invented reasons as you were. What could you advise him in this situation?

“I wasn’t acquainted with Kirill and haven’t yet communicated with him personally, but I, of course, know about his case (one of Kirill Vyshinsky’s lawyers defends Vasily Muravitsky too). This is a high-profile case, which, if all the elements that the SBU ‘injected’ into it are removed [the sentence ends abruptly – ed]… And there is a need to clearly understand that the SBU has media agencies that they control and means of denigration in the public space. It it is necessary to clean away the elements that the SBU ‘injected’ against Kirill Vyshinsky. None of what surfaced via the SBU in the media is present in the indictment itself.

Here is a simple example: such pressure is being put on Vyshinsky that, perhaps, wasn’t even put on Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko when they were arrested (at the time of Yanukovych)!

Searches or interrogations were carried out at the homes of 69 people who are connected to Kirill Vyshinsky in this or that way. After all, the circle of contacts can’t be so huge! Why is there a need to involve so many people in his case? Why are they necessary? It’s very simple: searches and interrogations are carried out not to find out some information, but to put pressure on the nearest circle of contacts and private life, so that the person breaks. This is a method of destruction and discrediting; a method of pressure and suppression.

Vyshinsky’s case is certainly a political one, connected to the process of a prisoner exchange. It is the idea of Poroshenko and of Poroshenko’s elite that nowadays rules — they have no victories, so they, at least, will exchange Ukrainian prisoners for Russian ones. This, of course, is a victory and I am sincerely glad to liberate every prisoner and those who, perhaps, sit on far-fetched charges, even in Russia. But after all, it isn’t proper to put people in jail on far-fetched charges in order to exchange them for other prisoners jailed on far-fetched charges. After all, it is elementary human trafficking!”

How do you assume your criminal case will end?

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“Of course, my internal confidence developed after I returned from Lukyanovka. It developed when I stood near a window in the cell and understood in the heart that we will win. Even if there will be an illegal conviction, we will win all the same.

Moreover, we already won. That amount of attention from international organisations (Amnesty International considers Muravitsky as a prisoner of conscience), attention from the European parliament, attention from US State Department, various diplomatic organisations in the world showed to the whole world that not everything is so good in Ukraine and especially with freedom of speech. It was violated. And not just violated, but it is strangulated and suppressed by the authorities, which came under slogans of European freedom and did the absolutely the opposite. This is already a big victory.

Whatever the verdict will be, we already won morally. And if I will be given a prison term — well, I will serve this term. I am sure that we already won and even more surer that we will win in a legal sense. I am not sure that in 2 months I will be told: ‘That’s all, now go, we completely acquit you’. But a moral victory is already on our side. I am the only prisoner of conscience in Ukraine who was officially recognised by international organisations.

We will win, but when it will happen — only God knows.”

Do you understand that you are a political prisoner? What’s it like to be one in modern Ukraine?

“Of course, I understand. Because to be jailed under such charges is possible only for one’s beliefs.

I will give a simple example. One of the phrases in the indictment sounds is as such: ‘He undermined national information security’. So accordingly, this falls under Article 111 of the Criminal Code. But we open the law book on national information security and we see what ‘national information security’ is. This is the security of telecommunications, computer systems, radio and telecommunication between public institutions. How it is possible to undermine information security, having expressed one’s beliefs? It is impossible to do it. It is the same as someone entering the subway, starting to be outraged because it is filthy, and then being told that he blew up the subway.

Here is the essence of the charges that were cooked up moronically – I will use this word, because here it is completely pertinent. It was moronically cooked up in the Zhytomyr pre-trial detention center.”

Who were you sat in a cell with? How did they behave with you?

“People treated me kindly. In accordance with the prison tradition I was given a nickname. At first they called me ‘egghead’. One of the guys, 19-year-old, who had a difficult position, didn’t know the word ‘egghead’, he could never understand nor pronounce it. He started to call me something simpler — ‘elegant’, it also sounds beautiful, I treated it calmly. After I was called ‘Journalist’.

Everyone behaved calmly, attentively, and respectably towards me. And everyone was surprised, and didn’t understand why I was jailed? You wrote an article? 12 years for this? ‘State terrorism’ for publishing an article on the Internet? Wow! Terrorism is explosions and bombs. Feel this madness, it walks close to you. And 12 investigators of the SBU were involved in this madness, getting paid 12,000-15,000 hryvnia per month. 1 year and 9 months — using your [tax payer’s – ed] money!

I sat in jail with different people. Including with soldiers from the ATO and volunteer battalions. And we found a common language with everyone. I want to say that soldiers from the ATO and volunteer battalions completely understand the falsity of the current military conflict and how money is earned on it.

After all, the war in Ukraine is fratricidal, it is a way of justifying repression in Ukraine, including political repression. They don’t want to end the war, it is needed, for money – speculators and dealers.”

What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to be further involved in journalism after the court case and the verdict?

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“My plan for the near future is to not leave the house. Because I have around-the-clock house arrest and am banned from leaving the house.

Concerning plans: of course, I will write some notes and memoirs. Perhaps, I will turn it into a book, where I will mention all participants, I will speak about the SBU investigators and the methods that they use in their lawless and illegal activity. I will speak about the situation among journalists. I will highlight people who showed courage and honesty. And I will also describe what kind of baseness exists and the nastiness disguised by political views.

And after this — we will think about things. In Ukraine there are too many people locked-up in a pre-trial detention center and prisons under political articles [of the Criminal Code – ed]. There is a need to help release them. Perhaps, I will help them to be released and share my experience.”

What are the most valuable, in your experience, ideas of life that appeared after spending 11 months in a pre-trial detention center?

“It is necessary to value every minute of life, to live right now, not to postpone it for later — even to wash a cup immediately, and not to leave it for tomorrow. It is necessary not to be afraid, because even a hair from your head won’t fall without God’s will. And if suffering is necessary, including for both your right to express your own thoughts and the right of the people who aren’t close to you politically speaking, then it is necessary to sit in prison and suffer. The most important thing is to not be afraid.”

How would you characterise modern journalism in Ukraine?

“Journalism in Ukraine has been destroyed at the roots. We have a system of mass communications and mass information, where the same topic is being chewed and passes through all stages of this chewing.

Journalism is a duty, and not work. Journalism is creativity. Journalism is defending public interests, including the truth, and it is disinterested by its nature.

Now it is impossible to be involved in such journalism in Ukraine for two reasons: because it is difficult to find a worthy salary and the people interested in such journalism. And the most elementary thing: it can be simply pursued by law enforcement bodies, because what is the sense in competing with journalists? For example, the journalist expresses their opinion, and there is a need to fight against he/she in a verbal way. But they can come to he/she and imprison them.

Or to kill them, like they did with Buzina. Or blow them up, like they did with Sheremet. Where is journalism here? It has been destroyed. I think that it is necessary to be involved in journalism, but there must be very courageous and absolutely honest people who don’t worry about their fate and are ready to suffer.”

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