The officers of Ukraine’s State Border Service (DPSU) Ihor Dzyubak and Bohdan Martson disappeared in Sumy Oblast, near Ukraine’s border with Russia, at the beginning of October. The border has not been demarcated on the ground in that area since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A conversation on the Russian side of the border related to the planned detention of two Ukrainian servicemen had been intercepted before the incident, a source in the Ukrainian law enforcement told Ukrayinska Pravda.
“Everything points to the fact that they were abducted,” DPSU chief Petro Tsyhykal told Channel 5. “[Martson’s personal] car was left a few meters from the state border. Most likely, they were checking the borderline. And the men got out for a short time because the weather was cold: they left jackets, everything, in the car.”
A meeting of Ukrainian and Russian border service negotiators in the Russian city of Bryansk was scheduled for 9 October to clarify their fates, but to no avail: the only Russian representative who arrived there stated he was not authorized to discuss the issue.
Instead, on 12 October, Russian media demonstrated a silent video issued by the FSB, with Dzyubak and Martson sitting in an unknown room. Perhaps the captives had said nothing self-incriminating, and the Russian FSB operatives decided the Russian audience had nothing to listen to.
Soon after their detention, Ihor Dzyubak and Bohdan Martson found themselves in the FSB-controlled remand Lefortovo jail in Moscow. The Ukrainian consul and relatives have been denied access to them. Moreover, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has sent three requests regarding the border guards but has not received any official answer.
A Russian court arrested the two Ukrainians for 2 months on the pretext of “illegal border crossing” (Article 322 of the Russian Criminal Code) and “disobedience to law enforcement officers” (Article 19.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences). If recognized guilty, they may be sent to prison for up to 6 years.
In Ukraine, the Sumy Oblast Prosecutor’s Office instituted its own criminal case regarding the illegal deprivation of freedom of two persons. The Ukrainian investigators are studying both the versions of Russian kidnapping and the possibility that Martson and Dzyubak could cross the borderline themselves, for instance, due to disorientation in the non-demarcated area. The officers of the prosecutor’s office questioned a number of witnesses and did not find any evidence that the Ukrainian guards had been planning to enter the Russian territory.
According to the version of the Ukrainian Border Service, Russia will likely try to trade them for the two Russian FSB border guards, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Askar Kulub, captured by Ukrainian military in Kherson Oblast, near the administrative border of Crimea, on 30 June.
“The mode of conduct of the Russian Border Service and Russian special services, who drag out the process of passing our border guards back to us and deny the access of the consul—all this indicates that Russian special services have certain intention, which seems to be the swap of our guys to the two Russian border guards,” notes DPSU spokesman Oleh Slobodyan.
The Russian side is supposedly planning to further abduct Ukrainian border guards, UNIAN agency reports with a reference to its “informed source.” The source has argued that Russian special task forces are organizing ambushes near the border between Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast and Russia’s Voronezh and Rostov Oblasts.
At the same time, Petro Tsyhykal supposes that, in the case of Dzyubak and Martson, a Russian capture group could have avoided entering the Ukrainian territory and seized the two Ukrainians right at the borderline during an ordinary consultative meeting. In this view, the DPSU limited the number of such meetings to safeguard their personnel.
Several months ago, on 20 August 2017, Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Shumkov crossed the border with the Russian Federation under unclear circumstances. In Russia, he was arrested and put in custody on the charges of “involvement in an extremist organization.” The prisoner himself states he was abducted and transferred to Russia in an unconscious state. Just four days after Shumkov’s disappearance, on 24 August, Russian secret police officers captured the young Ukrainian blogger Pavlo Hryb in the territory of Belarus. Pavlo’s father is himself a former Ukrainian border guard and a member of the DPSU Public Board. The kidnappers transferred their victim to Russia, where Pavlo, who had never been to that country and lived with disability since childhood, was accused of plotting a “terror act” at school in Sochi.
The spokespersons for Ukraine should literally “yell” about the intolerable situation around Hryb and the border guards Dzyubak and Martson on every international platform, says First Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Parliament Iryna Herashchenko, who represents Ukraine in the Trilateral Contact Group on the Donbas conflict resolution. “Russia is continuing its tactics of taking hostages, whom she is keeping as a trump card. I’d like to call on the citizens of Ukraine, unless absolutely necessary, not to go to Russia. This can break your life.”