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.

Against torture and ill-treatment

Two men imprisoned following confessions made under duress awarded 1 million UAH in compensation

The court awarded damages over the unlawful actions of detective inquiry and criminal investigation bodies, the prosecutor’s office and the court.

The court rulings into these cases were on 13 June 2008 Yury Vysochynenko against the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office and the State Treasury was heard in the Chervonozavodsky District Local Court in Kharkiv and 19 June by Ihor Oliynyk, against the same respondents.  The two men were represented by Alyona Kutyopova who is working for the Kharkiv Public Defence Office for Legal Aid.

Mr Vysochynenko was unlawfully held in custody for more than 6 years, from 22 July 2000 to 19 August 2006, these including almost a year serving a life sentence.

There is only one positive thing to be said about this appalling case and that is that it has finally been recognized.

The ordeal began for Yury Vysochynenko on 22 July 2000 when he was unlawfully detained by police officers in Kharkiv.  No protocol of detention was drawn up which meant effectively no control over the behaviour of the officers, no time limit and no contact with the outside world.  On 25 July, following systematic beating and torture, the officers extracted a “confession”. He “admitted” to an armed robbery and the murder of N.H. Knyazeva on 14 April 1989.

The court ruling says that on 26 July Vysochynenko was detained on suspicion of having committed a crime in accordance with Article 115 of the Criminal Procedure Code [CPC] . He had thus been held in police custody for up to four days before a formal protocol was drawn up.  The case was taken over by the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office on 28 July.

During the pre-trial examination, the Prosecutor’s Office was guilty of a whole number of flagrant infringements.  These included: infringements over time periods for remand in custody; the systematic use of unlawful measures of physical and psychological influence in order to force him to sign all documents presented by the prosecutor’s office.

Vysochynenko’s statements regarding his innocence were not taken into consideration and were basically not checked.

The ruling reads that “in December 2001 through intentional and conscious fabrication by the prosecutor’s office of evidence, the claimant was officially charged.”  It should be stressed that this was more than one year after Mr Vysochynenko was remanded in custody.

Almost three years after being remanded in custody, Vysochynenko was convicted by the Kharkiv Regional Appeal Court of armed robbery and the murder of N.H. Knyazeva and sentenced to life imprisonment with confiscation of property.  The ruling states that the judicial examination was unwarrantedly dragged out. On 2 March 2004 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 15 years imprisonment with confiscation of property.

On 25 November 2005, on the basis of new evidence, the Prosecutor General made a submission to the Supreme Court to have the court rulings in this case reviewed.  On 16 February 2006 the Criminal Proceedings Chamber of the Supreme Court effectively revoked the court rulings convicting Mr Vysochynenko and sent the case back for further investigation.

Despite the conviction having been revoked, after Mr Vysochynenko had already spent nearly six years in custody, the Court did not choose a different preventive measure and release him.

Finally on 19 August 2006, following the additional investigation, the case against Mr Vysochynenko was closed since his part in the crimes had not been proven. He was finally released, having spent 2,218 days deprived of liberty, including 300 days sentenced to life imprisonment.

The court ruling explains in detail the suffering sustained by the victim of this terrible miscarriage of justice and his family. They included the death of his father-in-law and injuries which his wife sustained in a car accident when they were driving to Moscow to gather evidence of Vysochynenko’s innocence.

Vysochynenko’s own health has been seriously damaged by the ordeal.

Mr Vysochynenko had sought 3 million UAH in damages and also official apologies from the prosecutor’s office.

Incredibly, the prosecutor’s office claimed that there had been sufficient evidence against Mr Vysochynenko while his case was under their jurisdiction. They pointed to the “confession” which they alleged the claimant had made of his own free will and claimed that Mr Vysochynenko had not proven that force had been used against him.

The State Treasury representative argued against the amount of damages sought on the grounds, presumably deemed by them to be compelling, that this would hurt the State budget.

The court partially allowed the claim.

While not questioning Mr Vysochynenko’s right to compensation, the court awarded 1 million UAH only. The grounds given were that the claimant had not provided proof that he had been tortured during both the detective inquiry stage [diznannya] and the pre-trial investigation.  It is not clear what kind of proof Mr Vysochynenko could have provided.  Certainly the official opinion, as well as current provisions in legislation, made it possible to establish that the confession and other documents had not been signed by Vysochynenko of his own free will.  In February 2006, the Supreme Court had ruled that Mr Vysochenko was not the author of the confession and other documents, and that pressure had been placed on him to write them as dictated.

The judge refused the claimant’s demand for official apologies since there was nothing in current legislation allowing for this.


Ihor Oliynyk’s case differs only in details, with his detention beginning on 21 August and the “confession” finally extracted through beating and torture on 2 September.  He was also held in custody, some of the time serving a 15 year sentence for the same armed robbery and murder for almost 6 years. Unfortunately the judge used the same grounds for not paying the compensation sought in full, i.e. that the use of torture to extract the confession, etc, had not bee proven.



(Halya Coynash)

The right to a fair trial

Strategy for reforming criminal justice may get moving

The Cabinet of Ministers has approved an action plan for implementing the Strategy for reforming criminal justice in Ukraine.  The Ministry of Justice which posted the information on its official site drew up the Strategy which the Minister of Justice says was passed by the Cabinet of Ministers on Thursday.  The Instruction issued apparently sets out clear stages for reforming the system.

In September, according to the Strategy, a new Criminal Procedure Code should be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers for its consideration. Within six months of the adoption of this Code, a Code on criminal misdemeanours and a Code on administrative misdemeanours will be drawn up, as well as amendments to the Criminal Code, for example, limiting the use of punishments linked with deprivation of liberty.

By December this year the Cabinet of Ministers should prepare amendments to some legislative acts allowing for the transfer of the State Penal Service into the system of bodies of Justice. This same timeframe is set for drawing up a new draft version of the Law “On the prosecutor’s office”.

The Minister states that the plan contains around 30 points on drawing up draft normative legal acts and organizational measures needed to carry out reform of the criminal justice system. These include the creation of an anti-corruption body with authority to carry out pre-trial investigation into corruption offences; the preparation of a new version of the Law “On the Security Service of Ukraine”, as well as a draft law “On Internal Affairs bodies”, and others.

It is also planned to create a single system of statistics for the criminal justice system with one database on criminal offences, administrative misdemeanours, and punishment for them.

The Minister believes that this Strategy will make it possible to fundamentally democratize and humanize the work of criminal justice system agencies and strengthen protection of human rights in accordance with Ukraine’s international commitments.

From information posted at

Freedom of expression

Newspaper pogrom

On 29 July a banal though undoubtedly unseemly clash occurred in Lviv. The main players were activists from the youth Jewish centre “Shalom Khaverim” and the centre’s neighbours – a retired couple. It’s not entirely clear why Mr Pensioner suddenly decided to burst into the flat of his detested neighbours, although initial reports suggested that the conflict was over noise. He was met by Ms M. who, probably frightened, had armed herself with a teargas canister. Ms Pensioner apparently hurtled to her husband’s defence. She grabbed a water scoop from the kitchen and used it to break two windows to the flat of the youth centre. Armed with the same scoop, she then fell upon Mr N/ who had come out to help Ms M.

