KYIV -- Kyiv has grown accustomed to accusing the Kremlin of using lies and disinformation
to depict Ukrainians as violent neo-Nazis bent on destroying ethnic Russians.
So when Russian media reported
on April 4 that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had arrested 25 Ukrainian citizens for terrorist intent, it seemed like just the latest fabrication of convenience.
Now, however, Ukrainian journalists are reporting that at least some of Russia's claims are true -- and that at least three of the alleged suspects actually exist and are being held in detention.
The three men -- Vitaliy Kryvosheyev, Artyom Holovko, and Kirill Pilipenko -- were shown on Russian TV reports, allegedly giving testimony about the group's intent to carry out terrorist acts in seven Russian regions in the days before Crimea's referendum on Russian annexation.
Kryvosheyev can be seen identifying himself as the head of a nationalist group called the Ukrainian National Union, and makes the startling claim he was taking his instructions directly from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). The report alleges the men were also working closely with Right Sector, the armed nationalist group that is a target of particular Kremlin vitriol.
Speaking to media in Ukraine, family members said they were shocked by the Russian allegations and that the men had traveled to Russia for work. "My son left for a job, and now they're calling him a saboteur!" Kryvosheyev's father, Sergei, told "Komsomolskaya pravda Ukraine
Relatives of Kryvosheyev, 27, and Holovko, 32, say both men traveled by bus from Kharkiv to Russia on March 14 to work for a branch of a Ukrainian photography company. They vanished almost instantly. Holovko's brother, Stepan, said the bus driver later told his family that the two men were detained shortly after crossing the border, with police referring to them as members of Right Sector.
Several sources confirmed Kryvosheyev's ties to the Ukrainian National Union, but denied any connection to Right Sector. Dmytro Yarosh, the head of Right Sector, said the group "did not send any representatives to Russia."
Pilipenko, a 25-year-old electrician in Nikopol, reportedly left Ukraine a week earlier for a similar job in the city of Elista in the republic of Kalmykia. InfoResist, a Ukrainian investigative and military-security site, quoted Pilipenko's wife
, Svitlana, as saying she last spoke to him on March 15.
It remains to be seen how Ukrainian officials will react to the development. The SBU on April 4 rejected the Russian media reports as "nonsense," and Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevheniy Perebyynis said Russia had refused to present Ukraine with any information about the detainees, including their identities.
"The Russian side is unwilling to disclose information about these people, and that leads us to think that maybe this is yet another Russian provocation aimed at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine," he said.