Turn on the sound

Political sponsor for those illegally imprisoned by the Russians — explains the wife of the civilian hostage

We spoke about the new rules for supporting civilians in illegal detention with Olena, the wife of Serhii Tsyhipa, who was imprisoned by the Russians.

Political sponsor for those illegally imprisoned by the Russians — explains the wife of the civilian hostage
Listen on Podcast Platforms
How to Listen
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Serhii Tsyhipa is a civil society activist, journalist, and writer from Nova Kakhovka. He was abducted by the Russians in the first month of the occupation. Serhii volunteered and attempted to organize help for people in his town and neighboring settlements.

Who is the political sponsor and what is his role in Serhii’s case?

Olena Tsyhipa: Serhii is no longer in Simferopol. He was in Krasnodar until April 22. I’m not sure of his current whereabouts. We are waiting for the news from his lawyer.

In February, I wrote a letter to an international legal organization based in Germany and filled out a questionnaire. They set up a page for Serhii on their website and contacted me at the end of March. They mentioned that they were expecting a political sponsor day on April 8. They requested me to send them photos of Serhii and me together and to specify what I wanted from their organization and from the political sponsor they would secure.

A political sponsor is a novel concept, unfamiliar to many. Unlike the conventional understanding of a sponsor as someone who provides financial support for a project, in this context, the role differs significantly. A political sponsor does not offer funds; instead, they assist with correspondence with the Russian Federation, handle documentation, and negotiate the release of an illegally imprisoned civilian or prisoner of war.

After sending the requested information, they subsequently asked me to record a video message. Then, on April 8 in the afternoon, I received a text message congratulating me. It stated that during an event in Germany, one of the European leaders had selected Serhii and would now be involved in correspondence to secure his release.

Political sponsors possess preserved diplomatic relations and undertake the noble task of securing the release of illegally imprisoned civilians and prisoners of war with complex histories, such as Serhiy’s.

Our government has wasted considerable time concerning civilians. However, there has been progress, as a special office has been established at the Coordination Headquarters to address civilian matters. It is encouraging that international organizations are directing attention to this issue. Throughout Serhiy’s more than two-year captivity, a legal proceeding has transpired, resulting in his sentencing and impending transfer to a high-security facility. The specific location of this facility remains undisclosed.

Photo: Serhii Tsyhipa / Facebook

These are the prisoners for whom release without conditions or exchanges is unlikely. They have been tried and convicted of charges such as espionage, terrorism, and extremism, resulting in substantial sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years or more. Once such a sentence has been imposed, simple release becomes improbable; instead, their situation necessitates an exchange. However, the challenge lies in identifying suitable candidates for exchange, which remains unresolved.

We, the relatives of the civilians, earnestly hope that third countries will join forces to facilitate the return of civilians unlawfully detained by Russia. Effective sanctions against Russia are imperative to compel its cooperation in releasing political prisoners. Among those imprisoned since 2014 are doctors, journalists, and public figures. It is essential to advocate for the release of all political prisoners spanning from 2014 to the present day.

About correspondence options

Olena Tsyhipa: An ongoing initiative led by the human rights organization Zmina is the «Letters to a Free Crimea» campaign. This effort provides an avenue for writing letters. They are penned in Russian and there are also challenges of censorship. Nonetheless, it presents an opportunity to correspond with relatives listed by Zmina. Additionally, participants can include color photos in their letters.

When attempting to send color photos to Serhii through the Zonatelecom website, they were automatically converted to black and white. Human rights activists have informed me that this practice is another form of torture and abuse inflicted upon political prisoners. It aims to disconnect them from reality and erase their connection to the colorful world they once knew.

Through the campaign, Serhii did receive photos of our family, which somehow escaped the notice of the censors. However, during a subsequent cell search, authorities discovered a T-shirt adorned with Ukrainian symbols. They compelled Serhii to paint over it, threatening to destroy the photo otherwise. Neither I nor those who proofread the letters had initially noticed the small Ukrainian symbol on the T-shirt.

Hence, it’s crucial to exercise caution in selecting what we send to ensure that our relatives can indeed receive both letters and photos.

I received a letter from Serhii, who wrote to me from Krasnodar. He described being in solitary confinement, confined to a very small cell. He explained that he was isolated to prevent any communication or connections with others. Despite attempting to provide detailed information about his location in the letter, the details were crossed out.

I would really like to write to him about the fact that he has a political sponsor. I would like this news to support him a little bit. But, unfortunately, I don’t have that option.

Serhii as coordinator of the international group «Hostages of the Kremlin in Russian prisons»

Olena Tsyhipa: It was his hope that he would help and report on those who were there with him, who he knew about. But censorship does not allow us to do this. Some information came to me. I reported everything I knew to the Coordination Centre about those people. But it is very risky for those who are there in Crimea, under occupation. So these steps have now stopped; they are impossible. Serhii hoped that it would be systematic.

Serhii’s wife about her condition

Olena Tsyhipa: The logo of the NGO Civilians in Captivity is a battery that is almost dead. Today I felt exactly like this battery. I understand that I am not alone. I see in our chat how a mother feels, whose son is celebrating his second birthday in captivity. I understand that we are all exhausted, that we all need psychological help. I was putting off this moment. I thought I was a psychologist, that I could pull myself out of this state. But now I realize that I need the support of a psychologist.

Photo: Civilians in captivity / Facebook

At the state level, we need support for relatives and children. We need to organize wellness events where you can get away for a while.

In times of war, the program «Free our relatives» tells the stories of people, cities, villages, and entire regions that have been captured by Russian invaders. We discuss the war crimes committed by the Kremlin and its troops against the Ukrainian people.

The program is hosted by Ihor Kotelyanets and Anastasia Bagalika.

This publication is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the framework of the Human Rights in Action Program implemented by Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Opinions, conclusions and recommendations presented in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the United States Government. The contents are the responsibility of the authors.

USAID is the world’s premier international development agency and a catalytic actor driving development results. USAID’s work demonstrates American generosity, and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience, and advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity. USAID has partnered with Ukraine since 1992, providing more than $9 billion in assistance. USAID’s current strategic priorities include strengthening democracy and good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health care systems, and mitigating the effects of the conflict in the east.

For additional information about USAID in Ukraine, please call USAID’s Development Outreach and Communications Office at: +38 (044) 521-5753. You may also visit our website: http://www.usaid.gov/ukraine or our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/USAIDUkraine.


May Be Interesting