21 Dec 2018 19:18

Crimean court remands 2 more Ukrainian navy sailors in custody

SIMFEROPOL. Dec 21 (Interfax) - The Crimean Supreme Court has rejected a defense appeal against the Simferopol city's Kiyevsky district court ruling to arrest two sailors from the Ukrainian navy ships detained in the Black Sea almost four weeks ago, an Interfax correspondent reported from the courtroom.

The appeals were filed by the defense lawyers for Viktor Bespalchenko, a senior sailor from the Yany Kapu tug, and Roman Mokriak, the commander of the Berdyansk armored boat.

The sailors are being held at the Lefortovo jail in Moscow and attended the court hearing via video link.

The supreme court also corrected the arrest expiry date, which the lower court got wrong due to a typo: the Ukrainians will remain in custody until January 24, not 25, 2019.

On December 19 and 20, the court also corrected similar technicalities and remanded in custody seven Ukrainian sailors: Volodymyr Varymez, Ondriy Oprysko, Yuriy Budzylo, Serhiy Tsybizov, Bohdan Holovash, Serhiy Popov and Mykhailo Vlasiuk.

Hearing of the appeals will continue next week.

The Russian border guard used weapons to stop three Ukrainian naval vessels, the Yany Kapu tug and the Berdyansk and the Nikopol armored gunboats, on their way from Odesa to Mariupol near the Kerch Strait on November 25. The ships were convoyed to Kerch.

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said the Ukrainian warships entered Russia's territorial waters on orders by Kyiv and described the incident as an act of provocation coordinated by two Ukrainian Security Service officers. Russia also claimed that Kyiv did not duly notify it that Ukrainian naval vessels were planning to pass through the Kerch Strait.

Kyiv called the Russian border guard's actions unlawful and accused Moscow of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and a treaty between Ukraine and Russia on cooperation in using the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

The Ukrainians are charged with "conspiracy by a group of persons or an organized group to illegally cross the border using violence or the threat to use violence" (Russian Criminal Code Article 322 Part 3). If found guilty, the Ukrainians might face up to six years in prison.

Courts in Simferopol and Kerch remanded 22 sailors and two Ukrainian Security Service officials in custody for nearly two months.

All of the Ukrainians have been transported from Crimea to Moscow; 21 of them have been put to the Lefortovo detention facility, and the other three, who were wounded, have been placed in the infirmary of the Matrosskaya Tishina detention facility.

Under the 1949 Geneva Convention, the arrested sailors are prisoners-of-war and thus cannot be tried by a common court, their lawyers said. This view reflects official Kyiv's position. However, Moscow said this status does not apply to the sailors because Ukraine and Russia are not at war.