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.


CVU – New law on elections is a return to Kuchma times

“After 2004, journalists experienced a “golden age”, the authorities listened to the community, there were public hearings and discussions. Now there is ever less of this. At the same time the new law on the elections envisages effectively draconian sanctions against the media which will not be able to fully cover the campaign. Civic organizations are totally removed from this process. This is a step back about 5 years or more”. These comments were made today by the Head of the Board of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] Oleksandr Chernenko. He was speaking at a roundtable in Lviv entitled “Informed choice and the quality of political discussion: the meaning of the media and organizations of civic society.”

Mr Chernenko stressed that both sides share responsibility for this, and that the media “do not always do everything so that the public’s choice was informed.”

He noted that the pre-election campaign had already effectively begun, this being “a competition of billboards, PR and, unfortunately, not a competition of strategies and proposals.”

“One cannot talk about an informed choice given the way the campaign is run. With regard to political discussion, there isn’t any as such. There are monologues which are in fact written by speech makers. This is also confirmed by the law on the elections: regardless of the fact that not one expert had a good word to say about it, the National Deputies overrode the President’s veto, discarding the amendments which were proposed, and there was no discussion.  Here, like in Russia, parliament is not a place for discussion”.

Committee of Voters of Ukraine Monitoring Report


During August and the first half of September the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] carried out an analysis of the normative legal base and monitoring of preparation for the elections in all regions of Ukraine.

Preliminary conclusions


1. CVU considers that the amendments to the Law on the Presidential Elections and other laws pertaining to the elections, passed by the Verkhovna Rada, place the holding of transparent and democratic elections in jeopardy. This primarily concerns:

  • Restriction of citizens’ electoral rights
  • The creation of vote rigging mechanisms via the possibility of including voters on the list on voting day
  • Restriction of public control over the electoral process
  • It being made effectively impossible to appeal against infringements and the results of the elections.

2. CVU notes other potential threats to the elections:

  • The Constitutional Court could find some provisions in the Law on the Presidential Elections unconstitutional  after they have been applied;
  • The State Budget for 2010 not being passed, this meaning that there is no funding for the 17 January elections;
  • The lack of legitimacy of decisions from the Central Election Commission due to the participation in meetings CEC member Anatoly Pysarenko, who has reached retirement age.

CVU also notes that the pre-election campaign has effectively begun although some norms of the Law on the Presidential Elections have not begun working, this meaning that the running of the campaign is unregulated and does not contain the necessary restrictions. This in turn restricts equal opportunities for the future presidential candidates.

Most potential candidates made visits to the regions. Those candidates occupying State posts (Lytvyn, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko) presented them as “working trips”, while candidates who are presently National Deputies (Yanukovych, Yatseniuk and Bogoslovska) often visited the regions on dies when plenary sessions of the Verkhovna Rada were taking place.

Initial checking of the Single Voter Register showed up significant failings in the database. Estimates vary from 10 to 30 percent.

On the basis of its monitoring, CVU recommends

  1. that the Verkhovna Rada does not await the Constitutional Court’s judgment and rectifies equivocal norms in legislation on the presidential elections, and does this before the beginning of the election campaign.
  2. that the Verkhovna Rada carries out the necessary rotation of members of the Central Election Commission so that the legitimacy of this body is not placed in question;
  3. that the Verkhovna Rada passes the State Budget for 2010 with funding ensured for the presidential elections;
  4. that candidates make public their expenditure on political advertising with an indication of where the money came from.


Freedom of expression

More worrying homophobic links to art centre arson

As reported, the Pavlo Hudimov Art Centre in Kyiv was the target of an arson attack during the early hours of Wednesday morning (cf.  On photographs shown by Mr Hudimov, a well-known rock musician, there is a clearly visible sign daubed on the wall: “No to sodomy! OUN” [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists].

On Friday 25 September, a public discussion took place at the Art Centre, entitled: “Propaganda of homosexuality or propaganda of tolerance?”  The discussion centred on the ban by the Ministry of Culture of a public showing of the comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen “Bruno” ( ) and the publication of an anthology of gay and lesbian literature “120 pages of Sodom”, from the Kyiv “Krytyka” publishing house.

Half an hour after the discussion ended, the windows to the Art Centre (“Ya-halereia”) were smashed.

While there is no direct proof of who was responsible for the attacks either on 25 September, or the arson attack last night, there are at least two extreme rightwing organizations which positively boast of homophobic behaviour.

Those who disrupted a presentation of the same book at the “Ye” bookshop in Kyiv on 24 September were detained after creating havoc in the premises and smashing furniture.

On 22 July 2009 in Kyiv an unofficial premier viewing of “Bruno” was prevented when a smoke bomb was hurled into the studio.

More sinisterly, during the Lviv Book Forum a press conference to present the book “120 Pages of Sodom” given by the Director of “Krytyka” Andriy Mokrousov, the compilers of the anthology Iryna Shuvalova and Albina Pozdnyakova, as well as one of the authors, the Scottish writer Christopher White.  Two groups of extremists tried to obstruct the press conference, one throwing tomatoes, and the second from the extreme rightwing organization “Tryzub im. S. Bandery” [“Banderivets”] – mayonnaise and water. The “Tryzub” louts smashed a microphone, glasses, ripped up press releases and copies of the books before trying to flee. They were prevented by members of, the information agency which was hosting the event, who called the police.

„Tryzub” claim to be nationalists, as in fact do all the extreme rightwing groups that like to take part in any such demonstrations of primitivism.  It effectively boasts of its prowess in this area on its website which speaks of the “nationalists” against “Sodom and Gomorrah” at the Lviv Book Forum and on 24 September when a presentation of the book was disrupted at the “Ye” bookshop in Kyiv.

It is worth noting that the website of the rightwing VO “Svoboda” [“Liberty Party”] also has a report of the thuggery on 24 September entitled: “Police detain nationalists who obstructed propaganda of sexual deviance”. 

It ends not with a condemnation of the thuggish behaviour, but with the words: “Svoboda” considers propaganda of sexual deviance and any pushing of homosexuality, including such actions in public places to be unacceptable. The fact that this took place in a Ukrainian bookshop is provocation against Ukrainians”.

The effective endorsement of criminal behaviour and extreme intolerance from a political party which is fully legal in Ukraine is clearly of the greatest concern, as indeed is the increasing intolerance towards people with different sexual orientation, or who wish to view works of art not to other’s liking. 

The active efforts of the National Expert Commission for the Protection of Public Morality with its highly selective application of thoroughly unacceptable and unforeseeable provisions in the Law on the Protection of Public Morality are likely to be contributing to a worrying trend to extreme intolerance and interference in other people’s lives (cf. about the banning of a NOVEL by the renowned Ukrainian writer Oles Ulyanenko and “Unforeseeable immorality” ).

UHHRU appeals against court ruling on anti-Tymoshenko ads

As reported, on 22 September the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv issued a ruling pending review of a civil suit. This prohibits Petro Pidlubny and any other individuals or legal entities, regardless of their form of ownership, from placing on billboards, other forms of external advertising. radio and television, the Internet, and electronic media outlets any “unfair” [nedobrosovisna is that which is not done with good conscience] advertisements regarding Tymoshenko’s activities”, as well as any other unfair social advertising and publish it in any way before the dispute is examined on its merits.

