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.


Sniffing out political menus

A glance sideways at what is happening in Russia can do the world of good to those forlornly trying to hold on to their hopes for swift democratic reform in Ukraine.  Two electoral palates, so to speak, are being catered for.  We have one table, decked with all kinds of embellishments but no need for a menu, since what is on offer is fixed fare. And then there is another table infringing all rules of symmetry and order with its chaotic mishmash of different dishes. 

While the latter table will doubtless provide plenty to revive the energy and battered spirits of tired voters, a few words of warning are nonetheless required.  If we were dogs, now, all would be well – a sniff at each plate, and the relevant choice would be clear. No indigestion, no unfortunate, shall we say, consequences. 

For humans, however, the problems are greater.  Political dishes do not obligingly stink when they’re off or when the appearance is cunningly deceptive. 

We need, therefore, to be able to trust the menu.  With due respect to all the chefs, one would prefer an outside opinion.  Not unexpectedly here we also find complete mishmash. Dogs, it should be remembered, also sniff and otherwise assess strangers. Without their olfactory skills, we are entitled to make certain demands on those issuing us with the menu details.

We need to be clear who is providing the information; why we are receiving it now; and sometimes why, when any idiot can understand that it’s inedible, a dish is still on offer.

It would seem clear enough and legislation has chewed over what is or is not campaigning, what can only be written by agreement (or do we mean conspiracy?) with a political faction. Unfortunately, however, over the last month certain items in media outlets have exuded, shall we say, a certain unpleasant odour.

An example of attention to strange smells is provided by the journal and website “Telekritika”*.  In the course of programme monitoring during August, the Chief Editor Natalya Ligachova reports noticing a number of unknown journalists on certain channels.  After a news feature presented by Irina Boiko, Ivan Dryhailo and Tatyana Kudiyenko on “1 + 1” aroused certain suspicions, “Telekritika” wrote to the director in charge of the channel asking to meet “Irina, Ivan and Tatyana”.  The verbal answer received was that each journalist is entitled to use a pseudonym, and the director has no right to impose any other restrictions on them.  Natalya Ligachova leaves it to her readers to decide how convincing such an explanation is. For those who read the article, the conclusion would indeed seem clear. 

Those au fait with the journalist corps on different media outlets, with the names of institutes taking public opinion surveys and specialists in different areas are unlikely to be duped.

They are, unfortunately, in the minority  A white coat on an advertisement for toothpaste makes all too many of us convinced that the nice dentist (with white teeth!) recommending such goods is to be trusted.  When the difference between one tube of toothpaste and another is basically in the packaging, perhaps we can live with such deception. Here, excuse me, dazzling smiles are not enough.. 

We receive the results each week of public opinion polls from institutes few of us have heard of.  We are seldom given information about the institutes, including how long they have existed and what kind of reputation they have. The details which are provided makes little clear, yet the headlines reporting such “findings” present the latter as fact.

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of reports on Internet sites quoting “human rights activists”. No names, no organizations, and yet the news story is carried from one site to another, also as fact.  If the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union or other reputable organizations have concerns, they express them clearly and with no need for anonymity.  It should be made clear to journalists that vague references, whether they be to ”human rights activists”, “specialists”, or other invisible bodies are acceptable in headlines, but must somewhere be substantiated

The migration of news reports is also worrying.  News travels, and it would be unrealistic to expect each media outlet to scrupulously check each item it presents.  However, if it does not do so, then it must quote the original source.  The first outlet which takes somebody else’s story does indeed normally quote the source.  By the third, or at best, fourth “stop” on the migratory route, the trail has normally vanished.

We would also mention cases recently where information originated far from party or political bloc headquarters, but from sources we should be able to trust.  Since the end of July, the Ministry of Justice’s official website has twice presented upbeat conclusions about alleged improvements, one regarding the number of low-income families in Ukraine, and the other – applications to the European Court of Human Rights from Ukrainian nationals.  Both were based on information which was not entirely accurate, certainly incomplete and interpreted in a manner which would elicit doubts as to professional competence, if other suspicions were not also aroused. 

It is frustrating to see how these reports are swallowed whole, and most definitely without a preliminary sniff or two, by many Ukrainian media outlets.

Over the last two and a half years Ukraine has made significant progress as far as freedom of speech and of the press is concerned.  This is particularly to be valued given the disturbing developments in neighbouring Russia and Belarus.  Greater freedom brings with it more types of insidious manipulation and, unfortunately, more opportunities for attracting venal journalists and others for such dirty business.

Most importantly, however, it comes also with greater responsibility.  The freedom of speech and right to information affirmed - and won – on Maidan [during the Orange Revolution] must not be held hostage to greedy journalists and “specialists” of different ilk.

Legislative guarantees exist but they can, if the will is there, be manipulated. One can also, given the will or the greed, destroy all the achievements so hard-gained by Maidan.

I would therefore ask all journalists whose professionalism and integrity we must be able to trust to voluntarily reject the use of pseudonyms, manipulative tactics and all that puts them to shame and places in jeopardy fair and objective coverage of the coming elections.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group


*  The report (in Russian and Ukrainian) is available at .

**  and  Comments from KHPG on these are available in English at: and


Committee of Voters calls new electoral norm undemocratic

The Committee of Voters of Ukraine has supported the President’s submission to the Constitutional Court to have the amendments to the Law on the Election of National Deputies reviewed. According to the changes, voters who have gone abroad and do not return within three days of the elections are taken off the voter register.

CVU spokesperson Oleksandr Chervonenko considers the changes to be undemocratic. He believes the norm on removing people’s names from the list if they haven’t returned within three days of the voting to restrict people’s rights. In his words, “This norm is undemocratic, violates the electoral rights of people who will return to the country on election day and find that they’re not on the list”.

For this reason the CVU has supported the President’s submission asking for the Constitutional Court  to judge on the constitutionality of the norms.  The submission suggests that removing voters from the lists is a direct restriction of their constitutional rights and contravenes Articles 38, 64, 70 and 71 of the Constitution.

These amendments were introduced to fight vote-rigging with relatives being allowed to cast votes for labour migrants. However most of these left Ukraine before the register on the border carried out by the State Border Service began, and they will therefore not be affected by the new norms, and their relatives will be able to use the absent person’s passport to vote in their name.

On the other hand, people who returned from a business trip or holiday could, Oleksandr Chervonenko states, be prevented from voting.

Simplified procedure for voting at home encourages vote-rigging

Despite objections from the opposition, the Central Election Commission has decided to simplify the procedure for home-voting. The Head of the Board of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] Ihor Popov considers that this decision “creates the temptation” to rig the election results at local level.

Mr Popov believes that it is unlikely that home-voting could seriously change the overall outcome however in some regions it will add 3-5 percent to interested parties. The mechanism for election fraud, he says, is very simple. As a rule, there are 20-30 applications from so-called home voters, and if voting attendance is 60-70 percent, you can “write another 100 applications, go out, chuck out those voting papers, sign, and then whistle for them”

Mr Popov says that the CVU does not plan to monitor the number of people voting without personally appearing at the polling station. Such abuses are impossible to prove, you need to catch them “red handed”, as in 2004.

