Without Any Chance. Afanasiev and Soloshenko on How Russian FSB Breaks Its Captives
Released on June 14 political prisoners Gennadiy Afanasiev and Yuri Soloshenko met us at the hospital where they were taken right after their arrival in Ukraine. Even relatives couldn't meet them at the airport; their first meeting took place in their hospital rooms.
"Too much excitement, we get over-exhausted ... We're accustomed that nothing happens to us - in the last years we were in prisons. For us, all of this fuss creates a lot of stress," say our speakers as if apologizing.
They have agreed to speak together - because after their experiences, they feel almost like family, though were not in the same cell in a Russian prison.
So the speak, and alternate flipping through their memories of the days of the past two years. They support each other and instantly understand what is hard for us to imagine.
Gennadiy talks about his arrest, the beatings. His mother, Olga Afanasieva, present in the room leaves in tears.
Then he recalls how he was forced to sign his testimony - and Yuri holds his shoulders to calm him down and say, "No one knows what they would have done in the same situation."
They sit side by side.
Twenty five year-old Gennadiy in a t-shirt with a trident and a trident pendant around his neck, and with a Ukrainian flag next to him.
"Friends gave these to me," he says happily and immediately apologizes that will speak Ukrainian slowly, because he hasn't used it for a long time. To our offer to speak in a language that will be more convenient for him, he categorically refuses: "No, in Ukrainian - it’s a matter of a principle."
The intelligent seventy-four year old Yuri, in a simple white t-shirt, hospital pants, and with a handkerchief that he continually twists in his hands. When Gennadiy tells stories of torture, Yuri's eyes redden.
Both have upcoming medical exams and treatment, and a return to civilian life in Ukraine. For the moment they aren't looking that far forward: questions about future plans several times hang in the air and remain unanswered.
They have a difficult time speaking; their doctors won't allow them to become disturbed. But Gennadiy and Yuri speak a lot and emotionally.
"People should know about it," they explain.
For the sake of those Ukrainians, who still remain in Russian prisons, we cannot publish some details. However, we hope that one day this information will be made public.
Born in November 1990 in Simferopol. Graduated from the the Faculty of Law at the Tavriya National University, worked as a photographer. During the capture of the peninsula by Russia helped Ukrainian military who were in Crimea, participated in protests. In 2014, when Gena was arrested, he was only 23 years old. He is now 25.
THIS NEEDS TO BE SAID. PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING, BECAUSE I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE
May 9, 2014, I went to the Victory Day parade in Simferopol with a photograph of my great-grandfather .
Then went to see a friend, a girl, who lived nearby - in the city center. But on the way, the guys in civilian clothes with guns attacked me and pushed me into a car. There were journalists nearby who filmed all of this.
In the car, I was thrown me, a bag was put on my head and I was driven away.
While driving, I was beaten in the stomach and head, they asked about different people, they would threaten that they will take me to a forest, that I would dig a grave for myself.
Finally, they brought me home; they already knew where I live. They took the keys to the apartment, and so, with a bag on my head, brought me into the apartment, threw on the floor. Searched for something at home, but found nothing. After this took me to the FSB in the Crimea, and then - to the temporary place of detention for 10 days.
Usually, they held people there for three days and then they would be transferred to the prison. But I was kept there for 10 days - they needed this term.
I didn't have a lawyer, but there was a very large number of investigators from Moscow and also extremely big guys from the Caucasus, FSB workers. I was chained to an steel table. First, they talked, threatened; I didn't say anything .
On the first day it was just beating.
They took me to the second floor - there were special people and the investigator. Again they asked various questions.
Realizing that I don't know the facts that interested them, they demanded that I give evidence against myself. To confess that I allegedly wanted to blow up the Eternal Flame monument on May 9th.
This is absurd because I was amongst the people who were at the monument! I was detained there and this was seen by a lot of people.
On the second floor, they put on boxing gloves and beat my head, so that there would be no bruises.
This was the first day.
I was taken for the night to a place of temporary detention. All 10 days while I was in this place I was not allowed to sleep, eat, did not even have toilet paper, there was nothing. Some kind of basement, it was very cold.
