Ukrainian jailed for insistence that Crimea is Ukraine declared a political prisoner
A Crimean for whom the words of Ukraine’s national anthem about “laying down life and soul for our freedom” are his credo in life has become the latest political prisoner in Russian-occupied Crimea. The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre’s statement declaring Volodymyr Balukh a political prisoner and demanding his release came as the Ukrainian farmer spent his 45th birthday jailed on overtly absurd charges. The Crimean Human Rights Group has also launched a campaign in support of “a strong and courageous man, a Ukrainian who continued flying the Ukrainian flag, despite persecution and who openly states to everybody that Crimea is part of Ukraine.
Memorial HRC has given a blistering assessment of the charges against Balukh who was arrested on Dec 8, 2016 and charged with illegal possession of ammunition.
The FSB carried out an “inspection” of the home Balukh shares with his common-law wife. They allegedly found 89 “military” bullets from a 5.45+39 calibre gun, with 19 being fit for shooting in his attic. Balukh had faced harassment from the FSB from the beginning over his pro-Ukrainian position, and many searches, making it inconceivable that he would have obligingly left ammunition around for the entirely predictable next visitation. There are no fingerprints at all on the bullets, which were allegedly ‘found’ in Balukh’s absence and with only one official witness brought. As if this were not sufficient grounds to suspect that they were planted, Balukh had been threatened with precisely such a course of events just over a week earlier.
On Nov 29, Balukh had nailed a plaque to his home, calling it No. 18 “Heroes of Nebesna Sotnya St. Nebesna Sotnya [Heavenly Hundred] refers to over 100 victims of the Revolution of Dignity or Euromaidan, which Balukh had supported from the beginning. The head of the local council turned up and demanded that he remove it, threatening that the plaque could have bad consequences, including the ‘discovery’ in Balukh’s possession of weapons or drugs.
Memorial HRC notes also that the court order from the deputy head of the Crimean Supreme Court Viktor Sklyarov had been issued more than a month before the search.
Even if the charges were reasonable, there would still be no grounds for remanding him in custody, yet he remains in detention.
As reported earlier, a court on Feb 3, 2017 extended this detention, ignoring not only the lack of grounds, but also Balukh’s deteriorating health and considerable evidence that he had been subjected to torture
The Crimean Human Rights Group believes that the FSB are simply intent on keeping Balukh imprisoned.
The Ukrainian’s problems with the FSB began on April 30, 2015. Two men, one from the FSB, appeared while he was helping his mother and demanded he go with them. He demanded a warrant, and having ascertained that the men had also turned up at his home and carried out a search, he stayed with a friend for two weeks. The FSB used the time to harass his mother, carry out searches of both homes and rip down the Ukrainian flag.
They claimed to be looking for a stolen box from a tractor and that he had been in a café in Razdolne, drunk, and offered to sell the box to a stranger, giving his full name and address. The story was particularly absurd since Balukh actually owns two such tractors.
Although they abandoned their tractor prosecution, they did not stop harassing Balukh. In July 2015, he was detained for 72 hours for supposedly refusing to obey a police officer’s commands. Once again, nobody worried too much about such subtleties as making a story hold together. When, after 72 hours, he ended up in court, the judge fined him, not for such disobedience, but for supposedly drinking alcohol in a public place.
The second visitation was on Nov 14, 2015, early in the morning. Balukh says that first a man in plain clothes walked straight into his bedroom and demanded to know who he was. Then a woman turned up, said “yes, it’s him”, at which point two men in masks and another man burst in and began beating him and then dragged him out of the bedroom and forced him into their car.
This was also claimed to be in connection with a theft, and the officers saw no reason to make any effort, and used exactly the same story about a supposed drunken offer made in a café.
Having found nothing at all incriminating, they opted for Article 319 of the Criminal Code – ‘insulting a police officer’. One of the officers – Yevgeny Baranov claimed that during that early morning visitation, Balukh had tried to run away. The police had supposedly done nothing more than used handcuffs, with Balukh allegedly using bad language.
He was first sentenced to 320 hours’ compulsory labour on Feb 5, 2016 for this alleged ‘public insult’. There had seemed a small gleam of hope when the original conviction was revoked and ‘the case’ sent for a new court examination. The new hearing on June 10, however, passed exactly the same sentence as his colleague on Feb 5.
The Crimean Human Rights Group issued their own statement on Balukh’s birthday, saying that Volodymyr Balukh has been battling every day with an illegal regime in Crimea, and is now paying the price of his own liberty. “The support of Ukrainian society is extremely important for him, as for all Crimean political prisoners who have become hostages of the Kremlin”.
PLEASE write a letter or just words of support to Volodymyr, and send them to who will pass them on.
If you send a letter, please make it in Russian, since any letters printed out would have to be in Russian to be passed to him. Very brief messages of support could be in Ukrainian or English.