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08.02.2018 | Halya Coynash

Calls to declare Crimean political prisoner Volodymyr Balukh a Hero of Ukraine

IVolodymyr Balukh t's much worse to live your life on your knees, than to die standing.
   

Volodymyr Balukh turns 47 on February 8, and will be spending his second birthday imprisoned in occupied Crimea, effectively for a Ukrainian flag.  His elderly mother, who is nearly blind and walks with difficulty, has been left entirely alone to tend their farm, after two ‘trials’ on flagrantly trumped up charges.

In Kyiv, two Crimean Tatar leaders Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, who were themselves imprisoned and / or persecuted under Russian occupation, will be joining many other Ukrainians for an evening in solidarity with the courageous Crimean. 

For those who cannot be present, there is an important way of showing solidarity with Volodymyr and all those in Crimea who refuse to be silenced and peacefully oppose Russian occupation.

A petition was launched on Ukrainian Unity Day (22 January) calling on President Petro Poroshenko to declare Volodymyr Balukh a Hero of Ukraine.  It is endorsed by Archbishop Kliment, the Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate in Crimea, and prominent human rights groups.  They point out that even despite mounting persecution and repressive measures against all those who refuse to buckle under, the spirit of resistance to the occupation regime remains strong.  It is people like Balukh, unwaveringly true to Ukraine, that give the lie to Russian propaganda about Crimea and give hope that it will return under Ukraine’s control. 

The petition can be endorsed here (by pressing ПІДПИСАТИ ЗАЯВУ (the red box) and adding full name, email, name of organization (if any) and confirming you’re not a robot!).  It would be good to also tweet the President (@poroshenko ) asking him to please declare Volodymyr Balukh a Hero of Ukraine. 

Russia Is holding at very least 64 Ukrainians, most Crimeans, prisoner on politically motivated charges or for their faith.  That number is rising all the time, and the persecution will only be stopped, and prisoners released, if there is political pressure from western governments.  There is a real opportunity for such pressure on the Kremlin in the run-up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pretence of standing for ‘re-election’ and to Russia’s hosting of the World Cup,

Please help inform politicians and the media in your country of the extraordinarily cynical prosecution of a Crimean farmer, who refused to remove his Ukrainian flag and the sign he erected on his home to honour slain Euromaidan activists. 

Volodymyr Balukh’s ‘trial’

Balukh was arrested on Dec 8, 2016, nine days after he nailed a plaque renaming his home No. 18 “Heroes of Nebesna Sotnya St’ in memory of the over 100 Maidan activists who were killed during Euromaidan.  He had rejected demands from the head of the local council to remove it.

During a grossly irregular ‘search’ of his home,  90 bullets and several trotyl explosive devices were allegedly ‘found’ in his attic.  He had no record of violence and the constant searches and series of administrative prosecutions he had faced since Russia’s invasion of Crimea for his openly pro-Ukrainian position made it inconceivable that he could have held anything illegal in his home.  

The implausibility of the charges was just one of several compelling reasons why the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre declared him a political prisoner well before the trial.

There had been an almost unconcealed level of falsification in this case.  The officer who had supposedly found the ammunition had not been on duty that day and could not name the individuals who had instructed him to be present or their position in the law enforcement bodies. He also had no explanation for why he had also climbed onto the roof and removed the Ukrainian flag flying there.

The ammunition which the men, wandering in some unclear capacity around the Balukh home, allegedly found, had no fingerprints or other traces to indicate that any member of the family had touched them.  Most important, the ammunition in question was on the official register of weapons and ammunition in Barnaul, the Altai region of the Russian Federation, and was produced back in 1989.   Neither Balukh nor his common-law wife had been allowed to see what was going on, with the officer who effectively held Balukh prisoner during the ‘search’ unable to give a sensible reason for doing so.

As Balukh noted during his final words to the court on January 15, ‘searches’ had been carried out on December 8, 2016 in both the home owned by Balukh’s wife, and that owned by his mother.  Although the latter has four possible attic premises to search, these were not even opened.  This clearly indicates that the men knew where the ammunition had been planted and knew there was no need to look further.

The ‘trial’ that ended in January was an exact remake of the original ‘trial’ that ended with his conviction on  of the trial that had ended in his conviction on August 4, 2017.

During the appeal hearing on October 2, the High Court in occupied Crimea had revoked the sentence, having accepted the submission from lawyer Olga Dinze that Maria Bedritskaya should not have been the judge, as she had been involved in earlier (equally flawed) cases against Balukh. 

Balukh was very fleetingly released under house arrest, only to be taken back into custody on 16 January 2018, after ‘judge’ Yelena Tedeyeva from the same Razdolne District Court,  passed the same sentence as had Bedritskaya on 4 August 2017, namely 3 years and 7 months in a low security prison colony and a 10 thousand rouble fine.

During his final address on August 1, Balukh pointed out that there was in fact no criminal case, only a farce acted out by those instructed to play it to the end. His words were essentially a message for all Ukrainians and any person confronted with the possibility of retaining his liberty by betraying his principles and acting against his conscience.

 “What is happening with me is a vivid example of how the state machine works.  Nothing is sacred, no legal arguments, nothing has any effect on it, and it’s all according to the will of one or several people.  This is the first reason why I’m here. The second reason is my love for my Homeland, for everything that I am made of, my nationality, my memory of my forebears, all of them whom I know. They were Ukrainians, worthy people preserving their traditions. That was how we were raised by our mother and father. My Homeland is for me the same as my mother, my family, my children.

… I had a choice. If I had gone against my own conscience, forgotten my principles, it would have been enough to say I was guilty, become morally broken in order to avoid prison. And that individual sitting opposite me, he wouldn’t have demanded five years and a month, but some two or three years, maybe a suspended sentence, just give in.

Well, I don’t want life on earth to end, I don’t want my descendants, by that I mean the children of all Ukraine to one day reproach me for having been cowardly, shown weakness. Yes, there were objective reasons, nobody wants to go through what I’m experiencing now.  You can understand any person, but I have nonetheless lived the best years of my life, and at my age I can’t afford to show cowardice. Therefore what will happen, will happen. 

Volodymyr’s address can be heard in full here

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