The health of Ukrainian political prisoners held in Crimea and Russia is a matter of particular concern to human rights defenders. These people are the most vulnerable category of Ukrainian nationals as they actually are under the full control of the occupiers. At the same time, from the very beginning, Russian security forces have been discriminating against them because of their civic position, religion, or beliefs.
Failure to provide medical care to prisoners is one of the methods systematically used by the Russian prison staff to humiliate the Ukrainian citizens. And if these Ukrainians are also activists or bloggers, these abuses can be supplemented by hatred.
This article contains information about five Ukrainians who were imprisoned for religious or political reasons. They all have health problems and experience lack of timely medical care.
Valentyn Vyhivsky was imprisoned more than six years ago. Trumped-up espionage charges were brought against him, and he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Now, the Ukrainian serves his sentence in the penal colony No.5 of the Russian city of Kirovo-Chepetsk.
The prisoner’s father, Petro Vyhivsky, is very concerned about his son’s health. He suspects that Valentyn has recently contracted COVID-19, because there was an outbreak of the epidemic in the colony and Valentyn had all the symptoms of this disease. Vyhivsky also has a chronic spine disorder and joint pain, and his teeth have begun to crumble, most likely due to poor nutrition and lack of vitamins.
“He was not provided with medical care, even after long requests for it. COVID-19 tests were not performed either. Valentyn has never undergone any medical examinations,” his father says.
Petro Vyhivsky stresses that he is most worried about his son’s psychological condition.
“He has been kept in a ward-type room for almost four years. Because of this, meetings and long-term negotiations are forbidden. Although he never complains about his health, we are very worried about his psychological state. After all, there were hopes for release at first, but now there are no changes, and the years of absolute isolation are doing their destructive work,” says father Petro Vyhivsky sharing his fears.
He says that Valentyn is being held in the ward-type room because of his open, pro-Ukrainian position.
“Earlier, my son had been agitated for working for Russia, but he refused. He behaves independently, maintains, and does not hide his pro-Ukrainian position. That is probably why he has been kept in a solitary cell for so long,” his father considers.
Dzhemil Hafarov has been behind bars since March 2019. He was detained and charged with “terrorism” for allegedly participating in the Hizb ut-Tahrir party. In fact, the prosecution has no evidence that the prisoner is a member of this party. Dzhemil has a disability of third degree, and he suffers from chronic kidney disease and related heart diseases.
According to lawyer Rifat Yakhin, the man is now in critical condition due to the escalation of his kidney disease. The lawyer says that a month ago the condition of the prisoner’s gouty legs exacerbated – this was the complication and consequences of exactly this chronic kidney disease, then a tumor with accompanying pain appeared on his leg.
“I think the complication is due to his chronic kidney disease. At the same time, he is not receiving any proper medical care. At the same time, the medical unit No. 91 of the Department of the Federal Penitentiary Service continues to evade reports on medical data and information about Hafarov’s health and conceals the true picture and information about the results of medical tests, as well as all medical information from the prisoner himself. The sharp deterioration in his health was preceded by the refusal of a physician of the medical unit No. 91 to hospitalise and examine Hafarov. He had been asking for all these last months, and the same physician refused to provide Hafarov with information about his examination results,” the prisoner’s lawyer explains.
Ukrainian citizen Ivan Yatskin is another prisoner whose health issues Russia does not want to address. He was arrested on 16 October 2019. He was also charged with espionage in a clearly falsified case. He is being held in the Lefortovo pre-trial detention centre.
Yatskin has chronic diseases of the cardiovascular system that require a comprehensive examination in the specialised clinic outside the pre-trial detention centre.
His lawyer, Nikolay Polozov, says that some of his client’s health issues have not been addressed for months. “He is suffering chest pains. He was not properly examined for four months after the injury. His chest radiograph was lost. Yatskin may have a cracked rib or a pinched nerve. In any case, a specialist should see an X-ray. The only good thing that we can note is that we have finally managed to get an examination by an ophthalmologist. It took four months. But the prescription for glasses was written out and the glasses have already been delivered to Ivan Hryhorovych,” he says.
Last February, the occupiers arrested Nariman Mezhmedinov, a Crimean Tatar. He is charged with participation in an “extremist” battalion of Crimean Tatars. The core “crime” of this battalion is public appeals to return Crimea under control of Ukraine. However, the case files lack any evidence that the actions of this group harmed Russia.
Mezhmedinov, 55, is being held in the pre-trial detention centre in Simferopol. According to his relatives, he has multiple chronic diseases and a disability of second degree. But despite this, the examination commission recognised his detention in the pre-trial detention centre as admissible. Mezhmedinov’s staying in inhuman conditions only aggravates his suffering.
Nariman’s relatives are reluctant to talk to journalists. But the Crimean Human Rights Group’s representatives managed to communicate with Nariman’s sister a couple of months ago.
She said that her brother had stayed almost all the time of imprisonment in the medical unit of the pre-trial detention centre as he suffered from such diseases as asthma, pancreatitis, and heart weakness. This person needs help. The family does not have enough money to provide him with all necessary medicines. Of 10 droppers he needs, he gets only half to save costs for medicines.
Another painful story is that of political prisoner Teymur Abdullayev. He was arrested by the occupiers in October 2016 and charged with “terrorism.”
In fact, it is a falsified punishment for alleged participation in the Hizb ut-Tahrir. This organisation is not banned in Ukraine, and therefore prosecuting Ukrainian citizens for belonging to it on the territory of the Ukrainian Crimea is a crime.
A Russian puppet court sentenced Abdullayev to 16.5 years in prison.
He is currently being held in the Russian colony No.2 in Salavat town.
His mother, Diliara Abdullayeva, talks about her son’s health with great pain. She says that Teymur has an acute cerebral circulation disorder, numbness of the extremities of the arms and legs, severe headaches, noise in the ears and head, and numbness of the right side of the face.
“Teymur also has chronic hepatitis C, a sick stomach, he has been allergic since childhood,” Diliara says.
The woman tries to draw as much attention as possible to the unfair treatment of her son and get him the help he needs. Diliara Abdullayeva says that the main issues now are the terrible conditions her son is kept in and the lack of access of doctors to him. “My son is kept in the punishment isolation cell almost constantly. The administration of the colony acts so that the medical staff cannot enter this prison cell and treat the prisoners there. That is why my Teymur had to self-treat himself, taking the medicines that I prescribe and send to him,” she says.
When Abdullayev contracted COVID-19, he was still kept in the punishment isolation cell and was examined and moved to the so-called quarantine cell only thanks to his mother’s persistence and media coverage.
“He and other prisoners suspected of infection were isolated, but left without any treatment. Nothing was done, waiting to see if they would recover or die,” Diliara says.
She says she prescribed the treatment herself, bought medicines, and sent them to the colony. Eventually, Teymur managed to cure the coronavirus disease, after which he was immediately placed back to the punishment isolation cell, where new health issues began. The mother handed over the medicines again through the lawyer and hopes that her son will ultimately receive them.
The woman is concerned about her son’s general health state because the conditions in the punishment isolation cell are unacceptable.
“Now, Teymur is in the punishment isolation cell, where four persons are kept. The prison staff calls this a cell, though it is a toilet in fact. Because a room cannot be called a cell if there is an open toilet inside. People are practically kept in the toilet. In such a room, if there are several people, to eat and to answer a call of nature at one and the same time – this contradicts all sanitary standards. This is torture, in fact,” the prisoner’s mother complains.
She emphasises that these rooms, among other things, are constantly wet and cold, which contributes further to the development of chronic diseases of Teymur.
As you can see, all these cases have much in common. It does not matter where Ukrainian nationals are detained. The problems are similar; Inhuman treatment, deliberate lack of medical care – all this can be equated to torture.
For almost seven years of war and occupation, the human rights defenders have recorded hundreds of cases of inhuman treatment of Ukrainian prisoners. And the open pro-Ukrainian position of these people, their unwillingness to collaborate with prison staff, and their opposition to the system only further irritate the prison administration and intensify bullying. And impunity for such behaviour further unleashes criminals.
That is why we must make every effort to ensure that as many people as possible learn about the suffering of Ukrainian prisoners. We must put pressure on the Russian authorities by all possible means to make them stop the suffering of these people.
To stop torture. To help. To release. This should be our top-priority task now. And not just for civil society. But also for the Ukrainian government, foreign governments, and leaders of international organisations. There is nothing more valuable than human lives. Lives for which we are all now responsible.