war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Politics and human rights

Leonid Plyushch: Open letter to the President of Ukraine

Esteemed Mr President,

I do indeed respect you for all the positive things that you did for Ukraine during the Orange Revolution. I respect you for your attempts to restore Ukraine’s own history, memory, its pride and honour. For your speeches and decrees regarding Holodomor, UPA, for those fighters who died for Ukraine in the communist and Nazi camps, for your public statements against xenophobia and anti-Semitism. And indeed all your acts give the impression that unlike the majority of Ukrainian “politicians”, you truly care not only about yourself, but about Ukraine and democracy.

Yet I cannot feel respect for a person who has allowed the forces of reaction, a fifth column of the empire and mafia to gain effective power in Ukraine, a person who is inconsistent and limp. Yes, you forced Ukraine’s inner enemies to sign a decent enough Universal Memorandum and to formally recognize your demands. Yet the Memorandum of National Unity contains words that have meaning only for you, and not for them, your opponents. Neither the communists, nor Moroz, nor the “regionals” [i.e. from the Party of the Regions] understand what honour means, that including honouring ones word. They are only interested in real material power – via the Verkhovna Rada and regional councils, the power of enforcement bodies, the courts, and financial power. And it is they who are gradually and persistently taking over, leaving you with the mere semblance of power.

I won’t list your failings as a person and as President – they’re assiduously highlighted not only by your enemies, but also by your supporters.

The main fault is indecisiveness, that is, lack of determination.

That can easily be seen by your fight against anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is not the main problem in the modern Ukrainian crisis. However it does provide a litmus test for the spiritual condition of the state and of society. In 2005 you spoke out against the anti-Semitic propaganda spread by MAUP [the Interregional Academy of Management Personnel]. (Unfortunately you did not use the word Nazism, did not dare). And that had absolutely no impact either on MAUP or on other similar structures which I have no doubts at all are organized or encouraged by the FSB [Russian Security Service] or other forces hostile to Ukraine. What is worse, at the beginning of 2006, before those ill-fated elections, you saw fit to award the honour of Hero of Ukraine to MAUP employee, Ivan Spodarenko from the newspaper “Silski visti” [“Rural news”]. You were set up by your political technologists and bureaucratic machine all hoping for the support of the Socialist Party and Mr Moroz in parliament.  I expressed my protest then, warning you of the future defeat and betrayal by the socialists. Unfortunately, all this was confirmed to an even greater extent than could have been expected. You paid for that “Hero” and the pre-election political manoeuvring with accusations of anti-Semitism and the coming to power of “com-soc-regionals”.

At present they’re playing a double game with the anti-Semitism card against you. For your speeches about Simon Petlura and UPA [the Ukrainian Resistance Army] courtesy of Moscow you’re being accused around the world of rehabilitating Nazism. The MAUP pack, on the other hand, is accusing you of Zionism and links with the CIA, referring to the supposed Jewish origins of your circle, your wife and even Yulia Tymoshenko. I fail to see anything criminal in such origins, on the contrary, it is the accusations which are criminal and can and should be classified as an integral part of Nazi propaganda in Ukraine. What have you actually done against Nazis in Ukraine?  Moving speeches at Babi Yar. Appeals to the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] to deal with the activities of MAUP. This year at long last a case was launched over MAUP, but only by the Ministry of Education and Science and the certifying commission, and not over Nazi propaganda, but over the low level of teaching {Nazis couldn’t have a high level).  Yet even the Ministry’s decision to close low-quality MAUP branches was reversed by the Economic Court in Kyiv. Neither you nor the Government has any, even moral, power.

You gained the Verkhovna Rada’s recognition of Holodomor 1932-1933 as an act of genocide. This is undoubtedly a success, albeit poisoned by the chimerical position of Deputies. The Ukrainian Parliament by a small majority finally, as one of the last in the world, said its word about Ukraine’s most terrible catastrophe in the twentieth century. Said it, edited by Moroz. Here is how, referring to the MAUP forum, “Punitive bodies of the Jewish-Bolshevik regime” (24 November), the struggle for this recognition is interpreted  by Spodarenko’s “Silski visti” rag (28 November, Serhiy Skorobahatko: “Who murdered Ukraine”):  “On 16 November the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine did not raise for consideration the issue of the Holodomor in Ukraine and the repressions of 1937-1938 as the genocide of the Ukrainian people planned by the Zionist government of the Kremlin”. So as to avoid any doubts as to the Kremlin’s “Zionism”, this was explained by premises about the “genocide of Ukrainians during the period of Jewish state control from 1918-1938 in Ukraine and the Soviet Union”, “the Jewish-Bolshevik coup of 1917”, “Jewish fascism”. Skorobahatko did not hesitate to support communist slander of the struggle of the UPA as anti-Semitic.

The Socialist Party press have no qualms about attributing the acknowledgement of the genocide to the wise amendments made by Moroz against your provocative political mileage from Holodomor. And you not only silently swallow that, but even praise them for their support, talking about some kind of unity with them.  Your ambiguous position is directed at reconciling opposing forces. Moroz’s game is one with marked cards. One hand formally supports you, the other –Spodarenko, Skorobahatko and their ilk, continuing to breed Nazi propaganda. And both are directed against you. The statements about Jews who carried out genocide are the best argument for those forces which are stalling world recognition of the genocide of 1932-1933, and a blow against recognition of the national liberation struggle of 1917 – 2004. Therefore even a member of the fascist Eurasian organization, comrade Vitrenko can now, with facts in her hand, burble on about Ukrainian defenders of Nazism.

Under such conditions your warm calls to unity only broaden the actually disunity of Ukraine because they hide the bitter reality from the nation. You have not had the courage to openly talk about this reality and admit your fatal mistakes during these two years.

Recently you honoured me, together with other members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, with the award “For courage”, first class. My first reaction was to spurn this award as devalued by you and your government, devalued by awards to Spodarenko and the incompetence of your administrative apparatus, which managed to not even inform me of the award officially. I did not do this only out of respect for the struggle waged by the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and the entire national liberation movement and for your efforts to overcome the anti-Ukrainian direction of the Verkhovna Rada. However now, when you so clearly show your indecision in all crucial issues of building the country, I am forced to hand his order to you, as it is you who is lacking in courage and wisdom today, in this decisive moment of our history.  Oleksandr Turchynov is right in saying that power in Ukraine is confidently being usurped now by the most aggressive oligarchic clans “for whom the Constitution and laws are empty words” and Ukraine, following Russia, is moving towards totalitarianism and restoration of the empire.

The Orange Revolution was the greatest, most human historical act of the last 100 years. You, together with the other leaders of the Revolution, have squandered the spiritual capital of Maidan entrusted to you through your bickering, incompetence, lack of consistency and of courage. You have lost and are losing, “giving up” your best fellow companions.

It is not for me to measure courage by classes, and I don’t have the appropriate means. However as a symbol of the real courage of tens of thousands of participants in the resistance movement, the order awarded our Group, has sense and spiritual force. I therefore pass it to you to strengthen your spirit which you did have in 2004. It is not yet too late for wise and decisive actions, and the popular potential of Maidan has not been drained. Gather strength in order to abolish the “political reform” [the constitutional amendments of 8 December 2004] which was foisted on Maidan and which has reduced your function as President to a nominal role, to enforced participation in the bargaining hall which goes by the name of parliament., beginning back then during the victory of 2004.  Strength for a Referendum, early parliamentary elections, etc. To restore the Orange coalition but without dubious allies. Strength in order to force the Government, Court and Parliament to condemn all shades of communist – Nazis. It is not for me, from France, to give you specific advice about specific actions.