Can this be called an anti-Semitic attack? It depends what we understand this to be. The young people were undoubtedly Jewish, and their pensioner neighbours would seem to have on several occasions expressed anti-Semitic opinions about the Jewish centre. Certainly unpleasant, but it doesn’t quite muster up to a fully-fledged anti-Semitic crime, especially since we don’t know who else the couple had it in for. It is known, however, that the pensioners’ other neighbours did not support them.

The police arrived within 15 minutes. The Lviv Region Assistant to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Human Rights, Taras Hatalyak also came, as well as an ambulance which proved unnecessary. Only the overheated pensioners received any injuries and those were not serious. The court hearing over the incident took place last week and the pensioners were fined.

There is of course little sensation here. In the later development of “events”, however, there are so many familiar features that it is difficult to feel surprise, probably just weary frustration.

On 1 August the first report appeared in the Jewish News (under the title: “The pogrom’s come!”), then on Interfax, first in Russian and soon afterwards in English. The report finally appeared that day, signed by Polish Press Agency correspondent Yaroslav Junko in Polish.  The aggressive pensioners had vanished, and instead the reports speak of a “group of Lviv anti-Semites carrying out a pogrom”. The water scoop had turned into “steel rods” and the group had supposedly “chanting anti-Semitic slogans, burst into the building of the Jewish centre and destroyed everything in their path. Two workers who were in the “Shalom Khaverim” Centre were brutally beaten by those taking part in the pogrom”.

The first report refers to “one activist of Lviv’s Jewish community”. Having jumped at the sensation, the other media outlets repeated or exactly translated what we can only loosely term the “source”. In fact, the English and Polish already refer to another source for the information, this, they say, being the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. Moreover, Mr Junko informs his Polish readers that the information was provided by the Ukrainian media, and says that it was they who quoted the Federation.

This is somewhat different from what the same Mr Junko writes on 4 August in “Ukrainska Pravda”,, but first let’s pay some attention to the origin and use of sources.

We have an entirely specific situation which when reported, was responded to not only by a police investigative operations team, but also by the Assistant to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on Human Rights. There is also a court ruling. With regard to the version of 1 August, there is an original article with reference to an anonymous “activist”. This text wanders around sites gaining yet another source on its way.

Then by 4 August Mr Junko’s authoritative sources have multiplied. It’s true that given the total anonymity of it all, we cannot know whether he had these sources on 1 August when he copied “information” from Interfax while for some reason referring to the “Ukrainian media”.

Going by the text, the journalist did not especially feel the need for specific information from specific and not anonymous people. He “doesn’t know all the details about the event”, but he has seen such Jewish communities in Warsaw and he therefore feels entitled to paint an entire picture. His version even has a pre-history with devout and tidy Jewish people creating order in a Lviv apartment block which irritates their neighbours who supposedly also don’t like the fact that “Jewish children are studying their own traditions”.

I imagine the reader is familiar with pictures of Chagall, the works of Sholom Aleichem or just old Jewish songs, and that he or she also feels the aching pain for a world destroyed. It is essentially this world that Junko describes in his article. One can only regret that, having decided to call his text “Lviv Pogrom”, with the words bringing to mind the terrible tragedy of 1941, while telling fairytales about a pogrom that never happened, the author forgot something else. And he ought to have remember how bitterly easy it is to create tension, stir up enmity and spread rumours which lead to the death of innocent people.

I am writing Junko but I mean all his anonymous sources. I would with respect like to hear from the journalist where he got his erroneous information about the police who, unlike him, were actually present.

I wouldn’t deem to foist on Mr Junko my thoughts on what constitute credible sources of information. I would just say that it wouldn’t hurt for him to compare his information with material about another event that never happened, a speech by Vasyl Tymchyna In November last year, a correspondent of the Internet publication MIGnews reported that Mr Tymchyna (also, incidentally, a pensioner) had sworn that the water of the Dnipro River would turn red with blood. I will not continue this quote of the journalist’s words, not because they’re terrible (although that’s not the word for it), but because he, or his anonymous sources, quite simply pulled them out of the air. The MIGnews journalist was, he said, most indignant over the silence of all the representatives of the authorities present. They were of course silent for the most banal reason: there was no terrible speech.

I don’t know why on 1 August Mr Junko refers to Ukrainian media however when after only three days he complains that Ukrainian journalists were silent about the “pogrom”, I would respectfully remind him that there is another explanation.

It is, of course, very convenient to insure yourself by complaining from the outset about silence and the likely lack of reaction from the police or authorities in general. Everybody starts looking around trying to understand who’s conning them. Maybe the cops are lying again, the court is mistaken, the pensioners are not really pensioners and the whole thing’s is gross deception?

They say that rumours fly. That does happen, but more often than not they are spread, with ill-intent or through carelessness, for the sake of an eye-catching headline, sensation, improved ratings, etc. They spread microbes, infecting with enmity, distrust and hatred. Through anonymity it is virtually impossible to track down the source of the infection. I would strongly urge journalists and the editorial boards of all publications to be more careful and professional: we are all responsible for avoiding infection.

Crimean communists disrupt television broadcast on NATO

On Thursday evening a group of communists led by deputies from the Crimean parliament decided to use methods of force against pluralism of opinion.

A live programme as scheduled to take place on the State television and radio company “Crimea” on Euro-Atlantic integration. Those planning to take part including the Head of the NATO Information and Documentation Centre in Kyiv Michel Dure, officers from Russian and Ukrainian fleets, as well as representatives of the public and from the different political forces on the peninsula.

Before the programme was to start, the group of communists and youth activists burst into the studio chanting and pushing the journalists invited. They forced the management to suspend the live broadcast.

At the same time, another group blocked the entrance to the television company preventing some of the journalists and specialists from entering. They also applied force, shoving people and twisting their arms.

The Head of the programme Kateryna Gromova called the behaviour uncivilized and an attempt to muffle journalists and political opponents.

The police say that the testimony gathered will be passed today, Friday, to the Crimean Prosecutor in order to initiate criminal charges under article 171 of the Criminal Code “obstructing journalists carry out their lawful work).

This is not the first time that Crimean communists led by the same deputies have applied force against journalists and political opponents. In September 2007 they broke up two press conferences in Simferopol and in November that year did the same to an academic conference on Holodomor issues in Ukraine. In March this year they disrupted the presentation of a book by the last Commander of the UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] Vasyl Kuk and in June assaulted members of a pro-NATO civic action.

There was no reaction then from the Prosecutor.

From a report at

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence accuses the media of disinformation

The Ministry’s press service has stated that the reports in some media outlets of supposed participation of Ukrainian military instructors and servicing of air defence on Georgian territory are total lies. The statement is posted on the Ministry’s official site.

It explains that some media outlets have alleged that Russian fighter planes taking part in carpet bombings of Georgian territory were brought down by systems of air defence serviced by Ukraine’s Aimed Forces. 

This, it should be said, is just one of the allegations running rife in the Russian media and on occasion being reported (generally in cut and paste style) by Ukrainian media outlets.

Access to information

“Totalitarian regimes usually block access to information before all else”

An interview with Volodymyr Yavorsky, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

What are the shortcomings in legislation on access to information?  What exactly restricts people’s access and how?  Is it possible at all to ask such questions?

There are several significant problems which make it impossible to exercise the right of access to information.

This is firstly the huge amount of information held by the authorities which is unlawfully classified. This involves first and foremost use of the stamp restricting access “For official use only”. There is no clear criterion in legislation for which information is placed in this category, nor any control established over the use of this stamp.  It is also practice to classify not the specific information, but the entire document. For example, one paragraph in the document contains information which based on the unclear legislation is deemed confidential, and the whole document gets classified. This does not comply with international standards.

As for secrets, the relevant type of information should be included in the List of Items of Information which constitute State secrets. Yet there is no such List for information with the stamp “For official information only”. The latter is applied in the case of confidential information held by the State, and if there are such lists they are not always made public. In such cases you have the paradoxical situation where we do not have access to official documents confirming the lists of information which are confidential. In other words we cannot find out what types of information are classified.

There are also serious problems with information being unlawfully classified as secret. The list of items which are deemed State secrets is too broad and not justified in a democratic society. For example, information about generalized data on investigative operations (including the number of permits issued to intercept information from communications channels) is considered a State secret whereas in all democratic countries this information is included in the public reports issued by the law enforcement agencies on their work since it shows the level to which the law enforcement agencies and security service intrude upon people’s freedom.

Legislation also fails to clearly deal with receiving information which needs to be separately sought through an information request.

There are other problems with receiving open access information. The authorities often don’t respond to information requests, legal entities are simply not entitled to submit such requests, and journalists do not have the mechanisms to swiftly receive information. Bearing in mind the specific nature of information, specifically the fact that it becomes stale so swiftly, it is not just important that an information request is met, but how swiftly the necessary document or information is provided. There is no established effective liability for infringing the right of access to information.

Thus, as well as excessive classifying of information, legislation does not establish effective procedure for receiving information.

How well does the new draft law deal with these problems?

If you mean the draft law being drawn up by a working group attached to the Ministry of Justice, this has both positive and negative features. The general move in the direction of eliminating the problems mentioned above and clearly stipulating the procedure for receiving information is to be welcomed. Although it is too early to know how this will be in the final version.

How important is the principle of access to information for a democratic civic society?

Openness of information is a cornerstone of democracy.  Without objective information you cannot make correct and informed choices at the elections, and the media cannot use their controlling functioning over the authorities effectively. Without information it’s not possible to assess the work of the current government or deputies, or to simply draw conclusions about many social processes. Free circulation of information is vital for a democracy and for the development of society. Totalitarian regimes usually block access to information before all else.

On the other hand, access to information is an issue of personal safety, especially if one thinks of access to information about the environment or other information about what can harm us.

There are a lot of types of information which can be classed as secret, for example commercial or State secrets, yet which are of importance to the public. Where do we draw the line between public and not public information?

We need to apply a simple test each time. Information is classified as secret for certain clearly defined reasons – when such reasons are unequivocally defined by legislation, other reasons cannot be cited. For example, information about crimes, human rights abuse or danger to the public may not be classified as secret. In other words, the opportunities for classifying information as secret and the relevant procedure must be incredibly clearly spelled out in legislation, and all other information should be openly available.

Later one should look at what potential harm could be caused if the given information is circulated. Such harm must be real, not hypothetical, i.e. there needs to be a cause and effect link between the information and the consequences. At the same time the public need for this information must be considered.

In any case, I believe, that where there are doubts the principle of openness of information should prevail. It should be open unless the need to classify it as secret becomes evident. The problem is that the government is inclined to take the contrary view. Nor in Ukraine is there effective control over classifying information, for example by the Human Rights Ombudsperson which could check the balance of interests. Therefore in the majority of cases, the public and individuals don’t have any idea what information is kept secret, and cannot therefore stipulate this balance.

The interviewer was Oksana Synytska, for ІМІ

Prohibition of discrimination

So what does “characteristic appearance” mean if not ethnic profiling?

What should have been an important court hearing was held in Kharkiv on 29 July. What was in question was the legitimacy of the actions of the Kharkiv metro police in stopping people to check their documents on disputed grounds.  Disputed because the claimant alleges that he was detained because of his ethnic origin and the head of the metro police appeared to confirm this, yet neither first instance nor appeal court agreed.  They did not, however provide other grounds since no specific accusations were made and no charges brought.  The courts also paid no heed to the claimant’s statement that he was often stopped.

The case involved an appeal brought by Kharkiv resident, Viacheslav Manukian against a first instance court which had rejected his civil suit against top management of the Metro Police. 

Mr Manukian says that he is regularly stopped and asked for identification. “Since there are no grounds, reasons or causes for systematically “checking my identity”, I have every justification for assuming that this behaviour is linked to my ethnic origin and my appearance”.

The civil suit had asked the court to declare unlawful the actions of the police when they stopped him in the metro and took him for questioning to police premises. There were various specific complaints such as that his details were noted in the police log book, that he was not informed of his rights and others. 

Mr Manukian had pointed out that the behaviour of the police breached the Law “On the police” which states that a person is only detained on suspicion of having committed a crime or offence.  He had also appealed against the behaviour of the head of that metro police department who had on 28.12.2006 answered in writing that the reason for Mr Manukian’s being detained had been his “characteristic appearance”.

The Kharkiv District Administrative Court rejected Mr Manukian’s claim with a long list of arguments, for example, that the metro had strategic significance for the economy and security of the State, and that the police were responsible for public order, safety etc.

This first court stated that the law had been adhered to since the log book stated that Mr Manukian had been stopped on suspicion of having committed an offence.

  The court ruling of 29 July cites many laws regarding the right of the police to stop and check the documents of people suspected of a crime.  This was not, in fact, in dispute.  Mr Manukian stated consistently that he had been stopped because of his appearance, and indeed this was confirmed in writing.

  The panel of judges agreed with the conclusions of the first instance court which found no justification in Mr Manukian’s call for the actions of the respondents to be declared unlawful and discriminatory.  The panel of judges stated that the claimant’s assertion that he had been stopped on the grounds of his ethnic origin was based on supposition.  It went on to say that the claimant had made “an incorrect assessment” of the words of the head of the metro police about his “characteristic appearance”, and that this had not meant only ethnic origin but everything about his external appearance. “The subjective assessment of such external appearance of the claimant had been the grounds for the police officer to feel prompted to carry out action to identify an offender.”

The judges also rejected the claim against the entry in the log book, yet once again on the grounds that such entries are envisaged by law, without touching on the issue of whether there were any grounds for believing that Mr Manukian had committed an offence.

However the appeal court found that the first instance court had not given a correct assessment of the actions of the police officer who had breached the law by not informing Mr Manukian of his rights, and had not explained the grounds for his being stopped.

It concluded that there had not been proper fulfilment of the police officer’s duties when detaining Mr Manukian on 27 November 2006.  Under these circumstances the first instance court should not have fully rejected the claim.

The panel of judges therefore partially allowed the appeal against the ruling of the Kharkiv District Administrative Court from 27 March 2008 by declaring the failure of the police officer involved to inform Mr Manukian of his rights when detaining him.

The court rejected the rest of the appeal.

On refugees

Strange welcome

In the middle of the most worrying conflict this region has seen in many years, the question of information is, of course, paramount. There are however occasions when it is truly difficult to fathom why an official has felt the need to open his mouth.  The Head of the Kyiv Police deemed it necessary on Monday to assure journalists that the police were ready to maintain law and order should there be an upsurge in the number of migrants from the Caucuses due to the events in South Ossetia.

One might have hoped that Mr Yarema simply misinterpreted the silence from journalists as encouragement to keep talking, only the same public official in a very responsible position has felt the need to make general statements about migrants from the Caucuses on at least one other notorious occasion recently.  Then he appeared to think the public should notify the police if they saw Georgians around cars (having stated that some Georgian nationals are known to be engaged in thefts from cars).  This time, he stated: “The issue of migration of people from the Caucuses is today really of concern, including for the law enforcement agencies, since a very large number of people from the Caucuses come to Ukraine and they, most unfortunately, commit crimes.”

It is vital that the police watch criminal gangs and take measures to counter criminal behaviour.  Mr Yarema presumably has the statistics to justify his loose terms, such as a “very large number”. There is, however, a fundamental difference between a large number and all migrants from a particular area, and such remarks at a time when a great many people are likely to be refugees seem anything but constructive.

Mr Yarema goes on to say that “We always welcome guests, we have no issues linked with xenophobia, however if these people come to commit crimes, we will, of course, document this and detain them in order to prosecute”.  He also said that the biggest problem for Kyiv came from offences committed by Georgian nationals.

I am not disputing that Mr Yarema may have figures to back his statistics, and there can of course be no question of concealing such information. I remain baffled however as to what purpose Mr Yarema’s comments were supposed to serve at a time like this.  After all people in many Georgian areas were fleeing from bombs, while in Russia a large number of migrants at present have every reason to fear setting foot outside their homes.

And in the capital of Ukraine where the Police are supposedly making efforts to fight xenophobia and racism, we have a whole array of shocking articles in the media about “swarms of bandits” and so forth. I have no idea whether real criminals read such articles, however I would seriously doubt that such texts would fill them with fear and trembling. We do however also have a large number of people who commit no crimes, yet read not only these articles but the suspicious thoughts in the eyes of their neighbours and colleagues. And we have, to boot, a very specific welcome for people in fear of their lives.

UHHRU position on the extradition of a refugee by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General

On 30 July 2008 the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) issued an open appeal over the flagrant violation by the Prosecutor General of domestic and international law in extraditing a refugee to his country of origin.

On the same day the Press Service of the Prosecutor General’s Office [GPU]] published an official statement giving its grounds for the extradition of Oleg Kuznetsov who had been granted refugee status by the Ukrainian authorities.

The GPU official statement contains arguments which arouse concern as to the level of legal awareness of the Prosecutor General who is called upon by the Constitution to oversee observance of human rights and civil liberties and adherence to the law on these issues by the authorities, bodies of local self-government and their officials.  In view of this, UHHRU feels it necessary to state the following.

  1. We consider that the references by the Prosecutor General to any circumstances linked with the accusations against a refugee in his country of origin are of no relevance to the legal assessment of the extradition of a refugee. They replace legal argumentation with considerations of expediency and are simply intended to detract the public’s attention away from the Prosecutor General’s flagrant violation of the law.
  2. We are deeply concerned that in endeavouring to justify his actions, the Prosecutor General presents arguments regarding the legitimacy of the granting of refugee status. Saying that “the given decision directly contravenes Article 10 of the Law “On refuges”, the Prosecutor General forbore to mention that this decision was the subject of judicial examination by the District Administrative Court in Kyiv which in its ruling of 21 July 2008 stated:

“The State Committee of Ukraine on Nationalities and Religions” (the Committee) “fully and objectively studied the material of the case of O.G. Kuznetsov and within its jurisdiction as stipulated in law adopted Decision No. 91-08 on 05.03.08 granting Russian Federation national O,G. Kuznetsov refugee status in Ukraine. This was in accordance with Article 1 § 2 of the Law of Ukraine “On refugees” as a person with an entirely well-founded fear of becoming a victim of persecution for belonging to a certain social group.”

Taken together with Kuznetsov’s extradition to Russia, such a stand from the Prosecutor General demonstrates total contempt for any court ruling which runs counter to his ideas of law and legality

  1. We are also startled to find that the statement officially names the extradited refugee a criminal in advance of a fair court examination of the charges against him. The Prosecutor General resorted to this shocking infringement of the assumption of Oleg Kuznetsov’s innocence despite the ruling of the District Administrative Court in Kyiv of 21 July which states: “In accordance with Article 62 of the Constitution of Ukraine, as well as Article 2 § 2 of the Criminal Code, a person is presumed innocent of committing a crime and shall not be subjected to criminal punishment until his or her guilt is proved through legal procedure and established by a court verdict of guilty” In the case of O.G.Kuznetsov there is no court conviction, and he cannot therefore be considered a person who has committed a crime.

Disregarding the conclusion of the court, the Prosecutor General officially states that “neither international agreements nor domestic legislation establish the demand of mandatory confirmation through a guilty verdict from a court of the fact of a person’s having committed a serious crime as the grounds for refusing to grant them refugee status.”

  1. In the official statement, the Prosecutor General attempts to create the impression that the Prosecutor’s protest and application to the court suspend the force of the appealed act. This conclusion does not comply with current Ukrainian legislation. The procedure for suspending the act being appealed is regulated by the Code of Administrative Justice which envisages that the “submission of an administrative as well as the initiation of proceedings in an administrative case do not suspend the force of the ruling appealed of a body in authority, however the court in providing for the administrative case may issue the relevant decision to suspend a decision by a body in authority or the particular provisions [of the act] being appealed”. , Therefore Article 21 of the Law “On the Prosecutor’s Office” in this situation cannot be applied. Prior to the extradition, the Prosecutor General’s Office understood this and therefore lodged an appeal against the decision in question, however the court in its ruling of 9 July 2008 refused to suspend the force of the decision granting refugee status.
  2. The circumstances of the case indicate that at the moment of extradition, the decision to grant Oleg Kuznetsov refugee status was in force, this following from the ruling of 9 July. However even if the decision granting refugee status had been suspended, Kuznetsov’s extradition should have still been impossible since there had been no decision to refuse him refugee status. In any case he would have been within the procedure for deciding on whether to grant refugee status which would not have cancelled the prohibition on extraditing him.
  3. The principle of “non-refoulement” of refugees and asylum seekers to their country of origin is a jus cogence, principle which is valid even for countries that have not become parties to any international agreement. Mr Medvedko, using the power vested in the Prosecutor General of Ukraine violated this principle.

UHHRU considers it unacceptable for the post of Prosecutor General to be held by a person who:

–  demonstrates open contempt for universally recognized principles of international law;

–  gives preference to considerations of expediency over the law;

–  officially fails to recognize the Constitution of Ukraine, Ukraine’ Criminal Code, the Convention on the Status of Refugees and legislation which the Prosecutor’s Office should be governed by;

–  usurps the powers; which only the courts have and flouts court rulings which are not to his pleasing;

–  considers it possible to publicly name a person a criminal without a court verdict;

–  considers it acceptable to apply two contradictory interpretations of the law on the same case during the space of two weeks.


UHHRU reiterates all demands made in the open appeal from 30 July 2008 and awaits the reaction of the President and Verkhovna Rada to the flagrant violations of the law by the Prosecutor General of Ukraine.


Head of the UHHRU Board

Arkady Bushchenko

Victims of political repression

Tanks against Spring

During the early hours of 21 August 1968 forces of the USSR and countries of the Warsaw Pact crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. In Ukraine the invasion led to a new wave of repression, as well as a kind of jolt of consciousness which opened many people’s eyes.

The Internet publication “Ukraina moloda” spoke with Yevhen Sverstyuk who spent 12 years in the labour camps and in exile.

Did “Pravda” and “Izvestia” write about the Prague Spring?

Yes, but only about the “debauched excesses of democracy”.  We learned the truth from Radio Svoboda and Czech newspapers. The press from socialist countries was freely sold in Kyiv kiosks. The Ukrainian newspaper in Poland “Nashe slovo” regularly received lists of “prohibited writers” and obediently stopped publishing them, whereas in Czechoslovakia on the contrary it became possible to have things published. We felt that something real was taking place there. Of course Budapest in 1956 was remembered but there it was something else. The status of Hungary differed from that of Czechoslovakia. Hungary had been on the Nazi side in WWII.  Then Budapest was “taken”, but Czechoslovakia was “liberated”. The pictures of Czech young women throwing flowers to Red Army soldiers are no fakes. The USSR trusted Czechoslovakia more than Hungary or Poland.  That was why the Czechoslovakian path to “socialism with a human face” was a big headache for the Kremlin. In its maximum form it could threaten the exit of Czechoslovakia from the socialist bloc. In the summer of 1968 it became clear that it was dangerous because Soviet republics, first of all the nearest – Ukraine, could follow its example.

The Czechoslovakians perhaps knew about repressions in neighbouring Ukraine. The historian Volodymyr Vyatrovych believes that the foreign raids of the UPA in 1946-1948 also in some way informed Central Europe about what was happening in the USSR. Perhaps the Czechoslovakians didn’t want to allow that in their country?

The Czechoslovakians who greeted Soviet tank drivers with flowers were really surprised that so many people were fleeing in the face of the advancing Red Army. When the Ukrainian UPA fighters crossed the border, the Czechoslovakian government at Moscow’s demand obstructed them.  Yet at the same time the people saw that the USSR was a country that people were fleeing from. And yet Czechoslovakia remained the most loyal to Moscow of all the socialist bloc countries.

What was the role of the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party Petro Shelest in the crushing of the Prague Spring?

I don’t think his role was large. It was not Shelest who decided on that issue. He was scared because they told him that the Czechoslovakian events were having a big impact on Ukraine.

What were Ukrainian members of the intelligentsia saying in their kitchens about Czechoslovakia? What were they hoping for?

There were different reactions. We were very much hoping for decisive steps from Czechoslovakia, however we were also fearful that these steps could be dangerous. We dissidents felt that we were a united whole with the Czechoslovakians, hostages. If there was a pogrom there, it would also break out with us. I argued with Ivan Svitlychny. He said that they would bring in tanks. I argued that that was impossible, that the USSR in that case would damage its image before Europe, that the face of communism would be tainted in the eyes of the world. I just so didn’t want them to bring in tanks.

We were charmed by the possibility of publishing in Czechoslovakia. it all happened very quickly yet each of us had time to publish something. I had an article published which I sent in a letter, otherwise there was no chance of getting it through. The letter began with the usual friendly jokes and suddenly turned to Mykola Zerov (Ukrainian poet, murdered in the Sandarmokh Clearing in 1937 – translator). There were several such letters that got gathered together to form the article. There was a passage in it where the former party critic Leonid Novychenko was called a “voluntary convoy” because he spoke out against Zerov’s rehabilitation. At first the editors asked for permission to remove this paragraph. However liberalization swiftly went so far that they stopped paying attention to that and published the article in full.

If those changes in Czechoslovakia had taken place a little more slowly, maybe the tanks wouldn’t have been brought into Prague?

One can dream that the changes went in optimal fashion, not so suddenly. However the process has its own rules. It was like the ice had broken and Dubcek was now unable to stem the flow of change. As they said in Moscow, the situation was “out of control”.  <>

Were there protests in Ukrainian society against the occupation of our neighbouring country?

The reaction was fierce in both Ukraine and Russia. In Moscow five people went out onto Red Square with a poster saying “For your freedom and ours”. This was when Alexander Galich wrote his song connected with the Decembrists:

And all it’s all the same, not simpler

Our age tries us –

Can you go out onto the square?

Will you dare to go out onto the square

at that designated hour?

This recorded the courage of those people. However to be fair it should be said that on the square at that moment were television cameras of foreign correspondents who had agreed this in advance with the demonstrators. This was not the same as the Decembrists when they went out onto Senatskaya Square in 1825.   The authorities were forced to treat this act as “hooliganism”. The participants were tried under an article that didn’t allow for more than 3 years imprisonment.

The world did not know about the Ukrainian protests although they were more dramatic. For example, on 5 November Vasyl Makukh went out onto Khreschatyk, doused himself in petrol and set himself alight, shouting of Ukraine’s freedom and the occupation of Czechoslovakia.  That was so terrible that everybody pretended not to understand what was happening. Maybe they really didn’t understand. The police grabbed him, put out the flames and he died.

Then in the camp I met Mykola Bondar, a cultured young man, a PhD student at the Kyiv Philosophy Institute who got seven years for unfurling a banner reading “Down with the Communist Party!” at a demonstration on 6 November. He was immediately taken away by ambulance – the KGB had worked it all out. I imagine it’s easier to write some kind of appeal than to express your protest so desperately as Vasyl Makukh and Mykola Bondar.

The events in Czechoslovakia obviously had the most dramatic consequences in Ukraine?

It was also the determining of our fate. The gap between the events in Czechoslovakia and the murder of Alla Horska was less than two years. In Ukraine the repressions were more ferocious than anywhere. They had to isolate all those who could arouse similar moods and intimidate the others. However that was a time which sobered many. The Prague Spring had a huge impact on the party elite and generally on informed people.  It is important to hear the testimony of Mikhail Gorbachev who thought t about the evil of the system after the military were sent into Prague. A liberation movement by neighbours has a greater influence than we realize.

Yet that’s on condition that the neighbours have contact.

After the tanks the Soviets encouraged contacts, but the Czechoslovakians stopped travelling. The trains from there were empty. There they were critical even of those who travelled to the USSR.

So the Czechoslovakians did not think of holding out a hand in support of their Ukrainian neighbours who were even more subjugated by the Soviets.

They didn’t have time for that. They considered that the world should take a heavy stand and boycott Moscow, and they watched those who didn’t do that.  <>

At the moment Moscow is showing a noticeable tendency to reinstate control not only over the territory of the former USSR, but over the socialist bloc although these countries are already in the European Union and in NATO. At the same time the Czech Republic is gradually forgetting about the “Moscow carrot”. And our links with that country have already weakened.

Yes, undoubtedly. When I was in the Czech Republic at a PEN conference in the 1990s I saw how they know very little about how we reacted to the events in Prague. And young Czechs know virtually nothing about the actual events. The only thing that has stuck in people’s minds is the slogan “Three thousand kilometres to Moscow” which Czechoslovakians stuck to the Moscow tanks in 1968.  There needs to be better contact between our nations, not only contact with people going there to work. it is particularly important to unite and fight common threats.

Very slightly abridged from the interview at

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

Please see  for more details about Yevhen  Sverstyuk ’s life

News from the CIS countries

Rational management of murder

A new textbook to guide teachers of history in Russia was presented this August at the Academy of Professional Development and Retraining for Educational Workers.

Since this new textbook seems to be of the same authorship as a textbook which gained notoriety a year ago, it is well to look back.

In June 2007, President Putin spoke approvingly to a conference of teachers about “certain positive moves” in the presentation of the country’s history in modern textbooks. One of the books that was understood to have gained his approval was by Alexander Filippov and colleagues and covered the period from 1945 to 2007 with the last chapters being dedicated to the period under Vladimir Putin.

The book was included on a federal list of textbooks for 2008-2009 in December 2007, however it appeared then that the chapter on the role of Stalin in history had been removed. Since this had presented the murderous tyrant as “one of the most successful leaders of the USSR”, many of us felt considerable relief. Plenty remained, however, to cause concern about the very specific view of modern history recommended for schools. It still attacks oligarchs and Georgia and praises Putin’s abolition of elections for the post of governors of the regions with these now being chosen by the Kremlinand the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The new book covers the period from 1900 to 1945, and “it is proposed that students’ attention should mainly be concentrated on explanations of the motives and logic of the regime’s actions.  As the author of the report on the new book says, “there is no history of people there”.

Back we are to Stalin. We quote:

“It is important to show that Stalin acted in a specific historical situation, acted (as a manager) entirely rationally – as the protector of the system, as a consistent supporter of the transformation of the country into an industrial society governed from a single centre, as the leader of a country which in the very immediate future faced a big war.”

According to the authors, the rational “Great Terror” ceased as soon as Stalin saw that a monolithic model of society had been created. That, they say, occurred by the summer of 1938. Later they speak of another peoples’ economic project under the leadership of another “effective manager” – Beria.

“Terror was designed to serve the objectives of industrial development. Following NKVD instructions planned arrests provided the engineers and specialists needed for defence purposes and other tasks in the Far East and Siberia. Terror turned into a pragmatic instrument for resolving people’s-economic tasks”.

“In the textbook one should undoubtedly assess the scale of repression during the years of the “Great Terror”. However for this one should clearly define who is meant when speaking of the repressed. It would seem correct if a formula appeared here which included only people sentenced to death and those executed. This will make it possible to avoid speculation on this subject where everybody is added to the number of the repressed, and not just once. (including those who lost their job for political motives, were expelled from the Komsomol and the Party, and so forth). And based on this large figure, people not understanding what is in question speak already of such a number of people killed”.

This would mean that the very considerable numbers of victims of deportation and labour camp prisoners who died hardly of natural causes could not be considered victims of repression.

This is in direct contravention of the Law on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression passed in the Russian Federation on 18 October 1991. 

Anatoly Bershtein reminds readers that the suggestion is that this extraordinary method of “counting victims” which violates both moral norms and the law should be published on a mass scale for Russian teachers and via them school students.

The terrifying sense that the terror of the Stalin regime is increasingly being justified can be seen in the mention of the Katyn Tragedy. While acknowledging that the Polish prisoners of war were executed in Katyn by the NKVD, the authors write that “this was not simply a question of political expediency, but also an answer for the death of many (tens of) thousands of Red Army soldiers in Polish captivity after the war of 1920, the initiator of which was not the Soviet Union, but Poland”.

All the quotes above are from Anatoly Bershtein’s article 

Demonstration in Moscow against the war in Georgia

A protest rally was held on Monday 25 August in Moscow calling for peace in the Caucuses. It was the first protest rally against the new war as previous protests had taken the form of pickets. The rally was attended by about 150 people.

It began with a minute’s silence in memory of those Russians, Georgians and Ossetians killed in the military action.  One of the main slogans of the protest was from the song by Alexander Galich which he wrote after Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces moved in to Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring: “Citizens, our country is in danger. Our tanks are on foreign soil!”  Other slogans were: “Peace now!”. “Withdraw the troops now!” and “Stop the propagandist hysteria!”

The organizers announced earlier that the rally, which had been agreed with the relevant body, was part of an indefinite anti-war campaign declared by individuals and civic organizations in Russia immediately after the beginning of the military clashes.

Those taking part included Sergei Kovalev, Ludmila Alexeeva, Lev Ponomarev, as well as the civic and political organizations “Anti-military club”, “The Committee for Anti-Military Action”, “For Human Rights”, “Oborona” [Defence], the United Civic Front, “Free Radicals” and others.

An address issued by the organizers states that “The aim of the protest is to demand that the Russian authorities immediately withdraw their forces from the territory of a neighbouring State, that they strictly observe their commitments according to the six points of the Sarcosi Plan and put a stop now to the frenzy of militaristic and chauvinistic hysteria.”

«For your freedom and ours!» - Red Square 40 years on

On 24 August 2008, at exactly midday near Lobnoye Mesto on Red Square seven young people sat down on the cobblestones unfurling a banner reading «For your freedom and ours!»

Forty years ago, at the same time on 25 August 1968, 4 days after Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the Prague Spring, eight people unfurled banners one with the same words and in that very place. The others were:  «At’ zije svobodne a nezavisle Ceskoslovensko!» [Long ling free and independent Czechoslovakia”), “Shame to the occupiers!” and others.  They were arrested within minutes. The eight were: Larisa Bogoraz, Konstantin Babitsky, Vadim Delaunay, Vladimir Dremluga, Pavel Litvinov, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Victor Fainberg and Tatyana Baeva. 

Vladimir Dremluga was imprisoned for 3 years, Vadim Delaunay for 2 years and 10 months. Pavel Litvinov, Larisa Bogoraz and Konstantin Babitsky who had no previous convictions and who had children received periods of exile (5,4 and 3 years respectively). Natalya Gorbanevskaya who had recently given birth and Victor Fainberg were declared mentally unfit.  The KGB worked on 21-year-old Tatyana Bayeva who agreed to say that she had ended up there by chance.

40 years ago those who took part in such a courageous protest knew what faced them.

The young participants in the action today were Yulia Bashinova, Valentina Chubarova, Veniamin Dmitroshkin, Nikolai Zboroshchenko, Sergei Konstantinov, Ivan Ninenko and Denis Shadrin.

In the few minutes that elapsed during which they were surrounded by Muscovites and visitors to the capital, and before the police arrived, Yulia Bashinova explained what had brought the young people out onto Red Square.

“Our action is in memory of how 40 years ago seven people went out onto Red Square. That was a breath of freedom and a serious step towards overcoming our own fear. The fear is again appearing. This banner remains relevant and we felt that we had to come out here since otherwise we are with every day losing our freedom.”

The first police officer appeared a few minutes after the banner was unfurled and tried unsuccessfully to rip it out of Yulia Bashinova’s hands. He then began calling his colleagues. When the second police officer arrived, the participants in the action began moving with their banner in the direction of GUM. It was broken up after men in civilian clothes came up to the participants and literally carried them off the square and put them in cars. In the chaos some of them managed to get away. According to one of the latter, Valentina Chubarova, the police took Nikolai Zboroshchenko, Veniamin Dmitroshkin and Ivan Ninenko to the police station, together with four journalists.

The participants in the action believe that on 25 August 1968 freedom was born in the USSR and even 40 years later the meaning of the sloganl “For your freedom and ours” retains its importance in modern Russia..

Based on material from

War or “forced peace”?

Assessment of any events, including those of recent days in Georgia, requires that the same approach be taken to the same situations.  Given the sheer volume of material circulating about the recent events and the fact that certain premises are probably less controversial to an international audience than to the author’s compatriots in Russia, some parts of the following have been seriously abridged in order to focus on what is less well-aired and certainly warrants attention (translator).


Whatever the reasons prompting the Georgian leadership to choose measures of force to resolve the problem of South Ossetia, they cannot justify the use of force. The use of force in issues of territorial integrity leads only to human losses, as can be seen by Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia for example.


Whatever the actions, and however irresponsibly Mikhail Saakashkvili may have behaved, this does not justify the deployment of Russian armed forces on the territory of a sovereign state. The Russian forces used were not peacekeeping troops, and did not have a mandate, whether from the CIS or the UN.

The deployment of Russian armed forces, tanks, airborne forces, on Georgian territory without any official sanction, and without even an attempt to discuss the issue in the UN, not to speak of the bombings of Georgian territory beyond Southern Ossetia, all constituted an act of direct military aggression, and not humanitarian intervention as Russian official figures cynically claimed.


Does one country have the right without the appropriate mandate to “force peace” on another, claiming that there is a direct risk to life of the civilian population?  The author mentions the NATO operations in the Balkans and the justification then given, but comments that no land forces were deployed and that the Russian government at the time strongly condemned these actions.  He also notes that some of those vocal with their protest are now firmly behind the Russian military action.

Lastly here he says that it is not difficult to imagine what Russia’s reaction would have been to attempts to “force peace” in Chechnya in 1995 or 1999 despite the fact that the number of victims among the civilian population was much higher. Russia then categorically rejected all suggestion that peacekeeping forces, whether with a mandate from the CIS or the UN be deployed.


Russia has effectively ceased to be an intermediary in the conflict between the leadership of Georgia and the South Ossetian separatist regime. It is a party to the conflict and has over recent years been openly supporting one of the sides and providing the latter with military, financial, political and information support.  Following the events of 8-10 August, Russia has no right to take part in peacekeeping forces and a neutral contingent should be substituted. It would be wise to have a total overhaul of the peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia, which should have a UN mandate and include forces from countries with no interests of their own in the conflict.


The Russian leadership claimed that Russia was “defending Russian Federation nationals” in South Ossetia. Yet how did there end up being such a considerable number (by some estimates 90%) of Russian citizens on this territory? We know the answer: Russian citizenship was deliberately provided to virtually all those who wanted it.

The hypocrisy of such policy is all the more clear if one thinks of the difficulties encountered by people born in the former USSR (and even the RSSR) when trying to get this citizenship. It would seem that in this case, and with Abkhazia, that there was a deliberate aim to create a pretext for intervening whenever this was convenient. The author notes that the invasion of the Sudetenland by the Nazis in 1938 was also carried out on the pretext of protecting Germans living there. He also points out that it doesn’t take much imagination to predict the Russian reaction to another country (USA, Turkey or Iran) providing Chechens en masse with their citizenship.


It is impossible not to notice the grotesque mirror image similarity between the situation in South Ossetia and Chechnya.

Then they told us about the criminal regime in Chechnya; today Georgia is saying the same thing about the regime in South Ossetia.

Then they spoke of “an unlawful military formation” in Chechnya; now the same is heard in Tbilisi.

Then they told us about Russian refugees from Chechnya; today the Georgian media is speaking of Georgian refugees trying to flee South Ossetia (only the Russian media either doesn’t show them, or pretends they’re Ossetians.)

However, then Russian public opinion applauded the Grad missiles used in Chechnya, while today they angrily condemn them when used in South Ossetia. Then the Russian authorities stated that they wouldn’t give up an inch, while now they behave as though South Ossetia was not a part of Georgia.  And what they today call “war crimes” and “genocide” were then presented as “imposing constitutional order” and a “counter-terrorist operation”.

The hypocrisy and double standards that the Kremlin so likes to accuse the West of applying have been seen in this conflict like never before.

The author quotes Putin, Medvedev and Lavrov all spilling forth moral outrage and lavishly using words like “genocide” and “the death of innocent civilians”

In response to such utterances from the Human Rights Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin, the author says: “I entirely agree, Vladimir Petrovich! Let the international tribune find those guilty and bring them to justice. However only after it finds those who gave the orders in Chechnya and those who carried them out brings them to justice. Incidentally, those who gave the orders aren’t hiding this at all”


A specific feature of this conflict is the total propagandist lies pouring from the Russian media. The Georgian media, one suspects is no better but it’s not available in Russia, and the Internet sites are blocked so that Russian citizens don’t find out an opposite point of view. Only a tiny minority are able to watch CNN or Euronews.

If you believe what the representatives of the “State Committee of South Ossetia on the Press and Information”, widely circulated in the Russian media, then the crimes of the “Georgian fascists” are already comparable with those of the Nazis. If that’s true, then there is clearly a terrible crime.  And if it’s not?

Firstly, can you believe information coming from those who according to the laws of war always try to present the enemy as monsters?  Can you believe the “Head of the State Committee of South Ossetia on the Press and Information”, Ms Gogloyeva when on Saturday she speaks of 1600 murdered civilians, while on Sunday of 1,000, or on Saturday of 12 Georgian tanks stopped, and on Sunday of 6?  And where in fact is this “State Committee of South Ossetia on the Press and Information “ if it assures us that Tskhinvali is totally destroyed? In Vladikavkaz?  Or right in Moscow on Lubyanka? In such a situation you shouldn’t wonder if tomorrow you hear even more terrible things.

Secondly, but no less importantly, we are hearing about the “atrocities of the Georgian military” by State media or outlets loyal to the government which have been lying on any subject even remotely important to the Kremlin over recent years.  So where is the guarantee that the stories of “ethnic cleansing”, “the wounded being hammered to death” and “the slaughter of infants”, grenades thrown into basements where women and children were seeking shelter are any more trustworthy than the tales we were told about the Kursk, Beslan, spying stones, YUKOS, and foreign security services maintaining the Russian opposition?

We learned about what was happening during the two Chechen wars from independent journalists who could be trusted. There are no grounds to believe “State officials” carrying out a propaganda order and working today on federal channels. And when the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs complains that “many western media outlets are politically partisan in their coverage of the events in South Ossetia”, you feel like asking if they shouldn’t turn the mirror.


What did Russia entirely forget in South Ossetia? Why support a regime which there are all too many grounds for considering criminal, or (in Yulia Latynina’s words) a join enterprise of the Russian chekists (FSB) and local bandits, waste huge amounts of money and sacrifice the lives of Russian soldiers?  To annex the territory?  And with that to become Georgia’s enemy forever and to hang that albatross around our neck? To have the next Ramzan Kadyrov sitting there and milking State funds in return for loyalty?  It would be interesting, incidentally, to know where Putin is planning to get a minimum of 10 billion roubles to “restore South Ossetia”. On what legal grounds?  Or does he already see the territory as his? Of courts if they “restore” it like they did Chechnya, we know the result.


The reactions of Russian political forces to the events in South Ossetia are yet another argument confirming the lack of prospect for the “National Assembly” idea.

Indeed what kind of cooperation and united opposition can you speak of when Edward Limonov calls for Russian forces to also be sent into Abkhazia, the National Bolsheviks wildly support the Russian intervention in South Ossetia , while Lev Ponomarev, together with Sergei Kovalev and Yelena Bonner call for Russia to be thrown out of the G8? If the liberals see it as necessary to recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity and the nationalists not just in word but in deed (all the way to actually taking part in military action) have all these years supported Abkhazian and Ossetian separatists?


What is happening at the moment is a vital test for the Russian democratic opposition.

It is important to not be cowards, to not give in to the general (and artificially fuelled by official propaganda like in 1999 during the Second Chechen War) chauvinist excitement. And call what is white - white and black – black.  Call using Grad missiles against Tskhinvali a crime, but name the Russian aggression – aggression and not “humanitarian intervention” and not a “peacekeeping operation”. And not behave like the Union of Right Forces Party in 1999 when Chubais  labelled as traitors all who didn’t believe that the Russian army was “being renewed in Chechnya” (I wonder if we will soon hear of it being “renewed” in South Ossetia or Abkhazia?)

This requires no little courage – to not march in step. To say what you think regardless of the opinion of the majority which has been well “zombified” and supports the latest “decisive actions” of its leaders.

However there is no other way.

11 August 2008

Stop the military aggression!

The conflict between Georgia and Russia over the self-declared Republic of South Ossetia has already led to large-scale human rights abuse and is threatening fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of any country in the region and, in fact, stability in the entire world.

We cannot support “the constitutional measures for establishing peace and law and order” – the attempt made by Georgia to re-establish territorial integrity through force. Complex political problems can only be resolved through peaceful means however difficult this may be.

Russia began military action, it claims, to carry out its peacekeeping mission and defend Russian nationals in South Ossetia after Georgian forces entered Tsinvali. Yet bombing Georgian territory can in no way be considered part of a peacekeeping mission, moreover after Georgian forces had stopped fighting. On Monday evening Russian forces invaded Georgia from Abkhazia, and meeting no resistance, they advanced 40 kilometres taking the cities of Gori, Zugdidi and Senaki.

We totally condemn Russia’s military actions against Georgia on the latter’s territory and call on Russia to halt them immediately. We also demand that they put an end to the new chauvinistic anti-Georgian campaign within Russia. Such behaviour will inevitably lead to an increase in anti-Russian sentiments in the world. Does Russia really want this?

There is every reason to expect still further human rights violations, as well as grave consequences to territorial integrity, sovereignty and stability in the whole regions if Russia is encouraged in such aggressive destabilization through the world’s failure to respond adequately.

The complex history of the Soviet period has not only led to tension between former Soviet republics. It has also brought about a situation whereby very many of these republics have citizens originally from other republics.

We call on the UN Security Council, OSCE, NATO, the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international bodies to impress upon the Russian authorities that the world cannot allow such unwarranted aggression.  Russian forces must be withdrawn from Georgian territory and South Ossetia through the mediation of international organizations and independent peacekeeping forces brought in. 

We also believe it vital to create an international committee to investigate the events in South Ossetia and establish who was responsible for the death of civilians.

Statement from “Memorial”: STOP THE WAR

During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 war broke out in South Ossetia. Mobilization has been declared in Georgia, and officials speak of the implementation of “constitutional measures to establish peace and order”, with no negotiations possible under this is successfully concluded.

For us in Russia these words are too familiar. The Russian Federation established “constitutional order” In 1994, during the first Chechen War. Then the “blitzkrieg operation” became drawn out and bloody.

Words about war to the triumphant end and about the rejection of negotiations are just as well-remembered in Russia – the leadership of our country declared this in 1999 at the beginning of the “Second Chechen War”. That questionable military victory cost our country rejection of democracy.

In fact, this was true also in Georgia itself, in Abkhazia in 1992, and the same South Ossetia in 1991. The power of Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze were affirmed on the Ossetian and Abkhazian conflicts. And perhaps the first victim of the war launched during the night of 7-8 August could be Georgia itself, as a democratic State and as a responsible member of the world community.

Georgia as a participating State of OSCE is committed to resolving conflict by peaceful means. The reestablishment of territorial integrity cannot be grounds for rejecting these commitments. Military actions in South Ossetia should be stopped immediately. The path of negotiation is long and difficult, but it is the only way to achieve a lasting peace.

The history of conflict in the Caucuses over recent years demonstrates a long chain of mistakes and crimes. We call on you to not forget this history.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2008, #08