Saturday, earlier morning of April 4th, 2015. On the streets of Zaporozhye its damp and grey, cold drops fall from the hazy sky. Vitaly grew up as an orphan from the age of 13, but now he has a family – a wife and two beautiful young children. They are four at home, in anticipation of a joint weekend. But at 6:00 a.m., there’s a rumble, like someone knocking down the door…
Spring 2018, maybe even April. Central Zaporozhye, pre-trial detention center No. 10. I am told that the same as me, a “terrorist”, called Orphan, has been sat in the neighbouring cell for several years. After brief encounters in the prison corridor before or after a walk – he, like me, goes to the street (if you can call a street, sealed from four sides by bricks 12 by 6 across with a grid instead of a roof) for an hour a day to breathe non-stale and smokey cell air and if possible to engage in sports. Sometimes, walking past his cell, I open the “feeder” for a minute and say hello. That’s all. But just the feeling that through the wall is a person with a similar fate gives strength. You are not alone…
Winter of 2019. Soon it’s New Year’s Eve and a new exchange of people who its unclear how they should be called. Prisoners of war? But what prisoners of war can be people who were arrested in Zaporozhye, 200 km from the contact line? Therefore, they are shyly called “held persons”. In what law is this concept formulated? Where is the procedure for exchanging citizens of Ukraine for citizens of Ukraine set out? Nobody knows. Politicians lie from TV screens, people lie to each other and to themselves. Vitaly and I drink coffee, remembering what we’ve been through. I don’t want to remember, but I do. Because we have no one to tells lie to. What happens to those who lied? What fate did they choose?
“I grew up an orphan,” says Vitaly. “My parents died when I was 13 years old. That’s probably why I really wanted to have a family, kids. I’m married, two babies have been born. For the sake of my family I worked as hard as I could: I worked in construction, I opened a small business for the sale of used cars and mobile phones, and at the same time I worked in the internal security of one of Zaporozhye’s factories. I also rented out an apartment that I had left from my parents.”
And what happened?
“2014 happened. I do not justify or want to whitewash either the ‘Party of Regions’ or Yanukovych, but it is not proper to overthrow a legally elected government a year and a half before an election. Yes, Yanukovych was not good, but one can’t overthrow a legally elected government. They should have waited for the election and elected who they wanted. Any shaking has consequences for the country. Every action has consequences, and these actions have resulted in bloody consequences. I was an opponent of Maidan because I understood that in our conditions, when one part of the country looks at Europe and the other at the Customs Union, it will inevitably lead to bloodshed. And it happened. I was against signing an Association Agreement with the European Union. Whoever has enough money to travel to the EU, whoever is able to live there, rent housing, can do it both with and without a visa. For them it’s all the same. Those who have no money, and this is the majority of the population of Ukraine, will not be able to go to Europe at all. They don’t care, either. A nation was made to internally clash on ideological grounds. Already in 2013-2014 I understood that this will be profited from, and now it is already visible who benefited from war. Each conflict between two parties has a third that benefits, which receives money from it.”
There can only be one ideological point of conflict in our case. And you saw it when for many others it was covered by the veil of propaganda?
“I don’t support Nazism. All people are equal. I believe that we have one planet and we cannot glorify someone over someone else. I never divided people into nations. We have one earth, one sun, we have to preserve them and leave something for our descendants, to not seize it all today and burn it all with fire, but leave something to the people who will live after us. When Maidan began, and then the exaltation of some historical characters at the expense of the destruction of monuments to others, I believe it is wrong. We were told that our Soviet past was bad, but it is obvious that the Soviet Union handed us what is now being mercilessly stolen: factories and the Dnepro Hydroelectric Power Plant were built. Whatever rulers there were then, they created something through which people lived. And now it’s all just being ruthlessly stolen.”
How did you react to what happened?
“I communicated with people around me and on social networks, I opposed the overthrow of a constitutional government, against forceful methods – in the 21st century it is possible to solve everything differently. In 2014 I saw how everything started to be stolen, social payments of single mothers were cut, tariffs for utilities were raised, food prices increased, petrol rose, the dollar flew up. The country went wild. The post-Maiden government immediately deceived people and betrayed its own supporters. And my friends – Vasily and Dmitry – decided to create a public organisation and wrote a manifesto. On April 10th 2015 we wanted to hold a legal rally demanding the fixing of utility tariffs.”
