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.

Politics and human rights

A Voice From The Field of Battle And Governmental Duplicity

In what way is today’s regime in Ukraine any different than the Bolshevik regime? The Communists committed crimes driven by ideology while Yanukovych’s regime is doing the same, only basing its actions on criminal logic.

The government has usurped authority in the country in virtually an undisguised manner. All roads to a legal and democratic resolution of the socio-political conflict have been blocked. The regime has assumed the role of a terrorist who has taken hostages and is threatening their lives with a knife to their throats.

The main goal is to not relinquish power at all cost. In 2004, Yanukovych declared the following sacramental phrase: “We won’t be forced and squeezed out of power.” Under this maxim, beginning in 2010, an entire authoritarian infrastructure has been in the making – seemingly democratic for the West, while in fact dictatorial for the Ukrainian people.

Political pundits have helped Yanukovych to appear as a “peace dove” and have learned to send the right messages to the West in a timely fashion. Evidently, the effects had been incredibly successful. At the same time, the Opposition – with its parliamentary mandate based on democratic values – was being taken for a ride by the criminal regime, which for the umpteenth time deceived the Opposition, proudly proclaiming: “We fooled them yet again.”

If such a tactic, based on duplicity and deception kept on producing such unequivocal results, who would shy away from it? Even today, during its extreme clashes with the Ukrainian people, the regime’s position is one and the same.

“I call upon the representatives of all political parties, Reverend Fathers, and members of the community to a national dialogue. I am personally willing to take part in such a round table.” Such was the declaration of Yanukovych, aimed at placating the West. It worked because the West is credulous when it comes to promises.

And this is why Ukrainian Prime Minister Azarov recently boasted on the “Russia 24” TV channel that the latest events in Ukraine cannot serve as a pretext for the US to introduce sanctions against Ukrainian officials: “I am not even considering this issue in any serious way because our relations, including those with the United States, are strategic and long-term, and this episode, taking place in Kyiv, in my opinion, bears no grounds for even discussing sanctions.”

In fact, each of the so-called “round tables” which convened over the course of the last two months has been nothing but theatres of the grotesque, which have only convinced the people that this regime understands only the language of force. For this reason, a portion of the population was compelled to engage in violent resistance, and in so doing seemed to be drawing upon the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today, when people are literally dying on the barricades in Kyiv, we are appealing to our partners in the West: do you recall the words of the preamble? Do you concur that “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law?”

Even today are we still to hear rhetoric about a “democratically elected president, ” when Europe itself experienced the precedent of a “democratically elected” Reichsführer of Germany?

Thus far, I’ve referred only to the Ukrainian regime. However, scrutinizing its actions without taking into account the Kremlin, is analogous to analyzing the Moon’s trajectory without the Earth’s gravity.

Contemporary Ukraine is literally flooded with agents of Russia’s Federal Security Service, who are thoroughly executing a very specific plan devised by Putin.

– to destabilize the situation in Ukraine to such a degree that under circumstances involving unorganized “blind” revolts, all signs of democracy and all evidence of the “Orange” threat to Russia would be liquidated; in case of complications, the plan calls for “extending a helping hand to the fraternal Ukrainian people, ” invading Ukraine with Russia’s Armed Forces or at divide the country;

– to discredit Yanukovych’s regime in the eyes of the West to such a degree that the latter is forced to accept Russia’s control over Ukraine as a last resort to save the country;

– to depose Yanukovych at the right moment and replace him with the “crisis manager, ” namely Viktor Medvedchuk, who steadfastly continues to profess his loyalty to the Kremlin.

Gazing into Putin’s eyes, one can truly see only one thing: gloom. His logic is based on the premise of the “post-Versaille” humiliation and the need for revenge for the sake of the rebirth of the “grandeur and glory of Russia” and a new partition of the world.

The role of the “special geopolitical case” which in 1939 was apparently assumed by “fascist Poland, ” is today being played by so-called “nationalist” Ukraine – in the eyes of Putin “not even a state, only a territory.” It must completely disappear out of existence or at least be dismembered.

The parallel with the Nazi phenomenon is obvious – only blind “political correctness” would not recognize it. Nevertheless, this is an extremely dangerous scenario for the world:  Western politicians are gravely underestimating the nature and severity of the Ukrainian crisis. In just a few days it might be too late.

This is no longer about the necessity of a “Marshall Plan for Ukraine” – Europe missed the boat on that one long ago. The situation now calls for a broad global coalition for the sake of stemming the tide of the new revanchist wave, the elements of which take such delight in their ability to continuously deceive the entire global diplomatic corps.

Let us recall the lessons of World War II: those who forsake (renounce, reject) the protection of values for the sake of their own safety, will inevitably pay with this safety for the renewal of the fundamental values of human civilization.

                                                                                                                   Myroslav Marynovych

                                                                       Prisoner of Conscience during the Brezhnev era,

                           Currently Vice-Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine


Signed into Dictatorship

It is now official: the president has signed a number of bills overtly aimed at crushing peaceful protest and freedom of speech, and silencing journalists, civic activists and all active members of civil society. 

The draft laws were voted on by the ruling majority on Thursday, in breach of all procedural norms.  The opposition was not present and the voting was by a show of hands with no real way of knowing how many MPs had voted.  The bills had not passed through any of the correct procedure or discussion despite having grave consequences for the country and being in serious violation of Ukraine’s Constitution and international documents to which Ukraine is a signatory.  

On Thursday evening Dzerkalo Tyzhnya quoted an unnamed “high-ranking source in the Party of the Regions” as saying that 95% of the members of that faction in parliament had not know what they were voting for.   Those few who objected were told by the speaker Volodymyr Rybak that at a private meeting the president had insisted on the laws being adopted. 

This unfortunately seems more than likely.  Yanukovych has clearly opted for a hard-line dictatorial approach and it is no accident that the main bill now signed into law (No. 3879  'On amendments to the Law on the Judicial System and Status of Judges..." (*) apes some of the worst features introduced in Russia over recent years.  These include criminalization of libel, increased control over the Internet; and measures against something vaguely termed “extremist activity” which can include obstruction of state authorities.  A particularly obnoxious development is the introduction of the label “foreign agent” for any NGO which receives foreign funding.  This covers virtually every NGO and is clearly aimed at imposing extra control over civic activists and trying to push the idea that they are somehow acting against Ukraine’s interests. 

A statement from human rights organizations including the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union; the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and others is blunt: 

„Let us look truth in the eye – this means that the ruling coalition has declared war on civil society.

In view of this we would state that we have no plan to sign a capitulation agreement in a war which we did not begin. We will never agree to have the authorities push us into a social ghetto and pin a sign around our neck saying “foreign agent”, like the Nazis hung a yellow Star of David on Jews during World War II.

To agree in this case to take on the status of a “foreign agent” would on our part be an insult to the memory of our great predecessors – Oleksy Tykhy; Yury Lytvyn; Valery Marchenko; Vasyl Stus; Viacheslav Chornovil who gave their life in fighting for human rights in Ukraine.”

