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

Panic in Ukraine the work of provocateurs

VAAD Ukraine [The Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations of Ukraine] and the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine are calling on political forces in Ukraine and beyond to refrain from making statements which undermine inter-ethnic harmony in Ukraine.

They stress that throughout the EuroMaidan protests, even during the worst confrontations, Ukrainian citizens were united regardless of their ethnic origin or faith.

Now that the armed conflict is over and the country is returning to peacetime, it is vital to maintain this unity.  Only thus will Ukraine be able to swiftly and effectively overcome the problems which accumulated over decades and which were particularly exacerbated in the last few years.

In these circumstances, any circulation of rumours about inter-ethnic conflict and “predictions” of pogroms and ethnic cleansing should be seen as deliberate provocation aimed at destroying Ukraine as a sovereign, united, and democratic state.

They firmly oppose such action and stress that in Ukraine at present there is no real threat to ethnic or religious minorities.

They warn organizations and their leaders artificially maintaining a high level of fear and anxiety in Ukrainian society, first and foremost in the Jewish community, in order to raise money for ensuring safety that they bear responsibility for the consequences of their action. Unity is vital in countering the forces of reaction and neo-imperialist aggression.  It is only together that we can be victorious.

The statement is signed by Josef Zisels, head of VAAD Ukraine and Executive Vice-President of the Congress of National Minorities.

Since Viktor Yanukovych and others disappeared and a new government was formed, Russia has been waging a major propaganda campaign, suggesting that ethnic Russians and Russian speakers are under threat in Ukraine.

The “anti-Semitism” card was particularly prominent over the three months of the EuroMaidan protests. While the Maidan protesters brought together ethnic Ukrainians, Jewish people, Crimean Tatars, ethnic Russians, and others, there were constant claims of rising anti-Semitism, with many coming from people in or close to the pro-government Party of the Regions. 

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

Come to your senses!

I am calling on MPs from the opposition factions to stop!  Stop making a parody of the law!  Do not spoil our joint victory! The old dragon has been defeated, yet you have already generated a new young dragon.

I understand the need for swift action aimed at making the state governable. And this couldn’t be done without breaching the Constitution. According to the latter in the absence of the president, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada carrying out his duties cannot appoint ministers of defence, foreign affairs; the head of the SBU [security service]; dismiss and appoint heads of regional state administrations; put forward candidates for Prime Minister; etc.  You cannot, however, leave the country without bodies of power, and they have to act in this way.

That can be justified: revolution breaks down the old legal system and creates a new one. But you can’t continue to breach the Constitution and laws for the sake of imagined political expediency!

How can you dismiss judges of the Constitutional Court who voted for the return of the 1996 Constitution for breach of oath?  And in addition to instruct the Prosecutor General’s Office to initiate criminal proceedings over the issuing of what 307 MPs consider an unlawful anti-constitutional judgement! In appropriating the powers of the High Council of Justice [HCJ], parliament acted unlawfully. How are you better than the old dragon with its Party of the Regions who subordinated to themselves the HCJ and dismissed inconvenient judges for infringement of their oath?  They at least had some kind of consideration procedure!

A little over a year ago, in a similar situation, the European Court of Human Rights passed a severe judgement against Ukraine over the application from Oleksandr Volkov, former Supreme Court judge and head of the Council of Judges. One can confidently predict that in a future case brought by a judge of the Constitutional Court against Ukraine, the latter will again face fiasco. Do not shame yourself and the country and suppress your desire for revenge.  Cancel this unlawful decision!

At present so-called lustration of judges is beginning with this run not even by the HCJ, but by the parliamentary committee on the justice system. That is again lawlessness! Parliament cannot act as a court. After this execution, you can forget about judges’ independence. Lustration is indeed necessary, however it needs to be carried out in accordance with a carefully prepared law in order to not repeat the serious lustration mistakes made in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Similarly parliament cannot release political prisoners. Such decisions can only be passed by a court, having examined the relevant cases. I can myself write a list of cases of political prisoners who urgently need to be released, as well as cases where there are good grounds for questioning the legality of the sentences: the case of the sacristans in Zaporizhya [the Zaporizhya Church bomb case]; the life sentences imposed on Volodymyr Panasenko; Oleksandr Rafalsky; Maksym Orlov; Merab Suslov and others. Parliament should return all the powers of the Supreme Court which it had until 2010 and ensure a mechanism for review of such cases according to exceptional proceedings, for example, on the application of the Human Rights Ombudsperson. There can of course be exceptions, for example, the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, however the rule should be that there is a court examination of the case.

In my opinion the main task now is to establish order in the country. The euphoria and hype presently seen are only generating panic and scaring off Maidan’s possible supporters in the East and South. The demands from people with weapons to carry out only their orders; the checking of documents from all units; the setting alight of buildings; mob law; pillars of shame and harassment of families must all be stopped.

We need to also stop the constant chanting of the slogan “Ukraine above all”!  Why not use the slogan “Human rights above all” or “Freedom above all”?  Do those hysterically chanting “Ukraine above all”! not know that this is an exact translation of the first line of the anthem of Nazi Germany “Deutschland, Deutschland ūber alles”? 

Painstaking work needs to be carried out to explain that if we don’t continue according to legally established procedure, lawlessness and arbitrary rule will prevail.

And lastly: if the victors continue to so violate the Constitution, laws and principles of law, then European institutions could refuse to provide Ukraine with financial support.

Yevhen Zakharov, Head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group

What can Ukraine expect from the West now?

I write to you as a former prisoner of conscience of the Brezhnev era. All other titles are rapidly losing sense in the light of the bleeding Ukrainian Maidan.

All my life I admired Western civilization as the realm of values. Now I am close to rephrasing Byron’s words: “Frailty, thy name is Europe!” The strength of bitterness here is matched by the strength of our love for Europe.

If it still concerns anybody in decision-making circles, I may answer the question in the title.

First and foremost, stop “expressing deep concern”. All protestors on the Maidan have an allergy to this by now in these circumstances senseless phrase, while all gangsters in the Ukrainian governmental gang enjoy mocking the helplessness of the EU.

Take sanctions. Don’t waste time in searching for their Achilles’ heel: it is the money deposited in your banks. Execute your own laws and stop money laundering. The Europe we want to be part of can never degrade the absolute value of human lives in favor of an absolute importance of money.

Also cancel Western visas for all governmental gangsters and their families. It is a scandal that ordinary Ukrainians living their simple lives have to provide their ancestors’ family trees to obtain a visa while ruling criminals guilty of murder, “disappearances”, and fraud in the eyes of the whole world enjoy virtually free-entry status in Europe. 

Do not listen to Yanukovych’s and Putin’s propagandistic sirens. Just put cotton in your ears. Be able to decode their lie; otherwise they will decode your ability to defend yourself.

Instead, listen to Ukrainian media sacrificing their journalists’ lives to get truthful information. Do not rely so much upon the information provided by your special correspondents in other countries who come to Ukraine for a day or two. Hire Ukrainians who live in this country to translate the Ukrainian cry of pain. Secure money for that right now instead of waiting for funds from next year’s budget.

Come to Ukrainian hospitals and talk to so-called “extremists” who want to “subvert the legitimately elected government, ” those who have “cruelly beaten” policemen and “deliberately” blasted explosives to wound themselves.  Yes, the face of war is cruel. But, arriving at the Maidan, these people repeated almost literally what King George VI said to his people on the 3 September 1939: “We have been forced into a conflict, for we are called… to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world.”

