Case Serhiy Sternenko

On February 23 Ukrainian activist Serhiy Sternenko got 7,3-year-long prison sentence. The Odessa Primorsky district court also ruled confisction of 50% of his property as an additional penalty.

Who and what is Serhiy Sternenko?

Serhiy Sternenko is a far-right Ukrainian politician who is often referred to as an active participant of the Maidan movement. He is a former board member and head of the Odessa regional branch of the “Right Sector“. There are sources that define Sternenko as ”a Ukrainian human rights defender” who ”united far-right circles of Ukraine and liberals” like political scientist Vyacheslav Likhachov tells Radio Freedom. Some describe him as ”an anti-corruption fighter” as Euromaidan Press did in summer 2020. There are also descriptions of Sternenko as a ”patriot of Ukraine”…

Ukrainian online Liga.net in their article ”Who is Serhiy Sternenko” provides details on how Sternenko got involved with the Right Sector. They write quoting Sternenko, ”There was such an activist among us,” Sternenko continues, “Vanya the ’Embroidered’. He was a member of the Social-Nationalist Assembly “Patriot of Ukraine.” Vanya once said that the leadership of the organization wanted him to create a cell in Odessa. And we created. But the cell was not with SNA PU, but under the brand of the Right Sector. It happened on February 5, 2014. It was headed by Vanya the Embroidered. I was a deputy. There were 20 members in total.” He did not hide the fact that the roots of the Odessa branch of the Right Sector are with the Social-Nationalist Assembly.

What is the core of the guilty verdict?

The verdict announced today is the ruling in one of the three criminal cases which were opened on Sternenko.

Pavlovsky News Telegram-channel published the copy of the indictment on Sternenko in the case into the abduction, torture and money ransom of Sergey Scherbitch. The indictment describes the victim of the crime as the director of the House of Culture in one settlements near Odessa and a member of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine and a deputy of the local council.

On 24.04.2015 Scherbitch got a phone call from Sternenko and Ruslan Demchuk, who asked him for a meeting. As Scherbitch personally knew both, he did not apprehend any threat accepting the invitation. Scherbitch got into the car where Sternenko was. Then two more people got into the car. It was then when Scherbitch realized he was in danger. He tried to get out of the car but his abductors fired tree shots from a traumatic gun, also over the victim’s head. Then Scherbitch was moved to a different car where a black cloth bag was put over his head. He was also beaten.

When Scherbitch was brought to an unidenified location, his abductors kept on beating and torturing him. They wanted that Scherbitch would quit his mandate and would never be involved into public activities. Otherwise, he was threatened that he would a victim of more violent actions. Scherbitch was also threatened that his family members would be subjected to violence in case he would refuse. They also seized his bank card and petty cash he had (330 hryvnia, which is less than 10€). When Scherbitch promised to fulfull all the demands, he was taken to Odessa and thrown out of the car. The indictment also states that Serhiy Sternenko unlawfully held a short gun and bullets at the time of the crime which were found during the search in his flat.

The trial and confrontation meant to free Sternenko

Immediately afteh his release Sergey Scherbitch turned to the law-enforcement with the report on the crime committed against him. The investigation was developing away from limelight and Sternenko and Demchuk were officially charged just five months before the case was transferred to court. It happened in 2016. But the defendants ignored a number of court sessions without any consequences for them.

On the date of the verdict annoucement, a group of Serhiy Sternenko’s followers got together in Odessa and held a rally by Primorsky dictrict court. When Sternenko was taken into custody and handcuffed in the court room, they made an attempt to deter his transportation to prison.  Odessa-based media outlets estimated the number of Sternenko’s supporters who rallied by the court building as two hundreds. Attempts failed as the guards had taken Sternenko out of the court building via a different exit.

Other endeavours of Serhiy Sternenko

In May 2018 Serhiy Sternenko killed Ivan Kuznetsov, a resident of the town of Chornomorsk, a satellite town of Odessa. Sternenko and his supporters tried to present the crime as self-defence. Thus, in 2020 a group of human rights organizations turned to the law-enforcement of Ukraine with the demand not to treat Ivan Kuznetsov’s death as a murder. The prosecutor’s office also initiated a criminal case into the alleged attempt on Serhiy Sternenko’s life by the two men, one of whom was already dead. If one goes to browse through the Ukrainian media, they will get an absolutely contradictory picture of the events.

While a number of media outlets claim that Sternenko was not armed in the accident with Ivan Kuznetsov and the second man, the other ones state that Ivan Kuznetsov was stabbed four times with the knife that belonged to Sternenko. It is a matter of a few months when the new trial is supposed to start. Meanwhile, there is beyond reasonable doubt that Sternenko live-streamed the death of Ivan Kuznetsov in Facebook and stabbed him while the man was trying to run away. BBC Russian service reported sympathetically on the trial regarding the murder of Ivan Kuznetsov describing the defendant ”as hardly a street activist but rather as a full-fledged politician who cheers the crowd of his supporters and controls some journalists’ insensitive questions or even ”broadens the political context calling on the right to self-defence”.

There are other criminal cases initiated against Serhiy Sternenko, like the from December 2017 about illegal drugs distribution. It is interesting that according to the information reported by Ukrainian media, Sergiy Sternenko was involved into drugs distribution as early as December 2013 as there is another criminal case into allegations of drugs being distributed under disguise of fishing baits. But Sternenko moved to a higher position within the drug dealing hierarchy with his leading role with Odessa branch of the Right Sector, according to Vesti . Even Andrii Biletsky, the leader of the extreme far-right National Corps party, denounced Sternenko as the one who controls drugs distribution and prostition in Odessa as the leader of the Right Sector. There was even an accident when Andrii Biletsky beat up two his party members when they voiced their support to Sternenko, Gazeta.ua wrote in May 2020.

Protests over Sternenko’s incarceration

There are reports of the protests planned in Kiev and Kharkov. The calls to hold protest actions are sent via Sternenko’s Telegram-channel with some 18 thousand subscribers. However, according to the videos published by the Telegram-channels of Kiev and Kharkov, the number of active supporters of the demand to free Sternenko is not more than several dozens.