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.

The right to a fair trial

“10% of Aidar Battalion volunteers joined for ulterior motives, not to fight”

The trial is about to begin of Yury Hukov, journalist (writing as Yury Aseyev), one of the first members of the Aidar volunteer battalion who was briefly imprisoned by the now disgraced Aidar commander Serhiy Melnychuk and has since then worked for the Kharkiv Human Rights Group. 

Hukov was arrested when he went himself to the police in order to issue a report about the death of his wife.  She was killed on May 23, 2015 while travelling in the same car as Kremlin-backed militant Alexei Mozgovoi.  Hukov has reason to believe that the killing of this leading militant in a shooting that also killed his wife was the work of a Russian spetsnaz unit, and was sanctioned by Vladislav Surkov, aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  His contact in Russia who gave him the information also said that Igor Plotnytsky, now the head of the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ knew of the plan to kill Mozgovoi, and that this suited him.

The journalist appeared with his report at the police station in Kharkiv on June 23, and was arrested.  It transpired that he had been on the wanted list since March, accused of breaking in and armed robbery of a separatist (‘separatist’ is the word all those commenting on the case use).  KHPG is convinced that the charges against Hukov are unwarranted, and he is represented by one of the Group’s lawyers.

The charges date back to June 2014.  KHPG Director Yevhen Zakharov explained to that Hukov and three other battalion members were sent by Melnychuk to detain an alleged separatist.  They did not find him, only his wife. She made a lot of noise, neighbours came running, and the Aidar people decided to simply leave.  Zakharov says that one of the men took away a laptop and mobile phone so that Melnychuk could look at the man’s contacts.  Zakharov says that “the Aidar men had reliable information that the man they were looking for was a separatist and was taking part in anti-Ukrainian actions”.  He stresses that the man’s property was taken away at Melnychuk’s orders, but also asserts that it was Melnychuk who persuaded the wife of the separatist to lodge a complaint with the police.

Zakharov points to a whole range of procedural infringements, and believes that under no circumstances should Hukov be facing break-in and armed robbery charges.  He should also not be held in detention, particularly since at least his 13-year-old daughter were already living with him, and the two smaller children have now lost their mother.

Hukov left – or was thrown out of - Aidar in August last year after an extremely disturbing turn of events reported at the time

In  an interview given to a short time before his arrest Hukov explained that he had been active supporter of Euromaidan, one of a small minority in Alchevsk (Luhansk oblast) where he lived with his wife and three children.  It was obvious that he would take part in the actions to defend the country as Kremlin-backed militants began seizing control of whole cities.  He and five friends joined Aidar at the beginning of May, at the initial stages when the battalion was still being formed.  At the beginning Melnychuk made a good impression on him. 

Within a week of our arrival there were already 100 people, but it always worried me that 10% of them were people who hadn’t come to fight, but were pursuing their own aims. For that reason we had run-ins, both with the commander and with those volunteers”.

He says that after a while the battalion’s reputation began to deteriorate specifically because a part of the battalion, headed by Melnychuk himself, turned to looting and extortion.

He began to understand, he says, just what kind of person Melnychuk was.  On June 14 the Battalion seized the city of Shchastya back from the militants and took a militant commander, nicknamed Batya prisoner. The latter was believed by many in the area to be responsible for abductions and torture of hostages.  Hukov came into conflict with the Aidar command after he objected to the torture that Batya was subjected to and tried to persuade Melnychuk that prisoners must be given proper medical treatment.  Batya died, and Melnychuk’s response to Hukov was that if he was so smart, he could spend time imprisoned in the basement.

He was put there for 8 days, though was released earlier after somebody let him use a mobile phone to text the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and news of his imprisonment was reported by the media. 

The death of Batya was the reason mentioned in reports at the time, and since, however Melnychuk did try to justify the imprisonment, claiming that Hukov was suspected of various crimes.  It is possible that this was the reason for the report against Hukov over the unsuccessful attempt to take ‘Separatist S’ into custody, and the charges he is now facing.. 

After being released, Hukov did not continued in Aidar, and from August onwards he was working for the Kharkiv Human Rights Group. .  

Both before and after moving to Kharkiv, he tried to persuade his wife to leave the zone of conflict, but she refused.  He explains that his wife was a devout Christian and close to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.  Hukov says that it was her priest who told her she shouldn’t leave.  She began working with Mozgovoi back in September.  The full name of Mozgovoi’s brigade, Hukov points out, was “the communist-Orthodox Prizrak brigade” and he believes it was the shared Orthodox views that led her to cooperate with this leading militant. 

