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

Why are Germans asked if they support annexation?

In a recent ‘opinion poll’ 39% of Germans proved ready to recognize Russia’s demonstration of contempt for international law in annexing the Crimea, and ignorant or indifferent to the flagrant violations of human rights committed since Russia’s invasion.  

A brief search of the Internet found no opinion polls taken to find out how many Germans wanted Kaliningrad, until 1945 Königsberg, to be returned to Germany.  That subject and probably others are almost certainly taboo for the German media.  Unlike recognition of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. 

The Infratest survey, much trumpeted in the Russian media, according to which 39% of  Germans are happy to recognize the Crimea as Russian was commissioned by a presenter from the German TV channel ARD,   This came a week after Hubert Seipel from the same channel avoided any hard-hitting questions in an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The latter was given full scope to present his version of reality – and of the events around Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea – with effectively no difficult questions or other means of alerting viewers to the multiple distortions and outright lies in the Russian president’s narrative. 

Challenged by journalist colleagues, Seipel claimed that “the viewers are not stupid and can draw their own conclusions”.

Statistical research would be needed to determine how many of those ‘intelligent viewers’ were among the 39% of respondents who, when asked whether Germany should legally recognize Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, answered affirmatively.

Given a choice between ignorance and callous disregard for flagrant violations of human rights, the former seems marginally preferable.  I would hope, for example, that those 39% of Germans are unaware of the major offensive being waged against Crimean Tatars and the Mejlis or Crimean Tatar representative assembly.  Since Russia’s invasion, prominent Crimean Tatar leaders, including 71-year-old Mustafa Dzhemiliev have been banned from their homeland.  There have been armed searches of homes, mosques and religious schools; killings, disappearances and abductions.  Over the last two weeks, there have also been effective ethnic raids of markets and cafes in Simferopol.  All of this is carried out by the ‘Centre for Countering Extremism’. 

Other Crimean Ukrainians who have openly opposed annexation have been harassed, beaten up or driven from the Crimea.  Four men, including renowned film director Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksander Kolchenko, are illegally held in Russian detention facing absurd charges of organizing a ‘terrorist plot’. 

All but one faith – the favoured Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate – are constantly subjected to harassment, discrimination and attacks.  Many representatives of different religious communities have been forced to leave the Crimea.

This list of specific concerns regarding the Russian occupation could be continued.

The near 4 in 10 Germans prepared to recognize Russian annexation of the Crimea may not understand how gravely Russia has breached international law.  They may not even know that Putin used arguments dangerously similar to those once presented for similar aggrandizement by Adolf Hitler.   They should, however, know, if only from the darkest pages of German history to be wary of any invasion of another country’s territory.

The former leader of the SPD party, Matthias Platzeck who first raised the issue of possible German recognition of Russia’s land grab cannot claim ignorance as his excuse.  Nor can the TV channel which is free to seek the public’s opinion on a whole range of subjects from their favoured party to gun legislation. They should not – without serious presentation of the case – ask if Germans wish their country to join Russia in demonstrating profound contempt for international law and human rights. 

Lustration law to face Constitutional Court scrutiny

Ukraine’s Supreme Court has decided to ask the Constitutional Court to consider the constitutionality of the Law on Cleaning up the Government [the lustration law].  Supporters of the law have slammed the move.  Their suspicions as to the motives of those courts which oppose the law may be shared, however so too are concerns about the law in question.

The decision to lodge a constitutional submission was passed with 27 of the 43 judges voting in favour and 15 against. The Supreme Court plenum also decided to send “an appeal to the President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister on bringing the said law into line with international standards regarding court proceedings, human rights, the Constitution and legislation”. The Supreme Court also reported on Nov 17 that the lustration check of Supreme Court judges is due to begin on Dec 1.

Dmytro Hnap, journalist and member of the Lustration Committee, called the judges of the Supreme Court ‘counter-revolutionaries”, calling the heads of the Kyiv and Kyiv oblast courts who have come out most strongly against the bill, ‘the most corrupt and those who issued rulings against EuroMaidan activists”

The following is only an outline of concerns about the bill already expressed here.

The draft law on lustration was adopted by parliament on Sept 16 without the text of the law having been made public.  It is unclear even whether the MPs knew what they were voting for.  After some delay President Petro Poroshenko announced that he would be signing the bill, and that it would also be sent for assessment to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.  That body of legal experts is highly likely to slam the entire law, but after a large number of people have been publicly named and dismissed as falling under the law.

Legal specialists and human rights organizations have pointed to major failings in the law which have serious implications for human rights.  If applied without exception, a huge number of people would lose their jobs, mainly for having held managerial positions for a year or more under the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. 

On the other hand, MPs who, for example, voted for the Jan 16 ‘dictatorship’ laws or any number of other laws which seriously compromised the judicial system, made the fight against corruption a farce, etc., are untouched.  The fact that they can stand for parliament again may be reasonable, but the fact that a nuclear safety expert in his post during the Yanukovych regime will lose his job and not be able to hold public office for many years, while there are no restrictions on former ruling regime MPs  seems scarcely fair or in the real spirit of lustration.

The law covers only those in fairly senior positions under Yanukovych, or back in Soviet times.  Replacements can therefore have served under presidents Viktor Yushchenko or Leonid Kuchma, and the grounds for considering that their appointments will ‘cleanse the government’ seem questionable.  There have been some other appointments recently, most disturbingly that of Vadim Troyan which suggest that appointments are now being made on the basis of how actively people are defending the country or their opposition to the previous regime.   Many of those replaced may have been tainted by collaboration with the Yanukovych regime, but criteria not based on professional skills and experience will not necessarily result in the aimed clean-up.

The most likely scenario is extremely selective lustration.  There are already questionable exceptions.  As reported, the exclusion of anybody elected to office even covers the Human Rights Ombudsperson who is elected by parliament.  She will therefore remain untouched while Ombudsperson, though if the law was fully implemented she would be publicly prohibited from holding public office because of her role under Yanukovych within the Justice Ministry. 

The law imposes a largely artificial proviso that a person must have held their post for a year to be liable to lustration.  This does exclude Poroshenko who held a ministerial post under Yanukovych for nine months.

There is certainly no mention of Valentin Nalyvaichenko being subjected to lustration although he falls under the law as a graduate of a higher KGB institute.

Nor is there any independent body overseeing the process with the heads of the relevant bodies being in charge of ensuring the ‘lustration checks’.  As reported, in Kharkiv the city authorities were found in this way to have nobody subject to lustration.

Thus far there have been totally public announcements of people’s dismissal under the law.  They have been removed because of the position they held, no more, making the infringement of their right to privacy highly questionable.

The list of concerns regarding the lustration law can be continued.  Whatever the motives were of the court presidents and the judges of the Supreme Court, there are genuine grounds for doubts about the bill, including its constitutionality.  There is likely to also be a problem in the fact that the credibility of the Constitutional Court was all but destroyed during the Yanukovych years, and faith in the justice of their judgment is not guaranteed. 

Halya Coynash

G20 Putin Pack: Russian Offensive against the Crimean Tatars

   Armed search of the Mejlis building lasting 12 hours.  

Who else could achieve a return to the worst forms of Soviet repression in less than 9 months?  How can remembrance of the victims of a terrible crime against humanity be banned and the use of words like ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’ be termed ‘extremist’?  Why is Vladimir Putin’s only response to the disappearances and abductions of Crimean Tatars a claim that it’s all news to him?  

