Court In Russian-Held Crimea Sentences Ukrainian Man To Eight years In Prison

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A court in Russian-controlled Crimea has sentenced Ukrainian national Yevhen Panov to eight years in prison on sabotage charges that Kyiv contends are groundless.

The Supreme Court of Crimea sentenced Panov on July 13 after finding him guilty of illegal weapons possession, attempted arms and explosives smuggling, and plotting acts of sabotage.

Russian authorities arrested Panov and fellow Ukrainian national Andriy Zakhtey in Crimea in August 2016, and accused them of being partners in a two-person "saboteur group" and of plotting a series of attacks on the peninsula.

Zakhtey, who made a plea deal, was tried in February and sentenced to 61/2 years in prison.

Panov's trial started in April. He pleaded not guilty.

Kyiv has rejected Russian charges against the two men and has called their arrests "a provocation."

Russia has prosecuted and imprisoned several Ukrainians on what rights activists say are trumped up, politically motivated charges since Moscow seized control of the Crimea region in March 2014.

In March 2017, the European Parliament called on Russia to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

Russia moved swiftly to seize control over Crimea after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed from power in Kyiv by the pro-European Maidan protest movement.

Russia also fomented unrest and backed opponents of Kyiv in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have been killed in the ensuing conflict since April 2014.