Journalist Vlaschenko: Today our guest is Ilya Novikov, the lawyer of Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko.
Hello, Ilya. Why did you agreed to defend Savchenko? How did it physically happen?
Novikov: There are three lawyers in the case. I have been working with Mark Feigin and Nikolai Polozov. They know them after the case of Pussy Riot, which we had four years ago. Feigin and Polozov called me as an advocate when they had a conflict with a third girl from Pussy Riot. She admitted her guilt, she was given two years’ probation, after which she began to sue the lawyers. I represented Mark and Nikolai in civil court against her, and we won the case. So it was our professional acquaintance. I am not a political lawyer and did not try to be him. I am a criminal lawyer. The idea to do this kind of thing, as a case of Savchenko, we had from the Maidan events and events in Crimea.
Did you have your own view on what happened?
My mother is Ukrainian, and I just could not have the other point of view on what was happening. I had to either stay away or take some position on this issue. My "lawyer’s happiness" means that I can clearly express my position on this whole situation by doing my job. We took this case, when it was announced that some Savchenko, not yet well-known at that time, had been arrested and kept in jail in Voronezh (Russian Federation). She was accused of the murder of two Russian journalists. There was a counter movement. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry sought Russian lawyers, a team of lawyers, because it is clear that one advocate would not afford. It was necessary to get to Voronezh each week, and sometimes twice a week. They were looking for a team of lawyers. They were looking for someone to work with. I suggested Mark and Mykola to take up this case, and eventually we were in.
The most important moment was when Nadia first met us. It was July 16, exactly on the eve of the shooting down of "Boeing". We entered a small camera for meetings. There was a short-haired woman in a t-shirt and sweat pants. She was staring at us, three lawyers in suits. She said, "You guys are probably expensive lawyers. And I can pay nothing. How will we cooperate..?" We said, "You do not have to pay us anything. The question is, do you trust us or not?" And it was the moment of truth. She looked at us and said: "Yes, I do trust you. From now, we are working together, until the end." And we are working together until now.
When you have been involved into this case, you became like a fifth colony; it was a drag for your carreer.
I must say that I do not regret for my choice even for a second, from the time when got involved into Savchenko’s case. My older and more experienced colleagues said: "Why do you take this case? Be quiet, defend criminals, and do not keep hyping tunes of yourself." But that is not what I want. The true lawyer's job is the one about which I had read as a child, in 13 years, in books about Perry Mason. But in the current situation, the courts, it does not matter whether the defendant is right or wrong, he has killed or stolen, the conviction is always announced. That is why our profession degenerates, it becomes palliative. There is palliative care for terminally ill patients. Russian palliative justice works, in fact, on the same principles, especially for hopelessly accused. The man has been charged and that’s all. His fate is sealed. However, there is an opportunity to show that there is the opportunity to fight, to change something. There is an opportunity to show something different, contrary to justice machine.
This case would be honorable for every lawyer, wouldn’t it?
All this could end with a huge zilch if we failed during the process. Especially, when it was our turn to present evidence to convince all the observers. It is a huge amount of press and diplomats, who on the shipping instructions went from Moscow to this little Donetsk and saw what was happening.
If there was some kind of "on the one hand, on the other hand", "maybe it is she, maybe not," it would be a negative result of our work, because the support that she currently receives, up to Obama, is important. When we have got involved into this case, formulating what we want, we understood that if there is the court, there will be a sentence. But after the verdict, she would need some support, which does not allow her stay in the Russian jail. We believed that Pope and Obama should voice the support, knowing that this is impossible, but we still have to somehow to approach it.
Did you have any contacts with Russian FSB?
No, but some people hint that it would be nice to slow down and be more respectful, and behave less aggressively. In fact, it could be much harder. Here is the situation, when it became aware of the murder Grabowski (Yuriy Grabovsky, lawyer of Alexandr Alexandrov, serviceman of the Russian GRU (Chief Reconnaissance Department of Russia, was killed in Ukraine)… well, such cases happened in Russia.
Do you think that murder of Grabovsky is a political assassination?
Most people with whom I spoke in Kyiv tend to assume that this murder was financed. I do not have my clear opinion. I am a Ukrainian lawyer, but I'm not Ukrainian citizen, and with his legs and it is incorrect to interrupt. I would not be understood.
How your colleagues perceived this murder?
On the day when it was announced, we had Law Seminar in Prague. None of the people gathered there did not express their opinion in the sense that it is not our business. We immediately began to discuss how to write a letter of condolence. Despite the fact that this person is not formally a member of our organizations, it is our colleague, in all senses. That lawyer murdered when he was doing this kind of thing, when it focused much of that hostility, which is used by his client - it affects, of course, the whole profession. It concerns us all.
How has Savchenko changed during these two years?
Nadia’s character has not changed at all. From the very beginning, from the very first day, she has been so tough and uncompromising...
How does she keep this energy, this trust?
She began to understand the people better; it seems to me, it is easier to readthem. In prison, it is always very vivid. She began to understand better what is happening in the world and politics. Because in the first few months, when she was elected as a MP, she was very naive in this respect. But not now. Now she usually understands everything, when receives another message.
Now she is studying the documents that are related to her case, right?
She was well prepared for her testimony, which she gave on February 1-2. She really went through these documents, deciding what she had to say. But no more. No attempt was made to think of something new. We, lawyers, realized that we need to sustain the line we took. During these two years, I have also changed - I tell my family that I have become tougher. It is simply impossible not to become tough. They say that it is more difficult to communicate with me.
I come to the jail, open the door, and work. Those people who do not stand up - they just are not retained in the profession.
How people from the other side have impressed you, such as Plotnitsky?
They are different. There were frankly despicable people, who were said "come and lie to". There were also people who really believe that they are fighting for something good against something wrong. As it can be seen, that it is not easy to lie. I was expecting the worst from Plotnitsky. At that moment, the end of November the 15th year, it seemed to me that he was in some sort of mild euphoria. There was a strange episode in which the court is sitting on the sidelines, the prosecutor on the sidelines, we sit and Plotnitsky stands and talks to Savchenko – they have a dialogue. However, they do not show any hostility. It was a dialogue between them, for which the court was quite atypical, but the judges sat quietly and listened. Because they understood that there is something important. In general, all the people from the other side played a role, not the most prominent. In fact, Investigative Committee have organized all the “puppets” in Savchenko’s case. Ukraine believes that in Russia FSB is primary manager of everything… We have our own structure, competing with the FSB, which is with the FSB in the uneasy relations.
Does the post-Soviet justice system meet modern innovation level?
No, it does not. We really need to be masters of all trades. In this case we could not rely on the assistants. We are somehow protected with deputies’ privileges and assistants are not protected, taking a person who is not a lawyer, we jeopardize. One of the first things we talked about in jail with Nadia was life in a whole. Nadia, watching and experiencing firsthand what a Soviet-style trial is, has made a very mature judgment, that now, in the 21st century, only jury can maintain such criminal cases, heavy, confused, and complicated. The first thing she will do when comes back to Ukraine, if it is be in the near future, she will initiate the law on changes in the Code of Criminal Procedure for the restoration a full jury trial in Ukraine. Because the Constitution of Ukraine promises that such a court would be created, and actually now we have a “quite crippled” system today.