Vladimir Putin asserted that Russia’s effective invasion of the Crimea was to protect people and save lives.  The first death was of Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar peacefully protesting against Russian annexation.  Since then all deaths, disappearances and abductions have been of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian opponents of Russian rule. 

The Crimean Tatars were not alone in opposing the annexation, but as the largest indigenous people of the Crimea the refusal by the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative body, to support the pseudo-referendum on March 16 was a major embarrassment for Russia.  It was one that the Kremlin and its puppet government in the Crimea have not forgotten.

The Soviet tactics began almost immediately.  On April 22 veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev was handed a 5-year-ban on entering his homeland.  This came two days after the 71-year-old former Soviet political prisoner and Ukrainian MP, on his first return to Simferopol since annexation, insisted that the Ukrainian flag be reinstated over the Mejlis building. 

Since then a similar ban has been imposed on the current head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov.  A major offensive has been launched against the Mejlis itself with the occupation regime clearly trying to crush a body which it has tried and failed to force into submission. 

On the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars, the occupation regime banned all public events and used riot police, paramilitaries and soldiers to prevent Crimean Tatars from gathering in the centre of Simferopol as they had for the last 23 years.  Even military helicopters were used over prayer gatherings on the outskirts of Simferopol and Bakhchysarai. 

FSB [Security Service] surveillance and a hunt for ‘extremists’ began almost immediately.   The first warning about ‘extremism’ issued to the Mejlis newspaper ‘Avdet’ was because it used  such impolite terms as ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’.  Later it was again accused of  extremism in reporting the Mejlis’ call to boycott the Sept 14 elections.

With such a broad understanding of ‘extremism’, anything can be expected and over  recent months Russia and its puppets in the Crimea have been proving that anything will be tried.  There have been a number of searches by armed men in masks  of private homes, mosques and religious schools, with these most ominously coinciding with unfounded claims of radicalization of Crimean Muslims. 

There have also been a number of disappearances and abductions of young Crimean Tatar men.  According to Ali Khamzin from the Mejlis, Russia used such disappearances, allegations of radicalization and armed searches at the beginning of armed conflicts in Chechnya to justify more aggressive measures by the Russian enforcement bodies against particular groups. 

The occupation regime has shown no real effort to find the killers of Reshat Ametov, or three civic activists in opposition to Russian rule who disappeared back in May.  Quite the contrary, it is seeking to have a law passed which would provide a past and future amnesty for the so-called ‘self-defence’ paramilitaries who played a large, and often bloody, role in establishing Russian rule.

In stark contrast to this, arrests are still taking place on trumped-up charges dating back to the peaceful protest on May 3 when Mustafa Dzhemiliev was prevented from entering the Crimea.  Three men were recently remanded in custody for 2 months with the prosecution and court seeming unclear whether the men were accused of ‘extremism’ or of an alleged incident back in early May.

It seems ominously clear that Moscow is trying to intimidate the Crimean Tatars into silent submission or into exile.

With world-renowned Crimean Tatar leaders banished from their homeland;  disappearances and abductions of young Crimean Tatars; armed searches of mosques, religious schools and private homes and dodgy prosecutions, how could western countries even consider easing sanctions against Russia?  

See: Chubarov: Crimea is descending into Terror and Fear

The right to a fair trial

Execution for ‘Spying’, ‘Desertion’ or for a Ukrainian Flag?

Kremlin-backed militants from the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ are set to establish ‘military courts’ with the power to impose the death penalty.  There is a long list of offences to be tried in such a way, including insubordination, ‘state treason’, ‘spying’ and ‘desertion’, as well as looting, robbery, etc.  The scope is thus enormous, but there is no indication if any member of such ‘courts’ will have legal training. 

Nor, although the report states that other crimes and offences are included “in accordance with current legislation”, is there any way of checking what these ‘laws’ may be. The same official site of the ‘republic’s government’ offers only three possibilities: ‘laws’ prohibiting “unlawful” expropriation of property and vehicles; “propaganda of fascism” and gambling.  With respect to ‘expropriation’, since the militants have been openly engaged in such activities since mid-April, there is presumably some hidden meaning to the term ‘unlawful’.  The ‘law’ banning ‘propaganda of fascism’ looks copy-pasted from the Russian equivalent which was probably sensible since any scrutiny would make it clear how many of the militants and those in Russia involved in training them have the far-right and neo-Nazi leanings the document purports to be prohibiting.

The ‘military courts’ are to function ‘in regions under martial law, as well as in areas of military conflict’.   When the plans were originally announced back in August, Alexander Karaman, one of the Russians  brought in from the pro-Russian breakaway Transnistria claimed that more humane measures would be introduced ‘after the war’.  Whether they would have more relation to rule of law seems doubtful, but that remains purely theoretical.  For the moment there are to be ‘military courts’ made up of one ‘judge’ and two ‘lay judges’ chosen from among the soldiers.  Those holding rank higher than commander of a regiment get to be ‘tried’ by three ‘court judges’, called a ‘tribunal’.

Each death sentence requires the head of the ‘tribunal’ and the ‘prosecutor general’ to be informed in writing and they in turn “must immediately organize a check as to whether the sentence is lawful and well-founded.  Only death sentences appear to be appealable, with others coming into force and implemented from when they are announced.

Which ‘crimes and offences’ carry the death penalty cannot be checked given the elusive nature of the militants’ ‘current legislation’.  At the grotesque ‘people’s court’ staged by militants from the equally self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, allegations by one individual that the ‘defendant’ had raped her were enough for the ‘people’s court’ to sentence the man to death through a show of hands.

There are very strong grounds for believing that ‘desertion’, as well as what the militants deem to be ‘spying’ or ‘state treason’ would also be capital offences.   Svitlana Matushko, for example,  recounts how she was held in a death row cell for seven days on the basis of an absurd denunciation and a search of her home which found Ukrainian flags and symbols.  She believes that they are trying to intimidate people loyal to Ukraine and frighten them into leaving, so as to bring in people loyal to Russia.  She describes those she was held in captivity with, these including former police and SBU [security service] officers; drug dealers; a young guy whose name was found in the youth branch of Yulya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party and his girlfriend.  One student from Donetsk National University was there because he asked leading militant Pavel Gubarev at a public meeting how the militants are planning to pay pensions and public sector salaries, and how they’re planning to organize heating for the winter.  He was ‘arrested’ after the press conference. 

Although she herself was not physically ill-treated, she knows of others so badly beaten that they pleaded to be shot immediately to escape the torture.  All of this is similar to accounts given by other people held in captivity.  The man who interrogated Matushko identified himself as from Mariupol, however she says that the other militants, judging by their pronunciation, were Russian. 

Matushko tells of one young man who himself fought with the militants.  She says that those who want to get out try to hide their weapons and uniform and leave for other parts of Ukraine, some for Russia.  The young man was caught and taken to be shot.  He said that the person he was taken out with, was shot and killed, but that they first hit him so hard that he lost consciousness and fell, and then made one shot which only grazed his head.  He told Matushko that he had come around already in the morgue surrounded by bodies.  When everything quietened down he came out and doctors called an ambulance for him.  

Since the militants’ pseudo-elections on Nov 2, the Ukrainian government has taken a firm stand, refusing to negotiate with these so-called ‘republics’ or to continue financing the institutions that are now under their control.  The militants whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed Russia will not abandon are facing protests from the population and probably more ‘desertions’ and ferment within their ranks.  With rule already based on denunciations, violence, and intimidation, the military ‘three-man courts’ are another chilling reminder of the worst Soviet methods and clearly aimed at terrorising the population.  

