Ukrainian political prisoners: We have a lot to tell about Russian lawlessness

Author : Halyna Tytysh Oksana Kovalenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Gennady Afanasyev and Yuriy Soloshenko released from Russian Gulag-like colonies unveil the shocking details of their tortures (part 1)
11:32, 20 June 2016

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Two Ukrainian political prisoners released on June 14, Gennady Afanasyev and Yuriy Soloshenko meet us at the hospital where they were placed right after the arrival in Ukraine. Even relatives could not see them at the airport; the first meeting took place in a hospital room.

"Too many impressions exhaust us... We used that nothing is going on with us as our last years we have spent in a prison. And some fuss makes a lot of stress," say our interlocutors.

After their painful experience, they feel like a family: they have not been in the same cell in the Russian prison though.

Gennady tells about the arrest and the tortures. His mother tearfully leaves the room after hearing about all these horrors. 

They sit side by side.

25-year-old Gennady wears a T-shirt with a trident and the pendant of the same shape.

"Oh, these are the gifts from my friends," Gennadiy notes happily and immediately apologizes that his Ukrainian would not be that quick. He had not spoken Ukrainian for a long time.

Intelligent 74-year-old Yuriy wears a simple white T-shirt and pants and nervously holds a handkerchief in his hands. After Gennadiy’s stories about the tortures, Yuriy’s eyes get red.

Currently, they are under examination and treatment, trying to come back to civilian life in Ukraine. The question about the future remains unanswered. It is really hard for them to speak, so the doctors do not allow anyone to disturb the patients. Gennadiy and Yuriy are very emotional in their talks.

"People should know about it," they explain.

Related: Doctor: Health of Soloshenko, Afanasyev in moderately grave conditions

For the sake of the Ukrainians, who still remain in Russian prisons, we cannot publish some details. However, we hope that one day it will be spoken aloud.

Gennadiy Afanasyev

Born in November 1990 in Simferopol. Graduated from Tavriya National University, department of law; worked as a photographer. When Russia annexed Crimea, he helped Ukrainian military who were on the peninsula at that time, participated in the protests. In 2014, when Gena was arrested, he was only 23 years old. Now he is 25.

This should be said. People should know what is happening. For I am not the only one

May 9, 2014 I went to the Victory Day parade in Simferopol and carried a photograph of my great-grandfather. Then I went to my friend who lived in the city center. But some guys in civilian clothes attacked me with guns and pushed to their car. There were journalists who filmed it all.

In the car, they threw me on the floor and put a bag on my head and drove. While driving, they were beating me in the stomach and in the head, asking about different people, threatening that we were going to the forest, and that I was to dig a grave for myself.

Finally, they brought me to my house; they already knew where I lived. They took the keys to my apartment, threw me on the floor with a bag on my head. They searched my apartment, but did not find anything. After this they took me to the FSB in Crimea, and then to the place of detention for 10 days.

Usually the detainees are held there for three days, and then transported to the prison. But I have spent there ten days – probably, they needed it.

I did not have a lawyer, but there were a lot of investigators from Moscow and “big guys” from the Caucasus, FSB employees. I was chained to an iron table. First, they threatened, but I did not say anything.

During the first day, they have just beaten me.

Then they took me to the first floor; there were special people and an investigator, who asked me different questions.

Realizing that I did not know the facts that interest them, they demanded to give evidence against myself. I had to confess that allegedly May 9, I wanted to blow the Eternal Flame monument. This is absurd, because I personally was among those people who were at the monument! I was detained at that place, and a lot of people witnessed it. When I have been at the first floor, they put on boxing gloves (to avoid bruising) and beat me over my head.

It was the first day.

Related: Who are Afanasyev and Soloshenko?

That night I have spent in a place of temporary detention. All those 10 days they did not allow me to sleep or to eat; I did not even have some toilet paper. It was a kind of basement, which was very cold.

During the first 5 days they ... just put a plastic bag on my head and strangled me...

(Gennadiy stops and continues after a little pause).

It should be said. People need to know what is happening. I am not the only one. I have seen many such people; they did it to those whom they needed.

Related: Russian Court sensationally releases dissident artist Pavlensky

They brought Oleksiy Chirniy (another political prisoner from Crimea) to my cell, and he said who I am. We have met with Chirniy before. At the very beginning of the occupation of Crimea, I organized community engaged in medical help for our prisoners, who were surrounded. We have got acquainted with Chirniy in this community.

Chirniy gave testimony against other people and me. It was psychological pressure: a person testifies against you, and investigators say that you have nowhere to go, nothing to do.

The investigators said that I had no chance, "You will get 20-25 years. You can only admit it, and then you would get less." I decided that there is a testimony against me, it refers only to arson, so I signed the agreement. I have not testified against anyone else, but only admitted my guilt.

Then they became interested in Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleh Sentsov. Chirniy testified against them. After it, the serious tortures began.

They put gas mask with a hose on my head, unscrewed the bottom valve and sprayed a gas spray. I have vomited; I began to sob and suffocate, because I was in a mask.

Then they took off the mask, gave me the ammonia smell and repeated the procedure. After that, they connected the electrical wiring to the genitals and give me electric shocks. Strangulation was much easier to endure, and it was another kind of pain. This is how they forced to put a signature on documents.

