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

The Kremlin’s Propaganda Coup in Donetsk

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be feeling very pleased with himself.  The EU has all but retreated behind calls for ‘frank and open dialogue’ while US expressions of concern about Chechen and other foreign fighters entering Ukraine from Russia for the moment remain just that, and no more.  In the meantime, the authoritative Levada Centre has reported that Putin’s confidence rating among Russians in April stood at 82%, 18% higher than in January 2014, and on May 29 the ‘Vostok’ [East] battalion pulled off the perfect propaganda coup in the centre of Donetsk. 

The interpretations for what happened in Donetsk differ radically, but first the events. At around 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon men in military gear from the Vostok Battalion which Kyiv Post calls “a well-organized unit of mercenaries comprised mostly of Russian citizens” arrived in Kamaz trucks and armed personnel carriers. They proceeded to ‘arrest’ several dozen Donetsk People’s Republic militants and told the others to vacate the building. This was all presented as designed to purge the militants’ ranks of looters and ‘traitors’.  Towards evening they used other equipment to clear the barricades.  This was supposedly because of the fire hazard and risk of a disaster such as that in Odessa on May 2.

According to a Daily Telegraph correspondent’s rather curious terminology, the battalion “includes fighters from mainland Russia as well as Ukrainian-born volunteers” who allegedly acted out of disgust at the looting of a supermarket”.  The author writes that the events on Thursday have “plunged the rebel movement in the east into crisis”.

They may – or may not – have dealt a blow to the militants’ confidence that they could loot and plunder with impunity, but a crisis seems seriously unlikely.  This is not merely because the head of the self-proclaimed republic, Denis Pushilin backed the action.  The very term ‘rebel’ seems a misnomer, with Pushilin, Pavel Gubarev and other leading pro-Russian militants having consistently followed Moscow’s lead.  The Vostok battalion may possibly have some Ukrainian volunteers in it, but most are mercenaries and / or professionals from the Russian Federation who get paid for obeying orders.  Quite possibly orders issued by  Alexander Borodai, the Donetsk People’s Republic’s ‘prime minister’ – a Russian PR manager. 

The public relations element was certainly well-planned, as was the timing of the operation which coincided nicely with the difficulties the Kyiv authorities are now experiencing in clearing Maidan Nezalezhnosti.  Russian television presented it in glowing terms with the main propaganda coup being in the apparent establishment of order and cleansing of ranks through the removal of criminal elements.   If Valentin Krasnopyorov is correct in his assessment that “Putin is taking Donetsk under his control”, then the ploy could not have been better devised.  The militants’ lawlessness in many east-Ukrainian cities have been a powerful antidote to the zombifying propaganda pouring forth from Russian television channels which have in many cities taken over all or most frequencies which previously broadcast Ukrainian channels. News that Russia would be willing to provide ‘humanitarian aid’ to the Donetsk People’s Republic could seem like yet another step to provide respite for the region’s beleaguered population. 

Ukrainska Pravda journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova shows how careful the presentation was.  “Those armed guys from the Vostok battalion come up to young women, give them roses and behave extremely nicely (they gave me one, for example.).  I’ve seen such polite green people somewhere else.”

That ‘somewhere else’ was, of course, the Crimea before the blitzkrieg ‘referendum’ on March 16 and annexation by Russia two days later.

Sergatskova suggests only that Moscow will now control the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ militants better.  Krasnopyorov sees the DPR as largely having served their purpose.  Russia, he says, has now consolidated its resources and can dispense with them.  He suggests that the situation has entered a new phase, similar to that of the Crimea, although with its own specific features. The Vostok Battalion answers to Moscow alone.  Under their control, people close to Moscow, or to ‘the Family’ [i.e. former President Viktor Yanukovych], can re-emerge. 

Krasnopyorov believes that this new phase needed to be achieved now before Petro Poroshenko’s inauguration as president in order to give Putin negotiating power.  His demands would be recognition of the Crimea in order to reduce international pressure; a broad coalition in order to retain control over Ukrainian political life; resolution of gas issues and a controlled political elite in Donbas. 

Krasnopyorov does not believe the situation to be lost, but does stress the need for consolidated effort, and for western support.

If the west continues to watch as well-armed and trained fighters are brought in from the Russian Federation to fight an undeclared war against Ukraine, then what happens next will be largely decided in the Kremlin.  As will be any limits to Moscow’s territorial appetite.  

Russia’s Conflict of Narratives

Pro-Russian militant, Pavel Gubarev with his Russian National Unity party’s neo-Nazi symbol . Russian media reports cannot show the photo which has been used to bring charges against a Russian opposition activist, but it is likely to be this one, or that below, both genuine

A Russian opposition activist, Dmitry Semenov is facing charges for posting on VKontakte a photo of pro-Russian separatist and unquestioned hero of the Russian media, Pavel Gubarev.  This should not be interpreted as a shift in Russian support for the militants currently engaged in bloody battles in the Donetsk region. Semenov has been charged because the offending photo showed self-proclaimed ‘people’s governor’ of Donetsk, Gubarev with the swastika-like emblem of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party.

Semenov is not charged with defamation but over ‘public demonstration of Nazi symbols or those of extremist organizations’ (Article 20.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences).  There is indeed no defamation since the photo is genuine and 31-year-old Gubarev was once a member of this neo-Nazi party.  now banned in Russia.  He later joined Natalya Vitrenko’s far-right and somewhat misnamed Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine.  Vitrenko has close ties to Alexander Dugin,  whose Eurasian supremacy ideology and wish to restore the Russian empire by, among other things, partitioning off Ukraine, has many fans in the Kremlin and Russian military.  Dugin is reported to have instructed the militants in Donbas.

Gubarev is now one of the main spokesmen for ‘Novorossiya’, the self-proclaimed state formed from the union of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.  The Russian Foreign Ministry and media treated him as Ukraine’s ‘political prisoner No. 1’ after he was detained for leading a crowd which violently stormed the Donetsk regional administration.  After declaring himself ‘people’s governor’, Gubarev proceeded to demand a referendum on the region’s secession and call for Russia to intervene militarily.  Russia’s foreign ministry demanded his release, and his exchange on May 8 for Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] officers captured, badly beaten and publicly humiliated was apparently welcomed by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Gubarev and his cronies have now declared total ‘independence’, and are effectively waging war against Ukraine as a ‘foreign state’.  As threats of sanctions against Russia mounted prior to the elections, the Kremlin began making marginally more conciliatory noises, and the militants in eastern Ukraine in turn obliged by concentrating on ‘independence’ rhetoric.  They have, however, stated openly on a number of occasions that they want to join Russia, and the ‘address’ given by Gubarev on May 27 next to a photo of Putin and under the ‘flag’ of the self-proclaimed Novorossiya,  

Gubarev claims that the Kyiv authorities are committing war crimes against their own people, that residential areas are under fire by artillery in Slovyansk, with civilians, children, women, journalists dying.  He speaks of “fascist hordes’ from the west attacking them like 70 years ago. For somebody who not so long ago was espousing neo-Nazi views, the comparison is startling.  The whole pathos-filled address does, however, correspond fully to the version of events put forward by the Kremlin and in the Russian media.  This version clearly places the blame on America who is supposedly arming and directing the murderous miscreants in Kyiv, and promises to bury all such fascists and traitors.

There is a confusing mixture of narratives, and men with automatic rifles behind each of them.  The militants are now receiving open military help from Chechen fighters probably organized by Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s choice for Chechen President.  This choice of fighting partner is curious given the Slavic supremacy views of other comrades.  According to Viacheslav Likhachev who monitors xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine,  various radical Russian nationalist parties, including RNE, Black Hundred; the Eurasian Youth Union; and the National Bolshevik Party have been actively helping their pro-Russian militant friends in Ukraine.  RNE leader, Alexander Barkashov even dismissed SBU claims of having intercepted a phone call where he advised a local militant on how to falsify the May 11 pseudo-referendum on secession.  Why, he said, would he talk by telephone if he’s in Donetsk right now anyway?

Likhachev believes that at least part of the activities by Russian neo-Nazis in Ukraine are coordinated by the Russian FSB [Security Service].  It is probably the FSB who are involved in the charges against opposition activist Dmitry Semenov in Chuvashia [Russian Federation].  Semenov, a member of the opposition Solidarnist and Parnas movements, was undoubtedly pointing out Gubarev’s ideological affiliations, ones that he himself finds repugnant.  He now faces either administrative arrest for 15 days or a steep fine.  Russia’s enforcement bodies were considerably more tolerant of neo-Nazi symbols displayed extremely publicly on May 1 processions this year.

  Russian opposition activist Dmitry Semenov who is facing charges effectively for demonstrating Gubarev’s neo-Nazi leanings 

The significant European Parliament election gains by far-right parties on May 25 [against minimal support for such candidates in Ukraine’s presidential elections] have finally alerted the wider public to Russia’s long-standing conflict of narratives.  Anti-fascist rhetoric and the anti-Semitism card have both been used, with minimal or no justification in propaganda directed against Ukraine, but have not impeded significant support for fascist and / or neo-Nazi parties in France, Hungary and other EU countries, as well as in Russia.  Nor have they prevented primitive anti-Semitism being used against Ukrainian political figures.  As the charges against Semenov demonstrate, laws like those outlawing the use of Nazi symbols are applied as a weapon against the political opposition or for propaganda purposes, not against those spreading hatred and primitive ideology.

The spectre of far-right primitivism is once again haunting Europe, and it would be well to consider the motives and the danger presented by those overtly manipulating - and encouraging - such ideology for their own ends. 

Call for joint Ukrainian-Russian human rights mission for Donbas

Representatives of human rights organizations in Ukraine and Russia have addressed an open appeal to Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, Valeria Lutkovska; Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsperson Ella Pamfilova and the Chairperson of the Russian Human Rights Council under the President, Mikhail Fedotov.

As activists and human rights workers from Ukraine and Russia monitoring human rights violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, they ask the recipients to take joint efforts to stop the widespread violations of human rights in the conflict area.

“Clearly observation of human rights on Ukrainian territory is first and foremost the concern and responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities. At present, however, many of the rights violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are being committed under Russia’s flag and with the involvement of Russian nationals.

Working in Donbas, we see and understand that the situation at present is to a large extent not controlled by any of the parties to the conflict. It is however quite possible that the involvement of official figures responsible for the protection of human rights and representing the Russian Federation can exert influence on people who have declared their wish to be subjects of the Russian Federation.

The very creation of a joint mission would confirm that observance of human rights is outside and above politics. Such a mission would unquestionably inspire greater trust than any unilateral structures.

The most serious issues which a joint mission could provide significant help in resolving are achieving the release of civilians held against their will although they had no part in the armed confrontation, and ensuring (monitoring) observance of the rights of people detained in the region of conflict.

No accurate figures are available for the number of people held hostage by armed groups from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, however we are certainly talking about scores of people held prisoner.

We know that they are being held in seized administrative buildings in Luhansk; Donetsk; Slovyansk; Kramatorsk; Horlivka; and Artemivsk (with this list not exhaustive).

Most of the hostages are civic activists and their relatives; ordinary people speaking out in favour of Ukrainian unity and sovereignty; journalists and people taking part in the presidential election process (members and heads of election commissions; representatives of presidential candidates; and authorized figures).

Many of the captives have been subjected to bad and inhuman treatment; beatings; torture.  The prisoners are not given medical assistance. Some have been held in such conditions for several weeks.

Relatives are unable to learn the whereabouts of those abducted and somehow improve their conditions.

Violations of the rights of people detained by the Ukrainian enforcement bodies in the area of conflict also need close attention. We know of cases where lawyers have not been allowed to see detainees; where people have been held without charges being laid; of humiliating or ill-treatment of detainnes; of people who do not have the authority taking part in operation and investigative measures.

Taking into account the above, we would ask you to consider the following requests and suggestions:

1.      Issue a public call to all groups involved in detaining and holding civilians to stop this unacceptable practice and to release all captives without any exceptions and without any additional conditions;

2.     Carry out a joint monitoring trip, visiting the main places where civilians are being held against their will in order to hold negotiations aimed at obtaining the unconditional release of all captives without any exception;

3.     Initiate the creation of a joint official Ukrainian and Russian working group which could monitor rights violations by parties to the conflict; take measures and draw up recommendations on putting an end to such violations; and publish reports on the violations identified and action taken. This working group should include people already taking part in monitoring of human rights abuse, including members of the Russian Human Rights Council under the President and members of human rights organizations from both countries. It would also be expedient to invite members of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine to take part as observers.

The authors of this appeal, members of Ukrainian and Russian civil society are willing to provide you with all information they have about rights violations in the conflict area.

The appeal is signed, among others, by (Ukraine) Yevhen Zakharov, head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group; Oleksandra Matviychuk, head of the Centre for Civil Liberties; Josef Zisels, executive vice president of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine; Arkady Bushchenko, executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Mykola Kozyrev, head of the UHHRU board; EuroMaidan SOS; Luhansk Civic Sector; InfoCentre Donbas and the Postup Human Rights Centre [Luhansk]

(Russia) Oleg Orlov, member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre Council; Lev Ponomaryov, executive director of the movement For Human Rights; Jan Rachnski from the Russian Memorial Society; Ella Polyakov from the human rights organization Soldiers’ Mothers, St Petersburg; Andrei Yurov, Coordinator of the International Human Rights Group on the situation in Ukraine.

The appeal is also supported by Ludmila Alexeeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Valery Borshchev [MHG]; Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Civil Assistance Committee; Sergei Kovalyov, President of the Human Rights Institute; Arseny Roginsky, head of the board of the International Memorial Society; Alexander Cherkasov, head of the Memorial Human Rights Centre Council



Innocent civilian or terrorist: Russian TV caught using old footage

Russian TV’s latest use of old video footage from the North Caucuses to claim Ukrainian atrocities against civilians was pointed out within a couple of days and resulted in some embarrassing reports in the western media. Viewers, including many in eastern Ukraine, whose view of events is shaped primarily by Russian TV will not realize they have been duped, of course, but even western reports often pay little attention to Moscow’s highly specific dividing line between terrorists it “destroys” and pro-Russian militants in Ukraine it defends

Russian viewers could easily have missed the doubling of old footage since the context was quite different.  On May 16, 2014,  a long report on TV Rossiya was about the fighting near Slovyansk with pro-Russian militants the goodies, and the Ukrainian National Guard – the monstrous baddies. At 3.20 on the video a corpse is seen in an open field with the voice stating that:

“Civilians are continuing to die every day. Near Slovyansk the National Guard shot and killed a man. Demonstratively leaving the weapon near the body to make it clear that they had killed an enemy.  Though the insurgents say that the man killed was not in the self-defence unit”.

Immediately prior to this ‘witnesses’ report that conscripts who refused to obey orders ‘against the people’ have been shot and buried.  Straight after it there is a harrowing story about the funeral in a neighbouring village of a young woman who allegedly tried to “get her son out to a safe place. But fell into the hands of the national guard” and was shot dead, her head sprayed with bullets.

In short, total barbarians.   Only the same video footage had already been shown on Rossiya 24 two years earlier with no mention of innocent civilians.  On Nov 18, 2012 the TV channel informed that a counter-terrorism operation had been undertaken in a region of Kabardino-Balkariya in the North Caucuses.  The body shown is clearly supposed to be one of five fighters ‘destroyed’ over the last 24 hours, and specifically one of two “bandits” ‘neutralized’ after showing armed resistance. 

Dmitry Kiselyov, Russian TV anchor man and head of Russia Today, whose propaganda has earned him a place in the EU’s very short list of targets for sanctions,  called the use of old footage “an accident”

A mistake was made in this feature, but mistakes are possible. A mistake, but under no circumstances manipulation”.  He was speaking from a master class on journalism, reports.  Perhaps the topic of that session was selective use of vocabulary.  How you say that terrorists are destroyed by the federal authorities while peaceful civilians are shot and murdered by the Ukrainian National Guard, for example. 

It was doubtless by chance that the channels were found out.  After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been pushing the line that the Ukrainian authorities are carrying out ‘punitive operations against the civilian population’ in eastern Ukraine and that the Kremlin-backed militants are effectively freedom fighters.  This is the man who back in 1999, when asked to comment on the federal troops’ bombing of Grozny (Chechnya) said: “We will pursue terrorists everywhere. If in the airport, then in the airport. That means, excuse me, if we catch them in the toilet, then we’ll finish them in the latrine”.

Putin’s ‘latrine policy’ has been followed ruthlessly for 15 years in the Russian Federation. It has resulted in the European Court of Human Rights having on countless occasions found Russia to have violated the right to life through disappearances, extra-judicial executions and killing of civilians by federal forces.  The Court regularly finds more than one violation of the same Article 2, since the authorities persistently fail to investigate such crimes.

The Court understandably concentrates on those bodies with a direct duty to protect life, however the influence of media reports in dulling public outrage should not be underestimated.  “Terrorists are destroyed”, “bandits neutralized”, and nobody asks how we decide who are terrorists.  As Putin concluded in that memorable statement: “That’s all. The question is closed.”

With the west having done next to nothing about Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea, and continuing to do little now, the question is categorically not closed.  Over recent weeks Crimean Tatars have been subjected to searches by the FSB, apparently on suspicion of ‘terrorism’.  Not only did the occupation regime ban public gatherings on the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars, but they then sent military helicopters to hover over remembrance events and openly videoed people taking part.  One journalist, Osman Pashaev was detained and badly beaten before being interrogated by the FSB and department on fighting ‘extremism’.  Oleg Sentsov, a well-known Ukrainian film maker was arrested on May 11 and has just been brought to Moscow to face charges of ‘terrorism’.

If EU leaders have any illusions about the validity of such ‘terrorism’ claims, they are misplaced.  As tragically off track, in fact, as the ongoing failure to do much more than continue issuing threats about “serious consequences” for continued aggression. 

Most Ukrainians view Russian influence as negative

In the latest Razumkov Centre survey, 73% of all Ukrainians regard Russia’s influence as bad, with only one in ten considering it positive.  52.5 % prioritize relations with the EU, against 16.8% with Russia

According to the latest Razumkov Centre survey more than 3 times more Ukrainian citizens named Ukraine’s main foreign policy priority as being relations with EU countries than prioritized contact with Russia.

52.5% prioritized relations with EU countries;  16.6% - contacts with Russia; and 6.8% with other countries of the CIS.

There were regional differences with the greatest support for cooperation with EU countries being in the West [85.9%] and Centre [67.2%].  In the South 31.6% prioritize contacts with the EU and 21.9% with Russia. 

In the East of Ukraine, however, a majority prioritized relations with Russia: 36.3% against those supporting contacts with EU countries [24.4%]

53.4% would support Ukraine’s joining the EU; 33.4% were against.  The Razumkov Centre notes that there was a clear divide here between West [88.2%] and Centre [66%] [and South and East where a majority would be against joining the EU [54.4% and 59.7%, respectively.]

There were varying assessments of the influence of particular countries and the EU.

The influence of the EU was most often seen as positive [48.5%] with 27.5% calling it negative.

39.2% saw US influence as positive; 31.8% - negative.

73.1% view Russia’s influence as negative. Only 10.3% considered it positive.

It is important to note here that the standard divide between West and Centre on the one hand, and South and East on the other was seen with respect to how the influence of the EU and USA was viewed, but a negative assessment of Russia’s influence prevailed throughout the country [from 97.4% in the West to 44.2% in the East.]

EU, Customs Union or neither

52.4% would favour joining the EU; 18% - the Customs Union; and 20.8% prefer non-allignment.

In the South 29.4% supported joining the EU; 24.3% - the Customs Union; and 35% - neither.

In the East 38% support joining the Customs Union; 25% - the EU.


Asked how they would vote in a referendum on joining NATO, 36.7% said that they would vote for, 41.6% - against.  There was again a geographical divide: 67% were in favour in the West; 46.9% in the Centre with 27.7% against.  Most people in the South and East were against [60% and 66.4% respectively.)

The survey was carried out from 25 to 29 April 2014 in all parts of Ukraine except the Crimea.

Chronicle of Russian Aggression

Russia has leapt in to effectively recognize the pseudo-referendums of May 11, with the self-declared ‘republics’ in no less haste to announce that they want to join Russia.

On May 13, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement effectively recognizing the pseudo-referendums held in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions the day before.

The statement repeated the line which Kremlin-supported Russian media had taken on Sunday, saying that the will of “the residents of the said regions had been expressed through an extremely active turnout”.  This was, it claimed, in spite of efforts by the Kyiv authorities to disrupt the voting including through the use of heavy artillery and ‘radical nationalists’ leading to casualties.

“The preliminary results of the vote count convincingly show the real wish of citizens of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to have the right to independently take decisions on issues concerning vitally important problems for them”.

The dishonesty is staggering

It is impossible to assess the turnout since:

there were no voters lists and no independent observers;

Ukrainian media representatives were prevented from even filming the vote;

people were able to vote without providing proper identification meaning that they were also able to ‘vote’ many times;

this could not be called ascertaining the will of residents of the relevant regions since not living in the area was also not an impediment to voting;

you could ‘vote’ for members of your family with fictitious addresses and passport numbers recorded.

The above are just some of the extraordinary aspects of these so-called referendums recorded by the Luhansk Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] and journalists.

Moscow’s Foreign Ministry has ignored all of them and given its stamp of approval on events which have been roundly condemned by election watchdogs, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission and democratic countries. 

Its backing for the ‘referendums’ is thus quite clear.  So too is Vladimir Putin’s dishonesty in promising to remove troops from Ukraine’s borders and supposed call on the pro-Russian militants to postpone the referendums.

The statement demands ‘dialogue’ on Ukraine’s future form of government, etc.  The official line is thus that Moscow is again trying to force ‘federalization’, no more.

This may or may not be true.  Both self-declared republics were just as much in a hurry on Monday to announce plans for ‘joining Russia’.

Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ tweeted that he had asked Russia to consider the DPR’s request to join Russia as federal subject.

‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ 

The organizers of Sunday’s vote claimed 96% support for independent status, and also speeded to call for Luhansk region to join Russia.

The upbeat noises were made as the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] a statement that there were no grounds for considering the ‘referendum’ on May 11 as having reflected the wishes of Luhansk residents. 

Halya Coynash

Neo-Nazis in Moscow’s Service

Neo-Nazi self-styled "people’s governor" Pavel Gubarev among friends  (

While criminalizing honest historical debate under the guise of fighting “restoration of Nazism”, the Kremlin is showing incredible willingness to use neo-Nazi groups for its dirty work in Ukraine

Whether Vladimir Putin’s call for a postponement of the May 11 pseudo-referendums in Donbas was genuine will shortly become clear.  The reported announcement that the leaders of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic are “against” postponement may indicate that it was a mere attempt to distance Moscow from the militants.  The attempt would be pitifully unconvincing, but that has not been a consideration up till now.  Nor has damage to Russia’s reputation of the Kremlin’s continuing use of neo-Nazis to do its dirty work.   

The latest scandal came on May 7 when SBU [the Security Service] made public an intercepted telephone call which appears to show a local militant – who calls himself Dmitry Boitsov - receiving instructions on holding the May 11 “referendum” from the head of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity movement, Alexander Barkashov. 

The tape which the SBU has provided English subtitles for can be found here.  If genuine, then Boitsov was having cold feet about the “referendum”, saying that they needed Russian support, including troops and that he couldn’t hold the referendum.  On the tape Barkashov tells him that the referendum can’t be cancelled, and advises him to forget about details, just write that 99%, well maybe 89% voted for the Donetsk republic.

Dmitry Boitsov  (

Boitsov is instructed to not complicate things, but to ask a simple question that “everybody” will be for.

This in fact is what the “referendums” do.  The Luhansk region single question asks whether people support independence for the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic.

It is possible that the recording is a fake, however the links with Barkashov and his neo-Nazi movement are certainly not.  On the social network VKontakte, Barkashov’s description of SBU manages to be both anti-Semitic and anti-Ukrainian.  He goes on to ask why he would be having a phone call when he can speak with Boitsov in person since he’s already in Donetsk.  “SO WE’RE HERE WAITING FOR BANDERA-SUPPORTING ENTHUSIASTS AND WILL KILL AS MANY AS WE CAN.”

Whether or not Barkashov is physically present in Donetsk, his comrades are.  One of them, Pavel Gubarev was released from detention on Wednesday as part of the exchange with three SBU officers captured, brutally beaten and paraded on Russian television channels two weeks ago.

Gubarev has been treated as “political prisoner No. 1” by the Kremlin and as a hero by the Russian media.  Information both about the violent disturbances initiated by this self-proclaimed people’s governor which resulted in his detention and his close ties to  far-right groups including RNE can be found here.  

RNE recently repeated the same call for Russian military intervention as that made earlier by Gubarev.  Considering its adherents’ usual specific vocabulary, the RNE appeal seems remarkably free of expletives and could be quoted.  It is not worth doing so, however, as all the phrases about an illegal Kyiv junta and the villainous Right Sector could be pulled from any Russian Foreign Ministry statement. 

With one notable omission.  There is no mention of “fascists” or “anti-Semites” which is hardly surprising given the neo-Nazi views RNE supporters espouse.

Gubarev with neo-Nazi friends

Viacheslav Likhachev who has for many years monitored xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine, explains that the Russian National Unity movement is the oldest neo-Nazi organization in Russia. As far back as 1990 it began using the swastika on its emblem and the Nazi raised arm greeting.

Likhachev points out that RNE fighters have been taking an active role in the pro-Russian “separatist” protests in Ukraine, mentioning Gubarev in particular.  Other radical nationalist and often anti-Semitic organizations have also been involved.  These include Black Hundred; the Eurasian Youth Union; and the National Bolshevik Party.  He adds that Barkashov and a number of others calling themselves RNE “inspectors” visited southern and eastern oblasts in March.

“As far as is possible to judge, at least a part of this activity by Russian neo-Nazis on Ukrainian territory is coordinated and led by the Russian security service”.  He notes that RNE has a long history of collaboration with the FSB.

Just this Monday Putin signed a law which criminalizes denial of Nazi crimes and “distortion of the role of the USSR in the Second World War”. 

Putin signed a law on May 5 making the denial of Nazi crimes and distortion of the Soviet Union’s role in the World War Two a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in jail.  Surveys have already found a large number of Russians unaware that the Soviet Union collaborated with Nazi Germany until June 22 1941.  One can assume that with the threat of a 5 year prison sentence, the range of taboo subjects will only increase. 

Those of us who indeed view Nazi ideology as monstrous can only feel profound frustration that this law appears aimed primarily at stifling free and honest historical discourse.  The Kremlin’s use of neo-Nazi allies to do its dirty work in Ukraine has been clear for a long time.  At a time when all of Europe remembers victory over Nazi Germany and those who died in that War, such collaboration is simply incomprehensible. 

Top 8 “separatist” contradictions

In talking with the supporters of federalization and regional republics in the east of Ukraine who call themselves separatists, you often hear similar reasons given for their protest. Further discussion often highlights significant contradictions in the separatists’ arguments. There are the top 8 of those most often cited.

1. Nobody has brought Donbas to its knees and nobody will.

Yet Kyiv residents and western Ukrainians should not have started EuroMaidan, but accepted total corruption, officials’ impunity, pillaging and repression under Yanukovych and meekly awaited new presidential elections.

2.  An armed junta has seized power in Kyiv

In response to this we will take up arms, storm the arms supplies of the Interior Ministry and Security Service, set up armed checkpoints around the city and region, and also seize television channels, the prosecutor’s office, the mayor’s office and regional administration.

3.  Yanukovych is legitimate even in Rostov on the Don, whereas the new Kyiv authorities are illegal

Therefore, without any elections we will appoint our own “people’s” governors, mayors, ministers, heads of police and leaders of the south-eastern army. No problem that some of them are wanted by the police – after all we’ve already seized the police and prosecutor’s office.

4.  Berkut and the police demonstrated heroism during Maidan. They are the foundation of peace and order in the country.

However we demand that the police in Donbas lay down their arms and don’t obstruct the seizure of official buildings so that we can block the work of the local authorities, plunder their offices and walk around the city with automatic rifles and other firearms for the peace of other city residents.

5. EuroMaidan should have been decisively crushed from the outset in order to maintain calm in the country.

However the armed separatists with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and seized armoured vehicles must not under any circumstances be dispersed – this is a peaceful protest by ordinary citizens!

6.  Fascism will not succeed in Donbas! Bandera supporters and Right Sector are a threat to the Russian-speaking citizens of eastern Ukraine

To ensure this, we will beat up, maim and kill all our Russian-speaking compatriots if they speak in Ukrainian or carry Ukrainian symbols.

7.  America and the EU are using Ukraine to obtain shale gas in the east of Ukraine which will probably destroy the local ecosystem.

We will therefore ask for defence and military assistance from Russia which, although the gas monopoly holder in Europe, clearly has no interest in shale gas fields in Donbas and in the Crimea.

8. Donbas needs autonomy so that residents’ taxes and the profits of  businesses stay there to develop the region

For this we will organize a referendum on federalization and after that join Russia in order to pay taxes to Moscow.  We will definitely live better and simply don’t believe that Donbas mines are loss-making and work for Ukrainian business at the expensive of subsidies from public funding.

Maksym Vasin, lawyer (Kyiv – Donetsk)  The original:

The right to life

UHHRU condemns police role in Odessa tragedy

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] has issued a statement in which it stresses that the “mass street disturbances were not a spontaneous clash between different youth groups.  It was a planned attack on a peaceful procession of soccer fan carried out by pro-Russian separatists armed with sticks, bats, shock pistols and firearms.” This resulted in violence from both sides and the setting alight of the Trade Union building which claimed the lives of 38 people.

UHHRU is scathing of the police who are called upon to protect law and order and who instead “were effectively on the side of the armed extremists attacking”. You can see, for example, how “armed provocateurs hide behind police shields and shoot from there at the crowd using pistols and automatic rifles.”  The police thus bear full responsibility for the terrible loss of life.

UHHRU stresses that this is not just a question of the head of the regional police in the Odessa oblast, P. Lutsyk, against whom a court investigation is underway, but the heads of the departments which were directly in charge of public order on the streets.

“UHHRU demands adequate reaction from the leaders of the country to these events.  The public should not pay such a tragic price for the inadequate fulfilment by the state of its obligaitons”

They demand a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances behind the Odessa tragedy, and that those responsible are brought to justice, including Odessa police officials who failed to take the necessary measures in detaining and unarming provocateurs attacking a peaceful demonstration.

They point to the emergence of many groups illegally possessing arms and stress that none of them, whether pro-Maidan or anti- , has any right to do this.

In eastern regions of the country, laws are effectively not functioning, and with force ruling.  This is resulting in violence from criminal gans, with robberies and looting being seen in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as abductions, torture, rape and murder. An end must be put to this, they stress.

UHHRU considers it vital, given the events in Odessa and eastern regions to draw up special measures aimed at protecting the presidential elections scheduled for May 25 from provocation.  One such measure could be to simultaneously hold a nationwide survey on the basis of the constitutional system in the new Constitution and the foreign policy direction for the country’s development.  This, they believe, will help to defuse the social tension in the country. 

The right to liberty and security

Two more Ukrainian activists disappear in Crimea

One of the protests against Russian annexation.  The banners read : The Crimea is our home; Crimea is Ukraine

The Coordinator of the civic organization Ukrainsky Dom [Ukrainian Home] reports that two of the organization’s activists have disappeared over the past week.  Timur Shaimardanov and Leonid Korzh are from Simferopol.  Both left their homes and did not return, and there has been no contact with them.

During a meeting with activists on May 25 Timur Shaimardanov said that he feared that  Leonid Korzh had disappeared, that there had been no sign of him for 3-4 days.

On the morning of May 26 Shaimardanov also left his home and did not return.  His partner says that he was planning to go to the Black Sear Bank for Reconstruction and Development.  There has been no contact with him since then.

Andrei Shchekun, leader of the Ukrainian community in the Crimea and of Ukrainsky Dom [who was himself abducted back in March] mentions Shaimardanov’s civic activism and his participation in protests against Russia’s occupation of the Crimea.  He explains that when Ukrainian military units were blocked by ‘green men’ [the soldiers without insignia but believed and now confirmed to be Russian] and pro-Russian activists. Timur organized a group of activists who kept guard around the clock at military units including the unit on the outskirts of Simferopol which was stormed. Timur’s group, he says, also protected pro-Ukrainian activists, activists of the movement ‘Women for Peace’ and journalists who were constantly being attacked by Cossacks and vigilantes. They also took part in protests against the so-called referendum and Crimea’s annexation.

Reported by the Centre for Journalist Investigations

The right to a fair trial

Forget judicial overhaul: for court presidents it’s business as usual

According to the head of Ukraine’s Supreme Court, Yaroslav Romanyuk, secret voting in courts at all levels has in 80% of the cases resulted in the court presidents retaining their posts.  He explained that a change in legislation had meant that not only the head of the Supreme Court, but of the majority of courts, are now elected by the judge corps.

He said that these elections were still ongoing, but as far as he knew in about 80% of the cases they had resulted in the court presidents previously appointed by the High Council of Justice retaining their posts. In some other cases there had been a change, and some have yet to hold a vote.

In a short assessment entitled “Will judges be able to prove the ability to be independent?”, Roman Kuybida from the Centre for Legal and Political Reform explains that the Law on judicial overhaul passed in early April resulted in all heads of courts and their deputies losing their administrative posts, though of course remaining judges of the relevant courts. The judge corps of each court gained the possibility to themselves elect the court heads and their deputies.  It did not, however, establish any methods for ensuring that the outgoing heads and deputies were not simply reinstated via a vote.

Kuybida writes that judging by reports in the media, dirty methods were often applied to ensure that the same judges retained their posts: bribery; spoiling voting papers; pressure on judges. In many courts no alternative candidates were put forward with judges worried about negative consequences if they lost to the supposedly outgoing heads.

This does mean that a large number of court presidents installed under the previous regime to ensure malleable judges remain in their places. It was only the high specialized courts which saw a shift, largely due to public pressure.

Kuybida points out that their interviews with judges found that until recently it was specifically court presidents who exerted the most pressure on them.  They used various forms of coercion to ensure that a case was resolved as they wished, including suggesting that the judge take leave or sick leave so as to hand the case over to somebody who would rubber stamp the ruling they wanted. 

’Terrorism’ trials for Crimean film director and other opponents of annexation

  Oleg Sentsov (top) and Alexander Kolchenko, two of the three men arrested by the Russian FSB.  Both have now been sent to Moscow with their families told that this is for ’expert assessments’.  They can be held in custody without a conviction for a year.  Less is known about the third person detained, and his family are presently avoiding publicity, however the charges seem no less fabricated in his case

Russia’s FSB has arrested a well-known Crimean film director, Oleg Sentsov, and two young men, apparently on terrorism charges. The 37-year-old film maker and civic activist is reported to have already been taken to the Lefortovo remand prison in Moscow, 23-year-old Alexander Kolchenko was taken to Moscow on May 23.  Gennady Afanasyev, also 23, appears to still be in the Crimea.  

In any country arrests on suspicion of terrorism may initially be veiled in secrecy for security reasons.  Two months after Russia annexed the Crimea, however, the mystery behind these three arrests is simply disturbing, particularly given the fact that all three men are known for their strong civic position and opposition to Russia’s occupation. This is the only real link.  Oleg Sentsov and Gennady Afanasyev know each other but they are of quite different ages, and Sentsov is not only busy as a film maker, but is bringing up two young children by himself.  There is no evidence of either knowing Kolchenko at all. 

The total secrecy over the FSB’S Crimean arrests is particularly worrying following the 5-year sentence passed on a human rights activist in Dagestan Zarema Bagavutdinova.  That trial, condemned as fabricated and politically motivated by the Memorial Human Rights Centre, was based on the ‘testimony’ of four secret witnesses and was held behind closed doors. 

Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture is following the situation and appeals have been made for Sentsov’s release by Ukraine’s National Filmmakers’ Union, the European Film Academy and Medienboar Berlin Brandenburg, a leading German Film Foundation.

All find the idea of Sentsov’s involvement in any terrorist plot absurd.  Those who know the other two say the same of them. No terrorist acts have been reported in the Crimea, nor any thwarted attempts, further fuelling the suspicion that all three men have been targeted for their open opposition to Russian occupation.


Oleg Sentsov is an ethnic Russian, born in the Crimea and categorically opposed to Russia’s annexation.  He was also involved in the AutoMaidan protests linked with EuroMaidan.  According to journalist Kateryna Serhatskova who first informed of Sentsov’s detention, he took an active stand in favour of Ukrainian unity and came to the assistance of Ukrainian military servicemen trapped in their units.  He also helped to get journalists and civic activists out of the Crimea.

He is also bringing up two children alone. His 9-year-old son who has autism was thankfully with his grandmother when the FSB turned up at 11 p.m. on May 11.  His 12-year-old daughter was not so lucky.

It is not at all clear what he is accused of.  Dmitry Dinze, a Russian lawyer who earlier represented Pussy Riot members, has taken on the case, but as of May 17 told Radio Svoboda that he had not yet seen Sentsov and knew very little.  “He is suspected of possessing a weapon, and of either organizing, or taking part in planning a terrorist act, or of a terrorist act already committed, that remains unclear.”

Asked if he believes the charges are politically motivated, he answered: “If our law enforcement bodies are trying in some way to repress activists from Ukraine in the Crimea, then I’d say there is of course a political component.

This view is shared by Sentsov’s colleagues in Ukraine and abroad.  The European Film Academy has demanded Sentsov’s release and states that “the EFA Board cannot tolerate it when people are persecuted for political reasons”.  Kirsten Niehuus, head of Medienboar Berlin Brandenburg, which is among the European backers of Sentsov’s new film Rhino, says that Sentsov’s only "crime" is his opposition to the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

  Gennady Afanasyev

According to Serhatskova, Gennady Afanasyev was the first to be arrested, a couple of days before Sentsov. His mother says that they are claiming he organized two terrorist acts.  As mentioned, there have been no terrorist acts, but this does not appear to worry Russia’s FSB.  They also allege that he was planning to blow up a monument to Lenin and some other places in Simferopol.

Afanasyev is a trained lawyer, but has recently been involved in photography.  He was also an active supporter of Ukrainian unity and took part in filming video clips to this effect before the so-called referendum of March 16 on joining Russia.


Alexander Kolchenko was arrested on May 16 on Franko Boulevard, near the FSB department. He was forced to the ground and then dragged into the building. He has not been seen since.

Kolchenko is well-known among civic activists in the Crimea.  He holds left-wing views and until recently often came into conflict with Ukrainian nationalists.  Ideological differences were put on hold following Russia’s effective invasion and annexation of the Crimea which Kolchenko totally opposed.

Thus far three men who share a stand of active opposition to Russian annexation, but nothing else, are in FSB custody, facing a minimum sentence of 10 years if convicted of ‘terrorism’.  The only thing clear is that maximum publicity is needed for their cases. With such methods and understanding of ‘terrorism’ anybody could be next. 

Details for how you can help the three men’s families can be found here

Ukrainian film producer facing Russian ‘terrorism’ charges

Filmmakers have come out in defence of Oleg Sentsov, Ukrainian film producer and EuroMaidan activist who, as reported, was arrested in Simferopol on May 11 and is understood to be accused by Russia’s FSB of ’planning a terrorist act’.

The following is slightly adapted from their report.

The head of one of Germany’s leading regional film funds is calling for the release of a Ukrainian director seized from his home last week by Russian secret service officials.  Kirsten Niehuus, head of Medienboar Berlin Brandenburg, says director Oleg Sentsov was arrested at his home in Simferopol, Crimea and accused of organizing a terrorist attack.  Niehuus, whose fund is among the European backers of Sentsov’s new feature Rhino,  says Sentsov’s only "crime" is his opposition to the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

An ethnic Russian, Sentsov had been involved in supporting the Euro Maidan protests in Kiev during the winter.  More recently he was involved in helping Ukrainian military officers who do not support Russia’s annexation of Crimea leave the territory.

Sentsov was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning by officials from Russia’s Federal Security Service. He sent a message to a local journalist in the early hours that day but has not been heard from since.

Members of the Ukrainian Filmmakers Union, which has protested his detention along with the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture, understand he has been accused of organizing a terrorist attack and had been flown to Moscow to face trial there. He is believed to have been taken to the city’s notorious 19th century Lefortovo prison.

Niehuus said: "It is extremely scary; if there are rules, however stupid, you may make a choice about your actions. But when the rules change day to day that makes it impossible for any thinking person."

She first met the award-winning director at the Odessa International Film Festival, where she was impressed by his debut feature Gaamer. Medienboard agreed to support Rhino after German producer Alexander Ris picked up the project.

Hrovje Hribar, head of the Croatian Audiovisual Center, which is also supporting the film, told The Hollywood Reporter that industry professionals need to raise awareness for Senstov’s plight at the highest levels.

"This is very disturbing news, " he said.

Sentsov, who denies any wrongdoing, is due to be defended in Moscow by Dmitry Denze, a Russian lawyer who worked on Pussy Riot case.