Crucial Compensation Ruling over EuroMaidan Detention

   Police and titushki or hired thugs together against peaceful protesters in Jan 2014

A court has awarded three Dnipropetrovsk EuroMaidan activists 50 thousand UAH each in compensation for wrongful arrest and detention.  All three were arrested on Jan 26 during a peaceful demonstration in support of European integration and in protest over the beating of peaceful protesters on Maidan in Kyiv, and the killing of two activists, one of whom – 21-year-old Serhiy Nigoyan -  was from Dnipropetrovsk.  

The protest outside the regional administration resulted in gratuitous violence being applied against protesters.  As reported at the time, there was clear evidence from video footage, as well as eye witnesses reports, that the police and local authorities had worked in collaboration with ‘titushki’, or hired thugs. In the video here, for example, you can see people being savagely beaten by titushki with police officers present, while here titushki and police are clearly running together  

It was also easy to see that the titushki had been brought in and provided with the weapons to use against protesters.  On one video  a group of athletic-looking young men, most wearing masks and hoods, can be seen inside the Dnipropetrovsk regional administration from where they head to the exit holding sticks and bats. Some are also carrying the same shields used by law enforcement officers.

According to one witness, a former police officer, the titushki had provoked the attack on the regional administration.  “The police defended them with incredible ferocity, using water cannons against people in temperatures of minus 15, as well as tear gas. The titushki meanwhile hid behind the Berkut riot police, hurling stones at people and shooting with shock pistols.”

During the night from 26-27 January Judges M. Bibik and M Reshetnik issued numerous detention orders, remanding people in custody for two months, until March 27.  The detention orders were as though copy-pasted, with all claiming “weighty evidence in the form of witness testimony and other material from the criminal proceedings”, with this supposedly indicating that the people might try to abscond, obstruct the investigation or commit other offences.

Vitaly Pogosyan, Oksana Tomchuk and colleagues were involved in defending 14 of the people, including those who have been awarded compensation.  It was thanks to magnificent efforts from them that some of the detention orders were successfully appealed with the court agreeing to other measures not linked with detention.

The scenes in Dnipropetrovsk and the behaviour of judges were seen in other cities in Ukraine at the time, with people being automatically remanded in custody. 

On Feb 19 and 20 the same Babushkinsky District Court in Dnipropetrovsk ruled that the people detained be released on the basis of the so-called ‘amnesty law’.  The lawyers appealed against this ruling on the grounds that the proceedings were to be simply closed “according to non-rehabilitating circumstances”. 

The appeal court revoked the ruling and sent the cases back to the first court, and finally from May 16-20, the prosecutor’s official closed the cases for lack of any criminal offences.

The next step was ensuring compensation for unlawful detention. The original application asked for 100 thousand UAH for each person.  Pogosyan stresses that this was based on European Court of Human Rights case law.

Rather disturbingly the prosecutor and police representatives both challenged the applications for compensation, claiming that the investigators and prosecutors had simply carried out their work within the framework of the Criminal Procedure Code.  They also claimed there had been no infringements from the prosecution in arresting and seeking the detention of the protesters.  This despite the fact that the charges were dropped in May because no offences had been committed.

An investigative commission has already concluded that both judges, Bibik and Reshetnik, acted in breach of their oath.  A decision is now awaited from the High Council of Justice.

Congratulations are due Vitaly Pogosyan for his success in obtaining compensation for three of the protesters unlawfully detained.  He has no intention of stopping here and stresses that applications have been accepted by the European Court of Human Rights over all 14 people he and his colleagues are defending. 

If they don’t find justice in Ukraine, they will surely in Strasbourg, however these compensation rulings, however, give a glimmer of hope that justice can be found at home.

Halya Coynash

Ukrainian Citizens and Russia’s Political Prisoners


Oleg Sentsov                               Oleksandr Kolchenko

In a letter otherwise devoid of real content*, Russia’s Prosecutor General has inadvertently admitted that Oleg Sentsov and three other Crimean opponents of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea are Ukrainian citizens.  Since all have been held in Russian detention since May on spurious ‘terrorism’ charges with Russia trying to make them Russian citizens, the admission is important.  It came in a formal fob-off to Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Bryhynets who hopes that the Prosecutor General’s words can be used by the defence.  As reported here, the attempts to claim that Oleg Sentsov had ‘automatically become a Russian citizen’ by not formally indicating his wish to remain a Ukrainian national at a Crimean passport office are especially cynical given that Sentsov has been in Russian detention since May.

In the following the fact that two men -  Oleg Sentsov, 39-year-old world-renowned film director and Oleksandr Kolchenko, a 23-year-old civic activist - are referred to as political prisoners is linked only to the specific position taken by the other two  -  Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy, and in no way suggests that the latter are guilty of the bizarre ‘terrorist plot’ charges which the Russian FSB [Security Service] have laid against all four Crimeans,  

Due to a change in Russian legislation, the trials of Crimean political prisoners Sentsov and Kolchenko are likely to be heard by a military tribunal from January 2015.  The men have already been in detention for six months in conditions that Sentsov says, have changed little from those in Stalin’s Russia. 

In an interview for Open Russia, Sentsov explained that he had been in a corner cell for over 3 months, with no daylight.  He believes that not one of the 25 letters he has written have been sent to the addressees.  He says that he gets letters asking questions that show that the person has not seen the letter Sentsov wrote.  “Yet nobody has ever informed me that my letters were subjected to censorship and not sent. I’ve just reading ‘Children of the Arbat’ [Rybakov’s novel about the 1930s] and notice that since that time the conditions in prison are little changed.”

Asked about his expectations of the trial, Sentsov’s answer is laconic: “In Russia there are acquittals in 0.3% of cases”.

As for writing screenplays, he writes in a notebook, but points out that his mood and state varies.  This, he stresses, does not have any impact on his testimony or his attitude to the case.  “When they carried out a psychological assessment, the doctors wrote in their conclusions that “neither the charges nor his detention have had impact on Sentsov’s psychological state”.

Oleg Sentsov’s statements in court have been marked by the same unwavering courage and integrity.  In the middle of July,  Sentsov stated: “I was never a member of “Right Sector” and did not organize any terrorist groups and terrorist acts in Crimea. I consider May 9 [Victory Day] an important day for any Slav and monuments linked with that day are untouchable. I therefore consider the allegation that I was attempting to blow these monuments not just unfounded, but insulting.

I am not guilty of organizing the impugned crimes, I consider the case fabricated and political because it is based on the testimony of two suspects which was first extracted out of them under torture, and now they can’t retract the allegations, and have been promised short sentences.  They used torture against me also. I wasn’t arrested on May 11, but on May 10, and before the official interrogations in the SBU building in Simferopol they tortured, beat and humiliated me to extract a confession and testimony against the leaders of EuroMaidan and Ukraine, claiming that they had ordered these crimes.  After I refused, they told me that I would be called the organizer of these crimes in court and that I’d face more serious charges. “

“I also wish to protest against the attempts to deprive me of Ukrainian citizenship.  I have always been and remain a citizen of Ukraine.  I do not recognize the Russian Federation’s annexation and military seizure of the Crimea. I consider any agreements made by the illegitimate government of the Crimea with the Russian Federation invalid.  I am no serf to be passed over together with the land.  I have not written any applications to take on Russian citizenship and reject my Ukrainian citizenship. “

Sentsov also suggested that the ‘assessment’ had been partly in order to introduce items that could later be presented as ‘evidence’ since the case otherwise is based totally on the testimony of two people.