Go out of your zone of comfort!  Just recall the coddled ancient Romans who refused to do that in time. Cajoling Putin won’t bring you security. Letting him take control over Ukraine could make the world peace even more vulnerable. A Ukraine divided by force won’t bring the world peace, just as a Poland and Germany divided by force didn’t bring peace to the world.

 Let us conclude in solidarity with the King and the Ukrainian people: “The task will be hard.  There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God.  If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God's help, we shall prevail.”

Blood and Berkut Sniper Bullets on the President’s Hands

Two of those whom the authorities call "extremists" 

The first reports that Berkut riot police were positioned on roofs and aiming rubber bullets and grenades at protesters came early on Tuesday.  They almost certainly preceded the later disturbances and the two women who received wounds were very clearly peaceful protesters. 

This soon changed, and the conflict became ugly.  As of 1 a.m. on Wednesday, at least 20 people are reported dead, and the centre of Kyiv is burning. 

It is those later images that have been published in the world media and that have prompted European and North Atlantic countries to issue statements condemning the violence and calling for “both sides” to renounce force and sit down at the negotiating table.  Ukrainian oligarchs have also grabbed the opportunity and called for “an end to violence”. 

Some western commentators are refreshingly blunt.  David Kramer from Freedom House has stated that “legitimate democratic leaders do not order riot police to attack protesters asking for a more open government, Yanukovych has forfeited his legitimacy and needs to step down”. 

The following are just a few of the day’s events that strip any regime of its legitimacy.  More will become clearer over the coming days.  Time however is not on Ukrainians’ side now that the president, Viktor Yanukovych, doubtless buoyed – or bound – by Monday’s 2 billion loan from Russia has chosen bloodshed.

The reports from Tuesday morning showed ordinary protesters preparing for a march on parliament.  The pro-presidential Party of the Regions was blocking attempts to even table a draft law proposing changes to the Constitution.  Berkut riot police blocked the streets to prevent the protesters even approaching parliament.  Judging by those early reports, and confirmed by photos, Berkut snipers began shooting (then only rubber bullets) and hurling grenades very early on. It is almost certain that later in the day they used live ammunition.

This is categorically not the behaviour of a legitimate democratic government, but there is more. There have been reports from morning of large number of titushki or hired thugs in the centre.  They were seen provoking conflict, looting and some reports suggest that they may have shot at Berkut officers.  There is also a video clip which appears to show a protester injured, perhaps killed, by fire from titushki. 

Can such reports be treated as standard attempts to blame the other side for any escalation?   There is ample evidence of such use of titushki over recent months, as was noted by the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner during his visit to Ukraine.  The assertion by the police that 7 officers have been shot and killed seems at least strange since none of the western or Ukrainian media reports speak of protesters using firearms.

The government has tried to present the protesters as “extremists”, and has called the use of force to clear the EuroMaidan demonstrators on Maidan Nezalezhnosti “an anti-terrorist” action.   Despite the violence and the number of deaths, the numbers on Maidan have not abated.  Some thirty thousand people simply by virtue of their numbers can hardly be called “terrorists”.  They do not fit the description in any other way either.  Through the evening, they have been singing the Ukrainian national anthem, taking part in public prayer and listening to addresses, including one from Mustafa Jemilev, veteran defender of the rights of the Crimean Tatars and Soviet political prisoner, who expressed pride in his fellow Ukrainians.

These “terrorists” are being treated, when injured, by a medical service made up solely of volunteers, some of whom have themselves come under attack.  The EuroMaidan Civic Sector reports that with Berkut setting protesters’ tents and some buildings on fire, the medical unit has been forced to move to the Myhailivsky [St Michael’s] Cathedral.   A large number of people have been detained, with lawyers not allowed to see those held at 5 police stations

During meetings with EU and Council of Europe representatives at the end of January, EuroMaidan and human rights activists spoke of credible rumours that a crackdown would be attempted after the middle of February.  The timing was linked with the fact that the Sochi Olympics would then be drawing to an end, and Russia would not need to fear any boycott of its games.   Over the weekend that danger seemed to have abated with Maidan and opposition negotiators showing readiness to comply with the notorious “hostage law” by vacating government buildings, clearing part of the road, etc, in order to get the charges against a huge number of protesters waived. 

The announcement on Monday that Yanukovych had agreed another loan of 2 billion from Russia led to considerable speculation as to what the agreement had entailed. 

Tuesday began with Ukrainians of different ages, professions, ethnic origin and faiths endeavouring to present demands which are legitimate in any democratic country. The descent into violence and bloodshed is indeed a cause of deep concern.  When the president and those under his control use Berkut sniper bullets, paid thugs and excessive violence against their own people, instead of allowing them to protest and demand changes in legitimate manner, it is time for that concern to be translated into action..

Can a government systematically violating basic constitutional values with impunity be considered legitimate?

In any contemporary democratic country the Constitution is considered an act of the people’s constituent power which through its adoption primarily enshrines: a) unconditional social and legal values which are recognized and shared by the overwhelming majority of the country’s citizens and form a consolidating basis for its people; b) human rights and fundamental freedoms, the exercising of which should ensure decent conditions for life in society and the state; c) clear legal frameworks which the state, its bodies and officials cannot overstep under any circumstances.

A systematic analysis of Article 5 of Ukraine’s Constitution which states that “the people are the bearers of sovereignty and the only source of power in Ukraine” makes it possible to conclude unequivocally that Ukraine’s Constitution is undoubtedly also the act by which the Ukrainian people exert their constituent power. This conclusion is confirmed by the legal position of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court (the only body with the power to officially interpret Ukraine’s Constitution and laws) set out in its Judgement of 3 October 1997 (on the coming into force of Ukraine’s Constitution). The Constitutional Court notes that “the Constitution of Ukraine as the main law of the country by its legal nature is an act of constituent power belonging to the people.  The constituent power of the people in relation to the so-called established branches of power (legislative, executive and judicial – FV) is primary (paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Item 2 of the motivational part).

The Main Law of Ukraine, as an act of constituent power of the Ukrainian people has thus enshrined unconditional social and legal values which are generally binding both for each person, for society and for the state and its bodies, and has at the same time defined their hierarchical relations. Moreover, by its political-legal nature and main purpose in the state organized society, the Constitution is considered an act designed to restrict the state’s arbitrary interference in the sphere of individual freedom and in the free functioning of institutes of civil society. Unlike the individual for whom any behaviour not directly prohibited by law is permitted, state bodies, bodies of local self-government   and their officials are obliged to act only on the basis and within the framework of their powers and in the matter envisaged by the Constitution and laws which, in fact, is enshrined in Articles 6 § 2 and 19 of Ukraine’s Constitution – the norms which also relate to the system of basic constitutional values.

Without aspiring to a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the observance of all basic values enshrined in Ukraine’s Main Law, we will focus only on the most important of these since it is specifically the overt and systemic violation of these which is painful for each and all of us, and at the same time the most dangerous for the democratic law-based state which the people have declared Ukraine to be.

