Crimean attacked for Ukrainian symbols faces 5-year sentence for wanting police assailant prosecuted
Having Ukrainian symbols on his bike was excuse enough for Ihor Movenko to be savagely beaten up in Russian-occupied Crimea. He is now facing a five-year prison sentence because he tried to get his assailant prosecuted. Human rights activists believe that Russia is promoting any form of hatred towards pro-Ukrainian Crimeans, with the ‘courts’ there to provide whatever sentence is demanded.
The 40-year-old Ukrainian from Sevastopol is on trial charged with making ‘public calls to carry out extremist activities’ over a comment he made on a VKontakte social media group ‘Crimea is Ukraine’. The comment, about what should happen to traitors, after Russia’s occupation of Crimea ends, was strong, but rather an expression of ‘black humour’, Movenko says. The FSB maintains close surveillance over such social media pages, and had the comment been more than a pretext, it would have had consequences when it was posted back in summer 2016. Had the issue really been the supposed ‘extremist’ nature of the comment, Movenko would not have been stopped from deleting it. As with Rafis Kashapov, the Russian Tatar activist jailed for 3 years for criticizing Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the social media posts are left, presumably as a chilling warning of how very little will could get you imprisoned.
Movenko is not alone in believing that he is now facing prison for not wanting to accept that ta person who attacked him without any provocation should enjoy total impunity.
Movenko was attacked on 7 September, 2016, after he stopped to get money out of a cash machine and then returned to his bike. Movenko had stickers on the bike of the Ukrainian trident and from the ‘Azov Battalion’ which is now on Russia’s huge list of banned organizations.
The man who brutally assaulted him claimed to be from the police, though he did not show any ID. The Crimean Human Rights Group later did in fact identify him as Volodymyr Sukhodolsky, who had served in a Berkut special force unit before becoming a turncoat in 2014. He is now working for the Russian police.
This was an unmotivated attack, which left Movenko needing to be hospitalized. The doctors found an open head injury, concussion, a skull fracture, a broken jaw, broken nose, eye injury and more.
It was quite evident that he had been attacked, yet it was Movenko who had his hands bound after the police appeared. It was clear from the surreal video here, that the police who arrived were on the best of terms with the assailant. The officers even tried to stop Valentina Movenko, who had come as soon as somebody phoned her, from giving her husband some water as he lay on the ground, handcuffed and in obvious need of medical treatment.
At the beginning, the occupation authorities made it clear that Movenko would be facing administrative charges for alleged ‘extremism’ over the Azov sticker. They did, however, claim that criminal proceedings would be initiated against his assailant.
There is no evidence that a criminal investigation was ever launched over the attack, though Movenko himself ended up fined two thousand roubles for the sticker.
He continued to insist that there should be an investigation into the assault. This resulted only in his being taken by police from work on December 16, 2016, beaten up and threatened, before having a search carried out of his home.
He calls the FSB detention that day a “special operation”, with FSB officers stopping him on his way to work. They began beating him, and threatening to take him to a forest, strip him naked and leave him there. They then took him to his work, and told him not to speak with anybody while they took his computer away. When he tried to say something, they dragged him into the corner and inflicted several blows. They then went to his home. His wife says that she was prevented from using a telephone to call a lawyer.
During the ‘court’ hearing on January 31, 2018, one of the official ‘witnesses’ of this search, whom the FSB almost certainly (and illegally) brought with them, was questioned. He confirmed that during the search Movenko had been held, with his hands in handcuffs behind his back, and had not been allowed to contact a lawyer.
Movenko is not the first Ukrainian in Crimea to be facing prosecution for totally peaceful demonstration of his pro-Ukrainian views. Ukrainian political analyst Viktor Kaspruk comments that “Russia has created the same climate of repression in Crimea against Ukrainians as during Soviet times. Perhaps the occupiers are trying to push pro-Ukrainian-minded Crimeans to leave Crimea. It’s convenient for the Russians to divide Crimean Ukrainians into those who are loyal and who will depict the flourishing of Ukrainian culture to the international community, and dissidents who will face repression. However they didn’t succeed in doing this in Soviet times, and I don’t think they’ll succeed now. It’s vital that the whole world knows of Russia’s abuses in Crimea”.