Feature Article By Askold Krushelnycky
RFE/RL, Prague, Czech Republic, May 10, 2004
Two Ukrainian citizens -- the captain and second in command of a
Dubai-based oil tanker -- have been held captive for eight months in
Iraq's notorious Abu Ghurayb prison. That prison is at the heart of
a mounting scandal involving the abuse of detainees by their U.S.
captors. With evidence mounting about the scale of the abuse, Kyiv
is renewing efforts to free the two sailors, who it says are
suffering in harsh conditions.
PRAGUE - - Last summer, the "Navstar-1," a Panamanian-flagged
vessel belonging a United Arab Emirates company, was detained off
the southern coast of Iraq. Its Ukrainian crew was arrested and changed
with smuggling Iraqi oil from the port of Umm Qasr.
Most of the crew was eventually released. But the ship's captain and
second in command, Mykola Mazurenko and Ivan Soschenko,
respectively, were brought to trial. The two men denied knowing that
the 1,100 tons of oil on board the "Navstar-1" were banned for
export. But in October, an Iraqi court sentenced the men to seven
years in jail, and fined $1.2 million each.
Since then, Mazurenko and Soschenko -- both in their sixties and
suffering from poor health -- have been languishing in Baghdad's Abu
Ghurayb prison complex. Infamous under Saddam Hussein as a place
where opponents of the regime were routinely tortured and murdered,
Abu Ghurayb is at the heart of a new controversy involving
systematic abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. forces.
"The state of their health in these conditions and the
understandable stress they are undergoing causes us concern." --
Ukrainian spokesman.The recent publication of photographs detailing
the abuse has outraged the Arab world and put the United States on
the defensive. It has also alarmed the families of the two Ukrainian
detainees, and raised questions in Kyiv about how the men are being
Mazurenko and Soschenko's wives told RFE/RL they have been unable
to speak to their husbands by phone since February. Mazurenko's wife
said her husband had complained of a sinister atmosphere at Abu
Ghurayb, saying he was being held in cramped conditions and that
prison guards had attacked some detainees.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said diplomats had
not been able to visit the two men in some time because of continued
fighting between coalition forces and Iraqi insurgents.
At the end of April, the Ukrainian ombudsman for human rights, Nina
Karpachova, asked the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, for
his country's diplomatic support to enable Ukrainian diplomats to
visit the two sailors and assess their conditions. Karpachova
reiterated her call last week, after the Abu Ghurayb abuse
photographs had been aired. She said she "could not exclude
absolutely" that the two Ukrainians were not being subjected to
Patricia Guy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, said
embassy officials were looking into the matter. "We have seen the
letter from ombudsman Karpachova about the 'Navstar' crewmen and
we are inquiring into the situation of the Ukrainian seamen," Guy said.
Guy said the U.S. government condemned the way some of its soldiers
had treated the Iraqi prisoners, but she said the situation of the
two sailors was different. "We have no information suggesting that
the crewmen are not receiving proper care. If we were to receive
such information, we would address these concerns with the
appropriate authorities," she said.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskiy said the
U.S. military allowed Ukrainian diplomats on 2 May to visit
Mazurenko and Soschenko, who were deemed to be in satisfactory
condition. "According to the information that our diplomats got
directly from the Ukrainian sailors, there are no complaints about
the behavior towards them of other prisoners or the guards,"
He said the two sailors had been transferred to slightly better
conditions than the ones they were initially held in. However, he
said the conditions were still extremely grim. "Mazurenko and
Soschenko have been transferred to a cell for older people,"
Lubkivskiy said. "There are 56 people in that cell -- you can
imagine they all sleep on mattresses on the floor next to one
another. Therefore, conditions are not straightforward even from the
point of view of their accommodation. Even though from the point of
view of food, the information we get is that they receive food
regularly and there are no complaints on that count."
Lubkivskiy said that the health of the two men is poor. The ministry
spokesman said Captain Mazurenko, who is 66, is at particular risk,
because he suffers from diabetes but reportedly is only able to
receive medicine when his symptoms become acute. "The state of their
health in these conditions and the understandable stress they are
undergoing causes us concern," he said. "They do not have regular
contact with doctors. Doctors have restricted access to the prison.
Therefore, we are troubled by this situation and we have called the
attention of both the Iraqi transitional government and the
effective [U.S.] authorities to the situation of our sailors."
Lubkivskiy said the two men, who are awaiting a second appeal of
their sentence, have become a top priority for the Foreign Ministry.
He said Ukraine, which is contributing 1,650 troops in Iraq, hopes
the United States will lend its weight to help the two sailors in
their forthcoming appeal.
"The Iraqi courts will have the last word. But at the same time we
rely on the support of the Americans as our partners in the
coalition. I think that they are listened to and their role and
their influence will not be the least important factor in the
resolution of this issue," he said. Lubkivskiy hopes that even if
the appeal is unsuccessful, a deal can be worked out to allow the
two sailors to serve their prison sentences in Ukraine.
Abu Ghurayb Prison Overview
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