Another “innovation” is the special protection for the “privacy” of law enforcement officers and judges with this including criminal liability for publishing information “of an overtly offensive or disrespectful nature”. 

This, together with the amendments to the recent “amnesty law”, are clearly aimed at protecting Berkut riot police and other law enforcement officers who obey criminal orders, such as during the violent dispersing of peaceful protesters on Nov 30.   It is also likely to be used against courageous journalists, such as Tetyana Chornovol, who expose the sumptuous residences and corrupt dealings of people like the Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, the Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka and many others.

Judges who can be relied on to provide the rulings demanded by those in high places, for example, against political opponents can expect such “protection”.  Worth noting that on Friday the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal rejected the appeal by an Ukrainska Pravda journalist Olena Kovalenko against a court refusal to provide the list of ruling majority MPs who allegedly signed highly questionable laws during an even more irregular “travelling parliamentary session” on April 4.  The MPs’ signatures were deemed to be confidential information.  

There are indications that certain members of the president’s administration have resigned, including Serhiy Lyovochkin and probably the president’s press secretary, Darya Chepak.  Lyovochkin was one of those reported as having resigned following the bloody dispersing of protesters on Nov 30.  He stayed then, however, and although now he has ceased to be head of the president’s administration, a decree on the president’s site states that he will now become a presidential adviser.  It may or may not be coincidence that the resignation has also been announced of General Hennady Vorobyov, head of the army’s land forces.  The president would seem to be surrounding himself with those following a pro-Russian approach both in politics and in treatment of civil liberties.  

A large number of civic organizations have called for general mobilization, for people to come out in their masses on Sunday.  Since all that now remains is for the laws to be published, it can be assumed that some degree of enforcement of these new draconian laws will be seen on Jan 19. 

This is a full-frontal offensive against Ukrainian civil society.  The president has demonstrated contempt for the Constitution which he is called upon to protect and the opinion of the international community which was unanimous in calling for a veto on these laws. 

Support is vital during these next weeks and months.  Calls to veto the laws and statements of condemnation have been ignored and this seems unlikely to change.  On the other hand, these measures have been brought in with one clear aim: to crush opposition, freedom of speech and information in order to ensure victory in the 2015 presidential elections.  Help in ensuring that the information channels are not blocked, and Ukraine’s journalists and civic activists are not muffled is still possible, and vitally important.  

* the original hyperlink has been removed as it was presumably taken off the President's website after it was finally withdrawn

Legal analysis of the Jan 16 laws

This analysis of the procedural violations and infringements of Ukrainian and international legislation in the laws voted on in parliament on Jan 16 was provided to EuroMaidan SOS by a group of lawyers.

Procedural Violations

The procedures for the consideration of draft laws (bills) and adoption of laws were violated by the Verkovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) at the Plenary Meeting on 16 January 2014. The procedures established by law[1] provides for special expert examination of any new legislative. Relevant Parliament committees are responsible for the expert examination. When and if relevant committee issues positive conclusion, on the new draft law and communicate such opinion to all the deputies at least two days prior to the voting to include the draft law into the agenda[2]. Ukrainian Parliament overlooked the above expert conclusion requirement, thus, making the new law non-constitutional.

Also, the rules of procedure[3] of the Verknovna Rada provide that the laws are generally considered according to the procedure consisting of three readings (passes):

first reading meant to discuss general principles of the draft law and adopt it as the basis,

second reading intended to discuss the draft law article by article, and

third reading intended to adopt the draft law in general.

At the plenary meeting on 16 January 2014 the draft laws were voted “in general” without any discussion of the general principles or particular articles of the draft laws that were voted. This deprived the interested deputies of the right to provide their objections or proposals to the respective draft laws.

The voting “by hands” procedure was used during the adoption of the laws. The publicly available video materials covering the voting for the laws at the Plenary Meeting on 16 January 2014 also show that there were actually no calculation of votes, as well as no discussion of the documents at all.


Violations of International Treaties and National Legislation


Severe violation of right to peaceful assembly

The right to peaceful assembly is significantly restricted by the document adopted on January 16, 2014 (namely by the draft law No. 3879).

The right to peaceful assembly has been previously established by the following provisions, which are binding for Ukraine:

Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;

Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

Article 11 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”);

Article 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine (the “Constitution”).

The following guarantees of the aforementioned freedom realization by the people of Ukraine provided by Section 2 of Article 11 of the Convention and Paragraph 2 of Article 39 of the Constitution, were ignored:

Only those restrictions may be applied that are necessary in a democratic society;

Any restrictions of the aforementioned freedom realization may only be imposed by a competent court.

The aforementioned amendments have legalized severe administrative and criminal liability for organizers, supporters, facilitators and participants of peaceful protests.

The proposed amendments to Article 185-1 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences provides for more strict administrative liability for:

Both organizers and participants of peaceful assemblies for, among others, organizing of peaceful protests which not in compliance with requirements of the established procedure.  However, no such established procedure that is applicable to the peaceful assembly currently exists. Liability allows for up to 15 days of arrest. This lays grounds for potential mass arrests of the participants of peaceful protests based on subjective and unclear grounds.

Participants of peaceful assemblies may be arrested for 15 days for wearing a mask or helmet that prevents identification of the person, or for wearing clothing “which resembles uniform of law enforcement agencies”. The arrest may take place without the person having any harmful intentions or participating in such actions. This new restriction prevents peaceful protesters from anonymous participation in peaceful assemblies.

Participants of peaceful assemblies may be arrested for up to 15 days for installation of a tent, stage, any small construction or audio equipment for holding a rally, without having previously obtained permission of the internal affairs authorities. The requirement to obtain permission of internal affairs authorities may prevent democratic society from efficient peaceful protests against these authorities, as well as against the Government or President, which have the power to instruct these authorities. Furthermore, this implies an additional restriction of the freedom of assembly that is specifically designed to be imposed by the police, not courts.

The proposed amendments to Article 185-2 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offences outlines strict liability (up to 10 days of arrest) for business and organizational leaders for supporting and facilitation of peaceful assemblies, which are deemed non-compliant with the established procedure. The risk of sanction in form of arrest may prevent potential supporters and sponsors from supporting and facilitating peaceful protests.

More strict criminal liability is proposed for:

Blocking administrative buildings and premises (up to 5 years restriction of liberty, or up to 5 years of imprisonment);

Seizure of buildings (up to 6 years of imprisonment);

Blocking of roads and transport (up to 2 years of imprisonment);

Violation of public order as member of a group, mass disorder which leads to, among others, to interference with function of transportation (up to 2 years of imprisonment);

Resisting law enforcement officers, etc.).

Such strict criminal liability may lead to justified criminal repressions towards organizers and participants of peaceful protests based on very subjective and biased criteria, such as assessment of negative effect from the protesters actions.

Individual responsibility of vehicle owners’Draft law No. 3855 violates the fundamental principle of individual responsibility set forth by Article 61 the Constitution. In particular, according to Article 61 of the Constitution each person shall be individually liable by law. On the contrary, Article 1(1) of draft law No. 3855 sets forth the responsibility of the vehicle owners’ for any breach of traffic rules in the event that another person operates the vehicle. Draft law No. 3855 makes it the vehicle owners’ responsibility to prove that he or she did not drive the vehicle in question.

We believe that the above Article 1(1) of draft law No. 3855 also contradicts the fundamental principle of assumption of innocence provided by Article 62 of the Constitution, as well as by Article 11(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, we believe that application of Article 1(1) of draft law No. 3855 by Ukrainian authorities constitutes a violation of the basic human rights of Ukrainians.

Tyrannical sanctions for driving in procession. The new laws introduce tyrannical sanctions to the drivers or vehicle owners. In particular, according to Article 1(1) of draft law No. 3879, traffic police may fine a driver of a vehicle in a procession consisting of more than five vehicles, without having previously obtained a police permit, and if the procession has interfered with the traffic. Please note that Article 1(1) of draft law No. 3879 is silent on how serious must be the interference to the traffic. As an example, the above Article means that now the traffic police is allowed to fine each driver of a funeral procession for unintentionally and briefly blocking a part of an intersection.

Per Article 1(1) of draft law No. 3879 the traffic police is permitted to revoke the involved drivers’ licenses and/or confiscate the vehicles. Such confiscations is an unprecedented sanction for breaching traffic rules.

This regulation is very obviously aimed at preventing vehicle processions from taking part in peaceful protests.


Severe violation of freedom of expression and freedom of information

Freedom of expression is protected nationally and internationally by the following acts: 

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Article 34 of the Constitution of Ukraine

Slander is re-introduced in the Criminal code of Ukraine following almost 13 years of decriminalization e.g. since 2001 when then new Criminal Code did not include defamation as a crime and Ukraine started applying civil remedies in the defamation cases.

The newly adopted law No 3879 introduces criminal liability for the defamation and we can therefore reasonably expect that as a result of this, “insulted” public officials, local governor, businessmen, and MPs will prefer to initiate criminal prosecution against media instead of the civil law procedure.

Article on extremist activity assumes liability for production, possession for sale or distribution, and sale or distribution of extremist materials. Such actions committed via mass media or Internet will be sanctioned by a fine or a 3-year imprisonment term in case of the repeated offence. Extremist materials are defined in a considerably vague and extensive manner and moreover, the activity stipulated by the new article on extremism is de facto already covered by the existing Criminal Code articles such as hate speech, for example, so there was no need in introducing “additional protection” against extremism. There is obviously a high risk that any critical material against the incumbent government will be classified as extremism and criminally punished.

Both articles are expected to have a chilling effect on the professional activity of media.

Introduced requirement for the registration of all online media as information agencies and fines established if such media function without state registration does not correspond to the international principle of the necessity in the democratic society in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety.

Independence of the national broadcasting regulator, the National Council of Ukraine on TV and Radio Broadcasting, is severely hindered. The Law entitles Parliament and President to dismiss any member of the Council at any time. Such provision clearly contradicts to the recommendations of the Council of Europe which say in particular that the rules governing regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector, especially their membership, are a key element of their independence. Therefore, they should be defined so as to protect them against any interference, in particular by political forces or economic interests. The new provisions introduced will lead to an extreme vulnerability of the member of the National Council and will induce bias and corruption among them.

Innovations of the newly adopted law 3879 aimed at establishing total control over the media field in Ukraine as well as total control over the licensing of Ukrainian broadcasters represent a harsh and cynical attack against freedom of expression in the country. Restrictions for the implementation of freedom of expression established by this law do not meet the requirement of being necessary in a democratic society and as such violate the national and international legal instruments protecting freedom of expression.

New Article 361-3 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (threat to freedom of expression). Law No. 3879 introduces three new articles into the Criminal Code of Ukraine, formally designed to protect the integrity and operability of state-owned websites and networks. However, among the three new articles one article (361-3) raises the most concerns. Article 361-3 establishes criminal liability for "unauthorized interference with the operation of state electronic information resources, objects of nationally-critical information and telecommunication infrastructure, which lead to the leakage, loss, forgery or blockage of information, distortion of the processing or routing of the information ". The established sanctions are 2 to 5 years of imprisonment with a ban on occupying certain positions for up to 3 years. Further, the Criminal Code expands the term "objects of nationally-critical information and telecommunication infrastructure" to include basically any information or telecommunication system, the disruption of which affects any aspect of the operation of the government or its bodies, including any informational efforts. In view of the ongoing civil unrest in the country, these provisions are obviously aimed at dealing with the online civil protest in the form of Ddos attacks on government websites. On its face it may seem like a legitimate aim generally to protect government-owned Internet resources. However, given the harsh penalties and objectively weak processing capacities of the servers hosting the nationally-critical IT infrastructure (downtime of government websites has always been a major issue) in practice this could mean random or targeted criminal prosecutions of persons who unknowingly contribute to the failure of the elements of this infrastructure by attempting to access or use it legitimately.

Moreover, the wave of criminal prosecutions could also sweep, randomly or targeted, Internet users whose hardware (personal computers, mobile devices) had been unknowingly to them infected by trojans and other viruses, which resulted in their hardware becoming a part of a bot-network used by third persons for carrying out Ddos-attacks on government-owned websites. Such an article in the Criminal Code will negatively affect the ability and even willingness of the population to use government IT infrastructure or the Internet generally, effectively causing massive self-censorship and undermining the government’s efforts to promote the populations’ access to the Internet and information in general. This poses, on a state-wide level, a direct threat to the population’s right to access, receive and disseminate information, which is an essential element of a person’s right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Article 34 of the Ukraine’s Constitution, which are all binding for the Ukrainian government.

Changes to the Law of Ukraine “On Telecommunications” (threat to freedom of expression). A massive blow to the Ukrainian population’s ability to access information (i.e. exercise the right to freedom of expression) is also made by introduction via Law No. 3879 of new norms into Articles 18 and 42 of the Law of Ukraine “On telecommunications”. In Article 18 a new provision grants the National committee on state regulation of communication and development of information systems the power to restrict access to any website containing “content, the dissemination of which is contrary to the law” based on a the decision of an “expert”. Neither a clear definition of “content, the dissemination of which is contrary to the law”, nor the procedure for appointment and requirements to the “expert” are given. Such provision will result in an extremely broad and arbitrary interpretation of what the mentioned content is and the granting of extraordinary powers to individual government agents to control the population’s access to the Internet and information in general. Also, changes in Article 42 introduce a mandatory state license for the provision of Internet access, which results in total government control over the activities of ISPs (Internet service providers) and thereby total control over the population’s use of the Internet. The Ukrainian legislation has never seen such a restrictive legislative regime for the population’s access to and dissemination of information. Coupled with the newly-formed oppressive regime, such models of national Internet governance is akin to that of the most authoritarian regimes in the modern world (e.g. China and Iran).

NGOs as foreign agents. The NGO receiving any material support internationally are now recognized as “the foreign agents”. In particular, draft law No. 3879 introduces a bunch of amendments to a number of Ukrainian laws. Regardless of the statutory documents of particular NGO, draft law No. 3879 sets forth:

special procedure of the registration of the NGOs as foreign agents if they intend receiving any material support or donations internationally (the “International NGOs”);

all the material support received by the International NGOs is subject to Ukrainian corporate tax;

the International NGOs will have to bear the wording of “the Foreign Agent” in their names and this wording may not be shortened; and

the International NGOs will have to publish the results of their activities in Ukraine on the Internet and one of governmental newspapers quarterly.

Therefore, the new regulations segregates the International NGOs. Such segregation is likely to be in breach of Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), thus, restricting the rights of Ukrainians for international co-operation.


Severe violation of the Right to a fair trial

Criminal proceeding in absentia is introduced.

As proposed by the draft law No. 3587, the prejudicial inquiry and criminal court proceedings may be conducted without the person suspected and accused of the crime.

The decision on criminal proceeding in absentia is made by the criminal investigator (adhere to the prosecutor’s position) or the prosecutor or the court.

To arrive at such decision it is enough for the person to face the double failure to respond the notice to appear without reasonable excuse. The legislation does not contain the list of reasonable excuses, thus reasonability of the excuse is established by the person, who makes a decision on criminal proceeding in absentia application.

Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 6) guarantees everyone the right to a fair trial, including the rights:

to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;

to be informed of the accusal;

to have the time and opportunities to prepare the defense;

to defend oneself in person or through legal assistance.

The Constitution of Ukraine (Article 62) guarantees the suspect, accused or defendant the right of defense.

Subject to a lofty level of corrupt practice in Ukraine (especially – in investigating bodies, public prosecution and courts), introduction of criminal proceeding in absentia creates substantial and real menace to massive breach of human rights stated above, and in the first place – concerning protesters. Considering the high level of corrupt practice, it is expected the decisions on criminal punishment (including imprisonment) may be pronounced in short terms without informing about the availability of the criminal proceeding.

[1] The Law of Ukraine “On the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine”.

[2] Clause 2 of Article 96 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine”.

[3] Article 102 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine”.


Statement from Human Rights Organizations

Law No. 3879 hastily voted on and signed on Jan 16 indicates that Ukraine has entered a period of reaction and obscurantism.

This law was adopted in breach of due procedure for preparation, expert assessment and consideration by the country’s legislative body. The law flagrantly violates fundamental freedom of conscience and views; of speech; information; peaceful assembly; association; movement; property rights and the right to privacy. It thus ignores the relevant norms of Ukraine’s Constitution and articles of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as well as Article 22 of Ukraine’s Constitution.

Of particular note is the addition made by this Law to current legal language through the new term “foreign agent”.  This applies to those civic associations “which receive money or other property from “foreign” sources … and also take part, including in the interests of foreign sources, in political activities on Ukraine’s territory.”

A simple linguistic and legal analysis of the last sentence which uncovers the legal content of the term “foreign agent” gives grounds for believing that from now on any civic organization which receives grants from a foreign fund, embassy, organization or donations from an individual will assume this new, discriminatory status. The law demands that civic organizations register and imposes sanctions for failure to do so.

This law infringes the most important principle of constitutional legal order, namely the principle of rule of law. It violates the constitutional rights of Ukrainian citizens and stateless persons living in Ukraine. The term “foreign agent” has the negative connotation of a sign branding a person from whom the public should expect a threat, and therefore such an organization will be subject to aggressive social ostracism, expulsion and destruction.

Let us look truth in the eye – this means that the ruling coalition has declared war on civil society.

In view of this we would state that we have no plan to sign a capitulation agreement in a war which we did not begin. We will never agree to have the authorities push us into a social ghetto and pin a sign around our neck saying “foreign agent”, like the Nazis hung a yellow Star of David on Jews during World War II.

To agree in this case to take on the status of a “foreign agent” would on our part be an insult to the memory of our great predecessors – Oleksy Tykhy; Yury Lytvyn; Valery Marchenko; Vasyl Stus; Viacheslav Chornovil who gave their life in fighting for human rights in Ukraine.

We understand the underlying motivation behind the obscurantist actions of the ruling coalition. In a state of panic-stricken fear in the present situation of wide-scale and organized public protest, they plan at any price to hold on to their privileges and to the neo-feudal structure of power and division of property built up over the last three years.

All these unwise and short-sighted actions by the ruling coalition have one aim alone, to win the 2015 elections. It is for this reason that the coalition has already now mobilized criminal forces for fighting with Maidan, and is bringing organizations with primitive, pogrom provoking, ideology under their banners. These poachers of Ukrainian society have now targeted civic organizations which without any expense to the state create jobs and make up a significant part of the gross national product.

This is why society will be forced to move to new forms of non-violent resistance.

Mykola Kozyrev, Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Yevhen Zakharov, Director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Human rights organizations are invited to endorse this statement which can be signed here:

The right to life

Full-Frontal Offensive against Road Control

A Road Control activist has been shot and injured, and his car set alight in the latest attack on people from this civic watchdog which monitors the work of the traffic police.  Since Road Control journalist Andriy Zhukovyen was granted political asylum in the United States in November, two people closely connected with Road Control – journalist Andriy Dzyndzya and his lawyer Viktor Smaliy – have been remanded in custody for two months on questionable charges. Two others – first journalist Svitlana Malytska, and on Saturday evening Volodymyr Moralov – have been brutally attacked.  In both cases, it is clear that these were not random attacks, but directly linked to their work for Road Control.  Small wonder that the organization’s founder, Rostislav Shaposhnikov is planning to stay put in Poland,   This is an appalling record made especially chilling if we consider who might have a motive.  Over recent year’s Road Control activists’ monitoring, videoing of dodgy practices by traffic police officers and civil suits, have first and foremost riled the police.  Malytska whom the assailants called a “road whore” has produced investigations which have enabled Road Control to win over ten court cases against the Kyiv prosecutor’s office, and regional prosecutor’s offices.

The attack on Dec 21 took place around 23.00 near Shevchenko Square in Kyiv.  The assailants blocked Moralov’s car, pulled him onto the back seat.  Moralov used his own pistol, even hitting one of the two assailants but he was then overpowered and his gun taken away.   

According to the Road Control press service, Moralov was dragged out of the car and then, with a gun to his head, asked where Dzyndzya lives, where his flash drive and equipment is, and about journalist Honcharuk’s whereabouts.  When he told them that he didn’t know, they shot him and burned his car.  Moralov has been taken to hospital.  There is no information about his condition.

Road Control reports that on Dec 5 when Dzyndzya was arrested, his laptop and video recorder were removed.  A couple of days later, they assert, the police created an account on YouTube and began trying to spread recordings which they believed could compromise the well-known journalist.

The organization asserts that none of the material shows any criminal behaviour, while the police have used a particular section of the video footage and the relevant headlines to try to create the impression that Dzyndzya organized the commandeering of the bulldozer used in the confrontation with Interior Ministry forces on Dec 1 on Bankova St.  In fact Road Control says,  Dzyndzya’s video footage contains clips which are extremely inconvenient for the police and prosecutor’s office and are of course not published.

As reported, Dzyndzya’s arrest and the charges against him have aroused very grave concern.  There seems to be no evidence that he was not, as he claims, on Bankova St carrying out his work as a journalist.  There is, on the other hand, plenty of video footage showing the masked louts who were in fact responsible.

During the court hearing on Friday at which Dzyndza’s appeal against the detention order was rejected, the journalist hinted that there was a copy of all the video footage. Road Control asserts that this came as a bad surprise for the police who had searched Dzyndzya’s office the day after his arrest and believed he hadn’t had time to make copies.

Road Control says that the police clearly believe that Moralov, who was on EuroMaidan, could know where Dzyndzya keeps the video recordings.  He also travelled around a lot with Road Control journalist and organizer of protest car rallies, Alexei Honcharuk, whom the police are now actively looking for. 

A few days ago, it is asserted, Moralov was interrogated by the police who wanted to know where Honcharuk was and tried to get him to testify against Dzyndzya. He refused, and was released, but warned that “it’s very bad to not cooperate with the investigators”. 

Honcharuk, Dzyndzya, Mochalov

Road Control’s belief that Saturday’s attack is linked to that warning, and its other  allegations need to be verified.  It is unfortunately clear that the police will simply deny everything.  Even if that is not equally true of the prosecutor’s office, that illustrious body at present seems far more concerned with intimidating local authorities which came out in protest against the government’s rejection of EU integration and the violent dispersing of peaceful protesters on Nov 30.  Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka demonstrated in parliament on Friday that his office is unwilling to properly investigate the offences undoubtedly committed by Berkut riot police on Nov 30 and Dec 1 and to ascertain who really issued the criminal orders to use violence against peaceful protesters.

Road Control has long annoyed the law enforcement bodies.  Over the last two years its journalists have faced attacks, dodgy criminal proceedings, including those which prompted the US authorities to grant one journalist asylum.  The events over the last two weeks look worryingly like an all-out offensive against the civic organization by those whose confidence in their own impunity makes them a danger to the public. 

The right to a fair trial

6 year sentences in surreal Vasylkiv “terrorist trial”

A Kyiv court has convicted three men of plotting to blow up a Lenin monument which had already been removed. This incomprehensible “terrorist plot” has resulted in 6 year sentences for the three, all of whom have small children.  Cries of protest were heard as soon as the judge, Yury Burbela, announced his verdict, and there have been scuffles outside the Svyatoshynsk Court where several hundred people were holding a picket.   Reports suggest that Berkut riot police have used a gratuitous level of force against all protesters and journalists, some of whom have been injured and taken to hospital.. 

Today’s verdict was not unexpected given the cynicism with which this trial has been run, but profoundly disturbing given the absurdity of the charges and the lack of any evidence.  

Two deputies of the Vasylkiv Town Council  -  Ihor Mosiychuk and Serhiy Bevz, and fellow member of the far right organization “Patriot of Ukraine”, Volodymyr Shpara  have been found guilty of planning to blow up the [already dismantled] monument to Vladimir Lenin in Boryspil on Independence Day in 2011, planning a terrorist act and illegal use of weapons and explosives. They are also supposed to have called for the overthrow of the constitutional order.

Even if all the supposed evidence which the men say was planned is deemed to have been authentic, there is simply no proof of anything except the men’s “Patriot of Ukraine” affiliations.

A phone call intercepted by the SBU [security service] makes it quite clear that the men knew that the Lenin monument had been dismantled, and therefore that the SBU knew that they knew.  Why they should have plotted to blow up a non-existent monument is anybody’s guess.  Why the SBU should have persisted in accusing the men of such idiotic behaviour has, unfortunately, become clear today.  Judge Burbela paid no heed to the surreal nature of the impugned plot, evidence corroborating the men’s claims that the material evidence had been planted, and multiple procedural infringements. 

In searches of the men’s workplace, homes and a hostel where Bevz was registered, but did not live in August 2011, the SBU allegedly found:

2 leaflets, one of which the men acknowledge was theirs and one which they say was planted.  The latter expresses determination to eradicate all monuments to Ukraine’s totalitarian past.  The view that this includes all monuments to Lenin is shared by very many Ukrainians who dislike the men’s organization.  The disputed leaflet ends with a threat to turn their “righteous anger” against the president, Viktor Yanukovych if he does not comply with their demands to totally destroy all monuments to the totalitarian past, and a call to “patriots” to unite in acts of disobedience and to learn about military and explosives issues.  This was not found even by the specialists called in by the SBU to contain any call to commit an act of terrorism or overthrow the constitutional order.

A “bomb” which the men are adamant was planted, and which did not hold any fingerprints or DNA traces of the accused.  The investigators refused to ascertain who the fingerprints found on the alleged bomb did belong to. This purportedly dangerous explosive device was carried out of the flat by an SBU officer without any precautionary measures, and without explosives experts having been called in.  It was later destroyed during an examination making it impossible to check whether it had in fact ever contained explosives.

Details about the other “evidence” in this flawed case can be found at Dismantled Lenin Monument makes Vasylkiv terrorist trial a farce

All three men have been in custody for 2 years already and today’s sentence, if not overturned at appeal level, could mean that they spend another four years in prison. The cynicism demonstrated thus far makes it hard to be optimistic about the chances for a just ruling in any domestic court.  The violent confrontation on Friday evening may well be part of a plan to radicalize opposition, with any crackdown then seemingly forced upon the authorities. This case has, from the outside, appeared to have been in fulfilment of a political order.  This is only confirmed by today’s court ruling convicting men of plotting to commit an act which was known by all parties to be impossible. 

Freedom of peaceful assembly

AutoMaidan activists ambushed, leader still missing

  Dmytro Bulatov, AutoMaidan leader missing since Wednesday

More AutoMaidan activists have been found in Kyiv police stations following the events of Wednesday night which singer Ruslana has called “brazen and unconcealed terror on the streets of Kyiv.”  Chillingly it is now well over 24 hours since any contact with Dmytro Bulatov, one of the leaders of the AutoMaidan movement.  The police claim to know nothing about his whereabouts.

With repressive measures escalating since the Jan 29 AutoMaidan car procession to the president’s controversial estate at Mezhyhirya, Bulatov has been in hiding.  Until Wednesday evening, he had, however, kept in contact by telephone, so this prolonged silence is worrying, especially given the offensive against AutoMaidan activists launched seemingly in coordinated moves by Berkut and titushki [hired thugs]. 

At around 4 a.m. on Thursday morning, Berkut officers, probably together with titushki, detained AutoMaidan activists who were patrolling Clinic No. 17.  They smashed up the cars and detained all those in the cars.  According to one young man who managed to escape, they threatened to take them away and beat them. 

Hromadske.TV broadcast from the scene and suggests that this was a deliberate ambush with information having been put out on the Internet saying that help was needed, the aim being to gather as many AutoMaidan activists in one place as possible, at which point they were fallen upon by men in uniform and titushki. 

In one of the cars that came under ambush, a purse was found with a credit card in the name of Yulia Volkova.  The car has a video register which shows that the officers surrounded the cars, forcing drivers to open their doors.

In an open letter regarding the events, Ruslana notes that according to the accounts of AutoMaidan activists who came under attack, the Berkut officers’ behaviour was of an unprecedentedly aggressive nature.  “It was effectively impossible to even talk with them – they behaved like unconcealed bandits deaf to any appeals.”  Ruslana adds that they believe that the officers involved may have been from “our northern neighbour”, i.e. the Russian Federation.

Both Ruslana and earlier EuroMaidan SOS reports speak of a grenade having been thrown into a minivan carrying the detained AutoMaidan activists.  They had been transferred to the second vehicle, seemingly to try to get other AutoMaidan activists off their track, and it was into the second vehicle that the grenade was thrown.  Ruslana says there are reports that two people in the minivan may have been serious injured when the grenade exploded. 

These, and similar reports, need to be checked, yet it is difficult to know how.  The police only responded with an “apology” when a shocking video showing Berkut and other officers stripping an activist naked in freezing temperatures and videoing him was posted on the Internet.  In all other cases, the Interior Ministry, together with minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, deny all accusations, frequently claiming that they are “provocations”. 

A number of AutoMaidan activists were finally located in custody in various police stations.  Most had clearly been beaten.

One of the activists, Oleksandr Kravtsov was found in the Obolon dstrict police station.  His wife, the poet Olesya Mamchyn, says that he has obviously been beaten but is in a reasonable state.

The court hearing is due to begin at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. 

Given the repressive legislation signed into force by Viktor Yanukovych, as well as later cabinet of ministers  resolutions, published on Jan 23, there are no grounds for optimism about the court hearings.  It is unfortunately quite safe to assume that the judges will not throw out any charges, whether of “hooliganism” or worse, to justify prosecution of peaceful protesters who answered an apparent call for help from a clinic.  Even before the repressive laws were whipped in, judges had already stripped drivers of their licences for up to 6 months over spurious charges linked with the car procession to Mezhyhirya.  A court hearing has just been postponed in a similar punitive measure against Father

We should not forget the chilling context to this call for assistance, as well as to concern over the continued inability to find Dmytro Bulatov.  The funeral is taking place in Lviv on Friday of Yury Verbytsky, a peaceful protester who was abducted from hospital, together with civic activist and journalist Ihor Lutsenko.  His badly beaten body was found on Jan 22 in the Boryspil forest.  

Parliamentary Titushkism

Most of the text below was written (shortly) before the disturbances on Sunday night. More detailed information about what happened on Hrushevsky St will be posted separately.

Whether the blow inflicted on Ukraine’s fragile democracy last week proves fatal will depend on a number of factors, not all linked with the EuroMaidan mass demonstrations.  The blitzkrieg attack was so brazen both in method and ammunition used that all protest from the west seemed scarcely worth the effort. 

This, I believe, is not yet the case.  A president desperate to remain in power and his parliamentary titushki may do the opposition and civic activists a favour  – if some painful lessons can be learned.

Hollow applause

Ukraine remained in the world headlines for two weeks or so in November-December, first because of the vast pro-Europe demonstrations, then due to outrage over the violence against peaceful protesters, particularly on Nov 30.  The attention waned and concerns increased as it became evident that Viktor Yanukovych and his guard had no intention of doing more than making a few insincere noises.  The president’s “applause” for peaceful protesters came against a background of blanket bans on all protests in Kyiv and throughout the country.  The promises to find those guilty of excessive violence against protesters remained words as empty as the law passed on waiving criminal prosecutions against protesters.

Instead of the promised amnesty, repressive measures, similar to those so scandalously “adopted” by the ruling majority on Jan 16, began gaining pace.  The number of obvious attempts to provoke trouble from hired thugs or titushki increased, as did attacks on journalists and civic activists, most prominently the savage assault on investigative journalist and civic activist Tetyana Chornovol. 

Every new mass demonstration was greeted with triumph, as proof that the people had not been cowered.   Every new attack strengthened campaigns in the West for “sanctions”. 

And what? 

The Dec 15 mass demonstrations coincided with repeat parliamentary elections in the five “problem constituencies”.  Large numbers of observers, including foreign, registered multiple irregularities, including the ominous presence of “titushki” at many polling stations.  The main Ukrainian watchdogs OPORA and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] both criticised the mass use of vote-buying, administrative resource as well as the scandalous use of the courts to remove the likely winning candidate in one constituency.

And nothing. 

The demonstrations continued, as if in some parallel world.  There were no specific calls for sanctions over the elections.  Even if there had been, they would have remained words alone, especially given the fact that the main vote rigging had been organized before the observers took their places.  While large numbers of students, for example, stood on Maidan, others supplemented their student grant by selling their vote.

Yanukovych’s moves over the last two months are widely seen as being specifically aimed at “winning” the 2015 presidential elections. If those elections end like the last Belarusian farce, then sanctions will be imposed.  Sanctions did not oust Lukashenko in Belarus, and will change little in Ukraine.

Legislative blitzkrieg

There was nothing subtle about the blitzkrieg offensive last week.  Large numbers of activists had arrived at Maidan [Maidan Nezalezhnosti] on Jan 15, following rumours of a new attempt to disperse the protest and clear the city centre.  The attack came instead the next morning in the Verkhovna Rada and proved fiendishly successful.

10 bills, including one overtly aimed at neutralizing journalists and civic activists, were “adopted” by the two ruling parties – the Party of the Regions and the communists – with breathtaking disregard for parliamentary regulations and the Constitution.  The draft laws had only just been registered, they hadn’t passed through any of the required procedure for consideration and discussion, nor were they discussed on Jan 16.  Instead there was a “show of hands”, with the requisite number conveniently counted, although photographic evidence suggests that only half the MPs needed were actually present.

More details can be added although really only for the record. Why speaker Volodymyr Rybak felt the need to assert on the official parliamentary website that the voting had been in accordance with European standards is perhaps a question for psychologists. There was no pretence of adhering to the law, and the calls on the president to veto such demonstrably unconstitutional laws were also, unfortunately, largely pro forma. His signing of all the texts on Friday surprised nobody.

The laws are primitive with their targets being embarrassingly obvious. There are a number of amendments to legislation bringing in draconian fines, possible confiscation of vehicles, aimed specifically at crushing the AutoMaidan movement which has been organizing processions to the residences of the president and high-ranking officials.  Any more than five vehicles must now effectively have the permission of the traffic police which it will not get. This is in direct breach of Ukraine’s Constitution since Article 39 requires only that the authorities are informed, not that they give permission.

The law contains numerous amendments specifically designed at using others to put pressure on activists.  The law, for example, makes the person in whose name the car is registered liable regardless of the person’s actual involvement in the protests.