As reported, four Crimeans, all known for their peaceful opposition to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, were arrested at different times in May 2014.  The arrests were all after the alleged terrorist acts were supposed to have taken place.  The charges are of planning major terrorism on May 9, with items of infrastructure targeted.  Nothing of the kind took place.  The prosecution has however included two cases where Molotov cocktails were thrown at the offices of United Russia and another party.

Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and left-wing civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko have consistently denied all charges and have both said that they were  subjected to torture in the Simferopol FSB offices before being taken, against their will, to Moscow. 

The other two men – Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy – have ‘confessed’, with the testimony claiming that Sentsov was the mastermind behind an ultra-nationalist ‘Right Sector’ plot. 

The story line for this first Crimean terrorist show trial was entirely predictable given that the organization Right Sector has been consistently demonized by the Russian media and Kremlin.  Plausibility was ignored by the investigators, but remains a major sticking point.  There is no evidence whatsoever in Sentsov’s case of any connection with Right Sector.  Kolchenko, as a left-wing anarchist, would have also wanted nothing to do with a far-right movement.

The case is teeming with other discrepancies, and calls for the men’s release have come from Amnesty International, world-renowned film producers, international bodies and western governments.

Social and economic rights

In Donbas protests against militant rule – and hunger - mounting

Kremlin-backed militants in cities under their control are proving unable to come up with salaries and pensions as they promised, and protests are spreading with people hungry and desperate. reports that in the Luhansk oblast city of Sverdlovsk public sector workers have received largely symbolic ‘pay’ from the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic.  This follows protests in the city over the catastrophic socio-economic situation. 

According to local residents, nurses and school workers received 130 UAH; doctors – 270.  This was the first ‘pay’ any had received since May since the city is under the control of ‘LPR’ and the local infrastructure responsible for paying public sector workers destroyed.  The amounts are doubtless better than nothing, but pitiful.

On Nov 17 there was a spontaneous protest action by city residents outside one of the command posts of the militants.  There were demands for wages, social payments and also the ‘social cards’ which the Kremlin-backed militants had promised. reports that the residents were not afraid of showing their anger.  Threats against the militants were heard, and the gate of their ‘command’ painted in blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. 

The militants tried to scare the protesters away with machine gun fire, however the publication reports that people kept coming with over a thousand involved.

This is not the first time that the militants have used their machine guns to try to stifle protest.   The same publication reports that the previous day Denis Ponizovny, head of the militants in Chervonopartisansk [Sverdlovsk rajon] called armed militants with machine guns to ‘calm down’ a particularly angry speaker.  The woman – Iryna Bondarenko, works as a lift operator in a local mine and positively asked for her name to be remembered in case anything happened to her.  Ponizovny was clearly put out by her questions regarding the promised free canteens for those badly off in the city; about when the miners would be paid; and other questions about the situation in the city.  The armed militants tried to pull her off the stage, but, according to witnesses, were stopped by others present. 

At the same protest it was stated that as of Nov 16, 64 people had died of starvation.

During the last week there have also been reports of protests in Makiyivka; Torez; Snizhne; and Yenakiyevo.  Local residents have long not received social benefits; pensions; medicine; and aid from the so-called humanitarian convoys. 

In the meantime, the promises issued by the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ [DPR, LPR, respectively] are proving empty.  The Donetsk-based website OstroV reports that the DPR has told teachers working in schools and institutes under their control that they should not expect to be paid in the near future.  Most have not received their salaries for months now. 

In Stakhanov the head of the militants Pavel Dremov is reported to have ‘apologized’ to local residents.  The video on YouTube has now been removed indicating that somebody felt it damaging, but there is no statement that it is a fake.  The video shows Dremov stating that “when I promised 500 UAH to each pensioner, I simply didn’t realize how many there were.”  He says that after discovering that there are 31 thousand pensions, they counted and came to a figure of 15 million which is an amount ‘they can’t imagine’. adds that Dremov mentions that in the Leninsky district of Luhansk nobody has been given a single kopeck either and suggests drily that on this basis it looks like the Stakhanov militants will also not pay the money.

   A poster in Torez calling on residents to meet on Nov 23 and demand that the militants keep their promises

It is unfortunately next to impossible to verify all the reports.  It is likely, for example, that posters pasted around the cities under militant control were not produced by local people.  These called on the residents of each particular city to gather on Sunday, Nov 23 to demand salaries and pensions.  In the present climate of fear, local residents could easily have suspected provocation and stayed away.

The problems are, however, being accentuated, for differing reasons, by both Moscow and the Ukrainian authorities.  Despite having recently brought many thousand Russian military, together with tanks and heavy equipment into Ukraine, and having armed and manned the fighting since mid-April, the Kremlin is now endeavouring to present the Ukrainian government as monstrous for refusing to finance the militants’ ‘republics’.  As reported here, the government announced on Nov 7 – following the militants’ entirely illegal pseudo-elections – that it would no longer be paying any social benefits or pensions to people living in areas under the control of the militants.  Those due such benefits have until Dec 1 to register as living in areas under government control.  If they do not, the pensions, etc. will be allocated, but held for them. 

While some of those in militant-controlled areas were previously conned by the promises the Kremlin-backed militants gave, others have been adamant from the outset that Donbas is Ukrainian.  With many simply unable to leave Donbas – the old or infirm, those staying to help others –  there are differing views about the government’s stand  (see: Donbas Ukrainians feel betrayed). 

The Ukrainian government’s stand has certainly highlighted the issues – the total bankruptcy of the militants and their promises and the fact that Russian ‘aid’ is confined, aside from the unidentified loads of the so-called ‘humanitarian convoys’, to providing tanks, artillery and mercenaries.

What is very clear is that the situation is extremely serious and there are a huge number of people in desperate straits.  

On refugees

Kuban ‘federalization’ activist to receive asylum in Ukraine

Ukraine’s Migration Service looks set to provide refugee status to one of three Russian activists placed on Russia’s List of Extremists and Terrorists for planning a peaceful march in support of greater federalization for Kuban.  21-year-old Viacheslav Martynov left Russia and came to Kharkiv after another of the activists – Darya Polyudova - was arrested on Aug 15, and is now facing criminal charges.  The third person is Pyotr Lyubchenkov who also came to Ukraine following the crackdown in August.

In August, after a small number of Kuban activists were prohibited from holding a march in favour of federalization, they declared a ‘Kuban people’s republic.  The name of the ‘republic’ was a reminder of the anti-Bolshevik republic which existed for 21 months until Nov 7 1919, however the ‘movement’ never moved far beyond discussion in social networks and was certainly entirely peaceful.

The application to hold a march was lodged by left-wing activist Darya Polyudova.  It was turned down, and she herself was arrested on Aug 15 after being approached by an obvious provocateur.  She was initially charged with ‘hooliganism’ and jailed for two weeks, but does not appear to have been released before being remanded in custody on new, criminal charges, on Sept 15.  The new charges are of alleged public calls to actions aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity and of involvement in an extremist group.

Martynov was one of around 10 people who actually took part in a protest on Aug 17, wearing a ribbon around his wrist in the colours of the Ukrainian flag.  The protesters were seriously outnumbered by Cossacks, police and provocateurs.  The incident used to jail Martinov for 15 days on a charge of ‘petty hooliganism’ is blocked inside Russia, but other viewers can see it here

Calls for greater local powers were first made in Siberia with plans to hold a march in Novosibirsk  under the banner “Enough of feeding Moscow”. Unlike the Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine who reject Kyiv’s authority and actively called for Russian intervention in Ukraine, the Siberian activists were basically calling for nothing more than greater autonomy within the Russian Federation. 

