15:38 17.12.2018

All Ukrainian sailors arrested in Russia to insist on POW status

2 min read

The lawyers for the Ukrainian sailors arrested in Russia will meet with their clients before the end of the year, and there are no doubts that the sailors will insist on recognizing them as prisoners of war, Nikolai Polozov, who leads the defense team for the Ukrainian sailors, said on Monday.

"In line with the schedule of investigative procedures, all lawyers will see their clients before the New Year's," Polozov said at a news conference in Kyiv.

He said he was sure that, as well as the eight sailors who have already recognized themselves as prisoners of war, the rest will also insist on this status.

"The sailors have all chances only if they maintain a common position," Polozov said. "The investigation will be trying to set them against each other... The defense team will try to keep the sailors from these actions," he said.

Lawyers have met and will continue to meet with the sailors at the Federal Security Service (FSB) investigative directorate, Polozov said.

Courts are very likely to extend the duration of the investigation and the sailors' arrests in January 2019, Polozov said.

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) opened a criminal investigation and charged the 24 Ukrainian sailors with "conspiracy by a group of persons or an organized group to illegally cross the border in a violent way or with the threat to use violence" (Part 3 of Article 322 of the Russian Penal Code).

Courts in Simferopol and Kerch remanded the sailors in custody until January 25, 2019. Early on November 30, 21 of them were transported from Crimea to the Lefortovo facility in Moscow, and the remaining three, who were wounded, were admitted to the infirmary of the Matrosskaya Tishina detention facility.

Kyiv calls the detained sailors prisoners of war. The FSB says they cannot be regarded as POWs, as they are charged with a crime and Russia and Ukraine are not in a state of war or military conflict.