We must first note that the principles of the hierarchy of all social values are set up in Article 3 of the Constitution which declares that the human being, his or her life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security are recognised in Ukraine as the highest social value and to affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms is the main duty of the State.  This article establishes that the state is answerable to the individual for its activities.  That is, among all constitutional values the priority is given specifically to the idea of the highest social value of the individual. It is by no means coincidental that Section II of the Constitution: “Human and Civil Rights, Liberties and Duties” is the largest in terms of content.  Nor that Article 22 of Ukraine’s Main Law has declared that “Constitutional rights and freedoms are guaranteed and shall not be abolished.” And directly prohibits the diminishing of the content and scope of existing rights and freedoms in the adoption of new laws or in the amendment of laws that are in force.

What is meant by “the diminishing of the content and scope of existing rights and freedoms” was interpreted by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court in its Judgement from 22 September 2005 (on the permanent use of land plots). “Abolition of constitutional rights and freedoms – this is their official (juridical or actual) liquidation. The diminishing of the content and scope of existing rights and freedoms is their limitation. In the traditional understanding of activities, the defining concepts of the content of human rights are the conditions and means which constitute the individual’s ability to satisfy his or her requirements for existence and development.  The scope of human rights – this is their essential quality, expressed by quantitative indicators of the individual’s possibilities reflected by the relevant rights which are not homogenous and general.  What is generally recognized is the rule by which the essence of the content of basic law can in no way be violated.” (fourth paragraph of Item 5.2 of the motivational part).

On the basis of such fundamental ideas, we will try to make an impartial constitutional-legal analysis of the political situation in Ukraine in chronological order over the last two months.

As we know, the first mass protests in Ukraine were caused by the radical change in the direction of Ukraine’s foreign policy taken by the President and Cabinet of Ministers at the end of November 2013, seen in the refusal by the head of state to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. As the legal experts well-known both in Ukraine and abroad Volodymyr Butkevych and Vsevolod Rechytsky quite correctly noted with regard to these events in their commentary, the Cabinet of Ministers by adopting on 21 November 2013 Instruction No. 905 “On the suspension of the preparation for signing the Agreement on Association between Ukraine on the one hand, and the European Union, the European Community on Nuclear Energy and their member states, on the other” overtly infringed Article 85 § 1 of Ukraine’s Constitution, according to which “determining the basic principles of domestic and foreign policy” are among the powers of the Verkhovna Rada, and article 11 of the Law on the Basic Principles of Domestic and Foreign Policy from 1 July 2010.  According to the latter, “Ensuring Ukraine’s integration into the European political, economic and legal realm with the aim of receiving membership of the European Union is among the basic principles of Ukraine’s foreign policy.”  Thus the government demonstratively exceeded its constitutional powers and flagrantly violated one of the fundamental constitutional requirements – the functioning of state bodies within the legal frameworks established by Ukraine’s Constitution. Ukraine’s President also, by refusing on 28-29 November to sign this agreement, infringed his oath the text of which is fixed by Article 104 of the Constitution. According to this oath he also commits himself to observe Ukraine’s Constitution and laws (including the Law on the Basic Principles of Domestic and Foreign Policy – FV).

The second crucial event with respect to our analysis was the demonstratively brutal and absolutely unwarranted dispersing on the night from 29 to 30 November 2013 of the then peaceful protest on Independence Square in Kyiv. Officers from the special police units of public security “Berkut” tried to vacate Independence Square, demonstrated cynical disregard for the individual, his honour and dignity, inviolability and security (as the highest social value in Ukraine) and at the same time a flagrant and public violation of a whole range of articles of the Police Act and the Decree of the Cabinet of Ministers from 27 February 1991 No. 49 which adopted Rules for the Application of Special Means in Protecting Public Order (which, for example, prohibits inflicting blows with rubber and plastic truncheons around the head, neck, stomach and genitals). Such actions thus show overt contempt and cynical violation by police officers of no less than two fundamental constitutional values: treatment of the individual as the highest social value and significant exceeding by a state body (the police) of their legally established powers. Furthermore, such actions undoubtedly contain elements of a whole range of crimes set out in Ukraine’s Criminal Code.

What is no less indicative is the lack of effectively any response to the above-mentioned overt violations of the law by police officers from the Minister of the Interior. In accordance with Article 7 of the Police Act he is in charge of all Ukraine’s police force, and according to Item 11.5 of the Provisions on the Interior Ministry of Ukraine, passed by presidential decree on 6 April 2011, organizes and monitors implementation of the Constitution and laws of Ukraine; the acts and instructions of the President; the acts of the Cabinet of Ministers in Interior Ministry bodies. There was also effectively no response from Ukraine’s President as the guarantor of the observance of human and civil rights and liberties. After all, the President, according to Item 10 of Article 106 of the Constitution has the constitutional right to take unilateral decisions to terminate the powers both of the entire government, and of individual ministers. This means that the lack of any reaction by him to the actions of police officers, and consequently of the inaction of the Interior Minister can be viewed on the one hand as tacit approval of flagrant violation of fundamental constitutional values, and on the other – as a direct infringement of the oath in which, for example, he committed himself to “uphold the rights and liberties of citizens”.

The third significant event was the adoption by the Verkhovna Rada on 16 January 2014, though flagrant violations of the procedure established by the Law on the Regulations of the Verkhovna Rada, of a number of laws aimed at: a) overt restriction, diminishing of the content and scope of current constitutional human rights and liberties (the right to peaceful mass gatherings; freedom of movement; freedom of speech; freedom of assembly; freedom of association and so forth); b) increasing liability for procedure in organizing and holding mass events – despite the fact that there is effectively no legislative regulation for this procedure in Ukraine at all since in all 23 years of independence a law on freedom of peaceful assembly has still not been passed; c) significant extension of the powers of the authorities, giving them the right to restrict human rights without a court ruling (for example, enabling the National Commission on Communications and Automation of Information to restrict access of subscribers to the Internet). Despite the flagrant violation of procedure in adopting these laws and the overtly unconstitutional nature of many of their provisions, the President signed them and had them officially published, consciously sharing with the parliamentary majority political liability for their adoption, and therefore yet again demonstrating overt contempt for basic constitutional values.

The fourth significant event which most clearly demonstrates the contempt of the authorities for constitutional values is the escalation in mass protests and their turning into open violent confrontation. The use of force is unacceptable, whether by protesters, or police officers.  It is necessary nonetheless to focus attention on the activities of the latter as representatives of the authorities who are obliged to act within clearly established legal frameworks, even carrying out measures to protect and reinstate public order in extraordinary conditions as the events taking place in Ukraine are without any doubt. However as practice shows it was specifically the actions of the law enforcement bodies which yet again demonstrated total contempt for the individual, his life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security as the highest social value, the total and arrogant exceeding by the authorities of their powers and the lack of any adequate reaction to these actions from the Interior Minister, the bodies whose duties include supervision over the actions of the police and from Ukraine’s President. 

The authorities have acknowledged the death of no less than four protesters. Television broadcasts are full of documented reports about the deliberate and mass inflicting by police officers of grave bodily injuries to protesters (for example, , the loss by many of them of sight in one eye); about overt and demonstratively public humiliation of people, and torture (stripping a person naked in temperatures of minus 15, and police officers watching this silently, and in so doing, approving them); about the deliberate obstruction of journalists carrying out their work (during the protests in Ukraine more journalists have been injured than in some countries where there is military action); about the deliberate attacks on doctors and the destruction of medical care points. As experts on international law have justifiably pointed out, such cases do not only demonstrate that the police have totally overstepped their authorities, but also the violation of virtually all rules for waging war as established by international conventions. And once against the conclusion is clear: the lack of any attempts whatsoever to bring Berkut officers to answer demonstrates tacit (or not tacit?) approval of these actions by the authorities. And as any legal expert knows from their student days, impunity generates a situation where all is allowed.

The fifth important event was the adoption by the Cabinet of Ministers on 22 January 2014 of Resolution No. 12 which adopts Procedure for Taking Additional Measures to Protect Citizens’ Safety. Through this resolution, the government has given the Interior Ministry bodies, via their head, the right to temporarily restrict transport on streets, roads, buildings (territories) and temporarily restrict citizens’ access to particular areas and buildings.

This resolution is yet another sign that the Cabinet of Ministers is demonstratively exceeding its constitutional powers since in accordance with Article 92 Item 1 of the Constitution, human rights and civil liberties, and the main duties of citizens are defined solely by Ukraine’s laws. In connection with this we should point out the power of the President, set out in Article 106 Item 16 of the Constitution, namely the right to revoke acts of the Cabinet of Ministers.  However as practice has shown, in this case also the head of state has not in any way reacted to the overtly unconstitutional resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers.

And finally, the sixth significant elections which has accompanied the political events in our country: hundreds of court rulings throughout Ukraine on such preventive measures as remand in custody against participants in the mass protests, and not one fact not only where the court has taken such a measures in respect to at least one police officer, but even where the prosecutor or other law enforcement bodies have applied to the courts for such a measure to be imposed. Comment is superfluous.

Perhaps less significant, given the above facts, but no less indicative from the point of view of observance of basic constitutional values are the following which are taking place on a wide scale in the country: a) the organization by the authorities in various cities of rallies “in support of the President” (which the heads of the local authorities openly announce on television) since the very fact of mass measures at the initiative of the authorities is a nonsense in any democratic state, and discredits the very idea of peaceful gatherings; b) the openly contemptuous, denigrating statements made by one of the regional state administrations addressed at virtually half of the Ukrainian nation which have not received any reaction from the President (who has the constitutional right to himself dismiss the head of any state administration); c) engagement by the authorities to participation in pro-regime mass events of so-called titushki (effectively hired thugs prepared to do any dirty jobs for money), armed with batons, sticks, firework explosions and other “convenient” means which can be used to endanger the life or damage people’s health with the tacit approval, more often the avert support for such actions by law enforcement officers (who, staring into a television cameral cynically tell all of Ukraine that these are the same peaceful participants in mass events as all the others (albeit with batons); d) the virtually total lack of unlawful actions by participants in mass protests both towards Ukrainian citizens not taking an active part in them, and towards their property (even in the epicentre of the violent confrontation, not to mention in other places, there are no cases where shops, offices of private homes have been destroyed, and is usually the case in many countries where there are similar mass protests). 

Furthermore, as numerous reports in the media demonstrate, the participants in protests have organized themselves into units in order specifically to prevent similar unlawful actions of those titushki whom many believe have received among others this task by those commissioning them. Once again commentary is superfluous.

In general, all of the above in our view convincingly indicates that the authorities, with the active participant, or the tacit consent of whom such systematic and mass, overtly demonstrative and absolutely unpunished violation of basic constitutional values have become possible, have lost legitimacy both in the eyes and the feelings of the overwhelming majority of the people, as the bearer of the sovereignty and the single source of power in the state. And the only constitutional way of re-establishing the legitimacy of the authorities in any democratic law-based state has always been and remains early elections.

In our view, at present this is virtually the only balanced decision capable both of reducing tension in society and averting further casualties, and averting the potential threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

PS All representatives of the law enforcement bodies should already bear Article 60 of Ukraine’s Constitution in mind: “No one is obliged to execute rulings or orders that are manifestly criminal. For the issuance or execution of a manifestly criminal ruling or order, legal liability arises.

Fedir Venyslavsky, PhD in Law, is a constitutional law specialist from Kharkiv


Anti-Semitism as a Weapon of Political Technology

Careful - dirty tricks (lit: provocation)

The Ukrainian political confrontation caused by the refusal of the government to take steps towards integration with the EU, and then the unprecedentedly cruel dissolution of peaceful protests, has reached its peak in January. At least five participants of the protests have been killed, hundreds, if not thousands of demonstrators have been wounded by the police and hooligans, while dozens of policemen have also been injured. The fact that there are among the protesters radical nationalists inclined towards violence, and that the authorities hire armed thugs to attach demonstrators – which has been proven numerous times and is no secret in Ukraine – creates the impression on the external observer of an uncontrolled, bloody chaos. Making any sense of the situation, separating rumours from facts and political technology fakes from reliable information is extremely difficult. Even more so, since the propaganda campaign accompanying the street confrontations has seen the use of the entire range of the political technology arsenal, including the most dirty tricks. A common currency in the confrontation has been the ‘Jewish Question’.

It should be noted that the authorities have on several occasions used the topic of anti-Semitism to discredit the opposition. The topic is convenient for several reasons. First, from time to time the opposition has in fact given quite real reasons for accusations of politically incorrect statements. Over the four years of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency, practically the entire political spectrum has united against his regime, including the nationalist radicals. The experience of the parliamentary elections of 2012 taught the opposition that internal contradiction and lack of unity are bigger obstacles on the road to victory than falsification and bribing of voters on the part of the authorities. But the authorities have also drawn conclusions: if they carefully discredit the weak link in the opposition coalition, then they can either provoke the separation of moderate forces from radical ones, and as a result split their enemies, or, if the opposition continues to carefully keep up the appearance that all is well, then use anti-Semitism to discredit the opposition as a whole. Although accusations of anti-Semitism are not considerable obstacles in the way of winning electoral sympathies in Ukraine, the West approaches the topic with great sensitivity. Influenced by a Soviet conspiratorial mentality, many of the authorities’ strategists are entirely convinced that the protests are funded by the West, and see it as their task to break this support. For this reason, such propagandist campaigns are aimed partly, if not entirely, at external observers.

Having understood the trap perfectly, even the most radical oppositionists, even those who are, by all appearances, genuine anti-Semites, like some leading figures in the Svoboda Party, have deliberately avoided any controversial statements. However, the cynicism of the political technologists is great enough, and the stakes high enough, for the authorities to initiate incidents that the state’s loyal media can link to the opposition. One previous, similar campaign included the distributing of provocative anti-Semitic leaflets supposedly from Svoboda (but to which, of course, that party had no connection), personal threats against Jewish political and social activists, and the appearance at opposition rallies of paid sportsmen/thugs (in Ukrainian political jargon known as ‘titushky’, in reference to the name of the first such mercenary whom it was possible to unmask) wearing t-shirts with the slogan ‘Beat the Yids! Svoboda’, and so on. I was afraid that the affair would extend to attacks on synagogues or even physical violence against Jews, carried out supposedly in the name of the opposition – but thankfully it didn’t, for a number of reasons; the aim of this spring campaign was to provoke condemnation of anti-Semitism in Ukraine from the international community (which, unfortunately, was achieved through the efforts of professional, paid lobbyists who are prepared to gather signatures among parliamentarians for any cause).

The constant use of unjustified and extreme violence against peaceful protesters has led to the mobilization of of those most able to physically resist – nationalist radical groups that are even more decisive and committed than the parliamentary Svoboda Party, which has deliberately tried to avoid escalation of the conflicts. However, the protesters, unsurprisingly, have not demonstrated any anti-Semitism – the Jewish question has not interested them in the slightest (manifestations of anti-Semitism from the other side, among the members of Berkut or forces supporting the authorities, have been no less, and possibly more than among protesters). Among the tens of thousands of speeches made on the Euromaidan ‘yids’ were mentions in a negative context only once, at an ‘open mic’ event during the performance of an amateur poet, Diana Kamliuk. One could also mention the carnivalesque character played by the Svoboda MP and well-known cultural activists Bohdan Beniuk in the specific context of the Christmas ‘vertep’, or nativity play on the stage of the Maidan, during which the folk image gained a new incarnation: the ‘Jew’, who in the end appears as a positive figure, joins the nation in resistance against the tyranny of Herod. The speeches of the leader of the Jewish community, Josif Zissels, rabbi Hillel Cohen, the group Pushkinband, which plays songs in Yiddish, were met universally with the genuine support of tens of thousands of demonstrators.
However, as we have seen previously, if the opposition gives no real reasons for accusations of anti-Semitism, they can be initiated. In comparison with the spring situation, the level of tension in society has grown hugely, and leaflets will no longer bother anyone. I was thus not surprised when I found out about a series of attacks on Jews attending the synagogue in the Podil area of Kyiv. Chronologically, they coincided with the adoption of the packet of repressive laws, which under the noble pretext of fighting extremism and xenophobia in essence placed all kinds of protest outside the law. At the same time, a new campaign to accuse the opposition of anti-Semitism also began – as far as I can tell, on exactly the same day as the laws were adopted. The attacks were directly connected to the activities of the civilian protesters (as though the protesters, all fascists and anti-Semites, had waited especially for two months until the adoption of the new laws to start their attacks against Jews – precisely at the moment when the Maidan was bracing itself for an imminent storm by the police). Unfortunately, this campaign was joined by some Jewish organizations, some real, and others invented by the political technologists for this precise purpose. Due to the deliberate financing of the spreading of these bogus organisations’ panicked objections in the media, their voices were clearly heard in Israel, the USA and Europe. News about the entirely real and quite large-scale rally of solidarity with Ukraine and in memory of victims of political repressions that took place in Tel Aviv reached a far smaller audience than did the hysterical statement, filled with invented ‘facts’, of one non-existent Jewish organization, which appealed to Israel to save Ukrainian Jews from a new Holocaust…
I am an academic. In contrast to political technologists and provocateurs, I’m not accustomed to throwing accusations around, and without enough confirmed facts I cannot say for sure who is behind the anti-Semitic attacks of the last two weeks in Kyiv. However, there is a certain coincidence of related information – beginning with the complete synchronization of the attacks, the adoption of the repressive new laws and the start of a new stage of the propaganda campaign, and ending with the fact that there is now a good deal of proof that the authorities have recruited neo-Nazi activists (from the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions) to carry out physical attacks on activists of the protest movement. Analysing this information, I am inclined towards the explanation that these attacks were provocations organized by the authorities.


Transl. Uilleam Blacker

The right to life

KHPG: On the events of Feb 20 in Kyiv

The Kharkiv Human Rights Group has addressed the following open appeal to the Verkhovna Rada and Prosecutor General regarding the terrorist operation against Ukrainian citizens on Feb 20

Yesterday, on Feb 20, 2014, a terrorist operation was effectively carried out in the centre of Kyiv resulting in the deaths of up to a hundred peaceful citizens, with hundreds wounded. Snipers used live ammunition specially equipped to hit their target from long distances used firing posts prepared in advance to kill dozens of unarmed people on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. The snipers specifically aimed to kill people since their bullets hit vital organs, the head, neck and heart. Terrible crimes against humanity were committed with tragic consequences.

The events of this terrible crime were for several hours broadcast live on many television channels yet none of those authorized to fight terrorism took measures to stop this terrorist operation against Ukrainian citizens.

We are therefore convinced that this crime could have only been carried out by a Security Service special unit.

We demand that Ukraine’s parliament, in accordance with Article 89 of the Constitution immediately form an investigative commission which must establish which unit the snipers belonged to and who came the criminal order to kill people.

We also call on the prosecutor’s office to take the measures envisaged by the Fighting Terrorism Act  to stop the terrorist operation against citizens of Ukraine, detain the criminals, identify who organized and carried out this terrorist operation and hold them to answer as the law demands.

Iryna Rapp, Head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Yevhen Zakharov, Director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Chornovol investigation descends into "road rage" farce

According to an Interfax Ukraine report, the Prosecutor General’s Office is terminating the investigation into the savage attack on investigative journalist and activist Tetyana Chornovol.  The case is supposedly “solved” with the investigators convinced that the attack was “hooliganism”, a case of road rage after Chornovol cut in front of another car. 

Chornovol’s response was swift and to the point. In her blog on Ukrainska Pravda she writes: “The PGO have stated that the attempt on my life was because I “cut in front” of somebody and thus “provoked” their hooligan actions.  I “cut in front” of Yanukovych and will continue to do so.  That is really the only reason for the attack on me.

A month ago, Chornovol stated clearly that she believes the president, Viktor Yanukovych to be behind the attack on her which she is convinced was a deliberate attempt on her life. She said that she had taken several steps “which irritated him personally and members of his family. That concerns his residence”.   Chornovol has in the past exposed the corrupt dealings behind the privatization of Yanukovych’s controversial residence at Mezhyhirya.  She has recently been investigating what she alleges is a new and even more sumptuous residence that the president is having built just outside Kyiv.

Deputy Prosecutor General Roman Andreyev is reported as saying that five people were directly involved in this “road rage” excess, committed out of “hooligan motives’.  The identity of two of them has yet to be established.  Two others are already in custody, namely Serhiy Kotenko, the owner of the Porsche Cayenne recorded by Chornovol’s video register and  Roman Zalyubovsky . a 34-year-old security guard from Dniprodzerzhynsk.  A fifth man, Andriy Zinchenko who has already been in trouble with the law before has been detained in Moscow.

Chornovol supposedly carried out some maneuvers which the men in the other car interpreted as causing  a dangerous situation; “they began chasing her, she didn’t stop.  During this chase there were several collisions. Finally they stopped her near Boryspil and dragged her from the car. Then Zalyubovsky and Zinchenko brutally beat her, after which they fled the scene.”

Andreyev presented a video of Zalyubovsky’s interrogation in which the latter confirms this version of events.  He says that he was driving, and that he came to Kyiv together with Zinchenko to buy a car and was trying it out.

Andreyev does not appear to have dwelled on the strange behavior of a potential car buyer who provokes several collisions in a car which would have cost several years’ salary. 

Instead he expresses outrage at the beating up of a woman which “no behavior on the road can justify” and promises that the prosecutor’s office will be seeking the maximum sentences.  Under the articles of the criminal code on hooliganism and grievous bodily injury, he says, this is four years imprisonment.  Attempted murder would carry a sentence of up to 15 years.  Chornovol was brutally beaten around the head, and believes that her assailants thought her dead.

Chornovol comments in her blog that Zalyubovsky refused to take part in a face to face confrontation with her. She says that from a private conversation with him she understood that he does not know the details of what happened on the Boryspil road and therefore believes that he was not one of those who beat her, and has been used as a front man to take the blame.

Andreyev mentions two men detained since soon after the video register was posted on the Internet, around 10 hours after the attack.  He said that certain investigative activities need to be carried out and then the appropriate decision will be made regarding the former owner of the Porsche Cayenne, Oleksandr Khramtsov, who appears to have a cast iron alibi and Andriy Nasikovsky.  Andreyev claimed that there had been good grounds for detaining them, and ignored the detention of Serhiy Kotenko’s brother Oleksandr. 

The Prosecutor General’s Office and investigators have ignored a great deal in this squalid attempt to explain the attack on Chornovol as some kind of excessive reaction to a woman driver. 

Photos of the badly beaten journalist were in the world press for good reason, given the savagery of the attack and Chornovol’s reputation as a fearless exposer of corruption by those closest to the president.

The case began arousing concern from the earliest days with the chief investigator making unsubstantiated claims that opposition MPs, together with the head of the Udar party Vitaly Klitschko and his brother were somehow implicated in the crime.  It is worth noting that the arrest of Oleksandr Kotenko was specifically cited as “proving” the Klitschko brothers’ involvement.  In this respect, we could also mention the Jan 30 arson attack on the home of former Police General from UBOZ [the department for fighting organized crime] Volodymyr Dakhnovsky.  Soon after the attack on Chornovol, Dakhnovsky publically criticized the attempts made by the chief police investigator, Mykhailo Chynchyn to implicate the Klitschko brothers.  He corrected glaring mistakes in Chynchyn’s report and called such ignorance unforgiveable.   

Andreyev’s briefing does not appear to have explained Serhiy Kotenko’s alleged involvement, especially given that Zalyubovsky’s testimony seems to corroborate Kotenko’s assertion that he was effectively hijacked with the car.  While the arrest of his brother was used by the chief investigator to try to implicate the Klitschko brothers, Serhiy Kotenko  was immediately reported as being linked with the controversial seizure of TVi and three opposition MPs. 

The attack on Chornovol bemused most observers from the outset.  The journalist thankfully survived the attack, yet even the worst scenario could have only harmed those whom the journalist had criticized.  Although it was Chornovol’s presence of mind in turning on the video register which enabled the car to be tracked down so swiftly, it had been left abandoned nearby anyway, as though asking to be found.   

The Deputy Prosecutor General’s briefing on Thursday coincided with an official statement from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry expressing disappointment in the European Parliament’s “bias” and disregard for the government’s “constructive efforts” in gaining the public’s trust.  If this is one of those “constructive efforts’ – no chance. 

AutoMaidan leader Dmytro Bulatov found, badly beaten, but alive

AutoMaidan leader Dmytro Bulatov, who had not been seen since Jan 22, was found alive on Thursday evening in the village of Vyshenki outside Kyiv, covered in blood, with part of his ear cut off, and with multiple injuries.  .  He is presently in hospital and has told journalists that over his 8 days in captivity, he was beaten and tortured by his abductors, who tried to crucify him, with his hands still bearing the marks.. 

Bulatov doesn’t know who his abductors were, but says that they spoke with Russian accents.  They thankfully’did not kill him but took him to the Boryspil district, near Kyiv and threw him out of their car.  Badly beaten, he walked through the village, hammering on doors until finally a local resident let him in.  From there he was able to phone friends who came and got him.  He is now receiving treatment at the Borys private clinic. 

There were very gravel fears for Bulatov’s safety after he disappeared on the same evening that the police, yet again in close cooperation with titushki or hired thugs had carried out an effective ambush on other members of the AutoMaidan movement. 

At around 4 a.m. on Jan 22, 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.

The activists were later found in different Kyiv police stations.

Singer Ruslana issued an open letter regarding the events in which she writes that the activists reported an unprecedented level of aggression from the Berkut officers.  She said that they believe that the officers involved may have been from Russia.

It soon became clear that Bulatov was missing.  The AutoMaidan leader had been the object of unhealthy interest from the police, doubtless, threats, and had therefore been in hiding, however had always kept in phone contact.  By Jan 30, nothing had been heard from him for over a week. 

On Jan 28 Bulatov’s lawyer Dmytro Yovdiy stated publically that he had approached the Security Service [SBU] since a week after the activist’s disappearance, the police had still taken no real action.  Although Bulatov’s phone had been turned on for quite some time after he disappeared, the police had not even obtained a list of telephone calls from the mobile operator. 

Concern was high particularly after the killing of Yury Verbytsky whose badly beaten body was found in the Boryspil forest two days after he was abducted from hospital together with prominent journalist and EuroMaidan activist Ihor Lutsenko. 

Lutsenko’s abduction received considerable media attention as well as response from foreign embassies in Ukraine.  He himself is convinced that this was what saved him from the same fate as Yury Verbystsky.

The same may be true of Dmytro Bulatov whose disappearance was very widely reported and led to an Amnesty International urgent action.

This is crucial to understand since there are around 30 people who have disappeared in circumstances which give grounds for concern.  Such disappearances are taking place around the country, and include people such as an activist from Cherkasy abducted from hospital and a former prosecutor of the Zaporizhya region and prominent human rights defender Oleksandr Shatsky. 

It is an enormous relief that Bulatov has been found alive, albeit in a shocking state, as was Ihor Lutsenko after his ordeal.  It also provides graphic illustration of the message being passed to the EU, Council of Europe and other European structures regarding the importance of international attention, monitoring and immediate response to all disappearances and attacks on peaceful civic activists.

Against torture and ill-treatment

Strasbourg gives priority consideration to EuroMaidan protester’s application

The European Court of Human Rights is treating the application of Sirenko v. Ukraine as priority and has requested that the Ukrainian Government provide its observations. 

The announcement on the Court’s website states that Igor Sirenko says that he has taken part in the protests known as EuroMaidan since Nov 29 2013. 

“He states that he was beaten up by special police units during a violent dispersal of protesters and then unlawfully detained on 30 November 2013. He complains in this respect of a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security), Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Sirenko also complains that the measures employed by the authorities to deal with the demonstrations have been in violation of his – and other protesters’ – rights under Article 3, Article 5, Article 8 (right to respect for private life), Article 11 and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention, and under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention (protection of property).”

The application was lodged on Jan 28 and the Government has been given until Feb 28 to provide written observations.

The application has been given priority under Rule 41.2.   The relevant norm states that “In determining the order in which cases are to be dealt with, the Court shall have regard to the importance and urgency of the issues raised on the basis of criteria fixed” 

The right to liberty and security

Chernihiv EuroMaidan activist brutally beaten

Oleksandr Yasenchuk

EuroMaidan SOS reports that Oleksandr Yasenchuk, activist of the Chernihiv EuroMaidan and member of the Prostir Svobody [Realm of Freedom] movement was attacked on Sunday night. Three men approached him near his home as he returned from a meeting with other activists. They hit him around the head, arms and legs with reinforcement bars. As well as injuries to his arms and legs, he has concussion and needed 7 stitches for a head wound.

Oleksandr is convinced that the attack is linked with his civic activism. He has been actively involved in the protests in Chernihiv and coordinated consignments of aid for the Kyiv EuroMaidan.

He told friends and fellow activists that the assailants have caused physical injuries but only hardened his resolve and given him new energy.  He thanks all those who have expressed their support since the attack but says that we should not give our enemies the pleasure of seeing us whimper and complain. He has no intention of giving up his chosen path as a journalist and civic activist. 

Freedom of expression

Point of No Return

Lidia Pankiv on Inter

Where Viktor Yanukovych is hiding out from  “fascists” is not known, but after the point of no return forced on Ukrainians in the last week, he had reason to feel worried about remaining in Kyiv. When you have had dozens of unarmed protesters gunned down in the centre of the capital by police snipers, there is no going back. 

On Friday evening journalists and presenters on one of the main national TV channels, “Inter” heard in a live broadcast that they personally had lied and twisted the truth about Maidan for three months, and that they too had the blood of the dead on their hands. 

It was not what Andriy Danylevych, presenter of the talk show “This concerns each of us” had planned for the audience’s consumption. Following the agreement signed on Friday morning by the president and opposition, the programme was supposed to be about reconciliation.  Danylevych had invited STB journalist Lidia Pankiv to recount how she had restrained Berkut riot police from turning on protesters and became the fiancée of one of the men. 

Pankiv said the following:

You probably want to hear a story from me about how with my bare hands I restrained a whole Berkut unit,   And how one of the Berkut officers fell in love with me and I fell in love with him.  But I’m going to tell you another story. About how with my bare hands I dragged the bodies of those killed  the day before yesterday. And about how two of my friends died yesterday. . … I hate Zakharchenko, Klyuev, Lukash, Medvedchuk, Azarov.  I hate Yanukovych and all those who carry out their criminal orders.  I came here today only because I found out that this is a live broadcast.  I want to say that I also despise Inter because for three months it deceived viewers and spread enmity among citizens of this country. And now you are calling for peace and unity. Yes, you have the right to try to clear your conscience, but I think you should run this programme on your knees.  I’ve brought these photos here for you, so that you see my dead friends in your dreams and understand that you also took part in that. And now, I’m sorry, I don’t have time.  I’m going to Maidan. Glory to Ukraine”.

Danylevych tried to turn the subject back to its Inter groove, but was stopped by Konstantin Reutsky, a human rights activist from Luhansk.  He agreed with Pankiv and addressed the Inter journalists “who lied and distorted information about Maidan over the last three months.  Recognize the responsibility that you bear.  The blood of those who died yesterday, the day before, over these days and months is on your hands.”  With Danylevych trying desperately to intervene, Reutsky insisted that he and all other activists on Maidan were all in favour of peace and had done everything in their power all these months to stop bloodshed. “But what happened yesterday is a point of no return. After that you can no longer say, “sorry, we got carried away, let’s turn the page and start afresh without offence”.  What happened yesterday is impossible to forget”

Danylevych finally got in there and effectively shouting down the activist’s demand to discuss the crimes committed, forced the talk back to “peace”.

Unlike Danylevych, other members of the Inter team approached Reutsky after the programme, thanking him.  Some had clearly reached the same decision without prompting since earlier on Feb 21, 16 Inter journalists issued an open letter expressing disagreement with Inter editorial policy.

The criticism is warranted.  After a brief period when almost all television channels unexpectedly broadcast fairly unadulterated reports about the EuroMaidan protests, Inter began seriously distorting and manipulating information about the protests.  At the beginning of 2014, the Maidan Council felt compelled to call on ‘ordinary Ukrainians and politicians’ to boycott Inter because of its biased coverage.

The bias was part of a renewed drive against media freedom. At the end of 2013, Yulia Mostova, Editor of Dzerkalo Tyzhnya wrote that Viktor Yanukovych had accused the owners of central TV channels of treachery since their channels were providing objective coverage of EuroMaidan and that channels had been passed into the strict control of a team formed by the president and his elder son.  

Under Yanukovych’s predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, few significant moves were made towards safeguarding democratic institutions and media freedom, but there was also little direct encroachment on freedom of speech.   This did not prevent media distortion since many media and their journalists proved all too often prepared to produce commissioned reporting for material gain.  That may in part explain why it proved unnervingly easy within a matter of months of Yanukovych’s election to remove most critical analysis, negative reports about those in power and inconvenient information from television.  During 2013, a large number of printed publications were also bought out by people with links to the regime, this widely being viewed as taming the media before the (then scheduled) 2015 presidential elections.

There were some cheering exceptions when journalists defended their right to freedom from editorial interference.  Increasingly, however, they defended their profession at the cost of their jobs, and those willing to do so were always in the minority.  The others found excuses for going along with editorial policy imposed from above.   

Sniper bullets and bloodshed on Ukraine’s streets last week removed all excuses.  Konstantin Reutsky was right – there can and must be no going back.  

Titushki and Bercut riot police on the attack

The regime’s use of “titushki” or government-paid thugs has reached an all-time low over recent weeks with titushki openly working together with Berkut riot police, as well as masking as Maidan defenders in order to  provoke trouble or attack other activists.

On Wednesday evening outside the Kharkiv Interior Forces Academy, titushki, together with Berkut, beat up a TV STB film crew near the Interior Forces Academy. 

Journalist Masha Malevska described how she and cameraman Sasha Brynza came under attack.   He had to have 4 stitches and his video camera was completely destroyed.   Malevska explains that they were first attacked by titushki in masks and brandishing bats.  They ran ahead to get away from the thugs and came up against Berkut officers who also attacked.

She heard: That’s for Hrushevsky St, bitch!  STB, you say?   Take that!”

Berkut had seen their ID, knew that they were journalists.  She asked them to let them through since Brynza was covered in blood, but four Berkut officers stopped them from getting to the ambulance for about 15 minutes.  They also prevented her from picking up the pieces of the video recorder.

Her friend, Zurab Alasaniya reports that they wasted nearly 3 hours in the police station where Malevska wrote a report on an attack which the police were demonstrably uninterested in investigating.

There were around 7 people who’d been detained in the police station.  Typically, not one of the titushki, only Maidan activists.

There is considerable evidence that titushki have worked closely with Berkut officers and the authorities inDnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhya, Cherkasy and other cities.  The video here shows titushki collecting shields and weapons from inside the Dnipropetrovsk administration.

This is probably the first attack where Berkut has acted entirely openly, however titushki  have been responsible for beating up journalists on a number of occasions.  As reported, on Tuesday night Vesti journalist Viacheslav Veremiy died after titushki stopped the taxi in which he and a colleague were returning from work.  Veremiy died in hospital of a gunshot wound he received. .  

Since the dramatic escalation in conflict which came the day after Yanukovych made some kind of deal with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and a new 2 billion loan was announced, there have been numerous reports of titushki masquerading as Maidan self-defence officers. 

In the video here, for example, a Maidan defender appears to have been shot by titushki

Odessa titushki [photo: Olga Rudenko]

Olga Rudenko shows a photo of Odessa titushki “in disguise”.  She writes that she was on Hrushevsky St on Wednesday and only recognized them when they threatened to take her telephone away if she didn’t stop filming them.  She therefore gives the following advice on detecting such rot:

-          titushki will be in completely new masks and / or bats;

-          they have identical but scarcely noticeable armbands;

-          they react very aggressively to being filmed.

The president and his people have been going all out to try to convince the world that the people on EuroMaidan are radical extremists, anti-Semites, “fascists” etc and now that the escalation should be treated as a “terrorist attack. 