During the first 5 days they used ... just a pack over my head, they choked me ...
(Gennadiy pauses, continues in a moment).
This needs to be said. People need to know what is happening. Because I am not the only one. I have seen many similar examples, this was done to those, who they needed.
They brought Oleksiy Cherniy in my prison cell, who said in my presence that I was a such-and-such.
We met with him previously. At the beginning of the occupation of the Crimea, I organized a group to provide medical help for our soldiers, who were surrounded by Russians.
It is in this group that Cherniy and I met.
So, Cherniy testified against me and the guys.
This was psychological pressure: when a person testifies against you, the investigators say that you have nowhere to go, nothing can be done.
Investigators said that I didn't have a chance. "You'll get 20-25 years. You can admit your guilt, and then you'll get less."
I decided that if someone testified against me, and it was only about the arson - so I signed the deposition.
I didn't testify against any one, I only admitted my own guilt.
Then they became interested in Olexandr Kolchenko and Oleh Sentsov. Cherniy had testified against them.
After that, serious torture began.
They put a gas mask with a hose on my head, opened the bottom valve and sprayed cans there; I started vomiting, you would begin to choke in this, because you're in a mask .
When you start choking, they remove the mask, give you smelling salts, then repeat everything.
They continued by attaching electrical wires to the genitals, and would send a charge. If strangulation was survivable, this was a different kind of pain. YES, in this way the FSB would force you to sign documents.
Simply sign, and that's all.
I realized what was there. I saw what was written. But I did not write it myself, everything was already prepared, the entire text.
Almost at the end, when they demanded that we agree to the deal, they undressed me, put on the floor, some people held me - and circled my body with a soldering iron; I was told what would happen if the soldering iron gets under me.
The most important thing - I have a mom - and they threatened to get to her. This had an effect …
I blame myself for not being stronger. I retracted my words, but ...
I signed those documents, and I was moved to Moscow. Using the same threats, they forced me to speak on television, to say what they needed. I remembered what they did with me in last days - and I did not believe that someone could protect me, to prevent that from happening again. So I just repeated what they told me to say.
I was told, "You shall quietly sit in a prison near your home where it's warm and nice, but if not - you will be moved to very bad places." I believed they would do it.
When human rights activists visited me, I was wary of them. Well, if I I tell these people what happened. And what would happen then? I don't know.
AFTER I TESTIFIED IN COURT THAT KOLCHENKO AND SENTSOV AREN'T GUILTY, SOMETHING IN ME CHANGED. I WASN'T AFRAID ANY MORE
During the first year, year and a half, a terrible battle took place in my soul because of the false evidence I gave against the innocent guys.
I managed to control myself until their trial because I believed that if I expose myself, they will do something to make sure that I won't get taken to court at all.
I wanted for it to be a surprise at the court. And it happened.
I already decided that this it, this is the end. Wrote a letter of apology for all my sins to all my friends, to my mother - and went to court.
Immediately after this statement, FSB operatives beat me in Rostov. Because there were lawyers and defenders, they were able to record all the injuries that were inflicted on me.
The Russians fulfilled their promise, they took me to a modern-day Gulag in the Komi Republic, Russia's only such penal colony. Actually, I wasn’t even in the colony, but in an austere barrack.
I can not explain it to you, you weren't there, you can't understand.
And the transfer to the penal colony itself was very difficult. The temperature outside is 40-45 degrees, wagons become so hot that they need to cool them with fire engines. Inside - no water, no toilets. These general conditions for a Russian prisoner. They live like this, like animals, can't say it in any other way.
I was transferred to the penal colony. A blade in my things.
We sued, but they refused even to show a video of that night. They said: "It has nothing to do with the case." No witnesses, no protection, simply refused and that's all. Because of this blade, I was immediately moved to an isolation punishment cell, and then to strick regime barracks.
It was a huge barrack. About a meter, meter and a half there are steel bars with patrol guards. It’s like being in a zoo; there are people all around you and they can see everything you do. And with you there are 100 persons in a space of 150 square meters.
Nowhere to sit, laying down is prohibited, everything is forbidden. This is the first such strick regime barrack for all of Russia.
