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

Former police officers accused of torturing two Kharkiv women

A criminal investigation is underway against two former Kharkiv police officers suspected of using torture during the interrogations of two women. The two men have been dismissed from their positions at the Ordzhonikidze Police Station.

Svitlana Pomilyaiko worked as a designer at a tile factory, lived a peaceful life bringing up two children until the day that l two computers vanished from her work. The security guards swore that the computers had not been taken out of the main door or passed over the fence.

The police were called in and questioned all the management and staff. According to Ludmilla Klochko, Head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group Public Advice Centre, it’s likely that other members of staff suggested that Svitlana and her colleague, Natalya, were responsible.  Perhaps they weren’t so popular, and simply to get the police off everybody’s back.

With absolutely no clues left by the actual thieves, the police could only concentrate on questioning people. They now focused on the two women.

From the police station to hospital

According to the women’s testimony, the two officers, both young enough to be their sons, took them into different officers and tried to force them to make confessions. Svitlana was kicked and had a bag put over her head. Natalya also had tweezers used to press her nipples. Svitlana could hear her friend’s screams, yet neither woman signed a “confession”. They were released, but only after both signed statements that they had no criticism against the police.

Both went straight to hospital where the doctors recorded their beatings. Svitlana was in hospital for over a month, although Natalya also suffered badly.  It was however Svitlana only who decided to lodge a formal complaint.

An internal enquiry was launched, with a search of the offices where the torture was alleged to have taken place indeed uncovering tweezers and other items, which the women claimed had been used to torture them,  Learning of this, the Head of the Kharkiv Region Police Department ordered the men dismissed without awaiting the outcome of the court case.  The men are, however, facing charges of “exceeding their duties” (not “torture”).

Svitlana and Natalya have now been recognized as victims. However Svitlana has another court case to deal with since the management of the factory dismissed her after learning that the police suspected her of the theft.  The pretext given was feeble, and Svitlana is seeking her job back and to clear her name.


Around 355 thousand people in Ukraine have experienced beatings from the law enforcement agencies. According to estimates from KHPG and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, every year some 93.5 thousand people are subjected to forms of torture by the police. According to unwritten rules, an investigator should send three cases to the court each month. As Serhiy Mishchenko, Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legal Policy points out, the problem stems from procedure which has not changed since Soviet times. Figures for “solved cases” are all important, and officers are punished for unsolved cases or for acquittals.

Based on an article at:


Rule of Law not of the Cabinet of Ministers

The guarantee of privacy of all correspondence and communications is clearly stipulated in Article 31 of Ukraine’s Constitution which reads: “Everyone is guaranteed privacy of mail, telephone conversations, telegraph and other correspondence. Exceptions shall be established only by a court in cases envisaged by law, with the purpose of preventing crime or ascertaining the truth in the course of the investigation of a criminal case, if it is not possible to obtain information by other means”

All restrictions must thus be stipulated at the level of legislation. Yet at the present time, instead of a law passed by parliament, we have a Cabinet of Ministers Resolution No. 1169 from 26.09.2007 which approved “Procedure for obtaining a court order to carry out measures which temporarily restrict human rights and the use of the information obtained”

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU) lodged an application with the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal. It referred to the Constitution and to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and asked that the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution be declared unlawful and revoked.

The court turned this application down, however it did issue a separate decision which reminds the Cabinet of Ministers that the Resolution does not contain the safeguards of civil rights required by the Convention and European Court of Human Rights case law. It does not, for example, prohibit the passing of the protocol and information gathered to other State bodies.

The separate decision informs the Prime Minister and her Cabinet of the need to draw up and submit to the Verkhovna Rada a draft law on the Procedure for obtaining a court order to carry out measures which temporarily restrict human rights. It stresses that this law must be line with the Convention and case law of the European Court of Human Rights. It in fact suggests that those drawing up the law make use of UHHRU recommendations.

The Cabinet of Ministers must now inform the court of measures taken within the month.

The case was supported by the UHHRU Strategic Litigations Fund, and was represented in court by Viacheslav Yakubenko who commented on the judgment.  

In his view, the court could clearly not have simply rejected the civil claim and declared the existing procedure for obtaining interception warrants acceptable. The procedure approved by Resolution No. 1169 goes against a number of precedent judgments from the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR], for example, Klass v. Germny (6 September 1978), Huvig v. France (24 April 1990) and Kruslin v. France (24 April 1990). Any ECHR judgments are legislatively defined as sources of law for Ukrainian courts.

The judges doubtless understand themselves that the present procedure could be used against them. There is a campaign on to stamp out corruption among judges, yet often little documented evidence.  The need to ensure that any interception of communications is done legally must therefore seem acute to the judiciary also.

On the other hand, the court probably feared the opposite extreme, that they would declare the Resolution unlawful and leave no regulation of the subject. They therefore found a way out in formally warning the Cabinet of Ministers that the Resolution does not comply with the necessary domestic and international standards.

Viacheslav Yakubenko finds it difficult to feel optimistic that the Cabinet of Ministers will heed this warning, since Presidential Decree No. 1556 from 26.09.2007 did effectively the same thing. He assumes it will be necessary to take them to court again.


From material at

Prohibition of discrimination

New Year greetings wrapped in statistics

A leading Russian television channel reported yesterday that in 2008 2,787 Ukrainian nationals had committed crimes in Italy.  In an interview, a well-known journalist claimed that this was the inevitable result of the recent honouring of Ukrainian Resistance Army [UPA] leader, Roman Shukhevych.  In Ukraine outrage is growing, with angry questions about unfair distortion of statistics, lies and attempts to destroy Ukraine’s image in Europe. .  Why not say how many Russians, yes and how many crimes were committed overall?  AND why report it anyway?

No apologies to the unnamed channel, it’s come up with much worse, however the first paragraph is pure fiction, or almost.

The report was issued by the Public Liaison Centre for the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] and circulated to all media outlets. The latter duly hastened to report that 2,787 foreign nationals had committed crimes in Ukraine in 2008.  Perhaps the journalists were all awaiting the eminently predictable gas conflict and had no time to examine this new report of foreigners’ iniquity:  cut and paste would do. 

So as New Year approached, the media in unison reported that 150 “criminal gangs of an ethnic nature” had been uncovered, these supposedly guilty of 318 thefts. Ukrainian non-criminals can peacefully celebrate New Year – just see how vigilantly we’re protecting you!

Now the day before New Year, arithmetic is strictly for presents under the tree and bottles on the table. Presumably this explains the rather peculiar mathematical feat in the report which the media so obediently copied and circulated.  Of 2,787 foreign nationals we learn of 13 in three regions, all from one particular country, with another criminal gang consisting of an unidentified number of nationals from that selfsame country.  It is hard to imagine what the other people were arrested for if these specific crimes, predominantly burglary or theft, made such a profound impact on the MIA’s public liaison officers.

Better not to try to fathom what they hoped to achieve. It is difficult to believe that they could have wanted to make people suspicious of a specific nationality or of foreigners in general. On the other hand, if one can’t expect the media to check every report from this supposedly authoritative source for quality, the MIA staff must have known what a distorted picture they were painting. After all on the MIA’s official site you can read full statistical data about the crime situation in the first half of 2008  It turns out that the number of crimes decreased slightly during that period, by comparison with the same period for 2007 – 201,262 crimes against 208,125 (or -3.3%). In 2008 foreign nationals committed 0.9% of all crimes (1,300), as against 1.2% (1638) in 2007.  Thus foreigners committed 20.6 % less crimes in the first half of last year. Hardly breaking news material, but you can just about see some information value.

If you strain your imagination, it’s possible to envisage a situation where all Ukrainians with a criminal bent decided for some reason or other to take a six-month, so-to-speak, sabbatical in the second half of the year. Foreign nationals on the contrary unleashed a veritable orgy of criminal activity leading to an increase in the ratio of ill deeds committed by the latter. Nonetheless the number of actual unlawful acts will still be not much higher than that in just six months of the year for crimes linked with abuse of power or official position (2,716). Now these were most certainly not the work of citizens of other countries. The information which media outlets hurtled to pass on to their audience seems increasingly bizarre. .  

One might also ask what is meant by “foreign nationals”. We know the citizenship of all 13 people who, the MIA’s public liaison personnel claim committed crimes, plus an unidentified number of members of a criminal gang (but no way over 2 thousand). It would be worth clarifying this if the point of the exercise is to inform on observance of law and order.

And if the aim is not to provide information, then what is it? Why send the media figures wrenched out of all context so that they represent reality with about as much accuracy as one unwashed glass describes your New Year’s festivities? The information content is pitiful but the associations are clear: crime is linked with foreigners, and crime in general with nationals of one specific country since they are the only ones mentioned.

Now you have to be pathologically lazy these days to not have something to say on the subject of xenophobia and intolerance.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs is up there with the rest, and has even created a special anti-racism section on its site. You can find an entire “Action Plan on countering cases of xenophobia, racial and ethnic discrimination in Ukrainian society for 2008-2009”.  There is precious little specific detail, however judging by the words, the intentions are good, not to say noble. What is more, it’s been a full six months since the last outrageous statements on the subject of migration which had been coming thick and fast from high-ranking MIA officials.

Yet it’s hard to feel that any even basic lessons on avoiding xenophobic responses have been learned when you read the reports issued by the MIA’s Public Liaison Centre. And although it would be nice to see a more critical approach to reports which compensate their meagre information content with a lavish range of prejudices, in such cases it would hardly be fair to blame the media.

There are plans afoot to create in the near future a new body on migration matters which will be subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Ministry is clearly interested in assuming this role, and it is therefore disturbing to constantly run up against reports and statements which demonstrate at very least a seriously inadequate understanding of the scope of issues and duties falling within the sphere of migration. I could cite a whole number of positive duties which must be assumed, but will confine myself to one negative duty which takes on urgency and crucial importance in times of crisis and increasing social tension. Let the MIA look for cheap PR in other spheres and stop generating, through sloppy and primitive reports, harmful stereotypes and prejudice.

Social and economic rights

Parliament approves moratorium on evictions of publishing and bookselling outlets

On 16 January the Verkhovna Rada passed a Resolution introducing a moratorium on measures to evict media offices, cultural institutions, publishing houses, bookshops and book distributing businesses. The Resolution was supported by most of the National Deputies.

The author of the Resolution Volodymyr Yavorisvsky explained that despite a law passed just a few months ago to support the publishing industry in Ukraine, there was a danger that the country could end up without bookshops and book distributors. He commented on the number of bookshops that had closed in Kyiv and the fact that members of staff of the publishing house “Dnipro” have barricaded themselves in their building.  The latter, on Volodymyrska St is in a prestigious part of Kyiv, and in an old building, and the Kyiv City Administration has for the second time (the first was in 2005) been trying to evict the publishing company.  While various excuses are given, the main reason would seem to be the desire to lease the part of the building, which is one of considerable historical importance, to commercial outlets.

The latest conflict reached collision course when the city authorities changed the locks on the door, hence the action in barricading themselves in.

This problem has arisen on many occasions, with the most prominent recently being the conflict, leading to run ins and questionable behaviour by the police over attempts to remove the civic organization “Respublica” from its premises.  See and the links at the bottom for more information.

The right to health care

Fighting or fuelling the tuberculosis epidemic?

That tuberculosis in Ukraine is spreading at an alarming rate is not in dispute. A great many words are spoken about the need to prevent an even worse epidemic, with the only question marks being over the specific measures proposed or the degree to which anything but fine words are being offered.

  The measures being undertaken in Kharkiv leave little scope for questions, except maybe whether the authorities are oblivious or simply indifferent to the catastrophic results they are risking through their actions.

  The measures envisaged by Order No. 1 from 3 January 2009 in a nutshell:

  • Closure of three out of four inpatient units which are part of Kharkiv’s Anti-tuberculosis Clinic No. 1.  This means a reduction from 575 to 230 beds in inpatient units;
  • Closure of two out of five outpatient units.

Nor is this all: Kharkiv’s Deputy Mayor Ihor Shurma warns that the city authorities plan to get rid of the remaining 230 beds altogether by July of this year, and to create one single diagnosis and outpatient treatment unit for the entire city.

Money and football make the world go round?

It would be nice to believe that the reason for this extraordinary decision is success in tackling a terrible disease. Nice and entirely unwarranted.

Shurma pulls no punches: it’s a question of money. He claims that the city has been spending 15 million UAH per year on maintaining Clinic No. 1 although the funding, in accordance with the Budget Code, should have been provided by the Kharkiv region’s budget.  The money, he asserts, is now needed for construction work in preparation for Euro-2012.

There is fundamental disagreement between the city and regional authorities.  The Deputy Head of the Regional Administration Ihor Terekhov says, on the contrary, that treating city residents in regional healthcare units has cost much more – 43 million UAH, which the city authorities are not reimbursing.

The Regional Department of Health produces assurances that it will use the regional anti-tuberculosis units and sanatoriums, and if necessary create an additional network of places. Yet the 600 beds in the three regional anti-tuberculosis units located in the city are totally full up and how they can accommodate more patients without serious outlay must be in question.

Where is the money to come from?

The most disturbing aspect of these proposed reductions is that beds are being removed, buildings being transferred to the city authorities to be used for other purposes, while the number of people suffering from a potentially fatal and highly contagious disease is in no way falling, and no extra funding is being allocated from the central budget.

How important is football?

This question must be put now to the city authorities who see fit to risk the health not only of people already suffering from tuberculosis, but of the public in general.  The decision to reduce the number of outpatient facilities will mean first of all that many patients are forced to travel across the city to receive treatment.  It must be clear that people suffering from tuberculosis are often from poorer or more vulnerable groups in society and are most unlikely to be using private cars.

Even if we leave aside the duty of any public officials to protect the life and health of citizens, how can one possibly justify “money-saving measures” that will almost certainly lead to a considerable increase in the number of people contracting tuberculosis? 

If the authorities’ excuse for such irresponsible and short-sighted measures is Euro-2012, then they are forgetting one major point. Very few people would place football higher than their own personal health, and they would simply not wish to come to a city known for its tuberculosis epidemic.  That is, of course, if the whole event was not called off, this being entirely conceivable.  If the city authorities are prepared to make such preposterous changes and the Ministry of Health and country’s leaders do not stop them, they must not expect doctors and civic organizations, like the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group [KHPG], to remain silent over a situation with potentially tragic consequences.

Sound the alarm

This is what the KHPG Patients’ Legal Aid Centre, as well as local doctors, have been doing, and desperately need to attract media, political and public attention to this seriously dangerous situation.

It should be stressed that nobody is talking about a potential problem. As the doctors state in their open letter of protest, the World Health Organization concluded that Ukraine was experiencing an epidemic spread of tuberculosis back in 1995.  The situation has in no way improved.

In 2008 719 Kharkiv residents contracted tuberculosis (this being 50 people per 100 thousand head of population, whereas one speaks of epidemic proportions if this figure is more than 40). Of these, 321 were coughing or in other ways expelling bacteria. 

As of 1 January this year, there were 4,728 people with an active form of tuberculosis in the Kharkiv region. Of these around 1500 are coughing up or otherwise expelling contagious bacteria and need inpatient treatment. Of this number 613 (298 in the region and 315 in Kharkiv itself) have a drug-resistant form and need to be in a clinic on a permanent basis.

Each person in this situation could infect 20 others in a year. Nor is there any guarantee that all patients will agree to be transferred from the city to sanatoriums in the region.

One particularly frightening trend is an increase in deaths of TB patients. Over 11 months over 2008 there were 14 deaths per 100 thousand head of population as against 10.8 for the same period in 2007. Moreover, the increase was specifically in the city, with the number of people dying of the disease outside tuberculosis treatment units doubled. It frankly defies belief that the Kharkiv city authorities are planning to reduce facilities for fighting this terrible scourge.

Another aspect should be borne in mind.  One of the units in the city which from 2004 has been holding remand prisoners or police detainees suffering from tuberculosis has 4 wards of 20 beds. The Ministry of Internal Affairs spent a lot of money on reconstruction and annual repairs to the building, yet this building has been closed and transferred to city property.  The danger that such a decision poses cannot be overstated.  To cite but one tragic example: Svitlana Zaitseva died in 2006 of pulmonary tuberculosis contracted in prison, having been tortured into confessing to a murder she did not commit. She was released but died of the disease, leaving three small children.  In 2007 her family was awarded 2 million UAH in compensation, this being the largest amount ever awarded by a Ukrainian court over wrongful actions by the law enforcement agencies.  The injustice perpetrated against Svitlana Zaitseva clearly focused on the torture she suffered and her wrongful conviction however the fact that she contracted and died of tuberculosis while imprisoned undoubtedly influenced the level of compensation.  It is a bitter irony that the city authorities are hampering the police in ensuring the safety of people held in custody.

It is vital that Order No. 1 from 3 January 2009 be cancelled along with any plans to reduce anti-tuberculosis facilities in Kharkiv. It can be easily demonstrated that this Order is in direct breach of a number of Ukrainian laws, as well as the country’s commitment to fight this disease and positive duty to protect the right to life.

The Ministry of Heath must ensure that the confusion over funding of all such units is clarified and that sufficient means are provided.

Both the Ukrainian public and the international community wish to hear more than fine declarations from its politicians and public officials regarding intentions to combat the spread of tuberculosis. The planned measures would demonstrate reckless and arrogant disregard for the health and safety of both Ukrainian citizens and visitors to the country, and must be stopped.

Halya Coynash, KHPG

Recklessly irresponsible reduction in anti-tuberculosis units in Kharkiv

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is sounding the alarm over the extraordinary reduction in anti-tuberculosis facilities in the city.

Out of four inpatient units within the city Anti-tuberculosis Clinic No. 1, three are closing, as well as two out of the five outpatient units. The number of inpatient beds has been reduced from 575 to 230, of which only 80 are intended for people first diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis in active form and 60 for those with chronic bacterial excretion. Yet how can this number be sufficient for all those suffering from an active form of tuberculosis?

In 2008 719 Kharkiv residents contracted tuberculosis (this being 50 people per 100 thousand head of population, whereas one speaks of epidemic proportions if this figure is more than 40). Of these, 321 were coughing or in other ways expelling bacteria.  One should also bear in mind approximately 160 chronically ill patients with an active form of the disease, who need to be in the inpatient unit on a permanent basis. Clearly there are simply not enough places, assuming a cycle of 3 to 4 months.

The Regional Department of Health assures the public that it will provide an additional network of places. However the 600 places in the three anti-tuberculosis units for the region (oblast) located in the city are totally full up. Where will they find the beds and using what funding?

It would surely have been simpler not to remove such a large number of beds, and transfer them to under the region’s existing units of Clinic No. 1, not close them. And to not hand three premises over into city ownership. 

Order No. 1 envisages outpatient treatment for patients who are not coughing or in other ways expelling the bacteria in three locations. Yet given the social milieu of patients with tuberculosis, can outpatient treatment provide the assurance that these patients will get the medicine they need?  Not to mention the fact that the inpatient care meant that they also received meals which for some of them was also a part of their treatment.

An increase in the number of people with tuberculosis can be predicted since the time needed to gain access to a doctor, hospital space and medicine has become longer.

Moreover the Deputy Mayor I.M. Shurma says that this is merely the first phase of the reductions, and that at the second phase, Clinic 1 will stop functioning altogether since the regional budget is not providing money for treating people with tuberculosis.  According to Shurma, they have to spend money on such patients which is needed for construction work towards Euro-2012.

What is going on?

In April 2008 the decision was taken by the regional and city councils to transfer Clinic No. 1 from city to regional property. However the regional council passed this decision on condition that it received extra funding from the central budget. This funding has not materialized, and the city authorities are resolving the issue in unilateral manner.

The secrecy with which this is being done is staggering. The relevant Instruction from the Mayor of Kharkiv No. 2778 from 10 December 2008 and Department of Health Order No. 737 from 28 December 2008 are not available on the official website of the City Council and we were unable to obtain access to them. The Regional Department of Health was not even warned about these measures and not shown the documents.

There is another problem. One of the units in the city which from 2004 had been holding people suffering from tuberculosis detained by the police or remand prisoners had 4 wards of 20 beds. The Ministry of Internal Affairs spent a lot of money on reconstruction and annual repairs to the building, yet this building has been closed and transferred to city property. So where are the MIA now to hold detainees suffering from tuberculosis?

The behaviour of the city authorities is a flagrant violation of the Constitution and laws of the country. Article 49 of the Constitution clearly states that the existing network of healthcare institutions may not be reduced. Not to mention Article 3, according to which: “the human being, his or her life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security are recognised in Ukraine as the highest social value”

KHPG is convinced that the unlawful Order No. 1 should be revoked. Such a reduction would be a time bomb which in 2010 could lead to an epidemic of tuberculosis in Kharkiv. This need not happen if the city and regional departments of health finally resolve the issue of financing together and abandon all measures on reducing the network of anti-tuberculosis units.

Interethnic relations

Murder of Nigerian in Lviv still unsolved

Last Sunday, 18 January, in Lviv a young Nigerian was attacked by a man with a knife and fatally wounded. Around 7 in the evening he was standing with a young woman at a tram stop when a man ran up and stabbed him in the neck.

The young man (b. 1984) was married to a Ukrainian and bringing up her child from a previous marriage and their four-year-old son. They were registered in the Lviv region but living in Lviv itself. 

It is wise in such circumstances to wait before jumping to any conclusions, and follow the investigation closely.

Obviously the police consider all possible motives, and need to examine each before discarding them where necessary.  On the other hand, many days have passed, and the statement made today by the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Lviv Region Vasyl Pisny that he could say with absolute certainty that the crime was not committed by a skinhead seems odd when there would appear to be no idea of the identity of the murderer.  Mr Pisny also stated at a press conference on 23 January that:

“The murder was pretty brazen. At present we have no evidence that it was racially motivated. However this possibility is being considered. For a full investigation we are obliged to consider all possible versions.”

We will be following the investigation very closely and hope that the police will soon find the perpetrator of this appalling crime.

Dissidents and their time

“The God-imposed aim” of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s life

The moment when Providence chooses a person to carry out a historical mission is beyond human comprehension. What depends on the person is whether he heeds the voice speaking to him from within and obeys it, which as the Hebrew prophets bear witness, is not always easy. For that voice does not usually call to luxury in regal chambers, but to great pain and suffering.

I don’t know at what moment Alexander Isaevich Solzhenitsyn was called to such a great mission. Perhaps when he miraculously recovered from cancer? Did he perhaps then have the feeling that he was on borrowed time (Andriy Sheptytsky) in order to carry out something very great? “All the life returned to me from that time was not mine in the full sense of the word, it has an imposed purpose.”* However it was Solzhenitsyn who heard that voice, heeded the calling and fulfilled his task with honour. At that time the world was ripe for the truth about the Gulag, or more precisely, ready enough to be filled with horror, and the word of truth poured from Alexander Isaevich’s lips and began to free the human soul. From that time on the world clearly sensed that the nails were being loudly beaten into the coffin of the communism Solzhenitsyn hated.

Yet in the life of the great there is a moment which is especially dangerous for them. After all it is important for a person to feel not only that moment when the Lord places His hand upon their shoulder, leading them to a courageous deed, but also the moment when He takes His hand away. No, I am not saying that God abandons a person – it is their specific mission, demanding God’s special attention, which is ended.  The bliss given to those persecuted for the truth ceases. He who fails to notice this in time risks continuing to play his role although the play has ended.

It would seem as though Alexander Isaevich did not notice this second moment. It is probably this which explains all the tragedy of his later life.

It’s hard, after all, for people to realize that they do not become great, but that they are chosen for greatness. And when, having concluded your mission, you feel that Providence is filling somebody else with the passionary spirit, it is important to feel that you are a key on the Divine fortepiano, which must be heard as needed in the melody of the heavenly spheres when touched by God’s finger, but not fall away when the finger strikes neighbouring keys. …

* * *

What can a former Ukrainian dissident feel about Alexander Isaevich? I will speak for myself: gratitude and, at once, reproach. The second need not of course cancel out the first, on the contrary, with Solzhenitsyn’s passing into eternity, the reproach should decrease, turning into conceptual statements, while the gratitude should grow. It is this that we would wish for about us after our death.

We owe Solzhenitsyn our eternal and unqualified gratitude that the world once again heard the truth about the crimes of communism. Political memory is very short-lasting, and by the time “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich” and the “Gulag Archipelago” appeared, the world had already forgotten the testimony of Viktor Kravchenko, a communist functionary in Ukraine, who during the suffering of night torture vowed that he would tell the world what was going on in secret in the torture chambers of the NKVD, and he did so. His book “I chose freedom”, which was published in the USA in 1946 had an explosive effect and aroused heated discussion.

Yet the world loves the strong and successful, and therefore the magnetic figure of the victor of the Second World War – “Uncle Joe”, with his inevitable pipe and Georgian moustache, attracted westerners much more than his victims traumatized by their suffering. They therefore forgot about the Gulag.

Alexander Isaevich who also vowed in memory of his campmates that he would tell the world of their suffering also rent apart the veil of silence. “If Chekhov’s members of the intelligentsia, all musing over what would be in twenty-thirty-forty years, had been told that in forty years in Rus there would be interrogation through torture, that they would squeeze a skull through an iron ring, drop a person into a bath of acid, naked and bound, torment him with ants and bed bugs, that a burning hot cleaning rod would be thrust into his anal cavity (“secret branding”), that they would slowly press down with a boot on his genitals, and as the very lightest – torture through a week of sleeplessness, thirst and beat him to the bleeding flesh – not one of Chekhov’s plays would have reached the end, all the heroes would have ended up in a madhouse” (Gulag Archipelago).

Humanity is still discussing why there is such inexplicable asymmetry in the assessment of the crimes of Nazism and communism. One can name dozens of reasons why we’ve ended up in this position and why so many people consider a communist Nuremburg – 2 to be untimely and unnecessary. Yet it is impossible to corrupt Heaven and an untaken exam will sooner or later bring us to the desks as D-grade students.

It is Russia’s unwillingness to declare communism a crime and express repentance for it that dooms it to support for a return to it today and new upheavals tomorrow. What bitter irony over Putin’s policy of glorifying Russia’s history we find in Alexander Isaevich’s words: “Or even more terrible is the fact that thirty years later they tell us: you shouldn’t go on about that!  if you remember the suffering of millions, that distorts the historical perspective! If you poke about into the essence of our morals, that mars material progress!  Better to recall blast-furnaces burning, rolling lathes, dug canals … no, better not about canals … then about Kolyma gold, no, and better not about that either… You can talk about it all, but knowing how, but glorifying …” (Gulag Archipelago).

You can understand Vladimir Putin and all his supporters in Russia: for a people accustomed to feeling “in front of the entire planet” it’s hard to immediately understand the weight of their mistakes.  The intention, therefore, to “renew the greatness and strength of Russia” was inevitable and doomed to overall support. Yet bad news awaits Russia: the Russians will still have to go through that catharsis which they should have experienced after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  After all Solzhenitsyn had said it: “We don’t have the strength for an Empire!  - and we don’t need it, let it fall from our shoulders: it crushes us, and drains and hastens our downfall” (“How to build Russia”). It will only happen, unfortunately, under the worst circumstances and at the price of greater suffering.

However Ukrainians have nothing to gloat over since Ukraine also needs to go through its own catharsis, and not hide either behind an adaptation of Putin’s policy of glorification of the Soviet past, or under the guise of victims of classic occupation.  It is the unwillingness of a considerable part of Ukraine to acknowledge the crime of communism and repent for their part in it that is dooming it to division of its national spirit and to endlessly standing still.

There is something significant and at once fundamentally flawed in the fact that no nation which paid homage to the communist Beast is today expressing repentance. All consider themselves victims, placing the blame on others. Well, the fact that they were victims is indisputable – Ukrainians need look no further than Holodomor for evidence of that. Yet what about guilt?  The guilt of the Russian people is for me clear and cannot be placed on a par with the guilt, for example, of the Latvian shooters who at a terrible time for them protected the Bolshevik hydra from destruction. Yet are we not oversimplifying the situation for ourselves by placing the blame for the communist crime only on the Russians?  Is the fear of moral or material restitution not constraining the work of national consciences? 

A former victim who, seeing that the person who harmed him shows no repentance, fires up hatred towards him, and in so doing shows that he has big problems with spirituality. A real revelation for me came in the words of Emil Castro: “The victim does not only receive restitution. S/he holds the key to real and fundamental reconciliation”. After all it is the victim who forgives, only he alone. Furthermore, the repentance of the wrong-doing does not have to be a prerequisite for forgiveness – it would be difficult to imagine Jesus in the moment of the passion crying “Forgive them, Father, but only on condition that they repent!”

Therefore the following words from Solzhenitsyn apply also to Ukrainians: “Without exception, each nation, however persecuted, aggrieved and absolutely right it may feel, at some time undoubtedly added its share of callousness, injustice and arrogance” (“Repentance and self-limitation as categories of national life”).  Ukrainians’ current misfortunes (like the misfortunes of many peoples who were their Gulag colleagues) from one point of view are like the floundering of a spiritually undeveloped consciousness which seeks camouflage for its sores and to be excused for its faults.

Yet the transformation of consciousness should be no less radical in the West since it was in the socialist circles of Europe and in the university auditoriums of Harvard, Oxford and the Sorbonne that the impenetrable shields were forged which for so long protected the communist monster. In his address to Harvard graduates on 8 June 1977, Solzhenitsyn gave a psychological diagnosis for the illness: “Hitler never had so many resources, so many people, so many penetrating ideas, so many of his own supporters in the western world, a fifth column, as the Soviet Union”. Yet Solzhenitsyn was not able to overcome this disease. Even the fall of the USSR was a shock for the western elite, but not a lesson.

With the change of the respectable and wealthy Soviet Union into the respectable and wealthy Russia, their value system has basically not changed at all. The same pattern so aptly noted by Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “Western thinking has become conservative only in order to maintain the world situation as it is, only so that nothing changes. The enfeebling dream of the status quo is the sign of a society which has ended its development”. The West will therefore, it would seem, once again take its lesson resolving the problems which Putin places before it.

The unrecognized, unpunished and not repented for crime of communism thus hangs over all players in the present geopolitical drama. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was and will always be one of the most vocal witnesses for the prosecution at a thus far virtual trial of history. He formulated the thesis which I came to later, on an entirely empirical basis, observing the bacchanalia of evil in Ukrainian politics. “The destruction of our souls over three quarters of a century – that is the most terrible thing” (“How to build Russia”). Indeed the greatest victims of communism were not the innocent who were slaughtered, but those who remained to live on.

* * *

My main reproach against Solzhenitsyn, as could be predicted, is over his twisted understanding of the Ukrainian situation. This feeling emerges precisely because I did not expect such an expansive great-national mentality from a former prisoner of Stalin’s labour camps who had such close contact with Ukrainian prisoners.  “But then in cut-off Halychyna, under Austrian tending, a distorted Ukrainian non-native language was grown, littered with German and Polish words, with the temptation to wean the Carpathian Rusins off the Russian language and the temptation of full all-Ukrainian separatism”

(“How to build Russia”)

I find it difficult also to understand how such a morally attuned writer like Solzhenitsyn, in the same work could have blithely carved up the territory of Kazakhstan, and passed unequivocal geopolitical sentence on the Crimean Tatars. “The Crimean Tatars must of course be enabled to make a full return to the Crimea. However with a density of population in the XXI century with room for 8-10 million – the hundred thousand strong Tatar people cannot demand to own it”  And this was said by a representative of a country which holds the uninhabited expenses of Siberia, proudly refusing to give up a part of its territory to overpopulated China!

One can assume that we are dealing here not with a conscious great-country position, but with stereotypes of consciousness which are simply not noticed by those who hold them (such stereotypes are of course held not only by Russians, but by Ukrainians too). This view is prompted by a typical phrase by Solzhenitsyn from the same work which combines both willingness to recognize the bitter truth and an unconscious indifference to the pain of other peoples. “Over three quarters of a century – with the foisted and trumpeted “socialist freedom of nations” the communist authorities muddled, corrupted and dirtied so much in the relations between these peoples that you can no longer see the paths by which to return with one regrettable exception, to that peaceful co-existence of nations, that even drowsy lack of distinction of nations which had almost been achieved in the last decades of pre-revolutionary Russia”.

This is so typical for a patriot of Russia – to not notice that this supposed “peaceful and drowsy co-existence of nation” was achieved at the cost of arrests and exile “not allowed to write or pain”, at the cost of decrees against the use of, for example, Ukrainian language and police control over the mood of citizens.  This so reminds one of the responses of those who today look with nostalgia to the deceased – Soviet Union. “After all we lived together so nicely!”  In truth “drowsy lack of distinction” of ills inflicted on others!

However it is entirely possible that the specific perception is not due to a conscious great-nation callousness, but from the fact that for Solzhenitsyn Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are basically one people. When he pronounces the word “peoples”, he effectively means other peoples beyond the circle of “internal” East Slavonic peoples. “One of the features of Russian history which has always been there and remains, has supposed such a direction of crimes in mass form and we have largely perpetrated them not outside, but within, not to others, but to ourselves. It is Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians who have most of all suffered from our misfortunes” (“Repentance and self-limitation as categories of national life.”)  Here all three nations are mentioned as tribes, as ethnic groups of one nation – as a Ukrainian would say: “From the “Wisla” operation it was the Lemki and Boiki who suffered the most”.

This in my view makes clear Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Achilles’ heel. It is impossible to “build Russia” in a civilized manner on this basis. This is why Solzhenitsyn proved to be a heeded and rejected prophet. The Russian people heard him when, having taken hold of a military compass, it began defining its new sphere of influence. This is already less than it was, however its nature has remained the same: let each person keep their hope who is added to the inner circle of “our people”. Yet the people have still remained deaf to Solzhenitsyn’s call to repentance.

* * *

I would venture to repeat myself that with Solzhenitsyn’s passing into eternity our reproach should decrease, turning into conceptual statements while our gratitude should grow. His unforgettable call “to live not by lies” moved many a heart who in those far off years furtively glanced at half-faded reprints of samizdat, or through the cacophonous jamming listened to every word on Radio Svoboda. This call is not new, however blessed is he who repeats it at the right time and in the right place.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn reminded us of it in the very “bastion of world evil” and at a time of its respectable impunity. He reminded each person of the simple truth how one can at the personal level fight evil. “Violence can hide behind nothing except lies, and a lie can only be maintained by force. And it does not lay its heavy paw on every shoulder, nor every day; it demands from us only submission to lies – that’s where all the loyalty lies. And it is here that we find the simplest, most accessible key to our liberation which we spurned: personal non-complicity in the lie! Let the lie cover everything, let it control everything, however in the smallest thing we will hold firm: let it control everything, but not through me!” (“To live not by lies”) These words can be seen as an epitaph which the author himself carved upon his grave.

Solzhenitsyn had the courage, having fastidiously rejected one sinful system, to recognize the inner rot of its main rival. “It is depressing that generated through contemporary adversarial publicity, the intellectual pseudo-elite sneers at the absolute nature of the concepts of Good and Evil, hides indifference to them through “pluralism of ideas” and deeds. Initial European democracy was imbued with the sense of Christian responsibility and self-discipline. However, gradually these spiritual foundations have been eroded. Spiritual independence is squeezed out and twisted by the dictatorship of triviality, fashion and group interests. We are entering democracy not in its healthy age,” (“How to build Russia”)

Yet it would seem that the critical attitude to the West proved a disservice to Solzhenitsyn. It would seem that Alexander Isaevich was not devoid of the prejudice typical for Russians of the Third Rome (i.e. Russia – translator) to the First Rome. However, even if he really personally and consciously did not nurture it his criticism fostered that eternal opposition. Whether he wanted it or not, he contributed to the “greatness and strength” of Russia being perceived by its citizens in terms of its eternal opposition to the West. As a result, the moral truth in Solzhenitsyn’s assessment of the West proved to a large extent weakened.

This is why the gravestone monument to Solzhenitsyn could be reminiscent of that on the grave of Khrushchev – a combination of white and black stone. There is nothing ill-meant in this: all people who have lived, are alive or will live on our sinful earth deserve such a monument in the eyes of the Lord. Solzhenitsyn himself articulated the reason: “We have lost the MEASURE OF FREEDOM. We have no means of defining where it begins and where it ends” (Gulag Archipelago).


*  the Russian “vlozhennya tsel” is translated in the title as “God-given”, but the word literally means enclosed or added to something  (translator)

Published in the periodical “Krytyka”

Our warmest wishes to Myroslav Marynovych!

4 January was the sixtieth birthday of Myroslav Marynovych, founding member of the Ukrainian Helsink Group, human rights defender, philosopher  and writer. He is presently Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University and Director of the Institute of Society and Religion.

All the members of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group extend their warmest greetings and best wishes for the future!

Myroslav Marynovych can look back on a life of absolute commitment to God and his fellow man.  He was the youngest founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1976, and he knew what to expect from the Soviet regime for this and many other acts of courage, for his refusal to “keep his head low”.  He was arrested in April 1977, and after many months in custody sentenced – for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” – to 7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years exile.  He served his sentence in one of the Perm political labour camps [“Perm-36”], where he took part in all human rights actions, signing numerous letters and appeals from political prisoners, holding protest hunger strikes and smuggled to the outside world a chronicle of the camp.

The following are just a few excerpts from interviews given by Myroslav Marynovych – the full interviews can be found following the links below. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biographical note at:

News from the CIS countries

Human rights defender Yefrem Yankelevich has died

The death has been announced in Moscow of human rights defender Yefrem Yankelevich who was for many years authorized representative of Andrei Sakharov. It was Yelena Bonner, Sakharov widow, who informed the press – her words are given below. Yefrem Yankelevich died of a heart attack on the morning of 28 January. He was 58.

Yelena Bonner:

“Yefrem Yankelevich was in a formal capacity Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov’s authorized representative for many years. Informally, he was his closest colleague and associate. I couldn’t name a single person who knew and understood Andrei Dmitrievich’s worldview and perception better and more deeply than Yefrem.  Andrei Dmitrievich always treated Yefrem’s judgments very seriously, as he did his opinion on various issues that concerned them both equally strongly.  Several times Yefrem was able to convince and restrain Andrei Dmitrievich from making a wrong decision or wrong actions. And as for how Yefrem knew everything that Andrei Dmitrievich had written or said in numerous interviews, there was nowhere, and probably will never be anybody to equal him. And all that despite the fact that Yefrem was not part of our generation, but that of our children. It’s sad when people of my generation pass away. It is doubly hard and somehow unfair when the life of those close to us from our children’s generation is cut short.

A Killing in Vienna and the Chechen Connection

As Umar Israilov, a 27-year-old Chechen political refugee living in Vienna, Austria, returned home on foot after grocery shopping Jan. 13, he spotted two men standing outside his apartment building — one of whom had a gun. Upon spotting the men, Israilov dropped his groceries and fled down Leopoldauer Street in the Floridsdorf neighborhood of Vienna, dodging cars and pedestrians. But the gunman managed to wound Israilov, halting his flight. The two men then approached him in a side alley, where the armed man shot Israilov twice in the head, killing him.

One man has been detained in connection with the killing, which a Stratfor source alleges was carried out by organized criminal assets in Vienna at the behest of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and with Kremlin approval. Israilov was an outspoken critic of Kadyrov and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Because of this, Israilov had frequently expressed concerns for his safety and that of his family.

Before seeking asylum in Austria, Israilov fought during the Second Chechen War against Russian forces, which captured him in 2003. Afterward, he served as one of Kadyrov’s bodyguards, a position that gave him a front-row seat to the activities of Kadyrov, who at that time led the militia of his father, then-Chechen President Akhmed Kadyrov. (Ramzan Kadyrov became Chechen president in 2007, three years after his father’s assassination.) Israilov and the younger Kadyrov had a falling-out in 2004, after which Israilov said his former boss tortured him using electric charges.

Israilov fled to the West shortly thereafter, first seeking asylum in Poland and later obtaining asylum in Austria. Once in Europe, he often spoke out against Ramzan Kadyrov, filing complaints about his alleged torture with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, and talking to reporters from The New York Times about his experiences. While allegations that Kadyrov and his associates committed torture were not new, Israilov’s former position in Kadyrov’s circle set him apart as a dissident — and marked him as a security risk to his former employers due to his firsthand knowledge of how Kadyrov operates. Israilov reportedly told police in Vienna that he felt threatened and asked for extra security.

Austria has long been a popular place for political asylum-seekers who are facing threats due to their political views; providing adequate protection for all of these dissidents is impossible. Israilov further endangered himself by maintaining a relatively high profile due to his court filings and conversations with journalists. (He might have sought publicity in a bid to support himself and his family financially.)

Chechnya, Russia and the Israilov Killing

According to Israilov’s father, in June 2008 a Chechen visited the younger Israilov, showing him a hit list of 300 Chechens who oppose Kadyrov. Ramzan Kadyrov is well-known for not tolerating detractors, allegedly having ordered the deaths of dissenters before. While spokesmen for Kadyrov have distanced the Chechen president from the Israilov killing, saying the latter did not pose a significant threat to Chechnya, Israilov’s killing could well have been intended as an example to other Chechen dissidents who felt safe abroad. While Chechen dissidents routinely die or disappear under murky circumstances in their country, this is the first time a vocal Chechen dissident has been slain abroad. The brazen nature of Israilov’s killing in particular suggests an effort to highlight the vulnerability of exiled Chechen dissidents.

According to Stratfor sources, agents were not sent from Chechnya to carry out this operation. After getting permission from Moscow for the Israilov killing — Russia keeps a tight grip on Chechnya, so Moscow would interpret a unilateral assassination abroad as subversive — Kadyrov allegedly mobilized organized criminals in Austria to carry out the deed. While it is not clear exactly which organized criminal faction carried out the killing, the man detained in connection with the killing was a Chechen who has lived in Austria for several years under the name Otto Kaltenbrunner. While he has not been charged with anything, the getaway car was registered in his name — suggesting the involvement of Chechen organized crime, which has a strong presence in Russia and Europe as well as in the Caucasus.

As major fighting in the Second Chechen War wound down from 2005 to 2007, many of the militants who had fought the Russians disbanded and fled the country. These soldiers, highly trained and accustomed to using violence to get their way, had limited options beyond putting their skills to use with the various Chechen organized criminal factions that thrived in postwar Chechnya. Chechen gangs are prized for their high level of training and brutality, abilities that have proved very valuable to criminal groups in Russia, the Caucasus and Europe.

The high degree of professionalism in the Israilov killing tends to support the existence of a Chechen organized criminal angle. This professionalism includes the audacity of Israilov’s killers, who attacked in broad daylight on a busy street. It also includes their ability to kill Israilov (himself a militant trained under Kadyrov) without any significant struggle or collateral damage. Moreover, at least a low level of surveillance must have been carried out on Israilov’s residence to confirm that he lived there and to establish his schedule so the attackers could wait for him.

The Chechen leadership has a relationship with Chechen organized crime because of the military and security service background of many Chechen criminals, and because Kadyrov led these militias during the Russo-Chechen wars of the 1990s. Such a relationship could be called on in commissioning a killing in Vienna.

Using hired guns from Austria would allow any foreign entity that ordered the killing to distance itself from the crime. Even if Austrian police managed to track down and initiate a prosecution of those who carried out the killing, arranging the extraditions of suspects from Russia would be virtually impossible without Moscow’s cooperation. Russia has not cooperated with British authorities investigating the killing of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, for example, and the investigation has turned into a political skirmish in an already-tense relationship between the two countries. Attempting to pursue the Israilov case with Russia probably would bring a similar outcome for Austria: inconclusive findings and weakened relations with a Russia that is asserting itself much more than it did in 2006.

Suspicions of Moscow’s involvement in the assassinations of Russian dissidents by various means have become common in the past three years. Russian organized criminal groups, as well as the Russian domestic security and intelligence service, the FSB, are the most likely culprits behind the increase in high-profile assassinations of Russian dissidents over the last few years. Many of the assassinations have been connected to the issue of Chechnya and alleged human rights abuses there.

The Chechen wars are a sensitive issue for both Russians and Chechens. Those who stir up tales of past offenses by either side are seen as undermining the stability in Chechnya that has come about because of the ongoing alliance between Putin and Kadyrov. The suspicious deaths of individuals (followed by their date of death) who fall into this category include:

Paul Klebnikov, July 2004. The editor of Forbes’ Russian edition, Klebnikov was shot dead in Moscow as he was heading into a subway station. The driver of a stolen car that pulled out of a parking lot and drove toward Klebnikov fired four shots before fleeing the scene.

Anna Politkovskaya, October 2006. A prominent journalist and critic of the Kremlin, Politkovskaya was in the process of publishing a series condemning the government’s policy in Chechnya. She was shot in the head in her apartment building.

Alexander Litvinenko, November 2006. Litvinenko was a former KGB agent who had defected to the United Kingdom and published books on the internal workings of Putin’s FSB networks, and he was critical of the new Russian state. He was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210.

Ivan Safronov, March 2007. Safronov was a journalist who criticized the state of the Russian military and was accused of leaking military affairs to foreign parties. He allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of his apartment building, though some reports say a person behind him forced him out of the building.

Oleg Zhukovsky, December 2007. Zhukovsky was an executive of the VTB bank, which at the time of his death was being taken over by the state so the Kremlin could handpick its senior officers to oversee many strategic state accounts. Zhukovsky allegedly performed the feat of committing suicide by being tied to a chair and thrown into his swimming pool, where he drowned.

Arkady Patarkatsishvili, February 2008. A wealthy Georgian-Russian businessman, Patarkatsishvili was extensively involved in Georgian politics. Patarkatsishvili died in the United Kingdom of coronary complications that resembled a heart attack. His family and many in Georgia have accused the FSB of involvement, however, saying the FSB has many untraceable poisons at its disposal.

Leonid Rozhetskin, March 2008. Rozhetskin was an international financier and lawyer who held stakes in strategic companies, like mobile phone giant MegaFon. He disappeared while in Latvia after losing Kremlin backing by selling his assets to multiple parties, including some government ministers who are former FSB agents.

Ruslan Yamadayev, September 2008. Yamadayev was a Chechen military leader and former member of the State Duma. He was shot in his Mercedes as it was stopped at a red light near the Kremlin in Moscow.

Stanislav Markelov, January 2009. A prominent Russian lawyer who had prosecuted an army colonel convicted of murdering a Chechen woman, Markelov was shot dead along with a journalist in broad daylight on a Moscow street near the Kremlin. He was also involved in the case of Anna Politkovskaya.

Vienna, City of International Intrigue

Vienna has long been a key battleground for international disputes between competing countries’ security and intelligence operatives. No stranger to international intrigue and attacks, the Austrian capital has had a reputation for assassination plots, intelligence gathering and foreign operatives conducting missions against dissidents who thought they were safe living in a Western city in an otherwise peaceful country.

In one example of this tradition, Iranian agents linked to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security shot and killed three members of a Kurdish delegation conducting negotiations with the Iranian leadership in 1989. Similarly, many cases of espionage between the United States and the Soviet Union unfolded in Vienna, including the cases of Marine Sgt. Clayton Lonetree and Felix Block, who passed information to the Soviets when he was second-in-command at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. The Israilov case is thus probably only the latest in a long tradition of foreign intrigue.

Austria’s central location between the former Warsaw Pact countries of Czechoslovakia and Hungary and NATO countries of Italy and West Germany, along with Vienna’s official neutrality, made Austria a natural Cold War battleground. The Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States all focused intelligence-gathering capabilities there. And as Cold War battle lines are redrawn with Russia’s resurgence, the significance of places like Vienna re-emerges. Considering that these activities only began to slacken less than 20 years ago, old intelligence networks could be put into operation again with relative ease.

The blurring of the line between Russian intelligence agents and organized crime that occurred during the 1990s means that Russia still has a considerable network around the world, though now, elements of this network also are engaged in criminal activities. This network must be considered when looking at cases like that of Israilov.

Significantly, Austria is home to the largest Chechen refugee population in Europe. An estimated 20,000 Chechens — not all of them legal residents — live in the Central European country; many of them fled the bloody Chechen wars with Russia. In general, ethnic organized criminal outfits flourish among immigrants or refugee populations because they can offer illegal immigrants services that they cannot get from the state. They also flourish there because they can use the immigrant community to operate with more secrecy. This is because many immigrant communities live apart from the indigenous population, often in separate neighborhoods, speak a different language and generally stick together in opposition to their host country’s police services. Additionally, family bonds (intensified when around strangers) strengthen ties within immigrant communities, allowing for the kind of secrecy that lets organized crime thrive.

The establishment of a strong Chechen presence in Austria, along with a pre-existing Russian presence, means that Chechnya and Russia have a long reach in the country. Considering the organized crime-FSB nexus, the increase in politically motivated murders of Russian dissidents and how Moscow most likely was pleased with Israilov’s demise, Russian assets in Vienna could well have been involved in the murder. While Russia is broadly suspected of killing dissidents abroad in recent years, Chechnya is not known to have carried out attacks in the European Union before — meaning the Israilov killing will send chills down the spines of exiled Chechen dissidents.

Open appeal from lawyers regarding the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov

We wish to express our gravest fears over the flagrant murder of our colleague Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova on 19 January 2009 in the centre of Moscow. It is clear that the killing was of a contract and political nature and linked with the professional activities of the lawyer.

The series of killings of lawyers, journalists and civic activists over recent times in the capital and regions of Russia arouse the deepest concern. Even greatest disquiet is felt over the consistent inability of the Russian law enforcement agencies to ensure swift uncovering, high-quality investigation and submission to the courts of similar criminal prosecutions often even with regard to those who carried out a crime, not to mention those who order and organize such blatant attacks.

The authorities are not capable of ensuring a proper level of security for the lawful public and professional activities of lawyers even in the capital of the Russian Federation.

The specific nature of our work lies in defending the interests of victims of crimes committed by those in official positions and other abuse by representatives of the authorities – police officers, officers of the Russian Army, staff of the State Narcotics Control Body, justice bodies, Security Service officers and penal system staff, as well as defending the victims of violent hate crimes.

We perceive the murder of lawyer Markelov as a real and immediate threat and challenge to the entire Russian legal community, particular that part which specializes in defending people from lawless impunity of enforcement officers and nationalist gangs running rampant in the country.

From now on this work is dangerous for the lives both of the lawyers themselves, and journalists working with them.

We demand that the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, the Head of the Investigative Committee attached to the Prosecutor’s Office and the Minister of Internal Affairs make sure that an effective investigation is carried out of this double murder and that the public are regularly informed of its progress. Otherwise in you the Russian Federation will be admitting before its own citizens and the international community its political defeat to organized crime and its inability to control it.

The appeal is signed by 20 lawyers from all over the Russian Federation, and is open for signatures here:

[email protected]

(the appeal is available in Russian, with the names of the lawyers and their positions at the bottom here:

Search of Memorial Centre in St Petersburg declared unlawful

On 20 January the Dzherzhynsky District Court in St Petersburg passed its ruling on a civil suit filed by the research and information centre “Memorial” in St. Petersburg

The court ruling allows the application, declares the search on 4 December 2008 to have been illegal, and orders that all documents and items removed in the course of this unlawful search to be returned. The respondents have ten days to appeal against the ruling.

Please see the links at the bottom for information about this extremely disturbing act by the Russian authorities. 

The following statement from Memorial at the time explains what happened, and why the potential consequences are so worrying.

“Memorial” Statement over the seizure of its office in St Petersburg

On 4 December, following a decision passed by the City Prosecutor, a search was undertaken of the research and information centre “Memorial” in St. Petersburg, the organization researching the history of the Stalinist Terror . The search was carried out under the pretext of an investigation into the case of what the Prosecutor asserts was an “extremist” publication a year and a half ago in a newspaper called “New Petersburg”.

People in masks, armed with police batons, occupied the premises of the Centre and removed the hard disks from all the computers. These hold the results of twenty years historical research, as well as material of one of the staff of the Centre and art historian Alexander Margolis, well-known also for speaking out in defence of the historical face of the city.

The “Memorial” Society and the research and information “Memorial” Centre in St. Petersburg know absolutely nothing about the newspaper publication which supposedly led to the search nor of the newspaper “New Petersburg”. It would appear that this publication is no more than a pretext for carrying out a search of the Memorial offices.

The disks removed contain databases with biographical information about tens of thousands of victims of Stalin’s repressions gathered by Memorial over twenty years, unique collections of photographic material and copies of documents on the Soviet terror, the results of searches to find camp graveyards and places of execution on the territory of the former USSR, as well as archives of interviews taped with former prisoners of the GULAG.

The International “Memorial” Society demands the immediate return of material which does not and cannot be connected with any “extremist” publications. “Memorial” warns the St. Petersburg City Prosecutor’s Office that this material is of enormous scientific value and that the prosecutor’s office bears full responsibility for its safekeeping.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2009, #01