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.


Crimean ‘elections’: boycott, spoilt ballot papers and pre-determined result

   Any hopes that Russia’s occupation regime in the Crimea had of legitimizing its rule appear to have been in vain with most Crimean Tatars and many other Ukrainians boycotting the elections or writing ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ across the ballot paper

The official results of the first elections, both parliamentary and local, held in the Crimea since its annexation by Russia were not seriously in question.  Judging from the first reports issued by the Crimean Committee of Voters, a large number of irregularities and direct infringements were recorded.

As with ‘elections’ in Soviet times, the authorities were particularly concerned to ensure a good turn-out and try in that way to legitimize the regime brought in at gunpoint after Russian forces without insignia seized government buildings on Feb 27 this year.   They did not succeed, with even official reports of only just over 45% turnout.  In areas with large numbers of Crimean Tatars the figures were considerably lower.

According to Refat Chubarov, exiled head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, almost all Crimean Tatars heeded the Mejlis’ call to stay away as did many other Ukrainians who oppose the annexation.  Chubarov believes that some of those who initially supported joining Russia have now changed their mind.  

Not all Crimeans showed their opposition by staying away.  Some arrived at the polling stations and indicated on the ballot paper how they view these ‘elections’.  Photos posted by Shevket Namatullayev show that one person wrote ‘Glory to Ukraine’ across the entire paper, another ‘The Crimea is Ukraine”.  

The Crimean Committee of Voters reports that at two polling stations in Simferopol they have grounds for believing that ballot papers were stuffed into the ballot box.  At No. 246 one of the observers saw a person enter the booth without getting his name checked against the voter list, and then put over 4 ballot papers in the box.

At No. 379 observers watched the electoral committee members writing something in the ballot papers, holding them on their knees, and not on the table. There was also a supposedly jump in the number of voters though the observers say that this remained quite low.

According to Andrei Krysko, head of the Committee of Voters, there are a number of factors suggesting ballot papers were added.  In the Kievsky district the election committee members went out of their way to conceal the turnout numbers.  The observers were prevented from seeing the additional list probably used to allow for wholesale ‘votes”.

The ‘elections’ are to the Crimean parliament, the ‘legislative assembly’ in Sevastopol and to local authorities.   Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has called the elections an attempt to seize power and threatened criminal liability for organizing and running them.   The results will also not be recognized as legitimate by the Mejlis and by many Ukrainian civic organizations, including those representing the interests of people forced to flee from the Crimea because of Russia’s annexation.

Sergei Aksyonov, who has headed the occupation government since Feb 27, will remain in power regardless of the outcome of the ‘elections’.   His response to the statements from Kyiv was to threaten criminal liability against Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians in the Crimea who travel to the Kherson oblast to vote in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections at the end of October.

Halya Coynash

Politics and human rights

Moscow endorses offensive against Crimean Tatar Mejlis

With western leaders suggesting they will lift sanctions if Russia complies with the Minsk agreement which says nothing about Crimea, Moscow obviously feels it can behave with impunity on the Ukrainian territory it annexed.  An official statement this week, as well as ongoing treatment of the Crimean Tatars, makes it clear that impunity breeds downright repression.     

On Sept 24 the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department of information and print gave its version of the attack on the Mejlis, or representative-executive body of the Crimean Tatar people.  The statement, in slightly defensive mode, was perhaps prompted by the UN Conference on Indigenous Peoples which Russia tried, but failed to prevent representatives of the Mejlis from addressing. 

It informs that on Sept 16, ‘the Crimean law enforcement bodies’, on the basis of a court order, carried out a search of the building in Simferopol which then housed the Mejlis and the charitable Crimea Fund.  It does not mention that the editorial offices of the Mejlis newspaper ‘Avdet’ were also searched.  The FSB allegedly removed “several hard disks, extremist literature, documents and firearms”.

The grounds: “a range of infringements of Russian legislation by the said organizations”. 

Two such ‘infringements’ are mentioned.  The first makes it quite clear why Moscow tried very hard to prevent Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the renowned Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP from addressing the UN conference. 

According to the Crimea Fund’s official papers, “its only founder is a Ukrainian national (M.A. Dzhemiliev).”  The foreign ministry explains that in Russian law the founder of an NGO cannot be “a foreign national or stateless person whose presence (residence) in the Russian Federation has been decided, in accordance with Russian legislation, to be undesirable”. 

The fact that Russia, under former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, should be following Soviet tradition in finding Dzhemiliev’s courage and unwavering commitment to Crimean Tatar rights, democracy and freedom, unpalatable is no surprise. Moscow is, however, also calling a Ukrainian who was living until Russian invasion in his native Crimea, a foreign national who can be banned from his homeland.  It has already done the same with the current head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, and the leaders installed by armed Russian soldiers in February have indicated that they will swiftly deport others.   With this, supposedly, “in accordance with Russian legislation”.

The other ‘infringement’ mentioned is a quibble about formal and actual address of the Crimea Fund. 

While affirming its ‘unfailing respect and support for the activities of ethnic organizations”, the foreign ministry declares that these must strictly comply with the law which, it bleats, is the same for all.

This is pitifully weak, especially since the court order evicting the Mejlis and Crimea Fund and forcing them to leave within 24 hours gave another reason altogether. 

A different pretext has been found also for the eviction of the Mejlis in Bakhchysarai.  There the mayor’s office has claimed that a suit has been lodged by a municipal housing enterprise against the Council of Teachers which leases out the building in question.  It asserts that the court fully allowed the demands made by the claimant, and warns that after the court order comes into force, the Mejlis will be forcibly evicted.  Neither the Bakhchysarai Regional Mejlis nor the Council of Teachers knew anything about this supposed ‘suit’, and had no idea that a court hearing was taking place.

Moscow’s foreign ministry is proving just as cynically willing as the puppet authorities installed in the Crimea to throw in any pretext, however implausible, . 

‘Extremism’, however, remains the clear favourite.  This is also entirely predictable.  The legislation involved is notoriously loose in its definition and the criteria for placing material on the list of prohibited books an entire mystery. The Crimean authorities are quite brazen in treating any opposition as evidence of either ‘extremism’ or ‘incitement to inter-ethnic enmity’.  The latest target is the only Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR.  The claim this time is that ATR ‘is persistently fostering the idea of possible repression on ethnic or religious grounds, is encouraging the formation of anti-Russian public opinion and is deliberately stirring up distrust of the authorities and their actions among Crimean Tatars, with this indirectly creating the threat of extremist activities.”

In short, say that the Crimea was annexed by Russia, that the rights of Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and others are being infringed, and you risk being labelled an ‘extremist’, prosecuted for ‘inciting inter-ethnic enmity’ or deported as ‘undesirable’.  And most terrifyingly, you risk being ignored by western leaders who really don’t want to know.  

‘Mass graves’ for Russian Propaganda

Russia’s foreign ministry has demonstrated yet again how closely it cooperates with the militants it backs in Donbas and its own, Kremlin-loyal media.  All three went into action on Sept 23 in operation ‘mass grave’, with the foreign ministry alleging that the Ukrainian military were guilty of war crimes.  Since Moscow has so loudly demanded a “principled assessment” from the OSCE, UN and Council of Europe, it is worth hearing the OSCE account. .

