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Pavlo Hryb was just 19 when he was abducted by the FSB from Belarus after going there, he thought, to meet a young woman he had met, and fallen in love with, on the Internet.  On 18 January, the now 20-year-old told a Russian court that he believes the person he met in Belarus, who is the prosecution’s ‘key witness’, to be an FSB set up, and not the young woman he originally corresponded with. He also gave disturbing details of the violence he was subjected to following his abduction to force a ‘confession’ from him.

Hryb has been imprisoned in Russia since his abduction on Aug 24, 2017.  The FSB claim that he encouraged Tatyana Yershova, then a 17-year-old schoolgirl from Sochi, to plant a self-made explosive device in a school on June 30, 2017.  He has allegedly suggested this by Skype between March 27 and April 13, 2017, according to Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

In fact, there is only a ‘translation’ of this alleged text from Ukrainian into Russian, and no screenshot of the original.  This is, in itself, highly suspicious, and Hryb noted also during the hearing on Jan 18 that the translation is of extremely bad quality.

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In his statement to the court, Hryb stressed that he had not discussed Ukrainian nationalism with Yershova, as the prosecution has asserted.  The indictment claims that Hryb is a supporter of the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense which Russia has declared an ‘extremist’ organization. According to the prosecution’s version, Yershova is supposed to have spoken with Hryb of her hatred “of all Russians who don’t share the ideas of Ukrainian nationalism and who support the current Russian regime”.

Hryb now believes that from June to August 2017, it was the FSB who were communicating with him, using Yershova’s account. This was with the aim of luring him into going to Belarus.  He said that he had received a message from Yershova’s account saying that the FSB would let her go abroad to meet him in Belarus. Hryb is now convinced that the person he met in Belarus's Gomel, who has since appeared in court for the prosecution, is not, in fact, Yershova.

Yershova, or at least a person claiming to be her, contacted Ukrainian media after it became clear that Hryb had been abducted, and then later spoke with Pavel Kanygin from Novaya Gazeta.  On both occasions, she did suggest that they had discussed nationalism, but also made it very clear that she had been threatened by the FSB with the same terrorism charges unless she ‘cooperated’ with them.  She claimed that she had not known he would be abducted, that she had told Hryb everything and that they had still decided to meet.  This does correspond with Hryb’s words in court, though it remains unclear when the real Yershova disappeared from the scene.

Read alsoUkrainian prisoner Hryb in Russia needs urgent medical care – Ukrainian ombudsperson

During the court hearing on 18 January, Hryb explained that he had been set upon by five individuals in Gomel and pushed into a mini-van. He was taken to a forest and dumped there, to then be taken to a security service office in a police van. He says security operatives used force against him, and took his documents and ticket away.

The official time of detention was given only after the officers had forced a ‘formal confession’ out of him.  All that time, he was kept chained to a wall unit or 32-kg weight.  Hryb says he would be able to recognize his tormenters. 

Answering questions from his lawyer, Marina Dubrovina, Hryb said that he had been given nothing to eat or drink, and had been told that he would be held there for another week unless he “confessed to it all”.

Prosecutor Alexei Khanenya read out the ‘testimony’ where Hryb had supposedly confirmed that he had discussed instructions with Yershova for producing nitroglycerine.  Hryb stated clearly to the court that he had signed this document under duress.  He denies having sent any information about nitroglycerine and repeated to the court that he had not incited Yershova to prepare a bomb.  Yershova had wanted to do something, he said, but not create an explosion, but some act of petty hooliganism.  He added that he had not approved of nor supported such intentions.

This is not the first time that Russia has abducted a Ukrainian and then claimed that they were ‘detained’ in Russia.  It is unfortunately impossible that the FSB abducted the then teenager to Krasnodar in Russia without the Belarusian authorities’ knowledge. Even if documents have been falsified to hide the abduction, Hryb’s father sounded the alarm as soon as his son failed to return on the coach from Gomel.

The court has paid no heed to Hryb’s allegations or to the shocking discrepancies in his case.