Copyright © 2024 Euromaidanpress.com

The work of Euromaidan Press is supported by the International Renaissance Foundation

When referencing our materials, please include an active hyperlink to the Euromaidan Press material and a maximum 500-character extract of the story. To reprint anything longer, written permission must be acquired from [email protected].

Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Mother of Kremlin’s hostage visits occupied Crimea to hug tortured son

vira-kotelianets-tsn.jpg
Vira Kotelyanets, mother of Ukrainian Kremlin’s prisoner Yevhen Panov. Snapshot from TSN video release
Mother of Kremlin’s hostage visits occupied Crimea to hug tortured son

The Ukrainian political prisoner Yevhen Panov has seen his mom Vira for the first time since Russian security officers seized him in Crimea seven months ago.

Longtime separation and the flow of terrible news have undermined Vira’s health. However, she found strength in herself to go on a hard and potentially dangerous journey to the Russian-annexed peninsula.

“Today, it’s even more frightening to go to Crimea than to Moscow, but I’ve already lived a life and don’t fear anything. […] Yes, I have to hope and wait for my son, but I can’t just sit back. I must do something to advance the day of his release,”

she tells Krym.Realii.

Bloody Crimean trap

Vira’s son, driver and volunteer Yevhen Panov was captured while entering Crimea in August 2016. He had been reportedly asked to evacuate a Ukrainian family from the occupied territory to mainland Ukraine. Yet that was a trap: the agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) were waiting for him in the frontier zone. Having got off the car at the Russian-controlled checkpoint, Yevhen was suddenly struck at his head.

“I fell down and felt I was lying in a pool of my own blood,”

he would recall later.

Read more: A timeline of Russia’s Crimean “terror” games | Infographics

The FSB charged Yevhen and a few other Ukrainian citizens with the involvement in a “sabotage and reconnaissance group,” which allegedly had to organize terrorist attacks in Crimea on the instructions of the Ukrainian military intelligence. With this story, Moscow resorted to a typical manipulation, Foreign Minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevicius commented forthwith:

It seems to be no coincidence that the arrest of the so-called “Ukrainian saboteurs” took place on the eve of the G20 summit in China, where the leaders of Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine were to discuss the war and peace in Donbas. Some observers pointed out that through the new Crimean provocation, Russian President Putin tried to raise bids just before the wrangle.

The Kremlin-installed “head of Crimea” Sergey Aksyonov called to kill the alleged “saboteurs” and hang their bodies on the frontier with mainland Ukraine. He also speculated about the US State Department backing the imaginary Ukrainian raid. Aksyonov’s deputy Ruslan Balbek kept up with his boss demanding no less than the expulsion of Ukraine from the UN and OSCE.

Read more: “Crimean saboteurs” – latest victims of Kremlin’s hostage strategy

panov-fsb.jpg
Injured captive Yevhen Panov escorted by FSB, August 2016. Photo: RIA Novosti

Russian propaganda media routinely broadcasted Panov’s “confession” like it was with some other Ukrainians who had gone through the crucible of torture. His wounded face betrayed the nature of a “welcome” he had received in occupied Crimea. When allowed to talk to independent lawyers, Panov and his co-defendant Andriy Zakhtey renounced their false testimonies.

In December 2016, Panov revealed the details of savage violence used against him during the investigation. According to his complaint to Russia’s Investigative Committee, he was beaten with an iron pipe on the head, kidneys, arms, and legs, and hung in the air by handcuffs. Security officers electrocuted the prisoner, squeezed his genitals with a collar, and simulated his execution with the only aim: to make him admit the guilt.

For several months, Panov and Zakhtey were held in the FSB-controlled Moscow Lefortovo jail, where they were accidentally found by the Russian human rights activist Zoya Svetova. Panov’s mother was going to visit her son in Moscow when in February 2017 the two defendants were transported back to Crimea. Vira had to change her plans at once.

panov-letter.jpg
Letter to Lefortovo’s prisoner Yevhen Panov in the envelope saying “Crimea is Ukraine”. Photo: FB of Panov’s brother Igor Kotelyanets

Emotional meeting

It’s so absurd and so painful when you know that your offspring is suffering for no reason.
Upon her arrival in Crimea, Vira was denied the meeting with Yevhen in the remand jail of Simferopol. However, she managed to appear in the occupation “court” on March 2, when the prolongation of his arrest was being considered. Yevhen was shocked: he had known nothing about his mother’s journey.

39-year-old Ukrainian hostage looked very haggard, with his eyes staring like the eyes of an old man. He was limping, and his wrists were hurt and purple because of handcuffs. The “court” decided to keep him in custody for another three months. On the forthcoming trial, he may face from 12 to 20-year prison sentence.

Before her son was taken back to remand jail, Vira asked for a permission to embrace him. She cried and wished the guards that their mothers would never shed tears over them alike. The guards conceded. Yevhen had a short time to tell her that he had received the drawings sent by Ukrainian children to support him in trouble. “You know,” Vira says now, “for him it’s very important that people believe in him and fight for him.”

You could close this page. Or you could join our community and help us produce more materials like this.  We keep our reporting open and accessible to everyone because we believe in the power of free information. This is why our small, cost-effective team depends on the support of readers like you to bring deliver timely news, quality analysis, and on-the-ground reports about Russia's war against Ukraine and Ukraine's struggle to build a democratic society. A little bit goes a long way: for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, you can help build bridges between Ukraine and the rest of the world, plus become a co-creator and vote for topics we should cover next. Become a patron or see other ways to support. Become a Patron!

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here

You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Please leave your suggestions or corrections here


    Will the West continue to support Ukraine?
    • Know what moves the world.
    • Premium journalism from across Europe.
    • Tailored to your needs, translated into English.
    Special discount
    for Euromaidan Press readers
    Euromaidan Press

    We are an independent media outlet that relies solely on advertising revenue to sustain itself. We do not endorse or promote any products or services for financial gain. Therefore, we kindly ask for your support by disabling your ad blocker. Your assistance helps us continue providing quality content. Thank you!

    Related Posts