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Volodymyr Balukh

SIMFEROPOL -- The prosecutor overseeing the second trial of a pro-Ukrainian activist in the annexed peninsula of Crimea asked for a four-year prison sentence against the man, who is currently on hunger strike.

Volodymyr Balukh was originally arrested in late 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 three months later, in March, after the warden of the penal facility where he is being held sued him, claiming that Balukh attacked him.

On July 2, local prosecutor Dmitry Shmelev asked the Rozdolne district court for a new four-year prison sentence for the alleged attack.

Balukh, who started a hunger strike on March 19 to protest the new case, contends the prosecutions are politically motivated.

Balukh was arrested in December 2016 after the 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.

Russia annexed Crimea about a month after the president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country.

Since that time, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation. Among those prosecuted are RFE/RL journalist Mykola Semena, who was convicted in September 2017 on separatism charges.

Oleh Sentsov at a military court in the city of Rostov-on-Don on July 21, 2015

KYIV -- A senior Ukrainian lawmaker has named 23 Russian nationals she says Kyiv is prepared to exchange for Ukrainian citizens held by Russia in a potential prisoner swap.

Iryna Herashchenko, a deputy speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, said on July 2 that the 23 have been convicted of plotting terrorist acts in the Odesa, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Ternopil regions or of fighting against government forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.

"There also Russian citizens among them who are currently on trial," Herashchenko said.

At the top of the list announced by Herashchenko is Viktor Ageyev, who is serving a 10-year prison term after being convicted of terrorism and illegal weapons possession.

Ageyev, who was sentenced in January, was captured by Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk region during a combat operation in which two Russia-backed separatists and a Russian military officer were killed, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Several days later, Ageyev said in a televised statement that he had been serving in the Russian military on a contractual basis when he was captured. The Russian Defense Ministry denied that Ageyev was an active-duty serviceman when he was captured.

Despite ample evidence, Russia denies accusations by Kyiv and the West that it is providing weapons, training, and personnel to support separatists fighting government forces in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has said that 23 Ukrainian citizens are currently being held on politically motivated charges or convictions in Russia, and more than 40 others are being held on the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in March 2014 by sending in troops and staging a referendum widely seen as illegitimate.

There has been talk of a major prisoner swap for weeks, but none has materialized.

The most prominent Ukrainian behind bars in Russia is Oleh Sentsov, a film director and Crimea native who is serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges he and human rights groups contend are politically motivated. He has been on a hunger strike for 50 days.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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