But I complained about the conditions, constantly complained. You know, after I went to court and said that Kolchenko and Sentsov are not guilty, something changed in me - I stopped being afraid.
But I did not believe anyone. Even when my lawyer Popkov came, he showed his evidence, passports, because I said, "I will not speak with you."
There, in the Komi Republic, I became very seriously ill.
I don't the diagnosis, I'm being examined. There were very large inflammations on my skin; they didn't disappear. They had to be treated, but no one did. So I cut them out. We and the boys would tear a bedsheet, cover the wound, then washed the sheet and used it again. They would take some baby cream and all we could do - we did.
After a while, they started to bring pills - antibiotics. But as a result, another illness began, because they damaged the stomach.
These skin inflammations would disappear, and then in a week or two would reappear.
After some time, someone put an SIM card into my winter jacket. The jacket was in a separate room, which is locked at night. In the morning I went outside - a planned search was taking place.
When I returned, they came up only to me and said, "We have operative information." They said: "you were taken to hospital for 4 days, and when leaving, other prisoners put a SIM-card [into my jacket]. Although I was alone in the penalty isolator.
I insisted that this SIM card should be removed from the colony by investigators of the Russian Federation, to allow them to undertake a billing, print the text, and to see that these were not my calls. But they destroyed this card in the first few days.
I was taken to the city of Mikun, to the female penal colony ¹ 31. The most dangerous criminals are kept in a small premisses. I was kept in solitary confinement.
For 2 months and 15 days, I was always alone, didn't see anyone. There were only only books.
At first, there were letters. But during the last month they didn't reach me, and mine were not sent or they started to get lost, as was explained to me: "Today we had some events and maybe those people lost them," or "The woman asked, and they were sent through her co-workers, and they lost them."
A year and three months later I went to Rostov. I went down there and I was given my stuff. Among them were all the letters that I sent to people and all the letters that people sent to me. There was also a book of Taras Shevchenko, I brought it with me.
By this time, the letters came only from my mother.
Letters came also to the penal colony, but not for long; I complained, wrote letters everywhere. So I was forbidden to write and receive letters and they just stopped coming.
...What we [with Yuri Soloshenko] are telling you - it's all very brief.
Because for every day that a person is in a cell, especially if the person is alone in this cell - it's like an entire film, this is the whole world for them. A person doesn't know what will happen in next moment. And experiences all of this.
We have a lot to tell – and about the illegal investigations in Russia, about the histories and fates of other guys and girls who were there with us…
We have to do this gradually, do this step by step, to remember, feel it and describe it to you. Two years and two months – it can’t be summarized in 10 - 20 minutes.
WE, POLITICAL PRISONERS, ARE LIKE ONE MAN IN ONE COUNTRY, ONE THING BINDS US TOGETHER
Yuri Danylovych (Soloshenko-UP) addresses me as grandson, and I call him-grandfather.
We want to meet all the political prisoners, for we felt, that we are like one man in one nation, there’s one thing that binds us together, that we have in common.
For that reason, Oleh Sentsov for me personally-is a hero. He’s already like family. We will do everything within our power to get everyone back. That’s our aim.
I saw Sentsov in Crimea at some festival, I got to know him then and there. Saw him only once, and, maybe wouldn’t have remembered him, if not for the situation.
There, you ask, what to advise other Ukrainians who end up in Russian prison?
Better not to end up there, for a fair trial and humane treatment is a foolish hope.
If a Ukrainian is in a position with no exit-he should save himself, and we’ll get him out of prison.
And we’ll have a healthy person, our citizen.
You don’t need to die, you don’t need to give your life, if you can’t save it somehow.
A native of Poltava, graduate of the Kharkiv national university, worked 48 years at the defence factory "Znamia"-rising from engineer to general director. Factory specialized in radar construction and components for anti-aircraft artillery. The only customer for these parts was Russia. In 2010 he retired, yet despite the closure of the factory, using old connections he helped Kyiv and Moscow trade specialized components. Is married and has a son. Yuri Danylovych was arrested when he was 72 years old. 11 days ago he was 74.
EVEN TO THIS DAY I DON’T KNOW WHAT WAS WRITTEN, IN THESE "SECRET" PAPERS
I was a factory director, constantly working with the Russian department of defence. It was our only client, for we produced military technology which was used by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.
We normally worked as a single collective since soviet times. We were invited for seminars, which because of our presence were considered international. We arrived there with our flag, raised it to the sound of Ukraine’s hymn. And it was so pleasant, such honest respect.
One day, during one of these general orders, a colonel of the Russian army called and stated, that they had obtained a large quantity of our product and ask for our goods to be used in their technology.
I tell him-we need to check whether the products really meet conditions. He asked "Can you do this?"
I evaded the question for a while-saying I needed to help my ailing wife, that I’ve the tickets booked for her treatment. And I’d left the factory back in 2010. Yet they insisted: "Go on, come over for a day. We’ve got the machinery, in and out"
They talked me into it. I arrive in Belgorod, go through passport control, the passport control woman checked my documents, left, then returned: "Hand over your passport once more".
So I hand her the passport. She heads to the neighbouring train car and I hear her recite my passport details somewhere. And I understood, that I’ve been "Led". There and then I started to think something was not right…but I and Kolehov (head of department at the government defence ordering company "RusElectronics", who invited Soloshenko to Russia-UP) worked together for 12 years as director.
I do not want to say his very name. (Kolehov means Friend or Colleague in Russian-LM). I cannot call him a man. So much I convinced myself, that I’m a Christian and I have to forgive-but for some blackguards forgiveness is something I cannot give in my condition.
I thought to my self: "So they are leading me on. So what? I travel in a simple shirt, jeans, three thousand roubles ($45.84-LM) in my pocket and a return ticket. I promised Kolehov, I’ve worked so many years with the man…" As if there isn’t a reason to return.
In Moscow I’m met by Kolehov and Demyanov, also a colonel, formerly: "So you’ve just arrived, with nothing?"
And I replied: "I’ve only arrived for half a day, without anything. You’ve got all the equipment for the checks?" -"We’ve got it".
We arrive in their office, in their courtyard there’s a vehicle of sorts, in the office schematics which I recognize. I enter. I hadn’t even time to follow custom and say hello, and the door breaks down-and with all the characteristics of a cop show: "Nobody move! FSB!"
I think to myself: "Oh probably these two old boys have gotten into some trouble…This is for them, I’ve nothing to do with this".
When a Lieutenant-Colonel jumps to my side, puts me to a wall, arms on the wall, legs wide. I don’t understand whats’ going on. They search me, take both mobile phones, stuck them in the evidence bag, and give them back "Take your telephones". I look and with the telephones there are some papers.
I answer: "That’s not mine". –"No, that’s yours. You travelled with it".
Turns out, they prepared some sort of supposedly secret documents, which I had supposedly arrived for, so as to steal them from Russia.
"Secret Materials" turned out papers for the C-300, which the Ukrainian armed forces have been using for over forty years, and in any case are made in the Kyiv factory "Generator".
They tied me up, handcuffed me, photographed me, all as per normal.
The only "Nuance"-were these telephones and documents, which they had put forward themselves. The papers didn’t even have my fingerprints on them. I never read them, even today I don’t know whats’ on those papers. They were of no interest to me whatsoever.
We arrive in the detective’s office. I’m thinking to myself, they’ll work this out, and I’ll head home. I’ve a ticket for nine fifteen. I look at them, and they take this very seriously, and write a protocol for my detention.
The detective informs me: "We informed the embassy". We arrive at court, I again begin to say that this is an absurd allegation.
Yet the Judge tells me: "The matter is not in the allegation, but to resolve before this session ends the question of the extent of your punishment". And rules to place me in Isolation at "Lefortovo".
They locked me up in a one-man cell. The next day they take me in a convoy to the investigative department.
Then the operative tells me: "You write these petitions, and we all laugh at you. We know how to write, we wrote everything correctly.
Take Russian citizenship, and your status will be changed to that of a witness. We were keeping an eye on Kolehov, not you. You know, what his position was, he was always under our observation. You just happened to pass by. If you take the citizenship, your status will be changed to that of a witness, you’ll be defended by Russia’s law defending witnesses.
