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A 71-year-old Ukrainian accused of espionage has died in a Russian prison

A 71-year-old Ukrainian man died in a Russian prison while on trial for espionage, activists said Sunday.

Court documents found by human rights group Memorial revealed that the Russian state had closed its case against the late Viktor Demchenko, who was accused of spying, participation in a terrorist group, and the illegal possession of weapons and ammunition.

Officials later told Russian state news agency Tass that Demchenko died on Dec. 31 as the result of a stroke several days earlier, but did not say why it had taken so long for the news to become public.

Demchenko, who was born in the town of Mospino in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, had been on trial in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don since August 2023. By the time of his death, there had been seven hearings in the case, all of them behind closed doors.

Russian authorities have detained a number of people on spying charges since the start of its full-scale war against Ukraine, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was jailed in March 2023 on espionage charges he denies.

The secretive nature of such trials, which are closed to the press on the grounds of national security, means that information is scarce. However, in his recent interview with U.S. television host Carlson Tucker, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia was ready to negotiate a prisoner exchange for Gershkovich's freedom, suggesting that Moscow wanted the release of a Russian imprisoned in Germany.

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