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.


President called on to help lift the seal on KGB archives

The Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance has called on President Yushchenko to ask the Russians “to declassify the KGB archives from the time of the Second World War, in particular as regards the activities of the OUN – UPA [the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Resistance Army], as well as the pseudo-Bandera-supporting groups of the NKVD”.

The appeal states that “Russian and Ukrainian historians on the basis of irrefutable historical facts must, finally, be able to turn the page over this issue.  The Institute of National Remembrance believes it expedient to publish specific names, facts and testimony linked with these events.

The letter also speaks of the need for parliament to pass a law “On the Ukrainian liberation movement of the 1920s – 1950s, and the status and social protection of its participants”. They suggest that the law should establish criminal liability for insults to resistance fighters.

The Institute of National Remembrance also suggests creating State educational programmes which “will tell the wider Ukrainian public and world community about the truth of the history of the creation and activities of the UPAQ”. Such programmes, they believe, should be financed by the government.

The letter appeals also to the management of Ukrainian media outlets to “stop the practice of professional ignorance when, with the help of experts nobody knows and compromised academics, some journalists, perhaps without realizing it, and in their youthful fervour to seek more dynamic stories, fuel intolerance in society and negative stereotypes of ethnic, ideological and cultural confrontation”.

The Institute also suggests establishing a competition for scripts of a television series on the events in Western Ukraine from 1939-1954., and seeking money “from Ukrainian sponsors to finance a film about the tragic, while heroic, page of Ukrainian history.”


The 2007 early parliamentary elections: a general assessment

It has already become commonly accepted that the 2007 elections were democratic, transparent, honest and fair. There was no wide-scale and systematic vote-rigging, the political factions managed to avoid confrontation and scandal, and those incidents which did occur were unable to influence the final result. While in general agreeing with this assessment, we would like to point out the shortcomings in these elections which were the result of a flawed law and which were therefore difficult to avert both in 2006 and in these early elections.

This applies firstly to discriminatory norms for voting solely according to where a person is registered. In order to avoid vote-rigging with absentee ballot papers, the legislators seriously restricted these in 2006 and in 2007 totally prohibited their use. This means that a large number of people who do not live and work where they’re registered could only vote by travelling to the relevant city or village. In terms of numbers, just in Kyiv various estimates put this figure at between four hundred to eight hundred thousand voters. Obviously the vast majority of these people simply did not vote.

Secondly, those who have been forced to go abroad to earn a living because they can’t find a job at home, and who are not registered at a consulate, i.e. illegal labour migrants lost their right to vote. One can not expect that any of them would specially travel home in order to take part in the elections. According to figures published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, from 2003 to the middle of September 2007 approximately 3.3 million Ukrainian nationals have left the country.

Thirdly, a fair number of people couldn’t vote if they went abroad after 1 August this year. According to Article 102-3 § 9 of the Law “On the elections”, the State Border Guard Service “submit information three days before the elections to district electoral commissions about people registered within the relevant administrative-territorial unit, … who have indeed crossed over the State border of Ukraine and at the moment that this information is being submitted are not known to have returned to Ukraine.”  Yet what do those who returned after 26 September do?  The law did not take care of their needs and effectively deprived them of their voting rights. The district commissions removed these people from the lists, and there was effectively no chance of being reinstated.  There were quite a lot of such people – according to observers in the Lviv region – up to 50 thousand, in the Luhansk and Kharkiv regions – as many as 40 thousand.  In some border districts, there were up to half of these, for example, in Berehovo in the Transcarpathian region. A lot of people didn’t find their names of the lists although they returned in August or the first half of September. Furthermore, border guards, in breach of this law, sent the information more than three days before the elections. for example, information was sent about 4,842 voters to the district commission of electoral district No. 173 on 23 September. A couple returned to Kharkiv from their holidays on 24 September. They checked on 26 September to see that they were on the list, and yet on 30 September their names were not there. At that polling station 19 people were removed from the list following information received from border guards, and 10 of them met up at the Dzherzhynsky District Court in Kharkiv. The court however refused to reinstate them. We could give many such examples. There were frequent cases where voters’ names were not on the lists although they had returned to Ukraine in the middle of September or in August.  In some areas the district electoral commissions drew up supplementary lists to give those removed from the basic lists on information from border guards the chance to vote. For example, the district commission of electoral district №109 (Severodonetsk) on 30 September allowed 6 thousand voters who had been excluded from the lists for this reason to vote if they came themselves to the polling station. However the Luhansk District Administrative Court declared this decision unlawful, admittedly, already after the elections.

Fourthly, the quality of the lists was extremely low and much worse than in 2006. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine estimates that due to shortcomings in the voter lists around 1.5 million citizens (including those removed because of information from the Border Service) may have been deprived of their right to vote. This was linked with the fact that working groups for drawing up registers, creating within bodies of local self-government and district administrations used as their basis old lists from 2006 or even 2004.  This resulted in the lists containing many “dead souls”, people who had in fact died, or others who had moved, etc.  Young people who had only recently turned 18 were also not added. There were also a lot of problems with lists over the use of unchecked software to try to make a kind of electronic database of voters, as well as with the insufficient training of staff. This software often identified one and the same person as two different people which resulted in a large number of doubles. 44 thousand such look-alikes (around 4 %) were found in the Kharkiv region and around 5 thousand in Sevastopol (approximately 3%).  In 2006 these mistakes were ironed out in the Central Election Commission [CEC ] and in regional commissions, however at the 2007 elections this thankless task was placed on the shoulders of district and local commissions. .  And then it all depended on the will and effort of members of these commissions. A large number of the most obvious mistakes were corrected, however a lot still remained. There were anecdotal consequences of inexpert work with the lists: in Kharkiv more than 2 thousand voters were found, supposedly over the age of 107, since in the absence of the relevant information, the computer had put down their birth date as 1 January 1900.

As a result, on voting day a very large number of people were not able to vote. If one compares data from the CEC on voting at the elections in 2006 and 2007, it transpires that the number who took part fell by 1,775 million (the figures at the end of voting were compared). In our view, a major part of this reduction can be attributed to systemic failings in the Law on the elections.

Just as in 2006 the elections demonstrated a large number of technical mistakes made by members of the electoral commissions who were on the whole not able to cope with all the details of the electoral law. This resulted in very tense relations between commission members representing different political parties, mutual suspicion and accusations of vote-rigging and even fights.

We can thus conclude that attempts by the legislators to provide adequate legal guarantees of protection against vote-rigging and ensure transparency led to excessive complications in the Law on the elections, with details regulating of electoral procedures, complicated structure with poll protocols, etc. the Law was designed for experienced bureaucrats and not volunteers from political parties who for a number of objective and subjective reasons were not able to fully cope with the complicated procedural aspects. Both in 2006 and now this led to confusion in filling out protocols, provoked unwarranted suspicions of corruption among commission members and led to the results of the elections at many polling stations being appealed in the courts.  On an overall scale, the attempts to avert vote-rigging led to millions of voters losing their vote. We must acknowledge that the electoral system as a whole is based on mutual distrust among its participants, and this trend towards complicating the legislation leads only to further losses and an increase in such distrust. In our view, the paradigm behind electoral legislation needs to be changed with the main features becoming safeguards of freedom, democracy and trust. Only in that way will it become possible to unite different individuals in a political community. The guarantees against abuse must ensure a high-quality electoral register and well-developed procedure for checking it.

Freedom of expression

Spreading the word

A long-standing conflict between employees of a municipal newspaper “Ratusz” and the Lviv City Council, or more specifically, its Mayor, took a new turn today.  The Chief Editor Mykola Savelyev and two journalists began a hunger strike in the reception office of Mayor Andriy Sadovy.  They are protesting at the lack of financing for the newspaper and failure to pay salaries over the past four months.

Mr Savelyev says that if the situation is not resolved soon, journalists from other Lviv publications will join them.

The conflict has been continuing for a year and a half.  The editorial office recently began publishing articles about Andriy Sadovy in foreign languages in order to draw public attention to what they allege to be the violation of their labour rights.

In its 4 October issue, the newspaper published an article about the Mayor in Japanese. The Chief Editor said in an interview at the time .that they would soon be publishing articles in Chinese, Korean, Georgian, Swahili, and in languages of dwindling tribes in Africa, so that wider strata of society learn about the actions of the Mayor.

The translated material was a quote from a deputy of the Lviv City Council Volodymyr Hirnyak. The latter states that the Mayor has got lost in Lviv’s complex mechanism and that he needs to enlist the aid of specialists because he won’t get far on mere populism.

Mykola Savelyev believes that this is an effective way of pointing to the situation where there is no funding and where people have not been paid for four months.

Over the year and a half since the present Mayor took office, there have been around 5 attempts to dismiss the newspaper’s Chief Editor, as well as other attempts at effectively closing down the newspaper by privatizing it without any normative documents, as well as a ban on printing one issue. The newspaper has nonetheless continued to come out.

Based on information from the Independent Media Trade Union  at

Children’s rights

Is the law violating children’s rights?

Orphans risk remaining permanently without care as the result of a new Resolution from the Cabinet of Ministers. 

Any child who for whatever reason has ended up in a children’s shelter dreams of finding a real family. At the present time adoption or organization of care could become more difficult. Members of the All-Ukrainian organization “Child Protection Service” are appalled by the unprofessional Cabinet of Ministers Resolution “On organizing implementation of legislation on foster care and care of orphans and children deprived of parental care”, passed on 17 October 2007.  They are convinced that the document contravenes current legislation and violates the rights of children already in foster care (around 64 thousand) and those for whom such care is presently being organized (around 15 thousand). The document has already been sent to district State administrations and settlement and city councils, however staff of the relevant services still don’t know whether to follow the old or new instructions.

Ludmila Volynets from the Child Protection Service explains: “The new Resolution … raises a whole range of difficulties for organizing care. One of the points seems quite absurd.  A child who has turned 7 should provide written agreement to the sale of property, i.e. is deemed old enough to decide whether s/he will in future need the accommodation inherited from parents. It’s also not specified what form the agreement takes, the procedure for providing it and submitting it to the care authorities, etc.”

Ms Volynets says that protection of children’s accommodation rights is the most complex issue in current legislation. Over 100 children ended up in shelters just in the first half of 2007 specifically over violations of their right to accommodation. They are convinced that this figure could rise since the new resolution extends the categories of parents who can lose their right to care for their children.

Previously parental rights could be removed if people were in prison, refused to pay maintenance, committed violence against the child and so forth. Now the list includes parents with psychological disorders or those who are mentally retarded. Yet specialists believe that these are not sufficient grounds and that the main thing for a child is to live in a real family.

Of the 20 thousand children presently living in shelters, over 76% have a family (the parents have contact with them but for various reasons are not caring for them). The formal document drawn up previously confirmed only the lack of a particular place to live. According to the new resolution, it will now state that the children do not have parents and therefore need care.  Specialists believe that this is against the law since the child could permanently lose contact with his or her real family, ending up in the care of strangers (via adoption, being placed in a family-type children’s home or other forms of care).

Another concern is that the new resolution restricts the age of carers. They must be under retirement age, this being 55 for women and 60 for men. The reality is however that it is precisely pensioners who most often undertake care, with more than 50% (around 35 thousand children) at present being looked after by people in this age group.  In order to keep the child they will have to prove that they are related or demonstrate other ties. This is very difficult to do also where the carers are Godparents, aunts, uncles, great uncles or aunts.

The experts are convinced that if the resolution comes into force, there will also be difficult times ahead for family-type children’s homes. Over 12 thousand children find a new family in them each year.  The number of children in such institutions could be unlimited. At present the resolution states that there should be no more than 6 children.

The Child Protection Service is calling on the Cabinet of Ministers to either revoke the Resolution or bring it into line with current legislation. They stress that the new document should not destroy, but support foster and other types of care for orphaned children.

More attention needed for children of labour migrants

Experts from the International Women’s Human Rights Centre “La Strada – Ukraine” and the Ministry of Education and Science believe that Ukraine needs an institution providing measures of temporary care for the children of Ukrainian nationals working abroad.

At a press conference on 8 October, Kateryna Levchenko, Director of La Strada – Ukraine and representatives of government bodies spoke of the problems developing with the children of such labour migrants. Children become more aggressive, begin skiving off school and sometimes commit minor offences. The children are more at risk of alcoholism, drug dependency and vagrancy. One in ten of the children surveyed by La Strada – Ukraine had been involved in selling drugs, prostitution or pornography.

Studies carried out in 2006 showed that children reacted in different ways to parents leaving to work abroad. As well as problems at school, and the other effects listed above, some positive changes were noted with children becoming more independent and responsible, and having more respect for their parents.  The positive impact was however noted in a smaller percentage of the children surveyed.

The study also indicated that the level of trust of school students and their social environment to educational workers and the social services was low and that educational workers at present were not sufficiently prepared to work with the children of labour migrants and to provide them with the necessary help.

The Ministry of Education has issued an Order instructing that 5 regional seminars be held by La Strada – Ukraine, in cooperation with the Ukrainian Methodological Centre for Practical Psychology and Social Work.  These pilot seminars are to be run in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kyiv, Ternopil and Chernivtsi regions.

Based on information from

Penal institutions

Number of acquittals in Ukrainian courts is pitifully low

Each year from 700-800 people die in penal institutions. No more than 40 of these people commit suicide.

These are just a few of the disturbing facts found in a statistical review entitled “Criminal Punishment in Ukraine” presented by the head of the human rights organization Donetsk Memorial, Oleksandr Bukalov.

According to the report, the Crimea has the highest criminal figures in Ukraine, with 163 people per 100 thousand head of population convicted of a crime. The Donetsk, Zaporizhya, Mykolaiv and Kherson regions are not far behalf with around 120 convicted prisoners on average. The lowest figures are found in the Transcarpathian region with 23 people.

A little over half of those convinced are released from their sentence on special conditions, and then there is a large number imprisoned for a certain period. The others receive punishments of community work, fines and limitation of liberty. The largest number of offenders are between twenty and thirty, and least – over sixty.

Mr Bukalov pointed out that as of the present day a person accused by the pre-trial investigation system of committing a crime has virtually no chance of proving his or her innocence in court. with only half a percent of cases reaching the court resulting in an acquittal.  He believes that this is probably a legacy from Soviet times, as well as being linked with the fact that people can’t afford well-qualified lawyers to properly represent them.

Victims of political repression

Children of victims of repression

This year marks 70 years since the largest-scale repressions of the former USSR. The repressions were planned with quotas for the numbers of arrested and executed “enemies of the people” to be fulfilled and exceeded. Some top officials in Ukrainian regions actually asked for the numbers to be increased. People became victims for speaking “the wrong language”, with charges trumped up over alleged spying and nationalist organizations. They looked for enemies everywhere and found them.

There are people today who try to prove that there was no Holodomor [Famine of 1932-1933] in Ukraine and that the repressions under Stalin were a necessary step to protect the Soviet regime against saboteurs, spies and other enemies.  Let such arguments be on the conscience of those who circulate them.  There are ever less witnesses of those events.  Each account from people who lived through those times is particularly to be valued.

I spoke with Ida Vasilivna Borodai [Styopkina] in her flat in a five-storey block on Kirov Avenue. She is eighty years old, but has a good memory and told us about the events in her life in detail. She spoke of how she became an “NKVD child” as they called the children of parents who had been repressed and who were themselves kept in special children’s homes.

In 1937 Ida lived with her parents in the large village Andriyivka in the Kharkiv region. Her parents were village teachers. During the night of 22 September NKVD men came to their house and carried out a search. Ida’s mother took the half-asleep nine-year-old from one room to another. When the search was ended, the men took her father away. One said: “Say goodbye to your daughter”. He kissed his daughter and left. He left for ever, since as Ida Vasilivna later discovered after her father had long been rehabilitated, he was convicted in 1937 and executed for “his part in a counterrevolutionary  nationalist spying organization”.  The main “crime” of village teacher Vasyl Fedorovych Borodai in the eyes of the NKVD was clearly that he belonged to the village intelligentsia and he spoke Ukrainian.  The village teachers often met, played the bourgeois game of “preference” [a card game] and discussed events in the country. Perhaps somebody expressed a view considered seditious at the time.  There was an informer present, one of those “secret employees” whom the NKVD had in all places of work, particularly among the intelligentsia. And as was also customary, they manufactured a case about a nationalist organization in Andriyivka.  That night eight teachers from the school were arrested. Soon they arrested Ida’s mother. That very day they came and took Ida away from school. The teacher told her she had to leave the class because people were waiting for her.

The stranger waiting there was polite and kind. He took her to the police station where in a large room there were around forty children since the NKVD had taken other families from the village as well as teachers’ children.  The children were told that they would be taken to their parents, were put in open trucks with benches to sit on and in a cold winter night taken to the Balakliya district centre. There the children were held in a building with forty to fifty children in each room.  From there they were taken to Kharkiv. On the way the children saw columns of people being led by armed convicts. They were stopped at one point by a person shouting: “Who’s in the truck?”  The answer was: “NKVD children”.

They brought the children to an NKVD reception and distribution centre where the children were held in groups of forty – fifty. They weren’t allowed outside, there was nowhere to wash and neither their underwear nor clothes were changed. The windows looked out into the courtyard.  It was effectively a transit camp for children. In a month the children were placed in children’s homes. They were taken to the railway station and given a packed meal for the journey. 

Among the 300 children in Ida’s children’s home, there were Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Germans and Jewish children. All were children of those repressed.  The children did not go hungry and the staff treated them well.

In the winter of 1939 Ida’s mother was released from prison in Kharkiv where she had spent more than a year without any investigation or trial. They’d demanded that she “confess” to subversive activities, to helping her nationalist husband and had intimidated her. The conditions in the prison were terrible. Perhaps they realized that they wouldn’t get any incriminating information from her, or they’d already over-fulfilled their quotas.  They also released two other women teachers from Andriyivka, whose husbands had also been executed. The women came and collected their children.  It should be mentioned that not all children in the home were so lucky.

Labelled “enemies of the people”, the teachers did not return to Andriyivka following their release, and in fact there was nowhere to return to – all their property had been confiscated, and the homes devastated. The Borodai family lost their library which had been collected by not just one generation.

Ida and her mother ended up in the village of Shevelyovka in the Balakliya district which was populated by settlers from Russia.  They had a very hard time, labelled enemies of the people and Hitler supporters. With one bag of possessions they moved to another village Vovchy Yar where nobody knew them. They lived in poverty, supplementing their diet from the vegetable garden. Ida’s mother again worked as a teacher.

Up till the collapse of the USSR they didn’t say anything to anyone. After her mother’s death, Ida Vasilivna found no record among her documents of her release from prison. There had obviously never been such a document.

On making a formal request for information to the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor, Ida Vasilivna received documents regarding his fate and subsequent rehabilitation.  It was only from those that she learned that her father had not died in prison, but been shot. She has been unable to find any documents about her mother’s period in prison or her time in the children’s home. It would seem that there were no records kept of such “NKVD children”, and nothing is known of their later fate. If those children deprived then of their parents and families are still alive they cannot receive victim of repression status. According to some sources, the NKVD, later renamed the MGB and then KGB brought these children up to be saboteurs, intelligence agents, people for use in special operations since no one would worry about their fate and they had no other parents, save the security service.

“I want people to know that there was such a category as children of the repressed”, Ida Vasilivna explains. “Everybody knows about repression with regard to poets, artists and prominent people. We need to remind them about the ordinary teachers, simple people and about their children who lost everything for human memory is short. I was lucky since my mother survived, was not killed or sent to the camps. Not all were so fortunate”.

Ida Vasilivna is trying to find the children she knew.  She wants to establish how many such children’s homes there were, and how many “NKVD children” in order that people learn about this. And she would very much like to a monument to be erected to the teachers who brought people what was good, reasoned and eternal and who were murdered by the Soviet regime.

Slightly abridged

Former prosecutor goes on trial in Prague over her part in a notorious show trial

This is the first such trial in the former socialist bloc.  Ludmila Brozova-Polednova, who is now 86, did not appear in court.  She is being charged as an accomplice to murder over her part in the execution in 1950 of the democratic politician Milada Horakova.  At the time Ms Brozova-Polednova was the only one of the prosecutors in the trial who called for the death penalty for Milada Horakova and three co-defendants, on trumped up charges of forming an imperialist fifth column supposedly plotting to overthrow the regime in Czechoslovakia.

The court case against the former lawyer was prompted by the Institute to Documentation and Research into the Crimes of Communism.

The case, resulting in Milada Horakova’s execution was one of the most brutal political trials in Czechoslovakia under the socialist regime.

Based on material from Radio Svoboda and Czech Radio

The Legacy of 1937

We speak of the Terror yet the repressive machine of the proletariat’s dictators began working long before 1937.

Indeed, the repression began immediately after the October Uprising. The communist dictatorship was always, before and after 1937, accompanied by political repression. However it was specifically 1937 that was to become the terrible symbol of mass killings organized and carried out by the State regime. Presumably this was because the Great Terror involved certain specific features and because of the huge impact it had – and continued exerting – on the fate of the whole country.

So it was in the scale of the Terror?

1937 was the gigantic scale of the repression engulfing all layers of society without exception, from the leaders of the country to peasants and workers far removed from politics. More than 1.7 million people were arrested on political charges during 1937 and 1938. If you add the victims of deportation and those convicted as “socially dangerous elements”, the number exceeds two million.

You get the impression that there was a carefully planned machine.

Which was also incredibly brutal, with more than 700 thousand of those arrested being executed.  And there was the unrepresented degree of planning in the terrorist “special operations”. The entire campaign was carefully thought out by the top leaders and carried out under their constant control.  Secret orders issued by the NKVD stipulated the period for carrying out particular operations, the groups and categories of the population who were to be “purged”, as well as the planned numbers of arrests and executions for each region. Any changes, any “initiatives from below” needed to be agreed with Moscow.

And yet people were living, working, having children…

For most of the population, unaware of the orders, the logic of arrests seemed inexplicable and far removed from commonsense. The Great Terror seemed like a huge lottery. There was almost a mystical sense of it being incomprehensible and this elicited a special type of terror and sense of insecurity. The fates of people well-known throughout the country (and these were the main ones reported in the newspapers) whose loyalty had never seemed in doubt heightened the sense of panic and exacerbated the mass psychosis.  This was to give rise to the myth that the Great Terror was directed solely against old Bolsheviks and the Party elite. In fact the overwhelming majority of those arrested and shot were simple Soviet citizens. it was up to the investigator to formulate each individual’s “guilt”. Therefore hundreds of thousands of those arrested faced absurd charges of “counter-revolutionary conspiracies”, “espionage”, “planning terrorist acts”, “sabotage” and so forth.

And yet many even then knew about who was building the Belomor Canal, and that the charges were false. Why was there no reaction to the violence?

The Soviet leadership tried to implicate the whole nation in a system of mutual responsibility. There were meetings where people were forced to vehemently applaud public lies about exposed “enemies of the people”. Children were forced to denounce their parents, wives – their husbands. It was incidentally in 1937 that the characteristic feature of Soviet society formulated – double-thinking, as a result of split reality imposed by propaganda of public and individual consciousness.  Later there were the systematic lies over years regarding the fate of those who’d been executed – first about mythical “camps with no right of correspondence”, and then fictitious dates and places of death supposedly from natural causes.  Yet the Terror, or battle against dissident thinking, didn’t end with the death of Stalin and Beria.

It continued to the middle of the 1980s, virtually to the start of perestroika and collapse of socialism.

There is a stereotype that Stalin was the father of terror, while Lenin was an impassioned revolutionary, the friend of children, workers and peasants.

Lenin was as much a killer as Stalin and Beria and the real father of the terror. It was at his instigation that the labour camps [called concentration camps – translator] were created. He argued after all that for a great cause you could kill as many as needed. That’s clear now from archival documents.

Representatives of today’s left wing continue to espouse the ideological stamps about the humanity of this most humane man, and exploit his social ideas and slogans.

Of the multitude of ideas the main most attractive one is voiced most often, that of social justice. It appeals to people and it’s hard to free oneself of its charm. Communist ideology uses the slogan of equal income and needs, while socialists talk of equal opportunities. Yet in fact inequality is established by the law. If parents are well-off their children have an easier time. If a person has a talent for business, s/he can make a lot of money. It’s the way of the world. Left-wing ideas are fairly popular everywhere, however the law defends human rights.  The communist ideas about justice and equality were quite attractive, but how they were implemented in the USSR led to the Terror, and into a dead end, with victims and violence.

And yet there was the Thaw, an attempt to build socialism with a human face.

We should simply remember Czechoslovakia in 1968 ending with all hopes crushed. The repressive machine was switched on again.

There is yet another myth that under Stalin all was well. And that they repressed “enemies” while order honest people had nothing to fear.

It’s a consequence of ideology and brainwashing. The machine devoured all. Stalin’s approach was based on using fear and slavery. It was all through prisoners’ labour. Anyone who knows history at all will simply annihilate that myth about wellbeing under Stalin.

And yet the fear, the collective covering for each other, the inner slavery, fear of repression have remained in public thinking.

It’s hard to free oneself of fear. During Khrushchev’s Thaw society began finding out and understanding about the repression and Terror. The poet Anna Akhmatova wrote that two Russias– those who imprisoned and those who were imprisoned met and looked each other in the eye.  The process of coming to some understanding needed to continue, but it was stalled.  This stalling led to the emergence of the dissident movement and emigration. Dissidents lived as free people in a captive country.  During Brezhnev’s time, for each dissident actually imprisoned, there were 96 people who experienced the pressure of the repressive machine, being summoned for questioning to the KGB, threatened, coerced. There were around half a million who faced that. Now the fear has diminished, but it still remains in the blood. A generation has now grown up since perestroika and the disappearance of the repressive regime. They have grown up and live in a different society. And Maidan [the Orange Revolution; maidan literally means “square” which was where people held their ground during those days - translator] also gave a certain impulse, after all many were aware that they were risking a lot. And yet they went on Maidan, not sure that they would return alive. The effect of Maidan was in the liberation from fear of a huge number of people.

A lot of people from Kharkiv faced repression

Kharkiv was the capital city [for a long period under the Bolshevik regime – translator] and the repressions were severe.  There was the 1928 Shakhtinsk case, the trial of members of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine [SVU], and many other cases. During the Great Terror more than 20 thousand people were shot. The repressions continued into the 1940s.

In the 1970s and 80s the dissident movement in Ukraine was strong. It consisted of nationalist, general democratic and religious movements, as well as people fighting for the right to emigrate.  People listened to the BBC, Radio Svoboda [Liberty], Voice of America, and there was a lot of samizdat around. Kharkiv after all had a lot of institutes, students and intelligentsia with a technical background.  There was a special department within the KGB to deal with dissidents.

There is now freedom, and yet the law is broken. People get drawn into clan conflicts, and there are raider attacks. They raise tariffs; make areas more built up without asking. The judicial system doesn’t work and there’s no trust in judges.

It’s a whole jigsaw situation. Certainly the local authorities take decisions upon themselves, without consulting anybody. As far as I can see it’s impossible to resolve anything with building, land, etc without the involvement of corrupt setups. You simply won’t achieve anything without bribes and connections. In principle this is not a human rights issue, but the problem is there. On the other hand, people have gained freedom, to go abroad, for example, or to do business. And the standard of living is gradually rising. A middle class is emerging which seems less dependent on the authorities.  And yet as soon as people run up against bureaucracy, they confront the choice of either giving up their work or accepting the system, paying bribes, finding “protection” and so forth.  This cannot continue for long and there is no chance for a normal civilized society where corruption, theft, tax evasion and dirty business flourish. There are also a lot of people in poverty, simply eking out an existence. A lot is distorted, with businesspeople paying out wages in envelopes, avoiding paying tax.

We see how catastrophically double standards are taking root in society

It’s easy to explain that. “Our” people close to those in power are allowed to do anything; “the others” are not. Business and the power structure have become intertwined. Those who are “in” receive money, orders, land, the possibility to build, win tenders. But you have to be “in”, and people are pushed to try to become part of that in crowd.

– There is a problem with voters’ rights.  Party candidate lists and the party-based system of deputies leads to a situation where there is no individual responsibility, only collective – responsibility or lack of such, or closing ranks. You vote and then the party takes over. There is no right to ask what a specific deputy has done for the city, for a district or for one specific voter.

– The constitutional changes of December 2004 introduced a proportional representation system including for local councils. Parties, according to Ukrainian legislation are national and their programmes are for the whole country. Yet each district has its own interests and priorities which may run counter to those national interests or may focus on other problems.  And effectively at local level nobody is obliged to deal with local problems, they need to follow party instructions from the centre. At present after all those in power are mainly the generation of former Komsomol activists, and that’s their form of democratic centralism. They don’t have any need for outstanding individuals at local level who are able to think independently and freely, they need those who will carry out party decisions. That’s why a person capable and willing to do anything at local level has to curry for approval with the party boss. There are a lot of parties and each is like a mini CPSU [Communist Party]. The paradoxical thing is that the President doesn’t have to be a party person; s/he can put themselves forward, simply paying the requisite amount. Yet to become a deputy of a district council in the city you need to be a party member and get on the candidate list. This is where the increase in corporativism and corruption stems from, as well as an even stronger merging of business and political power. Deputies are so eager to get into office precisely because that gives them control over financial channels, benefits and boons.

What will the early elections change in this respect?

I don’t think they’ll change anything. For serious changes we need to change the Constitution, that is, bring in a new version.

The interviewer was Yevhen Maslov

News from the CIS countries

Shame is also a force

He says terrible things out loud. These days such words already frighten us, and we want to run from them.  He maintains that he is only speaking the truth, the pure truth, and it’s not his fault that we’re afraid and don’t want to accept it. He’ll still keep doing what he’s doing.

From a recent address given by Sergei Kovalev at a roundtable on the role of the media and civic organizations in civic society

On imitation

I am convinced that we are experiencing a global political, and to an even greater extent, legal and moral crisis. And as has often been the case in recent history, our country is the arena for - I won’t mince words - a clownish mockery and grotesque reflection of that crisis. Politicians’ hypocrisy is well-known, that’s real politics. However there is one country in this world where hypocrisy knows no limits.

We live in a country of simulation, where the government imitates everything. It’s called the Russian Federation, yet this is a lie! We imitate a federal structure. There are no federations where regional power, the power of a subject of the Federation, is designated from the centre. That contradicts the very concept of a federation as a union of equal states which have renounced certain prerogatives in favour of a common centre.  Where will you see in an independent state that anyone appoints a President or Prime Minister?

There are masses of such examples. For those involved, one main condition is important: the imitation must be credible so that exacting western partners believe it, or can pretend that they believe it. Western leaders feel able to publicly state that “Russia has not turned from the path of democracy”. When you hear such things from an American minister, the first thought is: “Is he an idiot, or something?” Yet it’s not possible that in a huge country with a great number of professionals that they could have put an idiot in a high government post. Maybe he’s been conned?  Yet then he again proves to be an idiot.  The conclusion must be that he’s lying because it suits him, whether it’s our oil he needs, or support for their position on Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s one example of the global nature of the legal crisis.

On the judiciary

The Constitution sets out the inalienable principle of the division of powers – executive, legislative and judicial. Do we need to produce arguments to demonstrate that in reality there is no division of powers? The judiciary – well we all know what is meant by “Basmanny justice” [from the name of the court in Moscow]. Court rulings are ordered just like in the old Soviet times, sometimes directly by telephone.  Sometimes they don’t need to be ordered – an astute judge understands anyway what is required of them.  That’s when a case even remotely touches on politics, like the Khodorkovsky case or numerous cases involving crimes by federal servicemen in the North Caucuses.

I could talk for hours giving hair-raising examples of such sentences. I’ll mention just one. A group of one soldiers decided to go drinking.  Tough conditions in the war, how could they not have a break?  They went to an elderly Chechen woman who sold vodka. But she didn’t have any. That so upset them that one took his rifle and began shooting at her legs.  Thank God there was a military hospital nearby, the woman was treated quickly and she didn’t suffer any serious harm. The young man was tried – for careless use of a weapon!  So he didn’t know that the thing hanging over his shoulder shoots. He was punished terribly: for a whole 6 months he was deprived of the right to be promoted.

That’s in the area of justice with any political overtones. In other areas we have a new acquisition which strongly differs from Soviet times. As far as I can recall, in Soviet days court rulings were very seldom sold. Now that happens all the time. Why is this judicial corruption on the rise?  It’s quite simple. If I, being in power, order a court ruling, I must understand and do that the person who does me this favour and issues the required sentence will compensate him or herself in other cases in purely material fashion. An obedient judge will inevitably turn into a crooked judge, a bribe-taking judge. And there are people who are well-aware of the rates.

On shame as a stimulus

It would be absolutely meaningless to talk about political opposition in the USSR of the 1960s – 1980s were it not for one circumstance. None of us then had any idea what politics was about. Indeed, what was politics?  There were no political platforms as one is accustomed to call them.

Those who began signing letters of protest, publishing things in samizdat, none of them even thought that in a country stuck in a communist Marxist bog, anything could change.

All our actions then from the point of view of realists were doomed to result in nothing. Although no, there was a result – they ended as a rule with a prison term. It seemed that that was the sole result.

What were those actions prompted by? In actual fact nothing but shame. Shame was the main motive urging people on to be active. When Sakharov was asked whether he expected change in the Soviet Union, he reflected as he always did and said: “No, in the foreseeable future, I assume that there will be no changes”. – “So why then are you doing what you’re doing?”  Everybody must do what they’re able to do. And what can the intelligentsia really do? They only know how to do one thing: build an ideal. So let them do that”. But then he thought again and said: “However the mole of History burrows unnoticeably”.

That was the single prophecy I’m aware of then regarding possible fast changes. And it came true, we would note. Yet all the others assumed, like one marvellous mathematician with regard to the Byzantine Empire decaying over 300 years. “Well, 300 years suits me fine”. We too assumed something like that period. As you understand, that’s not political calculation.

What is not to be measured by salary?

Our citizens are very pragmatic, very practical. They quite often say: “Well, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, all your electoral things. Who needs them and what for? Now salary, that’s is something, yes”.  And connected with that, you hear the hard-hitting question: “And you human rights activists, what in fact have you done?”  What we’ve done is this. We paid with our liberty so that the whole country would become different.

It’s very bad, but different – not the Soviet Union. We got the present Constitution. It’s far from faultless, but it has a second chapter and other democratic norms. We began judicial reforms and as a result Soviet judges – who in fact weren’t judges but government functionaries – got up from their knees.  Then, it’s true, they again fell and became obedient, but the very movement upwards is worth a lot. We gave our media a brief period of freedom when they said what they thought, and they thought what bore relation to reality. They made many mistakes but they weren’t under anyone’s thumb. That is also worth a great deal.

When I say “we”, don’t think I mean any specific group or party. We were very different. Political idealism – that is simple: when engaged in politics, behave as befits a decent person. That’s all.


Sergei Kovalev is Co-Chair of the Board of “Memorial” and President of the Human Rights Institute.  

The following gives some biographical information for somebody who is often called the “conscience of Russia”.

Sergei Kovalev became famous as a dissident in the 1970s and later as a politician working for human rights in post-communist Russia. Trained as a biologist, he spent much of his early career at Moscow State University. In 1969 he was dismissed for dissident activity. From 1970 to 1974 he worked in a research station.

In 1967 Kovalev became involved in human rights circles, and soon developed a close friendship with fellow dissident Andrei Sakharov. Like Sakharov, he believed in the strategy of insisting on strict application by the authorities of the existing laws, and also of working for law reform. In 1968 he was one of the anonymous founders and editors of the samizdat (typewritten self-published) journal A Chronicle of Current Events, which documented violations of human rights and circulated covertly from hand to hand. In 1969 he was a founding member of the Action Group to Defend Civil Rights in the USSR.

In 1974 he was arrested and eventually tried in closed court. Sentenced to seven years in a strict-regime labor camp, he served his whole term, taking part in numerous protests and hunger strikes by prisoners. On his release he was forced to live from 1984 to 1987 in the remote town of Kalinin.

In the late 1980s Kovalev took part in various initiatives aimed at creating a civil society. In 1990 he was elected on a Democratic Russia ticket to the RSFSR’s Congress of People’s Deputies and its Supreme Soviet. He chaired the latter’s Human Rights Committee, which passed important legislation on refugees, citizenship, procedures for emergency rule, the exculpation of political prisoners, and parliamentary supervision of the security services.

In the fall of 1993 he opposed Yeltsin’s proroguing of the parliament, but did not support the parliamentary opposition. In October Yeltsin appointed him chair of his Commission on Human Rights, and the political movement Russia’s Choice elected him chair of its council. In December he was elected to the new parliament, and as of 2003 has remained a deputy, switching his allegiance in 2001 from the successor of Russia’s Choice to Yabloko.

In 1996 Kovalev resigned from Yeltsin’s Human Rights Commission, in protest against his increasing authoritarianism and the war crimes committed by the military in Chechnya. He continues to be active in a variety of forums, and is widely seen in the early twenty-first century as the leading champion of human rights in Russia.

—Peter Reddaway

She remains with us

In August 1996, during the storming of Grozny, one of the most tragic episodes of the first Chechen campaign, when we were desperately seeking any means possible of assisting people fleeing the war, I suddenly received a call from Anna Politkovskaya.

For the first day of school on September 1 she wanted to publish a large portrait in the Obshchaya Gazeta newspaper where she was then working of a Chechen child who, clutching a bouquet of flowers for their teacher was going to a Moscow school.  That was her innocently inventive way of fighting the Chechen phobia.

I replied that unfortunately, the Chechen kids who had ended up in Moscow would not be going to school that year.  The Moscow authorities had just adopted a resolution stating that only children whose parents had Moscow registration – or the old Soviet “propiska” – would be allowed to study in the capital.  And these children’s parents not only didn’t have propiska, but they didn’t even know how they’d find their children’s next meal.  The storming of Grozny was underway, and people were fleeing wherever their noses led them.  There was no one there to meet them in Moscow or in any of the other cities.  Meanwhile, our organization was collecting money from friends and acquaintances to help the refugees feed themselves for just three or four days.

On the very next day, Anna Politkovskaya arrived at our reception office with money she had at her paper’s office, and took interviews of us and our visitors. Following this visit, a series of vivid articles followed about the plight of Chechen and other refugees in Moscow.

Our acquaintance began with that call, which was followed by cooperation which continued until the last days of Anna Politkovskaya’s life.  During the second Chechen campaign, Chechnya turned into Anna’s main subject and place to which she traveled constantly.  Chechnya transformed her, becoming the essence of her life

Her articles about the second Chechen campaign were for many people the only opportunity available to learn the truth, if they still wished to, that is. She not only wrote, but actually intervened on people’s behalf, demanding answers from investigators, prosecutors, and the military.  She received threats, and not only in Moscow with phone calls and letters, but also at the scene in Chechnya, where she was threatened with immediate vigilante justice.  I don’t think it’s that Anna was not afraid – it was just that the things happening around her were so frightening that personal fear vanished somewhere into the background, becoming less prominent.

Anna responded to every appeal for help, to every anguished cry of pain.  Our last work together was when Anna interviewed me in August of last year.  This was one month after the night of July 12-13, 2006, when a group of young kids were slaughtered on the Chechen-Dagestani border.  The kids were drawn there by provocateurs who put camouflage outfits on them and led them into Chechnya, where they were confronted with a barrage of gunfire.

Information about an averted terrorist act swept through all the international new agencies and could not be received as anything but a major victory in the fight against terrorism – now threatening Chechnya from outside its borders, since in the words of Ramzan Kadyrov, almost all of the bandits had been destroyed in Chechnya itself.

The young people had been recruited in the Khasavyurt region of Dagestan, where I was to arrive on 16 August and where over two days, I came into contact with17 families who in July had suffered this terrible tragedy.  The mothers told me how their children had been invited to come out to the sea  to talk about the fate of the Chechen people, and that there they had been dressed up as rebel fighters.  The youngest one among them was 14.  Thirteen boys were killed, five were wounded and miraculously escaped alive.

I returned to Moscow to discover that aside from an appeal to the prosecutor not to prosecute the survivors, but to investigate the provocation instead, I was unable to write a thing myself.  Then I called Anna, told her about my trip and suggested she take my notes for her work.  Anna came immediately, we went through my notes together, and a day later an article came out in which the truth was told about the brutal bloodbath in Khasavyurt.

That is how she wrote – quickly and honestly, not pausing to rest nor sparing herself in any way.  And Anna demanded the same intensity from us – those who by custom are called human rights campaigners.  She had the right to do so.

Her voice gained such urgency that it could be heard in the remotest corners of our little world.  And it sounds today, it sounds after being picked up by hundreds of other voices across the globe.

I would very much like to see thousands of people from across the world come to Moscow on October 7 of this year.  Just to visit the cemetery, to walk through the streets of Moscow with Anna Politkovskaya’s portrait.  To show those who believed the words of the Russian President, that her “influence on the political life of Russia was minimal,” just how wrong he was.

Her influence will continue to grow. Her articles will stand up to indifference and passivity and will awaken the sleeping conscience.  Anna Politkovskaya will stay with us.  Her voice will still sound for a long time to come – for as long as there are those who need protection, whose pain has not been assuaged.  New generations will read her articles, and it will help them accept the burden of responsibility for what is happening in our world.

In Memory: Anna Politkovskaya

On Sunday 7 October meetings in memory of the journalist and human rights defender murdered a year ago were held in Russia and in many other countries. Around one and a half thousand people gathered in Moscow in the pouring rain. The meeting began with a minute’s silence, and was then addressed by the Chief Editor of Anna’s newspaper, Novaya gazeta, Dmitry Muratov.. He spoke of how the investigation into the killing was being wrecked, and how a complete free-for-all reigned. He stressed that Anna Politkovskaya would still be alive had the authorities reacted two years ago to reports that two officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, arrested in connection with her murder, were involved in extortion and torture. Dmitry Muratov told the gathering that over the last seven days, Novaya gazeta had reconnected the phone which fell silent after Anna’s murder. Over those days hundreds and hundreds of people had called the number, those same people who were left without Anna’s help, or who simply needed to thank her. However there had been three important and significant pieces of information. One was that unfortunately the time had arrived for successful scum, and that in order to be successful, more often than not you needed to be a swine. He mentioned also how little democrats were heard, and said that today was probably an exception. The third thing to communicate was the need to put a stop to the conflict between democrats and to join forces. He called for public control over the MIA, FSB and other enforcement agencies committing crimes like Anna’s murder. He said he was convinced that without a Nuremburg Trial over these agencies, such crimes would continue, and stressed the need for all supporters of democratic values to unite. The above is a seriously shortened version of a report on Radio Svoboda. A lot of those present were opposition politicians, and while they doubtless had many important things to say, on this day we will refrain from reporting them all. In Kyiv people honoured Anna Politkovskaya’s memory with a moment’s silence near the Russian Embassy.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2007, #10