Accessibility links

Ukrainian Says He Was 'Tortured' In Russia As Moscow, Kyiv Exchange More Prisoners

  • RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) speaks to reporters after the return of Hennadiy Afanasyev (center) and Yuriy Soloshenko (left).

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) speaks to reporters after the return of Hennadiy Afanasyev (center) and Yuriy Soloshenko (left).

Two Ukrainians have lambasted Russia after being freed from jail there and flown home in the second high-profile prisoner exchange in weeks, with one saying he was tortured and another predicting the two countries would be "enemies" as long as Vladimir Putin is in the Kremlin.

Hennadiy Afanasyev and Yuriy Soloshenko arrived in Kyiv on June 14 three weeks after an exchange that brought Nadia Savchenko back to Ukraine after nearly two years in custody in Russia, whose jailing of the military aviator and other Ukrainians has been criticized by the United States, the European Union, and international rights groups.

They were pardoned by Putin and exchanged for two people -- also Ukrainians -- who were in Ukrainian custody on charges related to their alleged support for pro-Russian separatism.

The releases could suggest that Moscow is seeking to erode support in the West for the continuation of sanctions imposed on Russia over its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for separatists in a still-simmering conflict that has killed more than 9,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

"I have endured torture and pain like many others," Afanasyev, 25, told journalists at the entrance to a hospital where he and Soloshenko were taken for check-ups after their plane landed.

He appealed to Western governments by addressing foreign journalists, saying, "I ask you not to lift the sanctions [against Russia], continue the policy of sanctions."

Afanasyev is a Crimean photographer who was arrested months after Russia annexed the peninsula and sentenced to seven years in jail after being convicted of plotting a terrorist act against the Russian-imposed authorities.

Soloshenko, 73, is a former electronics-plant chief who was arrested by the Russian authorities in Moscow in August 2014 and accused of trying to buy restricted components for the S-300 air-defense missile system. He was sentenced in October to six years in prison.

"I think that while Putin's regime is running Russia, it will remain our enemy, and therefore we will have to do everything [we can] to release all our friends from Russian jails.... They are waiting for our help and I believe they will join us," Soloshenko said.

He said that while he was in custody, investigators promised he would be released if he renounced his Ukrainian citizenship and obtained a Russian passport, but he refused.

Reports from Russia said that Olena Hlishchynska and Vitaliy Didenko -- two Ukrainian journalists from the Black Sea port city of Odesa who were jailed in Ukraine last year for organizing separatist activities -- arrived in Moscow on June 14.

Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko, who spoke to the media along with Afanasyev and Soloshenko, said that their release was made possible by the Minsk accords -- agreements signed by Ukraine, Russia, and the separatists and aimed to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

He vowed that all Ukrainians remaining in the Russian custody will be returned home.

INFOGRAPHIC: Russia's Jailed Ukrainians

Savchenko was exchanged for two Russians sentenced to long prison terms in Ukraine, where they were accused of fighting alongside separatists in the Luhansk region and convicted of conducting "terrorist" and "aggressive military activities" against Ukraine.

Savchenko, who became a national symbol of defiance in the face of Russia's military intervention in Ukraine during her captivity, emerged from her ordeal urging Ukrainian authorities to continue their efforts to free "every single...prisoner of the Kremlin."

Afanasyev's case attracted particular attention due to the prominence of one of three alleged co-conspirators, Oleh Sentsov, a film director whose jailing drew appeals from prominent figures in international cinema.

A Russian court sentenced Sentsov in August to 20 years in prison and another defendant, Oleksandr Kolchenko, to 10 years in prison. They remain in Russian custody.

According to the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center, more than 20 Ukrainian nationals are being held in Russia on politically motivated charges.

Russia denies involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine despite what Kyiv and NATO say is overwhelming evidence that it has supported the separatists with troops and weapons.

With reporting by UNIAN, TASS, Interfax and