Although the two became totally divided on the ideological front, they had lived together for 14 years and had three children, who have now lost their mother and are deprived of their father who is held in detention.

The accusations of illegal abductions and detention, theft, extortion, etc. against Aidar began fairly early and were articulated in a report issued by Amnesty International on Sept 8, 2014.  Melnychuk was elected to parliament as member of Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party in October 2014, but was expelled from the party in February this after the storming by Aidar fighters of the Defence Ministry.  He was stripped of his parliamentary immunity in June and is under a signed undertaking not to leave Kyiv.  He faces charges of organizing an illegal group for the purpose of abductions and robbery.  

Halya Coynash


Interethnic relations

Kremlin’s anti-Semitic proxies in Donbas turn on each other

It was bad enough for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s narrative about ‘anti-Semitic hordes’ seizing power in Kyiv when the Kremlin’s proxies in Donbas dismissed Ukraine’s leaders as “pathetic Jews”.  Now foul anti-Semitic attacks are being used as part of an internal struggle for power between various militant leaders.

Viacheslav Likhachev, researcher on anti-Semitism and xenophobia, reports that the fighting for position within the part of the Donetsk oblast under the control of Kremlin-backed militants appears to be intensifying  He stresses that the lack of reliable information makes it difficult to be certain what is going on, but that some of the information coming out suggests that the battle may be heating up due to the state of health of the leader of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’], Alexander Zakharchenko.  As well as political power, he says, the infighting between certain militant leaders is probably about control over smuggling channels.

What is more interesting, however, are the methods used, and what kind of supposedly compromising information or ‘dirt’ is being flung around. 

One of the militant leaders most under attack is Alexander Khodakovsky, a former commander of the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] Alpha special force unit and then commander of the Kremlin-funded and largely manned Vostok Brigade (initially battalion).  He became ‘security minister in the so-called ‘republic’ last summer and since autumn has been calling himself secretary of a self-styled ‘security council’. 

He first came in for criticism back in late August when the Vostok Battalion, with a large contingent of supposed volunteers from Chechnya and Ossetia in Russia, suffered heavy losses when trying to seize Donetsk Airport.  Then, however, he was merely called a “traitor”.  Later they added the detail that supposedly ‘explains it all’, that Khodakovsky is Jewish.

Likhachev notes that there has been a noticeable change in the level of such anti-Semitic attacks.  If initially they were anonymous comments like “well what would you expect from a Jew [an offensive word used]?”, the anti-Semitism developed into a major component.  The blurb about a film against “Jew Khodakovsky” posted on YouTube states, for example, that: “Jew Khodakovsky did not betray the insurgents. Being a Jew and citizen of Israel, he simply acted in accordance with the Torah”.  People’s negative comments about Khodakovsky are accompanied by his photo with a star of David or the emblem of the Israeli intelligence service.  He is alleged to be a specially trained Mossad agent who has been planted in the ‘DPR’ leadership to carry out sabotage, plan doomed operations, etc.

There is, unfortunately, nothing at all exceptional about this attack.  As LIkhachev puts it  “anti-Semitism has long become an important component of the official ideology and propaganda of the puppet regimes declared on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, occupied by Russia. It is used, for example, to discredit the President and leaders of the country”,

The most outrageous example was in early February when Zakharchenko and the leader of the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, Igor Plotnytsky, publically referred to Ukraine’s leaders as “pathetic Jews”.

Plotnytsky recently demonstrated his level of linguistic knowledge as well as his primitive anti-Semitism by claiming that Euromaidan referred to ‘Jewish Maidan’, not European Maidan  (in Russian the word Jewish has the same first letters as European). 

Back in April last year, after militants seized control in Sloviansk, they removed Ukrainian channels, replacing them with Russian propaganda channels as well as one with an overtly anti-Semitic bent.  They were, they claimed “inflicting a powerful information conceptual blow to the biblical matrix … to Zionist zombie broadcasting”.   One of the militant groups had shortly before that come up with anti-Semitic attacks against Boris Filatov, aide to the then governor of Dnipropetrovsk Igor Kolomoisky (who was also attacked in similar mode).

Likhachev notes that Plotnytsky’s own anti-Semitism did not stop him being called a Jew (with the offensive term used). 

The level is pitiful, but those using anti-Semitic attacks in their power struggle are assuming that this will find a receptive audience, and in the Kremlin-backed ‘republics’, the assumption is probably correct.


Law enforcement agencies

Avoiding Lustration: Senior Prosecutor Evades Sweep Of Yanukovych-Era Officials

Ukrainian prosecutor Oleh Valendyuk should have been out of a job last fall, the victim of a lustration law meant to clear away members of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s team after his ouster at the hands of pro-European protesters.

Instead, Valendyuk holds a higher position than ever: he is the top prosecutor in the capital, Kyiv.

His story is a case study in the government’s struggles to put the corruption-riddled past behind it and start with a clean slate, setting the stage for reforms needed to improve the nation’s economy and make it less vulnerable to Russia.

The position he held before the Euromaidan protests toppled Yanukovych in February 2014 put Valendyuk squarely in the ranks of officials subject to lustration and barred from holding public office under a law adopted in September.

But Valendyuk used his connections, his 18 years of experience, and his intimate knowledge of Ukraine’s graft-marred legal system to win an exception.

And he did it in just three business days.

Like similar processes in former Soviet and Eastern Bloc states after the collapse of communism, Ukraine’s law on lustration is a crucial part of the pro-Western government’s bid to shake off the Yanukovych era -- and with it the legacy of decades of domination by Moscow, whose danger has been reinforced by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the deadly conflict with Kremlin-backed separatists who have seized parts of the Donbas region.

The law on lustration, or cleansing the ranks of power, came into effect on October 15. That day, Valendyuk -- then a deputy department chief at the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office -- sent a letter to the prosecutor-general asking whether he would fall under lustration.

The answer came the next day, October 16: Yes.

Valendyuk challenged that on Friday, October 17, asking a court to issue a preventive ban on his dismissal. The following Monday, October 20, the ban was approved – the key first step in a process that has enabled him to avoid lustration altogether.

Undue Haste

The process was astoundingly speedy for Ukraine, where bureaucratic procedures can take months to complete and cases often drag on for ages in the overcrowded courts.

Asked how long it takes an ordinary citizen to receive a written response from a prosecutor in any given case, Valendyuk himself told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service: "Depending on whether a check is needed, it might be either 15 days or a month, 30 days."

Tetyana Kozachenko, head of the Justice Ministry department that handles the process of cleansing the government of tainted senior officials, said the fast-tracking of the procedure in Valendyuk’s case is incredible. 

"I think he did a great job at avoiding lustration, " she said.

Kozachenko said that Valendyuk was previously a deputy head of the department that represented the Prosecutor-General’s Office in the courts, and knows the inner workings of the system very well.

"He has connections and possibilities, the understanding of process, the people who work there, and ability to get the needed decisions -- including ones in his favor, " said Kozachenko. Those words could describe any slippery, successful careerist in the former Soviet Union or its successor states: exactly the atmosphere that Ukraine is struggling to dispel.

Valendyuk denies any wrongdoing, asserting that the court decision protecting him from lustration restored justice because, he argues, he had no management power under Yanukovych. 

He categorically disagrees that he falls under the legal criteria for lustration.

But Kozachenko is not convinced.

"According to the criteria, the time when he held the job and its seniority mean he has to be banned, " she said.

Secret Ruling

In another twist, the October 21 ruling in Valendyuk’s favor was kept secret, even though by law, all court rulings must be published in an open electronic registry the day after they are issued.

Volodymyr Kaluha, deputy head of the state company that runs the electronic registry, said that the court sat on the paper for four months before sending it on.

The company that keeps the registry then held the ruling for two months before it finally appeared online, Kaluha said.

Why this happened will be a subject to the next internal check, " he said.

Valendyuk had no explanation for the delay. "I have no relation to the electronic registry of court decisions, " he said.

Markiyan Halabala, deputy head of an independent body set up to investigate judges and the rulings they issued during the protests that pushed Yanukovych out, said he knows why the ruling was hidden from the public eye.

"The answer is simple. It’s corruption, " he said.

Halabala says that the Kyiv district administrative court judge who issued the ruling should be lustrated also.

The judge, Viktor Danylyshyn, banned public gatherings on Kyiv’s central streets on November 21, 2013, as the protests against Yanukovych -- over the about-face in which he spurned a planned deal with the European Union and turned toward Russia -- were gaining momentum.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out at street protests the following weekend in a show of defiance, and Yanukovych fled to Russia three months later as his hold on power crumbled.

More than 620 former officials have been lustrated so far, according to the Justice Ministry.

Deported peoples

Crimean Tatar leader angrily rejects President’s Constitutional proposals

Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis or Crimean Tatar representative assembly and Ukrainian MP, will not vote for amendments to Ukraine’s Constitution that do not recognize the right to the Crimean Tatar people to self-determination on their historical territory.  

Chubarov reacted immediately and strongly to certain words spoken by President Petro Poroshenko during his presentation on July 1 of draft amendments to the Constitution concerning decentralization.  These reforms are urgently needed, have been largely approved by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, and Chubarov stressed that he too has no objection to them. 

In presenting the amendments, however, Poroshenko spoke of a ‘national-cultural autonomy for the Crimean Tatar people’, and that, the head of the Mejlis says, is unacceptable. 

Valentina Samar writes that in explaining his position, Chubarov pointed out that the President had spoken of how they owe a debt to the Crimean Tatar people.   “With which, Chubarov adds, he was recognizing what is obvious, namely that for 23 years the Ukrainian state avoided reinstating the rights of the Crimean Tatar people on their own land. 

More is needed, however, than fine words and the same old problems.

“For 23 years the Crimean Tatars tried to convince Ukrainian politicians that through determining the legal status of Crimea on the basis of the right of the Crimean Tatar people to self-determination will serve not only to reinstate their rights, but also as guarantee of the peninsula’s inalienable position as part of the Ukrainian state. Ukraine, however, followed another path: instead of national-territorial autonomy of the Crimean Tatar people which would totally comply with international law, an autonomy was created in Crimea in which all rights were de facto received by the ethnic – Russian majority.

In fact the occupation in Feb – March 2014 of Crimea by Russia was to a large extent predetermined when Ukraine so openly disregarded the rights of the indigenous people of Crimea.

Today’s Ukraine, building its future development in full accord with and on the basis of universal European values cannot possibly continue to ignore the right of the Crimean Tatar people to self-development », Chubarov explained.

Chubarov is a member of the Constitutional Commission, and says that he has always made his position quite clear.  He adds that with respect to a general approach, there is understanding and notes the words spoken by the President on the status of Crimea within Ukraine during his address at a requiem in memory of the victims of the Deportation on May 18. 

The Head of the Mejlis’ reaction to Poroshenko’s words was strong, but hardly difficult to predict.   He explained to Radio Svoboda’s Crimean Service that there had been a swift response, with a meeting having taken place between him, veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev and Poroshenko on July 3.  Chubarov refused to reveal details of the meeting, reiterating only that his stand is quite clear and he will not vote for the amendments to the Constitution « with public recognition by the Head of State of the right of the Crimean Tatars to self-determination in Crimea.

Crimean Tatars have faced harassment, persecution and serious rights infringements since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in Feb – March 2014.  The position taken by Refat Chubarov, Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis in general has let to a very serious offensive against the latter, with its Deputy Head Akhtem Chiygoz in detention on legally nonsensical charges since Jan 29 this year.  Both Chubarov and Dzhemiliev have been prohibited by the Russian regime from entering their homeland.

Halya Coynash

News from the CIS countries

About Recent Events in Yerevan

In the framework of the monitoring mission, which was proposed and organised by the Human Rights House Network, a representative of a Human Rights organisation from Kharkiv, one of the co-organisers and an active member of the Human Rights House in Ukraine, and a Belarusian human rights defender Nasta Loiko (organisation “Viasna”) were invited for three days to Yerevan for monitoring of situation, investigation of violations human rights during the peaceful protest on Bagramyan Avenue and collecting information of the events that took place in the Armenian capital on 23 June 2015.

Members of the Human Rights House Network mission have an opportunity to meet and speak to 15 participants of the events in the morning of 23 June. All the witness statements were documented thoroughly in order to reconstruct complete and credible panorama of the morning events of 23 June, to identify different violations of the human rights of people who started the protest.

Representatives of the organisations from Human Rights Houses Network Mika Danielyan (Armenia) and Nasta Loiko (Belorus) are discussing plans on documenting information on the events of 23 June 2015 in Yerevan. Picture is taken close to the epicenter of the events on the morning of 23 June 2015 (crossroad of Moskovska street and Baghramyan Avenue.

The cause for the protests in Yerevan was the governmental decision to raise electricity prices by 16%. The prices was not low, however after the increase of prices planned for 1August 2015 for 1 kW of consumed electric energy one should pay 48.78 dram for day price (that consist approximately 10 eurocents) and 38.78 dram for night price. For example, in Ukraine, according new prices you spent 36.60 hryvnas (1.5 euro) for the first 100 kW and 63.00 hryvnyas (2.6 euros) for each following 100 kW, so when an Ukrainian citizen pays 162 hryvnas (6.7 euros), an Armenian citizen should pay approximately 700 hryvnas (29 euros).

The first demonstration began on 19 June and a single demand to take into account requirements of population and cancel the planned raise of electricity prices was put forward. Three days of peaceful standing and sitting at the Freedom Square did not bring any result. The protesters’ demand was not heard by the President and the government and no reaction followed, thus the evening of June 22, at the appeal of protesters, the mass demonstration of several thousand participants (the protesters themselves defined their amount within 5-7 thousand), which proceed to the residence of the President of Armenia, located on the 26, Baghramyan Avenue.

There is a few hundred meters from Freedom Square, the previous location of the manifestation, to Baghramyan Avenue and the protesters reached the beginning of the Avenue quickly, at about 19:00. However, 150 meters from the beginning of the Avenue it was blocked by police cordon that prevented the march to move forward. The deputy chief of police of Yerevan Valeriy Osipyan met the protesters and suggested them to choose 5-6 representatives so they representatives would be able to convey the protesters’ demands to the leaders of the state. However, the protesters have refused the offer. The motive for refusal was that the protesters put forward clear and straightforward requirements for the cancellation of the electricity prices and that was not required any explanations.

The Police, in their turn, regarded that the protesters had changed the form of the protest for the peaceful march that was not announced previously, hence, the police considered these actions of protesters as unlawful (not alike the peaceful gathering at the Freedom Square), what they had announced repeatedly.

The protesters, not committing any violence, have decided to stay at the Baghramyan Avenue and start a sitting strike, persisting the accomplishing of their only and nonpolitical demand. It is worthy to notify that according to the evidence of the participants of these events, they were prepared for the crackdown of the demonstration by the law enforcement. That was also supported by the fact of the presence of the considerable amount of the police servicepersons, and by the repeated reminding if the unlawful character of the demonstration, and proposition to clear the area that was voiced by Valeriy Osipyan, and by the presence of the prepared for use water cannon, which, as said, was bought with the OSCE money and which is an acceptable remedy for the contactless disperse of the protesters.

At 5 am the police forces lined up and took the protective shields, and after the water cannon engine have started, it became clear that the disperse of the protesters is going to start.

The protestors, whose quantity at the time was estimated from 300 to 500 participants rallied at Baghramyan Avenue. People were sitting, holding arms to form a tight circle to prevent the protesters being pulled out by the police. At about 5:20 the water cannon started working, the first 2-3 water jets were under not that high pressure, however the attacks that followed immediately were done with the water under high pressure, which did not allow people to remain steady since a powerful force of water drifted people away. In the circumstances, the law enforcement tactics were following: after the first 3-5 jets to the front rows of the protesters (the nearest to the police), the water cannon posed and at this time the police ran up to the protesters and pulled several persons out and took them by hands and feet for several meters away or immediately carried to police cars. At the same time, according to all evidence from the eyewitnesses’ interviews, those people who did not manifest any resistance and the majority of whom was detained and delivered to the police stations, were beaten with hands or feet, dragged upon the asphalt, spoiling their clothes, although there were no grounds for such rigid arrests.

Separately, witnesses pointed out the actions of individuals who wore no police uniforms, but acted as police. Interviewed witnesses called those people “civil police” and, in our opinion, that could be criminal investigation officers, however, it raised questions whether it was proportional to use the servicepersons of the criminal police against peaceful protesters and whether it was legal for them to arrest peaceful protesters. At the beginning of the attack of the protesters some of these people put the bandage sleeve labeled “Police” on.

After 10-15 minutes of attack with the water cannon there were no protesters left at the Baghramyan Avenue, people fled, some of them ended up at Freedom Square, on the steps of the opera theatre, the others pursued by the police, ran side streets, trying to get to a safe place. It should be accented that in this case the police was a source of violence and none of the demonstrators had any intentions to refer to the police for protection of their rights, in particular, to find a safe place or protection from violence, therefore, the police had confirmed that the institution is not worthy to be defined as a law enforcement institution that ensures respect for human rights.

At the same time there the arrests of persons, who were brought to the police stations in Yerevan, continued. On general estimations 237 persons were arrested and they spent different time in the police stations, in between from 6 am to sometimes almost 17:00. However, as it appears from the testimonies of the arrested, at the police stations the servicepersons had treated them quite correctly, though, they could not explain the reason the protesters were detained and, therefore, they could not determine their status, suspect or witness. Police checked and interviewed people waiting for some further guidance or instructions how to deal with detainees. This shows that the decision upon arrest of these persons, determination of their status (suspect, witness) was not carried out by law, but solely on the grounds of political speculations.

Meetings with demonstration participants, who were dispersed or arrested on June 23, took place in an organisation, which is a co-founder and a member of the Human Rights House Yerevan. Picture was taken during the meeting with civil activist Artak Gevorgyan (pictured), who was arrested on the morning of 23 June. While in police, Artak argued with an investigator on the article on which he could be held accountable. Artak himself asked the investigator for long he was detained, for up to 3 hours or up to 72 hours that defined by the procedural status of the detainee. In response he heard: “Wait, we do not know ourselves ...”. Instead of three hours permitted by law Artak was detained for 12 hours.