Well, I, Naturally, didn’t agree.
Then they just locked me up.
"IF YOU ACKNOWLEDGE YOURSELF GUILTY OF ESPIONAGE, IN A WEEK YOU’LL BE UNDER HOUSE ARREST"
My friends in Moscow helped a lot, immediately supplied me with everything that an arrested person needs to have, as I even left my toothbrush in the train-expecting to take the same train back.
Yet in the investigative department I was told: "There’s a lawyer from your friends walking around here. He’ll only harm your case, because he was specially sent, so he can check the reasons for your detention, so as to safeguard his own people, these masterminds". They insisted in a variety of ways for me to reject this lawyer.
2nd of October the jury sat deciding the extension of my arrest. And after the jury…I am imprisoned again for two months.
When I found out, that I’m not being released, I almost had a stroke, I truly felt very bad. I hoped, that two months-and this misunderstanding will end.
A month passes, and I don’t leave the cell. After a month and a few days I’m taken in a convoy to the investigative department and say: "We can’t conduct an investigation. Your lawyer doesn’t want to arrive. For that reason we advise you take such and such a lawyer, he’s excellent, principled"/
Long story short, "Recommend". They bring him, and he opens with: "From tomorrow we’ll begin preparing materials changing your case, as espionage is a very tough case, that’s’ 10-20 years, and no amnesty, no petitions."
He promised a lot-"But money first, then we can begin work".
Well, my children paid him the money.
And as soon as he received the money, he stated simply: "You have two options-admit your guilt, which gets you the minimum 10 years. If you do not admit your guilt, you get 20 years".
I looked at him and said: "Look at me. Ten or twenty years looks like it matters to me? Of course I’ll not declare myself guilty"
All in all, I was without a lawyer for 10 months, and about 8 months without a consul. And they needed to close the case.
I don’t declare myself guilty-and clearly they have a lack of evidence. They call me out once more to the investigative department and tell me the following pre-jury agreement: "If you admit yourself guilty of espionage, we’ll put you under house arrest in a week"-to my friend, who lives in Moscow’s suburbs.
They promise, that the departments’ heads’ friend is the deputy chairman of the Moscow City Court, he’ll cut a deal-I’ll get off easy.
My kids write to me of the measures taken to get me back, how they travel to Kyiv, make agreements, then the Ukrainian human rights lawyers arrive. The Russian ombudsman Ella Pamfilova said: "I cannot help you right now, only after the judgement".
I know, that this allegation is absurd, that in Ukraine nobody will believe that I tried to steal specifically documents-which Ukraine already has!
I think "Good". And agree to the house arrest.
But before we begin I tell the prosecutor: "I don’t believe you, have someone from your leadership confirm this".
The head of the department arrives, Colonel Rastvorov and says: "Danylovych, my father is also Yuri Danylovych, and also of 1942. I have much respect for both of you. When I informed the deputy chairman of the city court how old you were, he just said "Damn what discussions? Its’ all been said let him go home everything will be done".
They went to my friend, took his signature, confirmation of residence, whether I can stay there under house arrest. They show me the letter, I recognize my friends’ signature. I think to myself-Maybe this is it….
I signed that terrible paper.
I didn’t even finish reading it, it was so unreal, absurd and terrible.
After some time, they invite me back to the investigative department. The Director has the table laid, a bottle of cognac and sandwitches. "Understand, all agree, bar one. He says, that you aren’t registered in Russia, so you can’t be under house arrest….lets’ drink". But I did not drink….
…The prosecutor somehow, in a moment of candour said: "If I pronounce you innocent, that means I join the cadres of the fired. The question of your arrest has been decided on the level of the General Procurator and the FSB".
I had no chances there. I wrote to the administration of the president and the chief of investigative department. No hello, no goodbye.
Time passes, we have to get familiarised with the materials at hand. Once more there’s no lawyer, just me.
I read the first tome. In the first tome the FSB writes a correction, that in Ukraine these products are already integrated in one of the factories. The correction is in my favour, it turns out, as if someone intelligent had read it.
