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 Russian Invasion and Deaths Putin didn’t mention

Why should Russia be in no doubt of ‘serious consequences’ when even with evidence pouring in of direct involvement by Russian forces using Russian tanks and sophisticated arms on Ukrainian territory, western leaders largely continued to rehash old warnings?

With speaker after speaker at an emergency Security Council session on Aug 28 spelling out Russia’s aggression in Ukraine while announcing no real measures to stop it, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to add his words of ‘concern’ about senseless deaths.

An ‘Appeal to the insurgents of Novorossiya’ appeared on his website at 1 a.m. on Aug 29.   In it, he states that the “insurgents have had serious success in stopping Kyiv’s military operation which is posing a deadly threat to the population of Donbas and has already led to huge numbers of victims among civilians.  As the result of the actions of the insurgents a large number of Ukrainian soldiers who are taking part in the military operation through no fault of their own, but obeying orders, have ended up surrounded”.   He calls on “the insurgents” to create a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian soldiers surrounded, and allow them to “be reunited with their families, return them to their mothers, wives and children”. 

“Russia on its part is ready and will provide humanitarian assistance to the population of Donbas suffering a humanitarian catastrophe.” He “again” calls on the Ukrainian authorities to immediately cease military action and “sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of Donbas, resolve all the problems that have built up solely through peaceful means”.

His ‘appeal’ with photos of him looking suitably concerned were immediately broadcast on all Russian television channels, and indeed the words were presumably mainly for their benefit.  In his version, only the Ukrainian military are the aggressors and causing suffering, and now the merciful Russians are asking the ‘insurgents’ to show pity on blameless soldiers obeying orders and their families.

Before considering all that Putin chose to ignore, it is worth considering why he believes such a verbal performance to be sufficient.  There were certainly hard-hitting statements at the UN session, with the US Ambassador Samantha Powers as incisively truthful as ever. Other than that countries’ leaders and UN representatives steered well clear of any words that might suggest immediate – or any – action.  

According to the BBC, “French President Francois Hollande said it would be "intolerable" if Russian troops were in Ukraine, and demanded Russia stop sending aid to the rebels.”

Why the conditional “it would be” unless he wants to deny not only NATO reports, but the ample video footage he can view himself?”

“British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that if Russia failed to find a political solution, "she should be in no doubt that there will be further consequences"

Why should Russia be in no doubt of an adequate response when even on a day when there was incontrovertible evidence of direct Russian military involvement, the reaction is so pitiful?

One can only hope that the response will swiftly prove to contain more than simply expressions of ever greater ‘concern’.  It is galling that at present Putin is making more effort to deceive the Russian people, than he is the West.

He may well fail.  Not because protests cannot, at present, be repressed.  Great credit to those few individuals like Dmitry Monakhov who came out onto Manezh Square in Moscow to assert that Russia’s aggression was illegal and have paid with terms of imprisonment.  There were only isolated voices.

This may be changing as Russians begin to understand that their own soldiers, including conscripts, are being sent to fight Russia’s undeclared war.

NATO spoke of well over a thousand Russian forces on Ukrainian territory, with the combat solders in question armed with highly sophisticated technology. According to Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, as many as 15 thousand Russian soldiers may now be fighting in Ukraine.  She stresses that it is hard to say how many are officially serving at the moment.  Others may have severed contracts or be on unpaid leave.  If the latter, then somebody is paying them to take time off to fight this Kremlin-supported and armed war. 

It is quite clear, however, that there are also many currently serving soldiers in Ukraine.  Some have been killed with quite grotesque efforts made to keep the cause and place of death secret as well as thuggish methods applied against journalists trying to find out the truth.  This, as well as the fact that the mothers of the soldiers captured by the Ukrainian military knew nothing about their sons fighting in Ukraine, demonstrates the full cynicism of Putin’s ‘appeal’ and professed concern for anxious family members.

Putin’s claim that Ukrainian soldiers are there ‘through no fault of their own’ is especially mendacious considering that among the Russians sent to fight in Ukraine, there appear to be conscripts, as well as contracted soldiers who have been given no choice.  Melnikova reports that one young man sent his mother a text message saying that Colonel Medinsky had gathered soldiers together and told them to sign a contract to go to Luhansk.  The colonel told them that if they didn’t sign, he would sign for them.

After talking to the parents of conscripts from a Ryazan paratrooper division, Melnikova believes that as many as 250 conscripts may have been forced to sign contracts to be sent to Ukraine next week.

Such information has also been received by Sergei Krivenko from the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council. It is unclear whether they have specific grounds for believing that the supposed ‘exercises’ in the Rostov oblast are a cover, and their sons are being sent to Ukraine, or have simply understood that the authorities cannot be trusted.   Both Krivenko and another member of the Council Ella Polyakova have received figures suggesting that one hundred Russian soldiers were killed on Aug 13, and a further 300 injured.

It can’t be said that Russia’s leaders have no wish for the truth to be told.  On Aug 28, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Russia “must establish the exact number of deaths in the First World War”. 

Medvedev’s priority one century on was reported by TV Dozhd which has begun its own civic investigation “Our Soldiers” to find out what is going on with soldiers being sent to Ukraine. 

Ella Polyakova  told Reuters that “when masses of people, under commanders’ orders, on tanks, APCs and with the use of heavy weapons, (are) on the territory of another country, cross the border, I consider this an invasion.”

Putin clearly believes that not mentioning the nasty word and using all forms of coercion and deceit to try to hide the truth will work.  Death and human suffering will prove him wrong.  How much more blood will be spilt and lives destroyed depends now on when western countries finally understand they must act

If Russia is not at war, then who is in those freshly-dug graves?

In its editorial comment, warns that “in the conflict in the south-east of Ukraine the Russian authorities are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the Soviet regime”/  It asks: “Is Russia fighting in Ukraine and if so, then on what grounds?  If not, then who is in those freshly-dug graves or giving testimony at SBU interrogations?”

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin’s KGB predecessors were unable to keep the death of large numbers of people secret, though they certainly tried.  Efforts are still underway in Pskov and other parts of Russia to conceal the death or injury of a large number of soldiers sent to fight Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine.  Despite obvious pressure on relatives to keep silent and violence against journalists, it is becoming increasingly clear that many of those previously assumed to have been mercenaries, were soldiers.  There are indications that at least some of those who went to fight were paid 250 thousand roubles, a large amount especially for Dagestan, where there is widespread poverty and unemployment.

On Tuesday, Ella Polyakova, member of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council and head of an NGO for the mothers of soldiers told TV Dozhd that she had been informed of around 100 wounded soldiers having been flown to the military medical academy in St Petersburg.  There is no information about how – or where -  they received their injuries and she is currently checking the information.

Polyakova and another member of the council, Sergey Krivenko have written to Russia’s Investigative Committee asking that an investigation be carried out into how 9 contract soldiers from the 18th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, many from Dagestan, died.  The official version is that they died on a shooting range in the Rostov oblast (near the border with Ukraine) on Aug 9 and 11. 

Polyakova also told Dozhd that soldiers contracted for service in Dagestan had been paid a lump sum of 250 thousand roubles for taking part in military action in the east of Ukraine.  She cited the head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in the Stavropol region, Ludmila Bogatenkova.   In a republic with a high rate of unemployment, the money is a major incentive.

Contract soldiers wounded in Ukraine are, she says, simply dismissed on their return to Russia.  She explains that there are no documents that will confirm that they have taken part in any military action.  “Russia is not waging a war, there is no military action”.