There are similarly repressive measures, including up to 15 days imprisonment for wearing helmets or a mask at a demonstration, for erecting tents which are a traditional part of peaceful protest in Ukraine, and others.  Criminal charges carrying up to 5 years imprisonment are proposed for seizing official buildings, and similar. 

A number of the punitive measures, including up to 15 days imprisonment, are to be imposed for organizing a peaceful protest which does not comply with “established procedure”.  There is no such established procedure which means that it is likely to refer to whatever document the local authorities decide should constitute such procedure, with one favourite being a decree from Soviet times (1988).   Once again, the penalties for such supposed infringements of Article 185-1 of the Code on Administrative Offences are extended in the second paragraph to business or organization leaders for supporting peaceful protests which somebody deems to not comply with this same “established procedure”.  The penalty here is up to 10 days imprisonment. 

Ominous role model

Some of the worst aspects of Law No. 3879 are taken straight from legislation controversially passed in Russia over the last years. Defamation has been re-criminalized in a clear attempt to silence critical journalists and activists.  Some of the sentences in this part of the law could almost have the names of specific journalists added.  The penalties for “libel” are especially draconian if the person has accused somebody of being behind a serious or particularly serious crime.  Chornovol and others have been open in accusing the president, the Interior Minister or Prosecutor General of being behind the attack on her.

All of the above becomes extremely serious given the total degradation of the judiciary over the last 4 years.  There is heavy pressure on judges to pass “the right sentences”, punitive measures against those who don’t and likely promotion or other benefits for those judges who demonstrate servility or who are in with the clan.  Rodion Kireyev who sentenced the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to 7 years was made deputy head judge of the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv shortly after gaining indefinite tenure. 

Judges, as well as law enforcement officials, have been particularly well looked after in the new law where something termed “interference in their activities” can carry a 2-year term of Imprisonment.  Interference in the work of the court has nothing to do with trying to pervert the course of justice.  The law says that this is circulating information about a judge which is of an “overtly offensive nature and demonstrates disrespect for the judge and justice system…“  Disrespect for a judge like Kireyev who sentences an opposition leader to 7 years on politically motivated charges can hardly be denied.  Expressing well-founded suspicions when the judge in whose court the president’s criminal record got “lost” is made head of the Constitutional Court or when this same judge Volodymyr Ovcharenko and others sport watches cost 30 thousand dollars is now likely to be deemed a criminally liable act.

The scope in the law is vast with “extremist activity” always there to fall back on if other charges prove problematical.  The charm here is in a definition of “extremism” which is so vague and far-reaching in its scope that it effectively covers any criticism of those in power.

The law is quite overtly aimed at intimidating and silencing civil society. In the most ominous aping of neighbouring Russia, NGOs “which fulfil the function of a foreign agent” are supposed to register themselves as such, submit quarterly reports and pay corporate tax.  NGOs are thus stigmatized with the population encouraged to see them as some kind of fifth element.   How successful this will be is debatable, in part because the government has long shirked its real responsibilities and a large range of social, medical and other activities would simply be inconceivable without foreign assistance. The real target are those NGOs engaging in “political activity” this being defined as activities “which are aimed at influencing decision making by state bodies, a change in the state policy which those bodies have defined, as well as forming public opinion for those purposes”.  In short anybody the authorities wish to nail, which can be said of most norms of this law. 

Other laws are also dangerous, with one making it possible to try a person in absentia regardless of the reasons for their absence, another extending the amnesty passed by a constitutional majority yet thus far not enforced to those Berkut riot officers guilty of savage attacks on peaceful protesters. 

An attempt to further divide and radicalize protest in Ukraine can be seen in Law №2179а which criminalizes the “denial or justification of the crimes of fascism”. A closer reading makes it clear that the bill will be applied against members of the VO Svoboda party and other Ukrainians who view Stepan Bandera and the Ukrainian Insurgence Army [UPA] in a positive light.

All of the laws are so sweeping that they could only ever be applied selectively.  This is a major advantage to the authorities who can respond to situations likely to discredit the protest, while ignoring many others.  Such tactics must still intimidate since there is no way of knowing who will be targeted. 

Where to?

As with previous repressive or violent measures, the laws did not stop tens of thousands from coming out into the centre of Kyiv on Sunday, Jan 19.   This time, rumours about likely provocation seem to have proven correct.  Most reports suggest that the trouble which erupted on Hrushevsky St. on Sunday evening was initiated by a group of Russian-speaking provocateurs wearing orange masks who attacked the interior ministry troops (conscript soldiers) cordoning off the government quarter. 

The police are already threatening prosecution and possible 15 year sentences, and there is no doubt that real laws this time have been broken. . 

There is bitter irony in the fact that provocation was made much easier by the number of people who demonstrated their resistance to pressure by donning masks.  While most of the anti-protest measures are undoubtedly repressive, the ban on masks and other means of remaining anonymous would protect real protesters.  They would hopefully also restrain hot-headed protesters who join in after trouble has started.

The brutal truth, however, is that ongoing street protest given a subservient police force and large numbers of titushki or thugs who are not brought in for their intellectual input cannot endlessly restrain outside provocateurs and its own activists eager for more action.  A similar provocation on Dec 1 outside the president’s administration on Bankova St resulted in the arrests and ongoing prosecutions of activists, journalists and protesters who almost certainly had nothing to do with the trouble.  The same scenario may well be repeated now. 

One major factor cannot be attributed to those in power, but is doubtless most welcome to them.  An appeal initiated by Ukrainian intellectuals and civic activists on Friday is calling on the opposition leaders to put aside personal ambitions and decide on one leader and presidential candidate now.  Similar calls were heard on Maidan during Sunday’s demonstration.  There is no sign that the opposition leaders intend to heed this call. When asked why not Arseny Yatsenyuk apparently bleated something about the Ukrainian people being the leader.  Not overly helpful when the Ukrainian people have just faced the gravest threat to their constitutional rights since independence. It remains unclear even whether the law passed by the ruling majority in November really can exclude Udar Party leader Vitaly Klitschko from the presidential race. 

Whether or not the disturbances on Hrushevsky St were initiated by specially commissioned provocateurs, after last week’s legislative coup, they were very widely predicted.  The results of continued failure to adequately prepare for the 2015 elections, including intelligent methods of ensuring informed choice; preventing concealment and manipulation of information, as well as resistance to vote-buying, are no less foreseeable. 

Interethnic relations

Anti-Semitism on EuroMaidan: Not seen, just heard about

Careful!  Dirty tricks (lit: provocation)

Overt attempts to use anti-Semitism as a propaganda weapon against the EuroMaidan movement have run up against two major hurdles: the facts and a large number of authoritative analysts, historians and human rights activists determined to prevent Ukrainians and the international community from being misled.  Given a chilling warning from the most authoritative researcher on anti-Semitism in Ukraine, Viacheslav Likhachev that purported anti-Semitism could be used to silence outrage if force is used against the EuroMaidan movement, the need to set the record straight cannot be overstated. 

Attempts to present all opposition to the ruling regime as “nationalist” and all nationalists as “fascists” date back to Soviet times, but they have been used since both by the Kremlin and, increasingly, by the current regime in Ukraine.  The electoral gains of the rightwing VO Svoboda party in the 2012 parliamentary elections spurred the pro-presidential Party of the Regions to try to present Viktor Yanukovych and themselves as the last bastion against far-right hordes seeking control in Ukraine. 

Their first attempt, back in May 2013, to counter the Rise Ukraine! opposition rallies with the Regions Party very own “antifascist” demonstration was, admittedly, a public opinion fiasco. One of the thugs hired “to guard the antifascist demonstration”, Vadym Titushko gained notoriety and added the generic term “titushki” to a whole range of European languages, after he beat up a woman journalist and her photographer husband. 

Over recent weeks two unsolved attacks – on Jan 11 and 17 - on a Yeshiva teacher and student have been used to both shout about mounting anti-Semitism in Ukraine, and to blame rightwing radicals on Maidan. 

Likachev stresses that he is a researcher and not accustomed to hurling accusations.  He points out however that the two attacks coincided with both the adoption of draconian anti-protest laws on Jan 16 and a concurrent propaganda campaign aimed at associating the EuroMaidan protests with far-right and xenophobic radical organizations.  Given all of this, and considerable evidence that the authorities have recruited neo-Nazi activists from the Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts to carry out attacks on EuroMaidan activists, he is inclined to believe that the Jan 11 and 17 attacks were deliberate provocation organized by the authorities.

Missing “rampant anti-Semitism”

It is always disturbingly easy to report “surges in anti-Semitism” with the media and public in general far more inclined to believe hype than read the careful comparative analyses carried out over the last 10 years which indicate nothing of the sort.  In a recent interview, the head of Vaad Ukraine (the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities), Josef Zisels points out that in 2013 there were the same number of anti-Semitic incidents in Ukraine (27) as in 2012.  This is against 50 in Russia where an increase can be detected against the previous year. “We don’t see any dramatic increase, in fact, we don’t see an increase in anti-Semitism in Ukraine at all.”  Zisels has been involved in such research for 25 years.  He says it shows that “Eastern Europe in general, as opposed to Western, presents a fairly low number of anti-Semitic incidents.”

Maidan: “We don’t see what we keep hearing about”

Zisels goes on to say that he has spoken twice on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square] and has watched events there very closely.  Both he and Likhachev say that, aside from one anti-Semitic poem read out by Diana Kamlyuk (which prompted angry objections from the audience), and one other occasion where the anti-Semitic component is in any case disputable, they have not seen any grounds for concern.  Quite the contrary, in fact, and they cite any number of addresses, combined religious services, seminars and musical events which demonstrate that Jewish groups and individuals are actively involved in EuroMaidan. 

Vaad Ukraine has condemned attempts to use anti-Semitism for political gain. The same message is heard in a statement just issued by human rights organizations. 

Likhachev writes that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians came out in protest throughout the country, with radical nationalist groups compromising less than 1% of the total.  Those joining the protests have come from all groups in society, and attempts to present them as some kind of extremist element have no justification. 

Zisels, Likhachev and other researchers on anti-Semitism, far-right radical organizations and radical groups in Ukraine, together with the prominent historians Timothy Snyder, Yaroslav Hrytsak , Andriy Portnov, and others, have called on journalists, commentators and analysts writing about EuroMaidan to beware of misrepresenting the role of the far right in the protest movement  Snyder has separately warned of the likely uses which Russia could make of propaganda aimed at presenting EuroMaidan as Nazi supporters. There is already plenty of evidence of such efforts,

Those who fabricate a purported surge in anti-Semitic attacks and present a movement of Ukrainians from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds as some kind of extremist mob have their own very dangerous motives.  The facts are against them, and need to be heard.  The above-mentioned appeal can be read and endorsed here



Law enforcement agencies

New Order on Berkut riot police powers comes into force

An Interior Ministry order № 1011 on the uses of the special force Berkut unit from Oct 24 2013, but registered in the Justice Ministry on Jan 11, 2014, has now been signed by the minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko.

According to the new order, Berkut officers may, in carrying out the tasks set them, use physical force, including hand-to-hand fighting; special means and firearms in accordance with Article 12-15.1 of the Police Act.  This formally entitles the police to use teargas; water cannons (used over recent weeks in sub-zero temperatures), armed cars and others.  

Berkut’s tasks, according to the order are “to ensure public order on buildings and territories of particular national economic significance; to ensure citizens’ personal safety, protection and their rights, freedoms and legitimate interests; prevent or stop offences; take part in measures aimed at looking for and detaining people suspected of committing crimes; armed and other criminals who pose a danger to the public; freeing hostages; stopping terrorist acts”.

Berkut, within the framework of its competence, may temporarily restrict or ban access to specific areas or buildings in order to ensure public order, public safety; protect people’s life and health.

The order also states that the minister of the interior or his deputies may temporarily deploy Berkut units in other administrative-territorial unit to take part in the above-mentioned measures, stop infringements of public order and mass disturbances etc. points out that lawyers have previously said that Berkut is functioning illegally since it is a militarized formation without proper registration of the legal bases for its existence.  

In its Analysis of Berkut treatment of peaceful protesters on Nov 30 and Dec 1, the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement [UMDPL] pointed out that Berkut is a high-mobility unit with around 3, 700 officers functioning on the basis not of a law, but of an internal Interior Ministry order which is not even registered with the Justice Ministry, making it effectively governed by the wishes of one official – the Interior Minister. 

The document has now been registered however the UMDPL comments remain relevant.  The analysts consider that there were no legal grounds for deploying Berkut officers to protect public order during the peaceful protest on Nov 30.  The people on Maidan Nezalezhnosti were of different ages and level of physical fitness and were behaving peacefully, talking together or sleeping. Nobody was committing any offence meaning that the circumstances cannot be seen to have warranted the use of force. The group of people could not be called organized and accustomed to showing resistance through force or attack.

On Dec 1 outside the president’s administration there were grounds for deploying Berkut, however the officers should have stabilized the situation. This could have been achieved by isolating only those people who were breaking the law and, in accordance with the Police Act, ensuring the safety of participants of a peaceful gathering. This was not, however, what took place.

UMDPL slammed the cynical, brutal and totally indiscriminate use of violence.

Worth noting that during the special session of parliament on Jan 28, two laws “adopted” on Jan 16 were not touched.  These include amendments to the amnesty law effectively releasing Berkut of any liability for the gross violations on Nov 30. 

As reported, here, the newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya says that it has been informed of government plans to increase the number of Berkut and Grifon officers by six times.  The methods used by Berkut officers, and the frequency with which they have been deployed over the last two months, make any moves aimed at legitimizing a unit which has so compromised itself questionable.  If the reports that the numbers are set to rise dramatically prove true, this will only fuel concerns.


Halya Coynash

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #01