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

Speech on receiving the Lev Kopelev Award ‘For Freedom and Human Rights’

On April 19 in Cologne the 2015 Lev Kopelev Award “For Freedom and Human Rights” was received by Ukraine’s Ruslana Lyzhychko and Yevhen Zakharov, and Russia’s Andrei Makarevich and Edward Uspensky.

Speech given by Yevhen Zakharov

A sincere thank you to the Lev Kopelev Forum! It is a great honour for me to receive an award named after this great writer, humanist and human rights defender. His ideas and views remain especially relevant at the present time.  For example, we’re trying in Ukraine to work out how to fight dishonest Russian propaganda which constantly calls black white and vice versa. And Kopelev asserts that “Lies can be conquered only by the truth”. And indeed, there is no better weapon against lies than the truth.

In his essay “What history has taught me”, Lev Kopelev writes: “The main lesson of modern history for me is very simple although it is learned with particular difficulty.  This is the lesson of truth and tolerance! Without these all our life on earth will perish Unconditional truth and the broadest tolerance, love for our fellow man overcoming all forms of hatred and enmity.  These are needed for humanity to continue.”

Indeed, tolerance is extremely vital for Ukrainian society, part of which has become brutalized and thinks that all means are acceptable against separatists and Russian aggressors.  This rising hatred of separatists, triumph when militants are killed, the circulation in the social media of photos of enemies’ bodies – these are the soil in which torture and other forms of violence thrive. In the political arena this leads to false ideas that you can resolve difficult problems through simple methods, by using force and hounding your opponents. As a result parliament, despite good motives, passes laws which can only be called a mockery of the law. This tendency is extremely dangerous for the country’s future.

At the present time Ukraine is waging a war with a Russian aggressor for its freedom and independence. However we should realize that this conflict is about civilization and that in this war Ukraine is not just fighting for itself, but for the entire western world.  Nonetheless hatred for Putin and the top echelons of the Russian state must in no way turn into hatred for ordinary Russians, chanting that “Crimea is ours” and conned by propaganda. Ukrainians should always remember the 15% of Russian citizens who supported Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity and speak out against Russian aggression.  It is our duty to help them, and the best help will be the success of our actions in Ukraine, the growth of a middle class, truly democratic transformations and the affirmation of rule of law. For the development of a strong, free and democratic Ukraine is the prerequisite for the preservation and development of a free Russia.

I would also like to say that I consider this award to be recognition of the Ukrainian human rights community that started virtually from scratch in 1991 when the number of human rights activists could be counted on the fingers of one hand and has grown into a large, by Ukraine’s standards, and influential group of organizations and people. I see this award as recognition of the human rights spirit on the Ukrainian Maidan when Ukrainians yet again demonstrated that for many of them freedom, justice, honour and dignity mean more than their own life. As recognition of the shared aspiration for those values regardless of language, ethnic or religious affiliation, for the amazing phenomenon of volunteer initiatives where 77% of Ukrainians are helping the army, the injured, their families, displaced persons. And where 20% of the population took an active part in the events on Maidan, in the volunteer movement.

I am proud to be a part of my people.


Odesa minorities cry foul as new ‘people’s council’ report their persecution

The Russian media are full of reports about “alarming” arrests and intimidation in Odesa of members of a newly-formed ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’ who were merely trying, so the reports say, to defend the rights of the area’s national minorities. The reports certainly are alarming, but for different reasons.  Representatives of national minorities in Odesa have condemned the formation of this body as a provocation, deny its claims about discrimination and persecution and challenge its members to identify themselves and explain why they’re seeking a repetition of the scenario in eastern Ukraine..

The Russian reports by, among others, the official TASS news agency, mix up two different although not unrelated stories in order to come up with mass arrests of “citizens of the Odesa oblast who joined together in the People’s Council of Bessarabia.” Concentration on the ‘Council’ is perhaps not surprising given that its website is registered in Russia, its members and foreign supporters like the Bulgarian far-right Ataka party, known for their pro-Russian position. 

A terrorist front

The presentation of the ‘Council’ as defending national minorities, which the Kyiv ‘junta’ is oppressing, is at serious odds with reality for a number of reasons. 

Since there are different, intertwined stories, a few words first about the bomb blasts which began in April 2014, soon after well-armed Kremlin-backed militants began seizing control in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.  There have been around 25 terrorist acts with a number of these targeting volunteer organizations helping the Ukrainian military. 

On the night of April 8-9, 2015, the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] swooped on one specific gathering point and homes, detaining 27 people, most of them activists from the ‘Orthodox Cossacks, ’ but also some Afghanistan war veterans. Dumskaya notes that the ‘Orthodox Cossacks’ were involved in the protests on Kulikovo Pole and the tragic disturbances and fire of May 2.  Seven of them are among those detained on charges of taking part in the disturbances.

The SBU assert that they have uncovered a terrorist group, which was involved in intelligence and recruitment work, have organized a corridor for weapons and ammunition and was planning terrorist acts and murders of politicians, including MP Oleksiy Honcharenko.  SBU head Valentin Nalyvaichenko asserts that the people detained were planning a breakaway formation – a so-called ‘Odesa people’s republic, ’ like the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.’  

TASS preferred to just fleetingly mention the charges of terrorism, using inverted commas for the word, before returning to its report on the ‘Council.’ This gave the impression of far more arrests and implied false charges against the supposed champions of minority rights.

Defenders of the rights of Bessarabian national minorities?

According to the appeal to President Petro Poroshenko “In connection with human rights violations in Odesa” issued by the ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’ and liberally quoted by the Russian media, Ukraine’s SBU have unleashed one serious wave of persecution. Twenty participants in the conference were, they say, “detained and subjected to repressive measures, ” while their guest, the leader of the youth faction of the above-mentioned Ataka party was beaten. The leader of the ‘Council’ Dmitry Zatuliveter has disappeared without trace.

The appeal asserts that the “international community has already condemned the repression against the ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia, ’ and lists the representatives of this international community. They include Mihail Formuzal, Governor of Gagauzia (in Moldova) [which researcher John Haines describes as “vocally pro-Russian”] and Vasily Tarlev, ex-Moldovan prime minister and now leader of the civic movement “Friends of Russia in Moldova.” Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis from SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) who was reported to have been asked by Izvestia for his response to the ‘persecution.’ The minister, who had just announced a “new chapter in Greek-Russian relations” after negotiations in Moscow, stated that “if Ukraine aspires to European standards of democracy, its attitude to minorities must be reviewed.” The ‘Council’ also cites support from Volen Siderov, founder of the Ataka Party, who was praised during a visit by delegates from this far-right party to Crimea by the occupation regime’s leader Sergei Aksyonov as having been “the only Bulgarian politician after the state coup in Kyiv who gave an objective assessment of what had happened.” Ataka representatives were among the members of Europe’s far-right, neo-Nazi and Stalinist parties whom Russia invited to act as ‘international observers’ for what they termed a referendum on Crimea joining Russia on March 16, 2014, and they also ‘observed’ the Nov 2 ‘elections’ organized in breach of the Minsk Agreement by the Kremlin-backed militants of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics.’ Both occasions were duly ‘observed’ and praised as exemplary.

The Russian media widely reported the last pathos-filled question of the ‘Council’s’ appeal: “Is this really European democracy?”

Problems with democracy?

Russian media used its own specific paintbrush in presenting the situation, however it is true that the SBU detained participants of this ‘People’s Council.’ reported on April 7 that the SBU had detained some 20 people who were being questioned, and had also searched the venue of the meeting.

“The separatist organization itself which had threatened the authorities with ‘self-determination for Bessarabia’ asserts that some of its representatives – journalist Alik Vetrov, Sergei Zagoryuk and deputy of a town council Mikhail Levkin – had been detained on the eve of the event.“ It also reported the disappearance on April 7 of the head of the ‘People’s Council’ presidium and leader of the Union of Transdniestrians of Ukraine Dmitry Zatuliveter. goes on to note that the site of the ‘People’s Council’ is registered in Moscow and that it is made up of Odesan, Moldovan, Transdniestrian and Gagauz civic figures who espouse a pro-Kremlin position. 

They claim to represent the ethnic communities of Bessarabia, yet many of these have publicly rejected such assertions. The heads of both the Association of Bulgarians of Ukraine and the Gagauz National-Cultural Society ‘Birlik’ emphatically disagree.

“Neither the Association of Bulgarians of Ukraine nor the Gagauz National-Cultural Society ‘Birlik’ have any connection with the said events, nor to the organization of any fake civic structures on an ethnic basis which propagate the ideas of federalization, running counter to Ukraine’s state system and Constitution.

We emphatically condemn the actions of the organizers of the so-called ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’. We ask residents of the Odesa oblast to not fall for provocation from those wishing to disrupt the situation in a historically peaceful region where for two centuries representatives of over 100 nationalities have lived in peace and harmony.”

At a round table on April 8, Anatoly Fetesku, head of the All-Ukrainian National-Cultural Moldovan Association said he had only heard about the so-called ‘Council’ from the Internet and is convinced it is an act of provocation aimed at stirring up tension and misunderstanding in the region.  In her turn, Dora Kostrova from the All-Ukrainian Assembly of Bulgarians challenged these people who are trying to destroy their world to identify themselves and say who elected them.

Let them explain why they are presuming to speak in the name of our peoples, why they want a repetition of the scenario seen in the east of Ukraine”.

One year ago, ‘people’s republics’ were being created in Donbas on the basis of organizations heavily supported by Russia, and propped up first by Russian ‘tourists’ of athletic build, later by mercenaries, Russian nationalists, as well as large numbers of Russian soldiers. Odesa was widely seen then as being the next to succumb to such so-called ‘separatism.’ Even the disturbances and tragic fire of May 2, 2014 were unable to carry that off, however efforts to destabilize the situation – through terrorist acts, fake protests, false claims of pogroms, etc. against the Jewish community – are ongoing. It seems extremely likely that the ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’ is the latest move in a highly dangerous, Kremlin-backed play, which has already resulted in mass death and destruction.   

Odesa is learning to be vigilant against not only ‘suspicious bags’.

Bad News for Moscow on the Language Front

   United Country (first in Ukrainian, then in Russian)

A recent Russian news broadcast added an entirely fictitious phrase supposedly spoken by Ukraine’s President in the latest of countless attempts to push the Kremlin line about alleged discrimination of Russian-speakers.  Fiction is needed since reality is not on Moscow’s side.  A survey, for example, has found only 19% support for Russian becoming a State language. 

The Fake

On April 6 TV Rossiya-1 claimed that, in an address to the first meeting of the new Constitutional Commission, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko stated that “we will always speak only Ukrainian”  This was fortunately noted by Radio Svoboda which points out that Poroshenko said only that Ukrainian would continue to be the only state language. 

The Rossiya-1 version entitled “The day’s intrigue: Did Poroshenko propose that Putin “take” Donbas?” says: “Be that as it may, Kyiv’s behaviour speaks for itself: Ukraine seemingly really doesn’t need Donbas. Poroshenko today stated that the Ukrainian language would always be the only State language despite the fact that the special status of Donbas agreed in Minsk by the ‘Normandy Four’ envisages that they will be able to speak Russian freely as well”. 

Presumably the presenters understood that a single State language in no way prevents people from speaking Russian freely, and decided to invent the words about only speaking Ukrainian in the translation of Poroshenko’s address.

Poroshenko, in fact, made it quite clear that as part of a process of decentralization the local specific features of an area would have to be taken into account, with respect to language, faith, historical memory, ethnic traditions “as well as other expressions of their diversity which should only unite Ukraine and hold it united”.

Stubborn statistics

The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology [KIIS] has just released the results of a survey carried out in February on attitudes to the Russian language.  Respondents were from throughout Ukraine, except Crimea and included people from areas under Kremlin-backed militant control in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. 

The survey found a significant decrease in support for Russian being made a second State language, from the 27% in favour of this in 2013 down to 19% in 2015. 

52% believe that Russian should be made the second official language only in those areas where the majority of the population want this.

Interestingly, there is approximate parity between the number who believe that the Russian language should be removed from official life (21%) and those who think it should become a State language (19%).

There is a fairly predictable geographic divide between western and central oblasts on the one hand and southern and eastern oblasts (including Donbas), on the other.  However even in eastern oblasts a majority are in support only of Russian being made the second official language in areas where the majority are in favour of this, not of Russian becoming a second State language.   

People were asked what the state policy should be with respect to the Russian language.  42% in western, and 24% in central oblasts thought Russian should be removed from official life, against 13% in southern and 3% in Donbas and other eastern oblasts.

37% in southern and 31% in Donbas and other eastern oblasts said Russian should become a second State language, against 6% in western and 8% in central oblasts.

There was less difference regarding the possibility of local populations deciding to make Russian a second official language, with 44% in support in western oblasts; 57% in central; 43% in southern and 61% in Donbas and other eastern oblasts.

Stubbornly oblivious

The problem is that when the facts don’t suit, they are ignored or distorted.  The KIIS survey results are so bad for Russia that they will probably not be reported at all. 

It is absolutely standard for pro-Kremlin media to claim that the Ukrainian government (often referred to as the ‘junta’) who took over on Feb 22, 2014 immediately brought in a law restricting people’s right to use the Russian language. 

On Feb 23 Ukraine’s new parliamentary majority did indeed blunder in where care and sensitivity was required by voting to revoke the 2012 language policy law.  This highly contentious law claimed to protect the rights of any minority ethnic group comprising 10% of the population of a region, but in fact simply allowed Russian to become the main language in a number of regions of the country.  In pushing the 2012 law through, the then President Viktor Yanukovych ignored not only widespread opposition within Ukraine, but the opinion of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the advice of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek. 