The initiative there and in Kuban [Krasnodar kraj] prompted extremely heavy-handed measures from the authorities, including Roskomnadzor, Russia’s censorship body.

The head of the Kharkiv regional branch of the Migration Service, Viacheslav Huz has said that after meeting with Martynov and looking through the case material, he considers that there is indeed a threat that were Martynov to be in Russia, unlawful measures could be used against him.

He did however stress that there were grounds for granting the Russian activist refugee status or declaring him a person needing additional protection, “we are not talking about political asylum”. 

Martynov told journalists that he had tried to lodge documents with the Kharkiv Regional Migration Service but the latter refused to process his application for political asylum, claiming it to be ;unjustified’.  Martynov appealed against that ruling.

The Krasnodar Prosecutor has initiated criminal proceedings against all three people mentioned above, as well as Andrei Chernyshev.  The charge is of circulating in the Internet material with calls to extremist behaviour and violation of Russia’s territorial integrity.

The charges raise eyebrows in particular because of Russia’s ‘encouragement’, together with arming, manning and financing ‘separatism’ in eastern Ukraine. There is undoubtedly a difference between the two situations, however it would be difficult to explain why the Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine are not engaging in ‘calls to extremist behaviour’ and terrorism if these are the charges awaiting Kuban activists who called only for greater autonomy.

Halya Coynash

Interethnic relations

Foul Desecration of Monument at Babyn Yar

This attack at the site of a terrible Nazi crime comes just days after prominent Ukrainian Jewish organizations warned of the need for vigilance, calm and unity in the face of a dishonest propaganda campaign around anti-Semitism in Ukraine and likely attempts at provocation

Vandals have desecrated the Menorah which forms part of the Memorial at Babyn Yar, the site where at the end of September 1941 the Nazis murdered over 33 thousand Jews.    

The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress reports that the attack was discovered on Nov 17 and the police have been informed. 

The paint has hopefully already been removed, but the photos by Anna Lentkovska from the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine show that swastikas were  daubed in red and black paint on stones around the menorah.  The culprits added ‘88’ which in the neo-Nazi youth subculture is a coded form of ‘Heil Hitler’  [‘h’ being the eighth letter of the Roman alphabet]. 

As reported, the head of the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, Viacheslav Likhachev, who has been monitoring anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine for over 10 years, has noted an increase in cases of anti-Semitic vandalism over the first 9 months of this year.  If in 2012 there were 9 such cases and in 2013 – 7, just in the first 9 months of 2014 16 had been seen.   Any precipitous conclusions should be avoided, but Likhachev does note that the increase has been in cases of desecration only, with the number of racially-motivated violent crimes remaining at a low level. 

His research has shown that the level of anti-Semitism, as reflected in violent crimes, vandalism, hate speech, etc. peaked in Ukraine back in 2005/06, and that the level of anti-Semitism has fallen since then.   He believes that as many as half of the cases of desecration observed this year could be deliberate provocation. 

There are primitive neo-Nazis in all European countries, including Ukraine, and this may be the work of such individuals.  If, however, provocation were to be anticipated then this week which is leading to the first anniversary of the EuroMaidan protests would be an obvious time.  The fact that there were members of far-right organizations in EuroMaidan was used first by the regime of Viktor Yanukovych, then by the Kremlin in attempts to slander the protest movement, and later the government which took over after Yanukovych and his people fled. 

The attempts were always thwarted by the number of prominent members of the Jewish community and other national minorities in Ukraine who were actively involved in EuroMaidan. 

Two of the four violent offences recorded so far in 2014 took place on Jan 11 and 17.  While stressing the need for caution, Likhachev did suggest at the time that the attacks could have been provocation as part of an aggressive propaganda campaign aimed at associating the EuroMaidan protests with far-right and xenophobic radical organizations. 

Despite two elections [presidential and parliamentary] this year in which the far-right parties demonized by the Yanukovych regime and the Kremlin have shown abysmal results, there has been no real let-up in the propaganda from Russia.  In an interview for German ARD, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that he feared ethnic cleansing and a descent into neo-Nazism in Ukraine.

What better weapon than foul swastikas on the site of a terrible crime against Jews?

The desecration comes just a day or two after a conference of a number of Jewish organizations in Ukraine decided to form a joint Council and issued important statements, one about anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

The Resolution on Anti-Semitism in Ukraine  [] was signed by the Society of Jewish Culture of Ukraine; the Jewish Council of Ukraine; the Jewish Forum of Ukraine; the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities [Vaad] Ukraine, the Zionist Federation of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Union of Jewish Students. 

The signatories “express concern over anti-Semitic incidents which take place from time to time in Ukraine but feel it necessary to indicate their outrage at cynical attempts to make use of the problem of anti-Semitism, to exaggerate its scale and to try to justify through dishonest propaganda flagrant interference in the internal affairs of the country, and occupation and annexation of a part of its territory.  As a result of a large-scale propaganda campaign exploiting this theme, the international community is showing heightened interest in anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, we cannot exclude the possibility that anti-Ukrainian forces are not only artificially stirring up unhealthy hype over the issue of anti-Semitism, but may also deliberately instigate provocation aimed at demonstrating that the Kremlin’s propagandists are ‘right’.

In the light of the above, we feel it necessary to state that:

-        The democratic government in Ukraine, formed as a result of the victory of the Revolution of Dignity, the early presidential and parliamentary elections, despite the most difficult circumstances of armed aggression, is in constant and construction dialogue and cooperation with the Jewish community, including with respect to investigating incidents of an anti-Semitic nature”.

The Resolution goes on to point out that the above-mentioned results of monitoring provide no justification for the claims made by the Kremlin, Russian media and the propaganda spread on areas “occupied by the aggressor”.

“We call on the international community to be extremely careful in any evaluation of the situation regarding anti-Semitism in Ukraine coming from outside our country. We stress the need for all international, including Jewish, organizations to consult with the Jewish community of Ukraine on all issues concerning current problems.”

The authors also emphasise the importance of close attention to the systematic nationwide monitoring and checks carried out on all manifestations of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

At this difficult time they call on Ukraine’s Jewish community to show vigilance, calm and unity.   Advice we can all benefit from.  

Victims of political repression

’Last Address’ Project Aims To Honour Victims Of Soviet Repression

A Russian civic initiative to install commemorative plaques to the victims of Soviet repression at the homes where they lived before they were executed or sent to perish in the gulag will launch in two weeks.

The project, known as “Last Address, ” which draws on the vast historical database of Soviet repression compiled by the rights group “Memorial, " invites Russians to pay between 3, 500 and 4, 000 rubles ($75-85) for a plaque -- either for a relative or somebody who lived in their building.

Each will commemorate a single victim of Soviet repression who was formally rehabilitated posthumously. For such people -- many of whom were buried in mass, unmarked graves -- these minimalist plaques will serve as a final formal memorial. 

"This kind of project is important at any time, ” said Yelena Vicens, a former journalist, who is coordinating the project with journalist Sergei Parkhomenko. 

“But I think right now it is especially important because people don’t remember the past. Many don’t want to remember their history, the history of their families, city, or country. I think this is a way of making a nation healthy. This is medicine for the nation."

The project, which comes nearly 23 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, is the first of its kind in Russia. 

Instead of focusing only on the crimes of the Stalin era, it commemorates any victim of Soviet repression who was later rehabilitated. These number more than 2.6 million,  according to Memorial’s online database. 

In Moscow, it is already possible to search Memorial’s archive by address.

The first wave of up to 26 plaques will be installed -- bureaucracy allowing -- on December 10, which is also International Human Rights Day.

The number of plaques to be installed will depend on demand and the number of requests that organizers receive. Organizers say they have received approximately 300 requests so far. Vicens hopes that the more commemorative plaques are installed, the more interest will be generated.

German Street Project

The "Last Address" website features an interactive map that marks where plaque requests have been submitted and plaques are already being prepared for installation. 

The 10 x 17 centimeter plaques will be made of galvanized steel and will read "Here Lived, " followed by the name and profession of the victim as well as his or her date of birth, arrest, death, and rehabilitation. 

​​The "Last Address" project will begin in Moscow, but aims to spread across the country – and indeed abroad. 

It mirrors a street project by German artist Gunter Demnig called Stolpersteine that has overseen the installation of thousands of commemorative brass pavement stones to the victims of Nazi Germany from 1933-45. 

Launched over twenty years ago, project organizers this month tweeted that there are now 48, 000 of the commemorative “Stolpersteine” – which translates as “stumbling blocks" in German – spread across 18 countries. 

Vicens said she personally intends to sponsor a plaque for Maks Abramovich Kantorovich,  a Jewish Swiss-born journalist and member of the German Communist Party who had lived in her building in Moscow until he was accused of espionage, arrested, and shot in December 1937.
Kantorovich was one of tens of thousands who were rehabilitated posthumously in August 1956 under Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev.

"Last Address" has already won plaudits among Russian politicians including Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s opposition leader under house arrest, who praised Parkhomenko for the initiative on Facebook.

“Kudos to Parkhomenko for launching all this, ” Navalny wrote, sharing a link to an interview about the project on his popular Facebook page. 

For her part, Vicens says the project is an important part of Russia coming to terms with its past. 

"As long as there is no internal harmony from this knowledge about the past, a nation cannot have a future, " she said.

Deported peoples

Continuing attack on Crimean Tatar Mejlis and Crimea Foundation

A court in Simferopol has imposed massive fines on the Crimea Foundation and its director in what the latter calls the latest step in a politically-motivated attack aimed at destroying the Foundation.

The Crimea Foundation was ordered to pay 4, 5 million roubles and its director Riza Shevkiev 350 thousand roubles. 

Shevkiev told QHA that the court hearing had gone according to an anticipated scenario with the fines imposed for nothing. The ruling states that the fine is for having allowed the Mejlis to occupy the building without agreeing this with the State Cultural Heritage Committee, for having allowed the Avdet newspaper (which the Crimea Foundation is a founder of) to have its offices in the building, and that repairs were carried out without being agreed in the attic of the building. All of this was used as grounds for applying the maximum possible administrative penalty against the Crimea Foundation.

Shevkiev is convinced that this is all part of what is effectively a political contract against the Foundation.  He says that they were expecting an offensive, just didn’t know what mechanisms would be used.   He expects similar moves against the Foundation’s other building where they were planning to build a Crimean Tatar cultural centre.

“My bank accounts have been frozen, there is effectively no money in our accounts.  They’ll wait a little and then beginning confiscating the frozen property – 7 buildings in the city and will pay the fines through the cost of the buildings. The scenario has been worked out to the last point”, he says.

Shevkiev says that they will be continuing to fight this – first through the Court of Appeal, then at the European Court of Human Rights.

At the demand of the occupation regime’s ‘prosecutor’, the Cultural Heritage Committee lodged an application with the court to remove a cultural heritage building.   This is the building at No. 2 Schmidt St which is the property of the Crimea Foundation and had housed the Mejlis for well over a decade.  The building itself is indeed a listed building in the State Register of Immovable Monuments of Ukraine.

A date for the Economic Court hearing on the application to have the building confiscated has not yet been announced.

As reported, this major offensive against the Crimea Foundation and Mejlis, or the representative assembly of the Crimean Tatar people, began in force on Sept 16 when armed men surrounded the Mejlis building on Schmidt St while the FSB carried out an 11-12 hour search of the entire building.  They were supposedly looking for arms, narcotics and prohibited literature.

They removed the minutes from several meetings of the Mejlis; religious books and personal items, including money, belonging to Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the veteran Crimean Tatar leader banned by Russia from his homeland.  Six computer processors and hard disks were almost taken away with the officers refusing to give any idea when they would be returned. 

Shevkiev explained then that the officers had read out an order stating that the search was in connection with the events on May 3 when around 5 thousand Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians arrived at the crossing between the Crimea and mainland Ukraine to meet Mustafa Dzhemiliev who had been prevented from travelling to the Crimea the day before. 

The protest that day was essentially peaceful with Dzhemiliev deciding to return to Kyiv to prevent likely bloodshed given the heavy-handed actions of the occupation regime and large number of OMON riot police, etc.   This has not stopped both numerous administrative fines, accusations of ‘extremism’ with ensuing armed searches and even criminal charges emerging months after the protest.

The following day, Sept 17, bailiffs arrived and read out a court writ ordering the building to be ‘vacated’ within 24 hours.  If not all property would be seized.

The official grounds cited for the move it should be stressed had nothing to do with the previous day’s search but were in connection with a writ issued by the Central District Court of Simferopol on Sept 15.

This document prohibited the charity from carrying out any of its powers as owner of the Mejlis headquarters and six other addresses, including its right to lease or sell the properties.  That document had been issued “to defend the interests of an unspecified circle of individuals” in a law suit against the Crimea Fund.  These mysterious individuals’ “interests’ are to be further protected by the Crimea Fund’s bank accounts in Vladimkombank being frozen.  The Fund was prohibited from opening new accounts.

The Mejlis and Crimean Tatars in general have been firmly against Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea fearing – rightly – a return to Soviet-style repression under Russian rule. 

Back in September Shevkiev linked the sudden escalation in aggressive behaviour from the occupation regime to the low turnout at the ‘elections’ organized on Sept 14 to the Crimean parliament and local bodies.  The Mejlis had called on Crimean Tatars and all Crimeans concerned about the grave rights violations since Russia’s annexation, and Crimean Tatar rights in particular, to boycott the elections. 

Shevkiev suggested that the Crimean Tatars were to be used as a scapegoat, presented as the source of the ills facing the Crimea and as an enemy element, with repressive measures against them stepped up.   That may well have been one of the reasons, but the offensive against Crimean Tatars – and others who oppose Russian occupation -  began considerably earlier and is continuing. 


Halya Coynash

News from the CIS countries

Russians against sending (more) troops into Ukraine but support ‘republics’

At the ’elections’ most Russians considered legitimate - an elderly lady enters the ’voting booth’ with armed militants on each side

According to the latest Levada Centre opinion poll, 55% of Russians expect renewed military action in Donbas, but 58% are against Russian forces being deployed (with 26% categorically against).  The level of support for Russian military involvement was slightly higher than in September (23% against 21%; in September 63% were probably or definitely against.)

Two thirds (65%) believe that Russia should recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’, with 26% categorically in favour.  This figure was lower than in May when 72% supported recognition, but unfortunately the question does not appear to have been asked more recently.

The Levada Centre is an authoritative centre for investigating public opinion, but the question does seem phrased in a way that gravitates towards an affirmative answer: “Do you think that Russia should recognize the independent Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics?”.   This is in keeping with presentation in the Russian media where very often even the word ‘self-proclaimed’ is omitted, and various militants are referred to as the ‘prime minister’ or former defence minister of DPR, etc.

Asked whether they considered “the elections on Nov 2 in the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics for heads of state and deputies of the local parliaments legitimate”, 27% answered yes, definitely, a further 36% said probably yes.  Only 11% said probably not, and 6% categorically not. 

This is at wide variance with the position taken not only by the Ukrainian government, but by all western countries, the OSCE and UN.  The ‘elections’ were condemned as in breach of the Minsk agreements and illegitimate.  They were also roundly criticized for grave irregularities, for the obvious use of free food and vegetables sold dead cheap, and for observers from far-right and Stalinist parties who were funded and brought in from Moscow.  Russia had said that it would recognize the elections, but finally said only that it ‘respected’ the results.   (more details here).

The survey asked people when, in their opinion, the crisis in Ukraine had begun.  An absolute majority (60%) answered “from the beginning of EuroMaidan”; 18% “from when Viktor Yanukovych was removed from office”; 7% “from the referendum in the Crimea and joining of the Crimea to Russia” and 2% “from when the DPR and LPR were proclaimed”.

A large percentage of the Russian population appear to agree with President Vladimir Putin.  41% answered that “Ukraine as a country has a long history” while 41% considered that “Ukraine as a country does not have its own history”.  18% didn’t know.   The current Russian leader is known to have publicly told the former US President George Bush Junior that “Ukraine is not even a country”.


Halya Coynash

Savchenko Case: No legal grounds, no evidence and total distrust in Russian justice

A deputy from the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly has condemned the political case against Nadiya Savchenko and said that it compounds total distrust in the Russian law enforcement system.

According to Alexander Kobrinsky, lawyer and deputy of the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly, there are absolutely no legal grounds for the case against Nadiya Savchenko nor any evidence of her involvement in a crime.  Although in principle, the Russian criminal code contains a provision allowing for the investigation of cases about crimes against Russian nationals abroad, he considers Russia’s prosecution of the Ukrainian former pilot, now elected MP, to be politically motivated.  “Everybody knows how she came to be in Russia”, he says, and adds that “the Savchenko case compounds total distrust in the Russian law enforcement system”.

Kobrinsky was interviewed by the Russian Niezavisimaya newspaper after it was announced that Savchenko’s party, Batkivshchyna had agreed that Savchenko will be sworn in together with other MPs on Nov 27, with her signed oath being displayed on the screen.  

It was reported earlier that members of Ukraine’s new parliamentary coalition have agreed that Nadiya Savchenko should represent the Verkhovna Rada at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE].  This adds a powerful argument to the already huge number of reasons why Russia should release the Ukrainian pilot they have been holding in detention for many months.

Whether this will have impact in Russia is probably questionable.  Niezavisimaya spoke also with Alexei Makarkin, a Russian political scientist, who suggested it was unlikely that Savchenko’s nomination had been agreed in PACE, nor that the latter would be issuing any statements regarding the detention of their delegate. He believes that Russia will demonstratively ignore the move, and points out that Savchenko was elected and became PACE delegate after being arrested and remanded in custody.

This is possibly true, but Nadiya Savchenko was arrested after being captured by Kremlin-backed militants in Ukraine and her subsequent abduction to Russia and prosecution remain scandalous.

The 33-year-old (now former) Ukrainian military pilot was captured by the militants in the Luhansk oblast around June 17, and abducted to Russia where she was first formally remanded in custody on July 3. 

Both the investigators’ application for her detention, and the court’s ruling referred to “the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics” – self-proclaimed ‘republics’ which despite substantial funding and manning by the Kremlin have not been formally recognized by Russia.

Despite the fact that a video of Savchenko’s interrogation by the militants was posted on June 20, in which it is quite clear that she has been captured in the Luhansk oblast, Russia has maintained that she entered Russia ‘voluntarily’, pretending to be a refugee, and was arrested after being stopped in a routine check.

They even suggested recently that she might face an extra charge of ‘illegally crossing the border’.

Savchenko recently recognized the current head of the Luhansk ‘republic’ Igor Plotnitsky has having been one of the men who abducted her.  She has stated categorically that she was taken to Russia by force, in handcuffs and with a bag over her head. 

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.

The investigators have tried to both get all court hearings held behind closed doors and prevent testimony being added to the case which proves that Savchenko was nowhere near the place where the two Russians were killed.  The investigators have order two new expert assessments, giving almost no information to the defence about their content, although one is linked to the phone and sim-cards taken from Savchenko when she was taken into custody (with the investigators presumably claiming this to have been in Russia).  In the meantime, the defence have promised that new evidence will be presented this week which should prove once and for all that Savchenko was already in Luhansk when the journalists whose deaths she is accused of complicity in were killed.

There have been calls for Savchenko’s release from western governments and the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared her a political prisoner.

Most Russians believe information war is against Russia

The latest Levada Centre survey, carried out from Oct 24-27 has found that around 80% of Russians believe that Ukraine on the one hand, and the USA and western countries on the other are waging an information war against Russia.  Only 12% often read information which gives a version of events in Ukraine which differs greatly from that on Russian television and other federal media.

Respondents were asked whether they consider that 1) Ukraine and 2) USA, western countries are waging an information war against Russia:

With respect to Ukraine: 54% - definitely; 29% - probably;  5% - probably not; 3% - definitely not; and 9% didn’t know;

With respect to the USA and western countries: 55% - definitely; 33% - probably;  3% - probably not; 1% - definitely not; and 9% didn’t know

12% often read or watch information which differs markedly from that on mainstream Russian media; 46% - sometimes; 37% - never and 6% didn’t know.

Of those who do not read or view alternative media, 26% consider it to be anti-Russian propaganda; 20% are not particularly interested in events in Ukraine; 17% consider that such media are “far from the truth”; 13% can’t find them; 9% said that they did not agree with such points of view and they irritate them.  A further 14% said that they didn’t know.

Respondents were also asked whether they agree as “many have been saying over recent months” that the Russian state media are waging an information war against Ukraine, and if so how they feel about this. 

13% agreed and said that this was correct and justified by the situation in Ukraine [on Oct 14, against 15% on July 14 and 17% on Aug 14);

11% agreed and saw the media policy as damaging and dangerous(against 10% in July and 12% in August);

59% did not agree and say that the Russian media give an objective image of events in Ukraine (against 58% in July and 54% in August).

17% didn’t know (with the same percentage in July and 18% in August).

On Nov 14, as Russian President Vladimir Putin headed to the G20 summit in Australia which he then left early, Russian state media showed satellite images which they claimed to show that a Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter jet firing a missile at the Malaysian airliner downed over Donbas on July 17.   The images were immediately derided as a ‘crude forgery’.  Reports of the forgery, the story of how they originated on an Internet forum, etc. have been widely posted on various Russian independent media such as Ekho Moskvy and TV Dozhd. 

There have been a large number of versions of how the plane was downed on the Russian state media.  They came after pro-Kremlin media initially published damning reports from the Kremlin-backed militants boasting of having downed an AN-26 military transport plane in the east of Ukraine.   Video footage of the disaster was shown on LifeNews.  This was removed as the terrible truth became known, but a screenshot can be seen at:

Russian LifeNews inadvertently told the truth about downed Malaysian airline

The Russian media, as well as high-ranking officials, are still claiming that ‘mass graves’ were found in Donbas and that an international investigation into purported Ukrainian military crimes is needed.  The claims were not substantiated at the outset by the OSCE and have been since denied by that organization and international human rights organizations. 

See: ‘Mass Graves’ for Russian propaganda

See also information about a supposed ‘crucifixion’ of the 3-year-old son of a militant.  In that broadcast the woman gave totally wrong details about the central square in Slovyansk where the alleged crime was supposed to have taken place.

New low in Russian propaganda

The shoddiness of many of the lies and their persistence have prompted one group of activists to follow and expose all such fakes.  Please see:

Unfortunately most Russians won’t.

Halya Coynash

More Russians aware that their sons are being sent to fight and die in Ukraine

The latest Levada Centre survey carried out from Oct 24-27 has found that only 13% would support their sons fighting for the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine, while two thirds (68%) would try to stop them going.  The question, rather misleadingly, suggested that parents would have a choice.  In fact, one other result shows that the number of Russians believing that the paratroopers killed were volunteers is falling.

52% had not heard about the death of the Pskov paratroopers in Ukraine, while 43% said that they were aware of their deaths.  If in September 37% considered that the paratroopers had been volunteers who went to fight with the militants at their own initiative, that figure in October had fallen to 29%.   Only 2% more, however, said that the Pskov paratroopers had been sent by the unit’s command, with the ‘hard to say’ camp higher – from 28% to 33%.   Almost a quarter of those surveyed (23% in September, 24% in October) called the reports an Internet fake.  As reported here, Russian television has almost totally muffled reports of deaths, and where they have been acknowledged, push the theme that these were ‘patriots’ who took leave to go and fight in Ukraine.

41% approved of the work of civic organizations in making lists of Russian soldiers killed or wounded over recent months, while 23% didn’t know.  Only 12% did not believe that Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine.

The respondents were asked the following question: What do you think about the detention on charges of fraud of a human rights activist and head of a local Soldiers Mothers civic organization who had drawn up a list of Russian soldiers and officers killed or wounded recently? 

They were not told that Ludmila Bogatenkova is 71-years-old, nor about the highly dubious circumstances of her arrest and detention.

Only 13% considered that she had been detained without any legal grounds because of gathering these lists, while another 9% suggested that she had probably committed some infringements of the law but had been detained because of her work on the list.  A further 12% thought she had been detained “for anti-Russian activities”.  12% believed that she had probably committed the fraud, and 53% said that they didn’t know.

The first information about the deaths of servicemen were on Aug 25 when Lev Schlosberg, a Pskov politician and journalist published an article  “The Dead and the Living”  in which he described the funerals on Aug 25 of two paratroopers -  Leonid Kichatkin and Alexander Osipov - in the village of Vybuty outside Pskov.   The article began with the words: “The Russian state is trying to hide the fact that it is sending its sons to war, conceal how they die and where their funerals are taking place”.

The server which holds the newspaper’s site was the first to come under attack.  Then on Aug 26, journalists from Russian Planet, TV Dozhd and the St Petersburg Internet publication Fontanka were attacked as they tried to get to the cemetery and investigate the death of the paratroopers.

On Aug 29 Lev Schlosberg was subjected to a savage attack and ended up in hospital with head and skull injuries.

There were also grotesque attempts to conceal the circumstances of the paratroopers’ death, with an attempt made even to pretend that one of the men – Leonid Kichatkin – was still alive. 

It later transpired that the majority of paratroopers in the unit were probably killed in Ukraine.

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.  

It was specifically cases involving young conscripts that Ludmila Bogatenkova was gathering information about.  She was placed under house arrest after the extraordinary weekend where the investigators had the 71-year-old woman who suffers from a number of serious medical conditions to a detention centre in a city 120 kilometres away.  The staff of the SIZO or detention centre refused to admit her, clearly fearing that she would not survive a day in their unit. 

Halya Coynash

We remember

Mustafa Dzhemiliev: The sacrifice was not in vain

On the first anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity Mustafa Dzhemiliev, veteran Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP, was asked for his comments. 

“Many ask me: if there hadn’t been Maidan, maybe the annexation of the Crimea would not have happened?  And so many people would not have died.

I answer that during World War II tens of millions died – maybe then also it wasn’t worth fighting, standing up to Hitler.  There wouldn’t have been so many victims.  Well, the Jews and Gypsies would have been murdered, and the others would have worked for the Nazis…

Yet if dignity and the longing for freedom have meaning for a person, they should not accept totalitarianism or authoritarian rule.

Nebesna Sotnya [ the Heavenly Hundred] through their deaths prevented the death of many other people. And Ukraine took a step forward. Thanks to such acts society consolidate and a nation emerges. Please note how we have united, regardless of origin or faith.  We all say that we are Ukrainians.

I can’t therefore have regrets, the sacrifice was not in vain.  We took a huge step in the direction of Euro-Atlantic integration. During Yanukovych’s regime the mere mention of the idea that we should join NATO was something unimaginable. And now the majority believe that we should change course in foreign policy – distance ourselves from Russia, move towards Europe.”

The words from 71-year-old Mustafa Dzhemiliev have particularly poignancy.  6 months old when the entire Crimean Tatar People were driven from their homeland in May 1944, Mustafa Dzhemiliev dedicated most of his life to the struggle for the rights of his people, including the right to return to his homeland.  His defence of Crimean Tatar rights and Ukrainian democracy, his unwavering commitment to only peaceful protest, have won him deep respect among Ukrainians and throughout the world.   He spent 15 years in the Soviet labour camps for this commitment, and has now been banished from his homeland by the Russian occupying regime.

On Feb 18, when the Yanukovych regime had already begun using snipers against peaceful protesters, Mustafa Dzhemiliev addressed Maidan saying:

“Not one dictator who spilled blood has escaped punishment. Ukraine will be no exception. They will answer for the blood of each patriot. I call on my fellow citizens everywhere to create centres of resistance. I am proud of you, my dear fellow Ukrainians.  I am proud to be a Ukrainian!”.

The first large rally in favour of European integration took place on Nov 24, with around 100 thousand people gathering in the centre of Kyiv.

The protests began slightly earlier and crucially received the support of the Ukrainian Catholic University and soon other universities who heeded UCU’s call to understand that Ukrainian youth’s future was in the balance and to “publically express their position and support for Ukraine’s European future”. 

The protests spread, however  gained real momentum a week later with the outrage over the brutal dispersing of totally peaceful protesters, most young students, on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in the early hours of 30 November. 

By the next day, Dec 1, there were around 1 million protesters in the centre of Kyiv.  That day saw the most overt provocation especially on Bankova St near the president’s administration.

There was certainly violence, but almost solely directed against Maidan supporters.  The situation changed after the ruling majority pushed through totally illegal and draconian anti-protest laws on Jan 16.  It was only after that that the barricades were erected on Hrushevsky St and a relatively small number of protesters declared that they would use force in defending their rights.  This resulted in the laws being revoked, although some of the worst aspects were almost immediately brought in through Cabinet of Ministers decisions.

The regime’s use of the police, hired thugs or titushki and the courts to try to suppress peaceful protest was condemned both within Ukraine and by foreign governments and human rights organizations.

The distorted claims about a fascist junta having violently overthrown the government and seized power in late February were and continue to be at odds with the video footage which clearly showed unarmed protesters being gunned down.  

On this first anniversary of the beginning of the EuroMaidan protests, Ukrainians remembered all those who died for Maidan, those now honoured as the Heavenly Hundred. 

With sorrow and gratitude.


[Halya Coynash]

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #11