Moscow court sentences Ukrainian woman to 12 years in prison for anti-war balloon protest — Novaya Gazeta Europe

Moscow court sentences Ukrainian woman to 12 years in prison for anti-war balloon protest

Khrystyna Lyubashenko in court. Photo: Mediazona

Khrystyna Lyubashenko in court. Photo: Mediazona

A Moscow court sentenced a Ukrainian woman to 12 years in prison on Monday for two anti-war protests she was blackmailed into carrying out by an acquaintance, Russian independent news outlet Mediazona reported.

35-year-old Khrystyna Lyubashenko, who came to Moscow from Switzerland, had played the Ukrainian national anthem on a speaker and a recorded anti-war speech from the window of a flat she rented in the Moscow suburb of Dolgoprudny on 8 May 2023, which the court said amounted to her spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian army, Mediazona said.

Later the same day, she travelled to Sparrow Hills, an observation deck in southwestern Moscow, where she released a set of balloons with a white-blue-white Russian anti-war flag attached to them into the air, the outlet reported.

She was detained immediately after releasing the balloons by a member of the Russian security services’ notorious Centre E anti-extremism unit, who told the court that he had been informed in advance that a “certain individual was going to carry out a protest”, Mediazona said.

“What professional intuition our operatives must possess to immediately recognise a girl with balloons getting out of a taxi as an extremist and terrorist,” Lyubashenko’s lawyer Lyudmila Posmitnaya said.

While the white-blue-white flag is widely used by opponents of Russia’s war in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin, it is also used by the Freedom of Russia Legion, a paramilitary unit of anti-Kremlin Russian citizens fighting for Ukraine which is banned as a terrorist group in Russia. The court deemed Lyubashenko’s use of the flag to constitute her “participation in a terrorist organisation”, Mediazona reported.

Posmitnaya told the court that Lyubashenko had been blackmailed into carrying out the protests by a man named Vitaly Yurchenko, whom she had met while living in Switzerland after fleeing her home city of Kyiv with her mother, grandfather and two daughters shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Lyubashenko was experiencing financial difficulties when she met Yurchenko, who “posed as a refugee from Ukraine” and lent her money before promising further payment if she went to Moscow to carry out a “peaceful anti-war protest”, Posmitnaya said.

He then bought Lyubashenko a one-way ticket to Moscow for 5 May 2023 and rented her a flat in Dolgoprudny while “carefully monitoring” her movements, Posmitnaya said. Lyubashenko said that Yurchenko had threatened to have social services in Switzerland send her daughters to an orphanage if she did not comply with his demands.

Lyubashenko pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, telling the court in Ukrainian in her final word that “you all understand how this case came about”.

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