Be that as it may, parliament made a bad move in trying to revoke the law so swiftly and without any public discussion, and the bill it adopted was promptly vetoed by the Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov (see Avoiding Ukraine’s language minefields)

The fact that the law was vetoed is consistently muffled in the Russian media. 

Back in early 2008, Russian foreign ministry statements claiming that Russian-speakers were facing discrimination in Ukraine aroused mainly mirth.  That changed dramatically in 2014.

Moscow, for example, claimed supposed danger to Russians and Russian-speakers as pretext for its effective invasion and annexation of Crimea.  No evidence was presented for such claims, but Russian President Vladimir Putin still continues asserting that Russia averted supposed ‘bloodshed’. 

Propaganda about the conflict in Donbas and about the tragic events on May 2, 2014 in Odessa also regularly speak of discrimination or even persecution of Russian-speakers.  In this narrative, the above-mentioned language law is supposed to have come into force and been the first indication of the suffering Russian-speaking regions were to face under the so-called ‘Kyiv junta’.  It is not only the Russian media that pushes this narrative.  At the end of September 2014, Russia’s Investigative Committee initiated a criminal investigation, accusing Ukraine of seeking the total annihilation of specifically Russian-speakers in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

This is no longer the fiction of fairy tales, but a narrative aimed at sowing division, stirring up hatred and causing maximum suffering and destruction.  

The right to life

’Cutthroats And Bandits’: Volunteer’s Stint With Ukraine Rebels Turns To Nightmare

When he joined the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Russian businessman Bondo Dorovskikh thought he would be fighting hordes of fascists bent on victimizing the local population. 
The reality on the ground turned out to be quite different.
Instead of defending eastern Ukraine, Dorovskikh says he found himself stranded in the town of Alchevsk, where pro-Russian rebels controlling the area spent their days looting and drinking.
"In the morning the commander would get up and line up the insurgents for the roll-call, and in the evening there were another roll-call, " he told RFE/RL. "The rest of the time the militants roamed around Alchevsk, pillaging, stealing scrap metal, removing metal gates and selling them to buy alcohol and cigarettes. Some of them would get drunk and fire at each other."
Dorovskikh recently returned from his six-month stint with the insurgents, feeling angry and cheated.
Like many other volunteers, he decided to take up arms after watching Russian television reports that portrayed Ukrainian forces in the country’s east as neo-Nazi thugs persecuting and slaughtering Russian-speaking locals.
"Reports from the Rossia 24 channel on the latest news in Ukraine were constantly on my mind, " he says. "The media influenced me."
Dorovskikh contacted the insurgency through its recruitment office in Moscow, where he was given a mobile phone number to call when he reached the southern city of Rostov, close to Ukraine’s border.
He left his job in Moscow and purchased ammunition, a bulletproof vest, and a one-way ticket to Rostov.
He then called the number he had been given in Moscow and received instructions on how to reach the group that would take him to Ukraine.
He was stunned to find out that recruiters in Rostov did not bother asking about his military experience and failed to conduct even basic identity checks on anybody.
"There were people there who didn’t have any documents at all, " he says.
Another incident soon confirmed his misgivings about the insurgency.
"The first thing we saw after crossing the border, literally five minutes later, was a brawl between two insurgents, " he says. "I immediately understood where I had landed, that this had nothing to do with an army. I was disappointed right from the start."
Dorovskikh was assigned to the "Ghost" battalion and sent to a unit in Alchevsk, where he was immediately handed weapons.
He says the unit was comprised of local militants, Russian volunteers, several Russian army officers, and a handful of foreign recruits from Spain, Italy, and France.
But Dorovskikh never witnessed any combat in Alchevsk. He received no training, either.
According to him, the vast majority of militants have no interest whatsoever in politics and only join the insurgencyto enjoy the salaries and material advantages granted to its members.
He describes them as "bandits" and says some of the local militants in his unit were convicts who were hunting down former police officers ousted when the separatists took over.
He says rebels also routinely turned against their own comrades-in-arms. "Robberies and murders took place there, " he says.
Dorovskikh’s account also corroborates reports that Russia is supplying the insurgents with weapons. Militants who crossed over from Russia, he says, are particularly well equipped.
"We had everything, we were fully equipped, " he says. "We had grenades, machine guns, grenade launchers and ammunition for them, absolutely everything. We even had two cars at our disposal."

Video provided by Bondo Dorovskikh showing him displaying some of the weapons owned by his rebel unit in eastern Ukraine

He also confirms that the tanks spotted in eastern Ukraine come from Russia and describes seeing tanks being sent into Ukraine from the Rostov region.

 "They gathered volunteers who had served in armored divisions in the army, " he says. "They were trained at a tank training base near Rostov, units were formed, they were also given weapons. These tanks were transported to the border, which they then crossed on their own and headed directly to the hotspots."
After several idle weeks in Alchevsk, Dorovskikh left his unit and headed to the town of Nikishino, on the front line.

Video provided by Bondo Dorovskikh showing him and other rebels camping out in a destroyed house in Nikishino

What he witnessed there only fueled his disillusionment.
He says that the fighters had no clear instructions and that the tank radios did not function, resulting in chaotic battles.
He says the insurgents also took part in shocking acts of cruelty against Ukrainian soldiers. He recalls hearing the screams of Ukrainian soldiers on the radio as rebels torched their tanks with the men still inside.
"I felt sorry for those on the other side who were being slaughtered, " he says. "And they were being killed by cutthroats who don’t even care against whom they are fighting."
Dorovskikh says he is not an exception. Disenchanted Russian volunteers, he claims, are streaming back home. He is himself so upset that he is mulling enrolling in Ukraine’s National Guard to help stamp out the separatists.
But for now, he has a message for all those still tempted to join the insurgency. "Don’t go there, " he urges them. "We are told on television this is like the Second World War, but in fact it’s an act of pure aggression. This is not a war that’s worth risking the most precious thing you have."


More Evidence against Incendiary Lies about Odesa 2 May

Important findings about the fire in the Trade Union Building on May 2, 2014 demonstrate yet again the full cynicism of the Russian propaganda machine in its deliberate attempts to stir up hatred and desire through lies about a massacre that day.

Most of the misinformation, and often deliberate lies, about the tragic confrontation between pro-Ukrainian and pro-federalism activists in Odesa on May 2, 2014 concern the fire in the Trade Union Building on Kulikovo Pole in which 42 people lost their lives.  Claims that this was a ‘massacre’ by Ukrainian ‘radicals’ with survivors beaten to death appeared in the Russian media at the outset and have been relentlessly pushed ever since.  This narrative is demonstrably false making the Ukrainian authorities’ failure to carry out an efficient and transparent investigation particularly frustrating.