But nothing was to be done. 4 days before the planned rally the guys came.
“They somehow opened the iron door, the second one – wooden – I opened myself, upon hearing them kicking it in,” says Vitaly, describing the same April morning in 2015.
The three masked men broke into the apartment, Vitaly was thrown onto the floor, he heard a click of handcuffs and felt some object put in his hand, with such force that his thumb was hurt.
“To get my fingerprints,” he said, wincing from unpleasant memories.
Then the investigator appeared with two witnesses – as usual, students and, as usual, from law school. One of them “by a complete coincidence” turned out to be the wife of an appointed free lawyer. This will become known much later, in a few years. One operative in a mask remained on duty in the stairwell – suddenly the neighbours heard the noise and wanted to know what was going on. Such a situation never suits employees of the SBU, they need “their own”, so-called full-time, witness. The search warrant issued by the investigating judge is in their hands and there is an hour and a half of bedlam in the apartment. Vitaly is handcuffed, although there is no arrest warrant, and the search has just started, his family is terrified, no one can watch the mob, like cockroaches swarming one room and another. Full-time witnesses stand in the corridor and don’t even look. Their job is to sign what will be given and continue to amuse themselves. They, of course, found what they wanted to find: grenades in children’s toys and cannabis.
“If I had grenades, I definitely wouldn’t keep them in an apartment, especially in children’s toys,” said Vitaly while throwing up his hands, as he for so many years has not lost the ability to be surprised by the uncovered impudence and baseness. “Either in a garage, or in a dacha, but not in toys.”
Then at 9 am it is the “famous” basement of the SBU and the investigator, holding out documents for signature. This is a suspicion of a crime. In the text there is the classics: a radical personality, not perceiving the existing government, in order to overthrow the constitutional order, organised an explosion at the Maidan self-defence headquarters near the regional state administration building.
“They wrote that payment from some terrorists passed through me. Initially, the case was initiated for general hooliganism. But it seems that someone had different plans, so it was reclassified as terrorism – Article 258 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.”
Where did they get this from?
“My childhood friend – we lived nearby, studied in neighbouring schools, walked together – in 2012 or 2013 went to Donetsk to work as a sales representative of one firm and remained there. She was in my friends list on social media. Then – I did not know at the time – it turned out that she somehow joined the bodies of the DPR. And I was accused of receiving orders through her for subversion.”
Do they have your correspondence or phone conversations about orders and money?
“Certainly not, there is nothing. They just had to link us to the leadership of the non-controlled territories, and Vasily and Dmitry knew no one at all. At that time, I did not know my rights at all, I did not know that there should be a lawyer present when a search is carried out under a particularly serious article, I did not know that when signing a report of suspicion and giving evidence, there should be a lawyer present. I didn’t know, but I still refused to sign anything.”
At that time again in the basement, facing the concrete floor, with a bag on the head, his hands tied behind his back, and hands bound.
“It felt like … maybe someone had spasm in their sleep, that’s the kind of condition all over their body. All the muscles completely. This happened three times. Two times I refused to say anything, and on the third they said that next to me both my wife and some friends will lie, and my children will go to boarding school.”
The free lawyer came only in the evening, when everything for signing was already ready.
In the temporary detention facility, the police then noticed abrasions on Vitaly’s face and persistently asked him to document it for presentation to the pre-trial detention center. Did something human wake up in them, or they just insured themselves, or both at the same time? Who knows. But the SBU employees accurately insured themselves, writing that the arrested person resisted arrest. Resistance to a group of trained and equipped operatives along with an investigator? Apparently. And there were miracles in the pre-trial detention center. The cell was attended by Irina Lutsenko, the wife of the Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko and deputy from Poroshenko’s party, the deputy from the same party who is authorised by the President for the peaceful settlement of the conflict in the east of the country Irina Gerashchenko, and along with them three more of President Poroshenko’s advisers.
“Is there anyone here whose been jailed for terrorism?”
Office of the head of the pre-trial detention center – conversation
“Lutsenko communicated normally, while Gerashchenko… Well, judge for yourself: I spoke about torture, and she asked if I was at the beach when I met my wife, and so in the same spirit. In general, I described even about detention, about torture, about how when a measure of restraint in the form of detention in the pre-trial detention center was chosen I was dubbed an unemployed drug addict who led a hooligan life, although I had both an official job and a family.”
“We cannot interfere in the trial,” Lutsenko said, “but we will try to help somehow.”
What she did is unknown, but in the very near future the military prosecutor’s office started to check the officers of the Zaporozhye SBU who participated in my detention. 2 months passed, and Vitaly was being taken to court in order to extend his measure of restraint. But they didn’t take him. On the way they again took him to the basement of the SBU.
“You will be in a queer zone, you will be lowered, you will be finished! You spit in our back, and we’ll bury you!”
Then people in masks and gloves enter and bring in some devices.
“Now we’re really going to torture you for complaining. Put them on,” they said, holding out a pair of handcuffs.
“No, and without a lawyer I won’t communicate with you,” Vitaly’s knees shake, but adrenaline and a sense of self-preservation suggest the correct line of behaviour.
And foul language and threats again and again.
“Give me a lawyer,” repeats Vitaly, realising that there is no way to put handcuffs on.
After 7-10 minutes of psychological confrontation, the masked people leave.
“If they return, I will start to bang my head against the iron bars, and then in the pre-trial detention center I will put forward a complaint to the convoy. Because they put severe pressure on me, I’m just scared.”
The convoy assures that they will no longer come, and takes Vitaly to court as intended.
“I was shaking all over.” When they brought him back, they didn’t even let him see the child.
The investigator comes to the prison van.
“Let’s get out of this situation somehow,” he says. “Write a refutation to stop the personal inspection of the SBU, and I will allow you to see your wife and children.”
The refutation was made on interesting terms. The investigation removes the cannabis and grenades from the case, and the suspect writes that in order not to harm the investigation he asks not to carry out a check of the SBU officers.
“But for them I was still a terrorist with connections. I was taken separately. Some masked people said that if I am released I would immediately hang myself because I will not live. The methods of the work of the SBU are so rigid that the ordinary person stands little chance once inside. They pass over you like an asphalt paver, systematically and without doubt.”
As such, without grenades and drugs, but still under article 258 (terrorism) the case went to court. There they we were never able to find out anything about orders from terrorists, or about a terrorist organisation, witnesses did not say anything and did not confirm anything about orders, about money, or about radicalism.
“It turns out that I was judged for the fact that I wanted communal tariffs reduced, that there was no war, that parasites didn’t steal our country and didn’t profit from war. That’s what I was judged for. But after a year and 4 months of hearings they still gave me 8 years with confiscation of property. It was a purely political decision so that undesirables wouldn’t get too smart.”
During all this time Vitaly had no long visits with relatives, in the pre-trial detention center they are not allowed, and they won’t bring the child for a brief meeting behind the glass. Vitaly lost his job, he lost all his business orders, his family broke up – his wife didn’t want to wait. On appeal, the sentence was quashed, as it turned out that one of the lawyers was the wife of the investigator, which was a gross violation of the right to a defence. The case was referred for reconsideration. Given that there is no evidence base and many irregularities on the part of the investigation, the judges, at the request of the lawyers, found some of the evidence obviously to be inadmissible. And in 4 years Vitaly was released in accordance with Savchenko’s law.
“They released me at midnight – such are the laws in our country. And the law should be the same for everyone. SBU employees carried out the plan, gained a promotion for uncovering God knows what, they deliberately inflated it, made a mountain out of a molehill in order to receive awards, and jailed everyone en masse. But we will get justice under the law. I was met by friends and taken home. The next day I saw my children. They of course had been weaned from me, they were shy, some ‘uncle’ came after 4 years.”
Soon there will be a prisoner exchange. Vitaly was not put forward for an exchange, although his comrades-in-suffering were put forward. He is not on the lists filed by the LDPR, although he is the one featuring in a case as a communicator with “terrorists”. There is one continuous lie that has already led to a tragedy of national proportions and, if the lying doesn’t stop, it will inevitably lead to a catastrophe.
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