The bloc Nasha Ukraina – Naroda Samooborona [Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence] had insisted that only people physically unable to come to a polling station, providing the relevant documents, should be able to vote at home.

Tell us who we’re electing

The Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) has pointed to inadequate information regarding candidates in the elections and the risk that the work of the Central Election Commission will be blocked.

At a press conference on Friday 10 August the Head of the CVU Board Ihor Popov reported some of the findings from the Committee’s monitoring of the beginning of the election campaign.

He said that the Central Election Commission )CEC) was presently unable to approve a model application for home voting since the Commission’s members could not agree on voters providing documents confirming their inability to vote at a polling station.  For this reason, given the experience of previous election campaigns, the CVU considers that such “home voting” could become a means for vote rigging and calls on the CEC to agree norms by which voters can declare that they cannot get to a polling station.

Mr Popov also stated that the CVU cannot exclude the possibility that problems will arise in forming district electoral commissions due in the first instance to the lack of time for preparation. He nonetheless said that they hoped all would pass without obstruction.

The CVU is, at the same time concerned that in eastern regions of the country, the heads of the commissions may be members of the Party of the Regions, while in western regions their opponents might head the commission, despite the requirement for parity.

They also call for political parties to place biographies of candidates for National Deputy and information about their income in party publications and on party websites accessible to the public.

According to CVU information candidates have been put forward by political forces in free and open fashion and no obstructions to holding the congresses have been recorded. However the procedure for discussing and placing candidates on the lists remains insufficiently democratic and members of the parties, as well as the general voter, do not have enough information about people being put forward.

The CVU also expresses concern that the campaigning is going on even at times when official election campaigning is prohibited, and public officials are taking part in it during working hours.

They also consider that the beginning of the BYuT [Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko] campaign for a referendum on changes to the Constitution is unacceptable since in the present legal conditions it is impossible to carry out all procedure for holding a referendum before 30 September 2007.

The right to a fair trial

On interpreting statistics

According to the Minister of Justice, the number of low income Ukrainians needing free legal aid has decreased. And not just a little … The Minister believes that in comparison with 2005, the number of such citizens in 2007 has decreased by at least one third.  

The reason for this somewhat startling conclusion is to be found in the Ministry’s reporting on State-funded legal assistance in criminal cases.

The Minister explains this “achievement” as follows:

In recent years the State Budget has annually allocated 1960.9 thousand UAH for legal aid in criminal proceedings.

Now whereas in 2005 the Ministry actually paid out 2337 thousand UAH in 1927 criminal cases, in 2006 – 163,7 thousand UAH in 1,591 criminal cases, in the first half of 2007, lawyers presented bills to be paid amounting to 48,6 thousand UAH in 512 criminal cases.

The Minister stated that these statistics were a fairly objective indicator since money is paid out according to lawyers’ bills.

Only what does the indicator indicate?

Nobody is disputing the statistics, only the quantum leap made in determining a radical change in the number of people who need legal aid.

The situation with legal aid in Ukraine is, in fact, highly unsatisfactory.  The Constitution clearly states that “Everyone has the right to legal assistance. Such assistance is provided free of charge in cases envisaged by law” (Article 59).  At present, however, State funding is only allocated for legal aid in criminal proceedings.

The amounts allocated are far from adequate, and yet in most regions they are not spent in full.  This is not the paradox it may seem.  A lawyer working for a full day providing such legal aid earns the princely sum of 15 UAH (around 3 USD).  Not only is this amount less than reasonable remuneration, but the lawyer needs to spend a considerable amount of time, paper and nerves to extract his or her honest earnings.  This may explain why the number of lawyers rearing to offer their services in some areas leads to money available and not spent.

It unfortunately also probably explains why the quality of legal aid is not always as could be wished. One need not necessarily criticize mercenary lawyers – they may simply be forced to deal with too many cases to themselves make ends meet.

The Minister of Justice would be well advised to view the work of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group’s Legal Aid Centre for Victims of Ill-treatment or the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s Legal Assistance Fund for Victims of Human Rights Abuse.  While these are more specific in their focus, the human rights groups have found no reason to believe that the need in society for free legal aid has diminished.

Freedom of conscience and religion

Disturbing rise in anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Zhytomyr

Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Azriel Khaikin has addressed a letter to main government bodies with regard to constant incidents involving anti-Semitism in Zhytomyr.

The letter, sent to the President, Prime Minister, Prosecutor General and others, speaks of incidents being of a regular nature in the city. Jewish believers complain of insults, anti-Semitic graffiti, vandalism against them and their buildings of worship. 

The letter expresses the deep concern of Ukraine’s Jewish community over the situation in the city and says that religious Jews in Zhytomyr feel under constant threat.  There have been three serious assaults in the last year, with two involving serious injuries. The last was this month (August) in which the Rabbi and his wife were both assaulted.

“The Zhytomyr authorities either do not want or are unable to maintain safety and harmony between different ethnic and religious groups in the city. The police, while taking some steps towards patrolling the area near the Synagogue are not able to seriously counter anti-Semitic gangs. The Security Service [SBU] avoids investigating these incidents and the activities of anti-Semitic and xenophobic gangs in the Zhytomyr region. The passiveness of the authorities and their inability to counter harassment, insults and physical assaults on members of the Jewish community is extremely disturbing”

The letter calls on Ukraine’s leaders, the authorities of the region, civic organizations and the international community to demand that all such actions are thoroughly investigating, that the appropriate authorities in the region take firm steps to stop anti-Semitic and xenophobic acts, and that those committing them are fully punished.

“As the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, the spiritual leader of Jews in our country, I would like to call on believes of all faiths and religious movements to actively fight any expressions of xenophobia.  This is the duty of each person recognizing the authority of the Creator. Xenophobia and anti-Semitism are crimes not only against society, but against the Lord. I call on all religious leaders and representatives of the intellectual and political elite to categorically condemn xenophobia and to call on the authorities to eradicate it”.

On refugees

“Green card” for Lemma Susarov?

The Kyiv migration office has issued Chechen asylum-seeker Lemma Susarov with a document confirming his status as a person whose application for refugee status is being processed. The document is valid until 30 October 2007.

Lemma Susarov’s lawyer Oleh Levytsky informed journalists of this today. Mr Levytsky mentioned that a picket had been held on Friday outside the Prosecutor General’s office calling for the decision to extradite his client to Russia to be revoked. Mr Levytsky added that the defence would also be appealing against the refusal by the Pechersky District Court to consider the lawyer’s appeal against the extradition ruling.

Lemma Susarov fled from the Chechen Republic to Azerbaijan at the end of 2005. In 2006 the UNHCR office in Baku declared him a prima facie refugee, issuing him with registration number 6030. Number 6032 was given to Ruslan Yeliyev from the same village. According to Lemma Susarov, the two men lived in the same flat. In the evening of 9 November 2006 Ruslan Yeliyev was abducted. Fearing for his life, Lemma Susarov fled to Ukraine.

At the end of March this year, a Chechen website “Kavkaz Centre” posted a report saying that the mutilated body of Ruslan Yeliyev had been dropped in a sack from what was believed to have been a Russian helicopter near the village he was from. The Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Republic of Ingushetia declared Lemma Susarov wanted. He was accused of an armed robbery of a shop allegedly carried out on 5 February 2004.

On 27 July the Ukrainian Prosecutor General sanctioned Susarov’s extradition to Russia. On 6 August the Kyiv Court of Appeal passed a ruling to remand him in custody pending the final decision on extradition. On 23 August, as mentioned, the Pechersky District Court refused to review the appeal against the extradition ruling brought by Susarov’s lawyer.

There has been considerable attention from human rights activists to this case. An appeal was also sent to the Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko by the Human Rights Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova.


Civic society

UNIAN Human Rights initiative

The UNIAN Press Agency has announced the launching of a new weekly bulletin “UNIAN - Human Rights”.

At a press conference on 7 August, the UNIAN General Director Valery Nechyporenko explained that over the next six months until February 2008, the agency will be issuing the weekly providing information and analysis. It will gather, process and analyze information on the human rights situation in Ukraine and provide coverage on the work of human rights organizations and public councils attached to State ministries and departments. It plans to circulate this information via the central and regional mass media.

A special website is to be created with a focus on legal issues where human rights groups’ news will be presented in a popular, accessible and interesting form.

On a monthly basis UNIAN will be holding press conferences and roundtables on the issues of the project where key aspects of Ukraine’s development as a law-based and civic state will be presented for the consideration of the public and the media.

The Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Volodymyr Yavorsky warmly welcomed the initiative, calling it pioneering and noting that up till now the media had not highlighted human rights issues.

Yevhen Bystrytsky, Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation pointed out that Ukrainian politicians were not creating conditions for the development of civic organizations and a civic society which could demand accountability from the authorities. He therefore stressed the importance of this opportunity for civic organizations to inform the public about their work via the media.

The Editor of the new weekly Tetyana Pechonchyk explains that during the project UNIAN will be promoting legal knowledge among the public, as well as among the management and editorial staff of media outlets and popularizing the ideas and norms of a law-based society in the mass media. The latter will receive a channel of proactive, accurate and accessible legal information, particularly with regard to the work of human rights organizations and public councils which is at present much needed.

From information provided by the UNIAN Press Agency

Point of view

In Defence of National Dignity

We all carry on our shoulders the immense weight of our colonial and totalitarian past. For more aware individuals this is a cause of sorrow and shame. For some, it is the sweet habit of slavery. Slaves have, after all, from time immemorial, been drawn to idol worship and coercion.

How in the twentieth century they destroyed the monuments to old idols and how they built others to the new leaders while the latter were still alive could be the subject of an interesting study. There were always arguments enough for destroying idols. However for constructing new ones it sufficed to have a few sycophantic and venal voices and nobody would dare to give any balanced arguments. This “democratic” slave tradition – “listening to voices from the masses”, promoted by those “from above” is, unfortunately, still alive. We have not freed ourselves of it.

It’s not difficult to guess who in the twenty first century is trying to muddy the waters; who is clutching at the past and trying to resurrect the ousted idols of the Russian Empire. It is absurd to suggest that anybody even remotely aware of what Catherine the Great was like could want to erect a monument in her honour. It would be enough to buy a statue and put it on your table.

However when you try to speak in our name and resurrect that monstrosity for us, then it’s not generally hard to see a devious purpose – to spread division and discord between people and to quash their yearning to clear away the mire and purify themselves.

It’s enough to gather opinions of her from prominent figures in Russia still in Tsarist times to understand that you won’t resurrect such corpses by democratic means. Only cunning and treachery, as well as disregard for the peoples she harmed, as well as disrespect for the Ukrainian State, prompts those voices, prodded as they are by financial support.

Evil spirits do not only protect the monuments to the organizers of the Bolshevik Terror and Holodomor [the Famine] of 1932-1933.  They want to obscure the heavens for people with their loathsome symbols of violence, pillaging and dissipation. There are millions of us, ordinary people with normal concepts. Yet they have always been convinced that an organized and well-financed gang can cut into the people’s body like a knife in the back. Then the logic of a fait accompli takes over.

With this letter I am calling on all my fellow citizens to self-purification.  I mean by this not polluting our own environment, and not poisoning the atmosphere for others with putrid fumes.

A lot of people in Ukraine and in the West are musing over the inadequacy of our political elite who in our rich Ukraine could achieve such poverty for its people. However not many consider looking to see what various persecutors – Party members, and now “builders of the State” – are up to. Their destructive way of thinking has not changed. They can’t deport the Crimean Tatars again, yet they are not capable of thinking about how to return people their freedom.  Heads like theirs can only come up with limited ideas for placing a loathed symbol above people’s heads instead of building a device for turning solar energy into electricity.

If you can’t love your neighbour, then at least don’t harm him with violence, ill deeds and foul language. The environment is either good for us all, or harmful for us all. As a rule it is those who harm the environment who are first poisoned. And it doesn’t happen that a fiend reaps good crops. Put your statues of tsars on the table, play your crass music through your headphones, but don’t shame yourselves before people, before the whole world on the squares of our cities. People, have respect for one another!

In a country where there is no monument and not even graves for millions of our people – victims of a State-induced Holodomor, millions of victims of State Terror, slaves erect monuments to the founder of serfdom!

How have our people remembered her? Mainly through her physiological activities. As Alexander Pushkin put it “and died, getting onto a [toilet] pan”. The Ukrainian people have called toilets in prisons after her [katerynki]. She was a grandiose symbol of dissolution. And that’s really not enough for immortalizing her name?  Now the post-communist slaves both in Simferopol and in Odessa now want to immortalize her in our hearts in Lenin’s place. Maybe they’re hoping to foist on the peoples of independent Ukraine some sense that serfdom is for ever?


Yevhen  Sverstyuk , prominent Ukrainian writer, philosopher and former political prisoner, was born on 13 December 1928 in the Volyn region.   He has written many books and numerous essays and articles on literature, psychology, philosophy, and religion, as well as translations from German, English and Russian. He is a laureate of the Shevchenko State Prise, and the International UNESCO Award. In Ukraine and in the West he has been known since the 1960s as a participant in the national liberation movement, and was one of the organizers of Ukrainian “samvydav” [samizdat].  He spent 12 years in the Soviet labour camps and in exile for his literary works, in particular for his book “Sobor u ryshtovanni” [“The cathedral under scaffolding”] (Paris, 1970).  He is presently editor of the National newspaper “Nasha Vira” [“Our Faith”], and is also the President of the Ukrainian PEN-Club, and a co-organizer of the civic organization “Hromadyanska pozitsiya” [“Civic Stand”]. 

