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17.04.2017 | Halya Coynash

Tortured to Death for Defending Ukraine’s Flag and Ukrainian Unity

Panykhyda [a service of remembrance] for Volodymyr Rybak
   

It is three years since Volodymyr Rybak, a Horlivka City Council deputy, was abducted by Kremlin-backed militants when he tried to remove the flag of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ which the militants had hung over the seized council building.   His tortured and mutilated body was found 2 days later in a small stream outside Sloviansk, together with that of 19-year-old student Yury Popravko. 

A remembrance ceremony was held on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] in Kyiv on 17 April, since Volodymyr Rybak’s grave is on territory under militant control.  Well-known journalist Denis Kazansky was not alone in calling for April 17 (and not August 23) to be marked as the true Day of the Ukrainian Flag.  

The video here shows Rybak being stopped as he tried to enter the building, pushed and beaten, before being forced into a car and taken away by masked militants in camouflage gear.  He was almost certainly taken to Sloviansk which had been seized by militants led by Russian ex-military intelligence officer Igor Girkin 5 days earlier.

Volodymyr Rybak was 42, married with two children.  He had been a councillor, elected from the then opposition Batkivshchyna Party since 2010. 

During the ceremonies marking 25 years of Ukraine’s Independence, the Ukrainian Flag was raised on August 23, 2016 by President Petro Poroshenko together with Volodymyr Rybak’s daughter.

Maria Rybak spoke of the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag as “a sign of the uncrushable spirit of our people in their struggle for freedom and independence”. 

“I am convinced that thanks to our unity and love for our native land,  that which Volodymyr Rybak struggled for to his last breath will come to pass. Ukraine will once again be whole. As my father said: “Our mouths cannot be silenced while we know the words of the national anthem, they cannot block our ears while we remember how it sounds, and nothing can close our eyes while the blue and yellow flag is before us”

While continuing to deny Russia’s proven military involvement in the Donbas conflict, Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that the militants – supported by ‘Russian volunteers’ – were protecting the Russian-speaking population.  Within days of the seizure of power by heavily-armed militants, a large percentage of whom were from Russia, it became dangerous to wear any Ukrainian symbols or carry the Ukrainian flag. 

Yury Popravko

The bodies of three victims of horrific torture were found in a stream outside Sloviansk.  Yury Popravko was studying in the Sociology and Law Faculty of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and had been active in the EuroMaidan protests.  He had disappeared after visiting her girlfriend, a student in Kharkiv.  He left her home on April 17 and was presumably seized by the militants.  The body of 25-year-old Yury Diyakovsky was found a little later.

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