Ukrainian filmmakers say they believe Sentsov’s arrest is part of a campaign of intimidation against those who disagree with Russian’s annexation of Crimea last March. Around two dozen other people have also been detained.

British producer,  Mike Downey, deputy chair of the European Film Academy, who helped broker funding for Rhino and is currently working with Sentsov’s producer,  Olga Zhurzhenko, issued a statement. 

“Sentsov is one many people arrested in Crimea and carted off to Moscow on trumped up charges. I would hope that we can use his position as a public figure to draw attention to this. I urge our brave friends and colleagues in the Russian industry to speak out, " Downey said. 

If convicted, Sentsov faces up to 10 years in prison under Russian law, the minimum term for those involved in terrorism.

The filmmaker’s wife and two children, who are still in Crimea, are understood to have been moved by family friends to a safe place.

Russia’s state-run media has been silent on the case, but opposition and independent news outlets have expressed support for the jailed director.

"Crimea seems to have become a testing ground for a crackdown on those with dissident opinions, " online magazine reported. "And what is happening is really a terrorist attack; one of its victims is Oleg Sentsov."

Interethnic relations

Incidents of anti-Semitism noted in areas seized by pro-Russian militants

At a press conference on May 16 in Kyiv, Ira Forman, US Special Envoy on Anti-Semitism explained the results of his visit to Ukraine aimed at assessing the impact that the current crisis is having on Jewish communities in Ukraine.

He explained that the situation in Ukraine was especially important given the Russian propaganda and claims that the interim government is populated by fascists and anti-Semites, and that Jews are leaving in mass numbers.  He mentions also reports of “pro-Russian actors purchasing and propagating propaganda all around the globe targeting the world Jewish community”.

Ira Forman’s comments can be heard in full here

He found overwhelming consensus among members of the Jewish community with regard to the following:

There are no fears of anti-Semitism connected with the interim government.

There are acts of anti-Semitism, but these fall into two categories.  The first are associated with ‘pro-Russian actors in the East and South’.  The second category involves incidents where the perpetrators are unknown, but where there is widespread believe among members of the Jewish community that they are probably perpetrated by pro-Russian actors and not associated with either the interim government or with nationalist movements.

Forman stressed that “it is wrong and dangerous to use anti-Semitism as a political tool in the run up to the presidential election. It is extremely dangerous especially given the history of this part of the world.”  He said that the claims made by pro-Russian actors and Russian authorities about the Ukrainian interim government are simply false and misinformation.  His conversations with the authorities have convinced him of their determination to find the culprits of incidents of anti-Semitism,  

Deported peoples

Crimean Tatars defy ban on remembrance

As Mustafa Dzhemilev, Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP predicted, Crimean Tatars have refused to be cowered by the ban on all meetings imposed by the occupation regime in the Crimea.  Forced from the traditional square in the centre of Simferopol by an offensive crowd of OMON riot police and military, Crimean Tatars have been taking part in remembrance ceremonies and prayers in Simferopol, Bakhchysarai and other regions of the Crimea. 

Despite the ban on all meetings imposed by the occupying regime in the Crimea, around 500 people took part in the traditional ‘Light a flame in your heart’ action on Saturday evening.  The entirely peaceful remembrance gathering should have been held on Lenin Square in the centre of Simferopol but thiis had already been cordoned off by OMON, military personnel and armed personnel carriers. It took place instead in Ak-Mechet, a Crimean Tatar district on the outskirts of Simferopol.

Those gathered took part in a remembrance prayer after which each could light a candle in memory of those who died during the 1944 Deportation.  Eskender Bariev, one of the organizers stresses that as in previous years this was a totally peaceful meeting of remembrance without any slogans or calls to action. “Our action has always been peaceful and beautiful. Everybody loved it, people of different nationalities”.

Many of the participants were carrying Crimean flags, and one came with a Ukrainian flag with a black ribbon.  This, Radio Svoboda’s Crimea site reports, annoyed the police present who began demanding that he remove it.  He refused, saying that he was a citizen of Ukraine, and pointing out that Russia legislation does not ban having a Ukrainian flag.  

“I am a citizen of Ukraine, here is my Ukrainian passport.  I have come, on behalf of my country, to express my sympathy to the Crimean Tatar People.”

The argument over the flag lasted around 10 minutes. The police officer finally moved off, having decided not to draw up a protocol of an administrative offence, however the incident was videoed.

Similar actions (without any bans) were held in Kyiv, Lviv and probably many other places. 

Bakhchysarai: Military helicopters deployed against remembrance gathering

At 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, during a remembrance gathering on Lenin Square in Bakhchysarai, two military helicopters began circling overhead. They flew low during the entire remembrance ceremony trying to drown out the people speaking.

Radio Svoboda reports that the meeting was attended by many elderly people, including those who remember the Deportation, as well as children.

When the helicopters appeared, those present chanted “Mustafa” [after Mustafa Jemiliev, veteran leader of the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian MP banned by the occupation regime / Russia from returning to his homeland], as well as the Crimean Tatar words for People! Homeland! Crimea!


In a grotesquely inappropriate show of force, not only has the centre been blocked off by  large numbers of OMON, military and armed personnel carriers, but helicopters are flying over Simferopol and areas with large Crimean Tatar populations.  Radio Svoboda reports witnesses as saying that all the gatherings are being filmed by unidentified individuals.  The technology may be more modern, however the methods are depressingly Soviet. 

Prayers were held in two places agreed earlier – Salgirka Park and near the memorial stone in the square outside the railway station. A meeting took place after prayers in the park.

An all-Crimean prayer for the dead [duya] was held near the mosque in Ak-Mechet on the outskirts of Simferopol. It was attended by over 10 thousand Crimean Tatars from different regions of the Crimea.

Mustafa Jemiliev was forced to take part in remembrance ceremonies in Kyiv since the occupation regime has banned him from being in his native Crimea. 

See Russian Clamp on Crimean Tatar Remembrance for more information about the ban and other repressive measures seen since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.

Halya Coynash

All photos are from Radio Svoboda

Russian Clamp on Crimean Tatar Remembrance

The limited force of words, even those from western leaders expressing full solidarity with the Crimean Tatars has become poignantly clear on this – seventieth - anniversary of their forced deportation from their homeland. On May 16 Crimea’s self-proclaimed head, Sergei Aksenov, issued a decree effectively banning all remembrance ceremonies.  Had it not been for Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, EU, US and other countries’ representatives would have been among the many guests joining Crimean Tatars in remembering the victims of a terrible crime.  Their presence could have averted this extraordinary ban, or at least served to restrain the authorities from enforcing it. Although the Mejlis decided on Saturday to not hold the traditional mass meeting in the centre of Simferopol, Mejlis head, Refat Chubarov said on Friday that many Crimean Tatars had told him that they would not heed the ban. Mustafa Dzhemiliev, veteran champion of Crimean Tatar rights, also believes that people will still come to the central square "and they will be right – we need to uphold our rights. There were plenty of things they banned in Soviet times as well”. 