In its Sept 23 report, the OSCE’s monitoring mission explains that they were approached by ‘“the ‘military police’ of ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (‘DPR’)” who informed them of three unmarked graves allegedly containing multiple bodies.   Two graves were in the Komunar coal mine, the third in the village of Nyzhnia Krynka.  OSCE found four bodies in the mine, as well as “eight 9mm Makarov pistol cartridges approximately five meters away from the bodies”.  Outside the village they “observed a pile of earth resembling a grave which had a stick with a plaque, written in Russian and containing the names (or in one case – initials) of five individuals. The plaque indicated that the individuals died on 27.08.2014. On top of the plaque there was another inscription saying: ‘Died for Putin’s lies’.”   The OSCE stresses that nowhere did they see any forensic experts nor are they able to provide a forensic assessment of the sites.

That was not nearly sensational enough for the Russian media.  ITAR-TASS quoted the OSCE but only after falsely claiming that the special monitoring mission had stated in its daily report that “representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic have found three mass graves”. 

The militants were, as usual, eager to oblige the Russian media, and DPR ‘prime minister’ Alexander Zakharchenko is quoted as asserting that in one grave the militants had found the bodies of around 40 civilians, in the other two – the bodies of captured militants and Ukrainian soldiers.  

All Russian reports say that Ukraine’s National Guard was ‘previously’ based in this area.  According to the Ukrainian Security Council’s map of its ‘anti-terrorist operation’, the Ukrainian military were only there during the first days of August, and then for several days in the middle of September.  Since the OSCE report found that the bodies were already beginning to decompose, the latter period is excluded, while the sign over the possible grave says that one of the people died on Aug 27.

Zakharchenko’s account, even in terms of numbers, differs radically from that of the OSCE’s mission.  None of the further ‘details’ lavishly provided in the media and by the foreign ministry are mentioned by the OSCE.  Quite the contrary with the OSCE making a particular point of stressing the lack of any forensic examination, either by themselves or by the militants.

Yet Russia’s foreign ministry claims that these were “obviously” executions with this supposedly demonstrated by “hands tied behind their backs, the evidence of “control” shots to the head”.  It asserts that these were “war crimes for which there can be no justification” and demands a full investigation.

In the meantime, an exhibition has been laid on in Warsaw at the Victoria Sofitel Hotel where OSCE conferences are taking place.  Radio Svoboda notes that the exhibition presents photos of people killed, including civilians and claims that these were victims of the Ukrainian military, while not providing any proof.

Radio Svoboda also spoke with Yevhen Zakharov, head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group which Is endeavouring to gather information about all rights violations in Donbas., including those committed by members of Ukrainian volunteer battalions.  He is convinced that the allegations of executions committed by the Ukrainian military are false, and says that they have not received a single report of such killings from local residents or people involved in the conflict. If they had happened, information would have come out, he says, and notes that there have been reports of executions by “the other side”.  

‘Reports’ of executions are in fact quite frequently circulated by both sides of the conflict.   With the difference, however, that many of the victims of DPR torture and killing can be named. They include Horlivka Council deputy Volodymyr Rybak; 19-year-old student Yury Popravko; 25-year-old Yury Diakovsky; four members of an evangelical church in Slovyansk and Mykola Zelenec, honorary Lithuanian consul for the Luhansk oblast.  The militants themselves have admitted to executing people.  This admission came shortly after common graves were found in Slovyansk soon after the militants fled.

There is another aspect to this story since there appears to be evidence that the sign “Diied for Putin’s lies” appeared on the Internet at the beginning of September.  The picture here was apparently posted originally on the Facebook page Cargo 200 From Ukraine to Russia where people tried to find out whether their sons or husbands were fighting – or had died –  in Ukraine.  The last line can be seen very clearly to give the letters for Armed Forces of Russia.  One of the comments below asserts that three of those killed were from Tatarstan.  This was shortly after news of the first large number of  Russian soldiers being killed in Ukraine when many people asked, together with the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, “If Russia is not at war, then who is in those freshly-dug graves?”  The words on the plaque could just as easily indicate awareness that the men who died had been duped by Russian propaganda and lies about the war in Ukraine.  Its mention now, and claims that it is evidence of Ukrainian crimes against Ukrainian civilians could be intended to deflect unwanted attention from the deaths of Russian serviceman. 

Whether or not the latter is true, it is unlikely that this will be the last such report of supposed Ukrainian crimes ‘uncovered’ by the Kremlin-backed militants in areas under their control.  With such influential backing, why would they stop?

UHHRU appeal to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

The entire world has witnessed the armed invasion by the Russian Federation of Ukrainian territory. At first, with the use of Russian Federation forces the Crimea was seized and annexed. In order to conceal this crime Russia used quasi-legal justification in the form of a referendum in the Crimea on March 16 2014, in breach of Ukraine’s Constitution.

Now Russia, without declaring war, has moved regular units of its armed forces into the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine with these engaging in battle with the Ukrainian armed forces. There are thousands of dead and wounded, with many civilian,  as well as military, victims.  There are widespread rights violations.  As well as the cost in human life, many people have lost their homes and possessions with hundreds of thousands of civilians forced to flee the violence in conditions of undeclared wide-scale war to other regions of Ukraine or to other countries. The economic infrastructure of the entire region is being destroyed with grave economic, environmental and humanitarian consequences.

The initially covert, then open invasion by units of the Russian armed forces onto Ukrainian territory is in several breach of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, as well as of the Additional Protocol to these conventions relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977.

These violations by the Russian Federation are resulting in:

1)  murders;

2)  torture and inhuman treatment;

3)  acts of terrorism;

4) the deliberate inflicting of intense suffering and serious bodily injuries and damage to health; humiliation, including humiliating and insulting treatment; rape; forced prostitution; and indecent encroachments of any form;

5) the unlawful, wanton and wide-scale destruction and appropriation of property without any military need for this;

6) forcing prisoners of war or other protected persons to serve in the armed forces of an enemy state;

7) the deliberate deprivation of the right of a prisoner of war or other protected person to fair and normal court proceedings;

8) unlawful deportation or resettlement or unlawful deprivation of liberty;

9) forced acceptance of the citizenship of another country;

10) the entirely unjustified deployment of means of waging war (artillery; missile launchers; and other forms of military strikes; arms and ammunition) right among an urban or rural population, in schools, kindergartens and student hostels;

11) the taking of hostages;

12)  theft and plundering.

The above cases of criminal activities before by separatist terrorist organizations from self-declared ‘people’s republics’ in the east of Ukraine, and from the Russian military supporting them have received wide coverage from the world media. These cases are documented and can be presented in the appropriate form and in accordance with proper procedure.