Do not be afraid of turning to the people with open, transparent, severe and truthful words. The people of Ukraine proved their wisdom and courage in 2004. And today they have lost faith in the words of “dear friends” in pretty wrapping. They need the courageous words of a courageous President.

Leonid Plyushch, former external representative of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group

5 December 2006, France

God grant you strength, Viktor Andriyovych!

Open letter to D.V. Tabachnyk, Deputy Prime Minister on Humanitarian Issues

Our people, fastidious and healthy by nature, have never liked extremes. Have you ever heard in an upright rural family people sneering at a synagogue or church?  One came upon individuals who could turn the conversation to something dodgy, but they tended to serve more as an edifying warning. People were accustomed to conceal what was shameful. These days ever more of them are tumbling into a state of total shamelessness. Daring to be shameless has even become fashionable. The cultural environment, it seems, has suffered even more than the natural environment, and no Greenpeace can save it.

The radio station “Culture” has interesting and informative discussions, but a Mr X. butts in with an anti-Semitic question, destroys the whole cultural level and people say that culture reeks of anti-Semitism. Sometimes the stench is programmed as a filling. There are, for example, obligatory doses in the programs of MAUP [the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management]. Sometimes the smell is of Arab oil, sometimes it bears the unconcealed mark of the FSB [the Russian Security Service]. The lack of shame can lead to even a national catastrophe – the genocide of 1933 -  being used to blame “Jews and Free Masons”. When all this is mixed with the bad flavour of the gutter press, the conclusion becomes worryingly clear: the cultural atmosphere in Ukraine is polluted and in its spirit – anti-Ukrainian.

There are very bad symptoms: the infection has been unleashed on public figures who in any normal society provide a standard for propriety. The Soviet regime was anti-Ukrainian, but the officials donned an international mask, concealed their shamefulness and the bad smell.  Today the general wildness is become pathological and the fact that anti-Ukrainians and anti-Jews are mooching around the market doesn’t worry anyone. They say that there are bad people, there are deviants, and there are people who are just sick.

An example of the extremely polluted state of the cultural environment was an interview given by the Deputy Prime Minister on Humanitarian Issues Dmytro Tabachnyk to the notorious journalist O. Buzyni who, as is known, has made a career for himself out of his own weaknesses. We have in mind the program credo of the high-ranking culture bureaucrat: “One cannot run cultural policy only to suit the interests of a narrow layer of Ukrainian-speaking intelligentsia who are simply frightened of competition in everything”.

Viktor Andriyovych (Yushchenko) is right: ours is indeed a unique state. In any other country, following a phrase like that from a deputy prime minister on humanitarian issues, there would be such a scandal that the official would be forced to immediately resign (sufficient to imagine how at one time Israelis would have reacted to the words from a minister: “One cannot run cultural policy only in the interests of a narrow layer of the intelligentsia that is trying to revive Hebrew”). In principle the protest of academician Ivan Dziuba who asked several questions which it would seem the Minister was unable to answer should have been enough for the latter’s resignation. Yet the dismissive silence from Mr Tabachnyk does not remove the actual issue: an individual who is prepared to express himself in such a fashion has no right to hold any post in the Ukrainian Government. We would be committing a grievous sin against our civic conscience if we did not express openly and publicly our demand that the Ukrainian Government immediately dismiss Mr Tabachnyk.

This demand is not as radical as it may appear at first glance. It is indeed not difficult to foresee that the

Ukrainian Government will most likely ignore the demand. It was equally easy to foresee back in 1976 that the Government of the USSR would ignore the demands of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, the anniversary of which Mr Tabachnyk would now, late in the day, like to mark. However then and now it was important for society to impose upon their governments a system of tests through which they would demonstrate their true nature. Therefore in the case of Mr Tabachnyk it is dependent now on the Government what colour our simple litmus paper will turn.

We would also like to address a few thoughts to the Deputy Prime Minister himself. If for you, Mr Tabachnyk, the layer of the Ukrainian-speaking intelligentsia is too narrow, then return to us the legions of those who over 70 years rose up in defence of the individual against the violence and headlong Russification, and were then sacrificed to the idol on each of the regular anniversaries of the “Great October”. If you, Mr Tabachnyk, would like a fair competition with Ukrainian identity, don’t pretend and measure out the same distances for the runners  After all a person of your learning cannot fail to know the principle of “positive discrimination” in favour of those persecuted which is what the western civilization of human rights rests upon. If you, Mr Tabachnyk, would like justice, then think about the healing of the spirit, about the liberation of the Ukrainian people from the horrors of the Holodomors and GULAGs, because it was this horror, and not the superiority of Russian culture which pushed your despised fellow country people to “the language of the great Lenin”. Lack of comprehension, or disregard, for these things is simply incompatible with a state office in Ukraine. .

Your Jewish roots should have made you better skilled at considering the situation. After all, by making such statements, you have given a fine present to those of all ilk who hate Jews, and who will use the opportunity to link your contempt for “a narrow layer of the Ukrainian intelligentsia” with your ethnic origin. Your phrase therefore has not merely an anti-Ukrainian ring, but also anti-Jewish. And this was always the case: phobia against Jews has always poisoned the fate of Ukrainians, phobia against Ukrainians has always hit hard at Jews. The negative harvest poisons the atmosphere for everybody.

The present situation for Ukrainian culture and identity is, without any doubt, disturbing, and this is because of the lack of good will among those people who should embody it.  You, as Deputy Prime Minister for Humanitarian Issues, were vested with the responsibility to prevent humanitarian catastrophe. Yet the most important issue for Ukraine is not division on language lines – it is a shame that you don’t notice how in a Russian-speaking milieu a Ukrainian national spirit which you don’t know is becoming ever more tangible!. A true civilization challenge for Ukraine is the inability to distinguish good and evil which is taking on truly apocalyptic proportions. An illustration of this is provided by all that is associated with your person: the texts of the speeches that you have written and now write, the gifts that you present to those in power, the orders which you issue to the OMON [riot police] about participants in a funeral procession[1], the disrespect for the Institute of National Remembrance, and finally the circumstances under which you returned to the Government circles. However you as a historian should know well enough: the dismissal which history imposes on people is the most frightening. Do you remember who was in charge of humanitarian issues in Kaganovych’s team? We don’t remember either.

Myroslav Marynovych

Yevhen Sverstyuk

26 November 2006


[1]  The funeral procession in this case was that for Patriarch Volodymyr (of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate) on 18 July 1995.  The argument over where the Patriarch was to be interred was fuelled by those seeking power, and control over Kyiv Churches, and led to truly shameful scenes of conflict. [translator’s note]

Constitutional Reform in a legal tundra

“Everything must take place solely within a “legal environment”, our President constantly reiterates. We heard this phrase on Maidan, we heard it when the Verkhovna Rada was not dissolved and Viktor Yanukovych was appointed Prime Minister. And we keep hearing the phrase still now. One immediately feels like asking what this “legal environment” is. Presumably it’s when for a year and a half the Constitutional Court is not elected, when changes to the Constitution are voted in as part of a package vote with violations of constitutional norms and without the final approval of the Constitutional Court, while neither the Guarantor of the Constitution, nor the Human Rights Ombudsperson, nor State Deputies make the appropriate submission, when endless Ukrainian laws are passed which run counter to the norms of the Constitution.  Is this then what is meant by a “legal environment”?  Sorry, but that is a legal tundra!  Incidentally, with regard to a “legal environment”, was it not within a “legal environment” during the Holocaust that six million Jews and six hundred thousand Roma Gypsies were murdered?  From the point of view of positive law all took place entirely within a legal environment. First an honest electoral victory by the Nazis, then “lawful” removal from power of all other political forces and the totalitarianization of society, in the process of which there was yet again “lawful” passing of inhuman laws by means of which later millions of people were exterminated. It should be remembered that the Nazis were convicted by the Nuremburg Tribunal for crimes against humanity on the basis of natural law, i.e. in a totally different “legal environment” which proves the primacy of natural law over positive.

However, let us return to our tundra! In contrast to the “law-abiding German Nazis, the Russian Eurasian mentality bred an entirely different attitude to the “legal environment”. You see that there are quite different expanses, an all too broad “environment” of activity. Another sense of space – another sense of time. As the humanist Settembrini in Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” says: “Is not the recklessness of these people when it comes to time linked with the unlimited expanse which their country occupies?  Where there’s a lot of space, there’s also a lot of time – it’s not for nothing that it’s said about them that this is a people who have time and can wait. We Europeans can’t”. From here one has the Eurasian sense of unlimited expanse of the “legal environment”. Here there’s not just the legal field*, but also the steppe, the desert, tundra and taiga, and it’s all so very “legal”!   It was Saltykov-Shchedrin who noted that all the severity of the laws of the Russian Empire is mellowed only by the universal failure to implement them. This is a double-edged sword, since if one can mellow the harshness of laws in this way, then it is possible, as it transpired, despite the laws to kill millions of people as was the case in the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, European Ukraine has inherited a Eurasian attitude to the law. Ukrainians feel themselves to be Europeans however their legal sense and upbringing remain Eurasian. The entire complex of problems connected with human rights, with the attitude of individuals to the law is a legacy of the USSR and the Russian Empire. Therefore laws are passed here largely for the purpose, or bearing in mind mechanisms, of bypassing the law, or using it for private or corporate interests, and it is for that reason that it is vitally important to overcome corruption.

And the most terrible thing is that the same happens with the Fundamental Law of the country which is aimed at protecting human rights and freedoms from the encroachments of the state. This is what takes place in the “legal tundra”!  The Constitution from the very outset was not passed as the result of a constitutional process in which civic society played a role. It was a political conspiracy of those in power and bestowed upon the people from above, without consideration of any ideas “from below”.  It was, and remains, too declarative to be a law of direct force.  And what did the “Constitutional Court” bought out by Kuchma do?  As lawyers joked, it discovered a new mathematical formula: “1+1=1” and applied this to the possibility of Kuchma standing for a third term in office!

It was all supposed to change after the victory of the Orange Revolution. Whatever it might be, it was nonetheless the Constitution that should have received a true Guarantor in the figure of President Viktor Yushchenko. Unfortunately however in his attitude to the law we see the same Eurasian mentality, the same political pragmatism, albeit three times “strategically important” and solely with good intentions, nay more, as with Lenin, “with the historical necessity” of uniting the nation!

Mr President! We are truly glad that you are the first Ukrainian politician with a historical way of thinking which understands the historical path of the nation and the role of the individual in history! We are pleased that you work in periods of time greater than months and years.  Yet when your actions violate the principle of the rule of law, excuse me, but this must not be done!

Is the entire modern political process legitimate? In our view, one can a priori cast doubt on the legitimacy of all that happened during the period when the Constitutional Court was not functioning. One can place in question all decisions which were passed and which are continuing to be passed since the coming into force of the so-called “political reform” [the constitutional amendments of 8 December 2004 – translator].until its legitimacy is affirmed by the Constitutional Court. And however much the illegitimate Prime Minister Yanukovych with the equally illegitimate Speaker Moroz may bellow about how the “political reform” has supposedly taken place and it can’t be revoked, this is simply the buzzing of two mosquitoes in a legal taiga.  Aquila non captat muscas (An eagle does not catch flies) – let them buzz!

Mr President, State Deputies from “Nasha Ukraina”, dear friends**! Enough of making a mockery of the law and of all of us! Make your submission to the Constitutional Court on having this dreadful “political reform” abolished!

And then the Main Law will need to be changed “from below”. So that the Constitution will not be a declaration, but a law of direct force, so that it will finally have a category which defines its role – the category of freedom, so that the Constitution becomes a powerful foundation of the state, and not a swing of powers which various political factions push to and fro, calling it so elegantly “the system of levers and counterbalances”, so that not only politicians can defend their interests in the Constitutional Court, but people can stand up for their rights also.

Incidentally, if one looks at the concept of “legal environment” , the question can be asked what our native environment actually is. Do we really live in the tundra, or the taiga? We need to finally beginning felling the legal tundra, raising legal virgin land and sowing a legal field*!


* the author has used the term in Ukrainian “legal field” throughout, however in most places this is the equivalent of the English  “legal environment”  [translator’s note]

**  “dear friends” was a phrase used very much by President Yushchenko which is often treated with irony these days  [translator’s note]

“The State always nurtures the desire for control”

What in your view are the most pressing issues confronting human rights activists these days?

Yevhen Zakharov:  I would divide violations into more and less dangerous. There is interference from the state which has a significant impact on the future. For example, one threat lies in constant attempts to restrict the freedom of the information flow and control of the Internet.

Another serious danger I see as being violence from the law enforcement bodies, meaning the use of torture or beating. When such thing take place, they generate an attitude towards ill-treatment as something permissible which can be applied for a good purpose. Having once allowed such treatment of criminals, one can very quickly move towards other people. It’s not for nothing that in Russia they talk of the Chechen syndrome.

A further serious problem is that of the enormous rift between rich and poor. There is a principle described in Rawls’ work “A Theory of Justice” that inequality is good for everybody.  The meaning of this is that if one person has become rich, then all others should be at least a little better off as a consequence.  There is none of that in Ukraine. At least a fifth of the population live in very difficult circumstances. In comparison with developed countries the gap is over 5 – 10 times. A country cannot be prosperous when many people can only just survive. From here the inability to study properly and get medical treatment follows. Colossal problems are presented by the lack of an independent judiciary and the violation of the right to privacy.

The State always nurtures the desire for control.  It can reach the point where a person’s whole life enters the state’s information database. Everything is heading in that direction. They want to make the tax number the single universal code for a person. They’ll gather data under that number about income, property, credit history, trips, family, show much money the person has saved, after the introduction of electronic medical cards – the person’s state of health. Everything will be known!  It will take one minute to receive a full dossier on a person, and this is what one calls a police state.

- In Soviet times the system was opposed by people whom the thinking part of society listened to. Why is the voice of human rights defenders not as significant as it was before?

The point is that previously human rights activists formed the embryo of civic society. They were the single channel through which people who didn’t support the regime could pass on the signal that the regime was not as it should be. Also they were persecuted, and seen as martyrs, and therefore enjoyed the support of a particular part of the population.

These days outside of the state there are many different channels, say, business or journalism where a person can find self-fulfilment.  Human rights activists have found their niche and represent a kind of intellectual opponent of the authorities. They are the force which forces the state to recognize what constitutes the public interest and forces them to comply with this. In that capacity they are heeded, although not of course to the extent that one would wish. In general the objective in human rights work is to minimize organizational violence committed by the state. The problem is that the state is constantly trying to broaden this zone. The state and civic society are there adversaries, and human rights organizations, as a particular avant-garde points out what is inadmissible.

In actual fact everything depends on the general level of society in the country and the level of violence which is generally considered to be acceptable.
In Belarus it is considered normal if a journalist is imprisoned for his/her professional activities. In Ukraine such things are already impossible. Yet the President of one African country, Banda, confiscated all televisions in the country, and watched it himself, since neighbouring countries were talking about what a dictator he was. In North Korea up till now they execute people for criticizing the leader. It is all relative.

Human rights activists are like geese – they make a lot of noise when they sense danger. Each time when something happens that is beyond what society would deem admissible, human rights activists protest. Their task is to increase the expanse of freedom, limiting the extent of unwarranted interference.

- Maidan aroused in people the hope that Civic society would develop. Has there been any real change since then?

First of all people’s thinking has changed. The fear has disappeared. Many have begun asserting their interests where before they were frightened to try. Could one even imagine before the struggle against illegal construction or the tariffs on communal services? People go on demonstrations, organize alternative hearings. There have even been cases where people have succeeded in preventing the increase in those tariffs.

You have from the outset consistently spoken out against the “political reform” [the constitutional amendments of December 2004].  What are the dangers and what would you suggest doing?

The main danger is that politicians work on the principle of expediency, and totally ignore principles of law. The Constitution is constantly violated. Abuses have reached an absurd level when it’s considered that all that is today profitable is allowed. The presumption is that we’re the majority, that’s how it will be.

Yet there are fundamental things which must not be violated or else all goes wrong. One can argue for a long time about which system is better. I for example believe that a presidential republic is closer to for Ukrainians’ mentality. The people need to know who the hetman is and we don’t yet have normal parties for a parliamentary republic. Whatever they create, it ends up the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but that’s not even the main point.

Yes, the Constitution needs to be changed, but you can’t infringe procedure as happened here. Kuchma at the last moment pushed through this time bomb and as a result now we have contradictions ripping the country apart. I think that the present government cannot co-exist with this society since those methods which are now being applied won’t work.  The public simply won’t tolerate them.

Already now with the return to power of the Kuchma clan violations are increasing in the area of freedom of speech, and business enterprise. The Azarov style of control is returning when the tax bodies have planned numbers of fines and from there begin to look for infringements. It seems to me that the contradictions cannot be ironed out, and they will constantly increase. There is one choice – to get the political reform  quashed via the Constitutional Court, otherwise things will get even worse.

As a participant in the discussion of the Declaration of National Unity, why in your opinion has it remained on paper?

For all political forces, especially the Party of the Regions, they were words which meant nothing. The President is quite different from them, and he treats the words must more seriously. Yushchenko really wants everything to be according to the law. The Declaration for him was an attempt to unite the nation. He worked on the assumption that for the sake of this main thing, one could ignore secondary differences. For him consolidation was natural, for all the others it was a political game and no more. Yushchenko is at core a democrat, and whether it is possible to be a democrat president in a country without democratic institutions and traditions is a big question.

What do you think, has the level of awareness in society reached the stage where democratic transformations are inevitable?

The likelihood of a move back is small. If there are no strong external influences, then Ukraine will gradually become a democratic state. A quick start is already impossible, unfortunately, time has been lost. In the country at the molecular level, in the subconscious a corruption-based attitude to reality has become entrenched. This is very difficult to break. When they say that in Ukraine tax evasion is the national sport, this is true.

Disregard of the law is widespread, from crossing the road against the lights and not paying in public transport to more serious things. I don’t think that one can imagine any kinds of patterns which could ensure the swift change in social relations while retaining the former worldview. The problem is that our collective subconscious is democratic, while our upbringing in the majority of cases is Soviet, although people are generally wiser than politicians. They vote all the time against the authorities whatever they’re like. That is a good antidote against dictatorship. Ukrainian individualism which is so often criticized turns out in this case to be useful.

It is another issue that in terms of development of the Internet, we are second to last in Europe, with only Belarus worse. In Ukraine there are places where there isn’t even central television, only the radio.

There is terrible inequality in access to information. Very much depends on where a person lives: in the capital or in a rural area. The difference is massive. However the European vector will be retained because rich people keep their money in western banks and will never reject the chance to travel abroad and spend holidays there. It’s another matter that the transformations will drag on for a long time due to the problems with human rights that we have mentioned.


Interview taken by Vladimir Chistilin

The newspaper “Bez tsenzury” [“Without censorship”]

7 November 2006

Against torture and ill-treatment

Do the police protect us?

On 11 October, a local resident, Yury Arapin, (b. 1971) was admitted to Chernihiv City Hospital No. 2. 11

He was diagnosed as having a closed head injury and concussion, and a closed injury to the neck-bone. Yury’s relatives contacted our editorial office immediately and briefly explained the reasons. In order to find out in more detail what happened that evening, I spoke to the victim himself.

I discovered that on 8 October at around 19.20 he was returning home from the construction site where he works as a driver. He was tired and therefore swaying a little. In the district of Remzavod two patrol officers came up to him. One began shouting and swearing, that how dare he in a such a state walk around their district. They began pushing Yury, and one of the officers, pinning his arms behind his back, pulled out of the pocket of his jeans money amounting to 200 USD, 300 UH and 10 Euros (Yury was supposed to have paid the builders that day, but they postponed the period of payment). When the victim began screaming and calling for help, the patrol officers dragged him into their base station and drew up a protocol which Yury refused to sign. They began beating him: hitting, kicking and using rubber batons, as well as a gas can (presumably so that he couldn’t see his torturers properly). The officer who was in the base went out onto the street, Yury says, so as not to see it. In the base, Yury Arapin lost consciousness several times. When he came to, the patrol officers did not forget their victors’ duties. When the victim said that he’d complain to the prosecutor, one of them said that he wasn’t frightened and couldn’t give a damn.  According to the victim, he was tortured for about 40 minutes, and then, having removed the handcuffs which he had on all the time in the base, they pushed him out onto the street, saying don’t let us see you again.

The victim hot home by himself, and the next day, with severe giddiness, he went to an injuries unit. According to the head of the neurology department of Chernihiv City Hospital No. 2, Olha Fedorova, at first he was treated as an outpatient, but since this did not help as expected, it was decided to admit him.

On 11 October Yury attempted to lodge a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, but was sent from office to office and nobody wanted to register the complaint against the patrol officers. it was only on 16 October, when the victim went to the prosecutor’s office with a friend who also, by the way, works in aw enforcement that they received his complaint.

At present Yury is in the neurology department of Chernihiv City Hospital No. 2. His condition has improved somewhat, but he still sometimes experiences pain the neck.

How this story ends, time will tell. We can only hope that the prosecutor’s office investigators will not consider the fact that the torturers were, so to speak, their colleagues, and that the culprits will be punished!

P.S.  When the issue was about to go to print we learned that on 27 October a Public Committee was organized attached to the Chernihiv Region department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is supposed to concern itself with the rights of those detained or suspected of a crime, and also to fight torture , cruel or humiliating treatment or punishment. There is therefore a hope that the Public Council can ascertain the circumstances of all strange events involving officers of public order and will help bring the police and the public closer.

3 October 2006

Newspaper “Hart”

No. 44(2276), Chernihiv

Freedom of expression

“Vechirny Kyiv” [“Evening Kyiv”] may be at threat of closure over the conflict with Chernovetsky

Secretary of the Committee on Culture and Information Policy and Deputy of the Kyiv City Council Oleksandr Brihynets has expressed doubts about the chances that the Kyiv Council with its present members will be able to defend the newspaper “Vechirny Kyiv” in its conflict with the Kyiv City State Administration [KCSA].

“Unfortunately neither “Fundamental principles of editorial policy” nor any documents have been signed”, Brihynets says. “After attempts to discuss the issue in our committee and in the Verkhovna Rada profile committee, the situation has only worsened. The Kyiv City State Administration has stopped financing the newspaper, the advance to employees has not been paid, the management of the publishing company where the newspaper is printed are threatening (cf. Letter No. 390 from 24 November 2006) to stop printing the publication because of its debts.

While the profile management of the KCSA is writing a letter explaining why the money set out in the Budget is not being paid, the publishing company is saying it will stop the newspaper coming out.

In view of this Brihynets has called on businesspeople and simply members of the public to support “Vechirny Kyiv” in its conflict with the KCSA.

The Deputy’s press service reports that on 29 November the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information will hold hearings on reforming the state and municipal press. It is likely that the issue of “Vechirny Kyiv” will also be on the agenda.

Social and economic rights

Appeal from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union concerning Reform of the System of Social Subsidies

To:  The Prime Minister of Ukraine, V. Yanukovych

    The Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, O. Moroz

    The Leaders of the political factions in the Verkhovna Rada

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union recognizes the need to increase tariffs on housing and communal services, but must note that these tariffs are not established in a transparent fashion, and the quality of the services in many cities meets no recognized standards. At the same time the state has effectively distanced itself from any measures to stimulate the development of energy-saving technology.

One of the arguments of public officials has been that the state should not subsidize those Ukrainians who were well off.

It has, however, also failed to prepare the necessary protection for poorer Ukrainians since the system for social subsidies is not transparent, clear or comprehensible to the average members of the public and the procedure for receiving subsidies is humiliating.  As a result of this, thousands of people who are entitled to subsidies on the basis of their actual income do not receive them.

The system of social subsidies is lacking in transparency and is not understood by Ukrainians for the following reasons:

  • There are at least 77 legal acts regulating these subsidies, while the given procedure is not regulated by any law, but merely by Resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and other subordinate legislation;
  • Legislation fails to provide clear and understandable criteria for receiving subsidies;
  • As a result of the previous points, the average Ukrainian does not understand his / her rights and has no idea whether s/he is entitled to subsidies.

The procedure for obtaining subsidies is degrading, with people being asked for vast numbers of documents which they spend hours in queues to receive. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that one needs to go through all this procedure to get the subsidies each year which could be prevented by introducing a system whereby people must inform the authorities of any changes in their circumstances.

In addition, there are indeed thousands of people who are entitled, on the basis of their level of income, to subsidies, but are deprived of the possibility of enjoying this right due to normative limitations which do not take account of the objective circumstances of their life* In view of this the UHHRU would recommend that Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine take the following measures.

  1. Begin drawing up and adopting normative documents which safeguard a specific milieu in the area of housing and communal services, create a clear system for prices based on the amount of actually provided services. It is vital also to provide systematic encouragement for energy saving and conservation of national resources.
  2. Prepare and adopt as soon as possible a single law defining the basis and procedure for receiving state social subsidies. The subsidy should cover only the minimum necessary for life of the communal services and measures on resource conservation (introducing metres, repairs and reconstruction).
  3. Simplify the procedure for receiving subsidies through reducing the list of documents needed, providing a system where there is only one port of call and eliminating the procedure for annual confirmation of the right to subsidies at least for pensioners and people with first and second group disability status.
  4. Increase the minimum size of income needed to receive state subsidies, at least double the minimum normative standards enabling people to receive subsidies, in particular, with regard to the amount of living space per person and the ownership of land.
  5. With the participation of specialists, scientists and nongovernmental organizations, study practice on decisions to not grant subsidies, introduce amendments to normative acts, broaden the rights of bodies of local self-government to resolve issues regarding subsidies in special individual circumstances.
  6. Set as one of the priorities of the authorities in the area of housing and communal services a campaign to inform the population about their right to housing subsidies.

Without reform of the system of state subsidies, the rise in tariffs will lead to at least a 10 – 20% increase in the number of poor members of the population. According to the State Committee of Statistics, at the end of last year, 28% of Ukrainians lived below the poverty line. An increase in housing and communal charges will hit hardest not those people who are comfortably off, but those who are now hovering around the poverty line, this increasing the already existing divide between rich and poor in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union


More information can be received from:

Yevhen Zakharov, Head of the UHHRU board
Volodomyr Yavorsky, Executive Director of UHHRU,

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union is a nationwide association of human rights organizations which is made up of 23 Ukrainian civic organizations. UHHRU continues the work of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords (the Ukrainian Helsinki Group) formed in November 1976. It is a member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights which unites over 40 Helsinki Committees in Europe.

*  the restrictions referred to are, for example, the limits of 14 m. living space per person or only 0.6 hectares of land for a dacha, etc. A special commission comes to determine how a person lives, and if they find, for example, a computer, they may arbitrarily decide against granting subsidies

Court practices

Corruption in delirium?

Mr N. has lived in Ivano-Frankivsk for many years. On one occasion a strange thing happened. The major electricity company, the open joint stock company Prykarpattyoblenergo demanded money from him. Supposedly money he owed, although not for electricity, but for heating. The demand seemed like delirious ravings. Mr N. did not owe any money, so he didn’t pay. The delirium continued. Now the city prosecutor appeared on the scene and took Mr N. to court for damages caused the state as represented by the company Prykarpattyoblenergo [hereafter the Company]. The prosecutor’s court suit was delirium multiplied, since the prosecutor has no right to take an individual to court over civil damages the Company does not personify the interests of the state, and the debt was in no way confirmed. The delirium was, clearly, infectious, since the court accepted this ridiculous suit and tormented Mr N. for several years. It was finally proven that Mr N. did not owe the money alleged. Seemingly the delirium had cleared. However it was in fact only the beginning of the madness.

All that time the Company imposed extra-judicial pressure on Mr. N, three times cutting off his electricity. A kind of racket. Therefore, having been vindicated, Mr N., in accordance with the Civil Code, took the Company to court for one of the three occasions. The case was very simple since, certainly of their impunity, the Company had cut the power off without any pretence of legality. Nonetheless, the court, represented by her Honour, Judge L.V. Perehinets, dragged the decision out for more than a year. The Company’s guilt became more and more evident. Then her Honour Judge L.V. Perehinets suddenly passed an extraordinary ruling, reclassifying the Company from an economic party to a subject of state powers. That means into a state authority. Through this complex permutation, her Honour transferred the case from civil to administrative legal proceedings, specially for state authorities. And in administrative court proceedings, the time period for lodging a claim is three times shorter – 1 year. Through this unlawful manipulation the Judge absolved the Company of liability since the time period had expired.

