- Svyatoslav Khomenko
- BBC, Kiev
A court in Odessa sentenced activist Sergei Sternenko to seven years and three months in prison on charges of kidnapping a local pro-Russian politician. The court also ruled to confiscate half of the convict’s property.
Sternenko denies involvement in the crime, and his defense is going to appeal the verdict.
Sergei Sternenko is a popular blogger in Ukraine who criticizes the current government, and many of his supporters see this verdict as evidence of the authorities’ deliberate attack on activists and even as an “anti-Maidan revenge.”
Sternenko is involved in several more criminal cases. The most resonant of these is the murder case, which Sternenko and his supporters consider self-defense.
Abduction and torture
Sternenko was accused of kidnapping Sergei Shcherbich, an Odessa activist who sympathizes with the pro-Russian Rodina party.
According to the prosecution, on April 25, 2015, Sternenko, at that time one of the leaders of the Odessa “Right Sector” (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), together with his colleague Ruslan Demchuk by phone, agreed to meet with Shcherbich, who shortly before these events received the mandate of a deputy of one from the district councils of the Odessa region.
The unsuspecting Shcherbich allegedly got into a car, where they began to persuade him to give up his deputy mandate. According to Shcherbich’s testimony, he was beaten in the car, Sternenko personally shot at him with a traumatic pistol, and after being brought to an unknown place, they continued to beat him, pinned Shcherbich’s finger with pliers and took 300 hryvnias (about 12 US dollars) from him. ).
In the end, according to the materials of the prosecution, Shcherbich was released, threatening that if he nevertheless became a deputy, “more brutal actions aimed at causing physical suffering and deprivation of life will be applied to him and his family members.”
In a conversation with the BBC last summer, Sternenko denied any involvement in the Shcherbich incident.
“I never got my hands on Shcherbich,” he said at the same time in an interview with the Kiev edition of Liga.
Sternenko’s defense insists that a number of violations were committed during the consideration of the case against the activist.
The lawyers said that the Sternenko case had passed a five-year statute of limitations, that it had been examined in an improper court, and that it contained formal “blunders” like the fact that the victim was being treated and under investigation at the same time.
As a result, Sergei Sternenko was charged under three articles of the criminal code: robbery, illegal imprisonment and illegal carrying of firearms. Prosecutors demanded to sentence him to eight years in prison and confiscation of property.
The final sentence was slightly milder – seven years and three months behind bars and the confiscation of half of the property.
“Irina Venediktova (Prosecutor General of Ukraine – Ed.), Take half of my car for yourself, go for a drive,” Sternenko wrote to Facebook immediately after the verdict was announced.
The activist’s defense has already announced that it will appeal, and several dozen of Sternenko’s supporters, who gathered before the meeting near the court, lit pyrotechnics in protest.
After the verdict was announced, they chanted chants like “Sternenko’s will” or “Avakov – the devil” for some time (Arsen Avakov is the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine).
Someone even tried to block the exit from the court, but this did not prevent the law enforcement officers from taking Sternenko to the pre-trial detention center through an emergency exit.
Sergei Sternenko appears in several other criminal cases. In one of them, he is accused of involvement in drug trafficking – Sternenko himself rejects these charges and claims that the audio recordings allegedly testifying to his guilt are faked.
However, the most resonant case in Ukraine is another case against Sternenko: the activist is accused of the murder of 28-year-old Ivan Kuznetsov.
In May 2018, Kuznetsov died in a fight involving Sternenko. The case materials show that the deceased attacked Sternenko first. Sternenko believes that Kuznetsov, together with his surviving comrade who left Ukraine, intended to beat him in revenge for his excessive activity in the fight against the Odessa city authorities. The activist does not deny: he fought back with a knife.
The only question is whether Kuznetsov’s death is a premeditated murder or an excess of measures of necessary self-defense.
For a long time, law enforcement officers did not see corpus delicti in Sternenko’s actions. This situation has changed only under the current Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova. It was in her presence that Sternenko was read out suspicion of premeditated murder and possession of cold weapons. The house in which Venediktova’s apartment is located was the object of several actions of Sternenko’s supporters last summer.
In the end, to her, the mayor of Odessa Gennady Trukhanov, the curator of the security forces in the presidential administration, Oleg Tatarov, and personally to Vladimir Zelensky, he conveyed gratitude for his sentence in the last post on Facebook as a free person.
Meeting point – Presidential Administration
Sergei Sternenko considers all the cases brought against him to be political. Sternenko was one of the most prominent supporters of Euromaidan in Odessa, and many of his supporters associate his problems with the revival of the worst features in the Ukrainian law enforcement system that characterized it during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych.
Perhaps that is why Sternenko’s supporters include many journalists, politicians and veterans of hostilities in Donbass, and they see the cases against him as a symbolic battle of the “pre-Maidan” repressive machine against “the new Ukraine, born on the Maidan.”
And Sternenko’s opponents confirm this, willingly or unwillingly.
“This verdict is a verdict not only for this criminal, but (…) and the order that prevailed in the country for the last seven years,” Andrey Portnov, former deputy head of the presidential administration of Viktor Yanukovych and one of the most radical critics of Euromaidan, reacted to the decision of the Odessa court. and his supporters.
Apparently, Sternenko himself feels the symbolism of his figure, who has long since replaced the T-shirt of a street radical for a suit. As recently as last year, observers noted that his speeches, addressed to supporters who come to his trials, increasingly resemble political speeches.
So before the decisive court hearing on his case, he turned to the people who had gathered in front of the court: “I have no idea if I will go out to you after the verdict is announced … Whatever the decision, I am convinced that we will not lose. illegal, then for (you) it will be the beginning of their end. Today there are more than a hundred of you. They do not understand that if they trample on human rights and engage in political persecution, then hundreds will be replaced by thousands, tens, and if necessary, hundreds of thousands “.
In a conversation with the BBC last summer, Sternenko denied that he had political ambitions.
However, after the verdict was announced, a characteristic episode took place in the Odessa courtroom. While Sternenko’s lawyers were talking to the press, one of those present handed the convict a phone, on which they allegedly dialed the number of Vladimir Zelensky.
On the screen of the apparatus, which fell into the hands of the convict, the inscription “Volodymyr Zelensky” was visible.
“Mr. President, I want to thank you for today’s verdict,” Sternenko said to the laughter of his supporters before his interlocutor hung up.
“I asked: why are you calling me?” – Sternenko said, before he was handcuffed and taken to the pre-trial detention center.
Whether Sternenko communicated with the real Zelensky or not, one cannot say for sure. But supporters of the convicted activist are going to shift their focus from the Odessa court to the Ukrainian presidential administration. It is there, in the center of Kiev, that they promise to hold a mass rally in defense of Sternenko on Tuesday evening.
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