If the authorities seem oblivious to the negative impact of such inaction, the May 2 Group is not.  This civic initiative was formed soon after the tragedy with representatives from both sides of the conflict.  It has worked tirelessly on studying the evidence, speaking with witnesses and the families of those killed, in order to establish what actually happened. 

Group member and biochemist, Vladislav Balinsky has recently published important information regarding the fire itself.  This supplements his earlier findings which seriously undermined the claim that pro-federalism activists had fled from enraged ‘fascist radicals’ into the Trade Union building.  According to that version, the ‘radicals’ then set the building alight, and killed those who managed to escape.  Some variants, including a detailed account given to RT [Russia Today] by a supposed witness, claimed that the ‘radicals’ followed the pro-federalism activists into the building, up the stairs, and strangled some of the victims. 

Balinsky was one of the first people to enter the building after the fire and his photos are a vital source of information about what actually happened.

Prior planning

Balinsky presents evidence indicating that at least some of the pro-federalism activists had set up barricades inside the Trade Union building just before the attack, with stockpiles of Molotov cocktails and inflammatory liquid for them.  He suggests that they deliberately gathered people in advance to occupy and defend the building, with calls not only from the square outside the building, but also earlier on, for example, social networks.

Some of the pro-federalism leaders, including Artem Davydchenko, used deception to get around 380 people into the building.  People were phoned and asked to come with medical aid and other items after the very first clashes in the city centre.  Witnesses have also reported that some of the passengers from the last stop of Tram No 18 were told that there was a bomb in the tram, and that they should hide in the Trade Union building.

While not an official conclusion of the Group as a whole, some of its members believe that there were conflicting views among the groups involved in the pro-federalism tent camp on Kulikovo Pole.  Judging by messages on social media, etc., there appears to have been one group who initiated the attack on a pro-unity march in the centre of Odesa earlier in the afternoon.  It seems likely that seizure and defence of the Trade Union building (providing a mirror image of the seizure by some Maidan supporters in Kyiv of the Trade Union building there) may have been part of that breakaway’s group’s plans.

Armed defence

A crowd of pro-Maidan activists did not just suddenly appear on Kulikovo Pole, nor on their way had they made any secret of their intention to forcibly remove the tent camp which the pro-federalism activists had set up some time back.  Despite this, the police made no effort to cordon the tent camp off or in other ways avoid confrontation. 

It is certainly true that the crowd outside the Trade Union building was predominantly made up of pro-unity, pro-Maidan activists, and that those inside were mainly pro-federalism activists.  Anybody hurling a Molotov cocktail at a building, as some of the pro-unity activists were doubtless doing, is behaving with criminal disregard for the risk to life this creates.

The propaganda version, however, ignores certain key facts.

Molotov cocktails were also being hurled both from the roof and from the foyer of the building.  Firearms were also used by pro-federalism activists positioned on the roof and from five places within the building.. 

Despite the danger this presented to anybody near the building, there is ample video footage and photographs showing desperate attempts by pro-unity activists to rescue those trapped in the building.  It is clear from the reporting being streamed from outside that nobody had any idea of the real number of people inside.

The fire

Balinsky divides the fire into two phases, with the first beginning at 19.44 and lasting 9 minutes. 

This phase ended with the emergence of a stack (chimney) effect causing the walls of the stairwell to combust within the space of a minute, and for the fire to spread very rapidly. 

“The specific and tragic nature of the fire in the Odesa Trade Union building on May 2, 2014 is linked with the rapid development of its second phase.”

The fire almost momentarily engulfed the stairwell up to the third floor, then the fourth, as well as going through wooden and metal-plastic doors and corridor partitions on the first floor. 

The people gathered at the windows on the inter-storey staircase landing and near the central stairwell were suddenly trapped by the fire with temperature rising to around 700 ° C.   They died either from the fire itself, or when they jumped from the window trying to escape it.  On the fourth and fifth floors where most of the bodies were found, it is likely that people had died of smoke inhalation and from poisonous fumes before the fire reached them.

No other causes of death

The massacre narrative normally suggests that hundreds may have been killed.  42 bodies were found, of which one has never been identified.  There is no evidence of any other victims, and the number of people who disappeared around that time in Odesa fully corresponds to the normal statistics for people going missing.

While the authorities have even refused to allow the May 2 Group to see the results of forensic examinations, neither Balitsky nor Volodymyr Carkisyan, a forensic toxicologist, found any evidence of deaths not explainable by the fire, smoke and toxic fumes.  The latter were in the first instance emitted by many of the items used for the barricade at the foyer doors.  These included various pieces of upholstered furniture which are not only highly flammable, but also contain foam, polyurethane and other materials which emit toxic substances into the air when burned.  There were also Molotov cocktails and the incendiary liquid for them, a gas power generator and a fridge containing Freon which would have added to the toxic material emitted when the temperature shot above 600 ° C.

A tragedy not averted

The first call to the fire brigade was at 7.31 reporting the fire outside which soon set the entrance doors and then the barricades inside alight.  It is not clear who caused that original fire since both sides were hurling Molotov cocktails.  There were two hits from pro-federalism activists on the roof: one flare hits a tent at 2.16 on the video here:, while in the first minute of the tape here, one of the Molotov cocktails thrown from the roof seems to hit a tent

Prompt reaction from the fire brigade could have prevented the fire from spreading and enabled people to escape the dangerous areas. The emergency services were called numerous times, but only arrived at 20.16.    

For 40 minutes, it was pro-unity activists who succeeded in rescuing several dozen people from the smoke-filled offices on the second and third floor of the building  (see: (from around 2.0 onwards).

Incendiary lies

The use of carefully edited material and disregard for clear documentary and video evidence that disproves the massacre claims leave no scope for illusion regarding the motives of those who so loudly voice them. 

Most of the pogroms began in similar fashion with totally unjustified claims of heinous crimes committed by one or more Jews. 

Those pushing a massacre narrative about the May 2 tragedy are well aware of the incendiary effect their words can and do have.  There are frequent reports of young men citing Odessa as the reason they felt compelled to come to Donbas and fight on the side of the Kremlin-backed militants. 

They were cynically conned.  

The right to a fair trial

Odesa May 2 Investigation: A Failed Test for Ukrainian Justice

While visiting Odesa on April 10, President Petro Poroshenko called ensuring an objective investigation of the events in Odesa on May 2, 2014 “a test of justice for Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies”. It is a test that unfortunately they have thus far failed.  This is especially galling given the need to counter Russia’s intensive propaganda campaign which falsely presents the disturbances and fire as a ‘massacre’.

Poroshenko is undoubtedly correct that full investigations take time.  However where people are held in custody, there must be clarity as to the grounds in each specific case.  Almost exactly a year on, there is none.  Of the 22 people now on trial, of whom 11 are in custody, virtually all are facing identical charges of taking part in disturbances – as did hundreds of others who have not been charged. At the same time Serhiy Khodiyak who is suspected of killing one person and injuring another is presently at liberty, with the material having only just been passed to the court.  Since the 22 defendants are all pro-federalism [pro-Russian] activists, while Khodiyak is from the pro-Ukrainian unity, pro-EuroMaidan camp, the lack of symmetry cannot fail to be of concern. 

One year ago

Six people died of gunshot wounds and many others were injured during disturbances in the centre of Odessa on May 2, and a further 42 people died as a result of a fire in the Trade Union building on Kulikovo Pole.

It is known that the initial violence was deliberately provoked by a group of aggressive pro-federalism activists who were part of the protest tent camp on Kulikovo Pole.  Knowing who started it, however, is of limited importance since weapons, including firearms, were used by both pro-federalism and pro-unity activists, and the victims of the earlier disturbances included activists from both camps.  All 42 people who died in the fire were pro-federalism supporters meaning that the number of victims from one side of the conflict far outweighs the other.  This makes it especially undesirable to have delays or irregularities in the investigation and heightens the importance of holding those responsible to answer.

The official version

Poroshenko’s interview was listened to with some bemusement by Vladislav Serdyuk, one of the members of the May 2 Group.  This civic initiative is made up of journalists, scientists and others who have reacted to the absence of transparency and openness from the authorities by carrying out their own investigation. Serdyuk calls the information presented by Poroshenko a “new, original version of the course of events”, quite unlike any of the others.

According to this new version, the main organizer of the bloody events was Dmytro Fuchedzhy, deputy head of the Odesa Regional Police, who fled shortly after the events and is now believed to be in Transnistria, the self-proclaimed and Moscow-backed breakaway ‘state’ between Ukraine and Moldova. The aim, so the version goes, was to get pro-federalism and pro-unity activists killing each other and thus provoke an explosive situation in the region.  The direct organizers fled and are now outside the country. 

Serdyuk calls the version “very attractive and convenient, but improbable”.  Nobody is denying that Fuchedzhy supported the pro-federalism camp on Kulikovo Pole and played a role, but the latter should not be exaggerated. 

Serdyuk suggested that it was the Interior Ministry that was misleading the President, but the Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO] report, posted on April 22, also focuses on Fuchedzhy.

The PGO report is critical of the police which failed to properly protect public order by not preventing the clashes that then escalated to a point beyond police control, with 18 people receiving gunshot wounds, 6 proving fatal.

Investigation into this failure has resulted in criminal charges being brought against Fuchedzhy ”for exceeding his power and negligence which was expressed in inadequate organization of police forces in protecting public order, this resulting in mass riots”.

Criminal charges have also been laid against three police officers, with a court trial said to be underway.  No more detail is provided in the report, however the May 2 Group believes that this refers to three police officers charged with negligence for releasing over 60 pro-federalism activists held after the disturbances.  They were released on May 4 after a crowd gathered outside the holding centre and threatened to storm it.

The second part of the investigation is said to be in establishing the organizers and active participants in the mass riots “who carried out attacks, used weapons and other items to cause physical injury.”  The court trial of 22 defendants is mentioned here, as well as the investigation into one person – presumably Khodiyak – accused of murder.  One other investigation has been terminated because the suspect has died (Mykola (Volkov), whose photo is often used in Russian propaganda is probably meant – details here).  “10 other active participants and organizers of mass riots have been placed on the wanted list”.

The third part of the investigation is into the causes of death of the 42 people who died in the Trade Union building or jumped to their death. This confirms that all deaths were due to the fire, and refutes earlier claims that chloroform or similar was used.  No evidence was found to suggest that the fire was planned, and Molotov cocktails were hurled by both sides – both into and from the building – making it impossible to ascertain which set the barricades alight.  The findings with respect to the fire itself are essentially the same as those provided by the May 2 Group’s specialist Vladislav Balinsky which can be found here.  

The PGO, however, then mentions that the investigators established negligence by officials of the Odessa Regional Emergencies Department in not sending the necessary fire engines.  We are told only that “the investigation is being carried out by the Interior Ministry’s Central Investigation Department”, and then that the large number of victims was due to the mass riots.

The emergency services were informed immediately – at 19.31 and from then on repeatedly – about the fire, but appeared only at around 20.10.  This was surely the cause of a very large number of the deaths, and something that should not take a year to ascertain.

Unasked, or just unanswered?

It is undoubtedly true that a number of people directly involved in the disturbances have fled to areas under Russian or Kremlin-backed militant control, with these including Vitaly Budko [‘Botsman’] seen on video footage shooting at pro-unity activists from behind police cordons and one top police official, Fuchedzhy.  There are multiple questions, however, which are not answered by laying the responsibility on Fuchedzhy, with three police officers charged with a separate occasion slipped in for good measure. 

The SBU [Security Service] and Interior Ministry had informed of likely disturbances and provocation in both eastern and southern oblasts from May 1 to 10.  The Odessa regional police were also fully aware of planned actions prior to a football match between Chernomorets and Metallist on May 2. 

An action plan to deal with likely disturbances entitled Khvylya [Wave] had been drawn up in advance and was actually signed just hours before the disturbances began.  It needed to be registered, however, in order to be carried out, yet this did not happen.  Questions need to be asked as to why not.  There are numerous other unexplained details that day, some of which the May 2 Group has tried to answer, while being constantly hampered by the lack of openness about information of undoubted public importance. 

Most disturbing in all of this, however, is the ongoing trial of 22 men on fundamentally flawed charges, with 11 having been deprived of their liberty for almost a year.  There is serious evidence against only one defendant – Serhiy Dolzhenkov – who is alleged to have organized and led the attack on the pro-Ukrainian unity march, yet the indictment provides no detailed information about what he is specifically accused of having done. There seems to be no real evidence against the other defendants with the same formulation used against each of them. All are said to have: “taken an active part in mass disturbances, namely throwing stones, sticks and other items at people in order to cause damage to life and health, and resisted police officers”.

Dolzhenkov is reported to have already lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights over his treatment.  It seems likely that other applications will follow.

The message from Poroshenko’s April 10 interview about Odessa having withstood a grave threat to its stability is probably one many Odesans would endorse.  They view the tragic events as having shaken their city and removed the likelihood that Odesa would follow the same fate as the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

There are numerous challenges to that fragile stability with many, like the so-called ‘People’s Council of Bessarabia’ and fake protests, suggesting Russian involvement. There are other threats, however, and one must surely be failure by Ukraine’s post-Maidan government to carry out a full, objective and honest investigation into tragedies like Odesa May 2, and punish only those genuinely guilty of offences.  The bitterness, sense of betrayal and of alienation generated by miscarriages of justice will divide Ukrainians just as effectively as Russian lies about a ‘massacre’.  

