After living for eight years under Russian occupation in Crimea, on May 16, 2022, street artist Bohdan Ziza took two cans of paint — one can of yellow paint and the other of blue paint — and sprinkled colors of Ukraine the doors of an administrative building in the city of Yevpatoria, located in the south of the peninsula. Before fleeing, the 27-year-old young man – who filmed his act of defiance – threw a Molotov cocktail at the building. The next day, he was arrested by the occupation forces and, on June 6, he received his sentence: 15 years’ imprisonment in a penal colony.
Joined by The duty in kyiv, his cousin Sasha Barkova does not hesitate to qualify Bohdan as a political prisoner. “If he had committed the same gesture with other colors, justice would have been lenient,” she said. But he had to answer on four counts, three of which are related to terrorism [avoir commis un acte terroriste, avoir menacé de commettre un acte terroriste, appel au terrorisme et au vandalisme pour une motivation politique]. »
If he had committed the same gesture with other colors, justice would have been lenient.
According to the 25-year-old young woman, the 15 years in prison imposed on her cousin – who has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in Crimea – are intended to make him an example to quell any gesture of revolt in the peninsula which was annexed by the Russia in 2014, in violation of international law. “It’s a verdict that is meant to show people what will happen if they commit acts like Bohdan’s,” she said. There are sentences in Crimea for violent acts that are less severe than what was imposed on him. »
After the announcement of the verdict, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sharply denounced what it described as a “false ‘sentence’ of the puppet Russian court”. In a statement, the ministry argued that “Bohdan Ziza’s sentencing testifies to the oppressive nature of Russia’s totalitarian regime, which places no value on human life and freedom.”
Left for his grandmother
In 2014, when Crimea was annexed by Russia, Bohdan, who is an orphan, decided to stay behind to be with his grandmother. “He knew that if he left Crimea, he would never see her again,” said Sasha, who considers Bohdan to be his brother. ” He is my best friend. »
The young man, who was not politically engaged at the time, experienced the occupation of his native land by the Russian army with difficulty. “From the start, there was propaganda and a large presence of Russian soldiers. It was morally difficult for him. »
When Russia launched its large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the artist decided to denounce, through his art, this new violation of Ukrainian territory. “He wanted to get involved in the fight against Russia,” says Sasha. When Boutcha arrived, when Mariupol arrived, that’s when he decided to create this artistic performance. »
Bohdan, however, had not made his intentions known to Sasha and her parents. “Overnight, he no longer responded to our messages. We had lost all contact with him, she recalls. We understood that something had happened… we were looking for it. Two days passed, then the young woman decided to register her cousin’s name in Google. “The only thing I found was a video in which he apologizes for what he did. »
A video that was recorded in detention, under the force of constraint and possibly also under torture. “He wasn’t like he normally is. We felt that these were not his words, ”slips Sasha.
After several months of detention, Bohdan was transferred from Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, to Rostov-on-Don, in Russian territory. When he appeared in court to hear his sentence on June 6, Bohdan spoke out to say he had acted according to his conscience.
On June 10, the activist began a hunger strike. In addition to demanding the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners, Bohdan demands the termination of the Russian citizenship he automatically received, like his compatriots, following the annexation of Crimea.
For more than a year now, the news that Sasha and her family have managed to get from Bohdan has mainly come from his lawyer or from the letters that the young man sends them. In one such letter, received after he began his hunger strike, Bohdan said he lost 10 kilos and felt dizzy with the slightest movement.
According to the transcript provided by Sasha, the young man wrote to her: “I understand that I am a small grain of sand in the storm that is raging at the moment. But the more of us are little grains of sand, the louder we speak, the greater the influence we have. It’s not heroism. We must try to be useful here and now, because if we are not useful for each other, then why do we exist? »
Bohdan’s family’s last hope is for him to be part of an exchange of political prisoners between Russia and Ukraine. “It’s a matter of life and death,” Sasha says. But to do so, both countries must first recognize that Bohdan is a political prisoner. Ukraine recognizes this status, but in the eyes of Russia, the young man is rather a terrorist.