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

Police officers who beat to death Oleh Dunich get 6 and 9 years

Three former police officers have been convicted of causing the death in custody of Oleh Dunich in December 2005. The men were charged with exceeding their power and official authority, with this being accompanied with violence (Article 365 § 2 of the Criminal Code).

The case took a long time to reach the court. The following is a brief account – more detail can be found here.

There have been conflicting stories as to what happened during the night between 7 and 8 December. The account given in the media this week is presumably that presented in court. It states that 29-year-old Oleh Dunich from Kharkiv was in a café on the outskirts of Kharkiv on the evening of 7 December. There were police officers and civilians at neighbouring tables. A brawl broke out over something trivial and the officers took Oleh Dunich out to “speak with him” on the street, and then took him to the Chervonozavodsky District Police Station. After several hours of interrogation, an ambulance needed to be called and he was taken to hospital where he died in the morning of 8 December from skull injuries and internal haemorrhaging.  

The report cited here mentions only a later forensic report which found multiple fractures and damage to internal organs. The earlier report indicated that the first forensic report had suggested that Dunich had received his injuries some three days before. The case gained a lot of publicity and the family disputed the first report.

The City Prosecutor’s Office which investigated the case laid the charges against three officers only in 2007. The men were remanded in custody, although there were attempts to have another preventive measure chosen. The verdict was announced this Monday: two former officers got 6 years, and the third – nine.

The crime under Article 365 § 2 envisages a sentence of between 3 and 8 years, so the charges also need to be clarified. It is likely that the men will appeal against the verdict.

Yury Chumak, Human Rights Assistant to the Minister believes this case is vital in putting an end to the sense of impunity among police officers. Most often the worst that happened is that they were dismissed, and the Prosecutor frequently refused to even initiate criminal investigations.

Reminding them of your rights breaks down their impunity

Every 14th person living in Ukraine has experienced torture from police officers, with almost 100 thousand of such cases just in the last year. Radio Svoboda reports these figures as being reflected by the joint estimates made by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and other human rights organizations.

At the same time most of the victims are frightened to tell anybody because they don’t believe that the State is capable of protecting them from arbitrary lawlessness and revenge.

A specially created Internal Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] investigates crimes committed by law enforcement officers and punishes those guilty yet the amount of violence in police stations is not falling as a result.

Each year over 2.5 thousand people turn to the Internal Security Service alleging unlawful actions by the police. The actual number of cases of torture is several times higher. According to Kharkiv region Human Rights Assistant to the Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Chumak, a major reason is the feeling of impunity. If each victim stood up for their rights, aggression from police officers would become a thing of the past.

As reported here already, Svitlana Pomilyaiko and another woman colleague were subjected to torture after being taken in for questioning over the theft of two computers from their work. According to the women’s testimony, the two officers questioned them separately, trying to force both to make confessions
Svitlana Pomilyaiko recounts: “They hit me on the head and put a bag over my head. I bit through one and then they put another one on and I lost consciousness. They squeezed us with tweezers, placed us in a cell with criminals, demanding that we confess to the theft of the computers. We refused to admit to a crime we hadn’t committed. After eight hours they let us out in the city, beaten and exhausted, as calmly as though for them it was an everyday procedure.”

Svitlana took more than a month to recover, lost her job and remained with two children to look after, virtually without means to live on. She no longer believes in justice from the Ukrainian police and fears vengeance from her former tormenters.

Three officers have been dismissed and the proceedings against them are continuing. However this case is an exception since most officers who torture people get away with it, Yury Chumak says. He reiterates the danger of such impunity.

According to KHPG Co-Chair Yevhen Zakharov, a fundamental change in the principles of work of the law enforcement agencies is needed. He points out that the tradition of beating out confessions is long entrenched.

“The norms which demand that an investigator solves most crimes need to be abolished. In Europe the percentage of crimes solved is no higher than 40%” He stresses that it is unacceptable that police officers should be punished more for a low percentage of solved crimes than for rough treatment of suspects. In order to avoid problems, law enforcement officers don’t formalize the detention until they have beaten out a confession. In such cases, he notes, a person is tortured, yet there is no evidence that he or she was even in the police station.

However it also depends on the person detained, and human rights activists recommend that people immediate make use of their right to a phone call, as guaranteed by the Constitution. They should inform their relatives of where they are and ask them to get in touch with a lawyer. And they should refuse to answer any questions without a lawyer being present. This right is also guaranteed by law. Then torture will become simply impossible, they believe.

From material at

The Pomilyaiko case – the litmus test for Ukraine’s commitment to fighting torture

A press conference was held in Kharkiv on 18 May to report on the course of the criminal investigation into a pivotal case involving former police officers. The investigation is under the article on exceeding official duties, and is connected with allegations that the men used violence towards two women they were questioning. The press conference was attended by one of the two victims, Svitlana Pomilyaiko, the Kharkiv Region Human Rights Aide to the Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Chumak, and the Head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group Public Advice Centre, Ludmila Klochko.

As reported earlier, two women were taken in for questioning after two computers went missing from their work. According to the women’s testimony, the two officers questioned them separately, trying to force both 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 have medical reports from the hospital which they went to following their release. Only Svitlana Pomilyaiko decided to make a formal complaint.

A criminal investigation was initiated only to be revoked by the Ordzhonikidze District Court in Kharkiv. This court ruling, however, was, on 7 May overturned by the Kharkiv Regional Court of Appeal, and the case has been sent back to a first instance court to be examined again.

According to Oleksandr Pletenko, the victim’s lawyer, the Prosecutor’s Office took 10 days to investigate the case from when Ms Pomilyaiko lodged her complaint to the initiating of a criminal investigation. The Court of Appeal concluded that sufficient material had been gathered.

According to KHPG lawyer Oksana Stanislavska, this case is fairly specific for another reason, since it is more often than not the Prosecutor’s Office that refuses to initiate a criminal investigation, with the court being forced to accede. Here, effectively, the opposite happened at first instance court level.

Nine prosecutions over the death of a detainee passed to the court

The Prosecutor General’s press service reports that the cases of nine officers of the Chernihiv Regional Department for Fighting Organized Crime [UBOZ] have been passed to the court. They are charged with exceeding their powers.  The report speaks of four people having been detained on suspicion of committing a crime, with physical violence being applied leading to the death of one of the detainees.

As reported already, Serhiy Kuntsevsky died on 2 October from a closed skull injury in the premises of the Chernihiv Regional UBOZ in Prytuky. Video footage of the actual detention showed officers putting a polyethylene bag over his head. He was detained in the early afternoon and died at around 10 in the evening.

Shortly afterwards the Chernihiv Regional Prosecutor reported that a criminal investigation had been initiated against three officers and a lower-ranking employee of the Chernihiv UBOZ in Prytuky on suspicion of inflicting grave bodily injuries causing death and exceeding their official powers (Articles 121 § 2 and 365 § 3 of the Criminal Code, respectively. Later criminal investigations were initiated against 10 UBOZ officers.

It is a little disturbing given the above details, and others reported since the tragedy, that no mention is made of the first Article, nor of applying the Article against torture.

Rivne police officers convicted of torture

In Rivne three Criminal Investigation Department officers have been convicted of using torture to beat a confession out of a suspect.

“In 2002 the officers detained Oleh Petrov on suspicion of robbery”, Rivne’s Prosecutor Andrij Dzhus explains. “During the initiative detective enquiry [diznannya – before a person is formally charged – translator], these police officers inflicted bodily injuries linked with torture. They tormented and beat evidence and a confession out of him, through placing him on a rack, suspending him from a pole, as well as connecting him to a machine that gave him electric shocks (this was not found during the investigation).

The case only got to court in 2005, and in total it has taken the victim seven years to prove he was telling the truth.

“One of the police officers was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, and stripped of his title of senior lieutenant and the right to occupy some posts for two years”, Mr Dzhus states. “Two other police officers were given suspended sentences. This sentence has not yet come into force and it is possible that there will be an appeal. And we are going to appeal against the excessively light sentence. Incidentally, the actual robbery which the torturers in uniform forced Oleh Petrov to confess to has still not been solved.


Law on biometric data returned to parliament

President Yushchenko has refused to sign the amendments to the Law “On the legal status of foreign nationals and stateless persons”. The amendments would have introduced collection by all Ukrainian consulates, border guards, etc, of biometric data.

The statement on the official website explains that the President cannot sign the given Law since this would make unauthorized access, changes or divulgence of such data probable, this being an infringement of the people’s rights and adversely affecting Ukraine’s reputation abroad.

The likelihood of abuse is linked to the fact that there are no legislative safeguards for databases of personal data

The statement also calls on parliament to bring into line with legislative procedure for determining visa policy the proposed mechanism for waiving visas for foreign nationals and stateless persons exclusive on the basis of legislation and Ukraine’s international commitments.

The President’s proposals will be presented during Verkhovna Rada consideration of the law by Ihor Popov.

As reported here, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in mid April issued an Open Appeal against collection of biometric data, expressing grave concerns over inevitable infringements of people’s rights if the law came into force. It explained in detail its concerns focusing on likely abuse and lack of guarantees of data protection, unwarranted huge expense and absolutely no benefit in terms of increased national security, as the law claimed to be seeking. UHHRU called on the President to apply his power of veto, and today’s decision is very much to be welcomed.

The Appeal can be found at: as well as on, “Maidan” and other sites.


Freedom of expression

A Politician afflicted

Psychologists’ experiments back in the 1950s showed how easy it was to turn children belonging to competing teams into bitter enemies. Within a matter of days they sincerely loathed each other and were hell-bent on «teaching the other team a lesson». With politicians it’s at once similar, and quite different, and not just because the word «sincerely» would be wildly out of place.  Like children they know no pity to their opponents and don’t balk at any means. The question, however, is whether they themselves are in the team, or cleverly manipulate the players, setting them against each other.

People are finding it hard because of the crisis and they’re not up to complicated choices. They want to be told who’s to blame and for some saviour to promise that once they’ve dealt with the «enemy», they’ll set about rescuing people. According to the long established principle that we’re not to blame, such «saviours» offer their team a package of answers, that is, culprits – the ones that hit you in the eye, so that it’s us and them.

That all this has long been poisoning the media and the very air we breathe is only half the problem. When the bacchanalia of hatred transcends all limits and the authorities do nothing, it is not surprising that citizens should doubt who precisely their Constitution was written for, and questions are raised abroad as to the worth of phrases about commitment to democratic values.

For around a year now Serhiy Kirichenko, Deputy of the Kherson City Council, has been spreading a mixture of hysteria, hatred towards a political opponent and virulent anti-Semitism via the media and Internet.

It’s difficult not to suspect that all of this is directly linked with a fight for power and Kirichenko’s attempts to set voters against a political opponent. The fact that his efforts were in vain, and the opponent was re-elected Mayor, can hardly have had a beneficial effect on his psychological state or, seemingly, his ability to think rationally.

However what led to this bizarre metamorphosis of an apparently quite sane former National Deputy (MP) I will leave to political colleagues to consider - or psychologists.

It seems much more important to fathom how an elected representative of Ukrainian citizens can be allowed with effectively no obstruction to infect people with his diseased hatred for an entire ethnic group. It does happen that a person suddenly begins behaving in a thoroughly inadequate manner. For a while you ignore it but there comes a moment when it can simply no longer be endured. I imagine something similar happened in Kherson, since most of his former colleagues have broken off relations with Kirichenko and flung him out of their ranks.

However we cannot confine ourselves to fastidiousness or half-measures. What is in question is a current politician who in one way or another represents the country and its citizens, this including all Ukrainians who are Jewish. No less important is the fact that he is most actively spreading his poison via a media outlet under his control (the «Vik» newspaper and radio station, and the website  We have no right to wince and look away, assuming that everybody understands that these are diseased ravings. With his foul anti-Semitism, he insults all Ukrainians and can only bring shame upon the country.. Moreover, in conditions of crisis, when a person is so dementedly accusing any ethnic group of deliberately creating the problem and of being responsible for the ills which have supposedly befallen «Slavs», the possible consequences are so terribly foreseeable that inaction is tantamount to a crime.

Rabbi Wolf and appalled members of the public have been trying for almost a year to get the authorities to understand how dangerous and unacceptable the situation is. There is a whole saga to be told of efforts to pass the buck. We have heard so many fine-sounding words over recent years from the country’s leaders and the management of various departments. They are all unanimous in their condemnation of xenophobia and anti-Semitism and all are supposedly taking decisive measures. Plenty of working groups and special departments have been created and a number of impressively-worded documents drawn up. And yet what is the point if, when confronted with a real problem, all these departments demonstrate just one burning desire, that being to offload responsibility for dealing with it onto somebody else? It’s not that they’re denying the problem. Who could deny it when the offender is bellowing at the top of his voice and one text would suffice to feel concern and react – and there are a fair number.

With such a volume of toxic substances, one is baffled by the decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council which in February considered complaints about anti-Semitic utterances made by Mr Kirichenko in a «Vik» broadcast. The Broadcasting Council concluded that the TV and radio company could not be held liable for utterances made in a live broadcast. It therefore refused to apply any sanctions and suggested …. approaching the courts. Where the courts would tell us to go is not known, but it is clear that it is difficult for one person, whether Jewish or not, to prove in court what at the end of the day is staggeringly obvious.

And how can one file a suit in defence of honour, dignity and business reputation if the author abuses an entire ethnic group?

There is basically only one article – 161 – of the Criminal Code which punishes for incitement to racial enmity. This however applies to individual offenders and a criminal investigation is needed which the Prosecutor more often than not doesn’t initiate, or terminates almost immediately, because of the difficulty of proving intent to incite hatred.

You could understand the Broadcasting Council’s logic if some chance passer-by had made the comments or at least a person quite unconnected to the specific media outlet. However «Vik» is effectively controlled by Serhiy Kirichenko, and the utterances in no way differed from hundreds of others which he pours out in the printed version of «Vik» and on the Internet. Bearing all this in mind, it would have been appropriate to at least suggest cancelling «Vik’s» registration. It must be said, however, that a similar attempt in 2002 to close down a newspaper publishing anti-Semitic texts failed at appeal level.

There is, by the way, one extremely interesting detail. It would appear that the National Expert Commission on the Protection of Public Morality also took part in the given saga, only to pass the buck to the Kherson regional prosecutor’s office. If this was indeed the case, then the conclusion seems warranted that the Commission’s members consider that it is better to defend an extremely small circle of readers from the «pornography» they managed to perceive in the novel by well-known author Oles Ulyanenko, than the broader public against flagrant propaganda of hatred. I would beg to differ.

Are we to conclude that there is no protection and nobody is particularly bothered? The mechanisms are extremely flawed yet surely it is better to attempt to apply them than to simply pretend that we don’t notice. If our once normal enough acquaintance behaves in a strange manner, we can avoid unpleasant confrontation on condition that he poses no danger to anyone. Here, excuse me, the danger – both to citizens and to Ukraine’s international reputation – is glaringly apparent and shameful inaction is not an option.



Press Freedom in the Crimea in 2008

A roundtable in the Crimea held on 29 April, on the eve of Press Freedom Day discussed the present situation in the Crimea and measures needed to counter obstruction of freedom of speech.  

During the event, the annual “White Book of Crimean Journalism” was presented, as well as a new “Committee for the Support of Journalists”.

According to Volodymyr Prytula, Head of the Committee for the Monitoring of Press Freedom in the Crimea, there were three main problems which obstructed journalists in their work last year.

He said that the Committee has received a lot of information about censorship of the media in the Crimea. He added, however, that such reports were difficult to document since journalists, afraid of losing their jobs, refuse to make official statements.

According to unofficial data, censorship is retained in virtually all State-owned or municipal media outlets in the Crimea, as well as in many independent publications.

A second problem named was physical pressure on journalists for political motives and physical obstructions in carrying out their professional activities. Mr Prytula mentioned also the lack of adequate response from the law enforcement agencies. Not one such crime had been investigated through with the perpetrator punished.

As well as uncovered crimes from previous years, he mentioned cases from 2008 recorded in the “White Book”.

-          the attack on the Editor and Publisher of the Alushhta newspaper “Freedom of Speech”, Vasyl Fomenko on 29 February 2008, when two people in masks broke into his home and beat him up, causing head and liver injuries.

-          disruption of the television programme “Green Corridor” on Channel “Krym” when journalists were physically prevented from continuing their work. The police did initiate a criminal investigation over this incident on 21 August, however there has thus far been no progress. Volodymyr Prytula warns that the lack of consequences is creating a dangerous sense of impunity.

-          the third problem named is ever increasing secrecy from the authorities. Attempts to restrict journalists continued in 2008 and remained the main infringement of their right to freely gather information. There had been complaints over refusals to provide information by public officials and bodies of local self-government from a whole range of media outlets. For example, the TV and radio company “Chornomorska” complained on several occasions of huge difficulty in receiving any information from officials at the Crimean parliament, ministries and departments. There were similar complaints from some newspapers.

Freedom of movement

Is Ukraine planning to extradite its own citizen?

Don’t go with your internal passport and don’t come back for one! Ukrainian national Viktor Kardash has run into a bizarre situation with potentially serious consequences.

All Ukrainian nationals moving abroad permanently have a note added to their internal passport (which each Ukrainian citizen has), that they have been removed from the registration records. The actual internal passport is removed and for some strange reason, but in accordance with a Ministry of Internal Affairs Order, destroyed. 

Viktor Kardash, when moving to live in Belarus in 2002, was rash enough to honestly tell the authorities of his plans to stay in Belarus. As a law-abiding citizen he handed in his internal passport. No wonder therefore that having returned last spring to Ukraine and moved in with friends in Kyiv, he had no choice but to go back to the same registration office and ask them to return – or replace – his internal passport.

At first there seemed no problem and the officials promised to help. However the first obstacle proved to be the lack of a lack to register at since Viktor Kardash no longer has his own flat, and there are already a lot of people registered at the place he is staying.

This continued for almost a year with Viktor traipsing from one office to another, hearing endless words of sympathy and advice on resolving the problem, through fictitious marriage, etc. Then at the end of February he began getting what then seemed like positive signals from the officials about a swift end to his trials.   It came.

On 2 April Viktor Kardash arrived at the relevant registration office for the promised documents. A nice lady with lieutenant’s stripes invited him to leave the queue and wait in her office. Soon some hefty guys in leather jackets appeared to have a talk with Viktor. They turned out to be Criminal Investigation Department officers who, admittedly, in a friendly manner, extracted a commitment to surrender to the Belarusian authorities. If he is unable to get an internal passport immediately, a possible variant would be enforced deportation (extradition).

And the main thing is that he should not under any circumstances turn up at the Kyiv visa and registration department for his passport.

On 16 April a representative of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] spoke with Ihor Morynets, the Head of the Department for Citizenship and Migration, and Registration of Individuals of the Central Department of the MIA. The latter promised that Viktor Kardash’s problem would be resolved within 10 days. However to this day he has not received his internal passport.

Mr Mormynets said that the reason for the delay was some kind of document from the MIA. Yet what this document is and from who appears to be kept top secret. Questions to ascertain this information have encountered the answer: “You’re asking incorrect questions. Do you understand that?”
UHHRU fully shares Viktor Kardash’s concern over the year-long delay in providing him with an internal passport and the secrecy, and fear the preparation, together with the Belarusian authorities, for his illegal extradition.

UHHRU will be following this situation due to the effective refusal to issue Viktor Kardash with an internal passport, and would warn officials of the MIA against any threats and intimidation and would remind them that the extradition of Ukrainian nationals to a third country is unacceptable for any reason or on any grounds.

Ukraine has already sent people who had refugee or asylum-seeker status to countries where they could be in danger. Are the authorities seriously thinking of sending a Ukrainian national back to a country where he faces persecution?

Based on a text by Oleh Lewycky and Marina Hovorukhina

Environmental rights

The Criminal Pillaging of Natural Resources must stop

Open Appeal over the murder of environmental activist Olexei Goncharov
from the Fourth Forum of Ukrainian human rights organizations
To   The Prosecutor General O. Medvedko
The Minister of Internal Affairs Y. Lutsenko
The Head of the Security Service, V. Nalyvaichenko
The Secretary of the National Defence and Security Council R. Bohatyryova
The Head of the Verkhovna Rada Enquiry Commission into the circumstances around violations of the Constitution and Ukrainian legislation and taking of unlawful decisions by officials of the Kyiv City Council and its executive body, K. Kulikov
We members of Ukrainian human rights organizations are shocked by the unprecedented murder on 26 May 2009 of Olexei Goncharov and the assault on his wife.
We are aware that Alexei Goncharov had long and consistently spoken out against the destruction of the landscape reserve “Zhukiv Island”, against unlawful building work on its territory and the extraction of sand from reserve land. Unfortunately, repeated appeals from Mr Goncharov to the regulatory and law enforcement agencies demanding that the unlawful activities be stopped were to no avail. It was only after Mr Goncharov publicized information about crimes against the environment on a national television channel that the police finally managed to intervene and stop the illegal activities, although similar infringements are being committed next to the Island.
Over recent years shadow business dealings in land and its riches around Konche Zaspa and the reserve Zhukiv Island have become rampant, fuelled by the entrenched corruption of all bodies of power involved. We are forced to acknowledge that the criminal pillaging of natural resources has become a nationwide phenomenon from the outlaw wood felling in the Carpathian Mountains and illegal extraction of gravel from Carpathian streams and the Dniester to the destruction of recreation zones in the capital and illegal coal mining in the Donbas region. However it is with the case here that over many years a sense of impunity has prompted the organizers of criminal business dealings to be particularly brazen in overstepping the law, and resorting to a demonstrative act of murder.
The participants in the Fourth Forum of Ukrainian human rights organizations demand that the leaders of the Ministry of Internal Affairs carry out an efficient, thorough and objective investigation into the murder of Olexei Goncharov and assault on his wife.
We call on the heads of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and SBU [Security Service] to carry out an investigation into the plundering of Kyiv’s most precious natural territory – Zhukiv Island, the unlawful extraction of the earth’s riches, deposition and construction work on reserve lands, as well as into the links between environmental violations and decisions of the authorities bearing the hallmarks of corruption.
We believe that a special control and analysis commission should be created under the National Defence and Security Council to assess the actions and inaction of the State bodies of management and self-government which are posing a threat to national security in the areas of environmental policy, use of nature and issues regarding reserve lands.
Adopted in Kyiv on 31 May 2009

Environmental activist murdered in Kyiv

One of the defenders of the Zhukiv Island in Kyiv has been killed, and his wife seriously beaten. Such brazen lawlessness demands swift and decisive response from the authorities.  The following is a

Statement from the Kyiv Environmental-Cultural Centre

Statement from the Kyiv Environmental-Cultural Centre

On 26 May 12.00 in the courtyard of his apartment block 59-year old resident of the Holosiyivsky District, Olexei Lvovych Goncharov was murdered by two assailants. His wife was badly beaten.

Two days before his death, Mr Goncharov took part in an action to stop the illegal extraction, deposition and sale of sand at Zhukiv Island by several commercial firms.

The extraction of sand was carried out in a reserve area and water reservoir zone which is prohibited by three laws. Moreover the sand was provided to its buyers without the relevant permit and invoice papers, and without payment of taxes, etc.

Mr Goncharov showed a filming team from TV Channel ICTV the place where the sand was being removed thanks to which the police were called and the illegal extraction (essentially theft) was stopped. The next day, the filming crew of this channel went to the site together with representatives of the Kyiv Environmental-Cultural Centre who gave an environmental assessment of the sand extraction. We took the decision to also look into other firms illegally taking sand from the Zhukiv Island.

However the very next day, Olexei Goncharov, a pensioner, was murdered. There are all grounds for assuming that he was the victim of criminal business structures (most likely with the help of State structures who gave the bandits his address) which are doing business in Kyiv through the illegal extraction of sand and through the murder of A.L. Goncharov have decided to intimidate other environmental activists and journalists who demand that the authorities establish some order.

We should add that the deceased had for several years made complaints to no avail about the illegal extraction of sand on Zhukiv Island (which he lived near) to the police and various authorities in the district and city. It was only the involvement of television journalists which made it possible to close one of the places where sand was illegally extracted.

We are absolutely outraged by the criminal lawlessness which is openly ruling in Kyiv where they have begun killing defenders of nature in broad daylight and at their homes. We are concerned that if we do not draw the public’s attention to this that the murderers will not be found and punished. We consider that if we do not severely punish the murders then tomorrow any defender of nature or journalists writing on environmental issues could die at the hands of the Kyiv criminal world. We demand that the Kyiv authorities finally put an end to the “sand” lawlessness on Zhukiv Island and reinstate reserve status on the entire territory.

Directorate of the Kyiv Environmental-Cultural Centre

Point of view

Unqualified evil and politics

Politics, manipulation and hysteria with a vengeance as Victory Day approaches, but I will begin with unqualified evil. Not that there’s any less of that in our world, but unlike politics, unqualified evil brooks no division, comparison or justification. The murder of children is such an evil, as is the extermination of any group of people on the basis of race, nationality or any other criteria. There can be no excuse for ethnic cleansing, terror and the camps in the name of any ideology, however attractive it may seem.

            And who would contradict that? I am hardly going to claim that the victims in my family have more “weight” than those in another person’s family. The very idea is monstrous. Just as monstrous and unthinkable as the quantitative criteria which keep being pulled out like “proof” of greater, or after all not such a major evil. As though the killing of a million, even a thousand, people were not an evil! “He who saves one life saves the entire world”. And he who kills for an idea, for some diseased notion of racial purity, glorious future, or whatever, is implicated in unqualified evil.

            If you ask people in any former Soviet republic whether the Holocaust was unqualified evil, a heinous crime, only an isolated few would say they thought it wasn’t.

            So why don’t they ask? Why year in, year out with depressing regularity do we hear the same shouting about “a revival of Nazism”, along with unfounded accusations and appalling distortions of the truth? The question, of course is rhetorical. The shouting is repeated so that you get ever more absurd claims from all sides. So that people become outraged by the twisting of the truth and begin to put forward an opposite point of view, more often than not ladling it on, exaggerating the heroism and muffling less clear points. Do emotions simply boil over? Well, no, the emotions are being heated up, there are, after all, plenty of ways to incite enmity.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to understand (and make use of) certain reflex responses. Much more convenient to press a button or two, and people will get wound up, start making rash statements. Or coolly calculated comments, as, in my opinion, we see in the speeches and behaviour of the rightwing, supposedly nationalist, organization V.O. “Svoboda”.

What specific reactions they are seeking I leave to others to decide. No doubt, however, in my mind that those who brazenly manufactured a “pogrom” out of thin air in Lviv in late July last year knew very well what such rumours could lead to. We are observing no less cynical manipulation right now over the death of a young man in Odessa who died from knife wounds inflicted during a fight. Conclusions here would be inappropriate since the investigation is ongoing and the issue has been brazenly politicized by political groups, including some radical right-wing and purportedly “nationalist” movements and other, purportedly “pro-Russian”.

In an interview given last week to the Internet publication, the Head of Public Relations of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia Baruch Gorin called “”collaboration with Hitler unqualified evil”. I entirely agree, only, unlike Mr Gorin, I cannot forget how easy it is for me to have such understanding. After all, I have known of the Holocaust since childhood. For people forced to choose between two evils at the beginning of the War it was by no means obvious what Nazism could lead to. Yes, we can say now that it was clear from the pogroms and arrests of “Kristallnacht” on 9 November 1938, if not earlier. Moral weakness was immensely predictable, so were certain other negative phenomena, however I would seriously doubt that the absolute evil of Shoah could have been foreseen.

Failure to take this into account is unjust both to those people caught behind two satanic regimes, and to the victims. After all we seek the perpetrators first and foremost so as to prevent a repetition of the crime. Inability to bear in mind the complexity of the situation means failure to understand the complex nature of human responsibility. A person had to know and to have choice. For all my hatred towards Stalin, I cannot see the fact that the allies fought together with the Soviet Union from 1941 as bad since otherwise Hitler could have won, killing the last surviving Jews and Gypsies,, and moving on to his next planned target – Slavs. In my opinion, there was simply no alternative. On the other hand, if as some historians believe, Dresden really was bombed with such massive loss of life in order to please Stalin, then, sorry, there was a choice and there can be no excuse. Just as, in fact, there can be none for the Yalta Agreement which sent hundreds of thousands, if not more, refugees in need of shelter back to the Soviet Union to be shot or sent to labour camp.  

We need to try to understand the motives of people who decided to collaborate with Nazism, and not in order to justify their decision. That the young lads who signed up for SS Galizien were mistaken in their choice of lesser of two evils, of liberator of their homeland, is not in question. Yet I repeat, that is easy for me to say. It is not so very difficult to understand how they could have believed that they were fighting the main communist evil. I am convinced that those, both in Ukraine and abroad, who either shout about a purported “revival of Nazism” or, on the contrary, push the view that it was the SS Galizien fighters who were defending their homeland, are pursuing highly questionable aims.

Those forces, most notoriously, V.O. “Svoboda”, who have rushed to sing the praise of SS Galizien, are also betraying the memory of fighters of the Ukrainian Resistance Army or UPA, and helping those who are actively trying to associate UPA with Nazism. I am no apologist for UPA, and would simply note that from a historical point of view this is total nonsense which can be calmly refuted on the basis of historical documentation.

It is precisely for this reason that the issue is deliberately blurred and all kinds of myths and distorted versions of events are circulated. People from all camps (and in this case there is no simply binary divide in position) are supposed to get wound up, begin talking rubbish and insulting each other. It is frustrating how childishly easy it is to wind people up. Take for example the outrageous lies about the role of UPA in the Holocaust. The fact that some Soviet soldiers raped, murdered and committed atrocities on the territory they had liberated does not in any way diminish the role of the Soviet Army and our fathers and grandfathers in freeing the world from the Nazi scourge. Crimes committed by some UPA fighters against Jews, Poles or the civilian population cannot mean that UPA bears collective responsibility. This is absolutely obvious. So clear in fact that one suspects that the point is being skirted over quite deliberately. It is much more convenient for some that Ukrainians begin pushing the idea that it was the UPA who took the only correct, the only “heroic” stand. 

That way those of us who cannot agree get angry and offended, most often for the sake of our relatives. And they need this also to create a negative impression in other countries. People often complain that “they don’t understand in the West” that Stalin was also a monster, that Ukrainians “had to fight” on all fronts. I suspect this is mistaken. People in the West know what the regime was about. Purely intellectually, of course, about the same way that I know about Mao, Pol Pot, or what is going on at present in Darfur. We have to accept the fact that it will never touch them in the same way. This is nothing to do with any “information war”, it’s much simpler. The Nazis invaded their land and for a long time there was a serious risk that they would gain control of all of Europe. And, no less importantly, we view the entire War and all decisions in the light of our knowledge of the Holocaust.

It is entirely unrealistic, I believe, to hope to convince people that there was no difference at that time between Hitler and Stalin, that it was necessary to fight both simultaneously. This is not necessarily because people don’t know about Holodomor, the Terror and the camps, but because the Nazi plague was in their country, bombing their cities, and we know that the death machine was murdering ever more people by the day. I am on principle not prepared to place different manifestations of evil on any scale of importance however I also believe at that historical moment it was first of all necessary to destroy Hitler and his evil. On the other hand, I can, and believe we all must, try to understand and respect people who in view of different, no less difficult circumstances decided to fight all those whom they saw as occupiers of their country. That is assuming, of course, that they took no part in the Holocaust, punitive actions against the civilian population or other military crimes.

Unqualified evil did not end with Nazi capitulation and was not eradicated at Nuremberg. We need to fight it together and for that we have to understand one another. Some find it convenient that there should be no such understanding and would seem to have their own reasons for perpetuating rancid lies and stereotypes. We are seeing the old, painfully familiar, puppeteers, as well, it would seem, as some new figures on the scene with no less dubious motives. Let’s not help them – in memory of the victims of unqualified evil and to ensure that there are no more. (Ukrainian)

Victims of political repression

SBU publishes list of some of the Victims of the Terror buried at Bykivnya

As Ukraine prepares to mark Remembrance Day for the Victims of Political Repression on 17 May, the Security Service [SBU] has made public a list with 14,191 names of those whose last earthly remains lie buried in the Bykivnya Forest just outside Kyiv. 

The list is available on the SBU website at:;jsessionid=DD8489676EA587745E66E8109D8D9B58?art_id=86727&cat_id=39574

Work on archival documents has confirmed that from 1937 to 1941 people were executed (shot), and their bodies were brought to a special location near the village settlement of Bykivnya. This “spetsobiekt” had been carefully planned in advance, and was under the strict guard of the NKVD.

There is documentary evidence that Bykivnya holds the last remains of thousands of victims. Estimates over recent years have spoken of around 100 thousand however the SBU gives no exact figures for the likely total number.

SBU reports that they have established 18 places where victims of repression were buried in other parts of Ukraine.

In all cases the burial sites were concealed with the areas having cement poured in or being levelled off with new trees planted. After reports did leak out about Bykivnya, the Soviet authorities claimed for many years that the common grave held the remains of victims of the Nazis.

In Kharkiv the story was that the people buried were either German deserters or people who had died from dangerous infectious diseases, the aim being to frighten people from even looking.

In Khmelnytsky the Soviet authorities built the central department store on the burial site; a park of culture and recreation in Vinnytsa, and others.

By no means all burial sites are known.  

More information about the burials at Bykivnya can be found here:

Вічна пам’ять - Eternal Memory

Dissidents and their time

Without illusions

20 May 2009 marks the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, the first independent civic organization of the Soviet era. 

The following is from an interview with one of its founding members, Alexander Daniel.

Alexander Daniel 40 years ago in the Soviet Union, an organized human rights movement emerged, rather than developing. I would stress the words “emerged” and “organized”, since some kind of protest movement which would soon be called human rights, had appeared earlier – in the course of protest campaigns against the political repressions of 1966 and 1968, while in 1969 the first human rights organizations appeared. The idea of creating organized groups as part of the protest movement already existing had been in the air and the subject of long discussions.

There was animated discussion from autumn 1968, while the specific impetus was the arrest of Petro Grigorenko and Ilya Gabai in May 1969.

Was that linked with the events in August 1968 in Prague? Can one say that this was one of the ripples of the Prague Spring and the repression that followed, including against the small group of Soviet human rights defenders who went out onto Red Square in August 1968?

I’d say that it was an echo of the crushing of the Prague Spring. The term “human rights defender” was not used at that time. It became common somewhere beginning in spring – summer 1969. The people who went out onto Red Square in 1968 didn’t call themselves that. They were expressing protest, and not even over the violation of some particular rights. it was a political protest.

Can one assume that the next major stage in the development of the human rights movement was the formation of the Moscow Helsinki Group?

Yes, of course. That wasn’t the only event between 1969 and 1976, but of course you can talk about one era between those dates, and from May 1976 (with the founding of the MHG) another era began, that of the Helsinki movement.

How would you characterize the era beginning in 1969 and ending in 1976?

Despite the creation of human rights organizations like the Initiative Group, which was the first, but not the only group, despite the institutionalization of the movement, its essence lay first and foremost in civic protest. It was just that, civic protest, with no political agenda, political aims or the intention to get something. The protest movement up till May 1969 was, if you like, made up of existential acts, and continued to be like that even after the creation of the Initiative Group. If there were any illusions that international organizations, chiefly the UN, to which most of the Initiative Group’s letters were addressed, would respond to the protests, they vanished very rapidly.

Is it known how many human rights defenders there were at the end of the 1960s? How many people were there at that time who were prepared to come out against the Soviet system?

You are equating human rights defenders in the first place, then people prepared to come out against the Soviet system, and finally, those who took part in protest campaigns. These are three groups that intersected but did not coincide. It’s easy for me to answer the third question, how many people protested against political persecution at the end of the 1960s because Andrei Amalryk made this calculation in his work “Will the Soviet Union survive to 1984?” He calculated that in the two most widespread protest campaigns of 1966 and 1967-68, around 700 people took part. That might seem a small number for a country of 250 million, but you need to understand that these were very important groups in a social and cultural sense.


The Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR was the first independent civic organization functioning openly in the USSR. It was formed in May 1969 on the initiative of Pyotr Yakir and Viktor Krasin. The Group was also joined by nine Muscovites: Tatyana Velikanova, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Sergei Kovalyov, Aleksandr Lavut, Anatoly Levitin (Krasnov), Yury Maltsev, Grigory Podyapolsky, Tatyana Khodorovych and Anatoly Yakobson, from Leningrad Volodymyr Borisov, the Ukrainians Genrikh Altunian and Leonid Plyushch, and the activist of the Crimean Tatar movement in Uzbekistan Mustafa Dzhemiliev.

Deported peoples

The Crimean Tatars 65 years on: has the Deportation ended?

It is 65 years since the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland in the Crimea to Siberia, the Urals and Central Asia. On Stalin’s orders, beginning on 18 May 1944, almost 190 thousand Crimean Tatars were forcibly taken from their homes. Counting also former military servicemen, the number was in excess of 200 thousand.

During the actual deportation and first years of resettlement, even official figures report the deaths of 25% of those deported. According to figures from the National Movement of the Crimean Tatar People, based on a survey amongst all Crimean Tatars in the 1960s, almost 40% died.

Long return

Those who struggled for justice for the Crimean Tatars, including former General Petro Grigorenko, were through most of the Soviet period persecuted and imprisoned or incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals. 

The mass return of Crimean Tatars to their native land only began at the end of the 1980s. Repatriation was officially supported by the newly independent Ukrainian State, although there was, and unfortunately, remains a lot of opposition from certain political forces and parts of Crimean society. This, combined with typical failure to adequately deal with the problems repatriants face, as well as the specific needs of the Crimea, has led to serious disgruntlement (cf. Crimean labyrinth )

Historian Gulnara Bekirova stresses that such a long period of being uprooted has led to the destruction of virtually the entire national infrastructure. No only were cultural and educational institutions, religious structures, etc eliminated, but there was also the detrimental effect of decades being denigrated, labelled “traitors” (Stalin’s lie used to justify the Deportation was that the Crimean Tatars had collaborated with the Nazis). Ms Bekirova believes the consequences would not have been so catastrophic had it not been for the ban on returning. This was legally in place until 1987, and effectively until the beginning of the 1990s.

Crimean Tatars were allowed to write in their passports only that they were Tatars. For this reason the official decision to remove “nationality” from Ukrainian passports, which is entirely justified from a human rights point of view, was not welcomed within the Crimean Tatar community, and there have been calls to the authorities to renew indication of nationality in passports, making it voluntary.

Bereft of their own language and religion – not a people

The Head of the Association of Crimean Tatar Educationalists Safure Kodzhametova believes that the most tragic consequence of the Deportation has been the effective loss of their native language by younger generations and the breakdown of the Crimean Tatar education system.  

At present there are only 15 (out of over 650) schools in the Crimea formally with teaching in the Crimean Tatar language. Furthermore, instruction in the Crimean Tatar language is only for younger classes since there aren’t textbooks for senior students. Some textbooks have been prepared, but the Ministry of Education lacks the money, or the will, to get them published. Safure Kodzhametova adds that they have been trying to get the Crimean Parliament to adopt a Concept Strategy for education in the Crimean Tatar language since 1994. According to official statistics only 8.5% of children from Crimean Tatar family are studying in schools with Crimean Tatar language, with most of the others studying in Russian language schools. Official measures are not taken, and attempts by the Crimean Tatar community to open schools in their own language need to overcome opposition from the local authorities.

There are no less problems in the religious sphere. Most mosques and other Muslim religious buildings were destroyed in Soviet times, with religious figures facing repression.

Since repatriation Crimean Tatars have run up against opposition from both the authorities and the official Orthodox Church clergy.

As reported here on many occasions, the struggle to build a Soborna [[Assembly] Mosque in Simferopol has been continuing for 10 years now. The stumbling block is the Simferopol City Council and an extraordinary decision to backtrack on a decision regarding the location. See and the links below for more details.

There are conflicting versions of the conflict over the possible building of a mosque in the village of Mirnoye. This was planned in a sanitary zone where former prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp lie buried, but on the actual site of a former sovkhoz “Krasnoye”. The organization of former military servicemen “Great Brotherhood without borders” claims that the Crimean Tatars are trying to build a mosque on graves, while they plan a memorial centre. According to the latest reports, however, this Brotherhood is planning to build an Orthodox chapel.

Mufti haj Emirali Ablaev says that the authorities are not only using all means to obstruct the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Crimea and its communities, but have also given the green light to representatives of so-called “non-traditional Islam” which on the one hand endangers the ethnic and religious individuality of the Crimean Tatars, and on the other brings radical elements into the religious life of the Crimea. He believes that some of those in power are thus trying to create division on religious grounds.

Land – more than just a plot of ground

The land issue remains central and its resolution is being hampered both by flaws in legislation and by the corruption of the local authorities., as well as by external influences.

One of the reasons why the problem has been so acute was the decision of the Crimean Regional Executive Committee in 1989 to not register Crimean Tatars in Simferopol and the region, in Yalta, Alushta, Sudak, Feodosia, Yevpatoria and the Bakhchysarai region, these being precisely the places where the Crimean Tatars had mainly lived before the Deportation.

The repatriants, in the main former city residents, were forced to settle in rural and steppe regions where there was the greatest percentage of unemployment and a large number of social and economic problems. At the same time the authorities were involved in corrupt deals illicitly selling land on the coast which the Crimean Tatars see as both the land of their forebears and an integral part of their cultural heritage.

This has led to the land seizures and settlements which repatriants have simply established and which can only be knocked down by force.

Despite countless meetings at different levels, including national, the land issue remains unresolved.

According to the President of the Kyiv-based Centre of Near-Eastern Studies Oleksandr Bogomolov, the authorities are failing to take into account the fact that land for the Crimean Tatars is not simply a resource, but a part of their identity.

Still “traitors” and “enemies of the people”?

According to the Deputy Head of the Mejilis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov, the greatest problem hampering resolution of all the other difficulties is the lack of political and legal regulation. The Crimean Tatars do not fall under the law on rehabilitation, and have thus not been rehabilitated. None of the countless draft laws on restoring the rights of the Crimean Tatar people have been fully adopted, and without this regulation all the money spend by the Ukrainian authorities is not enough to make the Crimean Tatars feel that the period of Deportation has ended.

Abridged and slightly adapted and supplemented from a personal opinion text by Volodymyr Prytula at

News from the CIS countries

Medvedev’s Terrifying Order

An amazing new car was recently unveiled at an auto show in Shanghai. It is called the Gelly, but just one glance makes it obvious that it is a copy of a Rolls Royce. This much is obvious to anyone with eyes and an even rudimentary knowledge of cars. And the Chinese didn’t even bother trying to deny it. They are marketing this piece of plagiarism under the slogan «Reinventing a classic.»

I noticed the word «reinventing,» and thought of it again when I learned about President Dmitry Medvedev’s order on the creation of a «presidential commission against efforts to falsify history to harm the interests of Russia.»

Russia, the saying goes, is a country with an unpredictable past. In fact, it is harder to predict our past than it is to foresee the future. It is a fun-house mirror that it would seem impossible to twist further. Could it be that the new commission will be in charge of straightening out twisted reflections?

Like any similar enterprise, this one also has a false bottom. What history are we talking about? Are we discussing the entire millennia? Will we be protecting Vladimir Monomakh or Ivan the Terrible from falsification? How about Rasputin or the chemist Yevgeny Biron?

Of course not. In fact, they won’t be defending Khrushchev or Brezhnev either. When we talk about the «falsification of history,» we have in mind just a narrow slice of history – the period of Stalin’s rule. The period that holds repressions and war, collectivization and the occupation of the Baltic states, the massacre at Katyn…

And about all these events and about this period in general there have already been more than enough lies. At some point, lies about this time simply replaced history itself.

History became what wasn’t – or, rather, how it wasn’t.

Like A Diseased Tree

The struggle against these genuine falsifications began less than 25 years ago, and this work was never brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Of course, in history it is never possible to place the final period, but one can place the accents in the proper places so that people cannot be confused about fundamental concepts like good and evil and how one is to be distinguished from the other.

A healthy tree cannot sprout from diseased roots. Our roots are our history, and they are rotten.

We live like a diseased tree. After all, a healthy tree cannot sprout from diseased roots. Our roots are our history, and they are rotten. They are rotten not because our history is bad. There is no such thing as bad history, just a poor understanding of history, a poor understanding of history as it actually was. This is the essence of the rot that is poisoning our tree and making it grow all twisted and crooked.

We need to find out how and why we lost millions of people during the war. We don’t even know how many millions we lost.

We need to talk about the «effective manager,» Stalin, who buried millions of his countrymen, occupied the Baltic peoples, and gunned down the Polish officers.

We need to remove the corpse from Red Square, because the heart of our motherland is not the place for the founder of a lawless regime.

Such truths do not blacken our history. In fact, they make it somehow greater because only by properly evaluating the colossal scale of the losses and mistakes of the war can we properly evaluate the greatness of our victory. Then we will understand that the war is not a bunch of popular films or the «reinvention of a classic» in the form of a colorized version of «Seventeen Moments of Spring.»

We will understand the price in blood and the price in inhumane labor that was paid to build the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station and other monuments of industrialization, to cultivate the virgin lands, and to launch our Gagarins into space.

Who Will Sit On The Commission?

But this is not why the Medvedev commission was created. All that remains of Gagarin in our history is his smile. All we know of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station is a curtain of water falling gracefully through the spillways. And all we know about the war is a bunch of white-toothed heroes speaking in 21st-century slang and burying Germans by the dozens. And Stalin is just pacing around his office, muttering some order to Marshall Zhukov in a Caucasian accent with a pipe clenched in his teeth.

I can’t imagine who will sit on this new commission. Who are these geniuses, these people with 100-percent knowledge, these people who carry inside them the final instance of truth? Rather, I can imagine them all too well: «historians» from the Federal Security Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Defense Ministry.

Does this mean that our entire history is the history of the military and the secret services? Does it mean that Monomakh, Ivan the Terrible, the chemist Biron, and the madman Rasputin do not interest them? Maybe it would be more honest to rename it the Commission to Protect the Honor, Virtue, and Good Name of the Generalissimo.

I think the most important thing is the final bit of the official name of the Medvedev commission – the part about «harming the interests of Russia.» There is no such thing as history that harms interests. Only lies can harm interests. The lies that several generations of our people have been raised on -- people who, as a result, have lost any moral touchstones. And these are the lies that are now going to be defended and «reinvented.»

One final conclusion. If there is such a thing as «falsification that harms the interests of Russia,» then it stands to reason there must be «falsification that promotes the interests of Russia.» And that’s what our new commission will be doing.

I say in all seriousness – our president has issued a terrifying order.

Anton Orekh is a journalist with Ekho Moskvy. The views expressed in this commentary, which originally appeared on the website «Yezhednevny zhurnal» are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL



The Commission on History is Unconstitutional and harms Russia

Human rights and civic organizations from all over Russia are demanding that the Presidential Decree creating a Commission “on history” be revoked as being against the constitutional prohibition on censorship and State ideology. 


The Commission on History is Unconstitutional and harms Russia


On 19 May 2009 we learned of the President’s Decree “On a Commission under the President of the Russian Federation for Countering Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests” (

We consider it to be totalitarian in its nature, in breach of several articles of the Constitution and a disgrace to our country.

This decree clearly exceeds the limits of authoritarian police measures like the creation of a Centre for fighting extremism, the imposition of individual surveillance of opposition figures and civic activists, or the transfer to a system whereby the Council of the Federation, on the submission of the Head of State, appoints the Head and Deputy Head of the Constitutional Court (instead of the judges themselves electing them).

The purpose of this decree is to regulate knowledge of the humanities, this being a typical feature for despotic and totalitarian regimes.

The real history of the country is the result of free work of scholars and the free process of understanding what is happening by the people themselves.

Normative “defence” of history assumes some kind of State canonical edition, a version of history which is fixed as dogma. The creation and guarding of the “sole correct history” has been entrusted to mainly high-ranking officials, military men and intelligence officers. The cynicism of those who wrote this Decree is demonstrated, as many have noted, in the lack of condemnation of the falsification of history “in Russia’s interests”!

The establishment of historical “dogma” and State plans for measures to defend this dogma, as well as the planning of various measures to counter dissent means the effective introduction of State ideology. It also establishes fully-fledged ideological censorship (already banned in 1990) in one of the humanitarian disciplines, education and publicist writing. It involves coercion to express or renounce views.

All of this runs counter to the following Articles of the Constitution of the Russian Federation: 13 (the prohibition of State ideology); 29 (coercion to views or to the renunciation of views); 44 (the principle of freedom of creative works).

Furthermore, the creation of a Commission dedicated to issues of ideological struggle, propaganda and counter-propaganda does not fall within the scope of constitutional powers and prerogatives of the RF President as set down in Articles 80 – 93 of the Constitution.

The Decree “On guarding history” thus goes beyond the limits of the constitutional legal framework which is in itself reason to revoke it. We therefore call on all those with regard to whom the Decree is applied to complain to the RF Constitutional Court. Human rights defenders are ready to assist in preparing such submissions.

If one speaks not of the legal, but of the social context of Decree No. 549, then it has in essence been written to defend Stalinist policy and pro-Stalin historical mythology, and is an answer of sorts to the call by human rights and civic activists to give a legal assessment to Stalinism and the latter’s crimes.

This and similar ideological bans could not have appeared if modern Russia had publicly and officially condemned the crimes of the Soviet totalitarian regime, and historical fact had become consolidated through law. This would have rendered ineffectual all attempts to rehabilitate Soviet policy and to use historical mythology for ideological polemics with other countries.

We are convinced that full and through denunciation of Stalinism not only does not harm Russia, but will provide a long-awaited chance to break with totalitarianism, including with the tradition of a mandatory ideology, once and for all and that such severing is vital and useful for our country.

We hope that this Decree will unite in the struggle against attempts to impose official ideology and censorship not only professional historians whatever their views, but also civic society, and very different ideological movements.

We call on the authorities, if they are really interested in history which is not distorted, in accordance with current legislation, to declassify the archives and publish information about the entire history of the Soviet Union’s collaboration with Hitler, about “Katyń, about State terrorism, military crimes and repression, including in countries of Eastern Europe.

If we are speaking of real history, then not even the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the KGB with all their totalitarian might were able to conceal the truth about uncomfortable and tragic events.


The Statement is signed by:

Ludmila Alexeeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Svetlana Gannushkin, the Civic Assistance Committee

Lev Ponomarev, “For Human Rights”

Yury Samodurov, Co-Chair of the All-Russian Civic Congress

Father Gleb Yakunin, Committee in Defence of Freedom of Conscience

Ernst Cherny, Secretary of the Public Committee in Defence of Scientists

And many others, many of whom express their outrage and disgust, for example,

My great grandfather died in the First World War, both my grandfathers were killed in the Great Patriotic War (was burned alive in Belarus, the other is unburied, his remains lie in the Sinyavinsky Marshes My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother lived through the Leningrad Blockade. The creation of this commission insults the memory of those who died and those who survived, and that means, my historical memory.

Yelena Chizhova, Writer and Director of the St. Petersburg PEN-Club.


To readers outside Russia: 

This Commission is not only an insult and betrayal of the memory of Russians, but of Ukrainians, Belarusians, all those whose countries were part of the Soviet Union. It is part of a concentrated assault on our history and our memory.

Even if your families were not directly affected, we all need historical truth.

This Commission is seriously harmful to Russia and its people, to all the countries of the former Soviet Union and former Socialist Bloc, and to you and I.

Please add your voice of support to this statement.

                  Halya Coynash, KHPG

  If you would like to add your signature, please write to [email protected]

On the “Commission for Counteraction”

Memorial’s statement on the new Commission for Countering Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests, and on what kind of falsification harms the interests of all of us

  Ploughing through all the grammatical agreements in the name of the newly formed structure (“Commission under the President of the Russian Federation for Countering Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests”) one can assume that we are dealing with the following: some forces are making efforts to falsify history, these effects harm the interests of Russia and a Commission has been created in order to counter the said efforts. The importance for the State of this Commission is stressed by its makeup – there is the FSB [Federal Security Service] and the Foreign Intelligence Service, the Security Council, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Ministry of Justice, and even the Head of the General Headquarters of the Russian Army, while its Chair is to be the Head of the President’s Administration Sergei Naryshkin.  At the same time the number of professional historians among the 28 official members could be counted on the fingers of one hand. And this is no accident.

In general terms any historical falsifications, whoever’s national history they concern, and whatever side they’re directed at, bring harm to all humanity – citizens of France and Poland, the USA and Finland, Russia and any other country. The attempt to highlight among such falsification a particular category of scams “harming Russia’s interests” would seem to us, to put it mildly, strange. However this is not the only point.

Today’s efforts to falsify the country’s history are indeed not uncommon. The Stalinist falsifications about a “fifth column” and “military-fascist conspiracy” in 1937 continue to be pushed. Books are circulated through the entire country where, contrary to generally known facts, it is claimed that the NKVD was not implicated in Katyń - the murder of Polish prisoners of war in 1940. Some modern Russian political figures, paying no heed to documents which have long been published, underestimate, or worst of all, try to justify the State Terror of the Stalin period. Similar trends can be seen even in secondary school textbooks.

Do such flagrant historical falsifications harm Russia? Undoubtedly, they do. They deprive the people of the Russian Federation of  its unique and tragic past, undermine the foundations of national identity, destroy the link between generations, blur any moral guiding lines for the young, lead to friction and conflict in relations with our neighbours and undermine respect for Russia abroad.

We do not support trying to resolve the problem of falsification of history via legislative bans. We believe that falsifiers should be fought in the first instance within the framework of open and free scientific discussion (include international) and all parties in disagreement should have the opportunity to present their arguments to the wider public. Society can and is entitled to just as freely and openly discuss the understanding and assessment of historical facts, both those well-known, and those once again uncovered, and their possible interpretation.

The State should merely ensure the opportunity for such discussions through wide and swift declassification of the huge masses of historical documents, through making access to historical documentation easy, as well as by subsidizing archives, historical studies and publications. And it must under no circumstances interfere with their content.  Ensuring free access to historical sources and their wide publication provide the best means of countering falsifiers. And no special new commissions are needed for this at all. It is enough to activate and improve the efficiency of the commission dealing with the declassification of the State archives which that same Sergei Naryshkin, incidentally, heads. In particular, for example, review the decision to classify the results of the investigation by the Chief Military Prosecutor of the Russian Federation into the “Katyń Case”.

However we will not delude ourselves: more likely than not, the Commission will counter not falsification of historical facts, but opinions, assessments and concepts, obviously only those which go against the government policy in the area of national memory. It is precisely these assessments and concepts which will be declared “harming Russia’s interests”, it is they that will become the object of State “counteraction”. How such counteraction will be carried out is not difficult to imagine going by the huge mass of experience in our country of “struggle with the falsifiers of history”.

If our fears are proven justified, then such a commission must be seen as not only counter-productive, but as anti-constitutional, since such “counteraction” introduces elements of State ideology into State practice, and this is directly prohibited by Article 13 of the Russian Federation Constitution.

The International Memorial Society

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2009, #05