On behalf of the human rights organizations who are part of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union we turn to you in the hope that, realizing the danger from the Russian Federation of disruption of the world order established after the Second World War and enshrined in documents of international law, the next section of the UN General Assembly beginning in September will add to the agenda an item on the liability of the Russian Federation and its leaders for violation of the UN Charter. This violation was seen in the form of military invasion of Ukraine and the unlawful and flagrant violation of its bodies and territory. The Russian Federation as a member of the UN is committing crimes which bear the hallmarks of war crimes on Ukrainian territory and should not be allowed to evade liability.

In view of the emergency situation, we call on you to provide urgent and vital assistance to Ukraine, and to also adopt preventive security measures with respect to the world community, including by improvements to international law taking into account the new threats to peace resulting from new forms of hybrid war.

Mykola Kozyrev, Head of the UHHRU Board

Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director

1 September 2014

Russia’s Ilovaisk Treachery

Among those taken prisoner by the Russian military near Ilovaisk [Donetsk oblast] is a TV Espreso journalist who on Aug 28 was able to interview two Russian paratroopers caught by the Ukrainian army.  The soldiers explained that they had been told they were going on exercises.  They were taken in column at night first to somewhere near the Ukraine – Russian border and then into Ukraine.  Asked by TV Espreso’s Yehor Vorobyov when they realized that they weren’t on a training exercise,  Ruslan Akhmetov and Arseny Ilmigov answered: “When we came under fire”.

The interview was reported when Ukrainian soldiers, and some journalists covering the events, came under siege in a major offensive believed to be by Russian forces.  It was on a day when the west finally acknowledged what had long been clear, namely, Russia’s direct military engagement in Ukraine.  The deployment of Russian soldiers, Russian tanks and sophisticated military equipment has been vehemently denied ever since by Russia’s leadership, as have the deaths and injuries of many Russian soldiers, including a lot of conscripts forced to sign contracts to go to Ukraine.

In the early hours of Aug 29 an ‘Appeal to the insurgents of Novorossiya’ appeared on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official website.  This called 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”. 

Whether or not one believes that those suddenly demonstrating military strength not seen for many weeks were indeed ‘insurgents’ , Putin’s call was apparently heeded and a promise given not to shoot on Ukrainian soldiers as they left the area under siege.  The promise was broken immediately and a large number of Ukrainian soldiers (reports range from a hundred to several hundred men) are reported to have been shot dead with many badly injured.  According to Liga news, several hundred soldiers were taken prisoner and handed over to local Kremlin-backed militants.  Some the Ukrainian army managed to free.

The publication asks who is to blame for the worst military disaster so far and says that the surviving soldiers are unanimous in naming the command of the so-called anti-terrorist operation [ATO].  They accuse the military command of negligence and ill-thought-out actions which led to more than 5 thousand Ukrainian soldiers, according to preliminary estimates, being placed at risk.

Journalist Yury Butusov believes that several Russian units were responsible for shooting the Ukrainian soldiers and says that some of the Ukrainians captured have been taken to Russian territory.

Attempts are currently underway to apportion – or shift – blame and some lessons must urgently be learned. 

In Russia TV Dozhd has reported soldiers’ mothers saying that they had believed Putin, yet now find that their sons have been forced to fight Russia’s illicit war in Ukraine. 

In Ukraine – that Putin’s calls to shun bloodshed and promises from those fighting his war cannot be trusted.

A lesson learned at a terrible cost. 

Halya Coynash

Russian fascist ideologue Dugin: Why stop with Donetsk and Luhansk?

   Alexander Dugin (left), whose Eurasian empire ideology has gained influential followers in recent years

A number of fascists and neo-Nazis descended on Yalta this weekend, with members of prominent fascist parties like Hungary’s Jobbik due to attend.  They joined Sergei Glazyev, senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Maxim Shevchenko a member of Putin’s human rights council, Kremlin-backed militants and their Russian comrades from various far-right and neo-Nazi parties in discussing the fight against the ‘fascist junta in Kyiv’.  A star attraction was surely the proposed formation of a Russian ‘Anti-fascist Council’.

It is unclear at present how many of the invited members of Belgium’s neo-Nazi Parti Communautaire National-Européen’; fascist Jobbik; far-right British National Party and others actually attended the Aug 29-31 conference on “Russia, Ukraine and Novorossiya: global problems and challenges”.  Reports mention only that people from the relevant countries were present.  

Absence would not, however, indicate lack of support.  A number of the announced guests or parties were involved in something euphemistically called ‘observing’ the Crimean ‘referendum’ on March 16.  Many have since continued to actively defend Russia’s ‘right’ to the Crimea and Kremlin policies generally.

  Glazyev (left) and Mostovoy

The introductory address was provided by Putin’s aide Sergei Glazyev.  The latter’s statement that he was on leave and speaking in a private capacity is as difficult to take seriously as Russia’s claim that Russian soldiers involving in fighting the Ukrainian army are doing this as ‘holiday’ recreation.

Glazyev caused some bemusement in late June when he labelled Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko a ‘Nazi’, and he has not veered from that course since.  Or not quite, since his speech in Yalta was considerably more strident with respect to the United States.

“Ukrainian Nazism is a foreign element since Ukraine is a country of the Russian world [Russky mir]”, Glazyev asserted.  He believes that it is the USA who has an interest in a war in Ukraine.  The US, seeking to become the single world ruler, is trying through a new global war to write off its own debts and cover future financial bankruptcy and a catastrophic economic decline.

The USA is using incredible provocation – from the fire in Odessa to the Malaysian airliner shot down to convince Europe to enter into war with Russia and for that it needs to provoke Russia to invade”.

He denied that Russia was providing the militants with military aid, supporting them only ideologically and by not obstructing volunteers.

The USA’s aim, he claims, is to destroy Russia and Ukraine, and then all of Eurasia.  Ukraine was never an enemy for Russia and the Americans understand that they are placing the Kremlin in an impossible position – war with a brother country. 

The bloody drama in Ukraine, he proclaimed, is “our shared misfortunate since we are talking about the mutual destruction of one and the same people”.

Maxim Shevchenko, member of Putin’s human rights council, continued the pathos, saying that “each falling bomb is falling on us all”.  He is convinced that all Ukraine is occupied by what he calls Kyiv fascists.

Either Shevchenko or Luhansk leading militant Alexei Mozgovoi noted that the war in Ukraine does not just affect people living there, but “also Russians since the border between the two parts of a once united country is absolutely artificial and their population is interwoven by millions of ties.

These words were spoken while thousands of residents of the port city of Mariupol dug trenches and formed a human chain to try to deter Russian forces which are believed to have been involved in the capture of the nearby city of Novoyazovsk.   The professed concern for ‘shared misfortune’ are bitter mockery not only because of the thousands of Ukrainians killed or maimed over recent months, but also because of the Russian soldiers, many conscripts who have died fighting Russia’s latest illicit war. 

Equally distasteful are the constant attempts to foist the view that the Kyiv authorities are ‘fascist’ and that the first ever Ukrainian president to receive a majority at the first round of voting is a ‘Nazi’. 