No documentary proof is therefore provided, however Polyakova’s assertions coincide in many details with information coming to light from the relatives of other soldiers.  Many of them have not been in contact since around Aug 17, and there are unfortunately good grounds for fearing that they may have been killed in the fighting that Moscow is continuing to claim it has nothing to do with. 

After a number of soldiers were caught by the Ukrainian army, the Russian defence ministry, and later Putin himself, claimed that soldiers might have wandered across the border ‘by accident’. 

Since the US and NATO have confirmed the presence of Russian military personnel in Ukraine and that arms and equipment are being sent across the border, this seriously strains credulity.  It also fails to gel with the stories journalists have been hearing from the relatives of soldiers who have not been in touch for the last 10 days.

The relatives of one young soldier say that he had told them that he was at military exercises in the Rostov oblast. When they asked why they couldn’t get through to him by telephone, during the last contact with him a week ago, he avoided answering and simply told them that all was well.  

In that case, it almost certainly wasn’t and they received a strange telephone call from Ukraine asking them to come and “collect the body”.

The parents of Ilya Maximov from Saratov have heard nothing at all, and are obviously going crazy with worry.

As reported, it seems more than likely that the so-called humanitarian convoy military trucks, many of which entered Ukraine half-empty were used to carry the bodies of those killed back to Russia. 

The funerals of many paratroopers and GRU military intelligence officers have been taking place in the last two days in the Pskov oblast in Russia with the dead buried without any indication of how they died and where.  There are also efforts to stop people finding out. 

Perhaps the most disturbing is the behaviour of one of the soldiers’ wives, or somebody pretending to be her.  Novaya Gazeta explains that the wife of Leonid Kichatkin reported his death on Aug 22 on the social network VKontakte.  By the next day Leonid’s page had disappeared, and when Novaya rang the number that had been given, the woman who was supposedly Leonid Kichatkin’s wife insisted that her husband was alive, well and right next to her.  A man then took the phone and confirmed that he was Kichatkin.

The Novaya journalist found Leonid Kichatkin’s newly dug grave in the Vybuty cemetery outside Pskov.  The photo is that seen on his wife’s VKontakte page.

On Wednesday, Dozhd reported that the names, as well as the wreaths and ribbons, have disappeared from the graves of two paratroopers buried on Aug 25: Leonid Kichatkin and Alexander Osipov. 

Four journalists, from Dozhd and Telegraf were assaulted and threatened at the cemetery on Tuesday by men who were obviously lying in wait and meaning business.  It is unfortunately likely that bereaved relatives are also being placed under pressure to hide the truth, made even more shameful by attempts to conceal even the deaths of men Moscow sent to fight its dirty war. 

Macabre Convoy: Cargo 200 from Ukraine to Russia

There is more and more evidence that Russian soldiers are fighting – and dying – on Ukrainian territory, and that the so-called ‘humanitarian convoy’ may have been used to take the dead back to Russia, including paratroopers from Pskov killed near Luhansk

A day of mourning has been declared in the Russian city of Pskov on Aug 26.  This comes five days after the Ukrainian armed captured two armed personnel carriers and reportedly discovered documents identifying men as paratroopers from the Pskov airborne brigade No. 74268.  It has long been known that a large number of Russian mercenaries, as well as some supporters of the Russian neo-fascist ideologue Alexander Dugin are fighting against the Ukrainian army. This, however, was the first serious evidence that Russian military personnel are also involved. 

Reports at the time, such as Kyiv Post’s “Ukraine gets new evidence of Russian soldiers fighting on its turf” were vehemently denied by Russia’s defence ministry, though no credible explanation appears to have been offered for the large number of documents found.  These included the passport of Nikolay Krygin from Pskov and a journal with the names of other soldiers presumably also engaged in the military action.   

The information provided in a blog by Yelena Vasilyeva at Ekho Moskvy has all been reported by other sources, including Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.  In her article entitled “Cargo 200 from Ukraine to Russia”, Vasilyeva notes that the authorities are claiming that several paratroopers from the Pskov airborne division blew themselves up during training at the shooting range near Pskov.  There are only rumours about the number of men killed, some say ten, others fifteen.   In the village of Vybuty (Pskov oblast) the funeral took place on Monday of some or all of the paratroopers. reports that one of its local sources was able to attend the ceremony in church.  The dates and circumstances of the men’s death were not revealed, only their names.  The ceremony was guarded by police, and strangers were not admitted. mentions that there are also reports of deaths of servicemen from other regions of Ukraine.

The dates don’t add up

The Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu is reported to have gone to Pskov on Aug 22.   Information about the deaths of the Pskov paratroopers came after this date, reason to believe that paratroopers had been in eastern Ukraine, and reports that a large number of women in Pskov were in black – before his visit.   

Shoygu was expected to take part in a ceremony handing out the Suvorov order to members of a Pskov paratrooper division.  

The Suvorov Order is awarded for military action.   Whether this was action in eastern Ukraine or in the Crimea is not clear, but it was not for helping farmers with the harvest.  Vasilyeva is adamant that the order cannot be awarded in peacetime.  President Vladimir Putin’s decree No. 571 from Aug 18, 2014 regarding the awards, she says, “is official documentary confirmation that Russian Federation military forces have launched and are waging war against Ukraine on its territory.”

Vasilyeva writes that most people in Pskov, and in other cities, are so brainwashed that they are convinced that Ukraine has been destroyed, bombed to hell by the Ukrainian military with the help of the Americans and NATO.  They are genuinely grateful to Putin believing that he has not brought Russian soldiers into Ukraine and “has saved thousands of innocent lives and Russian soldiers”. 

Vasilyeva reports that the bodies of paratroopers have been returned to Pskov in white KAMAZ trucks.  The only white Russian military trucks are those which gained world attention over the last weeks when Russia announced that it was sending a ‘humanitarian convoy’ to Ukraine.  Not only were the contents of many of the trucks not checked, but the trucks entered Ukraine illegally and were accompanied only by Kremlin-backed militants.  As a likely load on their way back, “freight 200” [the code number for bodies] had seemed possible, and this does indeed seem to have been the case..  Vasilyeva writes that information finally started seeping through all social networks, despite efforts by the security service to remove posts.  According to the author, the morgue in Rostov (Russia) is also overfilled with bodies. 

A Facebook group has been formed entitled  “Cargo 200 from Ukraine to Russia” on which people try to gather all information available about contracted and conscripted soldiers killed in Ukraine.  The starkest message reads: “Russian: Is your son, brother, friend serving in the army, especially the paratroopers?.  CONTACT HIM URGENTLY!  MAYBE HE’S ALREADY BEEN KILLED?  After all the Russian army is so very definitely “not fighting” on Ukrainian territory!.”   

Is there proof? Incontrovertible evidence is always difficult to find and none of the details above can be confirmed.  They do, however, coincide with numerous reports, together with video footage, from witnesses in Ukraine.  These are backed up by Polish television and the viewings by many journalists who were following the so-called humanitarian convoy, including two UK journalists who saw military vehicles cross the border. 

The use of “military personnel” has also been confirmed by NATO and the USA.  Neither they nor Germany and France seem in a hurry to broadcast this too loudly, doubtless fearing the consequences.

With a number of tanks reliably reported to have crossed into Ukraine on Monday morning, Ukrainians, Poles and the Baltic republics are, on the contrary, all too well aware of the consequences of continued western failure to do more than express strong concern.  

