Original by Ekaterina Sazhneva published by Moskovskiy Komsomolets; translation by J.Hawk
Darya Mastikasheva was kidnapped on the street and accused of being a “Russian terrorist”.
The killers of Denis Voronenko, the “terrorist attacks in Moscow,” kidnapping and tortures, love and hopelessness. The story of one of the most famous political prisoners in Ukraine, Darya Mastikasheva, who was dubbed a “Russian terrorist”, is one of the most indicative of the current state of Ukraine.
There was supposed to be a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Donbass prior to the New Year, the first and long-awaited one after a lengthy period of idleness and silence, empty promises given at “yet another Minsk.” It became possible after the recent personal phone call from Putin to the heads of the self-proclaimed republics.
Donetsk and Lugansk demand an exchange of all for all. Their lists include militiamen, former Berkut members who, as part of the elite MVD unit, participated in the Maidan as Yanukovych’s defenders, and political prisoners.
One of the most well known current political prisoners in Ukraine whose name is also on the list is the 30-year-old Darya Mastikasheva, a three time Ukraine taekwondo champion. She is being accused of treason, espionage on behalf of Russia, and preparation of terrorist attacks.
However, her common-law husband believes it’s not about her, but about him, since he is currently one of the main witnesses of the Russian investigation into the murder of the former Duma deputy Denis Voronenkov who fled to Kiev with his wife Maria Maksakova and who was shot on the street in March.
SBU already issued an official statement that Darya Mastikasheva sold herself to Russia and planned terror attacks–except that, for some really complicated reason, the attacks were to be on Russian territory, and be carried out by Ukrainian soldiers. “The main innovation of Russian intelligence is the covert use of Ukrainian combat veterans as cover for its operations”–SBU head Gritsak is emphatic.
According to Gritsak, Darya Mastikasheva, who has a residence permit in Russia, recruited Ukrainians to go to Moscow, carry out terror strikes, and then surrender to the FSB, thus fingering the Independent Ukraine. A very complex provocation.
Generals from street quarries
When I first heard this name, Darya Mastikasheva, something stirred in my memory. The photo of a torture-disfigured girl, beaten up, with a swollen eye, did not tell me anything at first glance.
But at the second glance–that’s Darya Mastikasheva! Dear Lord! What happened to her!
…I remember Dasha from 2015. That’s when we got acquainted. Thin, bold, she crazily drove a big black car around Moscow and only recently arrived from Ukraine where a civil war was raging. Darya was not from Novorossia but some place nearby, Dneprodzerzhinsk. She was very worried because her kid was back home, a young son, yes, her mother was there and somehow they all have to be gotten out, but how?
She herself had no roof over her head and only with difficulty filed for a residence permit. Two years ago, in 2015, that document was signed with some resistance, refugee quotas were filled, and Darya herself was not from the Donbass. We talked very little about that war, only about sports.
The three-time Ukraine taekwondo champion, Dasha was totally into sports, dreamed of using ordinary street athletics and backyard soccer to get orphans and abandoned kids out of bad situations.
She spoke with these boys using a common language, language of the streets. The organization she headed was called the Golden League. She traveled to Russian provinces, sought meetings with top politicians, convinced them to hold workout championships, then went to playgrounds with destroyed equipment, assembled the boys who were idly hanging by their stairwells, and personally demonstrated another life was possible.
“Soccer freestyle, parkour, slack line–how awesome!”–Dasha was showering me with terms that were utterly unfamiliar to me, the dilettante. “We need to assemble everyone and hold internatianal competitions, street sports festivals, one doesn’t even need any particular investments–one can make an exercise device out an an ordinary neighborhood bench”, she explained excitedly.
I even promised Dasha to write something about the workout. But I soon forgot–it seemed the theme was too small, unworthy of larger publications. And it wasn’t about the war.
Then I lost Dasha from sight, someone said she got married. They said it was Sergey Sokolov, the former head of security to Boris Berezovskiy, a complicated person with a complicated reputation, we also crossed paths with him, and I thought it meant Dasha was doing well…
In August 2017 Dasha Mastikasheva was kidnapped by unknown individuals in Dneprodzerzhinsk, where she went to visit her mom and prepare her son for school, and appeared at the SBU investigative detention only several days later–and right away there was the official statement: saboteur, Russian terrorist, her car supposedly was full of explosives.
Later Dasha was able to convey her version of events through her attorney.
On the road her car was blocked by unidentified black cars. Four men disguised by balaclavas and carrying weapons jumped out and demanded Dasha to open her door, two of them broke car windows with their assault rifles.
“They threw me to the ground, handcuffed me, and shoved into a black Lada. I had a bag and a balaclava put on my head, they started to beat me on the stomach and chest with their fists. Every time I asked “who are you”, they hit me.”
When Dasha asked where she was being taken, the kidnappers dismissively responded “can’t you guess?” And then they said they are patriots of Ukraine and they want to “spend some time” with Dasha. Who? Where? When?
