Ukrainian Political Prisoners Freed From Russia In Exchange For Fellow Ukrainians Accused Of Separatism

June 14, 2016
Yuriy Soloshenko and Hennadiy Afanasyev on board a Ukrainian plane today with MP Iryna Herashchenko and Presidential press secretary Svyatoslav Tsegolko.

Ukraine Day 848: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


2 Ukrainian Volunteer Fighters Killed, 1 Wounded; 4 Soldiers Wounded

Two Ukrainian volunteer fighters were killed and 1 wounded near Mariupol, Inforesist reported, citing a Facebook page called “Come Back Alive” run by volunteer supporter Darya Bura.
The two fighters were killed in battle with Russian-backed militants near a stronghold of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and one volunteer was wounded in the industrial zone in Avdeyevka. Militants fired from 82-mm artillery starting last night at 20:00, then later self-propelled artillery and 120-mm artillery was used.
Four Ukrainian soldiers were also wounded by shell fire in Maryinka.
The ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation] has not yet confirmed these reports, although it did report on fighting in Avdeyevka, the Butovka coal mine, Maryinka and other areas.
Bura writes (translation by The Interpreter):

Our military have information that with every passing day, the enemy is making an advance on the town of Avdeyevka itself. The artillery fire in the city and environs has increased heavily. Mainly, they fire from Spartak, Makeyevka and the center of Donetsk. This is how the enemy is targeting. Even local residents of occupied Donetsk report this, and ask the Ukrainian Armed Forces NOT to shoot at the city in reply. Several times last night they fired from a tank near Avdeyevka which they drove out from the area near the Donetsk Airport.

Several shells from self-propelled artillery flew from the direction of Spartak on the area of the coke chemical factory. One of the shells fell on the grounds of the factory, and another on the side of the road.

At about 20:00, militants fired from a Zenit 120-mm artillery system.

Today, at about 11:00 near the Butovka coal mine and the strongholds near Avdeyevka, they began to fire from machine guns, VOGs [fragmentation grenades] and RPGs. The gunfire didn’t cease throughout the day. Mortars were also in operation.

In Zaitsevo, for the first time in several months, the night was calm. Quiet makes military people wary. According to our intelligence, the enemy was pulling in weaponry. They have obtained the go-ahead for an advance on Mayorsk.

At other positions in Zaitsev, the separatists instigated a firefight which was reinforced with shelling from grenade-launchers. Three of our fighters were wounded. In the evening, self-propelled artillery systems were firing on the village. 

On the Mariupol line in the area of Pavlopol, the enemy started artillery fire during which a diversionary and reconnaissance group advanced on our position. As a result of the battle, two of our fighters were killed and one wounded.

In Maryinka during the night, there was also contact, as our positions were fired on with mortars. Four soldiers were wounded. The guys are in various stages. In Krasnogorovka, it was quiet. Gunfire, but not critical.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Ukrainian Court Overturns Ban on TV Host Savik Shuster, Restores Work Permit

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Savik Shuster
2016-06-14 15:54:55

The Kiev District Administrative Court overturned a decision to cancel the work permit of popular television host Savik Shuster, 112 Ukraine and Novaya Gazeta reported.
As we reported, in April, Ukrainian authorities unexpectedly canceled the work permit of Shuster, a Russian-speaking journalist who was born in Lithuania and holds Canadian citizenship. A criminal case had been opened against Shuster on allegations of an unpaid tax bill, and this was cited as the ostensible reason for the cancellation. The State Employment Agency subsequently suspended the order after Shuster went on a hunger strike and attracted a lot of publicity.
The court’s decision will go into effect in 5 days. Shuster has also filed a suit against the Employment Center which had originally cancelled his permit.
The Kyiv Post noted that Shuster had accused the presidential administration and Roman Nasirov, head of the Ukrainian State Fiscal Service, of pressuring him for his criticism of the authorities. The inspection against Shuster Live studio began a week after Nasirov was grilled over allegations of corruption related to the network of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, said the Kyiv Post.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Ukraine Reports 40 Attacks Leaving Six Soldiers And One Civilian Wounded

The Ukrainian military reported another 40 attacks by Russian-backed fighters yesterday, leaving six Ukrainian soldiers wounded.

According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russian-backed fighters used mortars to shell Ukrainian positions near both Gorlovka and Donetsk, with heavy artillery used to shell the positions near Kamenka and the Butovka mine, where four volunteer fighters were killed at the weekend.

Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, claimed that more than 155 rounds had been fired by Russian-backed fighters over the course of the day:

In the Lugansk region, Russian-backed fighters reportedly fired on positions near Stanitsa Luganskaya with small arms, while using grenade launchers to attack those near Novoaleksandrovka and Novozvanovka.

In turn, the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claimed that Ukrainian forces had fired on separatist-held territory 488 times over 24 hours, using heavy artillery and mortars.

According to the DNR, 11 houses were damaged in Donetsk, Gorlovka and villages in the south.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian Political Prisoners Freed From Russia In Exchange For Fellow Ukrainians Accused Of Separatism

Another exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine is underway today, with Ukrainians Hennadiy Afanasyev and Yuriy Soloshenko expected to be released in exchange for two other Ukrainians accused of organizing separatist activities in Odessa.

Russia’s Interfax news agency reported at noon Moscow time that Soloshenko and Afanasyev were preparing to board a flight to Kiev. 

The Interfax source said that the two would be hospitalized on their arrival in Ukraine. 74-year-old Soloshenko was recently diagnosed with cancer and Afanasyev has a blood disorder.

A short while ago, President Petro Poroshenko’s press secretary, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, posted a photo of himself and MP Iryna Herashchenko with the two prisoners on board a Ukrainian aircraft, confirming they were flying to Kiev.

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2016-06-14 12:30:33

Soloshenko was sentenced by a Russian court to six years in prison in October last year on charges of spying.

He was arrested in August, 2014, shortly after arriving in the country.

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported at the time:

Over the last 14 months Soloshenko was held in the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow where he was visited a number of times by human rights activist Zoya Svetova. She wrote back in April that in all her years of visiting remand prisoners, she had never seen such flagrant violation of Russia’s Constitution as in the case of Yury Soloshenko.  

In all her reports, it was clear that Soloshenko denies any ‘spying’ or illegal activities, and this would doubtless have been the position taken in court had he not illegally been deprived of proper legal defence.  Instead, he was pressured into rejecting Ivan Pavlov and his team, and the state-appointed lawyer Gennady Blokhin reports that Soloshenko ‘confessed to spying for Ukraine’.  Blokhin says that he will not be appealing against the sentence, and suggests that Soloshenko could be extradited to Ukraine. 

Since the file material was classified as ‘secret’, even the sentence was announced behind closed doors, not to mention the ‘trial’ itself.

The FSB Press Service reports that Soloshenko was arrested by the FSB in August 2014 in Moscow “when trying to illegally purchase secret components for S-300 surface to air missile systems. He was acting on behalf of the State enterprise “Generator Factory” and the “Skies of Ukraine” Corporation, and the items which were to be bought were intended for reinstating Ukraine’s air defence system”. 

Svetova reported back in August that the FSB appeared to be making some kind of promises to Soloshenko, probably in exchange for his giving up the lawyer whom he had chosen and accepting Blokhin.  Soloshenko had clearly been given the hope that he would receive a suspended sentence.  This is not the first time that he and other Ukrainians held in Russian detention have been deceived. 

Soloshenko’s son Vladislav earlier called the charges insane nonsense  He believes that his father who has long been retired was simply tricked into coming to Moscow.  A former colleague insisted on him coming for a business meeting connected with buying and selling equipment.  When he arrived on Aug 5, 2014, and went to the place arranged, he was immediately seized by FSB officers.

Soloshenko is the retired director of the long-bankrupt Poltava-based Znamya factory which once specialized in high-frequency electro vacuum lamps used in anti-aircraft warfare.  The factory had always depended for its survival on orders from Russia, meaning that there was nothing secret between the two countries, with it all a single system.  

Afanasyev was detained by FSB agents in Russian-occupied Simferopol in the case of the so-called “Crimean terrorists” in May 2014 and sentenced to 7 years of strict-regimen labor colony. Film director Oleg Sentsov, the other defendant in the case, was sentenced to 20 years of labor colony as was his co-defendant Aleksandr Kolchenko.

During the internationally condemned trial, Afanasyev retracted testimony against the other two defendants, which he said had been extracted under torture. 

From a Human Rights Watch report:

When Russia occupied Crimea in spring of 2014, Sentsov spoke out against the occupation and helped to evacuate stranded Ukrainian soldiers from military bases in Crimea. During his trial prosecutors provided no evidence of his personal involvement in the arson attacks, and the charges of him running a terrorist organization were based solely on testimony from two other alleged  members of the group.

But one of them, Gennady Afanasyev, withdrew his testimony toward the end of Sentsov’s trial, saying it had been extracted under torture. In court, Afanasyev described how Russian security service officials viciously beat him during interrogations, suffocated him with a gas mask, stripped him naked, and threatened him with rape to force him to testify against Sentsov.  Nobody has investigated these allegations. 

Odessa news site reports that Afanasyev and Soloshenko are being released in exchange for Yelena Glishchinskaya and Vitaliy Didenko, two journalists who were arrested in April, 2015.

Both were organisers of the “People’s Council of Bessarabia,” a separatist movement linked to pro-Russian, far-right groups such as Bulgaria’s Ataka party that agitated for independence for the region. The groups website was, as Dumskaya noted at the time, registered in Moscow.

Didenko was sentenced to three years in prison while Glishchinskaya, who was still in pre-trial detention, gave birth to a her son in a detention center a month ago.

According to Dumskaya, both detainees have already departed from Odessa by plane.

An editorial comment on the site says that this swap of prisoners is “completely different” to that of Nadiya Savchenko for two captured Russian soldiers on May 25:

This is neither an equal exchange nor a gesture of good will, because all of the participants of the exchange are Ukrainian citizens. The transfer of Glishchinskaya and Didenko to Russia in exchange for Ukrainians held in custody there means that Russia is actually recognising them as their own agents of influence.

Incidentally, the 25th article of the Ukrainian Constitution prohibits the surrender of a Ukrainian citizen to another state.

We note that another participant in the ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia,” Artyom Buzila, complained of certain high-ranking patrons – “ruthless and heartless puppet masters” – who promised “help and defense in any event and immediately disowned the project as soon as the activists found themselves behind bars.” It cannot be excluded that the current exchange is going on with the help of those same puppet masters.

— Pierre Vaux