Repressive media restrictions dropped in law on sanctions

On Thursday the Verkhovna Rada voted to adopt Law No. 4453a on international sanctions for supporting and financing terrorism in Ukraine.  Highly contentious provisions which would have enabled Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council to restrict or close Ukrainian media were withdrawn from the bill. 

The bill was initiated by the government and in presenting it on Thursday, the Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk stated that since its first reading on Tuesday, a number of amendments had been made.  “This is a framework law, he said, - which gives the state the right to defend its interests. The head of state will have the right, via the National Security and Defence Council [RNBO] to introduce a range of sanctions along the lines of those imposed by our western partners – EU countries, the USA and the G7.”

According to Yatsenyuk, the government had agreed to remove restrictions proposed against postal services, television, radio and other media.  Such restrictions can therefore only be imposed by a court order.  The sanctions will apply against 172 individuals and 65 legal entities from Russia and other countries for financing terrorism in Ukraine and supporting Russian occupation of the Crimea.

Asked by MPs about whether the sanctions would affect Ukrainian nationals, Yatsenyuk stated that they would only touch an aggressor state, foreign businesses and only foreign agents and the like.

The bill received 244 votes (with the minimum required 226). 

The original draft, adopted as a base on Aug 12, aroused a wave of protest from journalist unions and associations, as well as from international media watchdogs.  There were fears that national security considerations could result in serious restrictions on media freedom, with the RNBO being given powers not assigned it by Ukraine’s Constitution.

The original draft law No. 4453a would have made it possible, without a court ruling, for RNBO to: ban or restrict the broadcasting of television or radio stations and / or the use of Ukrainian radio frequencies; restrict or suspend media and other information sources, including on the Internet; restrict or ban the production or circulation of printed matter or other information material; restrict or suspend telecommunication services and the use of telecommunication networks. 

There was no time limit on such powers, and they allowed the RNBO and President, rather than the court, to decide whether a given media source posed a danger to national security etc.

New information from Radio Svoboda and

Serious failings seen in new ‘lustration’ bill

Volodymyr Yavorsky, lawyer and human rights specialist, has subjected the latest draft law on lustration to close analysis and his verdict is not good.  There are numerous failings in the bill “On cleaning up the authorities” and on the whole, he says, it is a populist document which will not achieve the intended effect.  Instead of defending democracy, lustration as per this bill would be more likely to turn into a mechanism of selective political persecution of officials and would destroy independent institutions.

Yavorsky explains that lustration is a means of transitional justice applied when a country is moving from dictatorship to democracy in order to protect democracy from slipping backwards.  It entails restrictions on the rights of certain categories of people to hold certain positions in government service or to stand for elected office to particular posts.

Yavorsky stresses that lustration is without any question a necessary measure for defending Ukraine’s democracy, especially in today’s conditions.

The bill under discussion is an attempt to combine various bills on lustration put forward at the end of March and beginning of April. Unfortunately, he says, it takes a basically populist approach and some of its provisions are in breach of Council of Europe recommendations and the principles of international law, as well as the practice of other countries with respect to lustration.

No single independent lustration body

The bill’s authors have rejected the idea of creating a single independent lustration body, with responsibility for carrying out lustration given to the heads of all other bodies of power. Key institutions are defined as being the National Agency on the Government Service; the Central Election Commission; the High Council of Justice; the President, and others.

No requirements are imposed on candidates for the post of member of a central or territorial lustration commission, created by the National Agency on the Government Service.

The main work on ‘cleaning up’ the authorities is thus assigned to the heads of the relevant bodies of power.

Yavorsky notes that according to the Council of Europe’s guiding principles on lustration and adherence to the principle of rule of law, passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, lustration can be carried out solely by an independent specially created body. This prevents divergent interpretation and application of the law; selective prosecution; adoption of politically motivated or other biased decisions, etc.  

Members of lustration committees in other countries have, he points out, largely been people with considerable authority in society since it’s important that the public view the process as legitimate. Lack of independence must undermine trust in the process, with the question of who is or is not subject to lustration arousing serious doubts.

A problem also arrives when dealing with people holding ‘protected’ positions in independent authorities. Clear definition of a narrow range of grounds for dismissal in such cases serves to guarantee independent and objective work of such a body. This applies to judges; the Human Rights Ombudsperson and others. The grounds for dismissing some of them are exhaustively defined by the Constitution, and therefore procedure set out in this draft bill that does not comply with the criteria of independence arouses serious doubts. This procedure essentially undermines the functioning of similar independent controlling institutions and lays the ground for clear conflict between the executive; legislative and judicial branches of power.

Excessively broad range of people who can be subjected to lustration

According to Council of Europe recommendations, lustration should be applied only to those posts where the work of the relevant official could jeopardize democracy and human rights.

The bill under discussion proposes lustration for all officials at state and local government level without exception. This is clearly unwarranted.

However one of the main problems is that the bill proposes to dismiss virtually all state officials occupying leading posts in previous years, with this entailing wholesale dismissal within certain departments. The author writes that a preliminary estimate would put the number of government officials falling under this law at over half a million top officials. You would need to add to this number the whole makeup of police and tax police bodies, as well as almost the entire staff of prosecutor’s officers. All these people would be dismissed and banned for holding positions in government bodies for 10 years. It is doubtful whether this is justified with respect to all such employees.

Moreover the draft bill does not provide answers to extremely simple questions such as what mechanisms will be applied for replacing these people, and will they guarantee that qualitatively different people occupy these posts.

The aim can clearly not lie in the dismissal per se, since there can be no significant progress from a change in staff without a change in the actual system.

The bill proposes total dismissal of all, but rank-and-file employees of the police and tax police.  Such a blanket approach will destroy these structures since people who have never worked in them before cannot take over.  No country has carried out reform of the police by totally replacing all staff.  The most that was ever attempted was to dismiss employees, and then in accordance with certain criteria, some of them were reinstated. Yet this draft bill proposes to ban return to the government service for 10 years.  This would mean that either totally new people had be employed, or people who are retired.


The draft bill contains a number of norms which are impossible to implement.

This includes, as outlined, the dismissal of all managerial staff of the police and tax police with no transitional provisions proposed.

The final provisions assume the need for new laws to be adopted, however failure to adopt them will not stop the force of the draft law, with the mass dismissal beginning immediately after the bill was passed.

This is a serious obstacle to implementing the provisions of the law and would result in selective application with only those who are not so necessary to management being dismissed.  This has nothing in common the principle of rule of law.

The bill also requires that all managerial staff at any level provide income and expenses declarations for themselves and their close family (spouse; parents or step-parents; children, step-children; siblings; grandparents or great-grandparents; grandchildren, etc, or people living together though not married.

The period for which such declarations are required is not specified. The bill also fails to take into account the fact that it may simply be impossible to gather all such information.  There may be strained relations within the family, etc.  It would be even harder if this requirement is directed at the past. 

Yet the refusal to provide such a declaration or incomplete or incorrect information would mean that a person was dismissed and banned from holding posts in the authorities for 10 years.  The fact that this is so unrealistic means that any official, even if protected from pressure by law, will be permanently in a vulnerable position and able to be dismissed whenever the will to do so arises.

There are other examples which could be cited.  The author stresses that these can only undermine confidence in the process and will mean that it is always carried out on a more individual basis, meaning on the basis of subjective, not objective criteria.

