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

Politics vs. the law in Ukraine, which holds precedence? Prosecution of Ukraine’s Constitutional Court

Press release of the press conference given by Yevhen Zakharov and Vsevolod Rechytsky on June 22

Despite all Ukraine’s efforts to become a European civilized country and enter the EU, the steps in this direction will remain only good intentions until our politicians learn to act according to principles of rule of law, and not political expediency. The idea that complicated political processes can be easily solved through simple means with force or pressure on opponents is deceptive and only makes these problems more difficult.  Examples of this are given by the Law reinstating the force of particular provisions of Ukraine’s Constitution from Feb 21 2014; the Law on Government Cleansing (lustration); and the so-called ‘decommunization’ laws; the Supreme Court ruling which revoked the ruling from the High Administrative Court “regarding the finding unlawful of the Verkhovna Rada resolution of Feb 24 2014 on the early termination of the powers and dismissal of Constitutional Court judge Viacheslav Ovcharenko “.  Unfortunately one can give more and more examples.

Lustration is needed, but the chosen model is unclear, unrealistic, with an excessively broad circle of people falling within its scope, and the procedure does not envisage independence. Under such circumstances lustration turns from being an instrument for defending democracy into selective persecution of government officials.

Decommunization is also needed, and one can only welcome the condemnation of the communist regime for the crimes of the Soviet period. However for condemnation, parliamentary acts are insufficient, there needs to be judicial, and not parliamentary, procedure for the confirmation and qualification of specific crimes of communism, and then you can speak of liability for denial of these crimes.

The Law reinstating the force of particular provisions of Ukraine’s Constitution from Feb 21 2014 violates the Constitution, Article 85 of which does not envisage any « reinstatement » of the Constitution by parliament. Furthermore, as stated in Article 5 of the Constitution, “the right to stipulate and change the constitutional order in Ukraine is held solely by the people and cannot be usurped by the state, its bodies or officials”.  The latter means that where amendments to the Constitution affect elements of the constitutional order, they must be passed solely by the people, that is at a nationwide referendum.

Since a change in form of government in the state is at the same time a change in one of the elements of its constitutional order, the move by Ukraine from the model of a presidential republic to a parliamentary republic has to be carried out through the direct consent of the Ukrainian people, that is solely at a nationwide referendum. This circumstance alone is quite enough for the Constitutional Court to not have been able to agree with the adoption of the constitutional (political) reform of 2004. As we know, this notorious “blue” reform was voted on as part of a package with an ordinary law and Verkhovna Rada resolution which resulted in a kind of backwards government, where the content of current normative acts directly affected the content of the Constitution.  This flagrant violation of procedure for making amendments to the Constitution was confirmed by the Constitutional Court in its judgement No. 20 / 2010 of 30 September 2010. This judgement did not at all mean, as is claimed, “the revoking of a parliamentary republic in Ukraine”, but was merely recognition of the illegitimacy (procedural weakness) of the relevant constitutional text. It is therefore not correct to link this judgement with usurpation of power by Yanukovych. Viktor Yanukovych had usurped power long before this judgement and continued the usurpation after the judgement was passed.

Attempts to punish Constitutional Court judges for legal “betrayal” demonstrates only the low level of legal culture of the expert community and Ukrainian politicians. At the higher levels of power they don’t even understand what negative consequences for the Ukrainian state will be caused by the dismissal of constitutional judges for violation of their oath and criminal proceedings against them over the adoption of a wrongful Constitutional Court judgement. 

Russian NGO in trouble for warning tourists about risks of visiting occupied Crimea

‘Public Control’, a Russian consumer rights society, has aroused anger in Moscow and could face prosecution over its entirely accurate description of Crimea as ‘occupied territory’ and its warnings of the legal ramifications of any trips undertaken without Ukrainian permission.    

By Monday evening the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office was threatening prosecution and the website had been blocked.  President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov had earlier responded claiming that “Crimea, as we know, is a region of the Russian Federation and therefore the posing of the question is absolutely absurd”.   Deputies of Russia’s State Duma also joined in, calling for the head of the NGO to be forced out of his position and calling the advice “enemy provocation”.  If it had not already been designated a ‘foreign agent’ under Russia’s repressive legislation, it would doubtless be facing that fate as well.

The truth that hurts

All of the bluster and threats cannot conceal the fact that the NGO’s warnings were fully justified.  The head of Public Control [Russian: "Общественный контроль"], Mikhail Anshakov reports that they have already had several dozen people turn to them after being refused Schengen visas.  Although EU authorities do not spell out the reasons for turning people down, Anshakov notes that it is not difficult to find out that people recently visited Crimea.  He says that Russian travel agencies are not doing their job by not warning tourists, a

Anshakov stresses that their document did not provide any political comment, only an outline of the risks tourists face and why. 

The following is a summary of the document entitled Advice for consumers when visiting occupied territory

1.  Legal status

According to the current international Agreement between the Russian Federation [RF] and Ukraine on the Russian-Ukrainian state border, the territory of Crimea, including Sevastopol, is a part of Ukraine.  “The territorial integrity of Ukraine within existing borders is also confirmed by a number of other current international treaties and agreements.  Five are given, including the charter of the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS].

Yes, amendments were made to Article 65 of Russia’s Constitution, adding Crimea and Sevastopol, however Article 16 § 2 of that same document stipulates that constitutional provisions may not contradict the foundations of the Russian Federation’s constitutional order, and this states clearly (Article 15 § 4) that “generally accepted principles and norms of international law and RF international agreements are a component part of its legal system. If RF international agreements stipulate different rules from those envisaged by the law, then the rules of the international agreement take precedence. »

The document goes on to cite the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe which clearly stipulates inviolability of borders and territorial integrity of states as fundamental principles of international law.  It quotes the section (IV under Principles guiding Relations between participating states, regarding territorial integrity, and gives the following in bold: “No such occupation or acquisition will be recognized as legal.” 

Russia has not abrogated the above-mentioned agreements which recognize Ukraine’s territorial integrity, nor has it declared war against Ukraine or signed a peace treaty which could legitimize the annexation of Crimea. Ukraine has not renounced sovereignty over the territory of Crimea.

The inclusion of the republic of Crimea and city of federal significance Sevastopol in the makeup of the Russian Federation is therefore a legal fiction. According to international law the said territory is under occupation, which has specific ramifications, including when carrying out business activities, including consumer relations.”

They go on to explain some of the risks about which they believe it their duty to inform consumers, and point out that tourist agencies as a rule do not inform their clients of problems that could arise.

2.   According to Ukraine’s Law on Temporarily Occupied Territory, foreign nationals who do not require visas to visit Ukraine (including Russian nationals) may visit Crimea but only on condition that they passed into Crimea from existing checkpoints through the state border and with the relevant stamps in their passport or immigration documents.

Criminal liability, with sentences of up to 3 years imprisonment, have now been introduced (via Article 332-1 of the Criminal Code) for violations of this stipulation, as well as other penalties listed.

A tourist visiting the occupied territory of Crimea without receiving the relevant permission from the Ukrainian authorities is thus violating Ukraine’s law on the status of occupied territory. In view of this sanctions could be applied either by Ukraine, or by other UN member states. In certain cases criminal prosecution and placement on the international wanted list are possible.”

Public Control advises Russians “needing to visit Crimea” to observe Ukrainian legislation and receive permission from Ukrainian border guards and cross into Crimea from Kherson oblast (in mainland Ukraine).  It informs that if the tourist agency did not provide information about these requirements, then the tourist is entitled to compensation should problems arise, including prosecution by Ukraine or other states.

Beware of cruises!

Item 3 warns that any entry of Crimean ports is covered by Article 332 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code which envisages liability for organizing illegal crossing of Ukraine’s state border. “Although it is the captain of the vessel who bears criminal liability, problems could arise for passengers as well over illegal crossing of the state border.”

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office informs that 97 criminal cases have been initiated over such actions (see, for example, Ukraine makes first arrest of boat illegally entering Crimean port ).

Public Control warns that a fun cruise could thus go badly wrong, and warns people to check with the tourist agency whether permission has been received from Ukraine.  “If there is no permission, we recommend rejecting such cruises”.

Buyer beware!

Item 4 points out that any purchase of real estate in Crimea without this being carried out in mainland Ukraine could result in the action being deemed unlawful seizure of other people’s property and a criminal offence.  Russians, they warn, could also simply be cheated if any deal is carried out without checking Ukraine’s database.  The NGO advises Russian nationals to not try to purchase property, or if there is a burning need, to do it solely from mainland Ukraine and in strict compliance with Ukrainian legislation.

Public Control does not mention the numerous cases where property and businesses either owned by the Ukrainian state or by Ukrainian nationals have been seized by the occupation authorities. 

Consumers buying goods in Crimea should also bear in mind that since the largest producers of consumer items and services have been forced to comply with international sanctions and terminate their business in Crimea, goods allegedly carrying their trademark could well be fakes, or illegally delivered.  For this and other reasons, guarantees and service contracts are likely to not be available. 

They advise consumers to avoid any such purchases unless absolutely required, and warn that any failure to inform the buyer of such restrictions is an infringement of their rights.

They ask consumers to bear in mind their advice and recommendations and if necessary contact their specialists.

Their advice is, unfortunately, unlikely to be seen by most Russians since the Prosecutor’s Office and Roskomnadzor (Russia’s ‘media regulator’ increasingly fulfilling the role of censor) have already ensured that the site is blocked.

The material was for very obvious reasons unwelcome to the Russian authorities who are already faced with a second disastrous tourist season, general reports regarding the economic consequences of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the extension of EU sanctions.

Hurt it might and should, but every word was true.


“Stop using us as shields!” Donetsk protests against Kremlin-backed militants

  Screenshot from the Novvaya video

Around 500 people in Donetsk protested on Monday, demanding that Kremlin-backed militants stop firing rocket launchers from inside Donetsk and stop using civilians as shields.  Their demands were heard and reported by foreign reporters, not however by most Russians and residents of areas under militant control with the only TV channels available either concealing the demonstration altogether or, like Life News, claiming that the demonstration was in protest at the actions of the Ukrainian army. 

It is not surprising that the militants and pro-Kremlin media wanted to muffle the protest.  Life News can say what it or the Kremlin likes, and consistently does so, but the accusations from tormented residents were clear.  They accused the militants of deploying rocket launchers within crowded city districts and of provoking return fire from the Ukrainian army, not returning fire if shot at. 

Pavel Kanygin, correspondent for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported the protest live.  The spontaneous protest began at 11 a.m., with around 500 residents from the Kievsky district around Oktyabrsky Rynok which is nearest the airport.  The protesters shouted: “Stop the war!”, “Give us back somewhere to live, our homes have been destroyed!” and “Get out all of you!”

The general demands are for an end to military action, shelling which the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’] fighters are carrying out from the territory of the Kievsky micro-district ‘Oktyabrsky Rynok’. The residents accuse the separatists of provoking through their actions return fire from the Ukrainian army on the civilian population. Every day from return fire people are dying. For example, on Sunday 10 residents were injured, two killed”.

The protesters blocked the traffic on the main road in Donetsk, with transport, including trolleybuses, paralyzed.

Kanygin reported that at 13.00 there was no noticeable reaction from the ‘DPR’ leaders, with only police who came up to both demonstrators and journalists to check their documents.  “They looked quite confused”.

At some point around then a person appeared from the ‘DPR’ administration.  He did not wish to identify himself but invited five representatives of the demonstrators to meet with the head of ‘DPR’ Alexander Zakharchenko.  This ‘initiative group’ was put in a car and taken away.

At 13.45, Kanygin writes, the main road was cleared and Zakharchenko came out on crutches (from a recent injury) flanked by men with machine guns.  He can be seen in the video here:

He told the crowd that the war could not be stopped for now, with this eliciting angry cries from the protesters.

An older woman shouted at Zakharchenko that he had promised them peace at the ‘elections’ (on Nov 2, 2014 – they were not even recognized by Russia).  Zakharchenko reacted as one might expect demanding to know the woman’s name.  She refused to give it, asking “so that they again shot us?”

Most of the people demanded that the war be stopped, that the equipment be removed from the Kievsky district, that the shooting stop and that they don’t provoke return fire from the Ukrainian army”. 

There were, however, some, Kanygin writes, who demanded that Zakharchenko attack the Ukrainian army, that he drive them further out, but so that their district wasn’t under fire.

Zakharchenko promised to help, resettle people in sanatoriums, but asked them to be patient as far as the war was concerned. 

The France Press Agency and the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza reports of the protests are analogous to Kanygin’s, with AFP commenting that “the small but unusual demonstration outside the offices of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic suggested that an undercurrent of resentment with the new authorities was running through the streets of eastern Ukraine’s main rebel-held town”.

The official ‘DPR’ site and Life News present the story very differently, with the residents demanding that the ‘DPR’ authorities “protect them from Ukrainian artillery bombing”, and Life News claiming that the protesters main demand was for the removal of Ukrainian forces from Donbas.

It is likely that even return fire by the Ukrainian military will be condemned by some human rights organizations, though it is difficult to understand what they should do when they come under fire and Ukrainian soldiers are killed virtually every day. Events of the last year, including the continued seizure of Debaltseve on the day after the Minsk II agreement, demonstrate that the militants will not stop within agreed boundaries, and in all cities liberated from the militants, such as Kramatorsk, Sloviansk and Mariupol, surveys suggest that the local population mainly fears the return of the militants, and wants the Ukrainian army to remain.

The Russian media constantly pushes the claim that Ukrainian forces are attacking and the Kremlin-backed militants only responding.  Monday’s demonstration made it clear that many residents of the main militant stronghold now have a very different view.  

Another Ukrainian prisoner tortured for Russian TV

A young Ukrainian soldier taken captive by Kremlin-backed militants during the attack on Marinka asserted at a militant-organized press conference that the Ukrainian military were behind the attack and that in it they lost 200 men.  The problem was not only that this diverged radically from reports issued by the OSCE monitors, but it was also quite different from what the young man was recorded as having said immediately after being taken prisoner. 

One of the Russian spetsnaz officers captured in Ukraine stated recently that you can get any confession out of a person through torture, but that he was not giving any information that would need to be wrenched out of him. 

That was not so in the case of Roman Mashchenko from the 28th infantry brigade who was taken prisoner by militants from the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ on June 3-4. 

Those who initiated an attack on Marinka or heavy fighting in the area would be in  direct breach of the Minsk Accords just days before a G7 summit expected to discuss the sanctions against Russia over its role in eastern Ukraine.  They therefore had a direct interest in public ‘admission’ of the other side’s responsibility and supposed losses. 

Enough to torture for.

Two ‘interviews’ were taken of the captured soldier, though it was almost certainly a bleep that both ended up posted on the Internet.  The propaganda video, in the presence of Russian media, showed Roman Mashchenko with a wooden face stating that the Ukrainian side had lost 200 soldiers in the fighting and that the Ukrainian military had brought his 28th infantry brigade and five battalions, including Chechen and Georgian mercenaries to the town. 

This bore no relation to the answers given by the same young soldier, his face very clearly showing the signs of beating, shortly after being taken prisoner.  It is unclear why the pro-Russian British journalist Graham Phillips posted this first video which totally contradicts the propaganda version.  In it Mashchenko explains that he was taken prisoner on his way to a shop to buy bread, and that he and the other men had no orders to advance, and were told only to observe what the enemy was up to and to not succumb to provocation.

For those willing to believe that the young soldier had first lied, and only later decided to tell the truth, it is worth noting that Mashchenko’s press conference ‘confession’ also runs counter to the findings in the OSCE spot report on June 3.  This states that the monitors [SMM] “observed the movement of a large amount of heavy weapons in “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled areas – generally in a westerly direction towards the contact line – close to Marinka, preceding and during the fighting.  The report goes on to provide a formidable list of tracked armoured vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles and military trucks observed heading from areas under militant control towards where the fighting took place. 

Ukraine’s forces are mentioned only towards the end with a letter being received from the Defence Ministry warning that heavy weapons would be deployed to deal with the “real threat” posed by the fighting.

That letter coincided with notification from the Russian Armed Forces representative that a ceasefire would take effect at 17.00.  The report does not specify whether the ceasefire did indeed come into force just then but certainly the fighting did cease.

Roman Mashchenko’s statement was in full accord with the version given by Russian pro-Kremlin media, and wildly at odds with the OSCE observers’ report.  It was made after three days of captivity by a man who even during the first interview looked as though he had been subjected to physical pressure and who was totally under militant control.  

Spokesperson on the military conflict in Donbas Andriy Lysenko stated on Saturday that Mashchenko had clearly been tortured to extract statements for Russian propaganda that could be seen as justifying the resounding defeat of the Kremlin-backed militants.

It was announced on Sunday, June 7, that Mashchenko had been exchanged for the bodies of militants killed in the fighting around Marinka.  Following Lysenko’s earlier statement, it is to be hoped that any testimony which Mashchenko gives will be as the victim of torture and / or other totally illegal forms of treatment of POWs. 

This is by no means the first time that Kremlin-backed militants or Russian officials have tried to beat out confessions from hostages.  Lviv student Yury Yatsenko was finally released after exactly a year in Russian custody, with the FSB [Russian security service] having tried torture, threats and other forms of pressure to force the young man to provide ‘testimony’ against the government in Kyiv. 

Viktor Maistrenko, a Russian blogger and journalist earlier told Telekritika about one of many occasions during the prolonged period in which Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Lefter was held hostage when the journalist was subjected to torture.  Maistrenko explains that a film crew was coming from Rossiya 24 so they put the hostages in a chair, covered their eyes with scotch tape and beat them to force them to say when being filmed that they were from Right Sector, the Ukrainian nationalist movement that Russia has been demonizing since Euromaidan.

The list of occasions where torture and threats have been used to extract ‘confessions’ or specific testimony could be continued, with this all too frequently at the instigation and / or with the connivance of so-called journalists from Russian propaganda channels. 

These are grave infringements of international law and all those playing a role in them, including those so abusing their role as journalists, should be held to answer. 

Moscow prevents captured Russian POWs from contacting their families

 Yefgeny Yerofeyev        Alexander Alexandrov 

Sergei Krivenko from the Russian Human Rights Council has just made public a report on his visit to the two Russian spetsnaz officers captured in Ukraine on May 16.  The two men – sergeant Alexander Alexandrov and captain Yefgeny Yerofeyev deny Russia’s claim that they were no longer in military service and ask for help in contacting their families as all phone numbers that they have are either blocked or don’t answer.  

Krivenko explains that he had the opportunity on June 1 to visit the men while at a conference in Kyiv.  The two soldiers are both receiving treatment for their injuries in the central Defence Ministry hospital in Kyiv, and Alexandrov has undergone a unique operation.  The doctors say that they have managed to avoid amputating his leg.

Krivenko notes that the conditions the men are held in are good, with both men having separate rooms, which are clean and bright.  Neither men had any complaints about the conditions and they categorically denied any form of torture or physical pressure on them since their arrest, as claimed by Russian television.  Neither seemed depressed, and they “held themselves with dignity”.

Their main worry, as mentioned, is that they are being prevented from contacting their families, and have asked Krivenko and the Human Rights Council to help. 

Judging by earlier media reports, there are real grounds for concern.  Moscow has effectively abandoned the men, claiming that they were not active spetsnaz officers at the time of their capture.  This clashes totally with the men’s testimony given freely to various media sources and now to a member of Vladimir Putin’s own Human Rights Council. 

There are also videos available allegedly taken from the two captured men’s mobile telephones which show the full make-up of the intelligence-sabotage unit of Russia’s Military Intelligence [GRU] that not only Ukraine, but the men themselves say they were part of.   The videos are available at the links below.

Even if they were mercenaries, as Russia has claimed, there would be no need to prevent them speaking to their families. 

At the end of May, Pavel Kanygin from Russia’s Novaya Gazeta visited the two men for the second time.  He had already spoken with both men who told him in detail about the reconnaissance work they were engaged in as Russian servicemen.  Kanygin writes that he had not planned to take any photos, but the men asked him to, explaining that it was only through such visits that they could make any contact with their families.  They tried phoning in his presence and found yet again that either nobody answered, or they were told that the number was “not available”.  That in fact determined the poignant title of Kanygin’s report: “It’s never happened to me that I rang my mother and she didn’t take the call”.   These were Alexandrov’s words who added that even before he married his wife, he could ring her even at 2 a.m. and she’d always answer.    

Now there is silence.

Or worse, since there was an interview given on Rossiya 24 where his wife told the interviewer that Alexandrov had left the military in December 2014.  He admits that this hit him very hard, though he defends his wife, saying that she’s not responsible.

This is not the first such occasion where wives have been put under pressure to give testimony at odds with the facts.  As reported here, after Lev Shlosberg first revealed information about the deaths of Pskov paratroopers in August 2014, the wife – or somebody pretending to be the wife – of Leonid Kichatkin, one of the men killed, claimed on the phone that her husband was not only alive, but right next to her and handed over the phone.  It is not clear who the journalists spoke with but Kichatkin’s grave can be found in the Pskov oblast. 

Kanygin gives the final word to Sergeant Alexandrov:

“I think it’s in our joint power to put an end to all of this. So that our lads don’t go [to war] anymore, nor Ukrainian lads.  Here after all they’re all somebody’s brother, friend, son or father…

Here we return to Krivenko’s comments.  He says that as a member of the Russian Human Rights Council he will be monitoring the defence of the two men.  He explains that the men have been charged with terrorism and provided with legal aid from Russian-speaking lawyers whom they say they are happy with.  The lawyers say that the charges under terrorism can carry a life sentence, but that they will be trying to get the charges changed to espionage, carrying sentences of 10 to 15 years.  This, however, is only if they can prove that Alexandrov and Yerofeyev were current members of the Russian army.

During our conversation the detained men themselves confirmed that up till their capture they were Russian servicemen, that nobody had shown them any order dismissing them and their contract period had not ended.

The Russian authorities have yet to officially answer the lawyers’ request for confirmation of their identity and status.  Krivenko points out that no documents were found when the men were detained and asserts that their names and who they are is known only from their own words.   This may formally be the case, yet Russia has confirmed that the men are Russian and that they were spetsnaz officers.  It denies only what it has denied with ever diminishing credibility since August last year when the first reports came of Russian soldiers being killed fighting Russia’s undeclared war in Ukraine. 

The denial in this case has demonstrated to two Russian soldiers and should show others that the Kremlin is not only willing to send men to fight, kill and often die for its dubious ends, but will also leave the men to their fate and even put pressure on their families to abandon them.…/0B8cW2WY8tpaXRnhBdDBQcjdrV…/view……/0B8cW2WY8tpaXdjZmOWR1VEwwS…/view…

The right to liberty and security

Call for Action to Free Luhansk Journalist held Hostage for 5 Months

Maria Varfolomeyeva had remained in Luhansk after the Kremlin-backed militants seized control in order to care for her grandmother who was ill.  The 30-year-old journalist was taken prisoner in early January and has now been held hostage longer than any journalist so far, and her captors keep changing the conditions for her release.  They have also threatened the young woman with a 15-year sentence on charges as far-fetched as those against Nadiya Savchenko. 

A number of journalist NGOs in Ukraine have appealed to President Petro Poroshenko; the head of the Ukraine’s Security Service, as well as international rights NGOs urging them to use any means at their disposal to secure Varfolomeyeva’s release.  They particularly call on the OSCE Media representative Dunja Miatovic, Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, the EU Mission in Ukraine and others to help. 

Their appeal explains that Varfolomeyeva has been held hostage for longer than any other person held by the pro-Russian militants.

“We don’t know at present what kind of conditions she is being held in, but it is clear that she is experiencing serious psychological pressure – she is forced to make numerous video appeals, testimony, and her capture has already been turned into a show by the Russian media.”

The appeal is signed by the Stop Censorship movement; the Institute for Mass Information; Telekritika; the Regional Press Development Institute and the Independent Media Union of Ukraine. 

According to Konstantin Reutsky, a rights activist originally from Luhansk, the militants at one stage demanded the release of a person convicted some time ago of crimes unrelated to the military conflict in exchange for Varfolomeya.  The Ukrainian authorities agreed, but then the militants changed their demands.  The SBU says that it is working towards her release, but five months on she remains in captivity.

Maria Varfolomeyeva took an active role in Euromaidan and was therefore in danger in Luhansk but could not leave her grandmother.  The elderly lady died a few days after her granddaughter was taken prisoner. 

As reported here, she was recently shown in a carefully doctored ‘interview’ on the Russian pro-Kremlin channel LifeNews.  Luhansk militants were also responsible for capturing Nadiya Savchenko and taking her by force to Russia, and they have now come up with the same charges against Varfolomeyeva as Russia is using against Savchenko.  Life News has tried to gain propaganda mileage out of interviews with both prisoners, with little success since neither woman has provided the anti-Ukraine propaganda clearly sought. 

Varfolomeyeva was first heard on a video being tormented by militants back in February and it seems clear from her words to Life News that she has been facing, at very least, a psychological beating from her captors. 

Her obvious distress during the interview and difficulty speaking made it easy for Life News to add their version of the journalist’s supposedly changed attitude towards Ukrainian volunteer fighters (more details here).

Varfolomeyeva was captured on Jan 9, 2015, when there had not been any shelling in Luhansk for some months.  This makes the claim that she was helping direct Ukrainian shelling particularly absurd.

The militants also claim her camera to be evidence of ill-doing and have posted the video of her interrogation on the Internet.  In it, they grill her on why she was caught while trying to take photos of apartment blocks where militants are living.  Journalists do take photos, and in this case Varfolomeyeva says that she was taking photos for a journalist whom she names and who is now living in Kharkiv. 

There is no overt violence or brutality, but it is quite clear that the woman is imprisoned, and doubtless guarded by at least one man with an automatic rifle.  The videos make it disturbingly clear that Maria Varfolomeyeva is being subjected to severe psychological pressure and terror, and urgently needs help.  


Halya Coynash

The right to a fair trial

High-ranking Berkut officer charged over Euromaidan killings

    Photo:  Yevgen Nasadyuk @eugen_nasa

A police lieutenant colonel, working in the police force until his arrest this month, has been remanded in custody on suspicion of involvement in the killing of 39 Euromaidan protesters in Kyiv on Feb 20, 2014.  Oleh Yanishevsky was deputy commander of the Kyiv Berkut special force unit in Feb 2014 and lawyers representing Euromaidan victims or their families call this the most significant arrest thus far.

Given the criticism expressed both within Ukraine and from an International Advisory Panel over the lack of progress in investigating the crimes, it is possibly no accident that the arrest was announced on June 26, during a Security Service [SBU] briefing given to members of foreign diplomatic missions in Ukraine.  

Four ex-Berkut officers are already in custody on charges over the same killings, although it appears that Yanishevsky may also be charged with issuing orders to kill. 

Lawyers and activists were following the June 28 court hearing on a restraint measure closely as the same Pechersky District Court had on Sept 19, 2014  released Dmytro Sadovnyk who was in charge of the Berkut unit suspected of shooting 39 protesters.  Sadovnyk was placed under house arrest and promptly disappeared.  Given the serious charges against him, the court had needed to provide grounds for changing the restraint measure to house arrest.  Judge Svitlana Volkova was convinced by the fact that he has a wife, three children and a flat in Kyiv, and had received a good character reference.  

Sadovnyk had been arrested together with two subordinates – Pavlo Abroskin and Serhiy Zinchenko – who were not released and who remain in custody.  Sadovnyk’s release and immediate disappearance and the general lack of movement in the investigation caused public anger, and other ex- Berkut officers since arrested have all been placed in detention.  This is not to suggest that there have been many arrests.  On Feb 24, 2015, two former Berkut officers – Oleksandr Marynchenko and Serhiy Tamtura – were remanded in custody, on the same charges over the death of 39 Maidan activists on Feb 20.

Most other former Berkut officers from that unit have not been charged, and were doubtless among those who gathered on Sunday to show their support for Yanishevsky. 

As reported, three ex-Berkut officers have also been in custody since April 2015, charged with involvement in the bloody police dispersal of the peaceful procession to the Verkhovna Rada on Feb. 18  Five people were killed; 62 received gun injuries and a further 400 – other injuries. The Prosecutor General’s Office asserts that investigators have established the involvement of the former commander of the Kharkiv regional Berkut unit and two subordinates.  They have been charged under Article 365 § 3 (exceeding official duties with this leading to grave consequences) and Articles 15 § 2 and 115 § 2 (attempted murder).  

