Without Water and Medicine: The Ukrainian Journalist Pavel Volkov Is Being Kept Behind Bars by the Kiev Regime

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



In Ukraine the trial of the Zaporozhye journalist Pavel Volkov, accused of making appeals to change Ukraine’s borders and assisting the unrecognised Republics of Donbass, continues. He has been under arrest for already 10 months: the articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine imputed to him exclude any other measure of restraint.

The test of prison

“Pavel is being kept in an old pre-trial detention center, where there isn’t any hot, and very often nor cold water. Parcelled bottled water is given to prisoners. Supervisors say: ‘Gather water in buckets and survive as you can’. The teeth of one of my clients started to drop out because of this,” said the lawyer of Volkov Svetlana Novitskaya to RIA Novosti. Razors are forbidden, and Volkov acquired a beard that harmfully affects his health — the journalist has allergic diseases and also asthma. “He looks in bad condition,” confirmed Novitskaya.

The difficult conditions of keeping are used by investigators to put pressure on Volkov. The amendment to the Criminal Code adopted in 2014 allows to keep anyone accused of infringing on the territorial integrity of Ukraine under guard without the right to be released if bail is posted. Such cases collapse in court quite often, however innocent people spend many months in prison while waiting for a sentence. Some break: they sign a confession in order to receive the minimum jail term and to be released quicker.

It is especially difficult for Volkov because he is systematically denied the medical care he needs. The wife of Pavel, Valeriya Evdokimova, calls his situation “horrible”. “The pre-trial detention center isn’t equipped with anything. Medicine can be transferred only from the outside, and this always takes time, which sometimes is precious,” said Evdokimova to RIA Novosti.

“The cells are crowded, they are stuffy and damp, 10 people can languish in 16 square meters, and this isn’t even the worst option,” she added.

A terrorist on social networks

The charges brought against Volkov are unconvincing. The journalist is suspected of assisting a terrorist organisation, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years. However, all the proof presented in the case come from the Internet only: this concerns articles and messages on social networks. During a search the badge on an observer of the referendum on May 11th, 2014 – when the independence of the DPR was declared – was found at the home of the detainee. No other documents of the unrecognised republic confirm that Volkov “assisted” national will. The lawyers specify that there is no evidence against the suspect.

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Charges under the especially heavy part of the second article, 110 – “infringement of the territorial integrity of Ukraine by prior arrangement of a group of persons” – were also brought against the journalist. This formulation prescribes the maximum possible punishment. However, the prosecutor’s office didn’t manage to find Volkov’s accomplices. That’s why, according to lawyers, conspiracy “in an unspecified place” with “an unspecified group of persons” is imputed to the journalist.

The main basis of the charges sank from the very beginning: the terrorist organisations that Volkov could’ve cooperated with are implied to be the DPR and LPR. However, no court in Ukraine made a definition on the recognition of them as such. From the point of view of the law, the possibility of prosecuting the journalist for communicating with the unrecognised Republics of Donbass raises big doubts.

Intimidate and report back

As sources in the lawyer environment reported to RIA Novosti, the media plays a big role while cases under political articles [of the Criminal Code – ed] are being considered in Ukraine. Oppositionists who are unknown to the general public, and thus remain without support, are forced to conclude a deal with justice about the fictitious recognition of their guilt. For Ukrainian investigators this is a success that allows to report back that the “crime” has been solved.

Besides this, the danger of provocations remains. Volkov lost control over his pages on social networks, where for quite some time unknown persons have actively published messages on his behalf. “He is a symbolic person in Zaporozhye, his account can use to provoke people and to initiate new detentions,” warns Svetlana Novitskaya. For unscrupulous representatives of law enforcement bodies, control over Volkov’s page is capable of opening the road to fabricating new cases, she considers.

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To keep supporters of Russia in suspense

Pavel Volkov’s case is far from being unique. The former editor-in-chief of RIA Novosti Ukraine Kirill Vyshinsky has been under arrest since May, 2018. He is suspected of supporting the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass and State treason. Vyshinsky is threatened with a term of up to 15 years.

In 2017 the journalists Evgeny Timonin and Dmitry Vasilets – declared as “separatists” – were condemned to 9 years in jail. Both were charged with creating the “Novorossiya TV” television channel, which covered events in Ukraine from the point of view of the DPR and LPR. In February the Court of Appeal of Kiev released them from custody under house arrest, having partially satisfied the lawyers’ claim for the measure of restraint to be changed. It was noted that in the conditions of legal nihilism and unprecedented pressure being put on freedom of speech, the cancellation of the sentence of the journalists Vasilets and Timonin can be considered as a victory.

“The situation with the detention of Russian and pro-Russia journalists in Ukraine is a part of the strategy of low intensity war that is being pursued by the Ukrainian authorities. Since 2015 there haven’t been any large military clashes, but Kiev consciously maintains some minimum degree of intensity. This is shown both in the shelling on the front line and the detention of journalists and bloggers who are friendly towards Russia. Such a strategy is quite convenient for the current authorities. This importunate and constant feeling of wartime in the rear is favorable to them. So these arrests, unfortunately, will continue,” commented the Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club Oleg Barabanov to RIA Novosti.

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