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Ukrainian Activist Jailed In Crimea Suspends Hunger Strike

Pro-Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh (file photo)

KYIV -- Volodymyr Balukh, a pro-Ukrainian activist jailed in Russian-controlled Crimea, has suspended a months-long hunger strike pending his expected transfer to a prison in Russia.

Archbishop Klyment, the cleric responsible for Crimea in the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church, told reporters in Kyiv on October 9 that Balukh will resume the hunger strike once he arrives at prison in Russia. He is currently being held at a jail in Crimea.

Klyment read aloud from a letter in which Balukh wrote that he "used the last chance to find at least a crack in the occupier's punitive system, where some elements of common sense and honor might be present, and decided to halt the hunger strike."

He said he will resume the protest fast once he is in a prison in Russia.

"I will not allow myself to consume food from the occupiers' hands and wear their prison robes," Balukh wrote, adding that if he dies he would like to be buried in the "unoccupied part of Ukraine."

Initially arrested in December 2016, Balukh was 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 2018.

A new case against Balukh was opened 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 of that charge and ruled that he will serve a total of five years in prison for both convictions.

On October 3, the top regional court reduced Balukh's five-year prison term by one month.

Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries, after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power by protests.

Rights groups say that since that time Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation.