Arrested Ukrainian opera director pledges to fight Putin’s “oppression” | Italy

A Ukrainian opera director arrested in Italy at the request of Russia has pledged to continue his fight against “the oppression” of the government of Vladimir Putin as calls for his release multiply around the world.

Yevhen (Eugene) Lavrenchouk, 39, was arrested in Naples under an international arrest warrant issued by Russia during a stopover in the city on December 17.

Russia is asking for his extradition for financial crimes allegedly committed while he was director of the Polish Theater in Moscow. Lavrenchouk left Russia for Ukraine in 2014 to protest Russia’s annexation of Crimea that year.

Lavrenchuk told the Naples Court of Appeal that he was being persecuted by Russia for publicly expressing his dissent. He claimed that the persecution had led him to be beaten in front of the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater, where he was the director, in December 2020. He refused the extradition, saying he feared ” be “exposed to discrimination”.

Lavrenchuk is being held in Poggioreale prison in Naples, where he received a visit this week from Francesco Emilio Borrelli, regional councilor of the Europa Verde party.

“I spoke to him for about 15 minutes during a prison check, which we do periodically,” Borrelli said.

“He was calm and in good shape; he appeared as a person who was aware that he was experiencing an injustice and that in the end he would be right. He said he was determined to return to his country to fight the oppression of the Putin regime.

Lavrenchuk had never been to Italy before landing at Capodichino airport on December 15 during a layover on his trip between Tel Aviv, where he had visited his sister, and Lviv in Ukraine.

He was arrested at a hotel near the airport after providing his ID at check-in. By law, hotels in Italy must scan a copy of a guest’s ID; details are then sent to local police for registration.

“The police discovered that his name had been entered into an international search system along with a warrant for his arrest,” said Alfonso Tatarano, Lavrenchuk’s lawyer. “He didn’t know he was wanted by Russian authorities or that his name was in this system.”

The case comes as fears grow about the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Liudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s parliamentary commissioner for human rights, said on Thursday Lavrenchouk’s arrest was not made on the basis of an Interpol “red notice”, as was initially reported, but on a circular note distributed to a limited number of countries.

“This is testament to Russia’s abuse of the Interpol charter and its misuse as an instrument of hybrid warfare for the political persecution of Ukrainians,” Denisova wrote on her Facebook page.

The arrest warrant for Lavrenchouk was issued by a Moscow court in July 2020. The charges against him date back eight years, when he allegedly defrauded one of his students by asking for money to pay for reparations. at the Polish Theater.

However, Italian judicial authorities do not yet know whether the court handed down a conviction for his alleged crimes or a preliminary injunction. The crime is punishable by 10 years in prison.

“We do not yet have full records of the proceedings,” Tatarano said.

Russia has 40 days, from the day it was informed of Lavrenchouk’s arrest, to send its formal extradition request and related documents. The case is being handled by Luigi Riello, the Attorney General of the Naples Court of Appeal.

“He will assess on what basis the extradition request is made before submitting his assessment to the court,” Tatarano said. “If there is a concrete danger that Lavrenchuk will be treated unfairly or that the charges are based on political opinions, the court will reject the extradition request. But we have to prove it, and I think we can. “

Tatarano will appeal for Lavrenchuk to be released or placed under house arrest pending the outcome of the legal proceedings.

A Facebook page calling for Lavrenchuk’s release has drawn more than 1,400 subscribers as members of the Ukrainian community in Italy plan to demonstrate in Milan on Saturday. “We are mobilizing to show how the Russian regime is exploiting legal cases against Ukrainian citizens for its own political ends,” the protest organizers wrote on Facebook.

PEN America, the Writers’ Association, has also called for Lavrenchuk’s immediate release.

“The circumstances of Lavrenchuk’s detention – he was held in Naples while being transferred on a flight to Lviv after traveling from Tel Aviv – are a disturbing echo of Belarus’ decision last year to force a Ryanair flight to land in order to stop blogger Raman Protasevich, ”said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America director for Eurasia. “In this case, Lavrenchouk is one of the most visible voices against the Russian annexation of Crimea in the Eurasian theatrical community, and Russia’s extradition request against him bears the hallmarks of politically motivated repression. . “

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