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A Russian court has sentenced a Ukrainian teen to six years in prison for ‘abetting terrorism.’ The suspect says FSB agents abducted him in Belarus.

Meduza
Pavel Grib in court on March 22, 2019
Pavel Grib in court on March 22, 2019
Valery Matytsin / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

On March 22, the North Caucasian District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced 19-year-old Pavel Grib to six years in prison for abetting terrorist activity. According to prosecutors, Grib tried to convince a young woman in Sochi named Tatyana E. to stage a terrorist attack at her high-school graduation ceremony. Officials also accused him of supporting the “Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People's Self-Defense,” which is banned in Russia as an extremist organization.

Grib maintains his innocence, and his lawyer, Marina Dubrovina, argued in court that others had access to his Skype account, which sent messages to Tatyana about bomb-making. Dubrovina told Meduza that she plans to challenge the ruling, stating that prosecutors failed to produce evidence that her client is responsible for the correspondence at the center of the case.

Star-crossed lovers

Police detained Grib in 2017. In late August that year, his family reported that he went missing while in the Belarusian city of Gomel, while meeting with his Russian girlfriend. He later turned up at a pretrial detention center in Krasnodar. In court, Russian police officers said they arrested him in Yartsevo, outside Smolensk, apparently responding to a report about a suspicious individual spotted at the train station. Studying the man’s documents, the officers allegedly discovered that he was wanted by the authorities. Grib says plainclothes Russian Federal Security Service agents kidnapped him in Belarus.

After the meeting where Grib was arrested, Tatyana E. told journalists that she’d met the young man online, and after finishing school in 2017 she wanted to move in with him in Ukraine, where she would join a training camp for volunteer recruits. After trying to obtain a passport, she says FSB agents came to her home (probably after gaining access to her Internet correspondence) and offered her a deal: a passport in exchange for arranging a meeting with Grib, so the agency could confirm “if he’s a real person.” The authorities supposedly promised not to arrest anyone.

Tatyana told the newspaper Novaya Gazeta that she discussed the situation with Grib, who “decided that there should be a meeting,” otherwise they might “never see each other.” On March 24, accompanied by her mother, Tatyana finally met Grib in Gomel. The encounter didn’t last long. (Grib would later claim in court that the real Tatyana never came to Belarus.) Grib says several men grabbed him as he was preparing to return to Kyiv, throwing him in a van that took him to the Smolensk region. In court, he accused his captors of “suffocating him, beating him, and binding his arms so tight that they turned blue.”

A “death sentence”

Grib’s friends and lawyers say his health started declining rapidly after his arrest. According to his father, Grib was born with portal hypertension (a form of high blood pressure often caused by chronic liver failure), and he requires special medication. Because Grib has been added to Russia’s registry of “extremists,” however, he’s unable to receive the money he needs to buy these drugs from jail. This summer, Grib’s father told reporters that his son had been attacked by other inmates. Grib also needed attention from paramedics repeatedly throughout his trial.

Marina Dubrovina told Meduza that Grib “can barely see anything” right now, and a recent medical exam found signs of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Rostov region’s public monitoring commission, Leonid Petrshis, says Grib “is speaking just fine” and “seeing normally.” He insists that Grib’s ailments present no obstacle to his incarceration. “Without delving into the essence of the criminal case, nothing in pre-trial detention threatens his life or his health. [...] His medical condition is normal. I think all this is more to attract attention,” Petrshis said.

After he was sentenced on March 22, Grib declared a hunger strike, accusing the authorities of denying him access to needed assistance and Ukrainian doctors. (Leonid Petrshis told Meduza that the officials at Grib’s jail heard no such demands from the inmate after he returned from court.) Grib’s father says six years in prison is a death sentence for his son. “Pavel urgently needs surgery to keep him alive,” he explained. “This verdict is an automatic death sentence.” Kyiv has repeatedly expressed its desire to exchange some of the Russian citizens currently imprisoned in Ukraine for Pavel Gribov and other Ukrainians now behind bars in Russia. On March 22, Verkhovna Rada Deputy Speaker Iryna Herashchenko revealed that she approached the Russian government about a “small trade” involving Grib, but Moscow indicated “zero readiness” to deal.

Viktor Davydov and Vladislav Gorin

Translation by Kevin Rothrock