Russian man gets 5 years labour for street interview about Ukraine war

By Thomson Reuters Apr 22, 2024 | 9:14 AM

LONDON (Reuters) – A Russian man was sentenced to five years’ forced labour on Monday for spreading “deliberately false information” about the army in a street interview with U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in which he talked about the war in Ukraine.

The sentence against Yuri Kokhovets, 39, was announced by the Moscow city courts service. RFE/RL journalists had approached him in July 2022 and asked him in a “vox pop” interview if he thought a detente between Russia and NATO countries was needed.

“Of course we need (a de-escalation), but it all depends on our government. It is our government that started it all… It is Russia who created all these problems”, Kokhovets told RFE/RL. “I don’t see any problems with NATO, it is not planning to attack anyone”.

He also said that Russian forces had killed civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha “for no reason at all”. Moscow denies accusations it has committed war crimes in Ukraine.

Kokhovets was first detained by authorities for alleged “hooliganism” in March last year and later charged under sweeping wartime censorship laws that Russia passed shortly after launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Since then at least 19,855 people have been detained in Russia for expressing anti-war views, according to rights group OVD-Info.

Kokhovets partially admitted guilt, but disagreed that his views were motivated by “political hatred”, OVD-Info said.

RFE/RL is a U.S. government-funded news outlet covering Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.

Russian authorities labelled it a “foreign agent” in 2017 and designated it as an “undesirable” organisation in February this year, a move that effectively bans it inside Russia and subjects those who read or share its work online to possible criminal prosecution.

RFE/RL did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment on Kokhovets’ case.

Russia has held a RFE/RL reporter, Alsu Kurmasheva, a dual U.S.-Russian citizen, in pre-trial detention since October 2023.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)