Freedom of expression

Cameraman for silenced Crimean Tatar channel jailed over coverage of pre-annexation protest

A Simferopol court on Wednesday ordered the detention of TV ATR cameraman Eskender Nebiyev who is charged over a pre-annexation demonstration on Feb 26, 2014, that he was covering in his professional capacity.  This is the latest arrest in a ‘case’, breaching both Russian and international law, where the occupation regime is clearly targeting Crimean Tatars, including Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Head of the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly.  

As reported, Nebiyev was first detained on Monday April 20, after a search was carried out of his home.  He has been charged with ‘taking part in mass disturbances’ under Article 212 § 2 of the Russian Criminal Code and could face from 3 to 8 years imprisonment.  This new arrest marks a further escalation in repressive measures in Crimea under Russian occupation with a clear message being sent to media representatives that they can face prosecution for coverage of demonstrations.  It is no accident that an ATR employee should have been targeted, with Sergei Aksyonov, Crimean ‘leader’, imposed when Russian soldiers seized control in Feb 2014, having stated on at least 2 occasions that he considered the only Crimean Tatar television channel to be a hostile element that gave people the hope that Ukrainian rule would be restored in Crimea.  ATR, together with all but one other Crimean Tatar media, was forced off air at the end of March 2015.

The court on Wednesday chose to believe that Nebiyev could try to abscond and put pressure on the investigators or witnesses and remanded him in custody for two months.  Nebiyev’s lawyer Dzhemil Temishev plans to appeal against the order which he calls an attempt to put pressure on his client to provide the testimony the investigators want.  

This arrest is the sixth so far over the so-called ‘Feb 26, 2015’ case, with five people held in custody. Akhtem Chiygoz was first arrested on Jan 29, with the occupation regime’s ‘prosecutor’ Natalya Poklonskaya claiming that he was accused of committing a serious crime carrying a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment. 

It is difficult to know how to describe a case in which not only are the accusations against specific individuals clearly fabricated, but where the entire prosecution is in flagrant violation of all principles of the rule of law.

The demonstration which the occupation regime is terming ‘mass disturbances’ took place on Feb 26, 2014, the day before Russian soldiers seized control of government buildings in Simferopol.  This was therefore under Ukrainian legislation, with the participants Ukrainian nationals. 

A court in Russian-occupied Crimea quite simply has no jurisdiction over this supposed ‘case’. 

The large protest outside parliament on Feb 26, 2014, was organized by leaders of the Mejlis to prevent an attempt to seize control of parliament.  There were effectively two demonstrations in the same place: one organized by Crimean Tatars and EuroMaidan activists, the other by the Russian Unity party run by Sergei Aksyonov.  Both the latter and his party were extremely marginal in Crimean politics, yet Aksyonov proclaimed himself ‘prime minister’ following a parliamentary ‘session’ under Russian soldiers’ machine guns on Feb 27.

In an earlier article appropriately entitled ‘The Criminal Code and the Time Machine’, Novaya Gazeta correspondent Irek Murtazin wrote that the investigators were claiming that “Crimea became ours back on Feb 26, three weeks before annexation”.  He pointed out that this case demolishes the always implausible claim by Russia that Crimea’s ‘joining’ of the Russian Federation was a solely local Crimean initiative. 

In trying to pin crimes on the Crimean Tatars, the investigators will have to prove that a year ago in the centre of Simferopol actions were committed that there were against Russia’s interests. This is because in accordance with Article 12 § 3 of the Russian Criminal Code, a criminal prosecution can only be initiated against foreign nationals who committed an offence on the territory of another country if “the crime was directed against the interests of the Russian Federation or a citizen of the Russian Federation.

On Feb 26 last year Crimea was Ukrainian territory and all Crimean Tatars who are charged in this case were [and remain – HC] Ukrainian nationals. There were no Russians near the Crimean parliament on that day.”

The Crimean Tatars present wished to prevent seizure of control and a change in Crimea’s status.  That this did not suit the Kremlin was demonstrated at 4.20 in the morning of Feb 27, when, Murtazin writes, “120 armed men in full military gear but without insignia occupied the parliament and government buildings in Crimea. Russian flags were raised over the buildings, and barricades erected at the entrance.”

Since five men are now in custody and more arrests seem certain, it is worth stressing that not only is the criminal case a legal nonsense, but the specific charges also fly in the face of the evidence. 

The same Novaya Gazeta correspondent reports that the investigators were clearly short of any material and invited Simferopol residents who had been subjected to force “even in the absence of bodily injuries” to come forward.  On Jan 29, the day that Chiygoz was arrested, Russia’s Investigative Committee claimed that violence had been applied “in relation to members of the ‘Russian Unity’ party and the Crimean self-defence”.*

According to Eskender Bariev, coordinator of the Crimean Tatar Rights Committee, the investigation in this ‘case’ appears to involve people being taken in for questioning and shown pictures of other activists who took part in the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014, and simply asked to identify them.  

Murtazin notes that his colleague, Pavel Kanygin was present during the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014.  His reports correspond with those from Radio Svoboda which reported when Chiygoz was arrested that their video footage clearly shows all representatives of the Mejlis seeking only to calm the crowd and prevent bloodshed.

Kanygin’s report focuses on the Head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov whom the occupation regime could not arrest since Russia had already banned him from his homeland back in July 2014.  Chubarov is reported to have spoken through a megaphone calling for calm after the first scuffles broke out.  Later, after the parliamentary session believed to be planning to take control was cancelled,  Chubarov and Aksyonov came out together and called for calm and for the demonstrators to disperse.  Kanygin adds that the Crimean Tatars heeded this call, not the pro-Russian demonstrators who remained and kept chanting “Russia!”

In February 2014, Russia ran roughshod over international law by invading and occupying Ukrainian Crimea.  It is now demonstrating the same willingness to re-write history and flout even its own legislation in this latest offensive against Crimean Tatars and all who oppose Russian occupation.


* The so-called ‘self-defence’ were paramilitary vigilantes who worked in cooperation with the Russian military and Aksyonov’s ‘government’.  They are believed  responsible for numerous abductions, disappearances, beatings, as well as the murder of Crimean Tatar Reshat Ametov who was abducted while protesting against the invasion outside the Crimean parliament

Environmental rights

“Our brothers are dying in the East”, yet environmental protection efforts must continue

It has been a year since Russian invaders and local separatists began to claim territory in Eastern Ukraine. The central government responded with anti-terrorist operations (ATO), resulting in shifting borders in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. The country is in the middle of an existential crisis – yet the work of environmental regulators and public health advocates continues. Ihor Shevchenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR), said at a recent meeting:

“Not only are our brothers dying in the East, but a series of environment threats have emerged related to environmental pollution and destruction of nature reserves. State parks are seriously suffering – 33 different sites in the protected areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv oblasts were damaged during the ATO. First we must take inventory of the damage caused by military operations and identify priority actions to protect and restore these areas.”