Please see  for more details about Yevhen  Sverstyuk ’s life

No “Managed Truth”

Collisions between beliefs and reality are rarely painless and the temptation to stay with untried, untested, but painless assumptions is strong. The bruises can, however, on occasion protect from worse mistakes.

All my critical reflexes, encapsulated in one warning bell “Not so simple!” were temporarily suspended when I heard of the opening (in fact, renaming) of a Museum of Soviet Occupation in Kyiv.  On top of the unifying force of shared rejection of a totalitarian monstrosity, there was the comfort of straightforward goodies and baddies, with us in the right roles.  

I owe a thank you to historian Yury Shapoval for a therapeutic mental shake-up.  Binary systems – occupier and occupied simply leave too many questions unanswered. A debate would seem to be gathering force in Ukraine on this issue* which can only be welcomed.

An opposite trend can be seen rising in full force in today’s Russia.  Of particular concern is the interest which the Kremlin is paying to the teaching of History and Social Studies. Two manuals for teaching these subjects have recently received Putin’s personal stamp of approval presenting a picture of Soviet history entirely in accord with that of the ex-KGB agent.  Stalin is presented as the “most successful Soviet leader”, and Putin himself speaking before teachers in June, acknowledged the Terror only to state that “other countries had done much worse things”.

This, ironically, was virtually verbatim what I heard two years ago from a Ukrainian SBU [Ukrainian Security Service] official waiting while I read my grandfather’s NKVD file.  I was certainly not in a fit state for political argument, the woman seemed harmless enough, and I suppose I was aware that from her position some kind of justification felt needed.  Two years later, seeing where such “justification” has led Russia, I feel less certain that even in such circumstances one should remain silent.

We all hate feeling that we were wrong.  Presumably the greater the mistake and the more irreversible its consequences, the greater too becomes the urge to turn to easy “readjustment” of the camera lens. 

The louder, I would suggest, should sound that warning bell within us.  

None of us is immune, and few are not implicated in the wish to provide historical truth in comfortable doses.  One problem which did not, unfortunately, end with the collapse of the Soviet Union was the tendency to tolerate ideas and behaviour from those who shared our aversion of a totalitarian regime seeped in bombastic propaganda, hyperbole and lies. The truth was seen as all too quiet and modest without counter-embellishments.

On certain subjects, most particularly that of the resistance from the Ukrainian Resistance Army [UPA] and Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN] during the Second World War and in the first post-War years it was next to impossible either in Ukraine or within the Diaspora to read historical studies not coloured by the author’s own ideology.

It is cheering, therefore, to find historians unwilling to be imprisoned in ideological constraints.  It is at the same time galling to see how easy it is to slip into such straightjackets.

In this, I believe, we are all implicated.  Yes, those who actively suggest concealing the truth, as recently and outrageously we heard from the Head of the State Archive Committee** are, I believe, especially culpable, and I would suggest that a review of Ms Ginsburg’s right to hold her present position be made as a matter of urgency.

The malaise unfortunately leaves few uninfected. How many of us, knowing how ready the world was to ignore Holodomor, do not stay with higher figures for the number of victims even though we suspect the numbers were lower?  As though such “bookkeeping” had anything to add to the general judgment of that monstrous evil! 

It is easy to understand the automatic habit of trusting those who opposed the Soviet regime, of seeing their resistance the fight of good against evil. I am not for a moment suggesting any particular group or individual could not be trust, yet such simplistic oppositions leave, whether consciously or not, far too much out of the picture.

If we assume that it was Russians against Ukrainians, then we either rewrite the history books or we relegate the many Ukrainians who supported the Soviet regime to the category of “bad” or “the wrong” Ukrainians. .

Similarly, if the UPA were heroes, then those resistance fighters who behaved less than nobly are quietly expunged from the history books, as were, albeit for different motives,  “enemies of the people” during the Terror.  And those who fought against the Nazi occupier in the Soviet Army also become “”the wrong” Ukrainians.

Add religious conflict, “the wrong church”, the “wrong political views”, the “wrong” language, and numbers of “bad” or “wrong” Ukrainians should sound alarm bells.  

The need to distinguish between “us” and “others”, with only you know who recognized as being right, may have advantages for survival as a species, but it remains, in my view, one of human beings’ most dangerous instincts. 

It becomes acutely threatening in a historical context as tragically complex as that of Ukraine over the last hundred years.

Warning bells must ring every time any answer blurs this complexity, every time the camera’s focus is aimed at either concealing spots or highlighting them.  Ukrainian history books, especially those for educational institutions need to spurn any narrow ideology and any totems, too sacred or frightening to mention aloud   This, I believe, is imperative in the light of certain trends among Ukraine’s neighbours. We cannot speak of honouring the memory of all innocent victims if we allow the return of lies.


* Yury Shapoval’s article Reproducing a real tragedy or politicizing history? can be found in English at See also historian Stanislav Kulchytsky’s Was Ukraine under Soviet occupation?

** cf. So who doesn’t want the truth?

Victims of political repression

SBU declassifies documents about political repression in Ukraine

On 27 August Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] presented its book “Memory Declassified. Holodomor 1932-1933 in the documents of the GPU-NKVD”.  It also made public declassified documents about political repression in Ukraine during the Soviet period.

The presentation took place in the course of a roundtable held at the SBU headquarters and attended by historians, legal specialists, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, Ukrainian organizations abroad and others.

The Acting Head of the SBU Valentin Nalyvaichenko stressed that at the present time there could be no secrets, subjects hushed up or distorted on issues concerning political repression.

“The Ukrainian Security Service is opening up to the Ukrainian public and the international community all material it holds on this issue and calls on researchers, historians and all concerned members of the public to work with them”.

Mr Nalyvaichenko said that according to preliminary estimates the NKVD had arrested 279 thousand people in Ukraine from 1937-1939. Of the overall number of people arrested just in 1937, 53% were Ukrainians, 18.8% - Poles; 10.2% - Germans; 8% - Russians; Jews – 2.5%.

He also said that in preparing the publication, SBU staff had processed 1,314 volumes of operational statistical reporting by State Security bodies on the repressions. At present almost 500 criminal cases are being studied.

Answering questions from journalists, Mr Nalyvaichenko stated with regard to the repressions that “it was a planned mass campaign, a planned crime against humanity”. He said that the Ukrainian Security Service answered only for their archives, “we are telling the full truth”.

He added in this context that SBU had sent official requests for information to their colleagues in the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan.  They have already received a response from the Kazakhstan Security Service providing a list of Ukrainians forcibly moved to Kazakhstan. As regards the central archives of the Russian Federation, the SBU is planning in the near future to hold negotiations with their Russian colleagues in order to receive the relevant documents from the latter. “For this reason our archives testify to only a part of this tragedy”, Mr Nalyvaichenko explained.


Ukrainians honour the Victims of the Terror in the Sandarmokh Clearing and on Solovky

The Ukrainian delegation which took part in the Days of Remembrance at Sandarmokh and Solovky in the Russian Federation returned to Kyiv on 11 August. Their journey which began on 1 August covered over 5,000 kilometres mostly by coach and then by boat.  They took part in all the memorial events to mark the seventieth anniversary of the unleashing of what we now know as the Great Terror on 5 August 1937. The delegation took with them historical material from the Kyiv branch of “Memorial”.

Delegations have been travelling to the Medvezhogorsk district even since 1997 when the secret graves of victims were uncovered. Hundreds of Ukrainians have since made that journey to Sandarmokh, many of them relatives of those executed there. The coordinator of these trips, former political prisoner Vasyl Ovsiyenko took part this year also, together with former political prisoners Hryhory Kutsenko, Valery Kravchenko and Hryhory Hayovy, There were also relatives of those murdered, as well as Eric Yatskevych who was himself born on Solovky.  There were also a number of representatives of civic organizations including Kyiv Memorial, the All-Ukrainian Association for Political Prisoners and Victims of Repression and others. 

Of particular note is the fact that this was the first year that the expedition was led by the Head of the Ukrainian Institute for National Remembrance Oleksandr Polonsky who was assisted in organizational matters by his colleague Irina Boltasova.  In accordance with the President’s Decree of May this year, the expedition was fully financed for the first time by the government.

On 5 August delegations from Ukraine, different regions of Russia, and representatives of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Sweden and Estonia took part in the Remembrance Ceremony. President Yushchenko’s address (see the links below) was read out.  A ceremony was also held at the granite Cossack Cross which has stood in the Sandarmokh Clearing since 2004.  Yury Dmitriev from St Petersburg largely thanks to whom the graves were discovered spoke at the ceremony and passed for the Institute for National Remembrance “Remembrance lists of Karelia”, as well as his own personal research material.

The Sandarmokh Clearing holds the last earthly remains of (at very least) 1111 Solovky prisoners Many were members of the intelligentsia of almost all nations of the USSR imprisoned on Solovky.  Among them were 290 Ukrainians.  Labelled  “Ukrainian bourgeois nationalists”, those murdered included the neo-classic poet and professor of Kyiv University  Mykola Zerov, the creator of the theatre “Berezil” [“March” Les Kurbas, the playwright Mykola Kulish; Anton. Ostap and Bohdan Krushelnytsky, the writers Valeryan Pidmohylny, Pavlo Filypovych, Valeryan Polishchuk, Oleksa Slisarenko, Myroslav Irchan, Hryhoriy Elik, Marko Vorony, Myhkailo Kozoriz, Mykhailo Yalovy;  the historians Academician Matviy Yavorsky, Professor Serhiy Hrushevsky; the scientists Stepan Rudnytsky, Mykola Pavlushkov, Vasyl Volkov, Petro Bovsunivsky, Mykola Trokhymenko; the founder of the Hydro-meteorological Service of the USSR, Dutch by origin,  Professor Oleksiy Vangenheim; the Minister of Finance of the Ukrainian SSR Mykhailo Poloz. 

The Ukrainian delegation also travelled to Solovky where they honoured the Victims at the Solovky Stone and to the beginning of the Belomor Canal.

Much abridged, but from material from the Kyiv branch of Memorial

The remains of Polish victims found in Bykivnya, but conflict continues over the search

The Council for the Preservation of Memorials investigative team has found another seven Polish graves of NKVD victims in the Bykivnya Forest near Kyiv. According to the Council’s Secretary Andrzej Przewożnyk, objects found near the remains suggest that these were Poles from the “Ukrainian execution list”.

Mr Przewożnyk asserted that the conflict over searches of the National Historical Memorial Reserve “Bykivnya Graves” do not concern their search which was agreed  with the Ukrainian inter-departmental commission.

As we have already reported, conflict between the Polish investigators and the Ukrainian Institutes concealed with rehabilitation of the victims of the War and political repression have led to the search being interrupted several times.

The present exhumation work began at the beginning of August however on 6 August a representative of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance arrived to protest that the actions of the inter-departmental commission were unlawful. Mr Krutsyk said that they had no complaints against the Polish investigators, but that they accused the inter-departmental commission of unlawful behaviour and said that such exhumations were being carried out with infringements of procedure and could be appealed against.

Information about the mass graves in Bykivnya only became public at the end of the 1980s. It is believed that the territory holds the last earthly remains of between 100 and 120 thousand victims of the NKVD. 

The Ukrainian authorities informed the Polish Institute for National Remembrance that the remains had been found of Polish officers taken prisoner after the USSR invaded Poland in 1939 and shot in 1940. Polish specialists began their investigations last year and have presently covered one and a half hectares of the territory.

The preliminary investigations have found 195 graves with the remains of NKVD victims, among them 21 common graves of Poles from the so-called Ukrainian execution list. According to Polish press reports the list contains almost 3.5 thousand Polish citizens, arrested by the NKVD in Western Ukraine.

Following an order from Lavrenty Beria from 22 May 1940 the Poles taken prisoner were taken to prisons in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson and executed in spring 1940.

The Polish newspaper reports that in the Ukrainian and Belarusian execution lists there were 7.3 thousand Poles.

From material published by UNIAN


Terror to plan

In this seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the Great Terror, it seems hardly appropriate to highlight any particular date.  Of course there are personal dates for those who know them, and by no means all do. On a larger scale, let historians decide which trials, executions or other atrocities “warrant” their attention.  It is not for us to judge the relative “value” of a human life, still less to determine by numbers.

And yet there are events which in their stark, unrelenting horror must stand apart and which cannot fail in these days to be remembered.

One began with a monstrous document issued by NKVD Head Nikolai Yezhov on 30 July 1937.  This specified the procedure, periods and scale of repressive measures against “anti-Soviet elements”. There were two categories – one facing execution, the other – labour camp for 8-10 years.

This Terror was unleashed on 5 August 1937, and all to plan.  That is, not simply the timing, but the number of “anti-Soviet elements” to be eliminated (shot), how many were to be sent to labour camp.

Tatyana Skrypnyk, member of the Kyiv Vasyl Stus “Memorial” Society comments: “Grotesque when you realize that these were quotas on repression. You have fixed amounts of construction material, things, but not human lives. They approached Stalin asking to increase the quotas, given the number of bourgeois nationalists in Ukraine, and generally enemies of the regime.  There are documents about this, raising the figure by 6,000.”

Such quotas also existed in the labour camps, as did those zealous to “over-fulfil the plan”.  1,111 prisoners from the Solovky Labour Camp were shot over three days in the forest clearing in Sandarmokh, in the south of Karelia.  290 of the victims were Ukrainians.

It is there this weekend that thousands of people will gather to remember their relatives and all victims of the Terror.

A group from Ukraine is already on its way there, for many this is an annual journey of remembrance. 

This year the International “Memorial” Society is also holding Days of Remembrance on 4 and 5 August at Sandarmokh to honour the memory of all victims of the Great Terror of 1937-1938.

Dissidents and their time

The Eternal Striving for Justice

You were one of the founders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group which recently [in November 2006] marked the thirtieth anniversary of its beginning. Tell us how the UHG started. What was the impulse for this major movement of resistance to a mighty totalitarian system?

We were united most of all by a sense that it was not possible to live any longer without protest. We couldn’t endure the hypocrisy of the regime and that it forced you (and closely controlled this) to declare your loyalty in all situations. All that was beyond any limits and then we saw Brezhnev, on behalf of the Soviet Union,  sign the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (the Helsinki Accords), which among other things carried the commitment to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He obviously couldn’t even guess that there would be people who would take those rights and liberties seriously.

And would hold to these words of the Final Act?

Yes, and in that way become a kind of litmus test which would show the whole world: “See, the Soviet Union signed this international agreement, yet our simple test is the activities of people who are informing the West about violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Accords. Their activities show that the Soviet system is against democracy and Brezhnev’s signature isn’t worth the paper it was written on!”

This was a form of self-sacrifice.

We were well aware that they wouldn’t let us work for long. When Oksana Meshko told Mykola Matusevych and I that the Helsinki Group was being organized, what its aim was and suggested we join, we understood that sooner or later this would lead to our arrest. However we were impressed by the idea of the Group, the idea of open opposition, an open declaration of our intentions and convictions.

We liked it not being an underground organization, but out in the open. We signed the Declaration on the creation of the Ukrainian Public Group to Promote the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords, giving our full names and addresses. In it we expressed our view as citizens of Ukraine about the human rights situation in our country and stated our intention to monitor how the Helsinki Accords were observed in Ukraine. We also put forward some specific demands to the Soviet authorities, on free access to information and opening consulates of other countries in Kyiv, as well as accreditation for foreign journalists.

Having taken this path, there was no turning back. If I refused, that would mean that I didn’t respect myself. If I was afraid to affirm my own dignity and fight for my rights, was I going to demand that others fight and make my life better?  I was 28 at the time. Losing your self-esteem at that age would mean making your whole life empty, accepting existence as a slave and total submission. A person who doesn’t respect himself cannot be a fully-fledged citizen. This is particularly felt by men and it is they who are most often crushed by loss of self-esteem.

I am glad that at that difficult time I made the right choice. There has not been a single day, not even during the worst times of persecution when I regretted my choice, still less now.

What was the main credo at the beginning of the UHG’s work?

It was upholding human rights. In our first Declaration there is nothing about the political system in the Soviet Union. We were defenders of human rights and we pointed to specific human rights violations.

If we wrote about the fact that, say, despite articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Helsinki Accord on freedom of movement, of conviction or of information, Ukrainian literary figures were being imprisoned in the Soviet Union because their works had been published in the West, then it was clear anyway that this was a totalitarian system.

As for the UHG members’ experience and how well they were prepared for political struggle, this varied. Levko Lukyanenko, for example, had already spent 15 years in the camps. He was imprisoned first for developing the notion of Ukraine’s legitimate secession from the Soviet Union. For the Soviet authorities that was a “crime” punishable by death. That was the sentence Lukyanenko received  [the sentence was commuted by the Supreme Court to 15 years – translator].

There were also people with a complicated background, like Mykola Rudenko, the founder of the Group. He had once been a Party activist, a committed communist mainly on the basis of idealism. When the deceit in the Soviet Union became overt, all his inner idealism made it impossible to accept it and prompted him to place in question the legitimacy of the regime from a human point of view.

Presumably this was similar for General Petro Grigorenko??

Definitely.  The move made by Mykola Rudenko and  Petro Grigorenko from one way of life to another was for us an example of moral behaviour.

However there were also those whom I’d say were politically inexperienced kids, like Mykola Matusevych and myself. I mean by this that we did not have political ideas or convictions. Well, we had what came from our upbringing, but no political affiliation or involvement at a professional level.

I don’t think members of the UHG were governed so much by any kind of political school, but rather by the eternal striving for justice, the same yearning which had previously governed the actions of many Ukrainians.  The idea of justice has in all ages changed people.

In this struggle for sublime human ideas was there no inter-ethnic tension between representatives of the Russian wing and human rights defenders of other nationalities? After all, it is common knowledge that Russian democratic thinking always ends when the issue of Ukrainian independence arises.

To some extent you’re right and Russian democracy is like that. Indeed, as soon as Russia’s territory began shrinking, there was an immediate decrease in their democratic thinking. However it was entirely different with those Russian democrats who had direct contact with Ukrainian dissidents. I must say that we are very grateful to the Moscow Helsinki Group. This was particularly evident during the 30th anniversary of the founding of the UHG marked in Kyiv.  One of the guests was Ludmila Alexeeva, founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group. You should have seen how warmly she was greeted by all the members of the UHG!

The members of the Moscow Group were special people. At that time they showed the highest commitment to democracy. Even if they considered that the Ukrainian Helsinki Group members were too involved in the national issue to the detriment of democratic ideas, they never tried to obstruct us in our contacts with foreign representatives. On the contrary, they did all that they could to organize such contacts, let us use their flats for such meetings as well as giving relatives of those in camps somewhere to stay when they came via Moscow to visit them. As Ludmila Alexeeva said in Kyiv, they knew that if the authorities in Moscow at least let the dissidents somehow exist, for Ukrainian dissidents it was like kamikaze, they were consciously sacrificing themselves. In Moscow they were genuinely concerned for us. You can neither forget nor belittle this sincerity, hence the warm words spoken at the anniversary.

Which well-known political prisoners from other nationalities did you meet in the camps and prison?

There were a lot. They didn’t call the camps the fourth International for nothing. I am grateful for many interesting acquaintances with Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Armenian and Georgian dissidents.

With regard to Russians, this was first of all Sergei Kovalev and Viktor Nikopelov (a Russian poet, no longer alive) whom I spent many days with in the punishment cells. Those two Russians meant a great deal to me.  Sergei Kovalev had a particularly acute human rights sense and was very well-versed in the mechanisms for defending human rights. I listened to his advice and recommendations. And Viktor Nikopelov who had spent some time in Uman and therefore had an understanding of Ukrainian issues always spoke with concern about Ukrainian matters.

  Russians sometimes even had to defend the Ukrainian national cause. I saw how Sergei Kovalev surrounded by any other prisoners argued with a local camp officer. The latter was arguing that members of the UPA [the Ukrainian Resistance Army] were criminals, while Kovalev demonstrated that they were normal fighters for freedom. Hearing that not from a Ukrainian, but from a Muscovite was a good argument for the need for such a struggle.

You can just imagine how hard it must have been for an officer of the punitive bodies to understand, hearing words in support of the armed struggle of the Ukrainian people against the communist regime.

In truth the officer simply couldn’t understand it. As he couldn’t understand what united Semyon Gluzman, who is Jewish, with fighters of the Ukrainian Resistance Army. The camp helped all those groups who seemed by inertia otherwise set against one another, to hear each other’s arguments. For the first time Ukrainians listened to Jews, and Jews listened to Ukrainians, and actually accepted each other’s arguments, and tried to find a rational core for mutual respect. The same applies to relations between Russians and Ukrainians.

The fact of shared suffering for our convictions was extremely important.  It’s one thing when some Russian monarchist living comfortably in the West plays with the idea of a Tsarist system. When a person goes through the camps believing that he’s right, when he pays for this with his freedom, then that is something quite different. I can then respect this person. Yes, I think differently, but he has paid for his convictions through suffering and I will accept him.

The camp taught us a great deal. It was an excellent life school, a school in respecting the human dignity in another individual. It was a second university.

Unfortunately today we sometimes forget this respect.

Following my thought further, I’d like to say that this school bore fruit at the beginning of the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union when some tried to speculate on the national issue and provoke inter-ethnic conflict. It was thanks to our camp experience that we were able, together with our Jewish friends, to organize several joint conferences in Ukraine, and later in Israel, at which we discussed for the first time in many years sensitive issues of our past history and looked for ways of resolving them together. They were truly amazing conferences and we were able then to reach a fairly good level of understanding. Unfortunately enthusiasm in Ukraine has waned making it possible to point to new problems arising.

Among the founders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, did all withstand the incredible pressure and repressions of the regime?

Among the ten founding members, there was only one who did not withstand this pressure. That was Oles Berdnyk. He was already serving his sentence, but didn’t hold out for long. He recanted, saying that those who remained in the UHG had been “duped by the West”, etc.  That was shown all around the country on television. Moreover, camp staff came to Ukrainian prisoners showing the text of his renunciation, saying “See?” You do the same, let that be an example”.  I didn’t understand whether he was simply working to get a pardon, repeating what they told him to say or whether there really had been some change in him.

True, now, when I remember that, although I would condemn his action, since it was very painful for us, at the same time I understand the immense pressure the whole State could exert on one individual or a few people and it was incredibly hard to withstand this. Oles Berdnyk had a family. I’m sure he wasn’t just thinking of himself, but of his children.

Although I must say that I know people who did nonetheless withstand the pressure. Oles Shevchenko was once summoned to the camp administration (and he hadn’t had a letter from home for a long time). They said: “Your wife is terminally ill. She only has a few weeks left to live. You must now decide your children’s fate. If she dies, we’ll put them in a children’s home. It will be different if you make a renunciation. It’s your choice”. I remember how he suffered in taking that decision. In his mind, he was dying with his wife and bidding farewell to his children. He didn’t make the renunciation however, he didn’t surrender. And it then turned out that it had all been a KGB ploy. Yet he effectively made the choice since he didn’t know this.

You understand, it would be difficult to judge a person in such situations. I can only say that Oles Berdnyk’s action was a source of great pain to me however it is for God to judge.

Did you meet Valery Marchenko in the camps?

Yes, we were both in the Perm Camp No. 37 at Kutchino for about half a year, although we were in different barracks (then incidentally in the same place of exile, but at different times). We were therefore pretty limited in possibilities for communicating, however I got to know him quite well and would say that he was an amazing person. I can mention one occasion that made an enormous impression on me.

We once planned a hunger strike for a particular date. A few days before it, Valery who had a serious kidney condition was taken to hospital in Perm and was beyond the camp channels of information. I don’t know remember what changed in the camp administration’s behaviour, but the camp prisoners decided to change the hunger strike to some other form of protest. A little later Valery returned and asked how the hunger strike had gone. We just gaped at him. And he asked again: “But didn’t you hold a hunger strike?”  Embarrassed, we began explaining that the circumstances had changed and that we’d chosen a different form of protest. Valery Marchenko says: “But I went on hunger strike, after all we’d agreed”.

We were in an awful situation. We’d forgotten that he knew about the planned hunger strike. And we had not even thought that a person of such honour, such innate integrity as Valery Marchenko would consider it his duty to go on hunger strike together with us even when nobody would know, and when he was extremely ill. Such things are simply incredible. That was the amazing dignity of a person whose moral calibre fills one with awe.

For a lot of people in Ukraine the symbol of patriotic struggle, at least at the end of the 1980s and 1990s, was Viacheslav Chornovil. Did you know him in the camps?  If he were alive today, would his presence be important for the democratic camp?

I was never in the same camp as him, although of course I knew a great deal about him both before my arrest, during my imprisonment, and later.

Unfortunately, any answer I give must be in the conditional. Viacheslav Chornovil died almost nine years ago. I believe in God’s Providence, and if it was His will to take Chornovil from us, maybe this means that the people need to find the source of their hope in themselves and not in a charismatic leader.

So this is in a way some kind of challenge, test for the people?

Maybe because we Ukrainians are used to revolt under a clear leader and this is a habitual form of reacting to various problems. We don’t however have experience of holding power achieved. You can’t gain these skills in an office or a library; you need to gain the ability through your own experience. …  Ukraine has for a long time been in a state of expectation, waiting for changes in political, economic and spiritual life. Unfortunately the changes don’t come as quickly as we’d like. Could there not come a moment when the people get sick of waiting and their protest breaks out like two years ago during the presidential elections?  And then the people’s rage will hurl us into some evolutionary development?

I don’t think that there will be a repetition. And if Ukraine now tried to repeat Maidan [the “Orange Revolution”], I’m almost certain that it would somehow be linked with aggression, and not so uplifting and pure. Maidan 2004 was unique and cannot be repeated.

  You are right nonetheless when you speak of some kind of pulsating impetus in our development. Over the last 15 years Ukraine has shown the world two wonderful moments when its spirit burst forth: the attaining of Independence in 1991 and the Orange Revolution. These were powerful passionary outbursts which set paradigms for the future. Having become presidents of an independent country, Kravchuk and Kuchma were forced to adopt the role of independent leaders.  Nor would I brush Maidan aside, or call it fruitless. It also set paradigms, and bore rich fruit. Just remember that Yanukovych recently sang, so to speak, arias from the opera “The Orange Revolution”. He articulated the Maidan rallying calls “East and West together!” and others. The benefit of the Orange Revolution lies at least in the fact that in the East of Ukraine they (I mean Yanukovych, Akhmetov and others) have to take that into account.

  As we know, after every surge, there is a slip back. However note that this is not back to the previous level but to somewhere higher, with the level of freedom in Ukraine rising each time. We do indeed endure things longer than other nations. I won’t mention the British or French, but not even the Poles would have put up with what Ukraine does (just look at the mockery over the Ukrainian language and culture in independent Ukraine. Yet I believe that there will be a moment of resistance when the Ukrainian people will refuse to let this force that has returned to power totally ride over it. I think that the spirit of the Orange Revolution is alive in us, only the people are still scrutinizing it and “chewing it over”. They will still have the final word. I don’t think that we will repeat Maidan, but I hope that we will repeat the non-violent nature of our protest. I hope that we don’t follow the Russian blind and blood-drenched form of revolt, and that this protest is pure as it has ready been twice. We chose independence through a democratic and unsullied path and Maidan took place in the same way. We affirmed our freedom very very honourably!

The Interviewer was Volodymyr Pavelchak, Chief Editor of the weekly “Time and Events” (Chicago)

Specially for “Universum”

[Slightly abridged]


Much more can be learned about Myroslav Marynovych, the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and the many other people mentioned here on our website

for example:

News from the CIS countries

Anna Politkovskaya’s colleagues do not agree with the Russian Prosecutor General

Russian Federation Prosecutor General Yury Chaika stated on Monday that the Kremlin’s foreign enemies are behind the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. However her former colleagues (from Novaya Gazeta) have carried out their investigation into her murder on 7 October 2006 and accuse Chaika of political games around the solving of the murder.

They accuse the Russian authorities of excessive politicization of the murder. Sergei Sokolov, Deputy Editor of Novaya told Radio Svoboda that he had no reason to believe the assertions made by Chaika about a foreign lead in the crime.  He believed that they had no substance, and that there were other possible versions which needed to be investigated professionally, and not as a political move.

On Monday the Prosecutor General announced that 10 suspects had been arrested. Chaika said that those accused of organizing and carrying out the murder included a Chechen criminal leader, a colonel of the FSB, a police major and three former police officers.

Sergei Sokolov stresses that the Prosecutor’s information partially coincides with the material which the newspaper has. He believes those arrested could indeed be implicated in the crime.

“We would not wish to disclose material of the criminal investigation or violate the right to presumption of innocence. Sergei Sokolov refused to name those who, according to Novaya’s information, are behind Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. 

He also stressed that the newspaper did not agree with Chaika’s allegations of foreign organization of the crime which the latter claimed was part of a conspiracy aimed at discrediting President Putin and destabilizing the situation in Russian before the elections. Sergei Sokolov also said that the Prosecutor General had effectively fully repeated Putin’s version which the later put forward immediately after the journalist’s murder. Putin said then that people hiding from the Russian law enforcement agencies had planned to sacrifice somebody in order to create anti-Russian feeling in the world.

Despite the fact that Chaika did not name the “Kremlin’s foreign enemies”,  one had the impression that he was pointing to one person – Boris Berezovsky, former Kremlin favourite and in recent times vehement critic of Putin. Berezovsky, who lives in London, called the suggestions “a hysterical reaction” to his opposition to Putin.

Anna Politkovskaya was an open critic of Putin and she chronicled the murders, abductions and torture of Chechen nationals. Her material aroused anger both in the Kremlin and among pro-Moscow leaders in Chechnya.  This was the main reason for her murder on 7 October 2006 in Moscow.

Thirty Belarusian opposition activists detained

Among those detained in Brest on 19 August is the youth leader Pavel Severinets.  According to information from Radio Svoboda,  the police acted during a presentation of three books which Severinets wrote during his period of imprisonment for organizing protest actions after the 2004 referendum which supposedly gave Lukashenko the right to stand for office indefinitely.

According to Severinets, the police appeared within half an hour of the beginning of the presentation, and detained all those taking part. Pavel Severinets commented that in today’s Belarus the division between the [penal] “zone” and life at liberty is gradually being eroded.

On 22 August those detained, barred the participants who are still minors, are to appear in court. They are charged with breaching public order and illegally holding a mass event. The politician himself was presented with a summons to the district department of internal affairs in Brest.

Alexander Lukashenko recently said that laws needed to be passed to stop “anarchy” on the Internet calling the latter the “mouthpiece of enemy voices”.

Russia’s FSB is finding “spies” everywhere

The Novosibirsk Regional Department of the FSB [Security Service] has launched a criminal investigation against two brothers working in the department of automated systems and information security of the Novosibirsk State Technical University. The case is under Article 283.1 of the Criminal Code (Divulging a state secret).

Somewhat unusually the brothers are accused of having divulged these secrets in a book they wrote under the (doubtless deceptively) innocuous title “The Institute of Applied Physics: scientific schools and technologies”. The publication was in fact sanctioned by the first department of the University, which checked it for disclosure of State secrets. However after the criminal investigation was launched, the entire print-run was removed.

According to some reports, the FSB objected to the mention in the book of the latest developments of the Institute with regard to optical and radio-electronic screens capable in the case of combat of making military technology invisible to the enemy.  The FSB has not given any official comment.

At the same time, the Head of the Glasnost Defence Foundation Alexei Simonov, the Executive Secretary of the Public Committee for the Defence of Scientists Ernst Cherny, the Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Alexeeva and the member of the Russian Academy of Scientists Yury Rykov have addressed an appeal to the Russian Prosecutor General. They call on him to “take measures to terminate this criminal investigation which is absolutely absurd for civilized society in view of the lack of any crime.”

The authors of the appeal point out that all the information given by the book’s authors about the institute is openly available. Furthermore, after leaving the Institute, the brothers did not have access to restricted information.

The letter also notes that the previous attempt by the Novosibirsk Department of the FSB to accuse a scientist of divulging State secrets had been a flop. They suggest that the FSB is taking some kind of revenge for that failure. In May of this year the case brought against the head of the Laboratory of the Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Combustion of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Oleg Korobeinychev was closed. He had been accused of passing on information about new types of hard rocket fuel to a Pentagon research centre. The case was terminated for lack of a crime, and the Prosecutor forced to apologize to the scientist.

The tone is somewhat more caustic however the information is from  

Readers may recall that the Novosibirsk FSB proved inexplicably “vigilant” also over the accusations against Taras Zelenyak for comments he may or may not have made on a Ukrainian forum site. It is to be hoped that this present absurdity is a geographically confined aberration, although in the Zelenyak case this seemed unlikely.  (Halya Coynash)  . 

Belarusian Solidarity Day – 16 August

In Belarus NOTHING has changed: the arrests still continue, political prisoners, including Alexander Kazulin, Dmitry Dashkevich, Artur Finkevych and others remain behind bars, the persecution of the opposition continues.

Only the press cameras have gone elsewhere.

On this 16th day of the month, remember those imprisoned and persecuted in Belarus.  Light your candles with people in Belarus and tell your politicians and media that by ignoring human rights abuse we are abetting it!

Ukrainian – Belarusian ACTION IN SOLIDARITY with the victims of political repression in Belarus – SOLIDARITY ON THE BORDER

Solidarnist activists will carry out an information picket at the border crossing between Belarus and Ukraine in the Chernihiv region.

The action is aimed at raising awareness about the real situation with human rights in Belarus among Belarusian nations, as well as Ukrainians, Russians and people from the Baltic States.

Those taking part will include Ukrainians from Kyiv and Chernihiv, as well as activists from Belarusian democratic groups from Minsk and Gomel.

The action, taking place today from 11.00 to 16.00 can be followed on the websites: та

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2007, #08