Volunteer Mykola Petrovsky, abducted in Kherson: case history and ‘conviction’

On Wednesday, 27 September, the illegal “Supreme Court” in the temporarily occupied Crimea sentenced Mykola Petrovsky, a volunteer and resident of Kherson region, to 16 years in prison. The Center for Civil Liberties talks about this case and how Russia is once again violating international law.


Mykola Petrovskyi is a citizen of Ukraine, born in Kherson in 1993. From 2010 to 2011, Mykola studied at the Kherson Shipbuilding School, where he was trained as a turner. From 2011 to 2017, he was a student at the Kherson Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where he received a law degree in civil law. In 2012 and 2014, Mykola was involved in a car accident, which resulted in his disability in 2015 due to the amputation of part of his left foot and its replacement with a prosthesis. Mykola lived with his relatives, who helped him, and since 2015 he has been receiving disability benefits due to his inability to find a job. Before his arrest he lived in the Russian-occupied territory, in his hometown of Kherson, with his father and grandmother.


On 27 March 2022, in the afternoon, Mykola went to distribute food and water in the city to his close friends who were in need. But around 17:00 he stopped communicating, and his phone was out of range.

On 28 March 2022, in the morning, Russian security forces wearing FSB and Rosgvardia stripes under an armed escort brought the beaten Mykola to his address, which greatly frightened the 88-year-old grandmother, who had to be pumped out with improvised means because they were not allowed to call medics. At the residence, the security forces seized items they described as TNT and ammunition, having dug them up on the land next to the family’s house. At the same time, according to Mykola’s father, it is known that his son’s clothes were covered in blood, he limped on his healthy leg, and when his son changed his shoes, the father saw blackened toes as if after electric shocks.

After the described invasion of the victim’s family home, the security forces also arrested Mykola’s father. Thus, the two arrested men – Mykola and his father – were taken away with bags on their heads in an unknown direction. Later, the father said that they were taken to some garage boxes, where they were harshly interrogated for over a day, separately from each other. It is traumatic for Mykola’s father to recall that day, but he remembers hearing his son’s terrible screams of pain. On 29 March 2022, the man was released, saying: “Say goodbye to your son”. On 1 April 2022, Mykola called his mother from an unknown phone number, only managing to say that he was alive. Then an unknown person interrupted him, saying in Russian: “You have 2 seconds, finish the call”, after which the call was cut off.

The unknown

On 29 September 2022, after more than 180 days of obscurity, Mykola’s mother received a call from someone who introduced himself as her son’s lawyer, Serhii Flerov. He said that Mykola was in a pre-trial detention centre in Simferopol and that he was accused of espionage. Then Mykola’s mother and Mr Flerov, who introduced himself as Mykola’s lawyer, continued to communicate on WhatsApp. There, Mr Flerov sent a part of the court order to detain Mykola starting from 29 September 2022. From it, it became known that Mykola was accused of committing a crime under Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code.

It also became apparent from this court ruling that Mykola had been deprived of his liberty arbitrarily – without giving reasons for his arrest; illegally – in the absence of any procedural formalities in accordance with the law; and extrajudicially – for a long period of time exceeding 180 days, which violates the provisions of International Humanitarian Law and Article 9 of the Covenant, which also applies in international armed conflicts.


According to Mykola’s father, it is known that his son was tortured during his arrest. It is also known from Mykola’s letters to his family, which he sent through Mr. Flerov between October 2022 and July 2023, that he continued to be tortured: beaten, not provided with the proper medical care that a person with a disability needs, starved, etc. In addition, Mr Flerov tried to convince Mykola’s mother that for his own benefit, Mykola should plead guilty to espionage, and asked the woman to come to Simferopol for this purpose.

At the time of Mykola’s arrest by Russian security forces on 27 March 2022, Mykola was in the occupied territory of Kherson, where he was born and lived. He is also a civilian and a person with a disability. At the same time, his health condition and disability were not taken into account by the Russian security forces.

The arrest of Mykola was arbitrary, as it was illegal, i.e. carried out for an unknown reason, without registration and procedural guarantees in accordance with the established law. The concept of “arbitrariness” is also broader and includes elements of unfairness, lack of predictability and non-compliance with procedural guarantees, expediency, necessity and proportionality. Moreover, the extrajudicial arrest lasted 184 days, was carried out in complete secrecy in secret places, without any legal remedies, and Mykola was subjected to torture.

Thus, in the period from 1 April 2022 to 29 September 2022, i.e. for 182 days, nothing was known about Mykola’s fate. It is also not known on what legal basis Mykola was arrested. The so-called ammunition found in the ground, allegedly TNT and ammunition, does not fit with the charges of espionage brought against the man, 182 days later, under Russian criminal article 276 of the Criminal Code rf.

The “verdict”

“The ‘Supreme Court’ of Crimea found Mykola Petrovsky guilty of espionage in Crimea. He was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment in a strict regime colony. The court classified the defendant’s actions under Article 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (espionage, as amended by Federal Law 190-FZ of 12 November 2012).

The criminal case was considered in a closed court session, as its materials constitute a state secret. The verdict has not entered into force.

Another spit in the face of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation is another fake sentence of a Ukrainian.

Another devaluation of the value of human life by the Russian Federation and psychological pressure on Ukrainian society. However, even in these circumstances, the man remains loyal to himself and his country, as Mykola wrote in his letter before the sentencing: “I hope to get home and see you again, but for now I can only write a letter. Take care of yourself and your families, protect our Ukraine. I could not do it. God bless you, who are fighting and defending our home, our children, mothers, our land! I hug you! Glory to Ukraine!“.

There are currently no effective remedies for Mykola and others imprisoned by the Russian Federation, as we know from the few statements by the ICRC and UN experts that the Russian side does not allow representatives of the ICRC and the UN to visit Ukrainians deprived of their liberty, which means the need for fundamental changes in the system of protection of the civilian population during armed aggression.

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