The cynicism is almost surreal even without the invitations provided to members of far-right and neo-Nazi parties in Europe.   Most of the Ukrainian militant leaders, together with many from Russia, are people known for their far-right, sometimes neo-Nazi views.  The ideologues, as well as some prominent members of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party [headed by Alexander Barkashov, believed to be in Donetsk at the moment], Alexander Dugin’s ultra-nationalist Eurasia Party; Edward Limonov’s Other Russia party and Black Hundred are either actively involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine or effectively encouraging others to take part. 

Pavel Gubarev, one of the leaders of the Donetsk militants from the outset is known for his roots in the Russian National Unity party.  His aide, Alexander Proselkov, shot and killed on July 31 by the militants’ own security guards, was a Russian national and member of  the neo-fascist International Eurasia Movement and Eurasian Youth Union, both closely linked to Dugin.   He was one of many Dugin followers now in eastern Ukraine. 

Neo-fascist Dugin’ has friends and / or followers in high places in Moscow.  His anti-Western and anti-democratic rhetoric was disturbingly echoed in Glazyev and Shevchenko’s addresses in Yalta.  

Dugin, Barkashov and Limonov and their supporters have provided active support and training to militants in eastern Ukraine.

Nor is any of this new.  Anton Shekhovtsov, a researcher on far-right movements, reports clear evidence of Russian security service support for pro-Russian ‘separatists’ since 2005.  He notes that this was a year after Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly in which he spoke of the collapse of the Soviet Union having been the “greatest geopolitical disaster of the century” and having forced millions of their “compatriots” to find themselves outside Russian territory.

An original ‘Donetsk Republic’ organization was created in 2005 with members taken to training and indoctrination camps in Russia.  Shekhovtsov points out that the camps were formed at the initiative of both Dugin and Vladislav Surkov, then deputy head of Putin’s Administration, using Administration money. Among the participants were Andrey Purgin, now ‘first deputy prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic and Oleg Frolov, a ‘member of the DPR’s ‘parliament’.

None of this is new, not even the attempts to present all Ukrainians who oppose them as ‘neo-Nazi’ and ‘fascist’.  The terms, as Shekhovtsov aptly puts it, are turned on their head. 

Putin’s response to expressions of outrage on Thursday over irrefutable evidence of Russian military engagement in Ukraine was an ‘appeal to the insurgents of Novorossiya’ in which he laid all blame for the carnage on the Ukrainian military.  His reaction on Aug 31 to clear signs of disunity within the EU was to demand more ‘statehood’ for eastern Ukraine.  His press secretary leapt in explaining that Putin had spoken only of greater ‘autonomy’ and that Ukraine must negotiate with ‘Novorossiya’. 

Peskov had initially tried to justify the president’s  use of the term Novorossiya as being that which was ‘historically’ used.  This was indeed what Putin himself said back in April when asked about ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.  He noted that the area in question referred to Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odessa.  “Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained."

With NATO, the USA and other countries having clearly stated that Russian forces and equipment are deployed in Ukraine and watching as they advance together with the militants, it is worth noting the comments made recently by Russian national and Moscow-based Dugin.  “As we develop our offensive, an interesting point will emerge, namely: what are the borders of the DPR and LPR [Luhansk people’s republic], that is, the Federal State of Novorossiya?  Kyiv will not recognize us, but then we won’t recognize Kyiv.  What makes you think that we would stop on the borders of the former Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts?”

Exactly 75 years since Nazi Germany invaded Poland, it is surely time that western countries ask themselves this same question. 

Against torture and ill-treatment

Lawlessness in eastern Ukraine

People are living in fear in the areas of eastern Ukraine under pro-Russian separatist control. Human rights activists have sounded the alarm amid reports of widespread physical abuse and arbitrary punishment.

Pro-Russian separatists are making people accused of violating public order do forced labor, according to a report by the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) earlier this month.

The self-appointed authorities in the so-called "Donetsk People’s Republic, " the parts of eastern Ukraine under separatist control, have announced on their website that they are responsible for enforcing what they consider to be "order."

Now people from Ilovaisk have been talking about the kind of punishments the separatists are meting out. During heavy fighting around the town of Donbass at the end of August, supporters of the "Donetsk People’s Republic" killed a 23-year-old man whom they accused of looting. There are more and more reports of arbitrary shootings, with sentences handed down by a summary court.

Draconian punishments

Some people were forced to work on roadblocks, where their lives may have been in danger

According to both the HRW report and people in the region, draconian punishments are being imposed even for petty offences - forced labor in particular. The separatist militias are punishing people in this way if, for example, they have broken the curfew or don’t have their ID on them. They are not given a trial.

"Citizens who had to do forced labor were beaten and brutally humiliated, " states HRW, adding that it had also documented cases "in which people were forced to do duty on roadblocks and in combat zones, where they were in danger of being injured or killed." Hugh Williamson, director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia division, has demanded an end to these "punishment brigades, " as they constitute a gross violation of human rights.

Beatings and mistreatment

"My brother was arrested near Donetsk. It’s possible that he was a bit drunk and didn’t have his ID on him, " says Natalia. She says that acquaintances saw him having to pick up rubbish off the street as punishment. He was only released days later. "He was given plenty to eat. Anyone who refused to follow orders was beaten. But I don’t want to go into more detail, " she says.

"I saw a man sweeping the streets in front of the separatists’ quarters, " says Sergei, who comes from eastern Ukraine. "His face and body had been so badly beaten that I had great difficulty recognizing him. I then observed him doing different sorts of work for two or three weeks. He dug ditches and unloaded trucks. Now he’s with the separatists. He says he had no choice, " Sergei reports.

Arbitrary arrests

Alexander is 59 years old. In Donetsk he couldn’t talk about his experiences; he was only able to do so once he was in a safe place. On August 11, unidentified people in camouflage uniforms dragged him into a car and took him to the office of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, which the separatists have occupied. There they showed him the photo of a man who was said to have taken part in the "anti-terrorist operation" by the Ukrainian army against the separatists. The photo resembled him. "They incarcerated me for four days as a result. But I was lucky - they didn’t beat me, " he says.

"These people are simply criminals. I begged them for days to call my relatives and tell them I was alive. It wasn’t until the fourth day that representatives of the ’Ministry of State Security of the Donetsk People’s Republic’ came to see me and I was released. They couldn’t substantiate the accusations against me."

Alexander suspects that he was arrested because of his pro-Ukrainian sentiments: "All my neighbors saw that I used to have a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag in my car."

People feel defenseless

An increasing number of people are fleeing the conflict-hit region

Alexander Bukalov, the head of the human rights organization "Donetsk Memorial, " warns that in the separatist-controlled areas, citizens have no legal protection and that there is no freedom of assembly or freedom of expression. He says that many people are leaving the region for this reason, too.

Bukalov explains there are no legal mechanisms by which people can get themselves released or receive compensation. "That doesn’t mean that everyone who supports the separatists is a criminal, or that there is chaos everywhere, " he says. "But when things are this arbitrary, people feel absolutely defenseless."