While these people are in custody, and some others are on the wanted list believed to be in hiding in Crimea (including Sadovnyk) or Russia, there have not yet been any convictions by a Ukrainian court over any of the violent crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests. 

A recent report by civic organizations and lawyers was appropriately entitled “Year of Impunity”.  It analyses every incident under investigation (we hope) by the prosecutor’s office from the first violence against a group of Lviv students on Nov 25, 2013 to the mass gunning down of unarmed protesters on Feb 20, 2014. 

At the press conference on the report, Pavlo Dykan, one of the lawyers representing victims, listed just some of the problems with the investigation into the killings in Jan-Feb 2014, namely: the lack of sufficient technical backup; procrastination with qualifying the alleged actions of people arrested back in April 2014; Interior Ministry sabotage; court trials being dragged out and others.  He said then that there had effectively been no progress in the investigation into the beating by police officers during the events on Bankova St on Dec 1, 2014 and during the storming of Maidan in the early hours of Dec 11, and many others.

The report was put together by Euromaidan SOS, OZON [a civic initiative monitoring peaceful assembly and attempts to restrict it], and the Centre for Civil Liberties with the intention not only of demonstrating what had not been done, but of understanding what had gone wrong. 

An example given is the public outrage over the fact that the driver of a bus bringing a group of former Berkut officers to court to support one colleague facing charges in connection with Euromaidan was wearing a St George ribbon. 

What should have caused outrage, however, was the fact that this was the same driver in whose bus Maidan activists were beaten in Jan 2014.  Despite this the man is still working in the police force in a unit that was supposedly reorganized, but in fact was just renamed.   (See: Ex-Berkut officer on trial over AutoMaidan ambush).

One of the systemic failings was the inadequate organization of the investigation process.  Despite assurances from the country’s leaders of commitment to effective investigation into all Euromaidan cases, for a long time there was a diffuse range of investigations into different cases carried out by various investigative bodies.  As a result, no investigator or prosecutor had any idea of the overall picture and could not establish the connections between different events.  A number of these episodes, the authors write, ended up being omitted altogether.

Another key failing was that the investigators concentrated solely on those who carried out the abuses, and did not try to establish who gave the orders.

The authors pointed to direct sabotage by representatives of the Interior Ministry, as well as the lack of interaction between the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Interior Ministry and the Security Service [SBU]. 

It was thanks to serious pressure from the public and lawyers of the victims that 10 months into all official investigations, a special investigation department was created within the Prosecutor General’s Office.  This is now the single centre investigating all crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests.

Many of the criticisms were identical to those presented in the International Advisory Panel’s damning report,   including scathing comments about the “uncooperative attitude” from the Interior Ministry and the SBU.   



Disturbing allegations over arrests of far-right suspects in Oles Buzyna killing

A day after Interior Minister Arsen Avakov blithely ignored the presumption of innocence and claimed that the murderers of controversial journalist Oles Buzyna had been caught, allegations have been made by Ihor Lutsenko, a well-known journalist and MP about a ‘war’ between the Interior Ministry management and one of the two far-right suspects.  There have been plenty of other reactions to the arrest of men involved both in Euromaidan and the fighting in Donbas,  including at least one disturbingly inadequate pronouncement from an MP. 

Avakov stated on Thursday that 3 people had been detained and that other arrests were likely, but for the moment only two suspects have been named.  On Friday it was announced that the third person had been released without charge.

26-year-old Andriy Medvedko is a member of the extreme nationalist group C14, which researcher on the far-right Anton Shekhovtsov calls the paramilitary wing of the VO Svoboda party.  Medvedko – known in his circles as Menson - was involved in the occupation of the Kyiv City Council building during Euromaidan and in the Maidan self-defence.  He was the VO Svoboda candidate for a single mandate constituency in the 2014 Kyiv City Council elections, but was not successful.  He served for a few months last autumn in the Interior Ministry volunteer battalion Kyiv-2, but according to MP and journalist Ihor Lutsenko recently left, “due to the total corruption and sabotage in the police”.

The other suspect in Denis Polishchuk, who is 25 and a member of UNA-UNSO, a far-right nationalist organization which at least during Euromaidan merged with Right Sector.  He is reported to have been involved in protests against illegal construction work in Kyiv, and to be (or have been) commander of a unit of the 54th separate reconnaissance platoon. 

Both men deny the charges and say that they were not in Kyiv that day. Whether the men are guilty is for a court to decide, and none of the comments here should be read as expressing an opinion either way. 

Avakov asserted on Thursday that the “murder of Buzyna has been solved” and that  “the criminals were arrested this morning”.   The police, he continues, had investigated the murder over the last two months and obtained “direct proof of the role in this crime of a group of people, including those who directly carried out the murder”

He names the above-mentioned men and says that “they have established when, where and from whom they obtained the car in which they followed Buzyna. It was in this car that the criminals hid from the scene of the murder”.

He asserts that the car was found and material evidence removed from it which allegedly provides direct proof that the men committed the crime. He specifies that by direct proof, he means “DNA from clothes thrown by the criminals from the scene of the crime, analysis of marks in the car, eye witness reports; material from covert surveillance carried out by criminal investigators from the Interior Ministry.

During the court hearing on whether the men are remanded in custody, Ihor Lutsenko reported that the supposed DNA found was tested against chewing gum found in the household rubbish and alleged to have been chewed by Medvedko’s mother.  Whether Lutsenko is right in his assumption that women of her age do not chew gum can be disputed, but his mother apparently herself denies doing so.   There is also disagreement over alleged summonses which Medvedko allegedly ignored.  While the fact that the summons said 2016, not 2015 does not seem compelling (most of us would ring to check or simply assume a typo), Medvedko and his mother deny seeing any such document. 

According to Bohdan Tytsky, seemingly also writing from the court, there are no eye witnesses who saw the killers’ faces, nor who saw the number plates of cars around. 

In Polishchuk’s case the court was prepared to release him on bail of 5 million UAH, though the prosecutor’s office on Friday appealed against this ruling, saying that the charges are serious and warrant custody.  After a court hearing lasting many hours and ending only at 2 a.m on Friday morning, the court also remanded Medvedko in custody for 2 months. 

The above details about evidence presented during the hearing may be inaccurate or incomplete.  It is certainly to be hoped that Avakov really does have the proof that he claims and that he will understand the need for transparency and openness. 

Ihor Lutsenko was at the court hearing on Thursday evening and cannot be considered totally unbiased, but he has stressed that he is making no comment as to the men’s guilt or innocence.  He asserts, however, that he had arranged to meet with Medvedko on Friday, with the latter allegedly planning to pass over documents about wrongdoing by the Interior Ministry management.  He claims that there is a war on between Medvedko and some police heads who retained their posts after Maidan.

If true, then all such allegations need to be urgently investigated, and with maximum openness. 

There have also been some disturbing attempts to minimize the crime or even suggest something ‘noble’ about gunning down the victim, who was known for his extremely pronounced anti-Ukrainian position often expressed on Russian television and for a scandalous book published 15 years ago about the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. 

The most shocking was the Facebook entry by Ihor Mosiychuk, an extreme right MP with a background in neo-Nazi parties.  While mentioning that the suspects deny all charges, he goes on to add that “those who eliminated the Ukraine-hater Oles Buzyna should be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine”.