The dilemma for the Mejlis was terrible.  Chubarov pointed out that Simferopol had been filled with spetsnaz [specially trained units] and in a clearly threatening move Russian OMON riot police held ‘training exercises’ in the middle of the city on Saturday.  The risk of bloodshed was enormous, as was the blow the ban constituted, as Chubarov explained.

Can you imagine – there are 22 regions and in each region there are places where people come to honour the dead, places with memorial stones, and Crimean Tatars on May 17-18 don’t have the right to go there together to pay their respects, to honour those people! I don’t know what kind of person you have to be to not think of the consequences! I don’t know how to stop people so that they don’t go there. It’s like telling everybody “Don’t go to your holy places, don’t visit your dead” If they prohibited you, how would you act?  Force can stop everything, or not everything – it won’t stop the human spirit.”

He likened it to Jewish people being prohibited from honouring the victims of the Holocaust or Ukrainians – those who were starved to death in Holodomor.

Chubarov dismissed the excuses given for the ban – events in the South-East of Ukraine and supposed “possible provocation by extremists” and disruption to the tourist season” and noted that the ban ends just in time for the festivities scheduled for the ‘Great Russian Word’ festival on June 6.

Since a meeting took place between Chubarov and the Russian Federation’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, Ella Pamfilova on Saturday and did not result in the ban being waived, it is clear that the move has at very least the tacit approval of the authorities in Russia. 

At an emergency meeting on Saturday, the Mejlis decided to cancel the huge gathering in Simferopol, as well as the remembrance action planned for the evening of May 17 “Light a flame in your heart”, asking people instead to light candles in their own homes.  Remembrance ceremonies, agreed with bodies of local self-government, would be held in villages and settlements in the Crimea from 8.00 to 9.30 on May 18, and in district centres from 11.00 to 13.00.  Chubarov explains that the meeting which should be taking place in the centre of the Crimean capital will this year take the form of All-Crimean prayers, beginning at 13.00, in the micro-district Ak-Mechet in Simferopol, outside the local mosque.  

The Mejlis was sharply critical of the suggestion put forward by the ‘government’s’ organizing committee that they hold remembrance ceremonies at the Muslim cemetery Abdal in Simferopol.  Chubarov assumes that the suggestion came from those who remember that in Soviet times all remembrance events on May 18 were banned, and people gathered at the cemetery.

He says that for the first time in 23 years the Crimean Tatars find themselves In a situation where they are forced to explain to the authorities how important it is for a community to retain memory, how important it is for the living to gather on a particular day and pray together for the souls of the dead. 

Managed Remembrance?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s specific attitude to the truth seen in his denial of Russian military involvement in the Crimea has been equally demonstrated in his dishonest assurances of respect for Crimean Tatar rights.  The UN’s latest report on the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea specifically mentions many serious violations against the Crimean Tatars. These include, of course, the ban on veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev returning to his homeland.  Over the last week there have been a disturbing number of searches of Crimean Tatars’ homes, supposedly on suspicion of ‘terrorism’.  

It appears that Russia and its puppet government in the Crimea are concentrating on those few Crimean Tatars who have agreed to cooperate with the occupation regime.  Since the Mejlis and the Crimean Tatars categorically condemned the invasion and consider the Crimea to be Ukraine, the regime appears to be bringing in Tatars from Kazan in Tatarstan.

Many Crimean Tatars have been faced with dismissal or losing their land if they did not accept Russian citizenship, and there was enormous pressure to buckle under and accept, as Putin told certain selected Tatars on Friday, that their future was now linked with Russia.

How long this may be the case is, tragically, unclear. The repressive measures of the last few weeks, however, make it very unlikely that more than a handful of Crimean Tatars will see Russian rule as anything but a tragedy. 

News from the CIS countries

Russia: 5-year sentence for human rights defender Zarema Bagavutdinova

  Zarema Bagavutdinova has been convicted in a trial which the Memorial Human Rights Centre calls politically motivated and, chillingly, on the dubious ‘testimony’ of four secret witnesses questioned behind closed doors 

The Russian Memorial Human Rights Centre has condemned the sentence passed on member of the Pravozashchyta [Human Rights Defence] NGO, Zarema Bagavutdinova. 

On May 21 a court in Dagestan [Russian Federation] sentenced Zarema Bagavutdinova to 5 years imprisonment.  Memorial calls the criminal proceedings rigged and the sentence politically motivated.

At the beginning of her trial in December 2013 Memorial declared her a political prisoner, and says that it was clear even then that the real reason for her prosecution was her human rights activities.

The prosecution claimed that Bagavutdinova had from October to December 2011 tried to persuade a friend, Mammu Dalgatov to join an illegal armed formation, promising to marry him after that. Dalgatov was killed at the end of September 2013 during a counter-terrorist operation.

The trial confirmed Memorial’s view.  The defendant’s rights were violated from the outset with the state prosecutor demanding that the trial be held behind closed doors.  He argued that an open trial could lead to operational secrets being divulged and that secret witnesses needed to be questioned.

Judge N. Vagidov did not simply make certain hearings closed, but without any legal justification ruled that the whole trial would be behind closed doors.

This, Memorial says, was undoubtedly to avoid the fabricated nature of the case becoming evident during open hearings.

Information about the hearings did emerge anyway, and showed that the prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of four secret witnesses.  One of the four retracted his evidence given during the investigation, saying that it had been forced out of him.

The second secret witness who is himself in custody on charges of taking part in an illegal armed formation gave extremely unclear testimony.  He told investigators that he had heard Bagavutdinova persuade Dalgatov “to go to Jihad and join the Mujahideen”. 

During the court hearing he could not remember the content of this conversation and asked the court to simply read out his earlier statement given to the investigator.  

The third secret witness who appeared under a fictitious name and gave evidence from behind a screen, was able to say only that “according to his information, the defendant recruited into the illegal armed formation a person from Dagestan” whose name he couldn’t remember.  

This third ‘witness’ was unable to describe either the man allegedly recruited, or Zarema Bagavutdinova.

Dalgatov’s relatives and friends said in court that he had held radical views and supported the illegal formation long before his alleged conversations with Bagavutdinova.  There  was no need for her to ‘recruit’ him.

Other witnesses for the defence described how Bagavutdinova had had difficulties with the local police because of her work.  They gave examples of police obstruction of her human rights activities.

The defence asked for the police dossier on Dalgatov who was already on their records for ‘inclination to extremism’ to be presented in court. This would have provided a clear idea of when Dalgatov’s links with the illegal formation began.  This would have been important additional evidence either supporting or undermining the case for the prosecution. The prosecutor objected and the judge turned down the application, showing yet again, Memorial points out, its lack of interest in getting to the truth.

Zarema Bagavutdinova has consistently denied the charges.

Despite the obviously flawed nature of the case, the court on May 21 convicted her.

The Memorial Human Rights Centre will be providing help to gain justice for Zarema Bagavutdinova.  It calls on colleagues from Russian and other countries, journalists and the public at large to give this case their closest attention. 

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #05