Pavlo Hryb’s ordeal began in January 2017, when he struck up an online friendship with Tatiana, then a 17-year-old from Sochi. Their friendship – which appeared to blossom into a romance – would eventually lead the 20-year-old Ukrainian man to a Russian jail, in dire health and out of the reach of his family.
For months they corresponded online. They discussed Ukraine’s politics and their intense dislike of Russia-backed separatists entrenched in eastern Ukraine. On August 24, 2017, they met in person, in the Belarusian city of Homel. Hryb was supposed to return to Kiev the same day. Instead, he was forcibly disappeared by Russian security agents.
Hryb’s lawyer later said that shortly after Hryb finished meeting Tatiana, unknown people approached him, forced him into a minivan, and drove him to the Russian border. On August 30, 2017, Hryb’s worried father finally found out his son was in a detention facility in Krasnodar, southern Russia. On September 7, a representative from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry told the media that Russian authorities accused Hryb of plotting a terrorist attack on a school in Sochi and charged him with terrorism.
Tatiana told Novaya Gazeta that Russia’s security services started surveilling her shortly after she and Hryb met online and pressured her into arranging the August meeting. She also said that she warned Hryb about it.
Things went from bad to worse. Hryb’s been in jail for nearly a year, with limited and intermittent access to the daily medicine he needs for a serious and chronic health condition that affects his stomach, intestine, liver, and pancreas. Between January and July 2018, his access to medication was halted altogether. According to his family, his lawyer, and Ukrainian doctors who treated him since childhood, his condition, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications. Ukrainian officials visited Hryb in November and reported that his condition deteriorated, but Russian doctors later claimed that Hryb’s health was “satisfactory.”
There appears to be no end in sight to Hryb’s ordeal. This week, a judge halted his trial and returned his case to the prosecutor to fix an error in the indictment. The judge should have ordered an investigation into how Hryb was arrested and forcibly disappeared.
In October 2017, the European Court of the Human Rights issued a request that Russian authorities allow Ukrainian doctors to see Hryb and asked for additional information on his health. Ukrainian officials and Hryb’s family have also repeatedly urged Russia to let Ukrainian doctors see Hryb. Russian authorities should immediately provide Hryb with access to all necessary medical treatment that he requires, ensure they do not jeopardize his health further, and conduct an independent investigation into the rights violations that have arisen in this case.