Tortured by Kremlin-backed militants

   Assertions that the men whose bodies have been brought to a Zaporizhya morgue suffered horrific torture are corroborated not only by the harrowing photos, but by tales of soldiers or civilians held captive by militants from the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic.  

Nine bodies, probably Ukrainian soldiers, with signs of torture have been brought to the Zaporizhya morgue.  A local source who wanted to remain anonymous has told Radio Svoboda the men had been taken prisoner by the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas.  He provided over 100 photos to back the claims of torture.  Radio Svoboda says that it is not showing most of them for ethical reasons. The photos were apparently taken by forensic medical specialists examining the body.

The source said that at least three of the men had been hanged, and almost all had their eyes gauged out. Many had had their limbs and knees shot out, with 9 mm. bullets probably from a Makarov pistol.  There were also knife wounds.

Military recruitment offices confirm that 87 bodies of soldiers were brought to the Zaporizhya morgue at the beginning of September, and that a large number of bodies have been brought to the oblast.  They say that they were all men who died fighting. 

The morgue staff refused to provide any information about the number of dead or any signs of torture.

However Oleksandr Bukalov, head of Donetsk Memorial, a civic organization with considerable experience in identifying cases of torture, examined the photos.  He believes it is very likely that these were prisoners who were subjected to torture. He stresses that a full forensic examination must be made, but from the photos he believes that the men were probably tortured and the injuries inflicted while the men were still alive.  It is unlikely, for example, that the bullet wounds and other injuries to limbs were accidental.

There is no rational explanation. Ukrainians in this conflict are upholding their dignity. Perhaps therefore the militants are trying to denigrate prisoners in that way”, Bukalov says.

Detained, beaten and tortured

New York Times has also just published material about the militants’ victims of torture, citing the example of Alexandr from Donetsk who was stopped by two men from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.  He was told that if he didn’t go with them, they’d shoot him on the spot.

“Although few people dare to talk openly about what is happening in the Donetsk region, extrajudicial abductions and detentions have become commonplace. Since demonstrations against the government in Kiev began in March, the region has evolved into a strange secessionist state run by a collection of pro-Russian political and military types, among them former Communists and K.G.B. men who have brought with them more than a hint of old Communist and Soviet methods.

Rebels fighters, most of them untrained volunteers, operate checkpoints on the roads and often detain people. Residents and former detainees say most checkpoints have underground pits to keep prisoners, who are made to do chores and dig trenches.

In a routine that is reminiscent of the worst of the Stalin era, women in Donetsk now gather at the corner of the Security Service headquarters, the successor of the K.G.B., to try to learn the fate of their missing sons and husbands. Once a day a list is brought out with the names of those being held.”

Alexandr’s account of the torture he was subjected to can be read here.

Worse than demons in hell

On Aug 24, militants from the so-called Donetsk people’s republic [DPR] carried out a shameful ‘parade of prisoners’ through Donetsk.  The action was in direct breach of the Geneva Convention on Treatment of Prisoners of War, and should probably be viewed as a war crime.

The same is true of the appalling treatment of Iryna Dovhan who was forced to stand at a Donetsk intersection, with a Ukrainian flag wrapped around her and a sign claiming that she was a spy and “kills our children”.  The photo of a woman tormenting and then kicking her while a man with a rifle looked on was widely published.

Dovhan had been detained by the militants on Aug 24.  She herself later explained that the public torment had been just a small part of the horror of that day, in which she prayed for death.

By the militants’ standards Iryna Dovhan was indeed a ‘traitor’.  Since the fighting against militants, heavily armed and manned by Russia, began, she had played an active part in collecting up desperately needed food, blankets, medications and money and taking them to Ukrainian soldiers defending Donbas.

The elements of public humiliation used by the militants are yet another demonstration of the dirty tactics in Russia’s undeclared war.  Vast amounts of money are spent, mainly although not only through the official Russian media on virulent hate speech and propaganda. 

Victoria Herasimchuk interviewed one of the prisoners marched through Donetsk on Aug 24, .  Oleh (who did not want his surname revealed for fear that his family would be targeted by the militants) was released on Sept 8, after being held captive for over three weeks. He was held in a pit, four metre squared, and was shot in the leg and has a torn ear.  Those injuries, however, were not the worst thing that he had to go through.

Oleh is a soldier and was taken prisoner after being stopped at a checkpoint and betrayed by a woman who had worked as a cook where he was on training.  He says that they were good friends back then.

He was taken initially to Makiyivka and initially taunted by a crowd, including women, then taken into a building and made to sit on a wooden chair.  A huge Chechen guy came in and announced that he was a sniper.  He took out a knife and threatened to cut bits of him off until he ‘confessed’.  He said that he’d promised to bring his father the ear of a Ukrainian [using the term ‘ukrop’, literally dill, but an offensive term used for Ukrainians].  He took gardening scissors and cut off a piece of his ear.  

They also beat him with rubber batons and used electric shocks, constantly also threatening to kill him.  During one of the interminable interrogations, another bearded Chechen shot him in the foot “to stop him from running”, and threatened to shoot him in the knee and send him home a cripple. 

He was then flung into a pit a few metres down.  There was a strong smell of urine and faeces and he understood that he wasn’t the first person to have been held there.

He was held in the pit first for two days, given no food or drunk and forced to drink his own urine.  They then took him out, got a doctor to dress his wound but then threw him back in the pit.

At some point he was able to see what was happening and reports a number of ‘robots’.  These proved to be people detained by the militants on some pretext or other, and ordered to do 25 days physical labour for them, digging trenches, etc.  There were between 8 and 10, with people being released and others brought in. 

This is a small part of Oleh’s account of the torture and ill-treatment he endured.  His account is only one of many.  

Some we will never hear.  The bodies of the first three known murder victims – deputy Volodymyr Rybak; student Yury Popravko and 25-year-old Yury Diakovsky were found in a river outside Slovyansk in April.  They had all been subjected to horrific torture after being abducted by the militants  (details here)..  More bodies, sometimes in common graves have been found since then. 


The right to a fair trial

Russia’s Crimean Political Prisoners to remain in detention

A Moscow court has extended until Jan 11 2015 the pre-trial detention of renowned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko.  Together with two other young Crimeans, they are facing ‘terrorist’ charges widely viewed as politically motivated.  Sentsov, Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirny were all involved in peaceful opposition to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea.  They are charged with plotting to carry out terrorist acts which did not take place even though all four were detained after the attacks were allegedly planned.

The only ‘evidence’ in this case appears to be ‘confessions’ provided by Afanasyev and Chirny.  Since Sentsov and Kolchenko have both said that they were subjected to torture in the Simferopol FSB offices before being taken, against their will, to Moscow, the credibility of those confessions must be questioned.  

Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer told journalists after the court hearing on Monday Sept 29 that he will be appealing against the latest extension.  He says that the investigators have no evidence against Sentsov, nor any reason to keep him in custody. He holds out little hope, however, that a Russian court will behave in accordance with rule of law and release the men from custody.  Judging by his account of the hearing, Sentsov himself treats the Russian ‘justice’ system with irony.

The investigators claimed that because the case involves ‘crimes of a terrorist nature’, more time is required for the investigation.  This arouses scepticism, as do most aspects of the case.

The investigators, for example, assert that the men should be treated as Russian nationals.  Given that all of them opposed Russia’s occupation of their homeland, this is particularly untenable, yet an attempt was earlier made to claim that Sentsov had ‘automatically’ become a Russian national since he had not visited a passport office in the Crimea in person to register his wish to keep Ukrainian citizenship.   He was already in detention, making this assertion cynical, as well as in serious breach of the law. 

The case is teeming with discrepancies some of them so obvious that it seems likely that the authorities want this to look like the notorious show trials of Soviet times. 

It is clear from the interrogation, also with the use of torture, of young law student Yury Yatsenko that Russia’s FSB were informed of the ‘terrorist case’ in very early May, i.e. long before the first arrests. 

There has clearly been no investigation into the serious allegations made by Sentsov and Kolchenko that they were tortured and ill-treated in Simferopol.  Given the lack of any evidence except for the ‘confessions’ of the other two men, this is a critical omission which will certainly be noted by the European Court of Human Rights.

After so many months of demonizing Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist ‘Right Sector’, a plot involving this party may well have been required for the Russian media after Right Sector candidate received less than 1% of the votes in the Ukrainian presidential elections.   This does not make it any the more plausible.  39-year-old Sentsov, who stands accused of masterminding this ‘plot’ has no known connection to Right Sector.  He has gained a world reputation for films such as Gaamer and is also bringing up two young children by himself.  Since they have now been without their father for more than 6 months, the charges seem particularly grotesque. 

The allegation that Kolchenko should have been involved in a Right Sector plot is just as absurd for another reason.  The 23-year-old is a left-wing civic activist who  would have nothing to do with a right-wing party.

A number of prominent European film directors, including Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, and Pedro Almodovar have interceded on Sentsov’s behalf.

Amnesty International has called on Russian authorities to investigate Sentsov’s allegations of ill-treatment and to return the Ukrainian detainees to Crimea.  Russia’s Memorial Society, which recently showed Sentsov’s film Gaamer in Moscow, are also clear that Sentsov is a political prisoner. 


Halya Coynash

Nadiya Savchenko to face forced Serbsky Institute ’psychiatric examination’

Russian investigators have confirmed that, as feared, Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian officer captured by Kremlin-backed militants and now in Russian detention, is to be subjected to a so-called psychiatric assessment at the notorious Serbsky Institute in Moscow. 

The announcement came a few hours after the lawyers representing Savchenko reported that she had been moved from the Voronezh SIZO or pretrial detention centre where she has been held since late June.  The lawyers learned on Wednesday morning that Savchenko had been moved on Monday and demanded official notification from the investigators about her current whereabouts.

Last week a Voronezh court once again refused to release Savchenko on bail. This came shortly after a press briefing on Sept 11 by Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich. He claimed that the Minsk protocol agreeing the release of prisoners of war did not apply to Savchenko.

It was learned at the end of August that Savchenko was to be forced to undergo a so-called psychiatric examination at the notorious Serbski Institute in Moscow. 

Savchenko condemned this ‘examination’ as illegal.  A statement was made public by her lawyer Mark Feygin in which she says that she “was illegally abducted from Ukraine, unlawfully brought to the Russian Federation and is being held here illegally” She said that she would be 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 there are very legitimate concerns regarding the possible methods which could be used against the Ukrainian officer.  These concerns were set out in an appeal signed by a number of Ukrainian psychiatrists, including Semyon Gluzman, a victim of Soviet punitive psychiatry.

Nadiya 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.

It then transpired that she was being held in a Russian SIZO.  She was first remanded in custody by a Voronezh court on July 2, then on July 9 Russia’s Investigative Committee announced  that she was being charged with 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 claimed 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 asserted that Savchenko had crossed the Russian border, without any documents, pretending to be a refugee.  They alleged that she had been 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.

The defence have provided compelling evidence showing that Savchenko had been captured before the Russian journalists were killed. Neither this, nor the discrepancies in the investigators’ story has had any impact on the courts and it seems likely that they are simply handing down the rulings demanded of them.  The political nature of the detention and court proceedings is made abundantly clear by the court order from July 3 (and the investigators’ documents).  This order refers to the Donbas region of Ukraine as the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics

Nadiya Savchenko was recently registered in Ukraine as the first candidate in Yulia Tymoshenko’s list for the coming parliamentary elections.  The move has seemingly been taken with Savchenko’s concent, and has led to protest from Russian MPs.

Russia is presently holding six Ukrainian nationals in custody on very suspicious grounds, with five of them having been taken by force to Russia.

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 (more details here). 

 Yury Yatsenko, a final year law student from Lviv has been in custody in the Kursk oblast since May.  He was first held with another Ukrainian, Bohdan Yarychevsky, under a deportation order that the authorities were in no hurry to carry out.  He was then in August formally remanded on highly dubious charges of ‘smuggling explosives’ (more details here).

Russia claims release of Savchenko and Sentsov not part of Minsk deal


Oleg Sentsov & Oleksandr Kolchenko           Nadiya Savchenko

Russia does not consider a Ukrainian officer taken prisoner by Kremlin-backed militants and abducted to Russia to be part of the exchange of prisoners agreed at the Minsk negotiations.  Asked about the possible release of Nadiya Savchenko and Oleg Sentsov, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich claimed to see no link between their cases and the Minsk protocol which spoke of prisoners of war. 

He also said that he had been asked about these cases by Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.  “We told him openly that in connection with a whole range of actions serious charges had been laid against them which will be considered in accordance with the norms of our legislation “.  He acknowledged that there was a “humanitarian aspect to this problem” and promised to check details and answer more definitely.

Let’s hope he does so soon since there is considerably more involved than a “humanitarian aspect”. 

Nadiya Savchenko

In his briefing on Sept 11 Lukashevich denied that Russia was a party to the conflict.  Even if that were the case, Nadiya Savchenko’s release would fall within the scopeof the Minsk agreement as she was taken prisoner by militants from the so-called Luhansk people’s republic. 

As reported, Savchenko was captured 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”.

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.

Nadiya Savchenko has been placed against her will and with no justification for ‘psychiatric examination’ in the notorious Serbski Institute.

Oleg Sentsov and three other opponents of Russian occupation of Crimea

Mention has only been made of renowned Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov, however Russia’s FSB arrested four men in the Crimea in May 2014.   Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirny were actively opposed to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.  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

This final law student from Lviv has been in custody in the Kursk region of Russia since May and is now facing charges which bear no scrutiny. More details at: Russia’s Geopolitical Prisoners.

Text in French: La Russie refuse de libérer Savchenko et Sentsov


Children’s rights

Armed militants wage offensive against Donbas universities

Attempts to seize control of the universities in Donetsk and Luhansk are continuing with the Kremlin-backed militants not always aware what is studied in the institutes they burst into with machine guns

On Aug 18, history lecturers at Donetsk National University refused to ‘swear allegiance’ to a ‘people’s rector’ whom Kremlin-backed militants were trying to install at gunpoint.

One of the lecturers present told Novosti Donbasa that armed militants from the self-proclaimed Donetsk people’s republic [DPR] turned up on Friday and announced that the faculty was to close.  He said that the militants arrived together with Sergei Baryshnikov, whom they called the new dean, the so-called education minister Ihor Kostenok and one of the lecturers from the political science faculty Kirill Cherkashin.  The latter was also armed with a machine gun.

Kostenok reportedly announced that Donetsk University is to become a branch of Moscow State University and that the Donetsk National Management University will be a branch of the Russian State Humanitarian University.   

It would be interesting to know whether this was their fantasy or had been discussed in advance with the relevant universities. If so, were the latter aware of the militants’ belief in the educational value of machine guns?

The arms failed to have an impact on the lecturers who all refused to ‘swear allegiance’ to these new educational bosses.

Another witnesses recounts:

“The first time they came on Sept 10.  Terrible people with machine guns, some kind of knives. They surrounded the building. They spat on the floor, right in the corridor. Why did they come? And we were supposed to swear allegiance …  I don’t know how, but they called a new dean.  Announced that it would be Lysenko.  Lysenko, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences apparently refused, so things settled down.  Then yesterday, on the seventeenth it started again. Armed, young and old. One shouts: “I was rotting in the trenches for three months!  So I have a right to education, don’t I?”.  Another: “I’ll come myself and bring my children. And my wife!  Let them issue degrees.  Some kind of translator or lawyer.” 

The person goes on to explain that the ‘new dean’ Baryshnikov was thrown out, albeit without a major scandal for taking bribes.  Now, the witness says, he’s come back to get his revenge. It is Baryshnikov who called staff meetings for Aug 18, with it understood that if they don’t swear allegiance, they’ll be dismissed.  At first he says he needs to get his work record book out, but then changes his mind: if they slap “dismissed by the DPR” in it, he’ll treat it as an honour.

The situation is similar in Luhansk, though there are some differences.  At the end of August militants from the so-called Luhansk people’s republic [LPR] installed their own ‘people’s dean’ [Ruslan Kharkivsky] at the Dal East Ukrainian National University and promised to issue Russian-type degrees.  The University of Luhansk’s buildings have been totally taken over by LPR, however the university itself, headed by Vitaly Kurilo, has evacuated to Starobelsk. 

Another report by Yekaterina Serheeva suggests the situation is worse under the LPR who have taken one deputy dean prisoner.  It’s believed that he is being held in the basement of the SBU building.

The author notes that unlike in Donetsk, the Luhansk militants didn’t even know the name of the university or who studies there.  

The Education Ministry has issued a statement confirming that the dean of the Donetsk National University has not changed, and that any so-called ‘people’s deans’ will not be recognized.  It also informs that lecturers’ salaries and student grants will be paid, with studies continuing by correspondence.

Students at Donbas universities have already been through a lot. During the last semester armed militants turned up at Donetsk students’ hostels, demanding to see lists of foreign students, those from Western Ukraine and / or students with pro-Ukrainian views.  Not surprisingly, students who could transfer to other universities did so.  One student in a private conversation said that it had long been dangerous to even speak Ukrainian.

How realistic it is to continue distance learning for long remains unclear and other solutions will need to be found.  The problems are great but at least surmountable.  They require much less of a mental leap than imagining higher education run by Kremlin-armed militants who have no idea that running an educational institution is not the same as seizing other people’s cars.   Best not at gunpoint.

Dissidents and their time

Book about Ukrainian Helsinki Union receives Radio Svoboda Award

No one book received the overall award at the Publishers’ Forum in Lviv, however the panel of judges chose 18 which it considered the best books, and Radio Svoboda presented a special award to the publishers of “The Ukrainian Helsinki Union in reminiscences and documents” for preserving Ukraine’s national memory and covering its human rights activities.

The book follows the history of Ukraine’s becoming independent from the end of the 1980s. On over 800 pages more than 40 of the leaders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union and participants in those events share their memories. They include Levko Lukyanenko (one of the founders of the original Ukrainian Helsinki Group in 1976 – translator); Mykhailo and Bohdan Horyn; Oles Shevchenko.  There are also dozens of secret KGB documents published for the first time, and unique photos. On one of them Viacheslav Chornovil is reading the declaration of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union [UHU].

UHU was a social, political and human rights organization, whose creation was announced at a 50-thousand strong rally in Lviv on 7 July 1988.  The significance of this event for the future course of history was epoch-making. The UHU emerged as a federal association of self-governing human rights groups and organizations in the regions, districts and cities of Ukraine and beyond. Unlike the Ukrainian Helsinki Group which was made up of a core of human rights defenders prepared to sacrifice themselves, the UHU which arose on the basis of the UHG became the first mass opposition organization in the Soviet Union which served to activate the public and had its own political program, entitled the “UHU Declaration of Principles”.

The basic principles included:

The restoration of Ukrainian statehood as safeguard for all the rights of the Ukrainian people;

Full abolition of the Stalin – Brezhnev constitutions, the safeguarding of rights and freedoms according to international conventions, the retention at the union level of only consultative – coordination bodies and the transfer to sovereign republics of all control over economic, political and cultural life. 

By September 1989 the UHU openly began espousing Ukraine’s independence);

Constitutional recognition of Ukrainian as state language;

The provision of guarantees of cultural and national autonomy for national minorities.. The restoration within Ukraine of a Crimean autonomous republic with the organized return of the deported Crimean Tatar people;

The establishment of diplomatic relations with other countries on the level of embassies and consulates, mutual representation of agencies of mass information and the independent representation of Ukraine at international conferences, sporting events and competitions and at artistic festivals;

The transfer of real power in the republic from the Communist Party to councils of deputies elected on an alternative basis, for not more than two terms, the right to put forward candidates should be held by all parties, unions, informal associations and initiative groups;

A market economy and free price-fixing; encouragement of private initiative, the reformation of a part of state industrial enterprises into share-holding or cooperative ventures;

The voluntary departure of people from collective farms with mandatory provision of land for them;

The establishment of a minimum subsistence level, state assistance for the unemployed and incentives for charitable activities;

Reduction of government structures, the abolition of all without exception privileges for those belonging to the Party and Soviet bureaucratic apparatus;

The termination of construction of new atomic power stations, the phasing out of those already functioning and their replacement with alternative sources, the suspension of export of electricity. Nationwide debate on major projects of industrial construction;

The safeguarding of freedom of speech, the right to form independent civic organizations and media outlets, the right to hold rallies, gatherings and demonstrations, free access to information, including to archives, to all normative acts, diplomatic documents, and books kept in the special archives;

The legalization of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the revival of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, the liquidation of the state department on religious affairs;

The principles of the UHU declaration were reflected in the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada two years later on 16 August 1990.

The authorities treated the creation of the UHU as a challenge to the Soviet state. The governing Party bodies, KGB and police directed their efforts to countering the newly-emerged and daring opposition, using official and unofficial warnings, intimidation, detentions, administrative arrest, campaigns to discredit and of disinformation in the Party press.

However the UHU’s authority only increased as a result. It began to make international contacts and under its influence the Popular Movement of Ukraine [RUKH] became more radical, this making it possible for national democratic forces at the elections to the Verkhovna Rada in March of 1990 to gain a full victory in Kyiv and western regions of Ukraine. 12 members of the UHU became State Deputies, and hundreds – deputies of local councils.

The founding congress of the UHU where 500 delegates represented 2, 300 UHU members from all regions, took place in Kyiv from 29-30 April 1990. It decided to transform the UHU which was effectively a pre-party into a political organization – the Ukrainian Republican Party, with Levko Lukyanenko elected leader.  Those members who were more concerned with human rights issues created other human rights movements.

The book has been compiled by one of the members of UHU – Oles Shevchenko, and there is a fair amount of information in people’s accounts about passing information about its activities to Radio Svoboda.  The latter’s award was therefore particularly appreciated, as the Chief Editor of the publishing house Yaroslav Val, Pavlo Shchyryts stressed.  “The Ukrainian Helsinki Union is what the younger and next generations should be brought up on in order to understand who they are”, he said.  He added that it was an award for Oles Shevchenko and Yevhen Sversyuk who had created the work and Mykailo Slaboshlystsky who published it.

From the report at Radio Svoboda and information previously written by Oles Shevchenko

News from the CIS countries

Entire Pskov paratrooper regiment killed in Ukraine?

The Pskov newspaper ‘Pskovskaya Guberniya’ has published a transcript of conversations apparently between two paratroopers which suggest that in fighting on Ukrainian territory almost all soldiers of the first regiment of the No. 76 Pskov airborne paratrooper division were killed. 

The tapes were given, on condition of anonymity, to Lev Shlosberg, a local politician and owner of the paper.  Shlosberg was savagely attacked on Aug 29, 4 days after publishing an article entitled “The Dead and the Living” in which he first revealed information about the deaths of two paratroopers.  The site cannot be accessed, however a cache version can be found here.

According to the men talking, only around 10 paratroopers survived, with approximately 70 therefore killed.

They suggest that the figure could be as high as 140 since it was not a regular division, but not specially formed.  

The fate of this particular paratrooper division has been shrouded in mystery, and Shlosberg is not the only journalist to have been attacked while endeavouring to establish the truth.  There are good grounds for believing that relatives have also been placed under pressure to conceal all information not just about the circumstances of the deaths, but even the fact that the person has died. 

While the Kremlin continues to deny any military involvement in Ukraine, more and more information has been coming to light of soldiers, many of them conscripts, sent to fight in Ukraine.  There have been numerous reports of conscripts being told that if they don’t sign a contract, allowing them to be sent to Ukraine, the commander will sign it for them.  

The organizer of a facebook page entitled Cargo 200: From Ukraine to Russia, Yelena Vasilyeva told Radio Svoboda that that 700 Russian soldiers were “definitely” killed on the day of Russia’s invasion, with around 1.5 thousand since then. 

Vasilyeva’s estimates are, however, based on people writing in to a facebook page, and none of the major NGOs or TV Dozhd which is carrying out its own investigation have reported such figures.  

How many Russian mercenaries have been killed is probably impossible to know.  How many of those up till now assumed to be free agents coming to fight in return for payment are in fact currently serving soldiers is also unclear.  The Presidential Human Rights Council has demanded information about the death of 9 soldiers, most from Dagestan, killed much earlier in August.  It appears likely that many of those men from Dagestan, Chechnya and Ossetiya whose involvement in the fighting has been widely reported since the weekend of the presidential elections in late May were serving in the Russian military.

See also: Attacked for asking why Russian paratroopers died fighting in Ukraine

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


More Russian conscripts forced to fight in Ukraine

Conscripts doing military service in the Tula oblast are reported to have been forced to sign contracts allowing them to be sent to Ukraine.  Mothers of soldiers from military unit 33842 told TV Dozhd that 8 soldiers had signed themselves, while the heads of the unit had signed for the others on Aug 19.

They say also that the soldiers and commanders of the fifth regiment have not been in contact for two weeks.  According to their information, the men were at exercises in the Rostov oblast.

TV Dozhd tried to contact the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers for the Tula oblast, but they did not get in touch with either the journalists, or the conscripts’ mothers.

It is, unfortunately, not inconceivable that the committee learned of the problems faced by their colleagues after the latter exposed details about Russia’s deployment of soldiers in Ukraine.  On Aug 29 the Russian Justice Ministry informed that it had added the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of St Petersburg to the list of so-called ‘foreign agents’. 

That same day relatives of 18-year-old conscript Andrei Vilkhovyk confirmed information previously provided by several dozen relatives of soldiers, namely that around 200 soldiers were being forced to sign contracts.

Vilkhovyk was doing his service in the Ryazan oblast, but was moved to the Rostov oblast at the end of July.  TV Dozhd points out that the military unit is next to a border crossing point between Ukraine and Russia.

His family explains that he phoned them a few days ago and said that the soldiers in his unit were being forced to sign contracts.  His parents told him not to sign under any circumstances, especially since his military service was due to end on Nov 7.  He agreed, yet that same day in the evening he phoned his elder sister and said that he’d signed the contract, giving no further information.

His relatives and those of other conscripts have been told the same thing: that the young men receive threats to spoil their military service papers and that the management will sign for them.

On Aug 28, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers in the Stavropol area has drawn up a list of around one hundred Russian soldiers killed and a further three hundred injured.  The head of the Committee Ludmila Bogatenkova told TV Dozhd that the list was put together from various sources in the armed forces which, for obvious reasons, she cannot reveal..

TV Dozhd, the last independent and constantly pressurized television channel in Russia is carrying out its own investigation into the deaths and injuries of Russian soldiers in Ukraine that the authorities are going to huge lengths to try to conceal and deny.  These have included a macabre farce in which the wife of one of the paratroopers killed – Leonid Kichatkin, or somebody using her phone, claimed that her husband had not been killed and that he was standing by her side. She even handed the phone to this man who ‘confirmed’ that he was Kichatkin.

Leonid Kichatkin’s freshly-dug grave lies in the Vybuty Cemetery outside Pskov and had his name clearly marked, though not where he had died, until media presence led to the plaque, wreaths etc. being removed (more details here). 

There have also been attacks on journalists from TV Dozhd and others, including a particularly savage attack on Lev Shlosberg.  This came just days after his article “The Dead and the Living” describes the funerals on Aug 25 of Leonid Kichatkin and Alexander Osipov and stated clearly that the Russian state was trying to hide the fact that it is sending its sons to war. 

It is frustrating that the BBC and other media which insist on speaking of “Ukrainian claims” that Russian forces are fighting in Ukraine ignore not only the clear evidence from NATO, the USA and Polish media, but also Russian reports coming through despite the authorities efforts to silence them.

read the text in French: Encore des conscrits russes forcés de combattre en Ukraine

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #09