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.


Promises are to be kept

The Committee of Voters of Ukraine has publicly called on National Deputies to renounce excessive benefits. In its statement, it points out that most of the political parties now represented in the Verkhovna Rada included points on abolishing deputy immunity and special benefits and privileges for National Deputies. This however requires making amendments to the Constitution, and need to be considered together with other constitutional changes. The CVU stresses that now, during preparation of priority draft laws, the Deputies should begin honouring some of their pre-election promises.  The coalition members have repeatedly stated that a law on abolishing benefits will be one of the first laws passed, yet as of 12 December the draft law was not available for scrutiny, nor is it among the 1500 registered since the elections.

CVU estimates that spending on servicing the President’s Secretariat, the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers increases on average by a minimum of 10-20% annually which is above the increase in inflation. It mentions that the 2008 Budget allows for an increase of 33% in spending on medical services for Deputies and high-ranking officials over this year. It says that according to some estimates, more money has been allocated for sanatoriums for high-ranking officials than for rural medicine. 

The Committee of Voters therefore calls for particular measures.

  • To make public a report on the use of the Budget allocations during 2006-2007 for the apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada; the State Department of Affairs* and the Cabinet of Ministers, with a detailed breakdown of spending.
  • To make public the draft law on reducing Deputies’ benefits and to hold public hearings before its consideration by a profile committee.
  • In drawing up the 2008 Budget to reduce Deputy expenditure on activities not directly linked with their duties, and to report on spending per item per Deputy;
  • Declarations regarding the income of the President, National Deputies, heads and deputy heads of ministries and departments, the Ombudsperson, Head of the Security Service, Prosecutor General, Head of the Central Election Commission and other management of the central authorities should be published on their departments’ websites;
  • To reduce Deputy spending on free flats in Kyiv or compensation for their purchase (involving a radical change to Article 35 of the Law “On the status of National Deputies”). 
  • The Verkhovna Rada should abolish the law from 24 February 2006 which extended the list of benefits for deputies. The law was suspended for 2007.

*  This department sounds no better in the Ukrainian yet has a very substantial budget (translator)

Shortened report of the statement on

Politics and human rights

The Constituion is our responsibility

The Ukrainian Civic Constitutional Committee has issued a statement regarding plans expressed to resolve the constitutional crisis during 2008.  The statement welcomes the intentions “to increase constitutional safeguards for human rights and civil liberties, to create a balanced system of state power, strengthen the role of local self-government and prepare suggestions for systematic improvements to the Constitution”. 

The authors stress that it is not possible to carry out successful constitutional reform without wide-scale public discussion and the direct involvement of politically independent experts. It is the public who should create a new version of the Constitution through their own authorized representatives. It is the public who must be active players in the constitutional process, stipulating rights and duties and developing rules for self-organization, the principles for organizing a system of governance and the general framework for politicians to work within.

“At the same time, the plans put forward by the President for a National Constitutional Council could elicit an unforeseen reaction from political opponents. The public may question the President’s sincerity due to the confusion and fundamental failure to distinguish between the Constitutional Commission (Council) and constituents (the assembly).  The National Constitutional Council authorized by the President to draw up a new draft of the Constitution not only cannot, but must not, usurp the role of the constituent which is a body directly entrusted with this by the people. The National Constitutional Council cannot take on this role, whoever is on it, since it is only an advisory body under the President.  The new draft will be subjected to criticism not of a substantive, but of a political nature, however good it is.

The President’s aim – to pass a new Constitution – is undoubtedly correct however the proposed way to achieving it requires improvement. Instead of regulating the constitutional crisis,  he can bring political confrontation onto the level of conflict between different texts of the Constitution and different ways of passing it, and this could end in a final and irrevocable collapse of a single political system.  It would be productive in the given situation for the President to cooperate with civic society to fulfil the idea of the people having constituent power via a Constitutional Assembly

Both the coalition and opposition should have an interest in the formation of such a Constitutional Assembly since this will enable them to keep face before their voters. After all, in this matter there are no winners or losers, but new rules of political activity for all. This is a difficult path however it has proved its worth in many countries under different historical circumstances.

We call on citizens of Ukraine to take a fully active part in the new constitutional process.

The Constitution is too important to be left to politicians!


Members of the Civic Constitutional Committee: Oleksy Haran, Volodymyr Horbach, Yevhen Zakharov, Yury Zbitnyev, Ihor Kohut, Ihor Koliushko, Viktor Musiyaka, Anatoly Pinchuk.

Ten steps aimed at improving the human rights situation in Ukraine

An open letter to the Prime Minister and honourable members of the Cabinet of Ministers

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union congratulates you on the formation of a government and would like to propose a number of specific steps aimed at defending, respecting and ensuring human rights and fundamental freedoms in Ukraine.

1.  Measures to reduce poverty

Effective use is needed in the first instance of the results of economic growth, as well as reform of the social protection system by clearly stipulating the target of benefits and reducing their number; sharply differentiating between social protection and social insurance; removing discrimination in allocating pensions, as well as other measures.

2.   Making public unlawfully classified Cabinet of Ministers Resolutions and Instructions from previous years designated “Not to be printed”.

It is these documents which contain information about corrupt dealings, unlawful benefits, privileges and other preferential treatment for high-ranking public officials. These include the following:

-  Resolution No. 1210 from 06.08.03 On servicing the sanatoriums  “Koncha-Zaspa” and “Pushcha-Vodytsa” for specific categories of individuals and pensioners;

-  Resolution No. 838 from 05.07.04 “On approving the list of enterprises which are exempted from paying land tax in 2004, and the size of their pieces of land” (with all subsequent amendments and additions);

-  Instruction No. 688 from 12.12.02 “On the transfer free of charge of the integrated property complex of the former aerodrome of military aviation in the village of Havrysh into the common property of territorial communities”’

-  Instruction No. 131 from 12.03.03 “On the transfer of integrated property complexes of military sanatoriums”;

-  Instruction No. 196 from 04.04.03 “On allocating funds for the completion of construction of refrigeration boats”;

-  Instruction No. 372 from 20.06.03 “On the sale of military real estate of the Security Service of Ukraine”;

-  Instruction No. 480 from 06.08.03 “On the customs formalities and registrations of tractors delivered to the address of the health sanatorium – the closed joint stock company “Zoloti Pisky” [“Golden sands”];

-  Instruction No. 543 from 27.08.03  “On a permit for taking a vehicle outside the territory of Ukraine”

-  Instruction No. 22 from 20.01.04  “Some issues involving remuneration for judges”

-  Instruction No. 23 from 20.01.04  “Some questions involving the payment for the work of prosecutors and the investigation bodies of the prosecutor’s office”

-  Instruction No. 196 from 11.03.04  “On the transfer to the State Department of Affairs of authority to manage a packet of shares of the joint stock company “Hotel Dnipro”

-  Instruction No. 397 from 18.06.04 “On the transfer of means of transportation confiscated by the decision of the courts”

-  Instruction No. 694 from 22.12.04 “On the transfer of health complexes”

-  Instruction No. 931 from 22.12.04 “On the transfer of State residences No. 6 and 8”.

A full list of the 295 such acts of the Cabinet of Ministers for 2001-2005 can be found at:


3. Input the names of Cabinet of Ministers acts with the stamp “For official use only” into computerized legal systems and scrutinize the justification for the said documents being classified.


4. Create registers of normative acts passed by the Cabinet of Ministers and central authorities which are available to the public.


5. Submit for the Verkhovna Rada’s consideration a draft law on amendments and additions to the Law “On information” which guarantees access to information according to international standards in this area..

A similar draft law was drawn up by human rights organizations in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice back in 2004-2006, however instead of submitting it, the Cabinet of Ministers created a concept plan in 2007 for a new law on information which does not withstand criticism.


6. Submit for the Verkhovna Rada’s consideration a draft law on peaceful assembly, drawn up by human rights organizations, which takes into consideration case law of the European Court of Human Rights. In the absence of such a law, the state authorities and bodies of local self-government, as well as the courts, continue to use normative acts of the former USSR which are in contravention of Article 39 of the Ukrainian Constitution.


7. Revoke the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution No. 858 from 26 June 2007 “On approving the technical description and sample form for a Ukrainian citizens’ foreign travel passport, and on introducing amendments to some acts of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine” which envisages passports only of the new model.

These passports contain chips containing biometric information, as well as other personal data. The government has effectively decided to “share” all private information about its nationals with other countries which will receive all the information about a person when he or she crosses the border. The new procedure for issuing passports introduced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs is the result of the monopoly on producing and issuing passports held by the private corporation SSAPS which now controls the register for Ukrainian nationals with all personal data. This violates the right to privacy and is unacceptable in a democratic country. All these functions should be the exclusive domain of State authorities. These passports also fail to comply with the requirements of the European Union regarding machine-readable documents and will still need to be changed by 2010.


8. Revoke the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution No. 11698 from 26 September 2007 “On approving Rules of procedure for gaining court warrants to carry out measures temporarily restricting human rights and use of the information obtained.”

At present the actions of the operation subdivisions in monitoring communications (wiretapping, tapping of mobile phones, tracking emails, monitoring traffic in the Internet) are to a large measure unlawful since there is no law setting down clear procedure for providing and reviewing warrants for carrying out such operational investigations, the timeframe for such actions, the rules for the use of the information received. Furthermore the present safeguards of legality when carrying out such measures are clearly inadequate. The Resolution is therefore unlawful. Changes must be prepared to legislation allowing for independent control over the activities of the bodies involved in communications interceptions.


9. Reform the State Department for the Execution of Sentences, turning it into a civilian service which is a structural subdivision of the Ministry of Justice with retention of all benefits for staff of the Department.


10. Immediately cancel Order of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences № 167 from 10 October 2005.

According to this Order, there is a special anti-terrorist unit within the Department which is used for carrying out searches of prisoners and penal institutions and pre-trial detention centres, and effectively for intimidating those deprived of their liberty. This Order is illegal.


The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union would like to express its willingness to cooperate with the new government in order to achieve the above-mentioned goals.


We will at the same time still help the victims of human rights infringements and criticize the Government if there continues to be disregard for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the principles of the rule of law.


Yevhen Zakharov

Head of the UHHRU Board

We need to change the rules of play

From an interview given to“New Wave” Radio

Two approaches to the Constitution are being discussed – amending it, or rewriting it.  Which are you in favour of?

Rewriting it.  The problem is that in 2004 the Constitution was destroyed and it’s now impossible to build anything on that foundation.  It would be more effective to write a new draft.

People talk about a new Constitution as a panacea, a means of getting out of the political dead end. Yet the two main camps will still remain, and the conflict between them.

I don’t think that’s the main thing. It’s less important how people vote than that all politicians play according to the rules and don’t try to change them in the middle of the game or to get the result they want.  The main thing is to create good rules and then follow them.

The fact that powers within the executive are mixed up is entirely abnormal. Some of the ministers answer to the Prime Ministers, others to the President, with the entire power structure determined by the President. How can the government work when it has no influence over governors? This is nonsense and a contradiction of all principles of law. There are two models – a parliamentary republic and a presidential one. In the presidential model the President is in charge of the executive, and the Prime Minister has basically administrative functions, overseeing the work of the Cabinet of Ministers.  However parliament must have strong mechanisms of parliamentary control over the executive. At present we don’t have that. There is practically no law on the Cabinet of Ministers, or on the President and opposition.

We have a situation where the Constitution has been destroyed without having even used the possibilities that it offered. Give two children in a sandpit spades and tell them they’re both the leaders. Within two minutes they’ll be pounding each other with the spades establishing who’s more a leader. We’ve achieved precisely that. There must not be a struggle for powers.

What’s wrong with the present model?

The government is headed by a Prime Minister chosen by the ruling coalition who implements a programme which the coalition went to the elections with. That’s the theory, and it would be fine if there was a well-developed political system in Ukraine and if each party had its own ideology and represented certain parts of society. Since we don’t have that, a parliamentary republic isn’t possible, and we need to return to the presidential model.

Will Yushchenko’s political opponents agree to that?

I think they’ll agree. They also want to be president in a strong presidential republic. However the main thing remains not that, but that they adhere to the rules. There needs to be an independent justice system so that situations don’t arise where the Constitutional Court is accused of corruption.

To achieve that we need to reboot the system: a new constitution and re-elections of all branches of power according to the new rules.

The 1996 Constitution envisaged a presidential republic. Why not just return to that version?

By now that’s impossible. It could have been done in 2005 when the Constitutional Court was still working. The Court could have considered the political reform [the constitutional changes], it could have said that the procedure by which it was passed [during the events of December 2004] were not constitutional and for just that reason alone, the changes needed to be revoked. However the President did not take the necessary step, the constitutional amendments came into force and the country gradually began moving towards being ungovernable. The West and centre of the Ukraine elected the President, the East and South – the Prime Minister. The two political forces involved have entirely different visions of Ukraine’s future. One answers for domestic policy, the other for foreign, and they are simply severing the country. If we don’t change the rules of play, if the basis of Ukrainian politics is not changed, it will all be repeated. There will once again be conflict between President and Prime Minister whoever is elected.

Just before the elections Arsen Avakov [Head of the Kharkiv Regional Administration] said that the councils had lost their meaning and that the main government functions should be removed from then. He sees the solution being the creation of local administrations.

I agree that the councils in their present form are totally ineffective and should long have been abolished. I was a deputy of the city council myself from 1990 to 1994 and our session demonstrated that most convincingly. Incidentally in the 1993 draft Constitution there were no district councils at all, the number of deputies on city councils was seriously cut, but then they forgot about that. That’s convenient for those who “resolve problems”, as they say. The councils are a screen behind which you can do anything you like. However, I don’t agree that the government should get involved in this.  It needs to be the Mayors or municipalities. There is the risk that the government will cross the borderline into spheres where it has no right to interfere, where people should themselves decide what’s needed.

Yury Lutsenko promised that a new draft of the Constitution would include the generally supported demand for the abolition of deputy immunity. Should it really be abolished?

I think it needs to be seriously curtailed to within the framework of deputies’ work. For example, during a session the deputy would have unequivocal immunity. The promises we heard during the election campaign were just so many words. Yushchenko incidentally spoke not of a full abolition, but of restricting immunity to the necessary degree.  I have already said and repeat here that we can’t totally remove deputy immunity.

What option for adopting a Constitution to you think is most realistic – through parliament or with a referendum?

I’ll tell you a secret – there are no options, there is no legal procedure for adopting a new Constitution. The present Constitution contains no norms making it possible to adopt a totally new model, only amendments. When they were writing it, they simply forgot to include such a possibility. We need new legal procedure to break through this impasse. It will be a purely political decision based on the present Constitution.  Another issue is how to do this without conflict and delicately so that people accept it, that’s the most important thing.  We will be dealing finally with a referendum but there’s a long way to go before that. I see the situation in the following way: the Constitutional Council will consider a draft Constitution prepared by a small group of experts. The Constitutional Council will have representatives of different regions, political factions, legal experts and members of society, with about 70-100 members in all.  They will discuss the draft and reach some kind of consensus.  The draft must also be publicly discussed and the Constitution needs to be so clear and realistic that a teacher will be able to explain its meaning to children. That’s very important. The next step is to create a special body – a Constitutional Assembly or gathering which will adopt the Constitution.

Why not entrust that to parliament?

Parliament represents political elites who will adopt a Constitution on the basis of their own interests. Yet the Constitution is a fairly complex document which protects the people’s freedom and defines the rules of interaction between the different authorities and between the authorities and the population. The Constitution is by definition a document of civic society. We could introduce the restriction that people elected to the Constitutional Assembly will not be entitled to hold parliamentary office during the term following the adoption of the new Constitution. That will mean that politicians don’t have the temptation to get in there and do what suits them, then later using the same rules get into parliament and go on as they did before.

How should we choose such people?

That’s not easy. I think the principle will be political. Here also we’ll see how mature the Ukrainian people are. There should be 10-20% specialists in constitutional law who understand these principles, and the other 80-90% moral authorities – people who enjoy respect and whose motives would not be doubted.  They should together examine each norm, whether they’ll be good or not. After the draft presented by the Constitutional Council has been comprehensively discussed by the Constitutional Assembly, it needs to be printed in large numbers and receive wide discussion. After review by the Constitutional Assembly of all comments, it should be put to a referendum.

Who do you mean by moral authorities?

For example, Ivan Dziuba; Myroslav Marynovych; Yevhen Sverstyuk; Mykola Ryabchuk and Yaroslav Hrytsyak. They’re all free of party affiliation and have never been deputies. I could name many such people.

A question from a listener:  What do you think of the ideas of judges being elected?

I’m completely against this. We would have judges in Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by the Party of the Regions, while in Lviv or Vinnytsa they’d be subordinate to BYuT or Nasha Ukraina, etc.  You would have no chance of achieving an independent judiciary.

17 October 2007 Information in square brackets has been added by the translator

Implementation of European Law

“Regional language” status for Russian in contravention of Ukraine’s Constitution

On 27 December the Leninsky Court in Luhansk revoked as unlawful Item one in the decision of the Luhansk Regional Council from 25 April 2006 No. 2/13 which gave Russian regional language status in the Luhansk region.

On 4 May 2006 Luhansk resident Anatoly Nazarenko lodged a civil claim with the court regarding this decision. He asserted that it infringed a norm of the Constitution.

Representative of the Committee of Voters of Europe Yevhen Bairamov took part in the court proceedings representing the claimant.

Unfortunately, although the decision of the Regional Council was clearly unlawful, Judge Olena Popova still took 20 months to examine the case. She announced breaks on a number of occasions with the last for more than a year, from 15 December 2006 to 27 December 2007. During that period, Luhansk courts turned down suits against the same decision of the Regional Council lodged by the Luhansk Regional Prosecutor and representatives of the Luhansk branch of “Prosvita”.

Freedom of expression

Reports of encroachments on press freedom in the Dnipropetrovs region

A survey carried out by the Dnipropetrovs Centre for Social Research points to a reduction in press freedom. 

Those surveyed gave the level of freedom of speech a rating of 2 out of 5. The researchers note that even three years this figure was close to 3.  17 out of 29 journalists assert that in their work they often encounter problems of censorship, and another four say that this is a regular occurrence. The most widespread form of censorship in the broader sense of the term is deliberately hindering access to information which is not confidential.  For example local authorities had refused to give accreditation to some publications without giving any reason. Officials put pressure on journalists and the heads of municipal media outlets by stopping their financing, or “filtering” their information via press services. The Centre’s experts believe the main reasons for this situation to be the financial dependence of the majority of regional media outlets on the authorities and the lack of precedent of people being brought to answer for infringements of the law on information.

So who is silence golden for?

In Soviet times you talked of writing “for the drawer”.  There was no chance of being published if you didn’t write what they wanted to hear. And if you wrote what they seriously didn’t want to hear, you could end up imprisoned.  So people wrote in private and hoped for better times in the future.

The regime fell and those times arrived. Yet here I am in 2007 writing for human rights websites under siege for the fourth day now and trying gloomily to fathom the difference from the situation thirty years ago.

The onslaught began early Sunday evening, on the eve of International Human Rights Day on 10 December.   Since that time the websites of the Civic Network “Maidan”, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union have been subjected to an intensive DDOS [Distributed Denial of Service] assault.  The aim is to block the sites through inundating the server with requests for information. The server can’t cope and the sites therefore don’t open.

Whose aim is that then? 

We’ve been asking that question ourselves.  There are grounds for believing that the attack has been organized from Russia and that those carrying it out are watching us and responding to the manoeuvres we make.  In short, this is no novice who’s got to page six of a “Hacking for Dummies” manual and feels the urge to experiment. Furthermore the cost of such an attack per day makes it most unlikely that this was commissioned by any individual with an axe to grind.  We would stress also that these large-scale and expensive attacks are undoubtedly planned in advance.

It was clear from the beginning that there were all too many parallels with other attacks on our colleagues, and it is highly improbable that this is mere coincidence.

Only just over a month ago there was an identical attack on the HRO website in Russia during which we tried to give whatever support we could and posted information about their struggle against the virtual assailants.  We must also mention some very hard-hitting texts in Russian and English about the illegal expulsion from Russia to Uzbekistan of an Uzbek Abdugani Kamaliyev (Tursinov).  This was in violation of Russian legislation and carried out more than 24 hours after the European Court of Human Rights had applied Rule 39 haling the expulsion. These texts were posted on two of the sites and  with one text literally placed on the sites 24 hours before the attack began.

It seems possible we were meant to draw certain conclusions about the likely consequences if we continued writing what they didn’t “want to hear”.

We have drawn conclusions, although not perhaps those desired.  We quite simply have no choice but to continue.  In the current political climate it is absolutely vital that we continue being able to report what the media unfortunately ignores.

If we don’t, who will?

That question is taken from a letter sent over the last few days to very many colleagues, journalists and representatives of different organizations.  We wrote to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, various UN offices in Ukraine, embassies, international NGOs, media outlets.  If this was, as we feared, part of a concentrated assault on human rights organizations reporting on events in post-Soviet countries, it was imperative that we shouted as loudly as possible and that we received at least crucial help in passing on information. 

It is a bitter irony that the article on Saturday was specifically about our failure to attract the attention of the media to the threatened expulsion of Abdugani Kamaliyev. It was the media after all who could have asked certain inconvenient questions in high places and perhaps prevented the expulsion.

We are extremely grateful to the HRO team in Russia for their wonderful support and for enabling us to post information about the attack.

There have however been very few responses to our letters.  We would in no way wish to criticize anybody.  We do understand that everybody has urgent tasks and that it’s not possible to respond to all appeals.

However, we would stress that silence plays into the hands of those who have absolute contempt for human rights and human dignity.  We are endeavouring not to be silent, but those fighting us have power and opportunities for pursuing their ends.

Our voices will continue to sound the alarm when human rights are being violated, but if we cannot hope for a receptive ear and help in passing on information, we will be almost powerless. 

If that indeed is what those who ordered this attack are hoping to achieve, please help us to ensure that they fail.  It will be our shared victory.

Attempt to silence human rights defenders

Early Sunday evening, 9 December, on the eve of Human Rights Day, the server supporting the websites of the human rights organizations Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU), and the “Maidan” website, was subjected to an intensive DDOS [Distributed Denial of Service] assault which is still continuing.

This is a notorious form of closing access to a website or sites by effectively inundating it with a huge number of requests. The sites are overloaded and do not therefore open when Internet users try to access them

Since the attack came just before the announcement in Kyiv at a press conference of the Thistle of the Year Anti-Awards for most persistent human rights violators in 2007, certain unkind thoughts at first seemed warranted. 

However, the scale of the attack, as well as many other ominous parallels with other recent onslaughts on human rights websites, forces us to seriously consider other possible explanations. 

During a mere 20 minutes, from 22.30 to 22.50 on 10 December, the besieged server was bombarded with more than 150 thousand requests.  This level of attack and the cost involved preclude its being the work of amateur hackers, as does the fact that the attack is still not abating. 

  As of 12 December there is access to the sites, however it would be premature to believe that the onslaught has ended, since yesterday such periods of access were followed by renewed attacks.  Our investigations give grounds for believing that the attack has been organized from Russia and is being controlled in response to what we do.  Attempts to deflect the barrage work for a while until the assailants understand what is being attempted and retarget their attack accordingly.

  We are clearly considering why we have been considered so worthy of considerable and costly attention. 

Two of the websites involved –  and had literally over the last week posted articles in both Russian and English regarding the illegal expulsion from Russia to Uzbekistan of an Uzbek Abdugani Kamaliyev (Tursinov) more than 24 hours after the European Court of Human Rights had applied Rule 39 haling the expulsion.  The last article was published on both sites in Russian on Saturday 8 December.

Just over a month ago, the main Russian website came under a virtually identical attack and was incapacitated for ten days and forced to use another site.  Both KHPG and “Maidan” carried information in both Russian and English about the attack.  It should be mentioned (as we did, repeatedly!) that this was by no means the first such attack in Russia.  We specifically mentioned the attempt to paralyze the “Memorial” website.

We stressed the need to fight such obvious attempts to stifle the voice of conscience in Russia and neighbouring countries, and the need to show solidarity.

We are very grateful for the enormous help and support which HRO are giving us at the present time.

We are even more convinced that we must all be united in this and support one another.

It is possible that those who ordered such an attack found humour in aiming it at Human Rights Day. 

In fact, however, the event which this day commemorates, the signing and affirmation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, serves as a perfect reminder of all that would be at risk if we give in to such attempts to stifle and intimidate us.

It reminds us also that we need to stand together on this – we have no plans to surrender.

For your freedom and ours.


  Halya Coynash  Yevhen Zakharov

  Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Freedom of speech in Ukraine – Censorship of the “carrot”, not the “stick”

Politicians, like in Kuchma’s time, are trying to control information broadcast on television. However now they don’t threaten journalists – all is resolved with money. 

We have already reported on the excellent journalist initiative “We’re not for sale!” where journalists themselves, prompted by the unprecedented amount of news material to order during the election campaign, are endeavouring to remove this scourge on their profession. 

The Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle looked into the issue.  They spoke first with Victoria Sumar of the Institute for Mass Information who spoke of hundreds of millions of dollars being involved.

“These are serious figures. For example, a two-minute feature costs approximately five thousand dollars. A programme or direct broadcast costs 50 – 70 thousand. According to different estimates, during the election campaign television channels received from 200 to 300 million dollars” from political parties”.

The initiative “We’re not for sale!” are about to make the results of their first month of monitoring public.  DW spoke with one of the initiators Yehor Sobolyev:

Yehor stresses that this is not a fight against “dishonest” politicians who try to use money to control the media. The issue is about protecting journalism as a profession. The initiative will therefore be presenting specific examples of some “jeansa” [news material to order] in order to make the public aware of how this phenomenon works. He is adamant that they should not only talk about channels and trends, but must also name the people who have taken part in it. 

He says that he is less worried of conflict and insults from colleagues than that that commissioned news items should become the norm. He points out that most of his colleagues are already quite relaxed on the subject of commissioned material.

He believes that the initiative “We’re not for sale!” is mainly a discussion about the future of journalism in Ukraine.

“When you broadcast a commissioned feature, this firstly means that viewers are having lies foisted on them and some may even believe them.  Secondly, and this is even worse, there could have been other material of importance for society. The commissioned report took its place and prevented the public from learning of it. This is a much more serious problem and we have to fight it even if those colleagues whose names are made public may take serious offence”.

Victoria Sumar notes with regret that it is not only parties that are prepared to pay for news items. State structures and even the central authorities are also not loath to seek such dubious publicity. This means that the media ceases to fulfil its direct functions, namely controlling the authorities.

“We had censorship from the regime, and now censorship of money. And how is this better?  The regime’s censorship was through the stick. Then they cottoned on to the fact that sticks are too gross and journalists begin to resist. Then they began using the carrot technique. After all money’s much nicer and hard to turn down. Yet we mustn’t forget that it’s the same censorship”.

Yehor Sobolyev is disturbed that the younger generation of journalists who didn’t experience Kuchma’s censorship doesn’t realize the danger which still hangs over freedom of speech in Ukraine. He points out that the stick can always replace the carrot.

“We see this tendency and want to quash it now before it destroys us. For example, on one of the central television channels most of the commissioned material is carried out by those doing their internship who have newly come to television. I see that as a catastrophe for their future career. They won’t become established anywhere, they’ll just be replaced by new interns”.

Yehor Sobolyev is optimistic. He believes that sooner or later television channel managers will understand that money from the coffers of the parties is only an ephemeral form of income. If you want to ensure that your channel has a stable rating, and therefore, profit, you should not place its reputation at risk by broadcasting news which has been commissioned.

Slightly abridged from a text by Yevhen Teize

Access to information

It’s our environment: on asserting the right to know

A nationwide monitoring project “Right of access to environmental information” has found little to say that’s possible about the situation in Ukraine.  The information is still being processed, however the general assessment reached by the environmental groups involved is that violations of the right to environmental information in Ukraine are of a systemic nature with causes which go deep.

Just ask … and nothing

The key activity of the project involved sending formal information requests.  These are based on the Law on Information, the provisions of which require public officials to provide information or explain why the information may not be made public, as well as stipulating the timescale for issuing responses.

It is important to stress that the information sought was hardly of an esoteric or seditious nature. 

The information requests concerned the following:

  • the environmental impact of those enterprises deemed the worst polluters of the environment;
  • the use of environmental protection funds;
  • the impact of environmental accidents and problems of public health.

There were of course varied ways of not quite complying with the law. There were all too often unwarranted attempts by officials to refuse to provide the information.  Often they simply tried to avoid giving it, without a clear refusal, or gave incomplete information.  As always, a popular way out was to not answer the substance of the question.

Ask the Prosecutor?

The results showed that the prosecutor’s office remained probably the least forthcoming with information it held regarding observance of environmental legislation, crimes against the environment and about cases where the Prosecutor had appeared in court on the side of members of the public whose environmental rights had been infringed.

Why do you want it?

An activist from the human rights organization M’ART Serhiy Tanchuk sent an information request to the Zhytomyr Regional Prosecutor, wanting to know the number of::

  • applications made by members of the public for help in defending their right to a safe environmental;
  • occasions when the prosecutor’s office had responded to such applications and appeared in their defence in court;
  • complaints brought by members of the public regarding violation of environmental legislation;
  • criminal investigations instituted under Articles 236, 237, 238, 244, 253 of the Criminal Code (the section “Crimes against the environment”);

The Prosecutor refused to provide the information on the following grounds:

“According to Article 9 of the Law on Information, “Every citizen shall be ensured free access to information relating to that citizen, except in cases envisaged by the laws of Ukraine”.  In your letter you have not indicated which specific information concerns you personally, and we can therefore not provide the information.  Furthermore, pursuant to Article 24 of the Law “On State statistics”, information requests for statistical information of an internal departmental nature is not subject to disclosure.”

One could quote the Constitution however in fact the same Law clearly refutes this argument with Article 32 stating: “A citizen shall have the right to request state bodies to access any official document, regardless of whether the document relates to that citizen, except in cases of restricted access stipulated by this Law.”

It must also be stressed that the Aarhus Convention clearly stipulates that information regarding adherence to environmental legislation is of public concern and may not therefore be classified as internal departmental information.  It should be stressed that Article 30 of the Law on Information also prohibits any restriction of access to environmental information.

Serhiy Tanchyk has lodged an administrative suit against the refusal of the Zhytomyr Regional Prosecutor to provide the information requested.  The court proceedings into the case are still continuing.

This case demonstrates the ignorance of officials of legislative requirements and how to apply the law.  It shows a disturbing disregard for human rights and lack of professionalism from those occupying positions in the law enforcement agencies.

Other public bodies with communication problems

Difficulties were also experienced in obtaining information from some regional councils and State administrations, the Ministry of Health and its regional divisions; the State Committee for the Environment, the State Department for the Execution of Sentences and the Ministry of Justice.  More than half of the information requests were not properly met.

The Cabinet of Ministers, the Presidential Administration, as well as regional State Administrations and councils usually passed information requests on to departments of the Ministry for Environmental Protection, although the questions were far from always under the jurisdiction of the latter.

Not all experience difficulties

We would note that there were positive examples of substantive responses being provided to some information requests from the State Committee of Statistics, the State Judicial Administration, the Accounting Chamber, as well as some regional State Departments for the Environmental and Natural Resources. 

We found no significant regional differences with regard to ensuring the right of access to information.

Using the courts

Several precedents were created in using administrative court proceedings in order to defend our constitutional right of access to information.

It must be said, however, that local courts were far from always ready to uphold these rights and to find refusals to provide information unlawful and bind those bodies to rectify the situation.

Other ways of having impact

We found various methods effective.  These involved complaints to the prosecutor’s office asking that an internal enquiry be carried out in cases where information had not been provided; that the behaviour of the officials involved be declared unlawful; that they face disciplinary or administrative proceedings and finally be compelled to provide the information.  After receiving prosecutors’ letters, some of those refusing to give answers chose to abandon their dubious arguments and satisfy the information requests.

The old mind warps

The authorities clearly still have problems comprehending freedom of information and the need for openness in State policy and accountability to the public who have delegated them to this role.

There remains a subconscious mistrust of independent civic activity and especially that aimed at ensuring transparent and controllable activities by the authorities.

Another stereotype which is proving resilient to change is the idea some public officials have that they are entitled to decide themselves which information they will divulge and which they won’t.

An example of this attitude is seen by the reaction of the Ministry of Health Department for the Zaporizhya region to an information request from Yury Babinin, the head of “Public Watch”.  Mr Babinin asked for data on the health of victims of the Chernobyl Disaster among residents of the region registered in priority medical care groups.

The Ministry of Health’s department refused to provide the information, stating:

“According to Article 37 of the Law on Information, information is for official use only and cannot be used to exercise the rights and interests of a Ukrainian citizen and publishing beyond its boundaries, particularly with interpretation of the report on the observance of human rights in Ukraine  [this does not appear to derive from the said law – translator].  According to Article 37 of the Law on Information, “All organisations collecting personal information relating to the person shall, prior to handling this information, have the relevant databases officially registered, in keeping with procedures established by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine”

Clearly Mr Babinin’s aim was not to receive confidential information about the state of health of individual people which would indeed be an invasion of their privacy.  He asked for depersonalized statistical data which would indicate any adverse impact of environmental factors on the public health. This information is on open access and must be provided in response to information requests.

The monitoring group believes that this referral to Article 31 is a pitiful attempt to manipulate legal provisions, or an indication of the legal illiteracy of the said official.

Prohibition of discrimination

Who is fuelling inter-ethnic problems in the Crimea?

Improper utterances in the press, ethnic and religious insults are not only the source of negative emotions, but can in the end lead to outbursts of violence. Such problems are particularly acute in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea where relations between the Slavonic majority and repatriated Crimean Tatars sometimes spill out into conflict, moving from the pages of a newspaper to the streets. Specialists from the Kyiv Association of Middle East Studies [AMES] are endeavouring to prevent an escalation of this conflict through the media. There have been plenty of examples where Crimean media outlets did not only fail to promote resolution of inter-ethnic conflict, but actually poured fuel on the fire. One such example was the incident over a cross in 2000 when in the Morske settlement near Sudak Crimean Tatars pulled down a cross erected on a site sacred for Muslims.  On that occasion the conflict almost got out of hand and a lot of time and effort was needed to diffuse it.  At that time the Russian language press was full of intolerance and insults addressed at the Crimean Tatars and seriously exacerbated the tension.

Specialists from AMES say that this and similar examples show how widespread the use of “hate speech” is in the Crimean media, with language used to form models and practice of social inequality.

In order to change this trend, AMES is planning a number of seminars for Crimean journalists. The seminars will be based on special examples from newspaper publications. Their aim is to clearly demonstrate the harmfulness of material written with the use of “hate speech”. 

The media is part of the problem

In explaining the need for such work, the Director of AMES Oleksandr Bohomolov described the present state of the Crimean media in the following terms: “Even a superficial analysis shows that they are less about informing the public and more an actual part of the problem. They convey negative messages, the stereotypes of one community with regard to another. When talking about the Crimean Tatars, for example, the Russian-language media is simply teeming with various types of stereotypes. The audience, depending of course on their level of awareness and knowledge, responds perhaps in different ways. Yet when you are effectively bombarded with this sort of message all the time, you can’t fail to not be adversely affected by it and it leads to an increased potential for conflict”.

The specialists are aware that their initiative will not make immediate changes in the Crimean media realm. However they believe it important to at least draw journalists’ attention to the problem of negative influences of some publications on inter-ethnic harmony in the region. They hope that soon their initiative will generate discussion in Crimean society which will help resolve the problem.

“Hate speech” is a nationwide problem

The existence of biased publications and “hate speech” in the media is not only a Crimean problem, journalist and member of Amnesty International in Ukraine Maxim Butkevych stresses.  “Hate speech” is used systematically and is fairly widespread in the Ukrainian media, both print and electronic. Yet the main problem is more that journalists are not even aware of it as a problem. The very concept of “hate speech” has yet to take root and a lot of journalists simply don’t realize its importance. The understanding is perhaps lacking that people bear responsibility for the stereotypes they generate”.

Maxim Butkevych believes that sometimes unverified information or careless language lead not only to negative emotions, but to violence. This is something lot of journalists fail to understand. 

On refugees

MIA has no plans to hand Gangan over to Russia

Kateryna Levchenko, Adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs, has informed journalists that there can be no question of Mikhail Gangan’s extradition to Russia while his application for asylum is being processed.

Ms Levchenko mentioned that Ukraine has agreements with the Russian Federation in accordance with which Ukraine must accede to requests to detain people on the international wanted list.

“However, in this situation there is a legal and political clash. Mikhail Gangan applied to the Ukrainian authorities for refugee status alleging political persecution in the Russian Federation due to his role as one of the activists and organizers of the March of those in dissent [Marsh niesoglashnykh].  His status as an asylum seeker is confirmed by documents from the Regional Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees. According to international documents, a person applying for refugee status may not be handed over to the country of their origin.”

Ms Levchenko explained that the MIA is presently awaiting the ruling of the appellate court over the appeal lodged by Gangan’s lawyer against the first instance court’s decision to hold Mikhail Gangan in custody.

As reported here already, on 31 December Gangan was detained at the Vinnytsa Railway Station by officers of a Ministry of Internal Affairs Department for Fighting Organized Crime in cooperation with the Russian security service.  The 21-year-old  is a member of the National Bolshevik Party (led by Edward Limonov) which is banned in Russia.  He has faced a number of trumped up charges under the Administrative Offences Code for organizing and taking part in non-violence acts of protest.  In 2004 he was one of those arrested and given a three year suspended sentence for seizing a presidential administration reception office. 

New  information from

Young Russian political activist detained in Ukraine

On 31 December 2007, one of the organizers of the March of those in dissent [Marsh niesoglashnykh] movement in Samara was detained at the Vinnytsa Railway Station by officers of a Ministry of Internal Affairs Department for Fighting Organized Crime in cooperation with the Russian security service.

21-year-old Mikhail Gangan is a member of the National Bolshevik Party (led by Edward Limonov) which is banned in Russia.   He has faced a number of trumped up charges under the Administrative Offences Code for organizing and taking part in non-violence acts of protest.  In 2004 he was one of those arrested and given a three year suspended sentence for seizing a presidential administration reception office.  One of the other 38 activists involved, Vladimir Lind., was recently awarded 15,000 Euro by the European Court of Human Rights who found that Russia had violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security and the right to respect for private life.

For taking part in the March of those in dissent in Samara on 18 May 2007 charges were brought against Gangan of supposedly violating the rules of his conditional sentence.  He fled to Ukraine and was sentenced in his absence to three years imprisonment.

Gangan approached the Regional Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees on 10 December and was recognized as a person requiring international protection. He had prepared an application for refugee status in Ukraine which he was planning to submit after the New Year and Christmas Break.

A district court in Vinnytsa is presently considering a police application to keep Gangan in custody pending a decision on his extradition.

The Vinnytsa Human Rights Group sounded the alert today when there were fears that Gangan might simply be handed over to the Russian authorities in violation of Ukrainian and international norms.  However at present it would seem that the correct procedure is being followed, albeit with considerable reluctance to provide Gangan access to his lawyer.

The Vinnytsa Human Rights Group is calling on the Ukrainian authorities to allow Gangan to apply for refugee status in Ukraine and stresses that it would be a violation of Ukraine ’s international commitments were he to be extradited without being given this chance

Penal institutions

Hunger strike in Izyaslav Penal Colony

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has received information that a group of prisoners held in the so-called “Monastery” of Izyaslav Penal Colony No. 58 have gone on hunger strike. 

The reasons given are that, according to the prisoners, the cells in “Monastery” are damp and cold, with water running down the walls; there is no ventilation ; the cells are not probably heated or insulated; there are single panes in the windows, with cracks in some of them; water is provided only three times a day for 40-50 minutes; there are rats; the quarantine unit is in premises with virtually no heating (it was used by the monastery to store bodies before burial), with the temperature almost the same as that on the street.  Prisoners are held there for 14 days, those with tuberculosis together with the other prisoners.  There is no medical treatment or medicine, and prisoners who have tuberculosis or are HIV-positive do not even receive vitamins, let alone specialized treatment. Nor are they allowed the requisite extra hour’s walk per day.  The prison shop sells food 1.5-2 times higher than market prices although quite often the products are off.

Prisoners also complain that the administration personnel are arbitrary in their handing out of administrative penalties and that there is no possibility of sending complaints outside the colony. Any attempt to express disgruntlement with unlawful actions of the administration or the bad conditions and lack of medical care leads to disciplinary penalties on any pretext and on the basis of falsified material. They also allege that the administration does not pay them for the work they do and they are made to do physically gruelling work supposedly “for the improvement of the colony”, this meaning as a rule, having to drag 30-kilogram loads of fuel for the boiler.

They claim that over the last four years, not one of them has been moved to a more lenient regime.

They plan to continue their hunger strike until they receive civilized conditions and until the other problems are resolved.  They are aware that the State Department for the Execution of Sentences could apply their usual tactic and bring in a special purpose unit. They stress that their protest is peaceful and non-violent.


Details emerge regarding the death of a conscript

The Kharkiv Region Military Prosecutor has instituted criminal proceedings over the death of 18-year-old conscript Yury Stashchenko who died from a blow inflicted by a fellow soldier.

As reported here Yury Stashchenko was killed on 20 December in the 61st arsenal of the Southern Operational Command for Land Troops (Loziv, Kharkiv region).  The person suspected of inflicting the fatal injury has been detained.

The unit’s commandeer has been suspended for the period of the investigation. He refused to comment on the events. Soldiers were prepared to talk about it only with their backs to the camera.

The Military Prosecutor states that they were initially informed by the unit that a soldier had died of an epileptic attack. However after the autopsy, it was stated that the cause of death had been a blow in the region of the heart.

The investigators have established that in the morning when two rank and file soldiers began abusing each other, a third soldier tried to calm them down. 

“He pushed them apart, and, let’s say, with an incorrect understanding of educational purpose, inflicted a blow with his fist from which the young lad died on the spot”, Mykola Rudyak, Head of the Investigative Unit of the Kharkiv Region Military Prosecutor’s office explained.

The crime is being classified as murder.

Based on material from TV5  5 канал

NGO activities

The European Court of Human Rights trusts Ukrainian human rights defenders

From an interview given to the UNIAN Human Rights site by representative of the International Renaissance Foundation [IRF], Roman Romanov

- You’re the Head of the IRF “Rule of Law” Project. How effective are the measures connected with that project?

I view these with a certain degree of reasonable criticism, and effectiveness is far from 100 percent. On the other hand it would be unrealistic to expect that level from projects in Ukraine. We fully acknowledge both our right and that of others to make mistakes. However I feel there should a critical majority of projects which put forward goals and intentions which we try to implement in our work. That, I would say, we have been able to achieve.

- Which target group do you work with?

We work with very different organizations. Human rights are a main focus, but we’re also involved with judicial reform and the system of criminal justice. We also look at any reform from the perspective of human rights. For that reason our target audience is often less human rights organizations, then the public bodies which have impact on decision-making, for example, public councils attached to different ministries, etc.  …

- What initiative within the framework of the Rule of Law Project would you say has been the most successful? 

It’s probably not possible to use any rating system in the human rights area. I could however mention those initiatives that have brought about some change. Over the four years that I’ve worked for IRF, we’ve seen the development of a human rights milieu.  There was no network of such organizations four years ago. We have introduced initiatives which could unite a large number of organizations. I see that as a major victory, and it’s for this reason, I believe, that we can now speak of a human rights movement in Ukraine.

There are stable initiatives that are impossible to introduce without the milieu.  I would say we are implementing reasonably well a mechanism of public control, firstly in the system of law enforcement bodies (for example the Public Council attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs).  We can say the same of regional MIA departments.  We have already developed a fairly solid pool of organizations that could act as both advisers and controllers. I can’t say that this is equally successful in all regions. Time is needed to ensure that both the police and the public get used to such relations.

We have also been able to implement systematic work in presenting an annual report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. which has been published for the last three years with our support and that of other organizations. This is especially important given the lack, unfortunately, of adequate assessment from the Human Rights Ombudsperson.  Nongovernmental organizations were able to fill this gap which shows that they have sufficiently serious analytical and intellectual resources.

I recently reread one extremely important judgment in the case of Yakovenko v. Ukraine linked with the spread of tuberculosis in penal institutions and SIZO [remand centres], where a person died before the case reached the court. The claimant’s mother continued the case. I think that the judgment was quite fair.  The European Court of Human Rights cites the Human Rights Organizations’ Report where data was given about tuberculosis in penal institutions and SIZO.  That means that the work being done by Ukrainian human rights groups is trusted.

If you look at the concluding observations of UN committees (the Committee against Torture, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), they’re virtually based on recommendations and conclusions presented by nongovernmental organizations. We have thus developed fairly systematic cooperation with different international partners.  This is a marked contrast to the situation previously.

Asked whether the fact that human rights organizations are competing for IRF grants does not lead to division, Mr Romanov said that a healthy environment needed competition and that the Foundation always endeavoured to choose according to criteria outlined in advance.  He believes that if there are conflicts, these are once-off situations, and not a systemic problem. .

Clearly the function of the prosecutor in supervising observance of human rights is a relic of the past. One body cannot simultaneously support State prosecutions in court, carry out criminal investigations, and ensure monitoring over observance of human rights. That is conflict of interests within one public body. One can’t say that the prosecutor’s office does not understand this problem, yet any attempt to restrict this overseeing role always runs up against opposition. And who should be given this function? There is no answer so we constantly put off this reform and come under fire from the Council of Europe and other international institutions.

What are the Rule of Law Project’s priorities for the next year?

Firstly to support the internal demand for human rights. I was just at a roundtable on countering xenophobia and racism and heard various addresses. However that is a project that’s ending. As an ideal for completed action in this area of countering racism and xenophobia, I would say this would be a state of affairs where no support was needed. Just like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream, to walk onto Khreschatyk Street and see a bunch of skinheads with some horrendous slogans being protected by the police from a crowd protesting against the presence of this group of skinheads, anti-Semites and xenophobes in Ukraine. For me that would be a state of completion.  No violence, the police safeguard the freedom of those demonstrations and terrible slogans which most of the population reject.

It’s very important that the ideas that we promulgate and endeavour to defend are well-received and built on the public interest. I think there has been great progress in this area over recent time. Our society has become much more receptive towards the idea of freedom. However this situation is still very unstable and needs further support. We therefore support various forms of communicating with society, for example, the documentary film festival on human rights which I see as an effective way of passing on those values which we term human rights. We also support various Internet websites, information resources which transmit such information and are means of dialogue.

Secondly, it’s also extremely important to develop human rights protection via various available mechanisms – in the Ukrainian courts, in the European Court of Human Rights, in the UN Human Rights Committee. We would like to extend the network of bar lawyers involved in such cooperation who can at any moment, beginning from a first instance court and ending in Strasbourg, ensure effective protection of an individual. Ukrainians need to see a light at the end of the tunnel when there are more and more examples showing that these rights which are violated on a wide scale in Ukraine, can be defended.

We will continue to support reforms in key institution which should be defending human rights. Here we have the issue of judicial reform and reform of the penal system which is still to a large extent closed from the public and is reminiscent of the GULAG system. We will also continue to support various monitoring and analytical projects of human rights organizations in order to present and show not only individual examples of human rights defence, but a system.

We will continue working with international partners so that information about Ukraine is adequately presented at international human rights forums.

I don’t think we have moved off course for reform  however there has been a significant slowdown over the last year and a half or two. We must not waste time, and will stimulate the process through accessible means and support our partners, both State institutions and nongovernmental organizations.

Roman Romanov was speaking with Tetyana Pechonchyk

Slightly abridged

News from the CIS countries

By excusing executioners, we breed still more

An interview given by Alexei Babiy, Chair of Krasnoyarsk “Memorial”

No more access to the archives

- Alexei Andreevich, I’ve often thought about how for each innocent victim of the repression there was one who denounced them, and their own executioner. We talk about the victims, immortalize their names in the Book of Remembrance, but why are we silent about their executioners?

There’s a common phrase that half the country put people away, while the other half were imprisoned.  I don’t agree with it. Yes, there was wide-scale degradation of people. It’s true that the authorities encouraged and abetted denunciations.  Yet half the country can in no way have been involved in this. Usually they tortured one “enemy”, established his circle of acquaintances and friends and drew up lists of potential “enemies”.  Of course there were denunciations, but not always. Those informers* had mercenary motives – some wanted to resolve their housing problems, others to further their career or to get even with an opponent.

As for the executioners, we were able to publish a far from exhaustive list of those who arrested, interrogated, beat out confessions on our website  In the first two volumes, published in 2004-2005, of the Book of Remembrance for Victims of Political Repression, the names of NKVD officers who took part in the repressions are given. However from the third volume on these disappeared.

Furthermore, from 2006 access to the archives of interest has been closed to “outsiders”, including to members of “Memorial” Access was denied through a special order from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Federal Security Service [FSB].  Only relatives can get permission to see the files, and they’re shown far from everything.

- An interesting turnaround with our property. So in the 70th anniversary of the Great Terror, you don’t have the right to see the archival material of 1937?

That’s right. Now, only after 75 years have elapsed are people unrelated able to get permission to work in the archives. That means that we now only have access to documents for 1932, and will only get to 1937 in five years.

The names which history must record

Coming back to the subject of executioners, who is preventing these names being recorded?

It’s government policy. When the law on monetary compensation [instead of benefits – translator] was being passed, they also changed the Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression.  They quietly removed from the law the phrase about publishing lists of those guilty of falsifying criminal files, using unlawful means of investigation, crimes against justice. 

After that the enforcement agencies began removing the names of NKVD officers from published documents. It’s a difficult subject. We work productively with them and without cooperation with them, not one volume of the Book of Remembrance could have been published. Information presented by regional departments of the FSB, thanks to officers from there, has cleared the names of thousands of victims of political repression.

Yet now with regard to those who carried out the repression, our views diverge. “Why offend veterans?”, they say. Or they refer to the law on personal confidentiality. Or they actually excuse the actions of their predecessors. “Well, what do you want? People were doing their jobs. If they’d objected, they’d have been shot.”

Yet by excusing the executioners, we excuse the repression!

That’s the point. We don’t publish these names to get even. Assessment of the past is important for the present. Either the present security service regards itself as continuing the traditions of the NKVD or it unequivocally condemns them.  Those officers have a difficult service and are permanently confronted by a moral choice. We hope that when looking at these lists they will think long and hard before making deals with their conscience. Incidentally, during the years of repression, there were some chekists [i.e. NKVD officers, from the original name Cheka – ЧК – translator] who committed suicide, not being prepared to take part in the lawlessness.

The bared sword of the proletariat

A courageous step – they preferred to kill themselves rather than execute other innocent people.

There are people one can be proud of. For example, the Head of the Taseyevsk district office of the NKVD Vasily Yegorovich Spiridonov who during the height of the repressions of 1937 refused to trump up cases against innocent people. He was shot.

The opposite was also the case. The name of one person who was repressed and then rehabilitated was left out of the Book of Remembrance. That was the Head of the Minusinsk investigation unit of the NKVD A.S. Alexeev. He was notorious for extreme brutality. In just one year 1,500 people were shot. Alexeev personally took part in the executions, and since they didn’t all die immediately, he ordered that they be battered to death - so as to economize on bullets.

In 1938 Alexeev was arrested, they pinned anti-Soviet agitation on him, participation in an insurgent organization. They did in fact also mention exceeding his powers, and he was sent to labour camp.

However within three years he was released, and two years later, the conviction was dropped. We were not prepared to place his name on the list of victims together with those of the people he battered to death.  That’s despite the fact that he was rehabilitated in 2002 and cleared of the crimes under articles 58.2 and 11, and he was not involved in either an insurgent organization or anti-Soviet agitation.

They often talk and write admiringly of  the Head of Norilsk Labour Camp Zavenyagin. Was he really such a nice man?

He got a number of specialists out of general work and took them into the management. And general work meant certain death. Compare him with another labour camp head – Garanin, the Head of the North-Eastern Labour Camp, who was the tsar and god at Kolyma. Garanin would get up with a hangover, get prisoners in a line, and if he didn’t like somebody’s face, the man would get a bullet in the forehead. In comparison with Garanin, yes, Zavenyagin was a nice man. However the remains of thousand of prisoners lie in Norilisk, those who were shot or died of hunger and the cold. You can’t expunge that from history either.

The worst thing is that by protecting the executioners, we deceive people who don’t end up learning the whole truth.

Not even protecting them, but presenting them as heroes. One Krasnoyarsk paper recently published an interview with a former chekist where the journalist with the greatest respect asked what she had received her Red Banner Award. She answered that it was for a case in which her fellow classmate Tugovikov who was rabidly anti-Soviet had been charged. We looked up our database. Alexei Tugovikov, the head of a radio centre in the settlement of Maklakovo was sentenced in 1943 to 10 years labour camp. He was rehabilitated in the absence of any crime back in 1965. An innocent man was again, 60 years later, being called an enemy of the people. They have not to this day apologized.  At least your newspaper can restore justice. The point is not that old lady - nobody’s going to take her award away from her. It’s in the question: would such a publication have even been thinkable ten years ago?

And we have President Putin approvingly talking about a textbook for schools where Stalin is called an effective manager, and the repressions are mentioned in passing, so that it appears that episode in the country’s history was insignificant.

One deputy of the regional Legislative Assembly recently said that what’s the big deal and only seven hundred thousand people were repressed.

Lies! That’s only the number of people executed, and for one year only – 1937. There were also labour camp prisoners, kulaks and deported peoples. Just the central department of Internal Affairs for the Krashnoyarsk region has issued more than half a million documents regarding rehabilitation over recent years. In the press they sometimes go to the opposite extreme and name figures that are over the top, like 100 million victims. However recently they seek more often to underplay the figures, or be silent altogether about the repressions. It’s the trend.

People are ever more positive in talking about the inspirer of these “victories” – Josef Stalin. Why is this happening?

There’s an explanation for that. Incidentally there’s an explanation also for why they protect the informers and executioners. However that’s another topic.

I hope we’ll talk on that subject too, if nothing happens.

I hope so too.  To our next meeting.

The interviewer was Valentina Maistrenko from “Today’s Newspaper”  

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2007, #12