Police lawlessness, torture and deaths in the Kharkiv region
In a damning article for «Kriminalnaya Ukraina”, Timur Karadubov writes about police lawlessness in the Kharkiv region where in less than half a year there have been five deaths in police custody and three detainees have thrown themselves out of windows, or, conceivably, been pushed. One person, killed himself after repeated complaints about torture and ill-treatment (see khpg.org/index.php?id=1305291653). Another would seem to have been beaten and then taken out into a square and left to die.
The author suggests that the Kharkiv region may be beating the Crimea for lawlessness among the police.
As reported, 37-year-old Serhiy Lytvyn had been held in the Kharkiv SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] since December last year. It was reported on 13 May that he had killed himself. He had made three previous suicide attempts. He had alleged that he’d been subjected to torture on a number of occasions both in the Kharkiv Department for Fighting Organized Crime [UBOZ] where he was taken for questioning and in the SIZO. He had made verbal and written approaches to the Prosecutor and human rights groups.
He claimed that, in trying to get him to confess to flat burglaries he hadn’t committed, and to being part of an organized criminal gang, the UBOZ officers had applied methods of torture.
His pleas for help only led to his conditions becoming worse and, he claimed, the torture being stepped up.
At the end of March 2011 it became known that a man whose body was found in a city square had been beaten in the neighbouring police station and left there to die. Two men had been detained: 32-year-old Yevhen Zvenigorodsky and Vitaly Adonin. The Kharkiv Regional Police are claiming that both were suspected of committing a crime, but, the author says, the Prosecutor has already admitted that the detention was unlawful and involved officers “exceeding their authority”.
They began beating Yevhen Zvenigorodsky straight away, then took both men to the Central Police Station on Sovnarkomskaya. The official records say that they were there for more than an hour. The Prosecutor’s information says that Yevhen Zvenigorodsky complained several times that he was feeling bad. The Prosecutor says that at that stage his internal organs had been damaged, and he was haemorrhaging.
Instead of calling an ambulance, the police officers kept beating him. The Regional Police Department does not deny that the officers demanded money from the detainees.
They stopped the beating only when Yevhen Zvenigorodsky’s state became very bad.
According to official Prosecutor information, the men were taken out after an hour.
Yevhen Zvenigorodsky could not move by himself, and they left him to die on a bench in the square.
After that they returned to the police station and wrote in the visitors’ book, as though from the detainees themselves, that they had no complaints against the police.
An ambulance was called for Yevhen Zvenigorodsky at around 11 in the evening. His relatives are convinced that that means he was not tortured for only an hour.
Yevhen Zvenigorodsky died during the night of his injuries.
An autopsy was carried out on 31 March, and all police officers who had anything to do with the detained men gave testimony.
The author points out that the Kharkiv Prosecutor, Yevhen Popovych has taken a principled stand in this matter, and immediately initiated a criminal investigation over inflicting fatal injuries and exceeding authority with grave consequences.
The police refused at the last minute to be interviewed, and the men under investigation are claiming that Yevhen Zvenigorodsky arrived at the police station in that state, though this does not explain why they didn’t call an ambulance.
Death from a fifth floor window
At around 4 p.m. on 25 April, a 30-year-old man from Kharkiv apparently jumped from a fifth floor window of the Kharkiv Central Police Station. The police claim that he had a previous conviction for sale of illegal drugs and was supposedly on the list of people abusing alcohol and drugs.
He had been summoned that day to the CID to answer questions in connection with suspicion of theft. The official police version says that he arrived at 15.37, was taken up to the room where he began behaving strangely and threw himself out the window, breaking the glass.
The Prosecutor is presently investigating.
The man who apparently jumped out of the window was taken by ambulance to the city hospital with a closed head and skull injury, concussion and injury to the chest cage. The doctors say that he was drunk. The forensic examination found no evidence that physical or psychological pressure had been exerted, or any special devices by the police.
The author suggests that some of these tragedies could have been averted if the police authorities had reacted adequately to previous cases of lawless brutality by the police, for example, in the town of Loziv, Kharkiv region. .
The author writes that before his suicide (murder) a man was tortured in front of his wife and child.
39-year-old Laslo Kolomparov apparently jumped out of the window of Office No. 41 of the Loziv Police Station. He had a closed head and skull injury, concussion, numerous rib fractures, an injury to the chest cage, a broken shoulder and burst liver and bladder. He died during the night of 15 January 2011.
The police claim that Laslo Kolomparov, together with his wife, himself came as suggested by officers for a talk to the Loziv Police Station. The police suspected him of selling drugs.
They say that he simply, and inexplicably, threw himself out of the window.
His family says that he, his wife and small daughter were taken to the police station by force. They say that both Laslo Kolomparov and his wife were tortured in front of their daughter, and that having understood that Laslo could not survive his beating, the officers threw him out the window. His family says that it was not only his wife and daughter who saw that he was beaten and given electric shocks, but other witnesses. They are determined to go to international institutions and to the highest Ukrainian leadership to prove that Laslo Kolomparov was tortured in the police station and hurled out of the window.
Laslo Kolomparov’s left four children.
In his mother, Nina’s words: “Here there’s total chaos, lawlessness, here there aren’t police, just bandits”.
Lana, Laslo’s common-law wife, says that at first the two were taken to different rooms. They began questioning her, asking when she’d last taken drugs. They took her along the corridor to get a blood test done, and she saw Laslo being beaten. She called to her daughter to run to her father, assuming that that would stop the brutality. Instead they drove her daughter away, then threw Lana on the ground, twisting her arms behind her back and beating her in places where it wouldn’t leave marks.
Several hours later, Laslo, only half conscious, fell from a height of 12 metres almost at the feet of his own father who had been waiting outside the police station since the phone call from his son saying that they had been called to the police station. He recounts that his son was conscious long enough to answer yes, when Oleksandr Kolompanov asked if he’d been beaten, and to say that he was cold. His father wrapped his jacket around him.
While the Prosecutor was carrying out a check and promising to find out whether there had been abuse of authority, another person “fell” from the window.
Oksana Bondarenko – the second person to “fall” from the Loziv Police Station
The police claim that 36-year-old Oksana Bondarenko, who died after falling from a third floor window in the same police station, was trying to escape. Her family is convinced she was subjected to beating and ill-treatment.
Oksana was taken to the police station in front of her mother and son on Saturday. Her relatives say that the police did not identify themselves or show any summons or court order. They say they wanted to find out about the theft of some potatoes. They promised to return Oksana in the evening. However when it was dark, a policeman appeared and asked Oksana’s mother to write an explanation that supposedly her daughter was drunk. Her mother’s question, where her daughter was, was not answered. It was only the next morning that she learned that her daughter had been in intensive care for almost 24 hours.
The police claim that she was invited to the police station on the instructions of the investigator, that she was suspected of stealing a sack of potatoes, with this allegedly having involved breaking into premises. On 18 January 2011 she had given a signed undertaking not to abscond and her guilt had supposedly been fully proven. The police claim that she had been presented with the charge and had admitted to the offence. They then claim that after the questioning, the woman asked to go to the toilet and jumped out of the window from there. They also say that even after falling she tried to run away. Police officers detained her and called an ambulance.
Then Anna Tarasova, the anaesthetist from the intensive care unit told journalists that Oksana Bondarenko had arrived with a closed blunt injury to the stomach and organs of the chest cage, multiple rib fractures on the left and concussion. Her mother is convinced that Oksana was torture, that in running away she was trying to save her life. She says that her daughter was able to tell her that before they operated. Her daughter was crying and said that the police had threatened to kill her if she said that they had ill-treated her.
Oksana Bondarenko changed her testimony twice. She first apparently said that she had fallen in the basement. However she told the Prosecutor’s Office people something quite different – that she had jumped from the window at he own initiative because she got frightened that after the interrogation, they might arrest her. This was the version she told in her first and last interview.
Oksana’s mother, however, says that the police asserted that her daughter had tried to kill herself in a state of intoxication out of unhappy love for her former husband from whom she was divorced. 14 years ago. Later a certificate appeared in the file saying that there had been alcohol in her blood.
Yet if the suspect was drunk, the police simply didn’t have the right to carry out any investigative activities.
Oksana Bondarenko, like the first victim of the Loziv Police Station, Laslo Kolomparov, died in spite of the doctors’ efforts. The First Deputy Prosecutor of the Kharkiv Region later stated that the police had undertaken their own internal check over the incident, and had found those responsible. And, obviously in order to avoid criminal liability, they had taken disciplinary measures. That is, for a life destroyed, they got off with a reprimand.
While the Prosecutor looks into this whole stream of tragic incidents which the author calls more bluntly murder, suicide and driving a person to suicide, human rights activists are adamant that proof must be provided that no physical or psychological pressure was applied, or the authorities must admit that torture was inflicted.
One must agree with Ludmila Klochko from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group: “She may not have been beaten. But what forced her to jump out of the window? She was probably confronted with an extremely serious problem. And the punishment for a sack of potatoes, albeit with breaking into a cellar, is not so very large or terrible to lose your life over. That means that the choice was probably between something very bad and death, and that’s why she decided on such a step”.
A person must be driven to a state of stress where they stop realistically assessing the risk, or see suicide as their only way out.
The police meantime agree that their offices might have “gone over the top” and scared the detainees. How, with words or actions, and to what degree this breached the law, they won’t comment on until the end of the investigation. For the moment, all involved – from the Head of the Station to the investigative officers - have received disciplinary punishments, while management claims that explanatory work is being carried out, telling staff that they mustn’t beat any detainees, regardless of the charges or their social status.
According to KHPG statistics, every 40 seconds somebody in Ukraine suffers from unlawful actions by the police. If in 2009 there were 23 deaths in police stations, in 2010 there were 51, and in the first three months of this year there have been 15. Human rights groups stress that these are only the ones the public hears about.
Yevhen Zvenigorodsky was the third victim since the beginning of the year, and the fourth of the Kharkiv police this year. The criminal investigation over the death of Oksana Bondarenko has already been terminated with the investigator seeing only an escape attempt leading to her death. The fact that a criminal investigation was swiftly initiated over the death of Yevhen Zvenigorodsky is attributed by human rights workers to a much publicized meeting at the Prosecutor General’s office where the Prosecutor General, Viktor Pshonka, gave instructions to pay more attention to torture by the police. The case of Yevhen Zvenigorodsky may become the first in the region where sadists in uniform and those above them who protect them receive a legal assessment at high level. However the question remains of just how many police officers and with what rank will be punished for torture in the Main Regional Police Department?
Abridged from the original at Kriminalnaya Ukraina, by Timur Karadubov