Since the ruling concerned any individual or legal entity, then any are entitled to appeal against this ruling. Human rights defenders have therefore lodged an appeal with the courts.  The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union with bar lawyer Viacheslav Yakubenko state that the ruling is unlawful and unwarranted, and violates their rights. Their appeal reads:

“1) The court in this case resolved an issue regarding my rights and duties without involving me in the case.

Since I am an individual, the court prohibited me also from placing any unfair advertising regarding the activities of Prime Minister Tymoshenko.

In accordance with Article 311 § 1.4 a court ruling should be revoked if the court resolved an issue regarding the rights and duties of people who did not take part in the case.

2) The court’s conclusions do not correspond with the material of the case.

As stipulated in Article 10 § 3 of the Law “On advertising”, a decision to find advertising unfair is taken only by the State bodies indicated in Article 26 of the same law.

Since there are no conclusions from any of the mentioned State bodies regarding the unfairness of the advertisement about Yulia Tymoshenko, the court had no legitimate grounds for issuing a ruling pending review of the case.

3) In passing the ruling under appeal, the court failed to take into consideration the fact that Y. Tymoshenko is a public figure, that is, must be open to criticism.

The European Court of Human Rights in its judgments has on many occasions indicated that public figures must be ready for wide critical coverage of their activities (for example, the case of Lingens v. Austria (1986) 8 EHRR 407).  We would point out that through the Law “On ratification of the 1950 Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, Ukraine recognized the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights on all issues concerning the interpretation and application of the Convention. According to Article 17 of the Law “On implementation of rulings and application of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights”, Ukrainian courts shall apply the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the case law of the Court as a source of law when examining cases.  

For example, the European Court noted that “the danger inherent in prior restrictions requires a very careful approach by the court” («The Observer and Guardian v. the UK» (Spycatcher case). Judgement of 26 Nov. 1991).

This principle was not adhered to by the first instance court since it did not investigation how not placing a ban on the circulation of advertising could hinder or render impossible enforcement of a future court rulings.”

UHHRU is asking the Court of Appeal to revoke the judgment of 22 September (No. 2-1800-1/09.

Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia

It is a sad irony: While the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia itself is relapsing to some of its Soviet ways. In fact, for journalists, Russia is a more dangerous place now than it was during the Cold War.

Only Iraq and Algeria outrank Russia on the list of most life-threatening countries for the press. Seventeen journalists have been murdered in Russia since 2000. In only one case have the killers been punished. This is a sorry record for a great and powerful nation that embarked on democratization after more than 70 years of brutal repression.

That is why the Committee to Protect Journalists is releasing an unprecedented report that calls on the international community to help reverse this slide toward lawlessness. Our mission is to protect journalists, and we are less and less able to do so in Russia. Though we continue to appeal to Russian authorities to bring to justice those who murdered our colleagues, we can no longer leave it at that. This report is more than an expression of our outrage. We propose concrete guidelines and present hard facts for restarting investigations into these unsolved murders.

Let us be perfectly plain. Any state that turns a blind eye—or worse—toward the assassination of reporters cannot call itself a democracy. When journalists are threatened, democracy itself is threatened. Along with the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and an autonomous civil society, free media is one of the essential pillars of a healthy society. Remove one, and the whole structure may collapse.

When U.S. democracy was in its earliest days, two and a half centuries ago, one of its champions, Patrick Henry, said, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

In Russia today, the rulers’ transactions are increasingly concealed from the ruled. Disturbingly, as brave and determined truth-tellers are felled by assassins’ bullets, the Russian people have responded with a collective shrug. The reason for this apathy is evident. The vast majority of Russians get only government-filtered news, so outrage at these murders has been muted. Who in Russia will be left to hold authority accountable if the truth-tellers are written off as expendable?

During the Cold War there were established rules, and reporters knew which lines not to cross, which subjects to avoid. Not so today. The 17 who have been killed in recent years covered a wide range of topics: organized crime, corporate corruption, bribe-taking among public officials, unrest in the Northern Caucasus republics (for, though the war in Chechnya has been pronounced over, in reality, bloodletting has merely relocated to its neighbors). A charade of justice followed each of these killings. Typically, authorities quickly substitute robbery or personal grudges for real motives. At times, the official response would be comic were it not for the tragic outcomes.

In Togliatti, Russia’s Detroit, investigators attributed the murder of Aleksei Sidorov, editor of Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye to a random street brawl. Sidorov, so ran the official story, was stabbed with an ice pick after he refused a stranger’s appeals for vodka. Investigators cast only the most casual glance at the murdered reporter’s notebooks, computer, and tape recorders. In this case and others, police barely interviewed witnesses. Investigators rarely visited the victims’ news organizations. These crimes are attributed to “hooligans,” and the trail suddenly goes cold. Those who actually dispatch the hit men can breathe easy. The same curtain of secrecy that shrouded the KGB now protects its successor, the Federal Security Service.

Of course, truth was in short supply during the Cold War, and those who insisted on challenging the official version of events were often dispatched to long prison terms. My own parents, Endre and Ilona Marton, the last independent media members behind the Iron Curtain, were tried and convicted on fake charges of being CIA agents, for merely doing their jobs as American wire service reporters in Budapest. There was no CPJ then to protest, or to name and shame my parents’ captors and keep the pressure up, the way CPJ did to such powerful effect recently in the case of Roxana Saberi in Iran. As in Roxana’s case, my parents’ long prison sentences were cut short, and they were freed in 1956, after a barrage of articles in The New York Times.

Few journalists have paid a higher price for their courage than those who work for Novaya Gazeta among the most vibrant and independent voices left in the dimming Russian media landscape. Imagine going to work each day passing giant portraits of your newspaper’s three star reporters—Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, and Anna Politkovskaya—all murdered. We honored Novaya Gazeta’s editor, Dmitry Muratov, with our International Press Freedom Award in 2007. For the sake of Russian society, the international community must do more than heap praise on murdered reporters.

In his 2008 inaugural address, Dmitry Medvedev declared that under his presidency the protection of human rights and freedom would drive “the sense and the substance of all state policy.” In Berlin a month later, he pledged that “all instances related to attempts on the life and health of journalists will be investigated and prosecuted to the end, regardless of when they occurred.”

We at CPJ will continue to remind him of that pledge and of the fact that a great nation with a legitimate claim to leadership on the world stage must uphold the rule of law on behalf of all citizens. We need world leaders, including those in the United States and Europe, to drive home that message.

Three years ago, at a memorial service for Anna Politkovskaya, one of the bravest of the brave, I pledged that we at CPJ would not forget Anna, what she stood for, and what she gave her life for. And so we have not. But Anna’s case remains unsolved. This past February, the three defendants in her murder trial walked free. It is true the evidence presented in court against them was skimpy. Once again, the state had given the masterminds an easy pass. Only the small fry were in the dock.

Even as we at CPJ pressed for a renewed investigation, another of Anna’s colleagues at Novaya Gazeta was gunned down on a Moscow street. Twenty-five-year-old Anastasiya Baburova’s assassination has pushed reporters at Novaya Gazeta to the edge. The paper’s management has asked the government to allow its reporters to carry guns as a condition of doing their jobs—another stain on the face of a nation that the world expected would be much farther along on the road to democracy on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Kati Marton is a board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Her seventh book, Enemies of the People—My Family’s Journey to America, a Cold War memoir, will be published by Simon and Schuster in October 2009. The entire Committee to Protect Journalists report is available at:


Access to information

New version of the Law “On information” - going over old ground

Ukraine’s information legislation undoubtedly needs updating. It could be said that parliament initiated this process by passing in its first reading the draft law “On access to public information”. The author of this, Andriy Shevchenko, has also proposed a new version of the Law “On information”. If the law on public information could be called revolutionary, this new one is more a correction of current norms of the same law.

The proposed changes are, first of all, in the definition of information as presently in the law on information, as well as in the Civil Code (surprisingly enough this was not refined when drawing up the latter.) The new version reads: “Any piece of information the content of which can be given in sign or symbol form and stored on a physical medium external to the human mind”. This definition seems closer to the modern concept of information than that in the current law (“news about events or phenomena which occur in society, the State and the environment”)

The general principles of the new version also include new norms, such as one prohibiting the classifying of information for more than 30 years. It stipulates the duty of legislative, representative and other elected or appointed public authorities to provide the public unobstructed access to their meetings. At present the issue of access to meetings is particularly relevant at local level, however the obligation to hold open meetings is imposed only for local councils and not for their executive bodies.

The penchant seen in the current law for overloading the document with theoretical provisions has been carried over into the new version. For example, listing types of information and defining each will hardly help protect any person’s rights, but could quite possibly promote the existence of several unnecessary statistical or other reporting forms on types of information.

It is yet again proposed to leave the concept of the right of ownership of information in the understanding of use, disposal of and ownership of, although the questionability of such a concept has long been discussed.

The new version gives a list of journalists’ rights which is very close in content to that in the law on the press. This is a necessary step since the laws on other forms of media do not have such a list, which can lead to journalists and freelancers in such media outlets simply not having their rights recognized.

The definition of value judgments has virtually not been changed and remains inadequate, this being a significant flaw which is not compensated for by improved access to information.

The new version does not fully supply the needed changes, although it is an improvement. The very fact of its having been tabled could provide the stimulus to achieve the relevant changes when preparing legislative changes to the second and third readings.

Abridged from a text by Roman Holovenko, the Institute for Mass Information,

Freedom of peaceful assembly

UHHRU Legal Opinion on the Draft Law on Peaceful Assembly

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has made the following analysis of the Draft Law No. 2450 from 6 May 2008 “On the procedure for organizing and holding peaceful gatherings”

Some background to the bill

Back in 2006 the Ministry of Justice, in accordance with a Presidential Decree on implementation of Ukraine’s commitments to the Council of Europe, drew up a draft law “On procedure for organizing and holding meetings, rallies, marches, demonstrations and pickets” which was posted for public discussion on the Ministry’s website. 

UHHRU then made a considerable number of comments, and presented an alternative draft law.

Following public discussion, both draft laws were sent to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission for assessment regarding their adherence to international human rights standards.  Following a visit to Ukraine, the Commission issued a Joint opinion on the draft law on peaceful assemblies in Ukraine [1] with many comments regarding the Government’s draft law.

On the basis of these opinions, the decision was taken to combine the draft laws into one. One version of the draft law was produced, with this subsequently being changed considerably. Later, during the second half of 2007 and beginning of 2008, the preparation of the draft law continued without public involvement. A large number of comments were added which fundamentally changed the draft law, despite the Venice Commission’s recommendations.

This draft law was quite unexpectedly and without public discussion, tabled in parliament by the Cabinet of Ministers in May 2009. The new draft law has thus had significant changes which do not take into account the Venice Commission’s assessment or UHHRU proposals

Scope of the law

The following are not in line with international standards:

-        The narrowing of the scope of the law in not applying to “religious rites and ceremonies in cases envisaged by the law “On freedom of conscience and religious organizations”. The European Court of Human Rights stipulates that religious associations have the right to practice their faith taking into consideration Article 11 of the European Convention, i.e. with all guarantees of freedom of peaceful assembly.

-        Peaceful assembly for the purpose of rest, public entertainment events, sports competitions, weddings, national festivals, funerals, commercial events are also covered by freedom of peaceful assembly although, as noted by the European Court of Human Rights, the boundaries for restricting such events may be broader since they have less significance for the functioning of a democratic system.

The point here is that people decide on these occasions why they are gathering and therefore one cannot confine freedom of peaceful assembly to merely political or social gatherings. The latter on the other hand will have a greater level of protection since they have more significance in a democratic society, and the grounds for their restriction must be interpreted extremely narrowly and scrupulously.

Neither Ukraine’s Constitution, nor any international agreement contains restrictions regarding the type of interests which prompt people to gather. The European Court of Human Rights directly stipulates that peaceful assembly may be for economic, social and cultural interests.

Such a narrow interpretation of freedom of peaceful assembly does not therefore comply with international human rights standards. Furthermore, such differentiation can give rise to questions as to whether certain rights or interests are being discriminated against, this being directly prohibited by Article 24 of the Constitution.

There should also clearly be an indication that the law only applies to gatherings in public places. This will prevent ambiguous interpretation of some provisions of the law and possible intrusion into people’s private life.


The draft law introduces dangerous terminological confusion: in the European Convention, other international agreements and the Constitution, the term “peaceful assembly” is the general term. The draft law instead uses the new term “mass event”, with peaceful assembly being one type. This can clearly lead to difficulties and discrepancies in application of European standards, where peaceful assembly covers rallies, marches, demonstrations, etc.

There is also use of tautology, with two words having virtually the same meaning (zbory and meetingi; pokhody and demonstratsiyi).

The terminology is thus not clear and definite, and it does not coincide with the commonly used terms of international law.

Unfortunately, the draft law does not explain certain extremely important terms: “counter-demonstration”; “participant in a peaceful assembly”; “tent city”; “tent”. These terms have enormous importance in practice. For example, you can’t ban a counter-demonstration purely on the grounds that it is envisaged Who can be liable as a participant in a peaceful assembly? Or what is a tent city, or tent, and what is a “small architectural form” which is a very widespread means of formally banning peaceful assembly in Ukraine.

The organizer of a peaceful assembly

The concept in the draft law is essentially that there is a certain person who is the organizer and at the same time responsible for everything that happens. These organizers should, on top of everything else, have something to make it possible to recognize them.

This is far from reality. Firstly, the possibility of a spontaneous gathering means that there may simply not be an organizer, and the mere call to gather cannot be considered organization. The lack of an organizer must not be cause for stopping peaceful assembly.

Secondly, in very many cases, particularly involving large gatherings, there may be very many organizers.  This also negates the draft law which clearly envisages one organizer alone. If two organizers have different views on how the gathering should develop, who bears responsibility?

There is no consideration of the fact that the organizer has no power over the participants. This makes his or her control over the peaceful assembly fairly fictitious and formal, and it is often non-existent. The organizer cannot bear responsibility for the actions of participants who don’t listen to him or her.

The bill’s authors want peaceful assemblies to take place like military parades where each person has clearly defined obligations and obeys the organizer.  This fails to take any consideration of the nature of large peaceful assemblies where participants are ordinary passers-by who have no obligation to heed the organizers. The authors have clearly ignored the chaotic nature of such events, their spontaneous quality, as well as the frequent lack of any programme or hierarchical structure.

It should also be noted that in breach of the Civil Code, the draft law makes the organizers of a peaceful assembly liable for compensation of all losses incurred. This legislates liability not on the person responsible for an offence, but on another person regardless of whether they were to blame. This contravenes fundamental principles of law, the provisions of the Civil Code as well as the Constitution since the principle of personal responsibility is breached.

Restrictions and requirements on the organizers regarding control of noise where amplifiers are used are also unwarranted and simply unrealistic.

The requirement that an organizer wear something to identify him or her is a direct breach of the European Convention in the light of its interpretation by the European Court of Human Rights.

It is worth noting that such indicators make it conveniently possible for the police or other authorities to simply stop an opposition peaceful gathering by “removing” its organizers.

Furthermore legislation does not envisage prohibition by the court of particular types of activity by associations of individuals, although the draft law in Article 4 stipulates that such associations do not have the right to be organizers of a peaceful assembly.

It is also unclear why civic organizations legalized by means of notification cannot be organizers of a peaceful assembly. This in our view contravenes the law on civic associations and establishes a certain form of discrimination. This applies in full to religious communities which according to the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations are entitled to exist with registration and have the same rights, except with regard to property, as registered communities.

The fact that a person aged between 14 and 18 cannot organize a peaceful assembly is also dubious from the point of view of civic responsibility. A youth organization, created by this person, can be an organizer.

There is also little justification, and contravention of Council of Europe standards, in the restriction on people who are under administrative arrest, held in custody or imprisoned to organize a peaceful assembly via their representatives. It is not clear why these people cannot organize peaceful events. In our view the key question in any restriction is not who is organizing a peaceful event, but the form and content of the peaceful gathering.

Notification of peaceful assemblies and spontaneous peaceful gatherings

The draft law simply prohibits spontaneous peaceful gatherings since they can’t be held without notification. For example, would there have been sense in a rally on Independence Square after the announcement of the results of the presidential elections if it had taken place several days later?  Such measures effectively deprive citizens of the right to warranted opposition to the actions of the authorities. This is also in breach of the judgment of the Constitutional Court regarding Article 39 of the Constitution which states that any stipulation of time frames for notification should not prevent the exercising of this right. This means that the Constitutional Court stipulates that the provision of notification is not an unconditional prerequisite for exercising the right. It directly states that the mere lack of notification cannot be grounds for preventing a peaceful assembly which does not threaten public order. The authors of the draft law have ignored this.

The State’s positive duties and counter-demonstrations

The State is obliged to ensure that freedom of peaceful assembly can be exercised. It is largely for this reason that there is a system of notification so that the authorities can be ready to fulfil their duties. The authorities are responsible, where there has been notification, for any obstructions or damage caused by opponents of a peaceful gathering.

The concept of positive duties of the State is the basis for legal regulation of counter-demonstrations.

The draft law provides ambiguous wording regarding the holding of counter-demonstrations which, according to the European Court of Human Rights, are an inalienable component of freedom of peaceful assembly. It is clear that the formal existence of two applications regarding plans to hold a peaceful gathering cannot serve as grounds for an outright prohibition on the holding of one of them. It is not at all important who first submitted such an application. This should be clearly stated in the draft law, yet there is no such provision.

Of course, every demonstration, march or other similar action causes the authorities a lot of problems. However, the European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that Article 11 refers to the positive obligations of the State to defend those who are carrying out their rights to peaceful assemblies free of violence from opponents, in particular from counter-demonstrations (the case of the organization «The Platform of «Doctors for Life» against Austria, 1985, Paragraphs from 65 to 72). Since both parties have the same right which is guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Convention, where one of the parties is aiming to disrupt the activity of the other, the authorities must in the first instance protect the rights of those who are carrying out their gathering peacefully:

«Any demonstration can irritate or offend those who are against the ideas or demands in support of which it is being held. Nonetheless, its participants must have the opportunity to hold it without fear of physical force being applied by opponents; such fears would hinder them in expressing their opinions on socially important issues. In a democratic society the right to hold a counter-demonstration cannot determine the right to a demonstration. Following from this, the protection of true, effective freedom to hold peaceful meetings cannot lie only in the State’s lack of interference: the purely negative concept of the role of the State contradicts both the subject and the aim of Article 11» – the European Court of Human Rights states with regard to this decision.

The draft law does not contain provisions at all on these positive duties. What is more, Article 15 directly obliges the organizers to themselves get rid of infringements of public order, that is, effectively carry out the duties of the law enforcement bodies. And they can be penalized for not doing so. Yet if there is a danger that certain peaceful gatherings can cause disturbances and this is beyond the control of the organizers, this fact cannot be justification for restricting freedom of assembly (cf. “Christians against fascism and racism v. the United Kingdom”, 8440/78, 1981).

In our view, the draft law totally fails to consider the State’s positive duties regarding the safeguarding of freedom of peaceful assembly.

Stopping peaceful assembly

The draft law envisages a new person – an authorized representative of an executive body of power or bodies of local self-government who plays a key role in the holding of a peaceful assembly. This person has very broad and unclear grounds for stopping a peaceful assembly. It is interesting that these grounds are even broader than those for banning such an assembly through the courts. This can easily be seen by comparing Articles 16 and 22 of the draft law.

There is a positive aspect to there being such a person making it possible to better coordinate the actions of the local authorities however their powers with regarding to stopping peaceful assembly in our opinion are in contravention of the Constitution. Article 39 states that only the court is allowed to restrict freedom of peaceful assembly. Clearly, in the case of an offence, then the police may also impose such restrictions. There is no provision in the Constitution for granting such powers to representatives of the authorities. This also makes applications to the court to have a gathering banned redundant since this can be done without court order and on the basis of a much broader range of grounds.

In our opinion, no representatives of executive bodies should have such powers to stop peaceful assemblies, and such clearly defined powers can only be held by the police.

We should also point out that the grounds on which such an authorized representative would be able to stop a peaceful gathering are effectively unlimited.

It is also clear that such an authorized representative cannot control the police, and therefore his or her orders, without being agreed with an authorized representative of the law enforcement bodies cannot, in principle, be carried out. Yet this potential conflict between authorized representatives is not resolved in the draft law.

It is important that the law stipulates the time frame for court examination of applications to have a peaceful assembly stopped, as well as for appeals against this. In practice, it is impossible to reinstate a person’s violated right since they receive an appellate court ruling cancelling the ruling of a local court which cancelled the peaceful assembly many months later. This situation deprives a person of the protection of their rights through the courts as envisaged by the Constitution.

The Code of Administrative Justice stipulates that applications by the authorities to have a gathering banned should be reviewed by the court before the beginning of the gathering (in practice several days or hours before). That means that the organizers do not have time to reinstate their right since the appeal takes months. The law, in our opinion, should stipulate special time frames for the examination of appeals against the banning of meetings, just as legislation does with regard to the elections. Unfortunately this is not provided by the draft law.



The draft law considerably broadens the grounds for holding organizers of peaceful assemblies responsible, yet there is no liability stipulated for representatives of the authorities. The latter is needed for failure to carry out duties with regard to providing proper protection of participants in a peaceful gathering, obstruction in holding a peaceful gathering through the issue of unlawful decisions, or through inaction (for example, in not accepting notification of plans for a peaceful gathering), as well as compensation for damages incurred by the organizers or participants through unlawful decisions by representatives of the authorities.

It is clear that simply stating that it is possible to appeal against unlawful actions or inaction by the authorities through the courts is not enough since the law does not even stipulate the time frame for examination of such cases, which in present conditions where court proceedings are drawn out makes the renewal of this right meaningless.

Overall conclusion

In our opinion, the draft law does not comply with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the context of European Court case law, OSCE Recommendations for legislation on freedom of peaceful assembly (approved by the Venice Commission); the Council of Europe Recommendations for legislation on religion and faith (approved by the Venice Commission from 18-19 June 2004 and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on 5-9 July 2004), and in view of this, also the Ukrainian Constitution in the light of its interpretation of particular rights and individual freedoms.

We believe that this draft law needs conceptual refining and cannot be passed in its present form or with merely cosmetic amendments. We consider that the adoption of this draft law will:

-        significantly narrow the scope of existing freedom of peaceful assembly;

-        lead to social tension due to the unwarranted stopping of peaceful assembly;

-        could lead to an increase in applications to the European Court of Human Rights over violations by Ukraine of freedom of peaceful assembly;

-        could damage the country’s reputation;

-        will have an adverse impact on Ukraine’s process of European integration.


Volodymyr Yavorsky

UHHRU Executive Director

 (slightly abridged)


[1] Joint opinion on the draft law on peaceful assemblies in Ukraine, Adopted by the Venice Commission at its 68th Plenary Session (Venice, 13-14 October 2006)


Environmental rights

Environmentalist protest over the possible destruction of the Ukrainian steppe

Environments are critical of the State Forestry Development Programme and warn of its possible adverse consequences for the loss of natural steppe lands, as well as plants and animals included in Ukraine’s Red Book.

According to official information, the targeted State Forestry Development Programme for 2010-2015 envisages an increase in forest area by 430 thousand hectares, inventory of forest and scope of their certification in accordance with international standards, and the introduction of contemporary technology. The Cabinet of Ministers has already sent a decision on a moratorium for felling trees in the Carpathian Mountains.

This all sounds admirable, however the Deputy Head of the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine [NECU], Oleksy Vasylyuk, warns that the plan envisages the planting on four percent of the steppe area and eight percent of Crimean land. He believes that this will mean the use of “colossal areas of steppe where forest does not and will not grow”.

He says that of forty percent of steppe over Ukraine’s territory, only one percent has remained containing breeds of animals and plants added to the Red Book. He believes that it will be these territories that will be used. In the Luhansk region they plan to plant over 100 thousand hectares of forest which is more than the area of remaining Luhansk steppe land. A subsequent disappearance of rare plants and animals would, he warns, be in contravention of international conventions to which Ukraine is signatory.

From a report at

On refugees

New regulations could pose a threat to asylum seekers

Since 25 August 2009 the State Border Guard Service has introduced spot checks at border passes to ascertain that foreign nationals and stateless persons from a number of countries have sufficient funds to pay for their stay in Ukraine. The relevant Order No. 519 was issued by the State Border Guard Service on 14 July. On 2 September six people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo were sent back from Ukraine to their place of origin. According to media reports, this was on the basis of the new Order. The reports suggest that at least one may have been a potential asylum seeker however a representative from the UNHCR was not allowed to see him.

The new rules encourage violation of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as leading to infringement of the principle of non-refoulement.

According to these rules, citizens of 90 countries, as well as stateless persons living in those countries, if entering Ukraine or travelling transit through Ukraine must have an amount which is 20 times the subsistence minimum established in Ukraine. The calculation for expenses for a period of 1 to 30 days, regardless of the period the person is staying, is 12 thousand 620 UAH (over 1600 USD).  A person arriving should be able to produce this amount in cash or a bank card, with a printout for the last three days. If the person cannot confirm sufficient funds, a decision is taken to refuse him or her the right to cross Ukraine’s border.

5 post-Soviet republics are included in the list of countries: Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). The others are African, Asian or Middle Eastern countries.

Aspects of the decision which are of concern:

  1. It remains unclear how the list of countries has been drawn up. The extent to which this is a political step is demonstrated by the removal from the list of Moldova – shortly after the Order came into force. The reason was that the Moldova authorities asked to remove a measure which discriminated against their nationals, and no “need to fight illegal migration” stood in the way
  2. The criteria for determining the amount of money are also unclear. The amount is such that far from all Ukrainian nationals returning home from abroad could prove that they had it
  3. The same problem applies with the imposition of a month as the minimum period during which a person must demonstrate the ability to support him or herself even if the person is come for several days or a week.
  4. The Order says nothing about waiving this ruling in the case of asylum seekers or refugees. At present there are exclusions for foreign students studying in Ukraine; people with Ukrainian registration as well as a few other groups. People seeking asylum in Ukraine can be subjected to such a check and if they don’t have the money may simply not be allowed into the country.

Such measures are ill-founded and arbitrary, and of a discriminatory nature. They create the conditions for corruption and illegal arrangements for crossing the border even for those who until recently could enter the country legally.

As reported here already, on 2 September the UNHCR made public an appeal to the Ukrainian government in which is expressed concern “that the financial requirement should not affect access to the asylum procedure and undermine the non-refoulement principle envisaged by the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which Ukraine acceded to without any reservations in 2002. The right to seek asylum is a fundamental human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

The association “Human Rights in Central Asia” and the project “Without Borders” of the Social Assistance Centre call on the Ukrainian government: to

  • explain on what basis the amount required and the month period were established;
  • explain whether the Ukrainian authorities are prepared for possible steps by foreign governments in response.

With regard to protection of refugees and asylum seekers, we call on them to:

  • ensure that asylum seekers have access to the national procedure in cases where the application for asylum is made on crossing the border;
  • ensure unobstructed access by UNHCR representatives to people detained at the State border and who ask for asylum in Ukraine;
  • provide an explanation as to the application of the new rules in the case of asylum seekers and refugees..

Order No. 519 also creates conditions for refoulement, or the return of asylum seekers to their country of origin where they could be subjected to persecution and torture. In view of this, we also call on the Special UN Co-Rapporteurs on Torture and on Human Rights and Countering Terrorism to look into this.

Very slightly abridged from a text by Iryna Fedorovych from the Social Assistance Centre


Law enforcement agencies

The Minister listened to the complaints

On Friday, 2 October public hearings on observance of human rights in the work of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] were held in Kyiv. They were attended by the Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko who said in his opening address that rights violations by MIA officers remain a serious problem for the Ministry. He said in that 2008 there had been over 40 thousand complaints to the police of which over 3.7 thousand were found to be valid. He considered this figure to be «unacceptably high», and added that in 2009 the MIA has initiated 400 criminal investigations against its staff. The Minister then invited those representatives of civic organizations present to speak. Volodymyr Chemerys, Authorized Representative of the MIA Public Committee on Human Rights reported numerous detentions of participants in legal protests under the guise of «persistent resistance to police officers», and mentioned that there are civic organizations in the country dispersing rallies and meetings. «For example, members of the organizations «Shchyt» [«Shield»] which is made up of former MIA officers demonstratively arrived by coaches in the centre of Kyiv and broke up a tent city». Mr Chemerys called on the leadership of the MIA to resign «over systemic violations of human rights including freedom of assembly.» Maxim Butkevych, Coordinator of the project «Without borders» within the civic organizations «Social Action Centre» is angered over the lack of action by police officers against crimes motivated by racism and xenophobia. He mentioned the disruption of the presentation of an anthology of gay and lesbian literature «120 pages of Sodom» in Lviv, and said that impunity leads to new crimes, for example, the arson attack on the Hudimov Centre which had recently hosted a discussion on homophobia

Point of view

The Demjanjuk Case: Moral Hollywood

The impact of the information age is overestimated. Hollywood’s charm remains seductive and all-pervasive. We need feel-good pills, and heroes and villains to avoid problems with meaning. Heinous villains and noble heroes so as to not inadvertently muddle them, and to avoid uncomfortable questions about what we would do. Most importantly, if necessary, we can change channels.

When it comes to history, things are obviously more complicated. Happy-endings are not provided on call and there are no convenient rules that children are never killed on stage and the hero invariably wins. Nevertheless, both politicians and the media are adept at considering the audience’s demand.

They took some things into consideration this year when 89-year-old Ivan Demjanjuk was deported to Germany where he is accused of complicity in the murder of thousands of Jews in the Nazi concentration camp Sobibor. Objections because he’s an old man can – and should – be rejected since crimes against humanity cannot be subject to any time bar. It would not be politically correct either to express surprise or objections over Germany’s role in administering justice. On the contrary, it is surely to be welcomed.

It seems likely that possible confusion over the charges was also anticipated. Demjanjuk, after all, has already been tried, effectively on the basis of the same evidence, although on different charges. In 1988 he was sentenced to death in Israel, but 5 years later acquitted after it transpired that he was not the brutal guard at Treblinka, Ivan Grozny [Ivan the Terrible].  Consciously or not, there are different motives for blurring the difference. Those protesting Demjanjuk’s innocence stress that he has already been acquitted and believe that he is simply being persecuted. Or that it is an anti-Ukrainian campaign. German investigators speak somewhat vaguely of “new circumstances” and present new charges however they are unlikely to be too concerned that the media constantly mention the bloody sadist whom Demjanjuk was once wrongly alleged to be. It is, after all, vital that this case “doesn’t collapse”.

I am also convinced that war criminals should answer for their crimes, regardless of age, however this case elicits only a bitter sense of failure and in no way triumph of justice. There are effectively no new circumstances and the entire prosecution rests on an Ausweise, or pass, in Ivan Demjanjuk’s name at the SS “Travniki” training camp, a list of people brought to Sobibor, as well as the testimony of a Ukrainian guard at Sobibor Hnat Danylchenko.

All of that was known to the US authorities before the trial in Israel, then later when Demjanjuk first had his citizenship reinstated, and then again taken away because “the country has no intention of harbouring Nazi collaborators on its territory”. That sounds noble, however not overly convincing after the enforced disclosure in 2005 of archival material about the “CIA’s secret documentary history of the U.S government’s relationship with General Reinhard Gehlen, the German army’s intelligence chief for the Eastern Front during World War II”. Other documents published “show that at least five associates of the notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann worked for the CIA, 23 other Nazis were approached by the CIA for recruitment, and at least 100 officers within the Gehlen organization were former SD or Gestapo officers”.

In his recent book “Hunting evil”, Guy Walters asserts that despite the popular myth, most Nazis were not hunted down at all. He cites the example of Friedrich Buchardt who as the head of an Einsatzgruppe took direct part in the killing of tens of thousands of Jews. After the War, we learn, he continued his career, working for Britain’s MI6.

Unlike these and many other cases where the Allies could not have failed to know who they were dealing with, here it is known that Demjanjuk was taken prisoner in 1942, but there are no living witnesses who can refute, or confirm, his assertion that from 1942 to 1944 he was in a prisoner of war camp in Chelm, and not at the Travniki Camp and in Sobibor.

However we are offered one more argument:

“All of Demjanjuk’s accusers, whether in the USA, in Israel, or now here in Germany, maintain that no one could have endured the inhuman conditions in Chelm”

The fact that he survived is thus proof against him.

The conditions for Soviet prisoners of war were indeed inhuman and the mortality rate among them very high. I do not know whether Demjanjuk was a guard in Sobibor, but unlike “all his accusers” can only hope that in a prisoner of war’s place, I would have refused the chance to save my life. Judging from their certainty, I would hazard a guess that they have not read the words of Varlam Shalamov, who spent more than 20 years in Soviet labour camps: “The camps were a great test of a man’s moral strength, of ordinary human morality, and ninety nine percent of people failed this test”.

And Demjanjuk is not accused of moral failure, but of a crime against humanity, of complicity in the murder of 29 thousand Jews. He will stand not before God, but before human beings who apparently know how Soviet prisoners of war lived – and died, and do not for a second doubt that they themselves would have passed that moral test with flying colours.

All the media tell us that the trial of Demjanjuk will probably be the last trial of “Nazis”, and that it will be the final stage of the process begun at Nuremberg.  A leitmotiv of virtually all articles of this topic has long been the number of “Hitler’s helpers” in other countries. We read, for example,

 «Experts such as Dieter Pohl of the German Institute for Contemporary History estimate that more than 200,000 non-Germans -- about as many as Germans and Austrians -- "prepared, carried out and assisted in acts of murder." The authors of this article even raise the disturbing question “was the so-called Final Solution in fact a "European project that cannot be explained solely by the special circumstances of German history"?”

 At the Nuremberg Tribunal the initiators of a heinous crime against humanity were tried, together with people who were consciously and voluntarily complicit in that crime. Another – non-judicial – process was at the same time underway with the Allies, including the USSR, deciding who could be of service to them in conditions of a new “cold” war. This was very often determined by political considerations and not the need for de-Nazification and repentance. We are now seeing a new generation of researchers and journalists for whom, distanced in time and conditions, all seems simple. They draw bold conclusions about the guilt of this or that group of people, claiming that they could have done more to save Jews. Or, with the help of arithmetic, they brush away complexity and blur fundamental moral concepts.  Two hundred thousand Germans, two hundred thousand non-Germans, yet no mention of whether these were volunteers, active participants, or those facing a choice between life and death.

Workers at the German factories producing Zyklon B for the gas chambers could hardly have been totally oblivious as to why it was being produced in such quantities.  Do German intellectuals, including Martin Heidegger, who helped the Nazis first remove Jews from their posts, really not bear responsibility for the “Final Solution”?  They bear some, as, incidentally, do the intellectuals from other countries who tried not to see or “broadcast” the crimes against humanity of Stalin’s regime.

It is difficult to believe that the French who sent 75 thousand French Jews “east” did not know deep down that they were sentencing them to death, that is, that they were implicated in mass murder. They did so voluntarily whereas in neighbouring fascist Italy soldiers quite simply refused to carry out orders to hand Italian Jews over to the Nazis.

There is nothing new here and all the information needed can be found in any library or on the Internet. If the will is there, you can also find out how the conditions differed for British and Soviet soldiers in Nazi prisoner of war camps, or what people in Poland or Ukraine risked when providing refuge for Jewish people.

Or you can choose the simpler, undemanding role of viewers, observing how the heroes have finally caught the villain and justice has been restored. All easy and painless.

It is not everything that is understood in comparison, and one person’s guilt is not diminished because others also sinned. It was once justified to try to find “Ivan Grozny”, bring a brutal sadist to justice. They convicted the wrong man who was not executed only thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discovery of material demonstrating that a miscarriage of justice had taken place. At the present time we are dealing, at most, with an anonymous functionary who was in that way saving his life.

Obviously prisoners of war faced a moral choice, as did the prisoners of Soviet labour camps, as did Heidegger when he personally facilitated the dismissal of Jewish colleagues, as well as workers of German factories which make the death machine possible. Some were governed by career considerations or political expediency, while others feared losing their job or simply wanted to survive. There were also those who consciously and voluntarily carried out a terrible evil. They also made their moral choice, as did those who for their own purposes helped them to escape justice.

Instead of the culmination of the Nuremberg process and the triumphant renewal of justice, we again have a show trial which elicits a worried feeling that the organizers want an easy symbol and myth, while both they and the public as a whole show a stubborn reluctance to learn any real lessons.

Victims of political repression

Memorial: On the Seventieth Anniversary of 17 September 1939

23 August – 1 September – 17 September: these three dates have forever linked the names of two dictators. The Pact between Stalin and Hitler and the subsequent events – the invasion of Poland, first by the Wehrmacht and then by the Red Army – are among the most shameful pages of Europe’s history.

The immorality of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was clear from the outset even to the Bolshevik leadership. It was no accident that the additional protocols to it were classified, and their very existence vehemently denied by the Soviet authorities over fifty years. Even if the pact and secret protocols had remained on paper with no political consequences, they would still have been immoral. The discussion around marking out “spheres of influence” and “interest zones” was a discussion between two predators, relying on force and not respecting the freedom of peoples.

However the 23 August Pact had political consequences. Among these were the division of pre-War Polish territory between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union, the loss of independence for three Baltic republics, an aggressive war against Finland for which the USSR was expelled from the League of Nations in 1939. The mass purges and deportations on territory joined to the USSR were also as a result of the Pact.

Attempts to lay the blame for these crimes on the Soviet people, or still more so, on modern Russia, are unjustified. The Soviet population had no idea that the so-called “Non-aggression Pact” was in fact a pact about the division of Eastern Europe. Soviet citizens were not striving to either “extend their living space” or subjugate neighbouring peoples. They did not sign or approve the secret protocols – they simply didn’t know about them.

Responsibility for the abrupt change in policy towards Hitler’s Germany, for the move towards “freedom sealed in blood” lies not with the people, but with Stalin and his Politburo cronies. It was not the people, but Stalin who from 1939 to 1941 was Hitler’s conscientious partner. It was the peoples of the Soviet Union who were doomed to rectify the consequences of Stalin’s criminal policy at the price of tens of millions of lives and inconceivable privations.

Russia has a duty to itself, to the world and to future generations to provide an accurate assessment of Stalin’s foreign policy in 1939-1941 and to uncover the whole truth regarding it.

All of this is clear and well-known. And yet, incredibly, in Russia there are ever more politicians who try to justify Stalin’s partnership with Hitler from 1939 to 1941. On the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War, Russian television channels, as well as some public officials, wage a major propaganda campaign aimed at justifying the Soviet-German Pact of 23 August 1939.

Attempts to make a glossy picture out of the country’s real history are a measure only barely suitable for domestic consumption. Such a picture is with justification rejected by the outside world. The longer the Russian authorities avoid honest assessment of the past, the stronger the negative effect and the greater the loss to Russia’s authority, and mistrust of modern Russia.

            Against this background one can only welcome the fact that in a recent article by Prime Minister Putin, published in the Polish newspaper “Wyborcza”, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was called “immoral”. However the lack of any mention in the article of the secret protocols and the consequent events, tragic for the peoples of Eastern Europe, can hardly facilitate the building of trust between Russia and its neighbours.

            Half-truths are always perfidious and sometimes more insulting than downright lies.

            It was mutual distrust that prevented a system of collective security in Europe before the Second World War.

            Unlike the situation 70 years ago, current distrust is to a large extent based on different views of history. It is quite easy to overcome this distrust: it is sufficient to tell the whole truth and make all material in the archives of different countries concerning the pre-War period fully available.

            Until this is done, all calls to create new systems of collective security and, in the first instance, calls coming from Russia, will not be taken seriously.

16 September 2009

Board of the International Memorial Society

Remembrance Ceremony in Kharkiv for Polish officers murdered by the NKVD

A memorial service [panykhyda] was held on 3 September at the Polish-Ukrainian Memorial in Kharkiv for the Polish officers shot in 1940. It marked the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War in which Poland was the first to be invaded by the Nazis on 1 September 1939. Over 6 million Poles were killed in the War.

The Memorial marks the place where around four thousand Polish officers, shot in the basement of the Kharkiv NKVD, lie buried.

The memorial ceremony was attended by participants in the IX International Katyń motorcycle event organized by the Kharkiv Polish Consulate. The event was dedicated to the seventieth anniversary, with around 100 motorcyclists taking place. They began their journey on 1 August in Warsaw, and as well as Ukraine, will visit Russia, Belarus, Estonia and Lithuania. At each place they will take part in ceremonies at memorials and cemeteries where Polish officers and other Polish nationals are buried.

The Polish Consul in Kharkiv, pan Grzegorz Serochinski stressed that the Memorial in Kharkiv was a sacred place for Poland.

At the obelisk with the names of the Polish officers and the Memorial to the Victims of Totalitarianism from Kharkiv murdered in 1937-1938, white and red flowers with blue and yellow ribbons were laid, marking the colours of the Polish and Ukrainian flags.

Dissidents and their time

Ivan Svitlychny: “If not me, then who?”

The title is from lines of a poem which Ivan Svitlychny wrote to his small nephew, after his mother and Ivan’s sister Nadiya was arrested. The last four lines read:

“Stand firm like a rock, and watch over

Our law, our credo:

If not me, then who!

Not now, then when?”

Ivan Svitlychny, poet, literary critic and spiritual leader of the “Shistdesyatnyky” (the movement of the 1960s) was born 80 years ago, on 20 September 1929.

He was an active participant in all the activities of the Shistdesyatnyky, and was one of the members of the intelligentsia to be arrested in 1965. He was on that occasion released many months later, without charge, but was from then on unable to find work or publish under his own name.  A letter in support of Svitlychny, organized by the poet Lina Kostenko, had been signed by a large number of prominent figures in Ukraine from quite different fields of life. Ivan Svitlychny over the following years up till his second arrest was himself active in defending others who were being persecuted and in writing and circulating samizdat material.

He was arrested on 13 January 1972 and sentenced for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” to 7 years harsh regime labour camp and 5 years exile. He served his sentence in the Perm political labour camps, where he was one of the leaders of the camp resistance. He took part in all collective protest actions, went on hunger strike and also played a leading role in keeping a camp chronicle and arranging that it be smuggled to the outside world. 

In 1981 during his term of exile, he suffered a stroke, after which he was assigned first group disability status (for most serious disability). His wife, Leonidalived with him in exile. 

He was released on 23 January 1983, but returned gravely ill, and for the last three years of his life he could not move or speak. Ivan Svitlychny died on 25 October 1992. He is buried at the Baikove Cemetery in Kyiv.

In his recollections of his friend, the human rights defender and former political prisoner Zinoviy Antonyuk, speaks of the profound and lasting impact Ivan Svitlychny had on his worldview.

“I understood for the first time that real patriotism - not just that for show, is always quiet, serious and civic and not narrowly ethnic. With Ivan it was even something sacredly light.”


(Halya Coynash)

In Memory: Alla Horska and Ivan Svitlychny

Two pivotal figures of the 1960s “Shistdesyatnyky” would have turned 80 this week. They were close friends and even celebrated their “joint seventieth birthday” (each was 35) in 1964.

Alla Horska, artist and human rights defender was senior by two days, being born on 18 March 1929, while Ivan Svitlychny, poet, literary critic, political prisoner and spiritual focus for the Shistdesyanytky, had his birthday on 20 September.

Born into a Soviet nomenklatura family, Alla Horska was in the 1960s an active participant in the movement of “Shistdesyatnyky”. She was one of the organizers of the “Klub tvorchoyi molodi” [“Club for creative young people”], and, together with the poet V. Symonenko and theatre director Les’ Tanyuk, uncovered the mass graves of victims of the NKVD in the Bykivnya forest.

Alla Horska was summoned to the KGB many times in connection with the arrests of members of the intelligentsia in August and September 1965. Her son, Oleksy Zaretsky recounts that his mother’s first open confrontation with the authorities was in December that year when she lodged a complaint with the Prosecutor. She was also present at the trial of Viacheslav Chornovil in 1967, and was one of the authors of a letter of protest over the illegal running of the trial.  There was to be no let up, either in her protest, or in the ostentatious measures to show that she was being watched.

On 28 November 1970 Alla left her flat in Kyiv for Vasilkiv in the Kyiv region, where she had arranged to collect a sewing machine dating back to the beginning of the century from her father-in-law. 

Her body was found with one fatal blow administered by a blunt instrument. Her father-in-law’s body was found further away, at railway tracks. The cynical version pushed by the authorities was that this had been a murder and then suicide by the perpetrator. The fact that the blow had clearly been a professional job was only one of the many details which has meant that to this day, although the case is officially unsolved, nobody has any serious doubts as to who was responsible for Alla-Horska’s murder.

KGB documents about the RUKH movement declassified

On 3 September 2009 public hearings were held at SBU [the State Security Service] to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Popular Movement of Ukraine [RUKH].

Volodymyr Vyatrovych, Director of the SBU Archives told those gathered that this was the first time that the SBU was declassifying and making public documents from 20 years ago which show the conditions of the restoration of Ukrainian independence in 1991 and provide information about RUKH’s formation and activities.

In of the documents from the second half of 1988 the KGB informs of the creation in Ukraine of a broad civic association, analogous to the Baltic People’s Fronts. The KGB was worried about the influence on the participants of the national democratic movement of Ukrainian centres abroad, for example, the OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists]. SBU representative Oleksandr Loshytsky says that the movement was greeted with enthusiasm throughout Ukraine. The KGB documents speak of active branches of RUKH in the Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Khmelnytsky regions and in the Crimea. The KGB determinedly obstructed the activities of RUKH members. One of the documents speaks of measures by the KGB, MIA and Prosecutor to prevent Viacheslav Chornovil, one of the Horyn brothers and Ivan Hel from taking part in a seminar of independent civic organizations of the Helsinki movement in Moscow. “The KGB are carrying out measures for further control over Chornovil’s behaviour, restriction and documenting of his conspiratorial activities, compromising him among those who share his views”.

Unable to totally stop the activities of the national democratic movement, the KGB tried to influence its further development. “Through operational possibilities positive influence is exerted on the initiators of the “People’s Front”, the document reads, “in order to prompt them to agree programme documents with party bodies”

250 KGB documents pertaining to the situation in Ukraine at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s have been located in the SBU Branch State Archive. However researchers say that this is an insignificant percentage of documents about the role of RUKH in the gaining of independence. Most have been destroyed. There is a hypothesis that they were taken to Moscow in the last days of the Soviet Union. SBU has declassified documents which confirm that a large amount of material from that time was destroyed. On the basis of KGB Order No. 0150 from 1990 irreplaceable documents, videos, photos of the most important events and large-scale demonstrations were totally destroyed.

On 24 May 1991 the KGB’s bulk of material about the first and second RUKH congresses and about the most important RUKH protest actions was destroyed.

According to Volodymyr Lozytsky, Director of the Central State Archive of Public Associations, there are no documents reflecting the enormous work carried out by RUKH, and the next generation will have nothing to study contemporary history from.

Despite the irretrievable loses, the SBU Archive’s documents demonstrate the scale of the Ukrainian national democratic movement at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s and the fierce struggle against them waged by the Soviet security services.

According to National Deputy Ivan Zayets, the documents shatter myths, for example, that RUKH was made by the KGB. He believes that SBU should call on Moscow to return documents.

The poet Ivan Drach who was very active in RUKH recalled how serious the resistance from the authorities directed against the one and a half thousand members of the congress. 15 thousand law enforcement officers were mobilized. “You had to be a virtuosic player in all situations, watching also what happened to the documents. However there were people everywhere who supported us, and those who opposed our activities.”

The material can be accessed on the SBU open electronic archive in each regional centre. The material will also be exhibited on 12 September in Kyiv. SBU is also working together with the History Institute of the National Academy of Sciences on publishing a collection of these documents.

From information at

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2009, #09