Ukraine Does Not Release Political Prisoners: How Pavel Volkov Was Tried

The Ukrainian state already seemed to have released the political prisoner from Zaporozhye Pavel Volkov. But no: on February 25th 2020 – cassation in the Supreme Court, and the journalist was again threatened with prison. Concerning how Pavel was tried, read his report.

“Well, what are your premonitions?” asks the lawyer Vladimir Lapin, drinking tea from a glass with a “Ukrzaliznyzi” metal cup holder.

“I think it’s not over,” my wife Lera answers on my behalf. “It’s never easy”.

The Zaporozhye-Kiev train creaks comfortably on the Ukrainian railway that never became a hyperloop. We’re going to the Supreme Court for the prosecutor’s cassation.

And I have 2 dates in my head: 25th, 27th, 25th, 27th…

On September 27th 2017, I was arrested by a mob of SBU employees, who broke into my mother’s house: I was accused of attacking the territorial integrity of Ukraine and terrorism through journalistic activities (text articles criticising Poroshenko’s regime and reports from the Donetsk airport area).

We then thought that everything would be simple and immediate – it is impossible to judge a person for carrying out their professional duties, and even more so to demand for this at first a life sentence, and then up to 15 years. And all of the examinations were in my favour.

But “simple and immediate” was slightly delayed.

I left the courtroom without any measure of restraint as of October 25th 2018 – 13 months after my arrest. On March 27th 2019 – acquittal: there is no crime, there is no permissible and sufficient evidence, and it is not known on the basis of which materials the decision to open a criminal case was taken.

Our law enforcement system is so crooked that the acquittal for the accused is actually a verdict of incompetence for the Prosecutor, i.e. it is not a matter of finding the truth, but a planned percentage of jailings.

Therefore, June 27th 2019 – appeal. Again victory.

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“We cannot punish for insufficient patriotism,” said back then the judge, and I, naturally, did not object, although I wanted to know what measurement it is measured with and how many kilograms of patriotism is considered sufficient.

It seemed that this were to be all.

But no, February 25th 2020 – cassation in the Supreme Court. 25th and 27th are two bewitched dates.

“There usually everything is done quickly,” says the lawyer Antonina Shostak, “ten minutes for a speech at maximum, and then they go to make a decision”.

“Only if the case is important can they invite you to a session by the end of the day,” said the lawyer Olga Zelinskaya, sharing his experience. “I was once assigned to 10 am, and allowed at 4 o ‘clock in the afternoon.”

If Vladimir Lapin is in our case, as is said, to the very end, then we asked Olga and Antonina to support us at this final stage. It’s not the first time they’ve dealt with “terrorists” like me, either.

Our little night war council in the compartment of the old carriage before the decisive battle was beautiful. The offensive plan was worked out, the roles were planned.

9 a.m., a cafe a stone’s throw away from the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court.

We are waiting for a friend who promised to come to support, and we are also discussing what to do if so-called vagrant activists appear at the session in addition to friends. Members of “С14” and “National Corpus” already came to us.

And then someone in the doorway of the cafe – bald, stocky, in a jacket with a characteristic Deputy badge on the lapel.

“It’s who?” asks my wife quietly, and I think about if they are here for us or not.

Commander of one of the battalions participating in the ATO, former head of the Poltava branch of “Right Sector“, and former adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs AvakovIlya Kiva… Who might be better at a “vata” court hearing?

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But no, he didn’t seem to be here for us. He just drank coffee and scowls. I, of course, do not know such omens – if I met Kiva in the morning, so, my day goes awry, but for some reason I remembered about “this is not the end yet”.

Everything was going remarkably well. They were invited into the hearing room almost without delay, there are no representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office, and instead of them Zaporozhye prosecutor Bychkov appears via videoconference. The one who led the case from the beginning, fundamentally promised to jail me, abandoned the evidence in the courtroom, ran away from the court, and for an hour during the hearing could not open a memory card of a phone seized from me, because there was a password: “0000”.

And Prosecutor Bychkov publicly promised to go to the Donetsk militia if he hears the song about the “Vostok” Battalion for the third time (it was featured in one of my video reports from the front line). He only listened to the song in court three times, and how many times at home – I am afraid even to guess.

There are 4 people – me and three defenders, the prosecutor is alone and broadcasts through the screen, from where almost nothing is heard. Anyway, it’s okay. There is a standard procedure for announcing those present and determining whether the parties have a challenge to the collegium of judges.

And then happened, perhaps, the dumbest thing that could have happened.

The collegium of judges,” says the presiding judge Slynko, “considers it necessary to postpone consideration of the case due to the fact that there was a change of composition of the court. This morning, Judge Bilyk was replaced by Judge Mogilny in connection with Judge Bilyk’s leave. It was necessary to further examine the case file by the judge who entered the trial today, so the consideration is postponed to April 9th 2020. The meeting is over for today.”

A muted scene. We brought a whole crowd across the country, three lawyers postponed 10 meetings for such a case, which is not only time, but also money. Considering that on February 24th we were still in Zaporozhye and we could’ve been warned, and somewhere at 10:30 on February 25th the hearing was already underway, it is possible to assume that the judge learned about the vacation and managed to leave for it at 9 am on the same day.

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And it’s like there is nothing so terrible, it’s been only 2.5 years, despite the acquittal, the state does not want to release its beloved son from the tender embrace.

Or the folk omen about Kiva still works.

Even without fully realising what it was, we go downstairs, and in the tiny lobby of the huge “palace of justice” are the poetess Evgeniya Bilchenko with her husband Arkady.

“They didn’t let us in! We thought, God forbid, you were already handcuffed there!” exhales Zhenya with relief.

“In a sense I was cuffed. For at least another month,” I answer.

And in the evening the phone rang. It was a fellow of misfortune, the opposition journalist and former political prisoner Ruslan Kotsaba, who was acquitted and then his sentence was overturned and the case was sent to the first instance for consideration in the second round.

“Postponed, you say?” I heard his peculiar Galician accent on the phone. “And I was assigned several hearings, it will be good if it is once per month, and the prosecutor’s office confirmed all 58 witnesses. So this is still for years to come.”


Pavel Volkov

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