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06.09.2018 | Halya Coynash

Russia refuses medical care to hunger striking Ukrainian political prisoner despite clear danger to life

Volodymyr Balukh in 'court'
   

Update:  It was reported on 6 September that the Russian government has denied that Volodymyr Balukh is on hunger strike.  It claims that he is regularly examined by doctors and receives proper medical care.  The denial, which was anticipated, directly contradicts all reports from Balukh’s lawyer Olga Dinze and others, as related  by the Crimean Human Rights Group.

Volodymyr Balukh is suffering severe pain in the liver area, and after almost six months on total or nearly total hunger strike is evidently in need of urgent medical care.  Russia’s only response to his alarming condition and to the demand from the European Court of Human Rights for information about medical treatment has been to move him to a cell where he is under 24 hour video surveillance.  Balukh has told his lawyer, Olga Dinze, that he believes the camera even reaches the toilet. 

Balukh was frighteningly gaunt and frail back in June during the last ‘court hearing’, and he is still now losing weight.  The 47-year-old Crimean has long complained also of chest pain with that also ignored.

78-year-old Natalya Balukh saw her son a month ago, for the first time in eight months.  She was distraught with concern, saying that her son was skeletal, and looked like an old man.  

The fact that Russia is virtually ignoring Balukh’s hunger strike and concerns about his health does not make them any the less immediate.  Balukh went on total hunger strike on 19 March in protest at the first politically-motivated sentence. He was persuaded after 25 days to take what is essentially a bare minimum to slow down the collapse of his organs and probably to prevent force-feeding.  He had then resumed the full hunger strike on 23 June in protest at a second fabricated ‘criminal case’, initiated while he was already imprisoned.  He has since again reverted to a minimal amount. 

It was reported on August 23 that the European Court of Human Rights had given Russia until 5 September to provide information about several prisoners’ state of health and about the medical care they were receiving.  That date has now passed, and, at least in Balukh’s case, there is nothing to indicate that Russia is doing anything but impose surveillance.

Russia is illegally holding at least 70 Ukrainians prisoner.  While many of them were evidently targeted because they were Ukrainians, Volodymyr Balukh’s persecution is directly linked with the Ukrainian flag he refused to remove from his home, and his unwavering opposition to Russia’s occupation of his Ukrainian homeland.

Balukh’s problems with the FSB and Russian-controlled police began soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.  The only difference over the following years has been in the severity of the repressive measures applied, not in the charges, which were absurdly implausible from the outset.  Details here:  Sentenced twice for pro-Ukrainian position in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Russia has used harassment and threats of prosecution to force many Ukrainians from Crimea.  Natalya Balukh had refused to leave her home, and her son could obviously not leave the elderly lady, who is almost blind, alone.

In late November 2016, Balukh 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.  There were immediate demands from the head of the local council to remove it, which he rejected. 

He was arrested nine days later, on December 8, 2016, after a grossly irregular and unexplained ‘search’ of his home.  During this ‘search’, which also resulted in the Ukrainian flag again being removed, the enforcement officers claimed to have found 90 bullets and several TNT explosives.

Balukh had no record of crime, only of harassment under Russian occupation, making it simply inconceivable that he would have held anything illegal in his home.  This was one of many reasons why the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre declared him a political prisoner almost immediately.

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 was just as unable to explain why he’d removed the Ukrainian flag.

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.

The ‘trial’ that ended on 16 January 2018, with a conviction and three year seven month sentence passed by ‘judge’ Yelena Tedeyeva from the same Razdolne District Court was an exact remake of the original ‘trial’ that ended with his conviction on August 4, 2017.  The defence had forced the revoking of the first sentence since the ‘judge’ then, Maria Bedritskaya, had been involved in the earlier administration prosecutions of Balukh. 

Balukh’s courage and his final addresses to the ‘court’ may have prompted the FSB to seek a longer sentence, with the grounds used for this as inadequate as all previous charges against him. After an incident, provoked by the head of the temporary detention unit in Razdolne, which should have, at most, resulted in a disciplinary measure, new criminal charges were brought. 

On 5 July 2018, ‘judge’ Tetyana Pyrzhalo from the Razdolne District Court sentenced Balukh to an extra three years’ imprisonment for supposedly ‘disorganizing the work of a detention unit’ (under Article 321 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code).   

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