Violation of the right to privacy

International human rights standards clearly stipulate the need to protect privacy in carrying out lustration. All possible efforts should be taken to avoid unwarranted public allegations against a person or the circulation of false information. Experience in other countries makes it clear that an extremely careful approach to circulating information about a person is vital.

The draft bill envisages that all investigations, and the conclusions reached, will be public.  This approach, Yavorsky is convinced, is a breach of the right to privacy.

There can be no justification in making the results of an investigation public if a person was checked and not found to be subject to lustration.  The only conceivable grounds for making an investigation public in such cases was if there were doubts regarding the objectivity of the check.

Immediate publication of the results of an investigation, especially if carried out by a body that is not independent, is an unwarranted infringement of a person’s rights. The findings could be wrong, and must be subjected to a court check, yet once the information had been made public, undoing the damage to a person’s reputation would be difficult.


“The above-mentioned problems in their entirety demonstrate the considerable failings of the draft law on cleaning up the authorities. The draft bill is basically a populist document and will not lead to the expected results. It envisages lustration of all government officials and civil servants at national and local self-government levels without exception. This is clearly unwarranted. Furthermore the financial and administrative expenditure in implementing the law have not been taken into account. Many of its procedures would entail systematic human rights infringements. Under such conditions lustration will stop being a means of defending democracy and become a means of selective political persecution of government officials; the destruction once and for all of independent institutions; a heightened trend for job security to be based on loyalty to certain pro-government political forces and systemic violation of human rights. Under such conditions it would hardly be possible to qualitatively improve the authorities and achieve the aims of lustration”. 

Odesa "Massacre" Propaganda vs. the Facts

The tragic events in Odesa on May 2, 2014,  are rapidly being transformed into a propaganda campaign for Moscow.  The facts are now available and need to be widely known.  By allowing outrageous claims of a fascist ‘massacre’ to go unrefuted, we risk proving yet again how very little human beings learn from history.

While the horrific reality of MH17 was so vivid in people’s minds, the alternative reality presented in the Russian media was widely recognized as grotesque.  Denial may seem comical now, it will not necessarily in a few months or in a year, as those presenting various conspiracy theories and counter-claims are well aware.  As people’s memories fade, media coverage presenting alternative points of view, alternative witnesses accounts, have greater impact on the audience’s perception. Here, as with political talk shows, presentation and speaking style may prove more persuasive than hard facts.

More than 3 months have passed since the confrontation between supporters of Ukrainian unity [pro-unity] and pro-federalism activists in Odesa on May 2 and a terrible fire left 48 people dead.  The tragedy was reported at the time in most world media, with many reports suggesting that civic conflict had now spread to southern Ukraine.  The situation in Odesa, however, did not escalate and media attention waned.  This means that the bulk of western reports came in the first few days when the main source of information was from witnesses, often themselves participants in the events. 

Attention since then outside Ukraine has largely come from the Russian foreign ministry and Russian media, as well as from various organizations with unspecified sources of funding and an agenda focused almost solely on exposing what they claim is the ‘fascist Kyiv regime’.  All offer roughly the same version.  This focuses solely on the fire in the Trade Unions House in the evening and claims that pro-federalism activists were burned alive with the fault clearly laid on ‘radicals’ and Right Sector ‘ultra-nationalists’.  Some of the reports claim that the ‘radicals’ killed anybody who tried to escape, suffocating or beating them.  It is asserted that the real death toll is unknown (or being concealed), and likely much higher, and that it is Russia who has demanded an international investigation and supposedly been ignored.  

This version is pushed unchanged regardless of the evidence and of the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s Monitoring Mission 15 June report  which presents a much more comprehensive and complex picture.  Other evidence and reports are examined in more detail here.

There are no grounds for believing that those presenting the murderous fascist radicals version are unaware of this weight of evidence.   The travelling exhibition with its very own ‘witnesses’ of the events which has already been shown in at least two EU countries (Poland and Hungary) had a large number of witnesses to choose from, as well as 8 hours of video footage.  Media reports on Russia Today and others make it safe to assume that those chosen will present themselves as victims of murderous Right Sector ‘radicals’ or the events as “the true face of Kyiv fascism”.  Not a big price to pay in any case for an all-expenses-paid trip around Europe. Somebody doubtless has a fat budget to spend on these events.

Cynicism seems warranted after the recent interview given by an alleged refugee from Slovyansk to Russian Pyervy Kanal.   The description of how the 3-year-old son of a Kremlin-backed militant was ‘crucified’ by Ukrainian soldiers was taken entirely seriously by the interviewer despite the lack of any corroborating evidence about a supposedly public ‘execution’ (on a misnamed square).

Witnesses who were on one or other side of the confrontation cannot necessarily be expected to provide information that casts them and their co-activists in a bad light or could result in criminal prosecution.

There were, fortunately, journalists present who not only reported on the events as they happened, but streamed the events.  A group of such journalists, former police officers and others have formed the May 2 Group which has investigated all the video footage, forensic reports etc.  The group includes one journalist representing the pro—federalists. 

A representative of the group Yury Mukan attended July 9 European Parliament hearings on the events of May 2 in Brussels and informed the MEPs of the group’s preliminary conclusions

His appearance was clearly not expected by the event organizer Tatyana Zhdanok, a  Latvian MEP known for her strong pro-Russian views.   Zhdanok had announced that the hearings would be addressed by four people, all with a pronounced anti-Kyiv position, who would enlighten the MEPs on what she called the ‘Odessa Massacre’.  The most noteworthy is surely Galina Zaporozhtseva, a former police colonel and member of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers.  Zaporozhtseva is quite a star on Russian TV, and her appearances from different hot spots warrant separate scrutiny.  Her assertions about the events in Odessa do not withstand even a cursory comparison with the UN report and video footage. Some were grotesquely absurd, such as the claim that the Right Sector ‘radicals’ had been guilty of cannibalism in the Trade Union building.

The May 2 Group suggests that it may have been Mukan’s appearance and wish to present the results of an independent investigation that made Zhdanok try to close the hearings and prevent him from speaking.  Her version later to Russia Today was that the Kyiv authorities had sent anonymous people to disrupt the hearings and prevent the MEPs learning the truth about the Odessa events.  Unlike her, Radio Svoboda had no difficulty in identifying the people it recorded.

If there was confusion and conflicting versions of the actual events in the first days after the tragedy,   that is no longer the case.  There is ample video footage, supplemented by witness accounts, material evidence and the results of forensic examinations.  Some of this is provided below and will be updated as more becomes available.

There remain some fundamental questions, in particular, concerning the role of certain high-ranking police officers, and the failure of the police and fire brigade to react swiftly to a situation of grave danger to human life, or at all.

The May 2 Group stresses the need for independent international experts to take part in a full investigation.  This is vital in the first instance to ensure confidence in the results and to enable an analysis of the tragedy and assessment of guilt that cannot be dismissed as biased and lacking in objectivity. 

Delay serves only those who use uncertainty and apparent lack of proof to push their  ‘fascist junta’ narrative.  Vast amounts of money are being channeled into these efforts.  The one thing they do not have on their side is the truth. 

Let’s use it.  

The following material is mainly from the May 2 Group.  The first text is what was presented to the European  slightly abridged only for ease of reading.  Since there is already a lot of information, specific concerns about the role of some police officers, the fire brigade etc. are discussed in more detail separately:  Dangerous silence over police role in Odessa May 2 events

July 18, 2014: Preliminary findings on the events of May 2 presented to the European Parliament hearings

1.     The Group has grounds to assert that the police had been warned about possible public disturbances on May 2.

2.     The Group considers that the police plan for ensuring public order envisaged a sufficient number of officers, however their deployment did not fully comply with the dangers present.  This meant that the plan was not properly implemented.   The Group believes that this should be the subject of an investigation by independent (foreign) public order experts.

3.     The Group established that the regional police management, and in the first instance, its head, Petro Lutsyuk, had sufficient powers, forces and means (including the staff of civic organizations engaged by the police on a regular basis) to, as a minimum, localize the disturbances as they were beginning and prevent the continuation of violence on Kulikovo Pole, but failed to use them.  In the Group’s view, this provoked a greater level of violence.

4.     The Group has information indicating that the head of the Odessa Regional branch of the State Emergencies Administration, Volodymyr Bodelan who was in charge of fighting the fire at Trade Union House incorrectly assessed the situation.  This meant that the fire-fighters were unable to prevent deaths from the flames and smoke inhalation.

5.     The Group has concluded that at least some groups and members of the opposing sides had prepared in advance for clashes. There are, however,  facts which suggest that neither side was intending to cause fatal injuries to their opponents.   These include the gear worn by the activists, as well as the fact that the rifles which fired the fatal shots appeared on the scene only an hour and two hours after the clashes began.

6.     The Group has grounds for believing that the first mass clashes were the result of deliberate and planned actions by one of the numerous groups which were part of the ‘Kulikovo Pole’ protest.  These actions were not agreed with other groups and were against the instructions of their own commanders.

7.     At the present time the Group has no grounds for believing army-type phosphorous incendiary ammunition was used in the Trade Union building.

8.     According to official information from the investigators and the forensic medicine office, those killed in the Trade Union House were not subjected to military toxin or strong-acting substances.  The official findings are that the cause of death in all cases was due to fire-related factors: as well as the flames, these including carbon monoxide or other burning-related poisoning; or when people jumped trying to escape.

The Group has closely studied all information from open sources; that presented to members of the Group on condition of confidentiality; as well as that published in the Ukrainian and foreign media.  At present it has no material or other objective evidence to suggest that there was mass use of toxic substances in the Trade Union building.  Nor is it aware of the fire-fighters, investigators and experts who worked in the building immediately after the fire having used measures to protect themselves from toxic substances.  It has no events of people in the building or directly around it having suffered either fatal or non-fatal doses of toxic substances.

The Group is continuing to study the material in order to give an unequivocal and fully argued response with respect to whether toxic substances were used.

9.     The Group shares the view of the UNHR Mission that some pro-Ukrainian activists tried to take the law into their own hands and beat up those hurt in the fire; others took part in trying to rescue people from the burning building and tried to stop the violence.

10. At the present time the Group has no objective evidence to suggest that the number of fatalities was greater than that officially stated.

The Group’s conclusions are based on open information; on official answers to information requests; on audio and video material made public and on group-members’ own recordings; as well as on information received by asking participants and witnesses, including on a confidential basis.

Members of May 2 Group

Vladislav Balinsky; Serhiy Dibrov; Tetyana Herasimova; Valeria Ivashkina; Yury Mukan; Yevhen Peresypkin; Pavlo Polamarchuk; Volodymyr Sarkisyan; Vladislav Serdyuk; Leonid Shtekel; Yury Tkachev; Yury Vesilyk; Vera Zaporozhets

Most of the Russian media reports concentrate only on the fire, or if they do mention the earlier disturbances, blame them on  Right Sector ‘radicals’ and right-wing football fans from the pro-unity camp.  The May 2 Group has prepared a chronology of events earlier in the day which shows that the situation was more complex.  The first of the six people who died (all of gunshot wounds) before the fire was a pro-unity activist, however there were victims on both sides.  Although the original trouble was caused by a particular crowd of pro-federalist activists, people from both sides undoubtedly played an active part in the disturbances and some committed serious crimes. 

The Odessa ‘massacre’ narrative claims that:

-        Pro-federalism activists fled into the Trade Union building to escape from an enraged crowd of pro-unity ‘radicals’ who were burning their tents;

-        The Trade Union building was deliberately set alight;

-        People were killed by these ‘radicals’ either in the Trade Union building or when they managed to escape from it;

-        No mention is normally made of the 40 minute delay before the fire brigade, located very close by arrived.

The narrative is in direct conflict with the facts.

No spontaneity

1. According to Vladislav Balinsky from the May 2 Group, the evidence* indicates that that some of the pro-federalism activists had prepared well in advance to barricade themselves in and defend the Trade Union building. 

2.  The police for some reason showed no wish to protect people on Kulikovo Pole by either organizing a guard on the perimeter or evacuation despite the approach of pro-unity activists who did not conceal their intention to dismantle the tent camp.

3.  Barricades had been set up several hours earlier, with a large amount of inflammatory liquids (for Molotov cocktails), places for sleeping, first aid points all prepared.  The first photo here shows people calmly moving into the building. .

4.  Despite the obvious danger, “certain leaders of the Kulikovo Pole protest (Albu, Artem Davydenko and others) used deception or open calls to entice around 380 people into the building. 

There were calls to people from the very first clashes, with people being told, for example, that they were gathering medical and other aid.

According to witnesses, some of the people at the last stop of Tram No 18 were openly tricked. They were told that there was a bomb in the tram, and that they should hide in the Trade Union building.

This meant that a small group of around 50 turned into a crowd of around 400 people in the building.

5.  The crowd coming to attack Kulikovo Pole were met with shots from firearms, flares and Molotov cocktails from the sources of fire in the Trade Union building, including from the roof.

The pro-unity activists did not know that there were other, unarmed, people in the building and responded with aggressive acts of their own.  This led first to the barricades at the entrance going up in flames and then to the fire inside the Trade Union building.

There are grounds for assuming that some of the tents outside went up in flames because of flares or Molotov cocktails being hurled from the roof (there does not appear to be evidence of these being hurled from within the building)

At 2.16 on the video one can see a flare hitting a tent

In the first minute or so of the tape here, activists are clearly hurling Molotov cocktails, at least one of which appears to hit a tent

From 1.50 at the video here shots are being fired and the young men below begin running, shouting angrily, "what the hell are you doing?!"

At  0.44 in the video here, the person on the left by the window is holding a gun, and as the video ends a shot can be heard.

At 1.50 onwards in the video below the person speaking explains and points to the bullet shots through the window pane that prove that this window was used to shoot at people from.  It was an ideal location, he says, as the people below could not see where the shots were coming from.

From 5.10 to 7.50 in the video here, you can see that a lot of Molotov cocktails were thrown

On the roof’s gutters a large number of 7.62 and 5.56 calibre bullets were found.

6.   The action by certain pro-federalism activists in defending the Trade Union building, including with the use of firearms:

- prevented them from escaping to a safe part of the building;

- obstructed efforts to rescue other needing help by pro-unity activists outside, and – officially – by the emergency services. 

This is also confirmed by direct and indirect evidence: photos and video footage; the forensic assessments of cause of death; the thermo-dynamic model of the given fire; testimony of witnesses and participants, as well as the official report from Volodymyr Bodelan on how the fire was extinguished.

7.  The actions by EuroMaidan activists and ultras [football fans] in getting into the Trade Union building (from the left wing entrance), including with the use of shock pistols and pneumatic weapons resulted in the pro-federalism activists not being able to use the left wing for evacuation and gathering in the central and right-hand parts of the building.  The central exit was also blocked by flames.

According to Group May 2’s information, these aggressive pro-unity groups had firearms, but no evidence that it was used has been found (no marks from bullets; victims; videos showing the weapons being used.  There is, however, reliable information indicating that one member of a ‘self-defence’ unit [sotnya] named only as Mykola. used a shock pistol. There is also evidence, and testimony from the victim, that a revolver with a Flaubert shot system was aimed at one of the windows of the Green Drama Hall.

At 6.29 of the video below, Mykola can be seen shooting at a window (probably the corridor of the fourth floor, second from the corner)

8.  The complicated layout of the building, the barricades, the passage ways blocked by railing, the closed exit to the roof; intense smoke; and poor lighting also impeded people from moving to a safe part of the building in time.  This conclusion is based on photographic and video footage; witnesses’ testimony; where the bodies were found; the map showing the areas most affected by smoke; a study of the plan of the building as of May 4 and its technical documentation from 1997; and others.

9.  The large amount of combustible materials (including explosive substances) in the barricades in the ground floor foyer by the entrance ensured that it would go up in flames quickly and that the fire should spread. This also resulted in a high temperature of up to 800 degrees and intense smoke in the central wing corridors.

10.  Balinsky writes that his conclusions regarding the speed with which the flames spread, etc., are based on the expert assessment of the parts of the building affected by fire; the combustibility of the materials and surfaces; temperature indicators; the map of areas affected by smoke; the thermodynamic model of the fire and the aerodynamic specific features of the building, with these in relation to the position of the bodies; the official conclusions regarding cause of death; the photographic and video footage, witness accounts, etc.,

He writes that a specific feature of this fire was how swiftly its second phase developed.  This meant that the pro-federalism activists who for a number of reasons (see items 6 and 8 above) were concentrated in a particular area during the first phase of the fire suddenly found themselves in the very epicentre of the fire with a temperature of around 700 degrees Celsius.   They died from the flames, or because they jumped trying to escape them. 

11.  The serious time gap before the fire-fighters arrived and began extinguishing the heart of the fire in the foyer led unforeseeably and rapidly to the walls of the central staircase landing going up in flames with this causing the death of most of the people.

In ending, Vladislav Balinsky expresses his sympathy for the families of those who died.

The claims that the ‘radicals’ killed those who managed to escape the fire is not borne out by the video footage, nor by witnesses, such as Serhiy Dibrov, coordinator of the Group, and himself streaming footage of the events for some 7 hours.

The Group has so far established only one case where a person injured after jumping was attacked by a man who in a few seconds dealt the injured man two or three blows.

There were also cases, Dibrov reports, of rough treatment of people who managed to get out of the building themselves.  He is not aware of any case involving life-threatening violence.

Without any suggestion that such behaviour was justified, it is nonetheless worth noting that those Russian media and organizations pushing the line that these were  murdered victims of ‘radicals’ who demonstrated the “true face of fascism” either avoid or totally lie about:

-        the fact that the first victims were pro-unity demonstrators whose peaceful demonstration was attacked;

-        the fact that there were people shooting from the building and throwing Molotov cocktails;

-        the considerable evidence that desperate attempts were made to save those trapped before the fire-fighters finally appeared.

Such evidence is found in Dibrov’s footage here

From around 2.0 on the video you see attempts to help people on window ledges (three at one, two at another) first by throwing a rope, then with a person actually getting up as far as the ladder will reach to get the rope to them.  People call to them, saying “Don’t jump” (the distance being far too great).  At around 4.30 Dibrov explains that thus far the attempts have failed, and mentions with frustration that the fire service has still not arrived although they’re located just around the corner.

At around 6.08 there is an exchange between two people, where one says: “But they’re people!”; the other “so what?” , and the first responds: “games are games, but shit, nobody wants people to die”.

Whether some disagreed or were simply thoughtless is hard to say, but certainly despite the fire raging, and the fact that people were stuck, you can see a couple of Molotov cocktails still being thrown.  (around 7.00 , just after Dibrov says that the storming of the building has gradually turned into an operation to save those stuck.

At 9.07 there is great applause from below as they finally succeed in getting a rope to two people on the window ledge.

On the other hand, as Dibrov points out (around 9.40) while efforts are underway to rescue people others are continuing to throw stones and burning things from the roof of the building. 

At 11.00 a young man with a red jacket flings a Molotov cocktail at the part of the building where the rescue attempt is just beginning.  There is outrage from people around who scream at him angrily (and as Dibrov tells his viewers a little later, came close to beating him up).

Just after 13.00 there is again applause, this time because some of the pro-unity activists have managed to find some scaffolding which they drag up to the building to help with the rescue.  

One young man then climbs onto the scaffolding and after a couple of attempts manages to throw the rope high enough for the people a floor above to catch.   It is only as this operation is underway that a fire engine finally turns up.  Dibrov expresses the hope that they won’t be forced to leave by the Molotov cocktails being thrown from the roof. The cheers and chanting “Ukraina!” begin as the first people are saved. 

Worth noting that Dibrov, streaming throughout the events, even at this stage is still repeating the hope that all is now well and that there will have been no casualties.  The number of people in the building and the scale of the disaster was simply unknown. 

27.00 last people being evacuated to cheers from those outside

Dibrov consistently talks of ‘opponents’ and they remain such to the end.  He mentions around this time that a corridor is being created to enable the pro-federalism activists to leave the area safely.  With cause, as one person lunges at them. 

Here and in another video, taken even later, those attacked are in good form after being saved from the building, and there is no suggestion of anybody trying to kill them.  Others around also tell those behaving aggressively to stop.

There is plenty of video footage and more examples can be provided – of inadequate behaviour by a few, of real bravery, also from a few.  Of normal human behaviour where people’s lives are in danger from a much greater number.  . 

There remain multiple questions, not least over the reprehensible delay in getting fire engines to the scene of a massive fire

The right to a fair trial

Russia’s Geopolitical Prisoners

A young Lviv law student in his final year has become the latest of a growing number of Russia’s geopolitical prisoners -  Ukrainian nationals held in detention in Russia.  The term hostage would be more appropriate were it not for the serious criminal charges that each has been charged with.  If the four Crimeans facing absurd ‘terrorist charges following peaceful protest against Russian occupation fall within traditional definitions of political prisoner, and Ukrainian officer Nadiya Savchenko is a prisoner of Russia’s undeclared war, Yury Yatsenko is in Russian detention because he is Ukrainian. 

Yatsenko and his friend Bohdan Yarychevsky, a recent law graduate from Lviv, were detained in Russia’s Kursk oblast in early May.  They were officially stopped to check their identity.  Ukrainian passports may have been sufficient to arouse initial suspicion, but the Russian police officers clearly thought being from Lviv was tantamount to a ‘confession’ in wrongdoing.  Yarychevsky recounts how one of the officers, obviously under the influence of Russian media propaganda, immediately called Lviv a ‘fascist city’ and both young men were assumed to be ‘radicals’, members of the nationalist Right Sector, etc.

They were held in a police station without food or sleep for two days, and not allowed to ring their relatives, a lawyer or the Ukrainian consul.  During that time the FSB [Russian security service] turned up, interrogated them, suspecting that they had been ‘sent by Dmytro Yarosh’ [the leader of Right Sector] or by Ukraine’s SBU.  The ‘grounds’ for such suspicions were a map showing Kursky Station found on their mobile telephone.  Yarychevsky explains that they’d saved it in order to get their bearings and know how to get to the station to catch the coach home.  The FSB, however, deemed the photo ‘suspicious’ and possibility indicating a plan to blow up the station.

Given the ongoing ‘terrorist’ charges against world-renowned film director Oleg Sentsov and three other Crimeans, it is interesting to note what Yarychevsky and Yatsenko were told on May 6 and 7 this year.  Officers in Kursk believed they might be involved in ‘another sabotage group’ like that in Simferopol which was planning to blow up a statue of Lenin.  The first arrest in Simferopol was that of Sentsov late on May 10.  No terrorist acts had occurred, nor had any statue to Lenin been blown up.  Such advance knowledge of a purported plot only strengthens the suspicion that a ‘Crimean plot’ had been thought up, together with the casting of political opponents, by the FSB.

Yatsenko and Yarychevsky were not officially detained for imaginary ‘radicalism’ or ‘nationalism’, nor were they suspected of any criminal offence.  A court on May 8 ruled that they had committed an administrative offence by ticking the box ‘private purpose’ on the border entry form, when they should have ticked the ‘tourism’ box. 

They were held in a deportation detention centre for three months, initially still without being allowed to contact anybody. That isolation gave the FSB a free hand which they used in their methods of interrogation to try to force out ‘confessions’ that the young men had been planning some kind of sabotage in Russia.  When threats and psychological pressure failure, they resorted to torture with Yatsenko being taken, in handcuffs and with a bag over his head, to a forest where three officers ‘worked on him’ for several hours. Yarychevsky explains that the torture was bad enough to not be endured many times and the two young men understood that they must somehow contact their relatives.  They slashed themselves, causing quite deep wounds and in that way managed to get admitted to an emergency hospital giving them the chance to alert their families. 

They were, however, returned to the centre and the torture, this time of Yarychevsky also, and questioning continued.  Any attempts to cite the law and the deportation order which had long been in force aroused only laughter from the FSB and the response that they had the ‘administrative resource’ to ensure that the young men were held in Russia as long as the federal security officers chose.

The FSB constantly tried to threaten or persuade them to publicly testify that a military junta had taken over in Ukraine and to ask for political asylum.  The young men’s sense of honour and dignity made such lies impossible, and the torment continued.

They constantly received threats that if they didn’t cooperate, criminal charges would be concocted, with drugs or weapons planted.

This is basically what happened, though against only one of the two – Yury Yatsenko  - who has been charged with ‘smuggling explosive devices’.   Yarychevsky was deported and is now planning a major student campaign in September for his friend’s release. 

Yatsenko’s lawyer, Pyotr Zaikin says he has never seen such flagrant disregard for Russian legislation as in this case.  He took part in the appeal against Yatsenko’s detention and said that the court was provided with no proof whatsoever of any smuggling having taken place.  The court was presented with an ‘explanation’ given by a taxi driver and his friend whom Yatsenko saw and left a bag with for safe-keeping in Nov 2013.  Such an ‘explanation’ is not a document that can be used in court, however even if it could be, it would rather be in Yatsenko’s favour.  The men confirmed that they checked the bag for anything illegal and found nothing.  Several months later, the FSB checked the same bag and ‘found’ 40 grams of an explosive device.   It is difficult to write this without the irregularities hitting one in the eye, yet Zaikin’s objections were simply ignored by the court and Yatsenko’s detention upheld.  The FSB envisage that their ‘investigation’ into the new charge will take three to four months. 

Earlier this year Moscow tried to justify overt aggression against Ukraine, as well as its annexation of the Crimea, as being ‘in defence’ of Russians in Ukraine’.  Methods in which any Ukrainian national can become a geopolitical prisoner are a threat to very many Ukrainians living or visiting Russia.   In view of the methods applied since early May, it is imperative that this case receives maximum publicity. Yury Yatsenko needs our help.  

Nadiya Savchenko: Yanukovych fell, so will Putin

Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian officer held in a Russian SIZO or pre-trial detention centre since her capture by Kremlin-backed militants and abducted to Russia is to face a forced psychiatric examination in the notorious Serbsky Institute in Moscow.  In a statement passed to her lawyer, Savchenko has condemned the psychiatric examination as illegal and said that she will be refusing to give any testimony, answer any questions etc.

She clearly states that she “was illegally abducted from Ukraine, unlawfully brought to the Russian Federation and is being held here illegally.  She considers the psychiatric examination to be carried out on her unlawful.  She is therefore refusing to speak with the clinic staff; to give any kind of testimony; to answer any questions in writing or verbally; to fill in any forms or undergo any tests.

The Serbsky Institute gained notoriety in Soviet times for its application of punitive psychiatry and the fact that Savchenko is being placed there for a month is of grave concern.  She herself categorically prohibits the use against her of any psychological or physical pressure; any substances added to food, injected or placed in her bed linen that has a psychological or physical effect

At the court hearing on Aug 27, Savchenko’s detention was again extended until Oct 30.  This was the first occasion that she was brought to the courtroom, though kept enclosed in a glass cubicle. 

As on all previous occasions Nadiya Savchenko demonstrated her courage and refusal to be cowered.  She rejected any involvement in the death of Russian journalists and said that she did not understand what connection the Russian investigators and court had to events in Ukraine. 

She also told the court: “You have no justice, you have no law. Thank God Yanukovych has gone.  I will hope that Putin will also soon go.”

Savchenko was taken prisoner in the Luhansk oblast by militants from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic on June 17 or 18.  Two days later a video appeared of her being interrogated by the militants. She demonstrated courage during the interrogation and refused to provide the information the militants demanded.

On July 2 a Russian court remanded her in custody until August 30.  Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on July 9 that charges had been laid against Savchenko for alleged “complicity in the group killing of two or more people carrying out official activities in a publicly hazardous manner for motives of political hatred”.

The investigators claim that in June, as a member of the Aidar Battalion, Savchenko found out the whereabouts of a group of TV Rossiya journalists and other civilians outside Luhansk, and passed these to fighters who carried out a mortar attack which killed TV Rossiya employees Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.

They also assert that Savchenko crossed the Russian border, without any documents, pretending to be a refugee.  They allege that she was initially detained to establish her identity.

This story is totally denied by Savchenko who says she was forcibly taken across the border with a bag over her head and in handcuffs.   The Russian investigators’ version is also wildly implausible.  More details about the holes in the case, and the use of Russian TV to try to conceal them here.

Russia has effectively abducted five Ukrainian nationals and is holding another in custody on highly suspect grounds.  Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirny are all from the Crimea and all actively opposed Russia’s annexation of their homeland.  They were arrested at different times in May and after interrogation allegedly with the use of torture were taken to Moscow where they are facing positively far-fetched ‘terrorist’ charges.  Chirny has also been subjected to a Serbsky Institute ‘examination’ and the NGO Open Dialogue has expressed concern that he could be the victim of punitive psychiatry.  Yury Yatsenko, a final law student from Lviv has been held in custody, supposedly awaiting deportation since May.  A couple of weeks ago, the Russian authorities suddenly charged him with equally dubious charges of ‘smuggling explosives’. 

Information about the court hearing and Nadiya Savchenko’s statement from

Social and economic rights

Veto Crimea bill or shame Ukraine

Ukraine’s parliament has adopted a bizarrely inappropriate bill on creating a ‘free economic zone’ in the Crimea.  If signed into law by President Petro Poroshenko it will seriously infringe the rights of Crimean Ukrainians and, by effectively recognizing Russian occupation, will cast serious doubts over Ukraine’s position on Crimea.  Civic activists believe it imperative that the President uses his power of veto.

The draft law “On creating a creating a free economic zone for Crimea and on the specific features of economic activity on temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory” was passed in a higher irregular manner and with only one vote more than the minimum 226 required.

The following are only some of a range of concerns about the draft bill.

1.   Activists warn that the very use of the term ‘free economic zone’ which is understood throughout the work as being a mechanism of incentives for attracting investment must arouse at very least bemusement.  Such a position would be against a background of sanctions imposed by the EU, USA, Canada, Japan and others.

Ukraine’s own law on special or free economic zones [No. 2673-XII] makes it clear that such zones are created to attract investment; activate business activities, together with foreign investors, in order to develop export as well as to ensure the provision of high-standard products for the internal market.

2.  The new law would officially remove Crimea from Ukrainian territory and would recognize the administrative border between the Kherson oblast and Crimea as the state border, both de facto and de jure.

The terms ‘import’ and ‘export’ are, for example, used for arrangements between Crimea under Russian annexation and the rest of Ukraine. Customs, border and other forms of control, as well as customs and tax fees, would be imposed for crossing between the Kherson oblast and Crimea.  This is clearly usual for state borders, not for an administrative border within a country.

3.  The draft bill defines businesses and individuals in Crimea as being ‘non-residents of Ukraine.  Since this immediately significantly reduces their rights according to Ukrainian legislation, the draft bill is clearly discriminatory and would be a major blow to Ukrainians who are already in a vulnerable position for having refused to take Russian citizenship.

4.  Article 14 on internally displaced persons [IDP] envisages social benefits etc. being received by far less people than were actually displaced. The UN estimates the real number of IDP to be from 12 to 16 thousand.

In such a way the bill is placing in question the degree to which Ukraine and Crimeans were harmed by the annexation.  This in term will cast Ukraine in a very bad light given that the international community has recognized the seriousness of the consequences of the annexation.

It seems clear that fierce lobbying was carried out by certain MPs or others who have business interests in the Crimea which they don’t want to give up.  In an appeal to the President, a number of civic organizations note that the draft bill was passed in its second and final reading on Aug 12.  The speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov announced on Aug 14 that he had received complaints from MPs that the bill had been passed with irregularities.  It was put to the vote early that day and received considerably less support than required.  Yet only a few hours later exactly the same document was again put forward and passed.

The civic activists calling for the bill to be vetoed point out that according to reliable sources the draft bill that was voted on differed from that now posted on the Verkhovna Rada website.

The bill fails to provide any support for Ukrainian nationals remaining in the Crimea. At the same time it will prompt Ukrainian nationals to leave the Crimea and create the legal grounds for the peninsula to be recognized as a part of the Russian Federation. 

There are simply no grounds for not vetoing such an obviously flawed draft law.


Deported peoples

Defence of Crimean Tatar rights vital for struggle to return Crimea

Prominent Crimean Tatars, political analysts and others marked International Day of Indigenous Peoples by taking part in a discussion entitled “Crimean Tatars – the indigenous people of Crimea / Ukraine.”  They all stressed that even at the present time, Ukraine must not forget about the Crimea. 

Andriy Klimenko, head of the board of the Crimean Expert Centre is convinced that defence of the Crimean Tatar people and their recognition as indigenous people of Ukraine have an important role to play in the legal fight against Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.  Ukraine’s new Constitution must recognize that the Crimean Tatars are an indigenous people and the Crimean peninsula should be stipulated as being the national-territorial autonomy of the Crimean Tatars.

Klimenko also recommends that President Petro Poroshenko issue an instruction to have the Crimean parliament continue to function in Ukraine.  This would make it possible to defend the interests of the Crimean Tatar people in the legal realm.  He suggests that it would be logical for this body to be located in the Kherson oblast, next to the Crimea.   This could be the institution around which all work linked with Crimeans under occupation, as well as those who have left, could be coordinated.

Veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev agrees that the defence of Crimean Tatar rights can be important for Ukraine’s struggle.  He says that it was a bad mistake of Ukraine’s governments to not legally enshrine the rights of Crimean Tatars and recognize their special status.  He believes that had these mistakes not been made, the serious conflicts in the Crimea might have been avoided, and Russia would have had much more difficulty carrying out its plan of annexation.

Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov is convinced that the last word has yet to be said regarding Crimea, whatever arguments and self-deception the Russian leadership applies. “Any plans for restoring stable world order and renewed trust between states and peoples should include resolution of the Crimea crisis and Crimean Tatars’ problems that cannot be considered apart from each other”. Ukraine’s unwavering defence of the Crimean Tatar people’s right to self-determination in their historical homeland is vital and will prompt the international community to be uncompromising in upholding the status of Crimea as a constituent part of Ukraine.

Natalya Belitser, expert from the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy, believes that currently, the situation has unprecedentedly changed in favour of just aspirations of Crimean Tatars to safeguard their rights in the historical Homeland; their claims have now met support and understanding of the new democratic Government and society at large. She emphasised that any strategy for returning Crimea is impossible without comprehensive acknowledgment of the Crimean Tatar factor. Moreover, formal legal regulation of the “indigenous” status of Crimean Tatar people – in particular, in full compliance with norms and standards of the UNO Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples – is extremely important for the effective assertion of Ukraine’s position concerning Crimea.

From reports by Natalya Belitser and at Radio Svoboda

News from the CIS countries

Russian NGO branded as “foreign agent” after reporting on Russian military action in Ukraine

  We will defend our sons!  [photo from Russian Planet]

On 28 August, the Russian Ministry of Justice added the NGO “Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg” to its official list of “foreign agents” under the 2012 law.

The decision came after its leader, Ella Polyakova, spoke publicly about the alleged death of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine against the Ukrainian forces.

Her organization compiled a list of some 100 Russian soldiers allegedly killed in Ukraine and a further 300 wounded, and demanded investigation into these allegations. The Kremlin denies sending troops to Ukraine and any direct Russian involvement in what it insists is Ukraine’s internal conflict.

“The timing of this decision indicates that the Kremlin is determined to muzzle its critics and keep a strong lid on any information which suggests that Russia plays a direct part in the conflict in Ukraine, although evidence to the contrary is mounting every day. The message is clear: if you dare to speak out, there will be serious reprisals,” said Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg will contest the decision in court.

Ella Polyakova insists that the NGO does not receive any foreign funding. This, according to the law, is the necessary attribute of a “foreign agent”. The other necessary attribute is participation in political activities. According to the government, the NGOs’ political activities consist of “holding public meetings” and “forming public opinion”.

Another NGO, the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information, also known for its independent position and critical pronouncements, was added to the “foreign agent register” on the same day.

Russia’s so-called “foreign agent’s law” was passed in June 2012 and came into force in November 2012. It was changed earlier this year giving new powers to the Ministry of Justice to add NGOs to the register of “foreign agents” without their consent and without the need to go through lengthy court hearings as had been the case until recently.

Hundreds of NGOs in Russia have experienced unannounced “inspections” by the authorities since the law was enacted; several have been heavily fined for refusing to brand themselves “foreign agents”, and some forced to close down. Twelve independent NGOs have now been added to the register against their will, in the course of less than three months.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #08