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Ambush in Kharkiv

30.06.15 | Yevhen Zakharov, Inna Sukhorukova

Events took place on 24-26 June in Kharkiv that are not only unacceptable in a democratic country, but could discredit the Ukrainian government in the whole civilized world. Police officers and people in plain clothes identifying themselves as police officers stopped young people in the streets, markets, metro stations, in academic institutions while people were taking the ZNO external assessment exams and receiving degrees. They gave various pretexts – establishing a person’s identity; that they looked like somebody suspected of committing a crime, etc.  There was no formal detention in procedural terms. The people detained were taken first to local police stations, then to district military recruitment offices, or much more often taken straight to the regional military recruitment office collection point on Kotlov St.  There summonses were written out and formally handed out (where the people did not have any documents, the summonses were filled out with the detained men giving details). From the collection point they were not let out but taken to the military unit for service.  Their relatives were not informed.

However the relatives searched for their sons and each evening 30-40 parents and relatives gathered at the collection point.  There were no less police officers present.  The parents demanded to see their children, the military commissar, but no military officers came out to them and they were not allowed to see their sons who were taken away in coaches without having been allowed to say goodbye to their relatives. Several relatives phoned the Kharkiv Human Rights Group whose lawyers also arrived but were not allowed to set the detained men and given them legal aid. The lawyers called a police unit, but were still not allowed it.  They lodged complaints with the court and the military prosecutor’s office about this illegal deprivation of liberty and illegal detention in the Kharkiv regional military recruitment office collection point, and about cases where they were obstructed from representing some of the detained men.

Students can indeed not be conscripted before they’ve graduated. People cannot be detained without any grounds, and such detention can be classified as abduction. You can’t so flagrantly violation legislation on conscription and turn the collection point of the regional military recruitment office into a place of confinement and none of the young men taken there against their will was able to leave, and they were not given the chance to meet with their relatives.  They were not given proper food, the lads were hungry, and when some of the most persistent parents did manage to get things passed to them, they were divided among all of them, like in a pre-trial detention centre.

We heard explanations from military personnel later. They claimed that current legislation according to which you need to write out and deliver a summons which the person summoned has to sign before being called to the military recruitment office gives a lot of opportunities to avoid conscription.  This, according to them, was why they had they had resorted to such actions since the mobilization plan in Kharkiv is very badly implemented. You need to carry out your constitutional duty and defend the country from the aggressor.

However the majority of parents with whom KHPG staff spoke assert that their sons were planning to go to the army and that they had not previously received summonses. And of course all were indignant at such a barbaric way of implementing the mobilization plan which is a disgrace to the army, the police and the state in general.

We would note that the medical commission in the collection point was a mere formality with all being found fit for service unless they had previously been declared unfit for military service for health reasons.   From among the crowd outside the collection point there were accounts of how they’d summoned a person needing insulin every day and getting it from his mother. Or that they’d called up a young man for whom they had to call an ambulance because of an epilepsy attack.  These cases need to be checked, but it is certain that a Luhansk resident who suffers from asthma and cannot survive without an inhaler was called up.  Why does the army need people who are ill?

The story of M, a resident of Alhevsk is particularly typical of this lawlessness and mass violation of human rights. He had arrived by round-about means through Belgorod together with his grandmother (the lad grew up without parents) in Kharkiv in order to take the external assessment exam and try to enter a higher institute.  On June 24 M. was sitting in the hall taking his test and his grandmother was waiting for him in the foyer.  Two men in plain clothes turned up in the hall and took M. away through a second entrance.  His desperate grandmother searched for her grandson through all the city police stations before somebody told her to try the military recruitment collection point which he where he turned out to be. She was not allowed to see her grandson and spent the night at the railway station. On June 25, waiting in the crowd outside the collection point, she met KHPG lawyers. The next day they managed with enormous difficult to find out from the regional military recruitment office that M. had been sent to the Desna Training Centre on June 25. 

Lawyer Oleh Maksymenko’s application to the court regarding unlawful deprivation of liberty and unlawful detention in the collection point (under Article 206) was heard by the Leninsky District Court in the evening of June 26. Judge Leonid Protsenko formally asked for information from the Leninsky District Police Station and received the answer that M. from 24-26 June had not been detained. A representative of the regional military recruitment office also asserted in court that M. had not been detained and not been held in custody. He told the court that M. had been called up for military service and was voluntarily serving on the basis of the President’s decree. The judge turned down the lawyer’s application without even trying to check the facts.

We would point out that the regional military recruitment office has no right to call up residents of other oblasts. There have been a number of such cases, with two residents of Mariupol called up, the above-mentioned asthma-sufferer from Luhanks and residents of other cities.

The military conflict in the South-East of the country should have inspired the Ukrainian authorities to unite the population.  It should have an interest in maximum support for the government and army.  All Ukrainians should be divided into two parts – those who defend the country from the aggressor, and those who help them. Yet who wants to support a government that flagrantly violates human rights and acts like that same aggressor (we can recall exactly the same ambushes carried out in Russia to send soldiers to fight in the second war in Chechnya)? 

You couldn’t think of anything more harmful for Ukraine and a treat for Russian propaganda.  You don’t even have to lie.

Where do they get their certainty from that Ukrainians will try to avoid conscription?  Last year there were 78 thousand summonses, and 50 thousand people were called up. Around 7 thousand criminal cases were initiated over draft avoidance – less than 10%! We see that as a good result. Presumably the other 21 thousand either had a deferment or were found unfit on health grounds. We’re now hearing a figure of 10 thousand such criminal cases. Why prosecute those who refuse to do military service? Would it not be better to extend the grounds for doing alternative service in the relevant law which has been in force since 1991 and only covers believers of Protestant churches so as to not deprive people of their liberty, but send them to help the army in construction, as porters in hospitals, in other places where they need workers?  You’d need to organize mass training in using weapons so that if there is total mobilization, if that is necessary, all will be able to defend their country. In that case neither alternative service, with few exceptions, nor military tax instead of military service which is also widespread in many cases and whose introduction is currently under debate in Ukraine will be possible.

At present the unlawful detentions in Kharkiv have supposedly stopped. We have been assured of this by the head of the regional Interior Ministry Anatoly Dmitriev. What methods will Kharkiv officials now use to fulfil the plan?

see also:
Ambushes as quota-filling ’mobilization’ continue in the Kharkiv oblast
Outrage as young men grabbed off the street in Kharkiv for military service
KHPG: On the Armed Forces Headquarters initiative seriously restricting freedom of movement in connection with mobilization