In the cellar with an iron door there was a single walled-up window, therefore it was impossible to tell where she was. But the water bottle from which Dasha drank had a label which stated it was made in the Lugansk region.
“Where am I?” “Try to guess.” “Near Donetsk or Lugansk?” “Ah, we gave ourselves way”, said with embarrassment one of the kidnappers when Dasha showed him the bottle. “Then they admitted they were Right Sector and that soon I’ll find everything out.”
An hour later two more showed up, and the torture started. Dasha was undressed, thrown to the floor, they sat on her and suffocated her with a bag on her head until she passed out. Then she was resuscitated and asked whether she’s willing to say what they tell her to, in front of a camera.
The tortures continued for a very long time. Only faces and methods changed. Some unidentified people tried to inject her with something dark brown. Then she was given a text to read. The man she thought to be the boss threatened that if she does not comply, they’ll bring her boy and her mother here and cut both their throats right in front of her. “I agreed to memorize the text. When they were recording it, I made three mistakes, for which I were beaten. After the video was done, I was given a weapon and asked whether I was ready to kill someone. That would be evidence against me.”
The next morning she was again taken somewhere. The kidnappers kept calling each other using VoIP using unfamiliar names–Dima, Vasya, Seryy. Near Dnepropetrovsk she was put in another car, they drove for a long time, then the girl was brought into some official building, an hour late two men walked into the office. One had black hair, was tall, wore a white shirt, blue suit, and black shoes. Dasha thought he was in charge of everyone. His voice dripping with hate, he said “Well, you prostitute, you got caught. This is your end.”
In another room there was a commemorative plate with the name of SBU Colonel Ilya Igorevich Zhadan. That’s how Dasha realized she was not held by bandits but by the Ukraine Security Service. But what’s the difference.
“I have the entire plot of the Voronenkov murder”
The last time I saw Dasha’s husband, Sergey Sokolov, in March during the filming a program about the murder of Denis Voronenkov. The two of us appeared as experts–I as a journalist who did an interview with Voronenkov and Maksakova for a glossy journal not long before their flight to Kiev, and Sokolov crossed paths with him earlier, as part of some part-business, part-crime schemes.
“Voronenkov was a fixer. For money, he promised to stop any criminal case. But couldn’t deliver anything he promised,” Sokolov bluntly told journalists.
Voronenkov’s murder was investigated in parallel by two countries, without sharing of information. Kiev quickly announced it uncovered who ordered and carried out the murder. It was supposedly the FSB and the former common law husband of Maksakova, “made guy” Vladimir Tyurin.
Russia’s Investigations Committee is still working on the case. They are checking his connections, all the people whom he offended or betrayed. Of whom there are many. One of the main witnesses is Sergey Sokolov.
We are meeting near the metro. And I see how he deteriorated over the last six months. Practically a different person. “You know, I was through Chechnya, Albania, the whole nastiness of the ’90s, Berezovskiy…But even in that lawlessness there were clear rules: don’t touch women and children. Therefore I was sure nothing would happen to Dasha.”
–She knew about your work?
–There were, of course, times when she wanted to know what I was doing. But I saw that wasn’t for her, that she wilts right before my eyes, and that all these intrigues, investigations, do not interest her. She’s a sportswoman.
–Do you really know who killed Voronenkov?
–Yes, I could even send you the scheme of the entire plot. Who prepared the weapon, who checked into a hotel and worked out a plan, who fulfilled the contract. Dnepropetrovsk organized crime does not mean they were from that city, it’s just a name, just as there are Izmailovo or Orekhovo groups in Russia.
Back in January of ’94, at Chernomyrdin’s behest, I was working on Kuchma’s election staff, who was running for president. Naturally I had to make many trips to Ukraine. I maintained relations with great many people–MVD, SBU, criminals. My goal was to form an information network, with money which I was receiving from my employer at the time, Berezovskiy.
–Was this information needed for something specific?
–Now always. Information for the sake of information. That which is not needed today might become very important tomorrow. I also realized that sooner or later it won’t end well, there’ll be war, because Ukrainian government is criminal to its core, and elections are simply the rearrangement of organized crime turf. Already in 2004 in Dnepropetrovsk popular militias were being formed that later would receive the status of “national guard” and national battalions such as Azov, Donbass, Aidar, Dnepr. They were financed by the oligarch Igor Kolomoyskiy–“Benya.”
They were being formed for one reason–seizing power, seizing assets and businesses. They were connected up the food chain to the very top of the hierarchy, with participation of intelligence services, government, etc. Some members of this group with time started selling me interesting information, including documents and video, I obtained the details of various crimes–child pornography, drug trade, meth, which is being supplied to all the “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) units, and contract killings.
–When Voronenkov fled to Ukraine as a political dissident, you were not surprised?
