At least 36 Ukrainians are illegally imprisoned by Russia on political motives. They are part of the #LetMyPeopleGo list. The initiative LetMyPeopleGo has launched a New Year’s marathon to send postcards to the Ukrainian prisoners who are persecuted on political grounds in Russia and occupied Crimea, to send them a little love on the eve of Christmas and the New Year.
Some of them first and others for the second or even third time will spend New Year’s holidays behind the cold walls of Russian prisons. Letters from the outside give them a gulp of freedom, a link to the external world, and great moral support. The letters will show them once more that they are not forgotten and that people are struggling for their release and waiting for them at liberty.
Find out how to send a letter here: This Christmas, send a postcard to one of the 36 Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin #LetMyPeopleGo
Why are these people called “Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin”?
Most of them have become instruments to the Kremlin’s aggressive policy towards Ukraine. Being portrayed as Ukrainian “punishers,” “saboteurs,” “terrorists,” “criminals” on Russian TV, they are the “living proof” that Russia is at danger from attacks of malevolent Ukrainians or Crimean Tatars, stories that Russian state media tells to reinforce the negative image of the country that ousted its pro-Russian President in the Euromaidan revolution. Many of them describe how they were tortured to “confess” of the most wicked plans for Russian media. And these media operations are arguably the most important aspect of the Kremlin’s hybrid war against Ukraine. The Crimean Tatars, Crimea’s indigenous population, constitute the majority of the prisoners right now. As they are the main resistance force to Russia’s occupation of Crimea, the Kremlin is arresting them en masse on fictitious terrorism charges.
We prepared a brief overview on each prisoner so you could choose who to write to, as well as told the stories of the ones that managed to escape (click on the dots to read short stories).
|SERHIY LYTVYNOV Semi-literate handyman from the frontline area in East Ukraine. Accused initially of unbelievable war crimes against non-existent people to show him as a ‘Ukrainian punisher’ on Russian propaganda TV. Russian enforcers took him to a forest and simulated his execution. Serhiy was also subjected to other kinds of terrible and humiliating torture. Lawyers proved his innocence on all counts. Nonetheless, the court sent him to prison on the new hastily framed up charges of ‘robbery.’
8.5 YEARS IN JAIL
|OLEG SENTSOV A Ukrainian film director and native of Crimea, Oleg opposed the Russian annexation of the peninsula in 2014, Oleg was arrested in May 2014 and charged with organizing a terrorist organization based on testimonies of his alleged “collaborators,” Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennadiy Afanasiev, and Oleksiy Chyrniy, which were given under torture. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail a trial denounced as “Stalinist” by human rights watchdogs, for crimes that are never classified as “terrorism” in Russia, and is proclaimed a political prisoner by the Memorial human rights organization. Human rights organizations and the filmmaking community have called for his release. In his Yakutia prison, Oleg has written 5 film scenarios and a novel. 20 YEARS IN JAIL|
| OLEKSANDR KOLCHENKO A leftwing activist and native of Crimea, Oleksandr openly protested the Russian annexation of the peninsula in 2014 and was arrested shortly thereafter. He was charged with plotting terrorist acts together with Oleg Sentsov, Gennadiy Afanasiev, and Oleksiy Chyrniy based on testimonies given under torture. Absurdly, Oleksandr, who holds left-wing views, was first accused of being part of the Right sector, a far-right organization serving as a bogeyman for Russian propaganda. He is declared a political prisoner by Memorial, and Memorial and Amnesty International have called for charges against him to be dropped
10 YEARS IN JAIL
|OLEKSIY CHYRNIY History teacher, arrested after the Russian annexation of Crimea. For 9 months, he was kept in complete isolation. Chekists tried to prove he had automatically acquired Russian citizenship, but he insisted on his Ukrainian nationality. Under torture (and probably under the influence of psychotropics), he ‘confessed’ to ‘terrorism’ and concluded a deal with investigators. The evidence wrested from him was used to convict Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko.
7 YEARS IN JAIL
|MYKOLA KARPYUK Ukrainian politician and public figure. Accused of involvement in the war in Chechnya, where he had never been before the investigation. He withstood savage torture (electric shocks, strangulation, inserting needles under fingernails). In remand prison, he distributed traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts among Chechens who wore them as a mark of respect to him. He got the largest sentence of all the Kremlin’s Ukrainian hostages.
22.5 YEARS IN JAIL
|STANISLAV KLYKH Historian and journalist. Accused of involvement in the war in Chechnya, where he had never been before the investigation. In the remand prison, known as ‘Russian Guantanamo,’ he was subjected to brutal torture: electric shock, strangulation, beatings, hunger, and psychotropics. As a result of abuse, he began to suffer from mental disorder, but the functionaries of punitive system have denied him treatment. After the conviction, one more case was concocted against him for alleged ‘insult to the prosecutor.’
20 YEARS IN JAIL
|OLEKSANDR KOSTENKO Former Crimean police officer, activist of Euromaidan and father of a minor child. When arresting him in 2014, new Crimean ‘law enforcers’ broke his hand. The occupation ‘prosecutor of Crimea’ Poklonskaya personally demanded to punish him as a representative of imaginary ‘Ukrainian fascism’ (that was how she stigmatized the democratic anti-authoritarian movement she hated). As a result, Oleksandr was found ‘guilty’ for having allegedly cast a stone at a ‘Berkut’ riot policeman during the confrontation in Kyiv in February 2014. There is no evidence that the incident took place at all. There is no excuse for the Russian judges who tried one Ukrainian for harm allegedly done to another Ukrainian in the center of Ukrainian capital (which the Russian Criminal Code directly forbids). Oleksandr’s mother has suffered two strokes. 3 YEARS AND 11 MONTHS IN JAIL|
| VIKTOR SHUR
Jeweler, national of Russia, who lived in Ukraine and applied for its citizenship. Russia charged him with treason for alleged photographing of a former airfield idle for decades, where locals graze their cattle. He was denied the right to an independent lawyer. Under pressure and influence of psychotropics, he acknowledged his ‘guilt.’ His case file has been classified.
12 YEARS IN JAIL
|VALENTYN VYHIVSKYI Businessman, fan of aviation, participant of Euromaidan. FSB villainously decoyed him to occupied Crimea. Accused of trying to bribe Russian defense industry workers via Internet to obtain secret documents. Investigators exerted rabid psychological pressure on him, including the simulation of his execution; he twice bid farewell to life. “They had knocked my soul out of the flesh,” he said to his mother when she was allowed to visit him. The court admitted that Vyhivskyi had never been in contact with the intelligence, but was allegedly spying ‘for himself.’ His wife and little son are waiting for him freeside. 11 YEARS IN JAIL|
| AKHTEM CHIYGOZ Deputy head of the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people. Russian invaders charged him with ‘organizing mass disorder’ during a rally in support of Ukraine’s integrity in Simferopol. “We have outlived many, and we will survive this,” he said on trial. “You will fail to intimidate all Crimean Tatars.” None among dozens of the aggrieved in his case pointed to Chiygoz as an ‘offender.’ Freeside, his four children and four grandchildren are dreaming of his release.
FACES UP TO 15 YEARS IN JAIL
|ALI ASANOV Farmer and active participant of public events in Crimea. Occupation ‘authorities’ of the peninsula accused him of participating in ‘mass disorder’ in Simferopol on February 26, 2014 (well before the Kremlin extended its ‘jurisdiction’ to Crimea). Asanov allegedly carried out the ‘criminal plot’ by deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Akhtem Chiygoz, though they did not even know each other. In prison, Ali wrote that he was ready to die if it would have stopped the repression against his people. At the time of his arrest, his wife was 7 months pregnant and expecting their fourth child. FACES UP TO 8 YEARS IN JAIL|
|MUSTAFA DEHERMENDZHI Crimean Tatar activist who openly opposed Russian invasion and expressed support of Ukraine’s integrity. Occupation ‘authorities’ of Crimea accused him of participating in ‘mass disorder’ in Simferopol on February 26, 2014 (well before the Kremlin extended its ‘jurisdiction’ to the peninsula). An investigator tried to tempt him to slander deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Akhtem Chiygoz in exchange for release. However, Mustafa rejected the disgraceful offer.
FACES UP TO 8 YEARS IN JAIL
|RUSLAN ZEYTULLAYEV Rulan Zeytullayev is a Crimean Tatar who before his arrest worked in construction and described himself as a human rights activist who lived with his three daughters and wife Mergem near Sevastopol. He was without any proof accused in being an organizer of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a panislamic organization that Russia groundlessly criminalized in 2003, on the basis of two leaflets found in his house. After the prosecution resorted to the testimony of a “secret witness,” Ruslan together with Rustem Vaitov, Ferat Sayfullayev and Nuri Primov were sentenced to jail. The Memorial human rights organization has proclaimed all four to be political prisoners. 7 YEARS IN JAIL|
|NURI (YURIY) PRIMOV A graduate of Kyiv University of Theatre, Film and Television. Lived in the village of Shturmove in the territory of Sevastopol. Father of one child. Convicted on the false charges of involvement in the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose members had allegedly aimed to seize power in Russia and change its constitutional order. There was no proof that these prosecutor’s frights had anything in common with reality. However, the court found the charge well-grounded basing on the sole fact of innocuous conversations among the defendants, including Nuri, on political and religious issues. 5 YEARS IN JAIL|
|RUSTEM VAITOV An environmentalist by education, Rustem was a human rights activist who participated in organizing and holding Muslim activities in Crimea and the equipping of a mosque in Sevastopol. He was arrested together with Ruslan Zeytullayev, Ferat Saifullayev and Nuri Primov for alleged participation in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a peaceful panislamic organization that is criminalized in Russia while remaining legal in Ukraine and most of the world, on the basis of the testimony of an “anonymous witness.” The Memorial human rights organization has proclaimed all four to be political prisoners. Rustem is married, his daughter was born after his arrest. 5 YEARS IN JAIL|
|FERAT SAYFULLAYEV Crimean Tatar public figure, leader of a local Muslim community. Before 2014, the land in the disposal of the community was encroached on by some Crimean officials and security officers, who later betrayed Ukraine, defected to the FSB and slandered Ferat and other Crimean Muslims. Ferat was convicted on trumped up charges of involvement in the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Freeside, his wife and three children are waiting for his return. 5 YEARS IN JAIL|
|ENVER BEKIROV Designer, athlete and public figure. As a head of a local Muslim community in south Crimea, he was engaged in charity work, helping low-income families. Russian invaders unsubstantially accused him of participation in the allegedly ‘terrorist’ organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. The only ‘proof’ they presented on trail are secretly recorded kitchen conversations about religion and the fates of Ukraine, Russia and Crimea. In the prison cell where he is kept, there are only 6 beds for 10 inmates. Enver’s health significantly deteriorated in captivity. FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
|MUSLIM ALIEV “Our kids’ childhood ended on February 11,” the wife of Muslim Aliev says about the day when her husband was arrested. A resident of Alushta, he was accused of involvement in a ‘terrorist community’ despite the complete lack of evidence. In remand prison, he wrote an open letter to the court, where he stated that actions of the Russian chekists had nothing in common with law.
FACES UP TO 20 YEARS IN JAIL OR LIFE IMPRISONMENT
|VADYM SIRUK Commerce worker from south Crimea. Accused of involvement in a ‘terrorist organization’ on the ‘basis’ of a banal kitchen conversation recorded by a provocateur. Having sent him to pretrial jail, the FSB searched his parents’ home: nothing suspicious was found, but the Russian TV showed a falsified video filmed in another apartment with safes and banned literature. At the time of Vadim’s arrest, his wife was expecting their second child, who would born in August 2016. “It is a pity that the first breath of this little girl came in a time when her father cannot breathe the air of freedom,” wrote the founder of Bizim Balalar (Our Children) initiative Lilya Budzhurova. FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
|EMIR-USEYIN KUKU Human rights activist, who had courageously helped the victims of terror in annexed Crimea. Having failed to prevent Kuku from his work through threats, the FSB detained him on absurd charges of ‘terrorism.’ Moreover, the Russian secret police took revenge on his family, chasing and intimidating his children. When his lawyer demanded to prosecute those responsible for such humiliation, the occupation ‘authorities’ declared guilty… Emir-Useyin himself, who had allegedly ‘failed to provide adequate supervision for his children’ while being in custody! Human rights advocates from Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders have urged Russia to stop the disgraceful treatment of the Kuku family and release their colleague immediately. FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
|ARSEN DZHEPPAROV Builder and worker of communal services from Crimea’s Yalta District. FSB tried to recruit him and, following his refusal, arrested him on the charges of ‘terrorism.’ In pretrial jail, he was subjected to brutal pressure aimed at making him more compliant. For several days upon his arrest, he was not even fed, then transferred to a cell where rape suspects were held. However, the prisoner has been denying his ‘guilt’ and considering the prosecution as FSB revenge. Arsen was the sole breadwinner for his wife, minor child and widowed mother. FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
|REFAT ALIMOV Sales manager, resident of Yalta District of Crimea. Accused in the case of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic organization declared ‘terrorist’ in Russia. During the search in his home, Russian enforces confiscated the ‘material evidence’: one book of religious content. The invaders claim they sent him to remand prison (despite his kidney problems) because Refat ‘could run away’ from Crimea. He contends that he had such an opportunity when the FSB began to threaten him, but refused to do so: “My ancestors, my parents lived on this soil, and I am not going to flee elsewhere.” FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
|ZEVRI ABSEITOV Dentist with Bakhchysarai, groundlessly accused of ‘terrorist activities’ by the Russian occupiers of Crimea. “I was doing my favorite work and contributed only to the good,” he said on trial. “Now my own health has almost gone.” During the investigation, he started suffering from blood pressure problems. His four children, mother, and wife are waiting for his return home.
FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL
|REMZI MEMETOV Well-known Crimean chef, who became a victim of the fabricated Hizb ut-Tahrir case. Russian investigators insist they are keeping him in custody because he allegedly can pressure on witnesses (though he does not know who they are) and can destroy the carefully guarded ‘evidence.’ His son Dilyaver is now coordinating the group ‘Crimean Solidarity,’ which brought together the children, wives, and parents of the political prisoners and made them feel like one big family. FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
Builder from Bakhchysarai. Accused of involvement in a ‘terrorist community’ (in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case) on the ‘basis’ of the talks about Islam and reading of Muslim literature. Father of four children.
FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL
| ENVER MAMUTOVFather of the largest family among the all Ukrainian citizens who have become captives of the Kremlin. He was the only breadwinner for his seven children, wife, and her sick mother. Entrepreneur who organized public celebrations of Muslim holidays in Crimea. The occupiers declaared him an organizer of a Hizb ut-Tahrir ‘terrorist cell.’
FACES UP TO 20 YEARS IN JAIL
|RUSTEM ISMAILOV A Crimean Tatar with four children living in the suburbs of Simferopol, Rustem was apprehended in his home in October 2016 together with Teymur Abdullayev, Uzair Abdullayev, Emil Dzhemadenov, and Ayder Saledinov. The five men, all Crimean Tatars active in their community, were despite any evidence accused of “participating in a terrorist organization,” i.e. Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a panislamic political movement that Russia criminalized in 2003, despite it being recognized as peaceful and being perfectly legal in Ukraine and most of the world. This arrest follows a wave of arrests for alleged participation in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, in which 19 people have been arrested starting from 2015. FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
|TEYMUR ABDULLAYEV Teymur, a Crimean Tatar who worked as a sports trainer of the local taekwondo youth club, was beaten and apprehended in his home in October 2016 where he lived with his wife and five children, and charged with “organizing a terrorist organization” in which Ayder Saledinov, Uzair Abdullayev, Emil Dzhemadenov, and Rustem Ismailov were alleged participants. The police confiscated some books, discs, and all the money in the house.
FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL
|UZAIR ABDULLAYEV Uzair worked as a sports trainer of the local taekwondo youth club together with his brother Teymur, and was apprehended in his home in October 2016 where he lived with his wife and four children, and with three others charged with “participating in a terrorist organization” which his brother allegedly headed. The police confiscated all the money in the house.
FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL
|EMIL DZHEMADENOV Emil is a political scientist who took part in research projects, participated in conferences and forums before Russia illegally annexed Crimea. After 2014, he started working as a cash collector. He was apprehended in his home near Simferopol where he lived with his two children and a pregnant wife in October 2016, at the same time as Teymur Abdullayev, Uzair Abdullayev, Aider Saledinov, and Rustem Ismailov.
FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL
|AYDER SALEDINOV A Crimean Tatar with four children living in the suburbs of Simferopol, Azder was apprehended in his home in October 2016 together with Teymur Abdullayev, Uzair Abdullayev, Emil Dzhemadenov, and Rustem Ismailov. This arrest follows a wave of arrests for alleged participation in Hizb-ut-Tahrir, in which 19 people have been arrested starting from 2015.
FACES UP TO 10 YEARS IN JAIL
|MYKOLA SHYPTUR Mykola Shyptur’s case came to light only recently, after he spent more than two years in prison. The Euromaidan activist came to Crimea with a crew of activists hoping to provide assistance and medical care, if needed, to the pro-Ukrainian demonstration that was about to take place on 9 March 2014, right before the sham “referendum” that took place on 16 March. After an encounter with the Crimean paramilitaries, Shyptur was, subjected to a kind of pseudo “criminal investigation,” and then “trial,” during which Russian operatives tried to get him to give false testimony against Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov whom the FSB had just arrested. 9 YEARS IN JAIL|
|ROMAN SUSHCHENKO Roman Sushchenko is the French correspondent of the Ukrinform news agency, who was arrested on mysterious “spying” charges in Moscow while visiting his relatives. Ukrainian human rights organizations and his lawyer believe that the case continues Russia’s tradition of political repressions against Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the the case was another step in Russia’s policy to “use political hostages in its hybrid aggression against our country”. International journalist organizations have called upon Russia to free Sushchenko. FACES UP TO 20 YEARS IN JAIL|
|YEVHEN PANOV Yevhen Panov, a pro-Ukrainian activist and ATO [Anti-terrorist organization] veteran was arrested on 8 August 2016 in Crimea and together with Andriy Zakhtey is accused of carrying out supposed Ukrainian military “sabotage plot” in Ukrainian Crimea which Russia is illegally occupying. Panov was shown giving a televised “confession” of carrying out such a plot, however he later complained to the Russian investigations committee of being ambushed when he entered the peninsula, beaten, and tortured to confess. FACES UP TO 25 YEARS IN JAIL|
Andriy Zakhtey was arrested in August 2016 and together with Yevhen Panov accused of carrying out supposed Ukrainian military “sabotage plot” in Ukrainian Crimea which Russia is illegally occupying. Originally from Lviv Oblast in Ukraine, Andriy moved to Moscow because of debt and was living in Crimea at the time of his arrest.
FACES UP TO 25 YEARS IN JAIL
|ANDRIY KOLOMIYETS A participant of the Euromaidan revolution, he was arrested in Russia’s Kabardino-Balkariya region, where he was living together with civil wife Galyna Zelikhanova. He was accused of “attempting to murder” Berkut police officers during the Euromaidan protests in 2014, even though this episode, even if true, apriori does not fall into the jurisdiction of a Russian court. Andriy was sentenced by a Crimean judge, who is accused of collaborationism in Ukraine. Despite the announced sentence, Galyna is attempting to officially register her marriage with the Ukrainian political prisoner. 10 YEARS IN JAIL|
|NADIYA SAVCHENKO A Ukrainian military pilot that defended her homeland against Russia’s hybrid army in Donbas, Nadiya Savchenko was captured and transported to Russia, where she was sentenced to 22 years in prison for allegedly killing a Russian journalist – on Ukrainian territory, which made her prosecution by a Russian court a violation of international law. Her alibi, presented by her defense, as well as other proof of her was not reviewed by the prosecution. Savchenko went on hunger strikes during her imprisonment, the longest of which lasted over a hundred days. Savchenko was returned to Ukraine in May 2016 in a prisoner swap with two Russian officers captured in Donbas and is now a Ukrainian MP.|
|YURIY YATSENKO Yuriy, a law student from Lviv, was arrested in Russia in May 2014 and held in detention in the City of Belgorod, Russia, under the accusation of contraband and illegal keeping of explosives. One year later he was released home, after being detained in Russia, tortured and then convicted on fabricated charges. Together with friend Bohdan, he was beaten and tortured by the FSB in an attempt to extract “confessions” discrediting Ukraine, such as publicly stating that a military junta had taken over in Ukraine and asking for political asylum. Yatsenko sliced open his stomach as his only way of getting to hospital and having a chance to contact his family. He now participates in raising awareness about the plight of Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin.|
|YURIY SOLOSHENKO A 74-year old pensioner and former director of a disbanded military factory from Poltava, Yuriy was, as he himself says, lured to Moscow and accused of espionage in what appears to be a FSB operation. Russian human right defender Zoya Svetova wrote that the case was fabricated by a Russian military procurement chief in attempt to win over some leniency for the graft he was exposed in – by uncovering a “hardened foreign spy.” In June 2016, Yuriy was returned to Ukraine together with Gennadiy Afanasyev in exchange for two Ukrainians involved in separatism movements in the Odesa oblast.|
|GENNADIY AFANASYEV Gennadiy Afanasyev, a native of Crimea, was arrested shortly after Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula in 2014, accused of plotting “terrorist acts” together with Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, and Oleksiy Chyrniy, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After he spoke in court of being tortured to “confess” against Sentsov and Kolchenko and retracted his testimony, the Memorial human rights organization included him in the list of political prisoners. In June 2016, Gennadiy was returned to Ukraine together with Yuriy Soloshenko in exchange for two Ukrainians involved in separatism movements in the Odesa oblast. He is now an active advocate for the release of the rest of Ukrainians illegally imprisoned by Russia on political motives.|
|YURIY ILCHENKO A native of Crimea, Yuriy Ilchenko directed a language school in Sevastopol. He was arrested for two facebook posts where he called to punish those that accepted Russian citizenship and supported a Ukrainian blockade of the peninsula, and for reposing a facebook status of the Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh. He fled the occupied peninsula on 12 June 2016 and made his way to mainland Ukraine, where he now lives with his parents.|
|HAYSER DZHEMILEV Hayser received a sentence on probation for his actions against another citizen of Ukraine on the territory of Crimea before it was illegally annexed. Despite the fact that the jurisdiction of the Russian court can’t apply to such cases, he was illegally transported to Russia and re-sentenced, receiving a real term. He was released because of having finished serving his sentence on 25 November 2016. This can hardly be called a victory. Albeit briefly, but he still had to serve a full term following an illegal sentence. But now Hayser is finally free and reunited with his family.