Buzyna was gunned down near his home in the centre of Kyiv on April 16, less than 12 hours after the shooting dead of politician Oleh Kalashnikov, who had been active under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych in organizing the titushki, or paid thugs, used widely against protesters during Euromaidan and earlier.  The two high-profile murders so close together, and the fact that the murder of Buzyna was reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin and commented on by him during his television phone-in interview, led to widespread assumption that the Russian security service might be behind the killings. 

There were, however,  letters sent to political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko and the Opposition Bloc [made up of former members of Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions].  A group calling itself the Ukrainian Insurgent Army [UPA] claimed responsibility not only for the killings of Kalashnikov and Buzyna, but also for the deaths of former Yanukovych associates Mykhailo Chechetov, Oleksandr Peklushenko and Stanislav Melnyk.   The police had asserted that some of the latter committed suicide, and in the case of Chechetov, his apparent suicide note had been made public.

The letter was claimed to be a fake by Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service], however Anton Shekhovtsov confirmed that he had heard of a marginal group calling itself UPA in 2014. Thus far no mention has been made of Kalashnikov, nor of the claims made in the letter. 

Medvedko at least was a member of C14, which has been around for some time and played an active role in the Euromaidan protests.  Shekhovtsov views the organization’s role as negative, writing in the above-cited article that “displaying racist banners in the occupied Kyiv City State Administration, attacking journalists, volunteer medical workers and other Euromaidan activists, demolishing the Lenin monument, staging a torch-lit march commemorating controversial Ukrainian ultranationalist Stepan Bandera – all these activities damaged the unity, as well as the image, of Euromaidan”. 

If members of this organization are proved to have been involved in the murder of Oles Buzyna, then this should not cast a shadow on Euromaidan, but it might legitimately raise questions about C14 that have long needed to be asked. The first  reports from Thursday’s hearings and especially Lutsenko’s allegations have raised other questions.  This is frustrating given the fairly predictable resistance to any accusations against people viewed in a positive light as participants in Maidan and because of their role in defending the country.  Those who killed Oles Buzyna in cold blood must answer for their crime, but upbeat announcements that the crime has been solved need to be proven. 

Social and economic rights

Rigged and Secretive Fight against Corruption?

Scandal does not go away by being muffled, and how else can you view the refusal to allow anti-corruption investigative journalists into the first meeting of an anti-corruption commission?  There was certainly a lot that the government wanted to conceal since the commission’s meeting on June 11 really should not have taken place at all, given the scandal over the selection of its members, and two law suits pending.  

As reported, Transparency International in Ukraine, the Rehabilitation Package of Reforms [RPR] and other NGOs have made extremely serious allegations about the role of at least some members of the Cabinet of Ministers, including Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk.  They accuse them of effectively rigging the makeup of a commission responsible for selecting people to run the National Anti-Corruption Agency, which will be mandated to check income declarations, etc.  Four of the members chosen, they say, are from NGOs which can be relied on to do what they’re told, while a fifth member is current a civil servant.”   If their allegations are true, then the government has basically used dodgy means to appoint their people to the commission responsible for staffing an agency which will be monitoring them and other public officials.  

Transparency International in Ukraine [TI] has lodged two civil suits against the Cabinet of Ministers Secretariat with the first due to be heard on June 24.  They ask the court to declare the actions on May 17 of the Secretariat, and specifically Roman Greba [Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers] in choosing members of the selection commission unlawful and to revoke them.  The court is asked to oblige the Secretariat to hold a new meeting of civic associations to choose candidates for the selection commission.

A second suit was filed on June 10 after it was learned that the Cabinet of Ministers had, nonetheless, affirmed membership of the commission “in grave breach of the law”.  TI’s demands here are essentially the same.

They call on the media and international organizations to give close attention to this issue since the creation of an effective independent system for monitoring and checking officials’ income declarations is one of the main conditions of the EU, World Bank and IMF.

The NGOs accuse the Cabinet of Ministers of having changed the regulations for choosing members and rewriting the requirement that the commission hold eight members to “at least six”.  This, they assert, was how Yatsenyuk reacted to their law suit and claim that the results were rigged.   The amendments breach the law on fighting corruption which specifies that the Anti-Corruption Agency must have 8 members.

They ask the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers to review their decision and carry out an honest selection process from civic organizations.

There has thus far been no response, only the disturbing refusal to allow journalists from the joint UTV-1 / Radio Svoboda Skhemy investigative team to attend the first meeting on June 11.

Skhemy journalists have over the last month exposed precisely the kind of irregularities which the National Anti-Corruption Agency will be responsible for monitoring.   The role of checking the information given on income declarations against public officials’ lifestyle, mega-expensive cars, watches and homes is crucial.  The declarations have up till now been effectively worthless since they are not subjected to any scrutiny, and there was never even liability envisaged for giving false information. 

The corruption spanned all parties, making it easy to block any real measures.  The Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych very often refused to provide income declarations, claiming them to hold ‘confidential information’, with such assertions then being upheld by the courts.  Under Yanukovych, judges were freed from having to publish their declarations at all – one of the carrot and stick methods used to ensure ‘loyalty’ from members of the judiciary.

The recent scandals which led to the resignation of Deputy Interior Minister Serhiy Chebotar and newly-appointed head of the Traffic Police Oleh Yershov demonstrated how much still needs to change.  This latest scandal, unfortunately, suggests a lack of political will to do so. 


Ambush in Kharkiv

Events took place on 24-26 June in Kharkiv that are not only unacceptable in a democratic country, but could discredit the Ukrainian government in the whole civilized world. Police officers and people in plain clothes identifying themselves as police officers stopped young people in the streets, markets, metro stations, in academic institutions while people were taking the ZNO external assessment exams and receiving degrees. They gave various pretexts – establishing a person’s identity; that they looked like somebody suspected of committing a crime, etc.  There was no formal detention in procedural terms. The people detained were taken first to local police stations, then to district military recruitment offices, or much more often taken straight to the regional military recruitment office collection point on Kotlov St.  There summonses were written out and formally handed out (where the people did not have any documents, the summonses were filled out with the detained men giving details). From the collection point they were not let out but taken to the military unit for service.  Their relatives were not informed.

However the relatives searched for their sons and each evening 30-40 parents and relatives gathered at the collection point.  There were no less police officers present.  The parents demanded to see their children, the military commissar, but no military officers came out to them and they were not allowed to see their sons who were taken away in coaches without having been allowed to say goodbye to their relatives. Several relatives phoned the Kharkiv Human Rights Group whose lawyers also arrived but were not allowed to set the detained men and given them legal aid. The lawyers called a police unit, but were still not allowed it.  They lodged complaints with the court and the military prosecutor’s office about this illegal deprivation of liberty and illegal detention in the Kharkiv regional military recruitment office collection point, and about cases where they were obstructed from representing some of the detained men.

Students can indeed not be conscripted before they’ve graduated. People cannot be detained without any grounds, and such detention can be classified as abduction. You can’t so flagrantly violation legislation on conscription and turn the collection point of the regional military recruitment office into a place of confinement and none of the young men taken there against their will was able to leave, and they were not given the chance to meet with their relatives.  They were not given proper food, the lads were hungry, and when some of the most persistent parents did manage to get things passed to them, they were divided among all of them, like in a pre-trial detention centre.

We heard explanations from military personnel later. They claimed that current legislation according to which you need to write out and deliver a summons which the person summoned has to sign before being called to the military recruitment office gives a lot of opportunities to avoid conscription.  This, according to them, was why they had they had resorted to such actions since the mobilization plan in Kharkiv is very badly implemented. You need to carry out your constitutional duty and defend the country from the aggressor.

However the majority of parents with whom KHPG staff spoke assert that their sons were planning to go to the army and that they had not previously received summonses. And of course all were indignant at such a barbaric way of implementing the mobilization plan which is a disgrace to the army, the police and the state in general.

We would note that the medical commission in the collection point was a mere formality with all being found fit for service unless they had previously been declared unfit for military service for health reasons.   From among the crowd outside the collection point there were accounts of how they’d summoned a person needing insulin every day and getting it from his mother. Or that they’d called up a young man for whom they had to call an ambulance because of an epilepsy attack.  These cases need to be checked, but it is certain that a Luhansk resident who suffers from asthma and cannot survive without an inhaler was called up.  Why does the army need people who are ill?

The story of M, a resident of Alhevsk is particularly typical of this lawlessness and mass violation of human rights. He had arrived by round-about means through Belgorod together with his grandmother (the lad grew up without parents) in Kharkiv in order to take the external assessment exam and try to enter a higher institute.  On June 24 M. was sitting in the hall taking his test and his grandmother was waiting for him in the foyer.  Two men in plain clothes turned up in the hall and took M. away through a second entrance.  His desperate grandmother searched for her grandson through all the city police stations before somebody told her to try the military recruitment collection point which he where he turned out to be. She was not allowed to see her grandson and spent the night at the railway station. On June 25, waiting in the crowd outside the collection point, she met KHPG lawyers. The next day they managed with enormous difficult to find out from the regional military recruitment office that M. had been sent to the Desna Training Centre on June 25. 

Lawyer Oleh Maksymenko’s application to the court regarding unlawful deprivation of liberty and unlawful detention in the collection point (under Article 206) was heard by the Leninsky District Court in the evening of June 26. Judge Leonid Protsenko formally asked for information from the Leninsky District Police Station and received the answer that M. from 24-26 June had not been detained. A representative of the regional military recruitment office also asserted in court that M. had not been detained and not been held in custody. He told the court that M. had been called up for military service and was voluntarily serving on the basis of the President’s decree. The judge turned down the lawyer’s application without even trying to check the facts.

We would point out that the regional military recruitment office has no right to call up residents of other oblasts. There have been a number of such cases, with two residents of Mariupol called up, the above-mentioned asthma-sufferer from Luhanks and residents of other cities.

The military conflict in the South-East of the country should have inspired the Ukrainian authorities to unite the population.  It should have an interest in maximum support for the government and army.  All Ukrainians should be divided into two parts – those who defend the country from the aggressor, and those who help them. Yet who wants to support a government that flagrantly violates human rights and acts like that same aggressor (we can recall exactly the same ambushes carried out in Russia to send soldiers to fight in the second war in Chechnya)? 

You couldn’t think of anything more harmful for Ukraine and a treat for Russian propaganda.  You don’t even have to lie.

Where do they get their certainty from that Ukrainians will try to avoid conscription?  Last year there were 78 thousand summonses, and 50 thousand people were called up. Around 7 thousand criminal cases were initiated over draft avoidance – less than 10%! We see that as a good result. Presumably the other 21 thousand either had a deferment or were found unfit on health grounds. We’re now hearing a figure of 10 thousand such criminal cases. Why prosecute those who refuse to do military service? Would it not be better to extend the grounds for doing alternative service in the relevant law which has been in force since 1991 and only covers believers of Protestant churches so as to not deprive people of their liberty, but send them to help the army in construction, as porters in hospitals, in other places where they need workers?  You’d need to organize mass training in using weapons so that if there is total mobilization, if that is necessary, all will be able to defend their country. In that case neither alternative service, with few exceptions, nor military tax instead of military service which is also widespread in many cases and whose introduction is currently under debate in Ukraine will be possible.

At present the unlawful detentions in Kharkiv have supposedly stopped. We have been assured of this by the head of the regional Interior Ministry Anatoly Dmitriev. What methods will Kharkiv officials now use to fulfil the plan?

News from the CIS countries

"Not yours anyway!" Russia claims transfer of Crimea to Ukraine was ‘unconstitutional’

See also :  Russia to declare Baltic Republics’ independence unlawful?

As well as seeking a Russian NGO’s prosecution for warning Russian tourists that Crimea is Ukrainian territory under Russian occupation, Russia’s Prosecutor General has asserted that the 1954 decision of the relevant Supreme Soviets which formally made Crimea part of the Ukrainian SSR did not comply with the Soviet constitution and was therefore illegitimate.  This is not the first such attempt to rewrite geopolitical history

The NGO’s information was true and immediately relevant since Russia is in breach of both Ukrainian and international law through its occupation of Crimea.  The Prosecutor General’s breaking news, sent in a letter to Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, was historically questionable and legally quite meaningless, both for Russia and in international law. 

The Prosecutor General’s statement comes six months after Valentina Matveyenko, speaker of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house of parliament) announced that they were preparing a draft bill which would declare the Soviet normative acts on transferring the Crimea from the Russian to the Ukrainian SSR to be of no legal significance.   

At a meeting between representatives of both houses and president Vladimir Putin, she stated that their “analysis of decisions taken in 1954 to transfer the Crimean oblast from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian SSR suggests “the unlawfulness of this voluntaristic act which was adopted in violation of the then Constitution and legislative procedure”.  Therefore in the Federation Council we began preparing a draft bill which will recognize the transfer of Crimea as having no legal force and consequences from the moment of its adoption.”

This is not the only attempt made by Russian officials claim that Crimea should not have been under Ukraine, and that Russia’s invasion and annexation of the peninsula in Feb-Mar 2014 was, so to speak, just righting a historical wrong. 

In June 2014, Russia’s parliamentary speaker, Sergei Naryshkin claimed that it was Ukraine that had annexed Crimea, not Russia.  Naryshkin’s ‘proof’ that Ukraine had allegedly annexed Crimea in 1991 was hilariously faulty, but this was not picked up by pro-Kremlin media and unlikely to have been understood by the wider Russian public. 

It is tempting – and easy – to demonstrate the inaccuracies of assertions about both 1954 and 1991, but essentially a red herring where the very discussion of such arguments plays into the Kremlin’s hands.  Or could, since Russia is playing a very dangerous game questioning past decisions and would doubtless not want questions raised about, for example, Kaliningrad which the Soviet Union claimed after the War.

There are major logistical reasons why Crimea depends on Ukraine, not Russia and should be Ukrainian.  There is also, however, international law and that is totally unequivocal.

The NGO Public Watch which the Russian Prosecutor General wants to see prosecuted for ‘encroaching Russia’s territorial integrity” was informing Russian citizens of the sad and undeniable truth, that their country is occupying a part of another country’s sovereign territory.  The same truth was effectively expressed two days later in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Resolution on the conflict in Ukraine.

The attempts to rewrite history are presumably directed at the domestic audience, which has already been totally misled about Crimea.  They are as ultimately ineffectual as the hysterical attack on an NGO telling Russian citizens about legal and practical consequences of Russia’s land-grab.  If Russians haven’t already understood them, they will soon enough. 

“Jewish pogroms in Ukraine” that we all missed

Russia’s Foreign Ministry is again aware of ‘pogroms’ that experienced researchers of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine and human rights groups would seem to have not noticed. The ministry’s keeping the details to itself however

The BBC Russian Service reports that Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Human Rights Representative devoted most of his June 18 press conference to accusations of “rehabilitation and glorification of Nazism” in the Baltic republics. The BBC asked for examples of parties and slogans, but received none, instead being referred to the recently published Russian Foreign Ministry ‘Report on Neo-Nazism in Europe’.  Dolgov then switched his attention to Ukraine, claiming as follows:

“Anti-Semitic slogans, the pogroms beginning in our times, at the beginning of 2014 in several Ukrainian cities. Jewish pogroms. They daubed the relevant stars in apartment entrances, homes”.

In refreshing contrast to many reports in English, the BBC Russian Service states quite clearly that it is not aware of any such ‘Jewish pogroms’ in Ukraine.  With respect to the Baltic states, Dolgov mentioned only one allegedly neo-Nazi slogan: “Latvia for Latvians” without stipulating where he found it.

The phrase “Russian for Russians”, and many others could easily have been cited, but Dolgov presumably feels, along with the Foreign Ministry, that there is no need to look closer to home.  There is no entry on the Russian Federation at all, despite considerable evidence of problems in Russia, as highlighted in the latest, as well as previous reports by the Sova Centre, and the ongoing trial in connection with the murderous Russian neo-Nazi BORN party.

Vyacheslav Likhachev, who has been closely monitoring all manifestations of anti-Semitism in Ukraine for over 11 years appeared amused by the disclosure of all that appeared to have escaped his attention.  

Judging by the above-mentioned report on ‘Neo-Nazism’, it seems that Russia’s Foreign Ministry sees no reason to study Likhachev’s detailed reports on the situation in Ukraine, although these are published in Russian and easily accessible

The Russian report, in fact, makes no mention of ‘pogroms’, but paints a truly alarming picture, claiming that “the rise of neo-Nazism and radical national in Ukraine over recent times and particularly after the anti-constitutional state coup of February 2014 has reached unprecedented proportions.”   There are supposedly “purges and enforcement, punitive operations against those labelled for “anti-Ukrainian activities”.

The report is well-worth the attention of western governments, though not as a warning about rampant neo-Nazism.  The methods used are identical to those seen on Russian propaganda sites which the EU has belatedly recognized as a problem.

A simple example is seen at the beginning of a long rant about the indeed far-right Svoboda party.  This, the report, published in April 2015,   states received 10.44% of the votes in the 2012 parliamentary elections.  No mention is made of the fact that after the supposed ‘coup’ in 2014, Svoboda gained 1.16% of the votes in the presidential elections and 4.71% in the parliamentary elections, below the threshold for entering parliament.  ‘Right Sector’ which has been particularly demonized in Russia did even more abysmally, although you would never guess this from the report.

It is certainly true that some of those fighting in volunteer battalions like ‘Azov’ have neo-Nazi views, and there are some far-right radicals from other countries fighting in Donbas.  The report, however, makes no mention of the proven links between Kremlin-backed militants and Russian neo-Nazi and fascist movements and the very significant number of those movements’ followers fighting in Donbas. . 

There is also no mention of the openly anti-Semitic utterances made by the puppet leaders of the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republic’.  Igor Plotnitsky just last week made world headlines for his attempt to claim that Euromaidan means ‘Jewish Maidan’, and  as being Jewish (in Russian the word Jewish has the same first letters as European).  The jibes later in Plotnitsky’s address got less attention, though they warranted it, and echoed a previous statement from Plotnitsky and Alexander Zakharchenko expressing contempt for the “pathetic Jews now in power in Ukraine”.

The Kremlin’s credibility on Ukraine’s alleged ‘anti-Semitism’ has already been ripped to shreds by Jewish leaders, by observers from other countries and by the stream of fakes which are promptly exposed.  The claims can seem so absurd as to not worth bothering to refute.  The problem is that it takes effort to distort and manipulate facts, and the Kremlin is expending vast amounts of money on pounding its ‘Ukrainian anti-Semitism’ narrative as well as on raising doubts about the honesty of any who question it.   

Attention to the propaganda is belated, and very much needed, but it might be worth starting with Russia’s Foreign Ministry. 

We remember

In Memory: Leonid Plyushch

Leonid Plyushch, an active member of the Soviet human rights movement and victim of punitive psychiatry has died in France.  He was 76, and had lived in France since being exiled from the Soviet Union in 1976 following a major campaign for his release from incarceration in a KGB psychiatric ‘hospital’.  Although concentrating mainly on literary issues in recent years, Leonid Ivanovych followed events in Ukraine and always responded when voices were needed against injustice.

Leonid Plyushch was a mathematician by profession, though became known for his publicist writings and literary analysis, as well as for his autobiography ‘History’s Carnival’.  He was born in Kirgizia on 26 April 1939, but spent his childhood and the years until exile in Ukraine.  His professional career as mathematician in the USSR largely ended in 1968 due to his human rights activities. 

Leonid Ivanovych was a vital link between Ukrainian and Russian dissidents.  In 1964 he wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party proposing democratization of the Soviet system.   That letter and other writings were published in Samizdat.  At the time Plyushch remained a committed Marxist, still believing in ‘socialism with a human face’. 

In 1968 he was dismissed from the Cybernetics Institute of the Academy of Sciences for a letter sent to the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda in support of Alexander Ginsburg who was on trial.  Around that time he began passing information to the Chronicle of Current Events [Khronika tekushchikh sobitiy], a Samizdat publication which was vital in informing of Soviet repression. 

He signed many appeals during years where each signature could result in arrest and persecution.  These included a letter in 1971 to the Fifth International Congress of Psychiatrists calling on the profession to fight punitive psychiatry in the USSR, as well as letters in support of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov and Vladimir Bukovsky.  

In 1969 he became a member of the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR, the first such rights group in the Soviet Union.  Together with other members, including Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev, he signed a letter to the UN asking for the Soviet Union’s violation of the fundamental right to hold and circulate independent views to be formally discussed.

In 1974, on the 30th anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar People, the Initiative Group sent a letter to the UN Secretary General asking him to help enable the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland.

He was arrested on Jan 15, 1972 (during the second wave of arrests in Ukraine) and charged with ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’.  In July 1973 he was forcibly incarcerated in the notorious Dnipropetrovsk Special Psychiatric Hospital and held there until January 1976.  The ‘diagnosis’ was of ‘sluggish schizophrenia’, the standard gobbledygook used against victims of punitive psychiatry.

His case attracted a lot of attention abroad and there were many protests over his effective imprisonment.  This resulted in his being deported from the Soviet Union in January 1976.  Probably needless to say, he was found to be mentally fit and well by psychiatrists in the West.

In recent years, Leonid Plyushch concentrated mainly on literary criticism, but also followed events in Ukraine and Russia.  He had a wonderful sense of humour, witty though gentle, and his analysis was always clear-headed and free of any jargon or stereotypes.  As mentioned, he was always ready to add his voice in defence of those facing repression.

Вічна пам’ять     Eternal Memory


[Halya Coynash]

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2015, #06