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Crimean Court Cuts Pro-Ukraine Activist's Five-Year Prison Term By One Month

Volodymyr Balukh appears in court in Rozdolne in July.
Volodymyr Balukh appears in court in Rozdolne in July.

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A court in Russian-controlled Crimea has reduced a pro-Ukrainian activist's five-year prison term by one month.

The regional Supreme Court on October 3 ruled that Volodymyr Balukh must now serve four years and 11 months.

Balukh, who has been on hunger strike since March, refused to take part in the appeal hearing via video link.

The court rejected a motion filed by Balukh's lawyers to allow their client in the courtroom and held the hearing without his presence.

His supporters have dismissed the cases against the activist as politically motivated.

Russia illegally annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, about a month after the Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country.

Since that time, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation.

Balukh was originally arrested in December 2016 and convicted on a weapons-and-explosives possession charge in August 2017.

His conviction, and nearly four-year prison sentence, was reversed on appeal and returned to a lower court, which issued the same verdict and sentence in January.

The new case against Balukh was started in March, after the warden of the penal facility where he is being held sued him, claiming that Balukh attacked him.

In July, a court found Balukh guilty in the second case, and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Balukh was arrested after Russian security agents allegedly found explosives and ammunition in his house.

The search was conducted shortly after Balukh planted a Ukrainian flag in his yard and affixed a sign to his house honoring those killed in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 during the street protests that ousted the country's pro-Russian president.