After learning about the morning dispersal of by a water cannon and detention of several hundreds of protesters, at about several thousand people, demanding the release of detained protesters, went out to Baghramyan Avenue on June 23.

Worthy to admit that the Armenian authorities had agreed to this demand and till 18:00 all the arrested protestors were released from all police stations.

Given the facts described by the participants of the events, the attention should be drawn to these important issues and following recommendations suggested:

Resistance and use of violence against police

According to all interviewed protesters, they have not seen a single case of the use of violence against the police. I managed to record only two episodes of “counteraction” of the protesters: a use of vulgar words against the police in response to their brutal abuse and a thrown empty plastic water bottle.

The demonstrators showed the best level of non-violent resistance, so any use of force against them can be regarded as disproportional. During such actions it also has to be a regular contact between the police and the protesters in order to avoid any possible provocations and violent confrontation. On 22-23 June the protesters refused for various reasons to delegate a group of the representatives to negotiate with the authorities.

Police work should be transparent and accountable. The police actions during the dispersing on June 23 should be investigated and the results of such investigations should be made public.

The police must be with the identifiers (with numbers on their helmets and uniforms) in order to be able to personally identify those who acted unlawfully.

An important factor of restrain was the presence of independent monitors from different missions, including the international ones. In this case the active involvement of the Human Rights Houses Network and commitment to continue monitoring of the situation was very timely).

Employment of the police serviceperson in civil

This issue requires a separate study. It is the common practice when the operational law enforcement officers (and in this case the reference was to them) during the performance of their duties wear civilian clothes. They have the right to arrests persons, who have commit offenses, however, the question remains whether it is legal to the use this category of law enforcement officers against individuals who have not committed any crime and have demonstrated with their behaviour the highest level of non-violent, tolerant and peaceful confrontation.

One of the demands made to the protesters by the police was that instead of peaceful assembly, which were to take place at a certain spot at Freedom Square, proceed to a peaceful march, which was not previously announced. In addition, the protestors, according to the police violated rights of others, including the abuse of public order in place of the manifestation. Worthy to note that the events have taken place in the administrative quarter of the city where no residential houses, therefore, no residents to cause them inconvenience with the manifestation.

Violation towards journalists

The events of that morning were highlighted by the radio “Liberty”, web-site “1 IN”, “А”. That is why to “hide” anything was in vain, thus the more illogical appear the fact listed below.

When there were practically no demonstrators left at Freedom Square after their retreate from Baghramyan Avenue, according to one of the interviewed journalists, the deputy chief of Armenian Police Levon Eranusyan took a camera from one of operators, threw it on the asphalt and broke, and as well gave an order to arrest journalists. A witness of the incident, a professional journalist, had recorded the episode on your camera and tried to leave the area, however he was arrested and the video footage and photographs were seized. Here is how he has described the process of his arrest:

“On the way I tried to remove the memory card from the camera, I took it out and put it in my pocket, but the police, that followed me, had noticed this movement.

In the room where I was taken to was the deputy chief of the Armenian Police General Unan Poghosyan. I stood in the room for 5-10 minutes among the convoy. Poghosyan said, turning to me, “finished badly, at last”. He ordered to take away the camera and it was taken. “Remove the memory card and return the camera to him”. Policemen found the card, which was in one of my trousers’ pockets, because they noticed when I had taken it out the camera. They said to me, “Get lost”. I tried to defend my rights, referring to the legislation, complaining that it is the interference with the journalist work. Poghosyan said, “You can come later and we will return your card back with the erased information”.

Then he turned away from me. When he turned back, I asked, “Where can I get my card?” “What card?” “The one you have taken away from me” “What are you talking about, no one have taken nothing away from you”. I left. It was on June 23 at about 6:30”.

On 1 July, at the time when our conversation took place, the journalist had no information about whereabouts of the card from the camera which was seized from him on morning of 23 June. On the photo below there is the camera with the removed memory card.

Journalists have their right to engage their professional activities. In such situations they should be able to take actions against the police and given that, is important to form a network of professional lawyers specialising in media law. By the results of these events, in case of inappropriate investigation of violations of journalists’ rights, there are prospects of strategic cases through an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

New attempt to keep Nadiya Savchenko trial secret

Russia is insisting on holding the trial of captured ex-pilot Nadiya Savchenko in a Russian city bordering the area of Ukraine under Kremlin-backed militant control.  There are no legitimate grounds for this move which will seriously hinder access to the trial, and could, Savchenko believes, put her mother and sister in danger. Her formal appeal* to Russia’s Prosecutor General to move the trial to Moscow where all investigative activities and assessments were carried out has effectively already been rejected.  One of her lawyers announced late on Friday afternoon that Savchenko has already been moved from the remand prison in Moscow and is on her way to the Rostov oblast.

Russia’s Investigative Committee announced on July 6 that the investigation carried out by its Department for investigating crimes linked with the use of prohibited weapons and methods of warfare was complete.  The charges unexpectedly proved to have been changed from abetting the killing of two Russian journalists, to actual murder.  This major difference in terms of likely sentence was not based on any change in the material of the case, nor even the investigators’ claims regarding Savchenko’s alleged actions. 

The other unwelcome change regards the assertion that Savchenko ‘voluntarily crossed’ into the Rostov, rather than the Voronezh oblast.  This makes it difficult to understand why she was initially held and interrogated in a Voronezh hotel and then remanded in custody by a Voronezh court, but is being used as an excuse for holding the trial in the Russian Donetsk, a city in Rostov oblast.

The defence has proof that Nadiya Savchenko had been taken prisoner before the two Russian journalists were killed.  Savchenko is adamant that she was taken by the militants across the border into Russia in handcuffs and with a bag over her head.

In her appeal, Savchenko focuses mainly on the fact that Donetsk is extremely close to the Donbas border area under the control of the militants.  She calls Russian Donetsk “the loading point and base supplying the pro-Russian militants fighting in the east of Ukraine and heading there from Russia”.   The fact that the area is “effectively in the zone of military action” will place her sister, a chief witness, and her elderly mother in direct danger.  She herself wrote a will before leaving Moscow.  “If they want to set up this trial travesty where there’s a war on, that means they’re capable of anything, ” she told human rights activist Zoya Svetova on the eve of her transfer.

The argument has already been ignored by Russia’s Prosecutor General, but her appeal to the UN Secretary General and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] should be heeded since the move to Rostov oblast directly affects the access to a high-profile trial of a Ukrainian MP and PACE delegate. 

Mark Feygin, one of Savchenko’s lawyers,  reported on July 13 that Russian Donetsk is regarded as the border area.  Even the defence lawyers will need to get passes from Russia’s FSB [Security Service] to attend their client’s trial.  Judging by the rules for such zones, anybody wishing to attend the trial will need to go through this procedure. 

The trial’s location in this zone, Savchenko told Svetova, means that the witnesses for the defence from Ukraine will be prevented from attended.  So too, she suspects will three witnesses from Voronezh.  These three hotel employees were even witnesses for the prosecution since they obligingly testified that Savchenko had arrived by herself at the hotel.  Highly inconvenient ‘testimony’ now, given the investigators’ new version.

Visitors to the trial are likely to witness all kinds of activity within Russian Donetsk and the surrounding area that Moscow continues to deny any involvement in.  This reason alone makes it seem likely that the location within a border zone will be used as a pretext for restricting access to the trial. 

It would not be the first time that Russia has attempted to try Savchenko in secret.  The investigatorsfirst tried to get hearings held behind closed doors back in October 2014.  Feygin was also recently threatened with criminal proceedings for having posted the testimony given by militant leader Igor Plotnytsky.

It is easy to see why the prosecution would not want Plotnytsky’s two witness accounts made public.  One damning moment is, effectively, the reason that Plotnytsky was questioned a second time.  During the first interrogation, he mentioned various items found in Savchenko’s rucksack, and mentioned binoculars, without giving detail, although he was quite specific about other items.  Months later he ‘remembered’ an enormous amount about the binoculars and claimed that there had been a radio device [like a walkie-talkie], and even mentioned a display screen with keys to press on this device.  Although all other items were intact, the binoculars and radio device were nowhere to be found.

More details from the testimony Moscow wanted secret at: Savchenko material shows how Russia concocted ‘case’ and what it can’t conceal

Savchenko is facing a possible 25 year sentence, despite having an unbreakable alibi. She is alleged to have climbed a satellite communications tower and seen the two journalists three and a half kilometres away, and informed Ukrainian soldiers.  No trace has been found of the binoculars needed to make out the two men she is alleged to have ‘murdered’, nor the radio device to communicate their whereabouts.  Savchenko is charged in addition with having illegally crossed into Russia despite having been captured by the militants a week earlier.  They are supposed to have decided to release her as of no importance and another mouth to feed just three days after they posted a video of her as their ‘captured trophy’ on the Internet. 

The need for maximum coverage of this ‘trial’ cannot be overstated. 

   Nadiya Savchenko’s letter to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office.   A full translation of her letter to the UN Secretary General and PACE can be found here

Russian soldiers face prison for refusing to fight in Ukraine

   Anatoly Kudrin

Several dozen Russian contract soldiers could face up to 10 year prison sentences for having left a military unit in the Rostov oblast, fearing that they would be sent to fight in Ukraine.  Soldiers allege that were offered up to 8 thousand roubles a day for ‘volunteering’ to go to Ukraine, and effectively held there until they agreed. has spoken with soldiers facing trial for going absent without leave or deserting, their mothers, as well as a lawyer representing 5 men.  On a video which the newspaper was shown, a military official rubbishes all claims that men are being sent to Ukraine.  The journalists’ attempts to speak directly to the man on the video or representatives of the Russian Defence Ministry were all unsuccessful.

All the soldiers are from the Maikop reconnaissance brigade and on contract service. 23-year-old Anatoly Kudrin has already received a 6 month term of imprisonment for going absent without leave, and two others are facing similar charges.  Their lawyers say that the young men left the Kadamovsky unit in the Rostov oblast (which borders Donbas) as they believed they would be sent to Ukraine.

The men are now facing charges under Article 337 of the criminal code (going absent without leave) which carries a sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment and Article 338 (desertion) – up to 10 years.

All the men complain of appalling conditions, but are adamant that they left because they were under heavy pressure to go to Ukraine and were not prepared to take part in the fighting there – for any amount of money.

27-year-old Pavel Tynchenko, who had previously served for 7 years in the Northern Fleet, is in custody, charged with going absent without leave.   His mother explains after he had been sent on training in conditions so bad that he tried to resign.  This was ignored and he and several others were simply put on trucks and taken to the Rostov oblast where he was officially on military training from Oct 15 to Nov 14. quotes the statement Tynchenko issued to the judge of the Maikop military court in which he informs the court that the ruling “has not included my testimony regarding “disobeying an order”.  I did not carry out a criminal order since I did not wish to go against the oath which I took and did not want to take part in military action on Ukrainian territory. I would ask that this is added to the court’s ruling”.

   Tynchenko’s statement

Tatyana Chernetskaya, the lawyer representing 5 contract soldiers says that according to her information dozens of criminal cases have been initiated.  This is borne out by the Maikop court’s statistics.  62 soldiers have been convicted of going absent without leave since the beginning of 2015, against 35 for the entire period from 2010 through 2014.

Chernetskaya reports that the circumstances were the same for all of the several dozen soldiers facing charges of desertion or going AWOL.  They all left the Rostov unit between the end of September, 2014 and the middle of November.  They complained both of the inhuman conditions and of the pressure on them to serve as ‘volunteers’ in the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’. 

The conditions certainly appear to have been intolerable with men forced to sleep on blankets on the ground (in October and early November), and with virtually no water available, even to drink. 

It is not only Tynchenko, however, who stresses that fear of being sent to Ukraine was at least as strong a reason. 

The men recount how they were pestered by recruiters in camouflage gear without insignia who tried to get them to fight in Donbas for money, with 8 thousand per day offered.  All agree that these recruiters were not from their unit, so were clearly there with permission from the military command. 

None of them was enticed by the 8 thousand per day offered, Chernetskaya explains, and they made their way back to their unit in Maikop.  There they tried to hand in formal resignations but these were not even considered, and they are now facing serious charges. 

They are, however, alive, unlike many other Russian soldiers sent to Ukraine to fight. explains the considerable efforts they took to speak with Russian official sources.  They confronted the same difficulties reported by journalists trying to find out about the two Russian spetsnaz officers captured in Ukraine whom Russia is trying to claim were not active military servicemen.   All suggestions by the Kremlin and Defence Ministry that the two were ‘volunteers’ have been totally rejected by the men themselves.

Moscow has also tried to deny the deaths of Pskov paratroopers in Ukraine, as well as other soldiers.  Human rights activists and journalists like Lev Schlosberg and Ludmila Bogatenkova have faced attacks and hate campaigns, or actual criminal prosecution.

President Vladimir Putin has also come up with a new method.  In his decree from May 28 he classified information about Russian military losses during “special operations in peacetime”, thus potentially enabling prosecution and imprisonment for divulging details about the deaths of Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine. 

The numbers of soldiers killed is becoming impossible to hide, and there are more and more reports from reputable journalists and human rights groups.  Soldiers have now also understood how Russia will abandon them to their fate in order to maintain a lie which no longer has power to convince anybody.


“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2015, #07