Related: Kolchenko: fight for Ukraine without slaves and without masters

You had just to put your signature.

I realized what was written there. But I did not write on my own, the text was already prepared, the whole text.

Almost at the end, they were trying to force us to conclude a deal with them. They undressed me, put on the floor, some people kept me and intimidated with a soldering iron.

The most horrifying thing was connected with mom; they threatened to get her. And it worked…

Now I blame myself, I should be stronger. I retracted my words, but still...

After signing those documents, I have been transferred to Moscow. Using the same threats, they made me speak on TV the things they wanted to hear. I remembered what that they did to me and just did not believe that someone can protect me. So I just repeated what they said.

They said, "You must quietly stay in a prison near your home, if not, you would get into a very bad place." I believed they could do it.

When the human right defenders came to me, I was afraid of them. Well, I could tell these people about what was happening to me. But what would be the consequences? I do not know.

Once I told at court that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not guilty. Something changed inside of me - I was not afraid anymore

The first year and a half I had terrible remorse toward giving testimony against the innocent people. I believed that if I show my remorse of conscience, I might not survive. I have decided to make a great surprise in the court. I felt that this was the end. I wrote a letter of apology to all my friends and mother and went to the court.

Immediately after this statement, the Rostov FSB operatives crudely beaten me.

Related: Afanasyev and Soloshenko: First public statements upon returning to Ukraine

The Russians have fulfilled their promise and brought me to the modern Gulag in the Komi Republic, the only one Russia's penal colony. I was not placed into a colony; it was something like barracks.

I cannot explain it to you; those who have not ever been there could not understand.

Yes, and the transfer was very difficult - 40-45 degrees below zero, we had no water and no toilets in our train. And these are usual conditions for the Russian prisoners. They are treated like animals. During this transfer, they dumped a blade to my personal things.  

We sued, but they refused even to show a video of that night saying that it had nothing to do with the case. No witnesses, no protection. Because of this blade, I was immediately moved to quarantine punishment cell, and then to the strict regime barracks.

It is a big barrack with iron bars, and the guards walk along the bars. You feel like being in a zoo. 100 people on 150 square meters.

Related: Ex-political prisoners Afanasyev, Soloshenko arrive in Ukraine

There was no place to sit; you are not allowed to lie or to smoke. This is the first barrack of strict regime throughout Russia.

I have constantly complained about the conditions. Once I told at court that Sentsov and Kolchenko are not guilty. Something changed inside of me - I was not afraid anymore.

I did not trust people. Even when I my lawyer Popkov came to me, he showed his documents, passports, because I said, "I will not speak with you."

In the Komi Republic, I was seriously ill.

No one voiced my diagnosis, and I did not know exactly, what was happening to me. I have suffered from some kind of dermal inflammation; my wounds did not heal, and no one treated me. So I just cut them out. I tore the sheet, tied my wounds, then washed those rags and used them again and again. After a while, I started to take antibiotics. But then another disease began, because the stomach was damaged. These dermal inflammations disappeared, and then appeared again in a week or two.

Related: Peskov: Russia, Ukraine negotiate on exchanging Sentsov

For some time, they dumped a phone card into my winter jacket. My jacket was in a separate room, which was locked at night. In the morning I went to the street for a planned search.

They told me, "We have operative information."  

I insisted that this card has been removed by the investigators. I asked them to do billing, print the text, and see that I did not make those calls. But they destroyed this card.

I was taken to the city of Mikun - there is a female penal colony №31. In the small room are the most dangerous criminals. I was kept in solitary punitive confinement.

For 2 months and 15 days, I was completely alone and did not even see anyone. Only books were around me.

Well, I have been receiving some letters. Last month they just did not come, and my letters were not sent too. I was said something like, "Today we had some administrational procedures, and maybe some people have lost them."

After a year and three months, I went to Rostov. Then I received my belongings among which were all those letters. There was also a book of Taras Shevchenko, I brought it with me.

Related: Sentsov’s film ‘Gamer’ showed in Berlin

By this time, I have received only the mother’s letters. I have been receiving the letters in the penal colony, but only for a while; I have complained and sent my letters everywhere. Therefore, the correspondence was forbidden for me, and the letters just stopped coming.

...Everything that we (with Yuriy Soloshenko) tell you is a very brief story.

Imagine a person imprisoned in a single cell, this is like a movie, the whole world. No one knows what would be the next.

We have a lot to tell, about Russian lawlessness in the investigation, about the fates of other boys and girls who were with us.

This should be voiced step by step. You cannot tell about two years and two months in some 10-20 minutes.

We, the political prisoners, are united; altogether we feel like one single man

Yuriy (Soloshenko) calls me his grandson, I call him my grandfather.

We want to meet with all the political prisoners, because we feel that we are one single person, we have at least one thing in common.

I think Oleh Sentsov is a hero. He is already a part of the family. We will do everything to bring each of our boys back home. This is our goal.

Related: NBU imposed sanctions on individuals from Savchenko-Sentsov list

You ask me what should the other Ukrainians held captive by the Russians do?

I would say it is better not to be there at all, because we cannot trust a 'fair' trial and humane treatment there.

Related: Foreign Ministry: Russia’s Supreme Court to reconsider Sentsov and Kolchenko sentence

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