It seems more than likely that their “services” were used in two apparent anti-Semitic attacks in Kyiv.  As reported, police lack of interest in properly investigating these crimes has contrasted markedly with the authorities’ clear attempts to present EuroMaidan activists as anti-Semitic.

The march on parliament on Feb 18 began peacefully, and the rapid escalation of conflict can almost certainly be attributed at least in part to those using paid thugs for their own very dodgy ends.  

Those providing these thugs with new helmets and bats are probably also handing out firearms.  The regime’s deployment of “titushki” urgently needs to be clearly recorded and communicated to the international community as demonstration that calls for “all parties” to show restraint are missing the point and manifestly not enough.


Freedom of peaceful assembly

Open threats and covert plans as ‘hostage law’ deadline nears

Ukraine’s enforcement bodies are stepping up repressive measures and overt blackmail as the deadline for compliance with a so-called ‘amnesty law’ approaches.  Put most crudely, this law proposes to drop criminal charges against EuroMaidan protesters if all other EuroMaidan activists throughout the country give up their protests and go home.  In the meantime, there are ominous reports of plans for extending police powers to curtail peaceful protest if the conditions are not met. 

The  law was pushed through by president Viktor Yanukovych on Jan 29, against an unusual degree of resistance from generally subservient Party of the Regions MPs.  It was condemned by lawyers, human rights groups and others from the outset as a ‘hostage law’.  The last few days have made it clear that this term should be understood quite literally.  The weekend brought last numbers of new arrests of activists in the regions.  A number of extremely questionable criminal prosecutions against AutoMaidan activists  (who have used their cars to protect injured protesters from possible abduction, bring supplies to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, etc) over alleged ‘hooliganism’ have been changed to the much more serious charge of ‘organizing mass disturbances’. 

Just in case anybody be slow on the uptake, both the Kyiv regional chief prosecutor Mykhailo Vityaz and deputy chief police investigator Oleh Tatarov spelled it all out at press briefings.  Vityaz, for example, explained that the law must be enforced by Feb 17 and then felt the need to “point out that the crimes that they are accused of are serious crimes and the punishment envisaged involves long terms of imprisonment.’  He did not see it as necessary to explain why many of these so-called ‘crimes’ were until just days earlier deemed ‘hooliganism’.

The threats are likely to intimidate some protesters, however the decision announced on Feb 11 by the Maidan National Council that the conditions of the law could only be fulfilled after those detained have been released was to be expected.

Media reports of Cabinet of Ministers plans published on Tuesday and the fact that they supplement highly worrying government decrees slipped in on Jan 22  arouse the disturbing suspicion that the rejection of the conditions was fully expected.  

Dzerkalo Tyzhnya cites its own sources within the Interior Ministry in reporting that ‘a list of territories and streets in Kyiv where additional measures to protect citizens’ safety shall be applied’ has been passed to the Cabinet of Ministers for adoption. The list would be a supplement to Cabinet of Ministers Decree No. 12 from Jan 22 which allows police bodies who have received “information about possible infringements of public order; the threat of extremist activities; violation of legislation during rallies; meetings; street processions and demonstrations” to temporarily restrict transport on various roads, etc., as well as citizens’ access to particular buildings or areas.  That decree and others also increase the range of methods which Berkut riot police can use, and remove all previous restrictions on the use of water cannons in freezing temperatures.

The list effectively allows the police to block access to all parts of the centre, including those areas, such as Hrushevsky St, where the protesters now have barricades.  The plan would be to impose a ‘special regime’ in Kyiv.  Dzerkalo Tyzhnya writes that “the document is of a secret nature. The meaning of the term ‘additional measures to protect citizens’ safety’ is not explained.”  Their source asserts that the document is an attempt to formalize police officers’ right to block the capital’s streets; to restrict freedom of movement in the capital; and to detain people who the police believe ‘pose a threat to citizens’ safety’.  As the experience over the last four years of court bans on peaceful assembly has demonstrated, what is a danger to public safety can be understood broadly enough to cover any peaceful protests. 

This ‘special regime’ would, according to the newspaper’s source, be imposed when the deadline for compliance with the Jan 29 law had passed. 

It should be said that even if this report from an unnamed source were inaccurate, the Cabinet of Ministers resolutions of Jan 22 have already dangerously extended police powers and increased the likelihood that these will be used to suppress peaceful protest.

The ‘deal’ offered in the Jan 29 law was always suspect and the chances that the EuroMaidan protesters would agree to give up and go home for the sake of a promise which might easily be broken, were remote.   If the regime was buying time, then this could be, as some analysts have warned, because the Sochi Olympics will then be coming to an end.  Russia would no longer need to fear a boycott were it to play a more active role in suppressing protest.  Even if this scenario is too pessimistic, the government decrees of Jan 22 make it worryingly clear that any time ‘bought’ by the obviously doomed ‘hostage law’ will not have been wasted.  

Human Rights Violations associated with EuroMaidan

New menacing threats against civic activist

A lawyer and civic activist in the Crimea, Alexandra Dvoretska has become the latest victim of a deliberate and dangerous hate campaign directed against EuroMaidan supporters and civic activists.  It is especially ominous that the scarcely concealed threats and attempt to incite violence n every line of this poster are so closely linked with the recent government attempt to bring in draconian legislation against protesters and civic organizations in general. 

The poster, in Russian, reads:


Traitor of the Crimea supports criminal Maidan

She has the blood and lives of murdered people on her hands

She receives money from a civic organization financed by the American security service

She underwent a course in extremism in the USA

As reported, one of the features copied from recent Russian legislation was the demand on all NGOs receiving money from foreign organizations or countries to register as “foreign agents”, report on their activities on a quarterly basis and pay corporate tax.   The law is a straight copy of norms in Russian legislation which have been widely condemned as aimed at stigmatizing NGOs and creating an image of them as a kind of fifth column in the country.  Ukraine’s leaders had retained the distinctly Soviet flavour of the measure while upping the penalties in the laws pushed through parliament with a breathtaking barrage of irregularities on Jan 16.  The same law criminalized something called “extremist activity” which was interpreted so broadly that it could cover any protest or activities aimed at changing government policy.  Although pressure from the protest movement in Ukraine and from the international community made the government revoke these laws on Jan 27, new draft bills have already been registered in parliament proposing exactly the same measures against so-called “foreign agents”.  

This latest of many campaigns aimed at terrorising and intimidating civic activists coincided with the news on Thursday evening that AutoMaidan leader Dmytro Bulatov had been found, beaten, tortured, but at least alive.  Both he and EuroMaidan activist and prominent journalist Ihor Lutsenko may well owe their lives to the public and international response to their abduction / disappearance.  Yury Verbytsky, whose mutilated body was found in the Boryspil forests days after being abducted from hospital was not so lucky.

There are no grounds at all for taking such threats lightly.  The above-mentioned poster is overtly aimed at menacing a civic activist, and could easily place her life in danger.  The fact that two activists whose cases gained publicity were found alive is of enormous importance.  At least 30 other people have been abducted, including from hospital, or have disappeared.  Other civic activists have received threats to their lives and those of their families.  

All such activities are at very least closely linked with developments at government level and are targeting those most active in the protest movement and / or lawyers defending them.

There is every reason for the Council of Europe, EU, OSCE and democratic countries in general to send high-level representatives and monitoring groups to Ukraine.  Their presence is no diplomatic formality at the moment – it could save lives. 

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #02