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25.01.2019 | Halya Coynash

Russia ordered to comply with the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War in treatment of 24 imprisoned Ukrainians

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The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called on Russia to release all 24 Ukrainian servicemen seized on 25 November 2018, and has insisted that their treatment must be in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.  This includes the Third Geneva Convention which specifically regulates treatment of prisoners of war. 

Russia has tried to deny that the men are POWs, and appears to have lobbied hard to avoid another amendment to the PACE 24 January Resolution which specifically referred to the 24 men as prisoners of war.  While that amendment did not pass, reference to the Geneva Conventions achieves the same interim end.

The ultimate end is, of course, to ensure the men’s release, and Nikolai Polozov, coordinator of the team of lawyers representing the men. stresses that “despite serious resistance, an international legal position is being formed which should become one of the key elements in the struggle to get the 24 Ukrainian naval PoWs home”. This resolution, he adds, is “the first serious step on the international stage” to getting them freed.

The Resolution on “The escalation of tensions around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and threats to European security”  was endorsed by 103 PACE delegates, with only three against and 16 abstentions.   The near unanimous support was hardly surprising, given the PACE Rapporteur Andreas Nick’s comprehensive account of the conflict, and inclusion of the bilateral agreement which is quite unequivocal.

The Assembly members note, among other things, the bilateral treaty of 2003, according to which the the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are shared territorial waters through which free passage of merchant vessels and warships must be respected. 

They “urge the Russian Federation to immediately release the Ukrainian servicemen and ensure they are granted the necessary medical, legal and/or consular assistance in accordance with relevant provisions of international humanitarian law such as the Geneva Conventions” and “to ensure freedom of passage in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait in accordance with the above-mentioned Treaty and any other mutually agreed procedures and to respect the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”. 

The Resolution also addresses other concerns, such as the illegal construction by Russia of a bridge over the Kerch Strait, and Russia’s “selective search of Ukrainian and international ships, which hinder navigation to and from the Sea of Azov”. 

Russia has continued blocking the Sea of Azov, and appears determined to effectively annex it, which means blocking Ukraine’s access to two major ports. Another welcome aspect of the resolution is, therefore, the Assembly’s endorsement of the European Parliament’s proposal “that the mandate of the Special Monitoring Mission Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which covers the entire territory of Ukraine, including maritime areas, also covers the new area of tensions in and around the Sea of Azov”.  It also supports a proposal from Germany and France that third country observers monitor shipping traffic and guarantee freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait”. 

The 24 Ukrainian servicemen have been in Russian detention since 25 November 2018.  Aside from two SBU [Security Service] officers who were accompanying them, the men made up the crews of two Ukrainian warships, the Berdyansk and the Nikopol, as well as the tugboat Yany Kapu.  They had set out from Odesa on the Black Sear to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, which meant going through the Kerch Strait.

In the late morning, the Russian Coast Guard cruiser Don rammed into the Yany Kapu, damaging the Ukrainian tugboat’s main engine and piercing the ship’s plating. The fact that this was quite deliberate can easily be seen and heard in the video here.

The Ukrainian warships tried to continue towards the Kerch Strait, but were blocked by Russian naval vessels.  When, towards evening, they broke free of this blockade, the Russian border guards first opened warning fire, and then fired at the Berdyansk, until the latter called for help, saying that there were wounded men.  The other two boats were also seized.

Russia tried to claim that Ukraine was guilty of ‘provocation’.  It has not only refused to release the 24 Ukrainians, but has charged them with ‘illegally crossing Russia’s border’. 

After the overwhelming support shown the men, with huge amounts of vital items and money collected within 24 hours, Russia moved all 24 to Moscow where all but the three men who were seriously injured have been held in the Lefortovo SIZO.  

Despite intense pressure and illegal methods used by the FSB to get the men to ‘confess’ to non-existent crimes., all of them are unwavering in declaring themselves prisoners of war.

Now, despite immense pressure on many of the delegates, an overwhelming majority of the Parliamentary Assembly has also recognized that the men’s imprisonment falls under the Geneva Conventions, including the third on prisoners of war.

PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!

Getting any letter is an important message to them – and to Moscow – that they are not forgotten.

Letters need to be in Russian, unfortunately, and will be passed by the censor, so please avoid any mention of their cases, politics, etc. 

If writing in Russian is problematical, there is an example letter below which you could send, together with a picture, or similar. 

The list of all the prisoners

(the names are in Russified form, which has more chance of getting past the censor)

Artemenko, Andrei Anatolyevych, 1994

Bezyazychny, Yuri Yuryevych,  b. 1990

Bezpalchenko, Viktor Anatolyevych, b. 1987

Budzylo, Yuri Aleksandrovych,  b. 1973

Chuliba, Sergei Romanovych, b. 1992

Drach, Andrei Leonidovych, b. 1994

Eider, Andrei Dmitrievych, b. 1999

Holovash, Bohdan Olegovych, b. 1996

Hrytsenko, Denis Vladimirovych, b. 1984

Kostishin, Vladislav Anatolyevych, b. 1994

Lisovy, Vladimir Vladimirovych, 1984

Melnychuk, Oleg Mikhailovych, 1995

Mokryak, Roman Nikolayevych, 1986

Nebylytsa. Bohdan Pavlovych, b. 1994

Oprysko, Andrei Andreyevych, b. 1971

Popov, Sergei Nikolayevych, b. 1991

Semidotsky, Yevgeny Vitalyevych, b. 1998

Shevchenko, Andrei Anatolyevych, b. 1991

Soroka, Vasily Viktorovych, b. 1991

Tereshchenko, Vladimir Anatolyevych, b. 1994

Tsybizov, Sergei Andreyevych, b. 1997

Varimez, Vladimir Konstantinovych, b. 1992

Vlasyuk, Mikhail Borisovych, b. 1984

Zinchenko, Viacheslav Anatolyevych, b. 1998

Address

Russia, 111020 Moscow, Lefortovsky Val, No. 5. PO Box 201, SIZO-2

Then each name, as above, with their year of birth

Letter

Добрый день,

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.  

[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  You are not forgotten. 

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