Persecution of Movenko: How pro-Ukrainian Position is Punished for in Crimea

Mr Igor Movenko, a Ukrainian activist, has been persecuted in Crimea for political reasons for more than 2 years. After the Ukrainian together with the family had left the peninsula, he told the Crimean Human Rights Group about the case against him in detail.

– Everything started in 2016. I was demonstrating actively that I was a Ukrainian, used Ukrainian symbols and flags, and was riding the bicycle decorated with Ukrainian symbols.

Once I came to the supermarket, left the bicycle, and when I returned I saw a man standing nearby and effing when looking on the stickers on the bicycle. I wanted to answer him, but he started beating me. He hit me three times, one straight in the face (a triplane fracture), threw me on the ground and zip tied my hands.

Later he described the situation as if I had been a terrorist, having a bomb in the bag and shouting that I wanted to blow up everybody. I understand he said that to justify his actions. All this happened at the NOVUS supermarket, in front of cameras. We, surely, did not manage to get the record as it was deleted. An administrative case for wearing ‘Nazi symbols’ or ‘similar to them’ was started against me.

Igor Movenko was severely beaten in the public place for the Ukrainian symbols by an ex-Berkut man.

– Later I got to know that I had been attacked by Vladimir Sukhodolsky, a former Berkut man. He turned out to have been at Maydan in 2014. When he returned to Sevastopol, he was one of those met as heroes at Nakhimova Square. He is a certified combat sport master, awarded many times at the All-Ukrainian competitions. Now he is in the Russian Guard. During the fight he was with his wife who had been in the Ukrainian police before (now she is a policewoman of Gagarinsky District Police Unit, Sevastopol).

There were some other people aside, too, I think they have been waiting for me. I was for about 15 minutes in the supermarket, so they managed to band together. They all were in a very aggressive mood, and many proposed to do me away right there. However, there were also people who helped, and one woman brought me water. There is a small video shot by my wife when she came. Sukhodolsky was first to call the police for a squad to come – he managed to catch a ‘criminal’. The police came, they all turned out to be his friends and colleagues, and they must have made a report. I was called an ambulance, it came and I was asked about taking to the hospital. I had just two options – to agree or to go to the police. I was transported to the hospital, the injures were severe (open craniocerebral trauma, brain commotion, basal skull fracture, jaw fracture, nasal bone closed fracture, eyebulb contusion, and other injuries – edit.). When brought to the hospital, the policemen, instead of medical aid, searched my belongings, and started drawing the report. The doctor was pushing them: faster, faster, he has a brain commotion and is about to go faint. I could not speak and think, and a surgery was needed, indeed.

The beaten Movenko was fined for the Ukrainian symbols

– While I was at hospital, the administrative case was started against me in parallel. After the hospital discharge I and wife addressed a lawyer – I needed a representative for the case. ‘The Gagarinsky District Court’ judged me a penalty of RUR2,000. The appeal was considered by the ‘Sevastopol City Court’, but everything was kept as was.

The ‘Berkut man’ who had beaten the Ukrainian, went unpunished.

– When the administrative case had been considered, I placed an application for opening a criminal case against Sukhodolsky. We applied to different institutions: to the Prosecutor’s Office, to the Russian Guard, to the Investigation Committee. But just runarounds were received from everywhere: we were re-addressed to other bodies. This lasted for about 3 months after my hospital discharge. Finally, I and the lawyer came to the investigator directly to open the criminal case, but he said us straight up that we would be unlikely to do this since Sukhodolsky was considered a hero here. And this became the end.

When detained the Ukrainian was twice beaten by the Russian ‘policemen’.

– And in December 2016 when I was walking to wark I was ambushed. The FSB men ran from the car standing at the wayside as if being repaired, performed a ‘masquerade’, and threw me on the ground. There were 8-10 men, then I was pushed into the van, arms behind the back, and they started beating and kicking me. I was threatened to be taken to the forest and left there. This was not far from my work, so they drove some 100 meters, took me out and convoyed to my workplace: this was a warehouse where I worked as a warehouse manager.

I was made walk inside, all employees were forbidden to call, and then everybody’s mobiles were taken away when I asked one of the colleagues to phone up my wife. When I said this, I was taken aside and beaten once more. Then I was brought back, said to stand silent and answer only the questions. All this time I was handcuffed. The FSB was interested in my desktop, and social networks I could be linked to. They verified that I might enter VKontakte with this desktop. They questioned all my colleagues, and called witnessed from other offices who later testified against me.

Eventually the FSB men withdrew my desktop, my mobile, and then took me to the van again. We moved to my home. None called my wife then. When we approached my home, they took my keys and went themselves to open the door. The wife was at home, and the daughter, aged 13, was at school. I was brought to the apartment, and the inspection of the rooms and my computer started. I was said to sit silent, I was still handcuffed, the wife was forbidden to contact the lawyer, and when she started calling, her mobile was just taken away. They surveyed all corners, I guess they were planning to plant something, but we had a single room apartment, and this was hard to do – everything was well seen. Our next doors were engaged as witnesses to search, and then also were witnesses to prosecution. One neighbor disappeared later for some time and did not take part in the court, while the other supported the persecution position very enthusiastically: during the court sessions it became clear that he had been monitoring what I was writing in the social networks, and read my post that outraged him a lot, he called me a real evildoer.

Movenko confessed under pressure and death threats

– To search they had an authorization: it was read out but not handed. Eventually, my computer, daughter’s laptop were withdrawn, and I was moved to the FSB unit, a former SBU building. I was subject to enhanced interrogation, threatened, demanded to write down that I agreed with all happened, and admitted my guilt that this had been my comment in the social network. This time I was not beaten, but told that if I did not sign I would be taken to Bakhchisarai and would come home for a long time. I was interrogated by two men. One was surely a new comer, last name Fursa, looking as a Buryat. The other was likely to be a former SBU man, but these are my assumptions. He did not participate in the court sessions, and was testifying by conference call from Rostov. They showed me all my comments extracted from the social networks, but sticked to just one – rather lengthy. Finally they made me confess and released, so I went home. The withdrawn equipment was promised to be returned, and that was done in 10 days.

Fursa called me in a month to speak again. I called the lawyer, and we came to the FSB building. Fursa ran out, and became very nervous when he saw the lawyer. He took me aside – why you had come with the lawyer, we had agreed no lawyers, I needed your computer. I gave my computer again. Then I spoke to the lawyer, and he suggested leaving Crimea, but I was not ready then to leave home.

The court was specifically interested in Movenko’s attitude to the ‘Crimea’s joining the RF”.

– Basically, all witnesses speaking in the court were for persecution, including my colleagues. They all were asked about my attitude to ‘Crimea’s joining the RF”. The colleagues knew about my pro-Ukrainian position, so they did not tell lies, and said that my attitude was not very positive. Their attitude to the situation was different, there were yes-men, but everybody was terrified, and they could not answer another way. At the court their testimony was ‘neutral’. However, the ‘court’ received their answer for its fundamental question: ‘Do I support the Crimea’s joining Russia or not?”. In fact, this question did not refer to the case, but the judge put it to me and all witnesses. The lawyer later appealed against this question, but it was crucial for them.

Arrest in the court hall

– Before reading out the sentence we knew that the persecution had asked for a 2-year’s suspended sentence. The hearing was delayed by 2 hours. A police escort appeared in the court building – even before the judgement was made there had been an arrest warrant – before the court went to discuss the sentence. I was judged by Pavel Kryllo, he is not local, he has come from Russia (from Omsk – edit.). I was pronounced the sentence – 2 years in the colony, and arrested in the court hall under Article 280-2 – for appeals to extremism in the social networks. Then I was handcuffed and convoyed to the Detention Center.

55 days in custody

– In the Detention Center I was in the wing of former policemen – I had served in the police escort troops earlier. The relation there was simpler than in general cells. At that time the Detention Center was overcrowded: 1600 men with the maximum possible capacity of 860. There could be up to 30 men in the general cells for 10 beds, so they slept in turn. I was assigned to the cell for 8 beds, and became the ninth, odd. One man considered a habitual criminal was re-located since all others, like I, were in the Detention Center for the first time, so we remained 8.

For me this was a terrible stress. The cellmates treated me normally. These were ‘star men’, former police senior officers of different grades. They were called ‘businesspeople’ and were investigated under corruption articles. When learnt about my situation, they were shocked. And not only they. Everybody I communicated with in the Detention Center supported me and was sympathetic to my situation. The women in administration when I went to the video calls, worried about me. ‘Has 1937 returned?’ – everybody was wondering. It was strange because I had what to compare with – I knew the history of Balukh, and how he had been treated by the same people in the same prison.

The living conditions in the Detention Center are heavy. I was in the wing repaired already, but that was only a part of prison. The Detention Center itself was built two centuries ago – old cells of Catherine’s times. Meals given here can’t be eaten for granted, I think this is the same in all prisons. Everybody eats what the relatives have brought. The windows are open in summer. For this the technicians come, cut down bars, open plastic windows, and then re-install the bars. When it becomes cold, everything is done in reverse order.

An hour for walk is allowed per day – this is a cell with 4m high walls. One can’t see sky, there is a roof with a hole for air above. Many do not go for a walk since it is better to stay in the cell. People go for a walk only to move and limber up.

The food packages are subject to restrictions: all foodstuffs when the packages are received are cut through – there could be a saw in carrots? The food should not be perishable since there is no fridge in the cell.

Due to the appeal consideration the ‘Sevastopol City Court’ lightened the sentence to 1 year suspended, with a test period. On June 1st 2018 Igor Movenko was released from the Detention Center.

Life in Sevastopol after the sentence

– If I had been treated OK at my first work, at my second one – where I was a DJ (we arranged various events, weddings) the number of my orders reduced roughly thrice. My manager understood that we had events for the prosecutor’s office staff, for other VIPs, and who knew how they could react if they saw me.

After 2014 the number of friends and colleagues reduced significantly, and when I was taken to the Detention Center – they just disappeared. Some were afraid, others stopped communicating due to ideological reasons.

Why the Movenko left Crimea

– A decision to leave first appeared in 2014. We planned to save money for the re-settlement, but did not manage. Then we hoped that Ukraine would come back in some three years. When it became clear that this would not happen, we thought – somebody should be here. If we leave who will remain?

But when my persecution started, it became just dangerous for my family to remain. The FSB men themselves when beating me in the van were threatening straight up: ‘We will now bring you child from school, and you will tell us everything!’

Now the sentence was served, everything looks to be OK, but the risk still remains. My persecution may start again, and I could become a habitual criminal. And I can’t be silent, my position has not changed at all after what happened.

Now I am starting a new life, everything should be started almost from scratch. If it were not the Crimean Human Rights Group, I do not know how it would be. It is difficult to leave home by yourself.

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