Grigory Sinchenko, a Ukranian citizen, has been detained in a pre-trial detention center (PTDC) in Rostov-on-Don (currently, his detention has been extended until December 29, 2023). Grigory answered our questions while attending the court proceedings. He is being tried by the Southern District Military Court and charged with “espionage, sabotage” and more than 40 other crimes allegedly committed in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).

First of all, how are you? How do you feel? We understand that a pre-trial detention center is not a right place to feel good, but how are the conditions of your detention? Are you being put under psychological or physical pressure? Do you get anything from outside, how is the correspondence going? Do you get medical help when needed?

By now I’m used to the conditions in the prison. In my experience, the conditions of detainment for Ukrainian citizens in Russian prisons are bad. Ukrainians are held in overcrowded cells – 15 to 18 people in cells with ten beds. Those who do not have a bed sleep on mattresses on the floor. The detained are not let outside for fresh air much (maximum twice a week). The prison food is often not enough for everybody – they are often short on soup or bread. Written complaints from prisoners to the head of the detention center are not registered and are simply ignored. For this reason, getting a doctor appointment is hard. The jailers have not used force on me personally, but other prisoners (here and Donetsk) were beaten for “wrong” tattoos or for refusing to sing the Russian national anthem. I have been held in the Rostov PTDC for five months now. In all this time, there has been no cell visits by the supervising prosecutor to check whether the conditions of detention comply with the law. On October 2, 2023, my cellmates and I heard how the detention center personnel were beating a man in the hallway.


Are the conditions of your detention here much different from those before you were transferred to Rostov?

The Rostov PTDC differs from that in Donetsk by the fact that here there is hot water in every cell. Otherwise, it’s all the same – the same neglect and lawlessness on the part of the administration. With the knowledge and full support from the PTDC supervisor Kovalev, employees of the Donetsk PTDC-12, Olintsevich and Timofeev, have regularly beaten Ukrainian prisoners of war and forced them to sing the Russian national anthem every day, while the supervisory prosecutor Tokarev provided legal cover to these individuals as he delegated a pre-trial inquiry related to my appeal on these facts to the employees of the Donetsk PTDC.

How is the mood in your cell? Who are your cellmates, how do they treat you? Does the reason for your detention and being from Ukraine somehow affect the attitudes of your cellmates and employees of the Federal Penal Correction Service?

My cellmates are Ukrainian citizens from Kherson and Melitopol suspected by the Russian military of assisting the Ukrainian army. They were abducted, brought to the territory of the Russian Federation, beaten and electrocuted, and then prosecuted.

What do you do every day, what’s your life like?

All days in prisons are equally boring. There is no TV or radio in our cell. We read old soviet books from a meager selection in the prison’s library (Sholokhov, Furmanov, etc.), anxiously wait for fresh newspapers, news, and the end of this insanity. I try studying the law to apply it in my legal fight. My cellmates have their own ways: one learns French, another studies the Bible.

We have read in some media that you tried to commit suicide. Could you talk about it? If we understand it correctly, it happened after 2020.

There was no suicide attempt. In the summer of 2020, employees from the DNR Organized Crime Unit took me, blindfolded, from the PTDC to deprive me of any legal aid. They beat me, used a plastic bag to suffocate me (a normal practice in the DNR), tried to force my written waiver of counsel (arranged by my relatives).

Would you be prepared to say something about the ongoing trial and the charges? Whether you plead guilty, what you think about the past sessions and that the trial is open to the public?

At this point, the trial is at the stage of examining the evidence, most of which boils down to self incrimnations given under torture, and captured also on video. To obtain these testimonies, the staff of the local anti-organized crime office kept me for two weeks at an undisclosed location outside the pre-trial detention facility, where I was subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation and electric shocks. Overseeing the criminal proceedings and the investigation was public prosecutor Kartseva, who is simultaneously a witness and a complainant in the case. Prosecutor Dotsenko, who participates in the trial, keeps objecting to the court's requests for defense evidence, and in every way possible trying to prevent the discovery of the truth in the case, while DNR prosecutor Spivak has publicly referred to me as a "murderer” even before the court delivered its verdict. I plead not guilty.

Are you allowed to have visits with relatives and/or parcels? How would you like to receive letters from people who care about you? Maybe you would like to get news on a certain topic? What would you be interested in? We have come across some mentions that you are keen on economics, philosophy, psychology, history.

In 4 years, courts allowed me to talk to my sister twice for 30 minutes each via a phone through the glass partition. The situation with correspondence at the pre-trial detention center is appalling. The administration takes from 2 weeks to a month to "vet" letters sent via Zonatelecom, although by law this should not take more than 3 days. Prisoners are not told whether a letter sent out via Zonatelecom has been cleared or not, and the same is true when letters are sent by the Russian post. It is outrageous that despite its terrible performance Zonatelecom charges payment for the correspondence. I have received 2 letters from volunteers <.>, I have trouble getting international postage stamps (I have received none so far). At the moment I am most eager to know if there are any "trade unions" for prisoners in Russia? To stand up for our rights collectively. If there are none, I want to learn about the procedure for establishing a trade union (public association), which law regulates it and so on. The point is that the current internal regulations at the pre-trial detention center contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation. For example, they contain a list of things that are allowed for prisoners, but no list of things that are banned, allowing prison officers to deny us the use of any items they know we cannot use for illegal purposes (such as a correction pen or a pencil eraser). P.S. I would like to keep in touch with any volunteers who have a law degree, as I rarely see my lawyers and do not always have time to discuss issues that matter for me. Some inmates have recommended a book by A.V. Babushkin entitled "A Handbook for prisoners and their families", and I would be grateful for any help in acquiring it.