–No. I knew it would end badly. In the fall of ’16 one of the members of Dnepropetrovsk OC said that Voronenkov, who at the time was in Kiev, has financial dealings with Benya. He gave him money for operations.
I tried to explain who this Voronenkov was, and that he was not to be trusted, that he will betray Benya like he did everyone in Moscow. In response, they explained to me, with laughter, that then he’d end up like Akselrod (Ukrainian construction mogul who built himself a monument in the center of Dnepropetrovsk and was shot by unidentified bicyclists in ’12).
–The prediction came true?
–Yes, it turned out Voronenkov did betray Benya. But as of January ’17 my informants have not seen any instructions as to what to do about him.
I found out about the murder from the media on March 23. Then I called my people, and one of them refused to talk to me on the topic, but another explained what happened in detail.
That two experienced shooters, Boxer–Pavel Parshov (the direct executor) and Sobol–Igor Gonchar, who was to shoot the assassin. They did not know of each other’s participation. Or who was to be liquidated, only that the target was an ordinary Muscovite businessman who cheated Benya out of a lot of money.
That’s what the killers were told, people above were told more truth, that it was all approved at the highest levels and that the murder offers an opportunity to “give Moscow a swift kick, by pinning the blame for it.”
–How much money were the killers paid?
–Boxer, as far as I know, got 250 thousand hryvnya. Sobol got 500,000. Boxer was also explained where and how he was to shoot, so that the murder would not be observed by a camera. After the deed was done, the killer was to cross the street and get into a silver Renault. This car would take him out of the city, an unavoidable temporary measure. The “target’s” photo would be presented only on the site, and he would not be alone, but the other person would not pose any threat since he was one of their “own” in the SBU.
–What task did Sobol get?
–Sobol was told that he will be picked up in Dnepropetrovsk, brought to Kiev, in order to kill someone indicated by some “instructor,” also from the SBU. How it all ended both I and my informant learned from the media. After my appearance on Russian TV to discuss Voronenkov killing this man was very offended and said he will have no more contact with me. So I said that I bought this information and will use it as I see fit.
Sergey couldn’t imagine that their men’s games, so serious and important, will also sweep up Dasha who was not suspecting anything. That he will not be forgiven his disclosure of information about Dnepropetrovsk mafia and its ties to the SBU and Russian law enforcement. But she will take the fall for it. “It’s much easier when you expose only yourself. It’s happened so many times, and I always came out scot-free… I’d take Dasha’s place at any moment, but they wouldn’t agree…”
Darya Mastikashave’s last note from the prison was sent to her mother and son on the eve of her long-term hunger strike: “Dear mom and Danya! I can’t take any more humiliation and torture from the SBU. Since I have no rights or even humane treatment, I decided to declare a hunger strike as protest against abuses by these scum who kidnapped and tortured me, and who are persecuting me here in this prison.
I don’t know how much time I have left…In this cold, damp, dark cell I dream about you and Danya. I badly want to hug you. Farewell, mom!”
In early November, Darya got a roommate–a drug-addicted female criminal who deliberately clashed with her in order to pin on Darya assault and battery, but Darya was not provoked. Then they tried to place her in a mental hospital.
Dasha was told she needs to undergo a compulsory psychiatric evaluation. She waited for five hours, lightly dressed, in a cold transit vehicle. She got a fever, her lymph nodes were inflamed, her facial nerves developed a tic. But the investigation wanted something else, they wanted a medical diagnosis that Darya had a mental illness–which would mean involuntary commitment for treatment for an indefinite period of time, and the terrorism and treason case with no evidence to support it would naturally drop from view…
“When my wife wrote me a letter from there, I couldn’t get myself to read it for a week, I had tears in my eyes. All I can do for Dasha is to make sure her case is as transparent as possible, with human rights defenders, international organizations participating. That she’s alive and feeling well right now is only due to the noise that was raised in Ukraine and Russia. Otherwise she’d have been wasted…”, says Sergey Sokolov, the husband.
“Mama! I don’t want you to die. I want to go on walks with you, hug and kiss you. And the grandmother also wants that. I know you are in prison, but only bad people go to prison and you are very good,” wrote the 10-year-old Daniil to her mother in prison.
In the meantime Human Rights Watch issued an official statement that SBU held Dasha for two days without charges and without giving her the opportunity to communicate with outside world, subjected her to forbidden torture, while evidence could have been planted in her car.
SBU claim they don’t know who kidnapped Dasha, the young woman was simply dropped off at their building.
As of right now, the case against Dasha is continuing. Yes, Donbass has included her in the prisoner exchange list, but will SBU let go of such a valuable prisoner?
“They won’t give her up. They won’t. They’ll sentence her in order to make her liberation more costly. Then Dasha will be exchanged for 20 others. One has to write about that in order to derail that scenario. Big thanks for doing that. Your suffering friend Sergey Sokolov.”
SF’s COMMENT: The story is developing. The next translation on the issue will soon appear on southfront.org