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Five Ukrainian political prisoners released on exchange

2024 2024-07-01T14:26:38+0300 2024-07-01T14:27:06+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

On the evening of June 28, there was sudden news about the release of five political prisoners from the Belarusian penal colonies and a pre-trial detention facility. The release of the citizens has been secured by the Ukrainian authorities. Thus, Natallia Zakharanka, Pavlo Kupriyenko, Liudmila Hancharenka, Katsiaryna Brukhanava, as well as Mikalai Shvets, a person involved in the Mačuliščy attack case, were released. The terms of the exchange are not disclosed. It is noted that the Vatican took part in their release. The released political prisoners were brought to Ukraine on June 28; their photos from Zhuliany airport appeared in the media. At least 10 more Ukrainian citizens remain behind bars in Belarus for "agent activities" and "espionage." Viasna reports about the released political prisoners. 

Ukrainian political prisoners released on exchange from Belarusian penal colonies. June 28, 2024, Zhuliany airport

Pavlo Kupriyenko — seven years in a penal colony for "agent activity"

Павел Купрыенка на судзе

The case of Pavlo, who was detained in November 2022, became known from a propaganda film. It was reported in the film that Pavlo Kupriyenko "had tasks, including monitoring the social and political situation in Belarus." A document signed by the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov, was allegedly found on Pavlo. Propagandists claimed that Kupriyenko had been recruited by the Ukrainian special services. 

On March 9, 2023, Ukrainian citizen Pavlo Kupriyenko was convicted in the Homieĺ Regional Court under Article 358-1 (agent activity) and sentenced to seven years in a medium security penal colony. Ruslan Tsaruk heard the case.

Pavlo served time in Viciebsk colony No. 3.

Katsiaryna Brukhanava — two and a half years in a penal colony for videos of Russian military equipment  

Katsiaryna Brukhanava is from the city of Kherson. She studied in China, graduated from the university there in 2015, and in 2016 moved to Belarus, where she worked as a translator from Chinese.

Katsiaryna was detained when she was passing the Belarusian border. She was asked to give her phone for a check, and she provided it to the staff along with passwords. The Belarusian security forces saw that on March 30, 2022, she sent two videos to the chatbot of the Zerkalo editorial team. The video showed the movement of Russian military equipment near Minsk, which she filmed herself. 

Katsiaryna was charged under Part 1 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (assistance to extremist activities). Katsiaryna's trial took place in October 2023 in the Brest Regional Court. On October 13, 2023, judge Andrei Siz sentenced her to two and a half years in a penal colony.

Katsiaryna served time in Homieĺ women's colony No. 4.

Natallia Zakharanka — nine years of imprisonment on charges of "espionage"

Наталля Захаранка. Фота з сацыяльных сетак

The businesswoman from Ukraine was detained in early July 2023. The resident of Chernihiv disappeared on the way to Mazyr (Belarus), where her sister lives. The first one to notice that something was wrong was the woman's daughter: she could not reach her mother after the latter crossed the Polish-Belarusian border, and the official authorities were silent. It turned out that she was detained and accused of "espionage in favor of Ukraine" under Article 358 of the Criminal Code.

As reported by the Ukrainian media, Natallia was a volunteer: after the outbreak of the war she transported Ukrainian refugees to the EU and Belarus; transferred documents and medicines. It is also known that Zakharanka traveled to Belarus in her own car.

Natallia's trial began on February 15, 2024 in the Homieĺ Regional Court in closed session. Judge Anatol Sotnikau sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony and confiscated her minibus.

Natallia served her term in Homieĺ colony No. 4.

Liudmila Hancharenka — charged for "agent activity"

A Ukrainian citizen was convicted in the Homieĺ Regional Court on December 19, 2023 under Article 358-1 of the Criminal Code (agent activity). Judge Yauhen Sharshniou handled the case in closed session. The outcome of the trial and the circumstances of the human rights defender's case are unknown.

Liudmila served her sentence in women's colony No. 4.

Mikalai Shvets, involved in the case of Mačuliščy attack

Mikalai Shvets. Screenshot from a film on Belarus 1 TV-channel

The defendant in the case of Mačuliščy attack on February 26, 2023, Mikalai had been imprisoned since March of that year. According to propagandists, the Ukrainian special services sent him to Belarus to commit a "terrorist attack". Several propaganda films were made with his participation.

Mikalai was held in the KGB detention center.

Which citizens of Ukraine remained behind bars?

Арцём Макавей
Artsiom Makavei

At least 10 Ukrainian citizens remain behind bars in Belarus for "agent activity" and "espionage". These are convicts Siarhei Boika, Mikhail Staliarchuk, Dzmitryi Hudzik, Andrei Shmai, Artsiom Makavei.

The status of five Ukrainian citizens is still unknown after the propaganda films and the grave accusations announced there. Presumably, all of them are being held in custody.

In the autumn of 2023, the KGB announced that six people had been detained in Belarus on charges of "preparing terrorist attacks," among them two Ukrainians, Viachaslau Barodzii and Ivan Likhalat.

In early April 2024, the state-owned ONT channel released a story about detentions in areas bordering Ukraine. It reported about 10 detainees, two of whom are citizens of Ukraine, father and son Siarhei and Pavel Kabarchuk. According to the TV channel, they illegally crossed the Ukrainian-Belarusian border and brought explosives to Belarus. The authors of the story claim that the men crossed the border with thermal camera, thus checking if there was anyone in their way. What they are accused of now, the procedural status, and location of the Ukrainians are unknown.

At the end of April 2024, a propaganda film Children in the Crosshairs was released. It showed the detention of seven teenagers for "cooperation with the Ukrainian special services". Some of them are accused of "an act of terrorism" and "treason against the state." The film said that six teenagers allegedly united in the Black Nightingales anarchist cell, which "under the leadership of the National Liberation Army of Ukraine" was created by 16-year-old citizen of Ukraine Maryia Misiuk.

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