Mr N. nonetheless considered that this was madness and that the Company was not a state authority, that the case was not within the jurisdiction of administrative legal proceedings, and that the Company should answer for their lawless behaviour. He appealed the ruling of Judge L.V. Perehinets.  The panel of judges in civil proceedings of the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Appeal Court, their Honours I.V. Boiko, A.T. Pavlyshyn and V.V. Shyshko upheld the ruling. The court furthermore created an insurmountable obstacle for further appeal by not giving Mr N. access to the material of the case and not providing on his request a copy of the ruling. The delirium continued.

We won’t spell out how, but the case did fall into Mr N’s hands for a few minutes and he managed to appeal the ruling in the capital. The Higher Administrative Court decided that the case was not one for administrative proceedings and did not even consider it.

The situation had finally clarified a little. Her Honour, Judge L.V. Perehinets, had acted against the law, and this unlawfulness had now received the highest confirmation.

Furthermore the actions of her Honour were incredibly reminiscent of the violation under Article 5 of the Law of Ukraine On fighting corruption: giving preference to individuals or legal entities when handing down a ruling.

Mr N. sent the court a formal request for information as to what had guided the actions of her Honour, Judge L.V. Perehinets when she passed her ruling about the state powers of the Company. In violation of the Law on Information his Honour, the Head of the City Court A.Y. Mapyeev refused to provide this information. The actions of his Honour were also extraordinarily reminiscent of that same corruption law prohibiting the refusal to provide individuals and legal entities with information, where the provision of such is stipulated by legal acts.

Staggered by this corruption look-alike, Mr N. approached the institution which day and night wages an untiring battle against corruption, the SBU [the Security Service of Ukraine]. A month passed, and then another. In violation of the Law of Ukraine “On citizens’ appeals” and of the above-mentioned law on corruption, the fearsome department did not provide any response. It proved necessary to take the SBU to court for not providing a response to a complaint about the fact that the court had not provided an answer. A vicious circle, and the madness continued.

Meanwhile Mr N. lodged a suit against the unlawful actions of the Company in cutting his electricity supply the second time. It turned out that this suit would be given consideration…. by her Honour Judge L.V. Perehinets. The same delirium intensified.

Her Honour had already unlawfully given preference to one party in a similar dispute, by shortening the time period for submitting a claim. If she had done this deliberately, then she was not impartial as regards the parties to the dispute.  But had she done this disinterestedly?

According to sociologists’ estimates, corruption in Ukraine has reached monstrous proportions. 65% of the adult population are prepared to pay bribes. The European Union officially considers Ukraine one of the most corrupt states in the world, while experts from the World Bank estimate the amount paid in bribes in Ukraine as being at the level of two months of the trade turnover of the country. Corruption is paralysing the state authorities and the force of laws. They point to the courts as the branch of power where corruption is most rampant. Lawyers themselves, when asked, cite the high level of corruption and low professional level of judges as among the main problems of the courts.  9.7% of them (lawyers and prosecutors together with judges) admitted that they received unlawful payments. The respondents from the non-judicial sphere knew of cases when a bribe was given for the passing of a lawful ruling (60.5%), and cases of bribe-taking to have an unlawful ruling passed (47.5%). Does this have any bearing on our story?

Judge L.V. Perehinets through her consciously unlawful actions saved the Company from paying over 50,000 UH in compensation. Is it possible to imagine that her Honour did not receive any recompense from the beneficiary?  It’s possible. However one needs amazing powers of fantasy.

All the more so since the bribe takes practically no risk. The likelihood of being punished for corrupt dealings remains negligibly small. Last year in Ukraine less than four hundred people were convicted of such crimes. It is another matter if her Honour passed the unlawful ruling unconsciously. She made a mistake. However could legal proceedings be carried out by a person who can make such a flagrant mistake?  Did she gain awareness of her wrongful action? Guilt pangs?

Mr N. lodged an application to have the judge removed who had already reviewed the dispute of the same parties over the same relations and had given unlawful preference to the respondent either through her own lack of impartiality, or through her lack of professional skill. This was the application he lodged with the court. The application regarding the impartiality and lack of professional skill of Judge L.V. Perehinets was reviewed by … her Honour Judge L.V. Perehinets, who found herself to be sufficiently objective and qualified, and retained herself as Judge in the dispute. Total bedlam.

Mr N. considers that her Honour, Judge L.V. Perehinets can not carry out legal proceedings guided by the law, and also impartially. And what do you think?

Victims of political repression

Speech given by Moisei Fishbein at the Requiem Evening ““My People live!” on 25 November

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,


The Ukrainian nation was killed, yet not to the last, devastated, yet not totally crushed. They took away Ukrainians’ land, their language, history, freedom, life itself. They rooted out the Ukrainian intelligentsia, the Ukrainian elite, imprisoning and executing them.  They destroyed the flower of the Ukrainian nation, the Ukrainian grain farmers. They were exiled to Siberia, starved to death. It was an act of genocide. Those who today dare to deny that Holodomor 1932-1933 was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation neither fear God, nor know Him. They know and fear only thugs and killers. . They’re lackeys.  “Slaves, sycophants, Moscow’s dirt”. They’re not Ukrainians, but Ukrainian devilish parodies.  Progeny of people killers. With those who deny that Holodomor was genocide, it is not publicists who should speak, not political scientists or politicians, but Ukrainian investigators (I stress, Ukrainian investigators). 

The Ukrainian President of Ukraine (I repeat the Ukrainian President of Ukraine) has taken a step not towards abstract people, but towards the Ukrainian nation. He has just in full voice named Holodomor genocide and the Ukrainian devilish parodies went crazy. “No need to use the word “genocide”, call it something else!”,. some said, while others: “He’s creating a rift between Slavs!”  That rift was created in 1933.  A massive rift.  A massive pit, a huge Ukrainian grave. In that grave lay not tens, not hundreds, not thousands, not tens of thousands, but millions of Ukrainian peasants: children, men and women. And there was nobody to help them.  The Righteous of the Nations of the World were not there beside them.

Do you know how the Ukrainian villages in the centre of Europe perished and starved to death?  First they ate the last potato peelings, then acorns and buds, then roots and leaves. They ate dogs, cats, sparrows, worms, leather. Then the village turned into a desert. Children screamed in the night, begging their mothers to give them a piece of bread. Their mothers had no bread. Then the children’s voices could no longer be held. Then the village began to wail in lament, and later in quiet moaning. Then it fell silent and became a graveyard. And the state had bread. This was the killing of a people. It was genocide. I know of Holodomor not from historians, nor from publicists, nor from writers. I know of Holodomor from my mother. My mother, Sarah Aronivna Matusovska in 1932 – 1933 was a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature in the village of Horozheno in the Mykolaiv region. She also gave singing lesions. The children were bloated from starvation. They fell asleep during lessons. And sometimes they did not wake up. And according to the school curriculum there was supposed to be singing. Singing! In spring they began to eat grass. They went to the cemetery – at the cemetery there was always abundant greenery. The neighbours’ lad went out of his home. He could scarcely make it to the cemetery. Exhausted, he fell on the grass. His mother was waiting, and he didn’t come. She began searching for him. She found him. Then suddenly she saw that they were burying somebody. She took the boy by the hand:

- Son, they’re burying somebody. See, the grave is ready. Let’s go, I’ll put you in there.  You can’t survive anyway, and I will die soon, and who then will bury you?

People managed to pull the child away. A few days later both mother and son died. People buried them.

How many are there, tragic mounds in Ukraine? Forgotten. Not forgotten. When will they try the murderers? When? I am waiting.


25 November 2006

Dissidents and their time

Myroslav Marynovych on the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and much more

How would you explain the term “dissident movement” to young people? Did you consider yourself a dissident?

The regulatory mechanism of the Soviet system was not money, but ideology. An ideological format of a system implies the existence of one canonized version of the truth which contains myriads of imprints deemed normative for all specific spheres of life. As the joke went, you could deviate from the Party line only together with the Party. Those who deviated in advance without sanction from above put themselves literally outside the law and easily became the object of persecution.  The “Khrushchev Spring” of the beginning of the 1960s shattered the image of one single correct official doctrine since the “denunciation of the cult of Stalin” proved that this line could in principle be faulty. The movement of the Shestydesyatnyky [the Sixties activists] was the child of such rethinking. The movement was the precursor for the later human rights movement which brought the theme of freedom from the spiritual – cultural on to an international legal plane. However both were frequently placed in one category of “dissenting thinkers”, or “dissidents”. At one time I considered such classification honourable. These days, as far as I’m aware, some former political prisoners object to being described as dissidents, considering that this term reduces their practical political activities to some wishy-washy “other thinking”. I personally don’t suffer from any terminological discrepancies and continue to see my belonging to the ranks of the dissidents as a great honour.

The word “inakodumets” [“somebody who thinks differently”] is difficult to translate into English. Is this a purely linguistic issue, or is such a concept inappropriate in a pluralistic society?

I don’t agree that it is difficult to translate. The English “to dissent” actually means “to not agree, to differ in ones views”. It was brought into use among Church dissenters in medieval Europe and very accurately describes the situation when human conscience and creative thinking rebel against some kind of ideological monopoly. Obviously the use of this term is appropriate only for non-democratic societies where there is such a form of monopoly. Therefore, say, in today’s Ukraine, for all its problems, it would be inappropriate to term anybody a “dissident”. However in the 1960s and 1970s the term was entirely legitimate.

The demand of the dissidents of the 1960s – 1980s “Obey your own laws!” has been interpreted by many people as a ploy, since nobody believed that it was possible. There is a view however that the members of the UHG did in fact hope for some kind of dialogue with the regime. What is your opinion? How relevant in today’s Ukraine is the demand that the law be respected as a foundation for defending human rights?

Unfortunately in answering this question it is extremely difficult to avoid time causing adjustments in our views, with some dissidents inclined to present their position in those times as more radical than they actually were. One cannot in fact give a categorical answer, since the term “dissidents” covers not only human rights activists who sought to defend people who had been unfairly tried, on principle distancing themselves from the issue of changing the actual system, but also determined fighters of the system. One could theoretically envisage a situation whereby one of the dissidents was prepared to seek contact with the authorities in seeking the release of innocent people. However the problem was that the regime itself would have seen such dialogue as a threat to its ideological foundation. Therefore for those individuals who were ready for dialogue, any such attempts turned into providing information to the KGB or arrest.  Although even among human rights defenders there were those who were much more sceptical than others about the possibility of working with the regime. After the regime for example, had dealt summarily with the first ten members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, among those who joined it were people who regarded any work with the regime as entirely unacceptable. As far as the present day is concerned, respect for the law is the primary basis for law and order and democracy. In the absence of totalitarianism, it is difficult to imagine human rights defence of the kind which existed in Soviet times. I assume that in Ukraine there could be a whole range of human rights organizations which specialize in specific areas of the law. However the requirement of respect for the law, that is, the guaranteeing in Ukraine of the rule of law, must apply in all cases without any exception.

What, if any, events and / or views prompted you to oppose the Soviet regime?

One can of course speak of some particular facts or events, the memory, say, of the persecution and suffering in the GULAG of members of my family, the arrests of dissidents which I learned about on Radio Svoboda [Radio Liberty], samizdat, the shaking of my worldview through the brutal suppression of the “Prague Spring”.  However there were also other, more trivial things which were like steady drops until finally it all overflowed. I would therefore be more inclined to speak of the reasons which created an overall sense of the need for civic resistance. This was firstly the acute awareness of the lying falseness of the system and its lack of respect for human dignity. At that time it was already impossible to adapt to the demands of the system while retaining any self-respect.  Then secondly there was personal acquaintance with those members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia who were to varying degrees being persecuted, or with the families of people who had been unjustly tried and convicted. A sense of personal affinity for them brought with it solidarity and a feeling of being together with them. Finally, the Soviet regime required total loyalty and was not satisfied with “half-love”. So its demand that you decide which side you’re on (I was warned in the KGB: “Bear in mind that if you’re not with us, you’re against us”) forced me to make a moral choice.

You opposed a powerful and repressive regime. One finds all too often in life that people let us down even when little is effectively at stake. In those days it was even dangerous to help a person out of favour with the regime. How much support did you have? Was it of importance to you (in fact did you know) that there were campaigns in other countries in defence of political prisoners?

Support from isolated individuals in conditions of total fear, and often venality, had enormous psychological significance. It was not big numbers that had impact: we were well aware that millions could not openly support us. That was why the support of single brave individuals meant so much. It was also of importance that we registered the general scepticism towards the Soviet regime, not only from the intelligentsia, but from the population generally. The silence of this scepticism was annoying, often disappointing, yet it did create the important sense that you weren’t opposing your own people, but only the administration. No less important was the support from the international community and the Ukrainian Diaspora (after my arrest also Amnesty International).  At times this created a somewhat paradoxical situation since, on the one hand, the international support irritated the KGB and the Party official position, and could therefore provoke a new wave of persecution. On the other hand, however, the same support created a certain guarantee that the cause that you were suffering for had a general human dimension, that the world knew about your fate and that you wouldn’t die an anonymous death in the Siberian snow. Information about campaigns on our behalf reached us even in the camps (for me, for example, it was enormously important to learn that the Pope John Paul II – the only one of the Christian leaders! – had served a masse in 1981 for the persecuted prisoners of the GULAG.

For young people in Ukraine and people in the West it’s hard to understand the fear that reigned in society, what it could cost a person to put his or her signature to an appeal or even simply to write to political prisoners. Is such knowledge needed?  Is there any chance that such knowledge could at least a little act as some kind of “vaccination” to prevent the loss of freedom? What in your view creates and strengthens immunity both of the individual, and of society as a whole?

This is indeed a serious problem.  A group of young Lviv (and not, let’s say, Donetsk!) students said to me recently: “Come on, Mr Marynovych! Were the Soviet times really so bad?”  So if we don’t talk about the past pain the next generations will cease to understand us. So that history doesn’t pass its verdict, the crime needs to be established and the guilty sentence clearly formulated. A lot could be done by the newly created Institute of National Remembrance if it stopped being a mere paper bubble, without a serious budget, and without  a “critical mass” of dedicated members of staff and without serious access to KGB / SBU archives. However the main reason for an ironic attitude to the crimes of the past is nonetheless the crimes of the present. What came to replace the creator of one of the two apocalypses of the XX century – Soviet totalitarianism was not a system of general well-being, but one of reckless cynicism. Therefore the pain experienced by the mother of Valery Marchenko who died in the GULAG is neither greater nor less than the pain of Georgy Gongadze’s mother. Immunity from both crimes is truth and faithfulness to the Law of God – the single regulating mechanism which does not allow social diseases to totally poison the country.

How do you feel about people who collaborated with the punitive bodies?

The issue is extremely serious and one needs to look at it in more detail. From my own experience I remember how little stood between me and submission to the communist evil, and I therefore on principle would not wish to stand in judgment over those people. That would mean to condemn a good third of my fellow citizens. Therefore, spiritually ready for forgiveness, at the beginning of the 1990s I was among those dissidents who were not concerned about bringing our communist persecutors to answer. Despite some attempts to begin a civic “Nuremburg-2, all ended in expectation from dissidents that yesterday’s criminals would become part of a gentlemen’s agreement: “We won’t try you, but you don’t continue sinning”.  We are all aware what came of that. After Maidan, Ukraine, by not bring the main perpetrators of the new crimes against the people to answer, stepped for a second time on exactly the same rake.

In my opinion, our mistake has been in not being familiar enough with logic or the rule of law, or Christianity. Both after gaining independence and after Maidan, actions which from the point of view of formal law and commonsense were criminal, were not categorized as such in the appropriate court proceedings. As a result the criminals took on the innocent status of “political opponents”, “dissenting voices”. However, impunity makes crimes seem attractive and criminals barefaced. They not only don’t respect those who forgive them for their crimes, but on the contrary, despise them, since the forgiveness is viewed as weakness.

In its turn, quixotic all-forgivingness has nothing in common with Christian forgiveness. Pope John Paul II, coming to Agca in prison and forgiving him for the assassination attempt, did not attempt to have him released from prison. Christian forgiveness is a moral act which does not run counter to the rule of law and does not cancel out its force. Just punishment for a crime is not revenge, but the necessary elimination from the social organism of that residue which was infected by violence. Without such elimination, society turns into a huge cancerous growth. Through forgiving, a person frees primarily him or herself from the force of the law of vengeance. Just punishment of a criminal is needed not to satisfy the desire for vengeance, but so that other people do not suffer from an unpunished criminal.

In South Africa in the XX century they succeeded in almost ideally uniting both principles – the rule of law and Christian forgiveness. There the non-violence nature of the dismantling of the system of Apartheid was ensured not by corridor deals, as the result of which the main criminals were absolved of responsibility, but by open dialogue with the people, through which the latter understood the need for total cleansing. An all-nationality Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created whose members were people of unblemished moral authority. The Commission accepted voluntary testimony-confessions from those whose conscience was burdened by some crime. The fact of having made such open confessions released a person from further punishment, whereas the lack of will to voluntarily repent testified to a criminal remaining dangerous to society, and therefore needing to face the court. The success of the South African Commission was based on the fact that a reasonably effective legal mechanism was created for moral purification of the human conscience. Having voluntarily made a confession and received forgiveness from those authorized by the people, a person not only ceased to fear for his or her safety, but could also confidently take the side of good. There was no need to fearfully hold on to the criminal system of Apartheid since the past was not hanging over him or her, and the person gained the moral right to begin life with a clean slate. Each person who knows the relief of a cleared conscience will understand what spiritual strength is thus released.

What objectives did you set yourself at the time?  Has your idea of freedom changed since then?

I will not try to pretend by formulating now some kind of specific aims that I supposedly had then. I wanted truth and I wanted to live with self-respect. In this I managed to find enough courage in myself to not abandon those wishes when the instinct for self-preservation spoke out loudly. The rest was achieved by the servants of the system whose actions followed a familiar principle: “When God wishes to punish a man, he takes away his reason”. As far as my perception of freedom is concerned, it has not changed. I paid too high a price for it to now doubt its value. With age however the feeling intensifies that freedom is unthinkable without responsibility. Without the latter it turns into arbitrary wilfulness. Those Ukrainians who gained freedom without experiencing a psychological need for it still need to learn this, and therefore treat it like children who become drunk on the “freedom” to torment a kitten with impunity.

What advice would you give a “new” generation defending human rights?

Human rights defence has absolutely clear dimensions, in the first instance legal, but also many others.  For example even the best public initiatives fizzle without proper financing. However this carries with it certain risks since the use of international grants at times can become too great a temptation for newly-fledged human rights defenders. It is important to understand that human rights protection is not a profession (even if you receive some kind of payment for your office work). Human rights defence is a state of the soul which makes as concerned about others’ suffering. The spiritual dimension is invisible, but definitive. However, if you really respond to the call of the spirit, then be prepared for sacrifice. The hardest is the “grant of the Heavenly Foundation” which unlike grants from international foundations carries with it not money, but suffering. You don’t need to fill in an application form – it is sufficient merely to be a source of good and to become a “prisoner” of conscience …

Please see for other responses to our questions and interviews

News from the CIS countries

Justice post factum: Russian court declares deportation of Muminov unfounded

On 29 November 2006 Judge of the Tverskoy District Court in Moscow A.A. Sevalkin on a second review of the administrative case against Rustam Muminov under Article 18.8 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (violation by a foreign national of the regime for being in the RF) handed down a ruling terminating proceedings in the absence of a crime.

At the court hearing witnesses were questioned and documents studied confirming the unlawfulness of the previous ruling handed down on 17 October 2006 by Judge N.A. Makarova who took the decision to deport Muminov from Russia.

The court thus acknowledged that the “interdepartmental operation” involving subdivisions of the FSB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the prosecutor’s office of two subjects of the Federation – the Lipetsk region and Moscow on detaining baker Rustam Muminov, from the moment of his release from the Lipetsk SIZO [remand centre] on 29 September 2006 right up to his being handed over to the Uzbekistan authorities on 24 October 2006, was entirely unlawful.

It should be noted that Federal Judge Makaorova was obliged and able to study the same material and question the same witnesses, however failed to do so for reasons unknown at the present time.

The Human Rights Centre “Memorial” and the Civic Assistance Committee consider it necessary to seek to have this issue put before the relevant qualification panel since the ruling passed by Judge Makarova on 17.10.2006 to have Muminov extradited had grave, possibly irreversible, consequences for him.

Rustam Muminov, whose extradition was requested by the Uzbekistan authorities on fabricated charges of belonging to the party “Hizb-ut-Tahrir” [1], spent 6 months in the Lipetsk SIZO-1 and was released on 29 September after the Prosecutor General turned down the extradition request.

After the ruling on deporting Muminov because of his lack of registration, passed down by Judge Makarova, the European Court of Human Rights applied Rule 39 to halt Muminov’s deportation to Uzbekistan.

Nonetheless the Russian Security Service carried out the deportation under the guise of administrative removal.

In parallel with the Muminov case events continued to develop on another case involving extradition of individuals requested by the Uzbekistan authorities.

On 28 November the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation upheld the decisions made by the RF Prosecutor General to extradite the “Ivanovo Uzbeks” still in Russia, where a halt on their extradition has been imposed by the European Court of Human Rights (cf.

If one considers these two cases together, the conclusion is clear that at the present time in issues involving extradition from Russia to Uzbekistan only those whose violated rights are no longer able to be “repaired” can hope for justice.

Yelena Ryabinina, Head of the Program to assist political refugees from Central Asia of the Civic Assistance Committee

[1]   Since there is no proof that Muminov was a member of the party, the issue needs no discussion here, but for those interested, a very good article is available by Alexander Verkhovsky “Is Hizb-ut-Tahrir (translator’s note)

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2006, #11