Ukraine: From "classroom" to prison - one click

How a woman from Cherkasy, in Central Ukraine, got 10 years in prison for treason. Her posts supporting Russia’s invasion on a banned social network attracted the attention of the country’s security services. After a search at her place, it got worse. And on October 18 she was found guilty of treason by a local court in Central Ukraine.

Tetyana Drobot cries in the dock during her trial in Ukraine
Tetyana Drobot expressed her remorse, asked for forgiveness and cried in court, before being sentenced to ten years in prison for treason. © Artur Chemyrys
4 min 17Approximate reading time

In mid-March, Cherkasy resident Tetyana Drobot posted a series of text-messages on Odnoklassniki, a social network banned in Ukraine, that would change her life for a long time. On March 12, less than 3 weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she shared a picture mocking one of the marches of Ukrainian armed forces in the center of Kyiv. A little earlier she had shared cheerful feelings about the occupation of southern Ukraine by Russian invaders. And there were many similar ones.

The woman's activity on the social network attracted the attention of investigators of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) in the Cherkasy region. A criminal case was initiated. And Drobot was subject to a search. At first, she was accused of violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine, based on her posts. But after the search, the severity of the crime changed. In Drobot's private correspondence with friends and a relative from Russia, photos of fortifications in the center of Cherkasy were found. "They should be bombarded so that they would not be here," she captioned the photos she sent via Viber to Russian subscribers.

After that, Drobot was suspected not only for "encroachment on territorial integrity", but also for "treason". She was immediately detained and placed mid-March in the pre-trial detention center, with an alternative bail of more than 1 million hryvnias (about 27,000 dollars). Drobot and her family did not have such money, and she remained in custody.

During March and April, SBU investigators and prosecutors of the Cherkasy Regional Prosecutor's Office completed the investigation and transferred the Drobot case to the Dnipro District Court of Cherkasy. Here, considering the seriousness of the crime, a panel of three judges was formed, presided over by judge Valentin Konstantin. The first hearing took place in May. It took a total of 6 sessions to deliver a verdict on October 18.

"I'm not a threat"

Drobot immediately pleaded guilty and expressed remorse. At the hearings, she said that she had committed the crime by "giving in to her emotions" and asked to be released, changing the preventive detention to any other measure except prison. "I have no connection with the outside world," said Drobot. “My computer, tablet, and phone were taken away. I have nothing. There are no means by which I could, according to the prosecutor, continue my illegal activities. I am begging you to release me under house arrest. I will definitely come to the court session,” she said.

But while she claimed "unconsciousness" and the "emotional nature of the crime", her personal page in Odnoklassniki teemed with anti-Ukrainian slogans and Russian propaganda. One of the defendant's last posts praised the greatness of Russia and its cultural advantages over Western countries. And a more serious crime was the distribution of photographs of fortifications and requests to attack them. These actions fall under the definition of treason and are punishable under martial law by imprisonment for 15 years or even life.

With her guilty plea, parties gave up a full examination of the evidence and moved to trial.

In a speech on October 17, the prosecutor asked for 8 years of imprisonment, a less severe punishment than prescribed by law, due to several mitigating circumstances. The prosecutor took into account the defendant's sincere and effective remorse, as well as the woman's good character, retirement age and health. The court also read a description of the woman given by the representative of her condominium, reporting that Drobot took care of the flower beds, planted flowers before the house, and also took part in solving heating issues.

“In addition to the mitigating circumstances we have already talked about – sincere remorse and cooperation with the investigation –, I ask you to take into account that my client has no previous convictions, is described only in positive terms, and I also ask you to take into account her age and family. I consider it possible to impose a punishment on her, despite the fact that she sincerely repented and understood everything she had done. In my opinion, a sufficient punishment would be no more than 5 years of imprisonment,” pleaded her lawyer.

The court weighs in

Drobot cried and in her last address to the court she assured of her remorse: “ I regret what I did. I once again apologize to the entire Ukrainian people for the fact that I broke the law and for the fact that I angered people against myself with my actions. I apologize to my family. The only thing I long for today is to be with my family, take care of my grandson,” she said in tears. “Life is passing me by, I don't know how to turn back in time, please forgive me. I am not a threat to my country. How many years have I worked at school, in kindergarten, how many years have I taught children to love their homeland, to appreciate it... And then [I] jumped into old age in such a mess, simply on emotions, simply because it was connected to my childhood and to some memories. Without realizing it, I sent my sister these pictures to show her what happened to [a word that seemed to refer to a fortification], because my sister and her future husband met there. We used to go there for workshop. I apologize to everyone for my actions.”

On the morning of October 18, the announcement of the verdict had to be postponed for a couple of hours. The air alarm in the city lasted for an unusually long time. From 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., the Ukrainian Air Force and Air Defense Forces repelled the attack of another batch of Iranian kamikaze drones attacking critical infrastructure of Ukraine.

At 10:10, the bailiff allowed the defendant to be brought into the courtroom. She humbly sat down in an isolated booth, waiting for the verdict, focusing her gaze sometimes on the prosecutor, then on the journalist. The defense attorney did not appear at the final hearing. Twenty minutes later, judges entered the courtroom. Judge Konstantin began to read the verdict. Drobot was sentenced to 5 years in prison for encroaching on the territorial integrity of the state and to 10 years for treason. The two sentences were commuted to a single sentence of 10 years in jail. Since the defendant pleaded guilty, on the severity of the punishment can be appealed.

This report is part of a series on war crimes, produced in partnership with Ukrainian journalists. A first version of this article was published on the "Sudovyi Reporter" website.

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