Businessman, graduate of the Department of Law of Ivan Franko Lviv National University
Part One of Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code (smuggling of explosives)
May 6, 2014
May 8, 2015
The initial sentence of 2-year imprisonment was reduced to 9 months. Yuriy was discharged after serving the latter term while being kept in remand jail.
Yuriy Yatsenko and Bohdan Yarychevskyi were the first Ukrainians persecuted for their political views in the Russian Federation who were released and returned to Ukraine.
In May 2014, during a private visit, Yuriy and Bohdan, two students from Lviv, who had participated in the Euromaidan protests, were detained by the police in Russia’s Kursk Oblast. Just because they were from Lviv, the FSB officers were called. Then the two young men were interrogated and placed in a detention center of the Federal Migration Service. Despite the court order to expel them from the country, Bohdan and Yuriy were illegally detained in the Russian Federation for many months without any legal assistance. Though the Ukrainians were subjected to torture, they refused to give the ‘evidence’ they were demanded. As a result, Bohdan was released, but Yuriy was sentenced to two years. Thanks to the well-constructed line of defense, efforts within LetMyPeopleGo campaign, and other attendant circumstances, Yuriy’s term was reduced to nine months. Having served it, he was released.
In 2013—14, Yuriy Yatsenko crossed the Russian border many times for business purposes. He purchased the equipment in one country and resold it in another at higher price. Bohdan Yarychevskyi joined him in his last trip. On May 5, 2014, they checked into a hotel in the town of Oboyan (Kursk Oblast). Next morning, a criminal investigator knocked on their door. He assured that everything he needed was a formal check related to the May holidays. The ‘formal check’ developed into their transportation to a police station, fingerprinting, running checks through the internal databases, and visual examination (the policemen were looking for specific tattoos and traces of carrying weapons).
After the interrogators found the information about Yuriy’s participation in Euromaidan, the tactics of questioning changed abruptly. The young men were pressured to make them publicly admit their membership in the Right Sector or work for the Security Service of Ukraine. For three days, Yuriy and Bohdan were being severely beaten.
After several days of psychological and physical pressure, on May 8, 2014, the court obligated them to pay 2,000 Russian rubles in fines and be forcefully expelled from the country within 10 days. However, when this period expired, the court ruling had still not been implemented. All the time, Yuriy and Bohdan were systematically refused to access a lawyer and call their relatives. In Ukraine, no one knew about their fate until the moment Yuriy was able to convey a message via a cellmate who was being released. The leak allowed to start informational pressure on the Russian side.
On June 6, during his first visit to the detention center, Ukrainian Consul Hennady Breskalenko made sure that the detainees had external signs of violence on their bodies. Their deportation from Russia was rescheduled for June 9, yet it did not take place on that day nonetheless.
The next attempt to return Yuriy and Bohdan to their relatives was supposed to take place on August 8, 2015, at the border checkpoint of Fudzha. Both sides arrived. At the last moment, a car with the prisoners made a U-turn and took them back to the detention center on the pretext that their papers had been left there.
Fortunately, Bohdan Yarychevkyi was then expelled from the country. But Yuriy Yatsenko was charged under Part One of Article 222 of the Russian Criminal Code. At the beginning of March 2015, the court of first instance sentenced him to two-year imprisonment.
After Petr Zaikin, a lawyer from Nizhniy Novgorod, who had previously defended Russian artist Maria Alyokhina in the Pussy Riot case, entered the Yatsenko case, the appeal was interposed to the Belgorod Oblast Court. During its first session, Zaikin pointed to the Supreme Court rulings, according to which the punishment did not apply to the Russian citizens in similar cases due to the decriminalization of the offence. This suggested that, in the case of the Ukrainian national Yatsenko, the sentence was politically motivated. In the end, the court decided to mitigate the punishment to nine months. Having served it, Yuriy Yatsenko was released and returned to Ukraine.
The charge of violating the Russian migration law by specifying the wrong purpose of the trip (“private” instead of “tourist”) is an absurd ‘reason’ for prolonged detention of foreign citizens.
The failure of the Russian Migration Service to comply with the court ruling on the deportation of the two Ukrainians within 10 days is a flagrant violation of the Russian migration law. The same applies to the denial of calls to their relatives and of providing them with independent legal counsel.
All the charges against Yatsenko were based on the testimony of a taxi driver who stated that in November 2013 (when Yuriy was indeed visiting Russia), he had received a bag from him. With his colleague, the driver checked the bag for the presence of banned substances but to no avail. However, when the investigative authorities would examine the same bag, they would ‘find’ 40 grams of hunting gunpowder in the original package labeled as “Gunpowder.” It sounds hardly probable that the two taxi drivers did not notice the package if it had really been there. The fact that the witness later declaimed his testimony against Yatsenko, is even more remarkable.
When passing the judgment, the court of first instance in Belgorod distorted the content of the expert findings. According to the forensic assessment, the hunting gunpowder could not serve as explosive in the form in which it had been found. To apply it as explosive, it required a complex preparatory procedure (including processing, compaction, mixing with flammable substances such as gasoline or diesel, and the addition of a detonator). The fact that the factory package of the gunpowder was first opened by an expert for the assessment confirms that Yuriy had not carried out such a procedure. Importantly, the possession of hunting ammunition is not a criminal offense under Russian law. Based on the rulings of the Supreme Court, Russian citizens were recognized innocent in similar cases.
Torture and self-mutilation
The enforcers threatened, blackmailed, and tried to bribe the prisoners in order to make them deliver a public statement on Russian TV. Yuriy and Bohdan were tortured by hunger, and strangulation. The investigators beat them in their heads, stomachs, and genitals while putting bags on their heads for many hours. The Russian officers also simulated the execution of the Ukrainian hostages. The interrogation minutes listed those actions as an “inspection with the involvement of a counterintelligence agent, a specialist in non-verbal communication, and others.”
To avoid further torture, Yuriy and Bohdan inflicted wounds on their bellies and cut their veins. Yuriy rejected any medical care until he was allowed to make a phone call. When stitching his mortally dangerous wounds, a surgeon intentionally refused to use anesthesia commenting: “You knew how to cut yourself, now know how to suffer.”
Subsequently, Yuriy kept a blade with him and threatened to cut his carotid artery whenever potential danger arose.