Nowhere in the text are there any conversations involving me or started on my behalf. All this was prepared as such. I received calls, they told me, such are the questions…I later understood-they provoked me, so I would say something, that this would interest me.
One tome I signed. There are four tomes in total. They hurry me along "Come on, speed up, its’ all agreed, everything must be done fast".
Then everything wound down quickly. On the 11th I signed all the tomes, on the 16th they received them in the prosecutors’ office and registered my case, and on the 19th I received word that it was sent to court.
I think: "Maybe, honestly, they’ve decided in such a way to send me home?..."And immediately from the court I receive word-Court date for 1st of October.
I WASN’T BEATEN-THEY TRIED TO BREAK ME MORALLY
The court was closed, noone was allowed in, no tv channels, no consul.
On the third meeting I presented my defence. The Judge listened to me. And yet in the notes it was written that "His words were met with criticism".
On the 14th they pronounced my sentence. Everyone was allowed there. And the human rights lawyers, and the Consul.
And then arrives the letter-enact the sentence and send me to the place of punishment. At this time I was in the hospital "Sailors’ quiet". Ella Pamfilova through the human rights lawyer Zoja Svetova passed along word that on the 10th of December during a meeting with President Putin the question of my amnesty will be discussed.
And so I wait until the 10th of December. I turn the television on, and they show the scene-Ella Pamfilova sits there, talks with Putin of this and that…at this point the little hatch opens: "Soloshenko, get your things and double time to the exit". The guys are all saying "Well that’s that, Pamfilova solved it all". I also thought that, collecting my things.
And so I was bundled away, and onto the stage.
…These Stolypin’s train cars. They are similar to a regular one: corridor, on either side a cabin, only everywhere there are bars. No windows in the cabin. Three bunks on both sides. 12 men in the cabin, all smoking. I ask the conductor: "And if there’s a fire in the cabin-you’ll open the bars for us to jump?" He replies "No, its’ easier for me to write you off, than try and sort out where you all rand off to."
Before arriving at the colony I was taken to a hospital jail in Nijni Novgorod for two weeks, and then prepared to put me back on stage. But my condition deteriorated, they placed me in the regional hospital jail at colony five. There I lay for two and a half months. From there, it was straight to the colony.
There I could use the phone. I already knew that something is happening, that measures are being taken. There was something to hope for.
I sat in excellent company-two Doctors, one fellow inmate-a colonel of the special forces, a proper man, battle hardened, with medals. I taught a Georgian, at his insistence, the hymn of Ukraine and at a whisper we sang it in the cell. There was 22 year old Losha from the Kuzbass who reminded me of Tychyna "To live, I do not ask permission of anyone, to live, I’ll break all chains. I’ll harden, be sure of myself, because I live". And he asked me to write that on the title page of his diary.
I wasn’t beaten-they tried to break me morally. For me to lose…(Long pause-UP) Sure, I wanted to see my grandsons. My prosecutor told me: "Sure, better die at home", and I thought: "You won’t see the day". And here I am, almost at home.
There’s a particular organization "Russian Uznik" they wrote to me. There’s the "Sitting Rus’". And there are some people, who just heard of me online and wrote to me. From Canada some Olga wrote to me.
When I was moved, they sent letters, one of them from a honoured artist Sergey Arkhipchuk, who congratulated me with my birthday of the sixth of may. I got that one on the sixth of December. I received letters from Valeria Lutkovskaya and Klimkin.
In Russia you can’t count on humane treatment. Of this monster, Russia, there is only one master-the sovereign of all Rus and his oprichniki FSB of his. (the Oprichniki were a medieval secret police set up during the reign of Ivan the Terrible-LM)
Those who find themselves hostages of Russia, I want to say, hold tight, believe that Ukraine has not forgotten them-she’s fighting for every citizen.
You can’t lose faith.
If I didn’t have faith, that one day I’d return home-I don’t know if I’d have seen this day.
I fell asleep to this thought and woke with it, it became a prayer to me.
Oksana Kovalenko, Halyna Tytysh, UP
Translated by Euromaidan Press