The MENR and non-governmental organization Environment, People, Law (EPL) have identified the greatest threats to protected territories in Ukraine. The most widespread problem is fires triggered by military blasts – an estimated 17% of forests and 24% of steppes in the ATO zone were affected. Natural monuments have been directly damaged by shelling – the Holy Mountains National Park and the Kalmiuske and Kreidiana Flora areas of the Ukrainian Steppe Reserve have been scarred by explosions. The lawlessness in rebel-held territory has led to abuses, such as illegal logging and poaching. EPL put together an interactive map documenting the effects of war on nature reserves in Eastern Ukraine.

Some of the most dramatic events have occurred at administrative offices on protected lands. Several buildings were destroyed or seized by militants,  while others were simply abandoned for security reasons. There has been so much confusion about the status of these facilities that the MENR issued a statement to clarify that, as of February 2015, all five natural reserves in the Donetsk oblast are operating as normal. Three of these parks are still within the ATO zone and two are in areas controlled by Ukraine. The facilities within rebel territory are Donetsk Ridge, Meotyda, and Zuyivsky regional landscape parks – the latter was  was occupied by Russian fighters for several weeks and then liberated in January. Despite the safety risk and having not been paid for several months, park staff selflessly continue their work to protect these ecological treasures. Workers have had to extinguish fires in the steppes and forests caused by mortar and artillery shelling. They have even assisted in clearing park lands of unexploded shells.

Beyond the risk to protected territories, the Executive Director of EPL Olena Kravchenko has spoken about the damage to industry and infrastructure that effectively “set a time bomb” for future generations. EPL is studying critical issues, such as chemical and radiation risks to drinking water and the destruction of wastewater treatment facilities. They are working with MENR to document the status of hazardous waste storage sites and coal mines, hundreds of which are flooded with contaminated water.

Experts interviewed by the Kyiv Post point to flooded mines as the greatest environmental threat in occupied territories. Government scientists cannot gain access to the mines to characterize risks and develop mitigation plans. Mykhaylo Volynets, leader of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine, is especially concerned about the Yunkom mine, which was the site of a nuclear explosion in 1979 and is still filled with radioactive water. Similarly, the Oleksandr-Zakhid mine in Horlivka has been used since 1989 to store chlorobenzene and other toxins.

MENR has assigned specialists to monitor the situation in occupied territories and to restore environmental safety when they are returned to Ukrainian control. Environmental NGOs, including EPL and Ecoleague, are playing a significant role in gathering information about conditions in the ATO zone. Ecoleague has made recommendations on how to rebuild Donetsk and Luhansk based on the principles of sustainable development.

Unfortunately, a return to Ukraine’s historic borders is becoming less likely and a long-term frozen conflict may be the best-case scenario. A major springtime offensive by the Russian military is being widely predicted. The people of Ukraine are ready to rebuild – her people and the land itself have suffered enough.

Women’s rights

’Men Return Completely Changed’: Ukraine Conflict Fuelling Surge In Domestic Violence

A Ukrainian group helping victims of domestic abuse says the conflict in eastern Ukraine has led to a dramatic upsurge in violence against women across the country.

Aliona Zubchenko, the spokeswoman for the Kyiv-based International Women’s Rights Center La Strada, spoke to RFE/RL’s Claire Bigg.

RFE/RL: La Strada says the number of women calling its hotline for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, and gender discrimination has spiked in recent months. How big is this increase?

Aliona Zubchenko: We took a total of 7, 000 calls in 2014, 80 percent of which related to domestic violence. This year, the figure has risen more than twofold. In the first three months of this year, we had more than 2, 600 calls.

RFE/RL: Your group blames mounting domestic violence on the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. How are the two connected?

Zubchenko: Women call and tell us that they were married for 15 years, that they had a good family, and that their husbands were never violent, never hit or insulted them. Then they left for the war and returned completely changed. They are violent. They beat the children. They beat their wives and drink. These women don’t know what to do because they don’t recognize the husbands they had before the war in these men.

RFE/RL: How do La Strada’s psychologists explain this change of behavior in men who return from the fighting in eastern Ukraine? Can we talk about posttraumatic stress disorder?

Zubchenko: We are talking about posttraumatic stress disorder -- 100 percent. We are talking about psychological trauma, when people there resort to violence for several months because it’s the only way to survive, and then come back home. They have become used to violence and consider it normal, so they continue to display this behavior, this time with their families.

There are situations when men come back disabled after being held captive. We have cases where men were castrated. This is a massive blow for men. We have calls from parents whose 20-year-old sons committed suicide after being held captive and castrated, because they could no longer live with this. But there are other situations when men who have lost their sexuality try to compensate by being violent.

Very often, domestic violence is connected to the fact that men start abusing alcohol after returning. This is a big problem.

RFE/RL: Do soldiers and fighters seek psychological help, too, or are they reluctant to do so?

Zubchenko: There is a stereotype in Ukrainian society that real men do not consult psychologists, that the best psychologists are a friend and a bottle of vodka. Men think this will make them feel better, which is a huge mistake. When they are drunk, they can become violent.

RFE/RL: The problems you mention concern the families of men who returned from eastern Ukraine. What about local men who fought, or are still fighting, on the side of the insurgents? Do you receive any calls from eastern Ukraine?

Zubchenko: We get some calls from occupied territories, but not enough to understand whether we are dealing with isolated cases or with a widespread problem. In addition, neither we nor Ukrainian authorities have access to the occupied territories, so we can only guess what is happening there.

We have, however, received calls from women who were subjected to sexual violence in the occupied territories. They say separatists seize women, lock them up in basements, and sexually abuse them. Unfortunately, we can only listen to these calls. Our psychologists can offer counseling to these women, but we cannot turn to law-enforcement authorities because they don’t have access to these areas.

RFE/RL: Has your hotline received many such calls?

Zubchenko: About 15, but not everyone is able to get in touch with us. Our hotline is a nationwide Ukrainian hotline, but not all operators work in the Luhansk and the Donetsk regions. Out of Ukraine’s three main operators, two don’t work there. In Crimea, Ukrainian operators don’t work at all. So Crimean women cannot call to tell us what is happening there.

RFE/RL: Psychological help aside, are there enough shelters in Ukraine for women who flee severe domestic violence?

Zubchenko: We have a network of shelters for victims of domestic violence. There are shelters in every region, but on average they can each accommodate about 30 women and children. The problem is that there is usually only one shelter per region, and some regions have 10 million residents. So 30 beds, of course, are completely inadequate for a population of 10 million.

RFE/RL: What are your thoughts about the recent surge in domestic violence? In your opinion, is it a temporary byproduct of the conflict or will it have long-lasting effects on Ukrainian society?

Zubchenko: We are very worried about the women who call us, but also about those who don’t call us. While the women who call us receive some kind of support, those who either are unable to call us or don’t know where to seek help remain alone with their problems. This is very dangerous.

We can assume that the number of suicides or murders will rise, because what begins as minor violence against women often grows into murder. The war in eastern Ukraine continues. The number of displaced people and soldiers who fought there will continue to grow. The consequences of what is now taking place in our country will be felt for decades.

News from the CIS countries

Nemtsov Allies Press U.S. To Punish Russian ’Propagandists’

Opposition leaders Mikhail Kasyanov (left) and Boris Nemtsov show their defaced ballots during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Moscow in December 2011.

Allies of slain Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov are asking the United States to impose sanctions on Russian television "propagandists" they accuse of leading a media vilification campaign that helped lead to his killing.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr.,  told RFE/RL that he and Mikhail Kasyanov will meet with senior U.S. lawmakers in Washington on April 23 to request that eight television personalities and executives be blacklisted under the Magnitsky Act, which punishes Russians implicated in rights abuses.

The list includes news anchor and state media boss Dmitry Kiselyov and television host Aleksei Pushkov, a senior pro-Kremlin lawmaker already sanctioned by Washington over Russia’s interference in Ukraine. 

"The responsibility for the murder of Boris Nemtsov is shared by those who, month after month, vilified and denounced him in government-controlled media outlets as a ’traitor, ’ the ’fifth column, ’ and an ’enemy of Russia’ for opposing [President] Vladimir Putin’s corruption and repressive policies at home, and his war on Ukraine, " Kara-Murza said.

"This was not journalism or the exercise of the freedom of speech. This was state-sponsored incitement to murder, " he said. "Denying these individuals the privilege of traveling to and owning assets in the West is the least the democratic world can do to honor the memory of Boris Nemtsov."

Russians listed under the Magnitsky Act are barred from travelling to the United States and holding assets there.

Nemtsov, a liberal former deputy prime minister, lawmaker, and regional governor who became a fierce critic of Putin and a vocal opponent of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, was shot dead just meters from the Kremlin on February 27.

His killing -- like those of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and rights activist Natalia Estemirova in 2009 -- underscored the risks faced by Russians who challenge the government. 

Five suspects from the Russian North Caucasus region of Chechnya have been arrested on suspicion, but Putin’s critics fear the official investigation may never reveal who was behind the contract-style killing because the trail could lead to close to the Kremlin.

They say Putin and his government share blame for Nemtsov’s killing even if not directly involved, contending that they have used public remarks and state-controlled media to create a climate of hate and portray Kremlin critics as traitors.

Putin’s remarks appeared aimed to acknowledge the significance of Nemtsov’s slaying, which has shaken many Russians and sharpened anger among critics who say he has created a climate of hate, without taking any blame.
The list of TV personalities and executives Nemtsov’s allies want to punish also includes the director of the main state broadcasting company, VGTRK, Oleg Dobrodeyev, and the director of NTV, a major pro-Kremlin TV channel, Vladimir Kulistikov.

The other four are prominent TV presenters Andrei Karaulov, Arkady Mamontov, Konstantin Syomin, and Vladimir Solovyov.

Kasyanov, who was prime minister during President Vladimir Putin’s first term and is now a vocal Kremlin opponent, co-founded the opposition party RPR-Parnas with Nemtsov. 

Kara-Murza, a member of the party’s federal council, said he and Kasyanov scheduled meetings with five U.S. lawmakers including U.S. Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Roger Wicker, co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

Being Ukrainian is not a crime: Free Yury Yatsenko!

A Russian court has postponed until April 29 the appeal hearing due on Monday against the two-year sentence passed on 24-year-old Yury Yatsenko. The young law student was first detained just before Crimean political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko, and was almost certainly sentenced to 2 years in a low security prison colony for being Ukrainian.n. 

Yatsenko was detained in the Kursk region on May 6, 2014, together with Bohdan Yarychevsky, a recent law graduate from Lviv.  They were originally stopped by police in the Kursk oblast to check their identity.  One of the officials had clearly watched too much Russian propaganda and on seeing the young men’s Lviv registration called Lviv a “fascist city” and contacted Russia’s FSB [Security Service].  

It should be noted that their detention came just before the arrests on fabricated ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’ charges of Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  It is therefore significant that on May 6 and 7 the Kursk officers suggested that Yatsenko and Yarychevsky might be involved in “another sabotage group” like that in Simferopol which was planning to blow up a statue of Lenin.  

If everything points to the four Crimeans as having been chosen for their political opposition for a supposed ‘terrorist plot’, the Kursk officers and soon the FSB appear to have simply reacted to a good opportunity when they came upon Yatsenko and his friend.

They were initially taken into custody because of an irregularity in their papers and on May 8 a court found them guilty of an administrative offence because they’d ticked the box ‘private purpose’ on the border entry form and not ‘tourism’.  They should have been deported immediately, but were instead held in custody for three months, without access to a lawyer or the Ukrainian consul, and without being able to contact their families.

Throughout those months the FSB subjected them to a specific form of ‘interrogation’.  This entailed trying to beat ‘confessions’ out of the young men about supposed plans for some kind of ‘sabotage’ in Russia.  They wanted them to claim that they had been sent by the SBU [Ukraine’s Security Service] or by Right Sector, the national organization whose influence Russia has consistently exaggerated and demonized. The FSB also demanded that they publicly state that a military junta had taken over in Ukraine and to ask for political asylum. 

These reports are eerily close to those by both Sentsov and Kolchenko.  As reported, the other two men did ‘confess’ and agreed to ‘cooperate’ with the investigators in order to get shorter sentences – in return, unfortunately, for giving testimony against the others. 

Like Sentsov and Kolchenko, neither Yatsenko nor Yarychevsky was prepared to provide the lies demanded by the FSB.  After Yatsenko was taken to a forest and subjected to torture, the two resorted to self-mutilation so that they could get to hospital and contact their families.

It should be noted that Yury Yatsenko’s father, Serhiy, has spent the last half-year in Russia, near where his son is in detention.  He hopes that through his presence he can at least ensure that no further torture trips are tried to put pressure on his son.

Yarychevsky was finally deported in August, but Yatsenko was instead initially charged with possessing and smuggling 40 grams of black hunting powder, then only of possessing it, with the prosecution claiming that this was an explosive with which Yatsenko was planning an act of sabotage.

Yatsenko in fact denies that the powder was his, but even if it was not planted, the amount was pitifully small.  The substance is not in itself illegal and can only have an explosive effect if certain other elements are combined, including a detonator.  This was all confirmed by the explosives expert, however the court took only a part of the assessment ignoring the fact that other components (which were not found) would be required for any explosion.

A criminal charge was manufactured three months or more after the young man was detained over an administrative offence, and does not warrant any scrutiny.  The SBU is understood to have included Yatsenko in a list of prisoners for exchanges with the Kremlin-backed militants, and certainly he seems to fall under the category of ’persons illegally held’ and due to be released under the Minsk Protocol.   It is to be hoped that judges will be found in the court of appeal who can understand that more than being Ukrainian is required to justify a prison sentence. 

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2015, #04