war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Politics and human rights

Why are the Kremlin’s Proxies in Donbas provoking a Humanitarian Catastrophe?

Staged protest as ’send-off’ for Médecins Sans Frontières

It remains unclear why the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [‘LNR’] have ordered all but one western aid organization to leave the Luhansk oblast, or why one of the militant leaders has yet again announced plans for “integration with Russia”.  The militants’ current anti-Western line and their decision to drive international organizations out of militant-controlled areas will certainly reduce interference in the pseudo-elections that both so-called ‘people’s republics’ have announced.  Such behaviour must, however, make it even less likely that western countries would accept ‘elections’ which are so flagrantly in breach of the Minsk Accord. 

UN officials reported on Sept 24 that the LNR ‘de facto authorities’ had ordered all UN agencies in Luhansk to get out by the following day.  This followed the rejection of applications from all UN agencies and international NGOs, except the Red Cross,  to work in the area.  The Red Cross was untouched by the bans, yet its humanitarian convoy was forced to return on Sept 25 without being allowed to enter militant-controlled areas.

Stephen O’Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, called the failure to allow humanitarian access “a blatant violation of international humanitarian law”, which will have “a serious impact on some 3 million people as winter approaches”.  People in the militant-controlled area will be deprived of food, shelter and non-food supplies, including vital medication.

O’Brien called on “everyone with influence over the de facto authorities” to ensure resumption of the aid.  Moscow is widely understood to be where those “with influence” are to be found,  but they have made no comment. 

Ukrainian billionnaire Renat Akhmetov’s humanitarian aid is also not affected by the ban.  Jock Mendoza-Wilson from Akhmetov’s Foundation is reported to have suggested that the militants are hoping to receive humanitarian aid from Western countries via Russia.  His idea is that the aid would be presented as though from Russia.  It seems difficult to believe that western agencies would agree to this, especially given that they would be in breach of Ukraine’s law on temporarily occupied territory if they entered such territory from Russia, without Ukraine’s permission.

Akhmetov is widely considered to be hedging his bets and has never come out as strongly as other oligarchs in opposition to the events in Donbas. His Foundation’s presence in militant-controlled areas has generally been non-problematical, unlike that of international bodies.  

One of the NGOs banned is Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).  The organization stressed that they provide critical medical and humanitarian assistance in Luhansk and that the ban will deprive vulnerable people of essential healthcare and medicines.  ‘LNR’ leaders have, however, targeted this renowned NGO for a particular smear campaign, claiming that it has used medication beyond its sell-by date, etc.

A very obviously orchestrated protest by young people to “see MSF out” of the area was highly reminiscent of the staged protests in early July against the OSCE Monitoring Mission.  Those earlier protests coincided with a serious arson attack against the Mission and other disturbing incidents. There was concern then that the militants were seeking to drive out the Monitoring Mission, and the same fears seem warranted now.  Nobody has presented any proof for allegations against MSF, and the accusations seem especially dubious given that almost all NGOs have been thrown out, not just MSF. 

‘Foreign’, it would seem, is being overtly labelled as ‘counter-revolutionary’.  According to News of Donbas, ‘LNR’ has reported a “new strategy on external security and countering external and internal threats”.  The militants claim that the ban on international organizations was due “to the threat of counter-revolution from them within the ‘republic’.”

The less independent organizations, the better if you have something to hide.  The de facto leaders of the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ are insisting on holding ‘elections’ in October and early November in direct breach of the Minsk Accords.  There is no way that they can comply with the agreement reached in Minsk since this requires free and fair elections held in accordance with Ukrainian legislation.  As well as the fact that these pseudo-elections have not been agreed with Ukraine,  they will also be held without free media, without real opposition and almost certainly with armed gunmen in close proximity to so-called polling stations.  

Over recent weeks, in the run-up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to the UN, there have been all kinds of conciliatory noises from the militants and from Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.  The militants, we are told, are now willing to accept integration into Ukraine. and there was even a rather theatrical ‘coup’ on Sept. 4 in which pragmatist Denis Pushilin is supposed to have ousted ideologue Andrei Purgin.

Pushilin and his cronies have yet again changed their tune. reports that Pushilin stated on Friday, Sept 25, that “It is clear that Ukraine will do everything it can to push us away, and we must be ready to integrate into the Russian Federation.”  His comments came after a forum in Luhansk which discussed integration with Russia, and were accompanied by comments about the ‘elections’ they are planning.  He claims that these will be attended by “several international observers”.  It seems likely that he meant the same far-right or neo-Stalinist politicians who have proven so helpful in ‘observing and approving’ the previous ‘elections’ one year ago; the pseudo-referendum in Crimea and plenty of others. 

Well-known Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky called Pushilin totally without principles and willing to do whatever he’s told.  Why the above-described developments have taken place now remains to be seen, but it is most unlikely that Pushilin and his cronies were acting without prompts from Moscow.  


Russia targets Mustafa Dzhemiliev’s hostage son in revenge for Crimea Blockade

Khaiser Dzhemiliev, the son of exiled Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemiliev, has been moved to a distant prison colony in the Astrakhan region of Russia.  His imprisonment in Russia is already illegal, and his sudden move seems clear retaliation for his father’s involvement in the indefinite Crimean Blockade which began on Sept 20. 

Khaiser’s lawyer Nikolai Polozov informed of the move on Sunday.  He stressed that it was illegal even by Russian legislation according to which his client should be imprisoned either according to his place of residence, namely, Crimea, or in the Krasnodar region where the trial took place.  Russia has twice ignored Ukraine’s requests for Khaiser Dzhemiliev’s extradition. 

This new development comes less than a month after Russia’s Supreme Court reduced the sentence passed on the 33-year-old Khaiser from 5 to 3.5 years.  It comes exactly one week after the beginning of the Blockade initiated and fully supported by Mustafa Dzhemiliev and Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly.   Although the aims of the Blockade have now become broader, one of the first specific demands was that the ban imposed by Russia on Mustafa Dzhemiliev, Chubarov and others should be removed.  In a chilling response to this, the de facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya indicated clearly that both leaders, as well as others, could face imprisonment in Russian-occupied Crimea on charges of “encroaching upon Russia’s territorial integrity”.  That is, Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians whose homeland was seized by Russian soldiers in late Feb 2014 and then illegally annexed, face prosecution for publicly calling for Russia’s occupation to end. 

Mustafa Dzhemiliev has repeatedly accused the Kremlin of open blackmail by holding his son in prison.  The 71-year-old former Soviet dissident spent 15 years in a Soviet labour camp, and has now, under Russian occupation, been banned from Crimea and Russia, meaning that he cannot even visit his son.  The move to Astrakhan oblast will make it extremely difficult for Safinar Dzhemilieva, Khaiser’s mother to visit her son. 

In May 2013 Khaiser Dzhemiliev shot and killed Fevzi Edemov who was working as a guard to the family.  All the evidence indicated that this was a tragic accident, and that the correct charge should be of manslaughter through careless use of firearms.

It was under Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency that attempts were first made to use the case against Khaiser to blackmail Mustafa Dzhemiliev threatening to change the charge from manslaughter to murder.  These attempts were continued by Russia following its annexation of Crimea. 

In the meantime the Ukrainian authorities passed the case to the Kyiv prosecutor on the basis of the Ukrainian Law on the Occupied Territory.  An application to reinstate the original manslaughter charges was allowed, and two Kyiv courts subsequently ruled that Khaiser should be released from custody. 

Since these rulings were ignored, Mustafa Dzhemiliev approached the European Court of Human Rights, which on July 10, 2014, ordered Khaiser Dzhemiliev’s release.  Instead of complying with the Court in Strasbourg, Russia moved the young Ukrainian to the Krasnodar region in Russia. It also tried to charge Khaiser with murder “out of hooligan motives”, as well as with stealing and keeping a weapon and ammunition. 

A Ukrainian court passed sentence in April 2015, with Khaiser’s extradition then immediately demanded.  This was also ignored, and Russia continued with its illegal trial. 

One cheering moment came at the end of May when a Russian jury rejected the charges of murder which Russian investigators had insisted on bringing.  The jury found Khaiser Dzhemiliev guilty of manslaughter through carelessness and of illegal possession of a weapon, as had the Ukrainian court.  It considered that he was worthy of leniency over the charge of possessing a firearm.

The prosecutor nonetheless demanded a longer sentence of 5 years which the original court obediently provided.

As with political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko, Russia has tried to foist Russian citizenship on Khaiser Dzhemiliev, but without any credibility.  He remains a Ukrainian national whom Russia is legally obliged to extradite to Ukraine.  

More needed than 8-man ‘task force’ against lethal Russian state propaganda

  The Kremlin-funded TV channel Russia Today showed, then quickly removed a film claiming that ’the junta’ in Kyiv and its ’Nazi mercenaries’ are carrying out genocide, ethnic cleansing and starving its population, while children are being taught Nazi slogans and salutes.”.  The presenter of the so-called ‘documentary’ speaks of “civilians being systematically massacred”.  The programme in its sick entirety can still be watched here

First published here:

Three months after unknown assassins gunned down Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov outside the Kremlin, his daughter called for sanctions against those running Russia’s propaganda machine. Zhanna Nemtsova compared the dangerous rhetoric of state-controlled Russian media to the hateful radio broadcasts that precipitated Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Her appeal was widely reported, as had been her father’s murder. Several months later, Russian investigators look set to claim that President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic was killed as revenge for his comments about the massacre of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in Paris—not because of his opposition activities in Russia—and his daughter’s calls for sanctions have been largely ignored.

Putin has kept a tight lid on Russian press freedom ever since taking office in 2011, but the aggressive propaganda—particularly against Ukraine, which emerged early in 2014—is new. recently interviewed former employees of mainstream Russian channels on the condition of anonymity. One journalist said they had been told by his boss in February 2014 that the 1970s and 1980s was child’s play to the cold war now beginning and that those unwilling to take part should quit. Most stayed.

Kremlin bosses apparently handed top management instructions on the usage of terms like ’junta’ and ’fascist’ when covering Ukraine; these terms were then passed down to employees. The TV channels were also told to stop competing with each other, which resulted in humorous gaffes such as when Rossiya 1presented a patient in hospital as the pro-federalism victim of "Right Sector radicals, " while NTV claimed that the same person was a German-based mercenary who’d brought foreigners to Ukraine to carry out violent acts. The stations based their claims—repeated by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Ukraine was using prohibited phosphorous bombs—on 2004 footage from Iraq.

Well-deserved ridicule of such fakes did, however, blur the real danger behind the lies. Russians, as well as Ukrainians living in areas controlled by Russian-backed rebels, were receiving a daily barrage of lies according to which Ukrainians were supposedly committing genocide against their Russian-speaking population and that those Russians—like Nemtsov, who opposed Russia’s undeclared war—were enemies of the people. A major global propaganda effort to label the tragic May 2, 2014, fire in Odesa as a "massacre" by pro-Ukrainian radicals is known to have prompted young men to go to fight in the Donbas. Such lies had been used before to provoke pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe and, twenty years ago, by the ruling tribe in Rwanda, to justify genocide.

Some argue that Russian propaganda is too outrageous to be believed, and therefore counterproductive. Certainly citizens of countries where Kremlin-funded Russia Today (RT) competes with other channels—and where the Internet is not blocked—can access other information and draw their own conclusions. Whether they critically assess such information is questionable. Moscow has increasingly, and with considerable success, targeted an anti-NATO and anti-US audience. Jeremy Corbyn, newly elected leader of Britain’s Labor Party, has frequently given interviews to RT and in 2014 was more than happy to repeat Putin’s propaganda about "fascists" in Ukraine. He has been totally silent about serious human rights violations in a way disturbingly reminiscent of the myopia demonstrated by left-wing intellectuals during Joseph Stalin’s repressions.

For a long time, international media watchdogs widely criticized efforts by Ukraine as well as by Latvia and Lithuania to block Russia’s propaganda media. Their argument was basically that any point of view had the right to be heard, and that other media should simply present counterclaims. Such criticism gradually waned as it became clear that the pro-Kremlin media’s distortion and manipulative editing of the news had little in common with journalism.

This is why Ukraine’s recent sanctions list was such a frustrating debacle. Instead of sanctioning only those clearly engaged in warmongering and distortion, Ukraine drew up a list that included journalists from, for example, the BBC. The result was predictable, with Ukraine accused of infringing on freedom of speech. Conceding partially to demands, Ukraine has so far has removed six foreign journalists from the list.

In March 2015, the European Union announced plans to monitor and respond to pro-Kremlin media bias; it eventually created an eight-member task force, East Stratcom, for that purpose. A recent analysis by James Panichi suggests that those plans have encountered the same resistance as have anti-Russia sanctions. One member told Panichi that the experts are under pressure to "avoid antagonizing EU governments that are looking to tone down tensions with Russia."

Even without opposition, the EU team is manifestly not enough, a feeling echoed by Poland and the Baltic states, which have often been the target of Russian propaganda and understand the danger it poses.

It is possible that democratic tools and the standard requirements for balanced journalism are simply incapable of dealing with virulent state-generated propaganda. Few people, for example, seriously believed Russia’s attempts to shift blame after the Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down on July 17, 2014. This is not the case with the fire in Odesa that killed dozens of people in May 2014, nor even with regard to Russia’s involvement in the Donbas. Despite evidence from foreign media, US sources, NATO, and even Amnesty International, Western media reports invariably state only that Ukraine asserts Russian forces are there. Russia says they’re not, and readers and viewers can take their pick.

The Kremlin has now chosen a particular course, and this is what the media follows. No one knows what will be decided tomorrow. Piecemeal alternatives to torrents of lies may make us feel we’re achieving something, but severe sanctions against those who incite hatred and violence would save more lives.


Photo of Zhanna Nemtsova from RFEL; the image above is a screenshot from the RT video cited

Stop Feeding Bandits! Crimean Tatars call for a Civil Blockade of Occupied Crimea

Crimean Tatar leaders have called on Ukrainians to join a civil blockade of Russian-occupied Crimea.  The blockade will continue until Russia releases its Ukrainian political prisoners, stops blocking free media in Crimea and committing other rights offences. 

At a press conference on Sept 8, veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the Head of the Mejlis or Crimean Tatar representative assembly, Refat Chubarov and other Crimean Tatar public figures explained their plan for a blockade beginning in the second half of September.  Crimean Tatar activists will block roads and checkpoints to Crimea in an attempt to prevent Ukrainian goods from getting through.

They pointed to the paradoxical situation where Russia is occupying the peninsula, arresting, harassing and discriminating against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians , yet for Ukrainian businessmen it’s all business as usual.  Since the products are also used by the military units in Crimea, this Ukrainian trade is actually strengthening the occupiers.

Mustafa Dzhemiliev asserted that 80% of the Ukrainian food which is transported to Crimea in fact ends up being sent via the Kerch Strait to Russia.  The argument, therefore, that a blockade will hurt compatriots in Crimea does not hold, he asserts.

Lenur Islyamov, Director of the Crimean Tatar TV Channel ATR that was prevented from broadcasting earlier this year, addressed his appeal to all patriots and all those concerned for Ukraine, and who believe that Crimea must be part of the Ukrainian state.  He stressed that through this blockade Ukraine would be joining international sanctions against the Russian Federation.

5 specific demands of Russia were presented:

1       Release Ukrainian political prisoners: Ali Asanov; Akhtem Chiygoz and Mustaf Degermendzhy; Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov (they did not mention Gennady Afanasyev, unfortunately); Oleksandr Kostenko; Nadiya Savchenko; and Tair Smedlyaev.

2       Remove all restrictions on Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian media in Crimea ;

3       Ensure unobstructed access to Crimea of foreign journalists and civic activists ;

4       Stop all unwarranted administrative and criminal prosecutions of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian nationals in Crimea ;

5       Remove the ban from their homeland on Refat Chubarov; Mustafa Dzhemiliev ; Sinaver Kadyrov and Ismet Yuksel;

Mustafa Dzhemiliev pointed to the absurdity of the situation. Russia has imposed a repressive regime which crushes those who don’t’ agree with it, particularly those who remain loyal to Ukraine, while at the same time Ukraine is continuing to provide the peninsula with water, electricity and goods. “85% of the food; 80% of the water and electricity provided to Crimea which Russia claims is its territory is provided at Ukraine’s expense.  Why on earth?  Is it not too high a price to supply the occupation regime?”

He calls on Ukrainians to stop providing Crimea with such goods, thus laying the responsibility on the aggressor state which annexed the peninsula.

Calls for Ukraine to impose restrictions on the occupiers until they stop infringing the rights of Ukrainian nationals in Crimea have been made for some time.  It is frustrating that they have not been voiced at official level.

Quite the contrary, with the situation only exacerbated by the Law on making Crimea a free economic zone which President Petro Poroshenko signed into law a year ago, on Sept 27, 2014.  The bill had been slated by human rights organizations as discriminating against Crimeans and effectively recognizing  Crimea as Russian. 

The law declares Crimeans to be ‘non-residents’, establishes customs control at the administrative border between the Kherson oblast and the Crimea.  The concept of import/export between mainland Ukraine and the Crimea is introduced, and contracts between mainland Ukraine companies and those in the Crimea are now treated as ‘foreign’.

In an appeal in August human rights groups warned that if the law came into force, Ukraine would be effectively recognizing the Crimea as Russian territory and allowing Ukrainian enterprises to continue business as usual with the Crimea.  Andriy Klymenko, one of the authors of the appeal said that they were convinced that those who lobbied it were looking after their own personal business interests.  He notes that the Sevastopol Maritime Factory is owned by Poroshenko, other interests are owned by Yury Kosyuk, first deputy head of the President’s Administration, etc.  (see: Legislative Stab in the Back)

There have been voices of opposition to the move.  Leonid Kuzmin, Head of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre writes that Crimea must not be blockaded, that this will still further set people against Ukraine.  He believes there needs to be dialogue at every level.  “How can you talk about defending Ukraine’s citizens’ rights in Crimea if Ukraine itself turns away from Crimea and its citizens living there?”

These arguments have been raised by many Ukrainians from Donbas who felt betrayed by the government’s measures to impose a blockade on areas under Kremlin-backed militant control (See: Donbas betrayed).  For individual Ukrainians already facing hardship, such blockades can certainly seem like another blow from those who should be supporting them.

It is a question of how that support is expressed.  The situation in the case of Crimea is rather different from that of Donbas.  While there is no serious doubt that Russia is placing a major role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, it is the Kremlin’s proxies who are officially in control.  Crimea is under Russian occupation, with Moscow having from the outset pushed the line that Crimea is ‘logically’ and historically part of Russia.  In fact, Crimea is heavily dependent on Ukraine and Russia is quite simply not in a position to provide sufficient food, water and electricity. 

While Ukraine has allowed all of this with only limited restrictions, to flow as normal, Russia has been establishing a repressive regime with independent media silenced, Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians facing discrimination, harassment and persecution, and Crimean Tatar leaders either imprisoned or exiled.  

Western rejection of Russia’s annexation of Crimea remains total.  It may have never been as strong as we would have wished, however none of the sanctions have been lifted, and western firms can themselves face penalties if they breach them. 

It must not be Ukraine that is continuing to act as though nothing has happened. 

The right to life

Vital Probe of Odesa May 2 Tragedy stymied because of questions answered?

Despite the clear importance of a proper investigation into the deadly disturbances and fire in Odesa on May 2, 2014, and the mileage gained by Russia’s propaganda machine from any delay, the number of investigators has been drastically reduced, just when they seemed to be making headway.  The trial of one man facing serious charges is constantly obstructed and the ongoing detention of others accused of lesser offences has already been used by a Moscow-backed initiative to claim political prisoners in Ukraine.  The Council of Europe’s International Advisory Panel has been assessing the investigation.  Its report,   due at the end of October, 2015, seems likely to be critical   

It was widely feared in Spring 2014 that a scenario similar to the orchestrated seizure of control by Kremlin-backed militants in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts could be expected in Odesa.  There had been express warnings from both the Security Service [SBU] and Interior Ministry of likely trouble, in particular with respect to a football match scheduled on May 2 between the Odesa Chernomorets team and Kharkiv’s Metalist, and the pro-Ukrainian unity march before it. 

A crucial action plan codenamed Khvylya [Wave] had been prepared for the event of disturbances, yet was not registered and therefore did not come into effect.

Six people died of gunshot wounds and many others were injured during disturbances in the city centre after the pro-unity march was attacked by anti-Maidan (and pro-Russian) activists.  The first two people killed were Euromaidan activists and the news of those deaths was instrumental in turning the disturbances uncontrolled and violent.  More weapons began being brought to the scene and the other four deaths were of anti-Maidan activists.  A large number of people were injured, including police officers.  A further 42 people – all anti-Maidan activists -  died as a result of a fire in the Trade Union building on Kulikovo Pole.  That fire was certainly caused by a Molotov cocktail, however these were being hurled by activists on both sides and specialists agree that there is no way of knowing whether the fatal incendiary device was thrown from outside the building, or from inside.  There would have been far fewer casualties had the emergency services responded when the first reports of fire were received.  The 40 minute delay was fatal.

There are clearly major questions needing to be answered, most crucially:

Who was responsible for not registering and/or implementing the Action Plan?

Why were the emergency services so criminally slow in arriving at a fire they were informed about repeatedly from the beginning? 

The guilt or innocence must also be established of specific individuals. 


On Aug 18, Svitlana Pidpala from the May 2 Group reported that the investigative team was being reduced from 8 to 3 investigators.  Her frustration was palpable. After a year the investigators, she says, had processed around 10 criminal prosecutions, some of them already in court, and they were also investigating others. She names, for example, the case of Astakhov who is believed to have brought weapons and ammunition to the centre of Odesa that day.  

Now, suddenly, the team has been reduced with the head of the team, Mykola Rudnytsky recalled to Kyiv.  “They reduced the team immediately after specific results appeared and criminal proceedings were initiated against the Emergencies Ministry and other cases. And after specific representatives of the Interior Ministry system began to be affected”, Pidpala writes.   She is convinced that the removal of Rudnytsky and others is an attempt to effectively stop the investigation and suggests that this may be because it could get too interesting.

The Police

On May 13, Petro Lutsyuk, ex-head of the Odesa regional police was placed under house arrest on charges of professional negligence (Article 367 of the Criminal Code).  Lutsyuk had given a verbal order for the Action Plan to be implemented and signed the document confirming this order.  He is accused of not having ensured that the Plan was registered and implemented.  Lutsyuk was freed from house arrest on Sept 1, with the court not convinced by the prosecutor’s argument that Lutsyuk could abscond or try to influence the investigation if free. 

Lutsyuk’s deputy, Dmytro Fuchedzhy has been on the international wanted list since May 2014, and is believed to be in hiding in Transnistria.  In his case, there are grounds for suspecting him of helping the anti-Maidan activists.  He is believed to have enabled Vitaly Budko, known as ‘Botsman’, who is clearly visible in video footage shooting from a Kalashnikov rifle at pro-unity activists, to have escaped. 

The May 2 Group have on a number of occasions stressed that they have found no evidence of a general police conspiracy and say that many officers were themselves injured trying to deal with the disturbances.


There is almost no movement on an important bill No. 2885,  tabled by Oleksy Honcharenko on May 20.  This proposes to waive liability for all those accused only of taking part in the disturbances.  In June, the relevant parliamentary committee found the bill to be in line with the Constitution, but no more has been heard of it since.  Honcharenko stresses that the bill is aimed at easing social tension.  It could also help identify those responsible for the violence. At the moment, activists are nervous to come forward, fearing that they will face charges of participating in the riot.

If the law is to be passed, then there is no excuse for delay given the number of people currently in detention who would be directly affected.  The May 2 Group have long expressed concern over the arbitrary nature of the charges against all but one of the 21 anti-Maidan activists on trial over the disturbances.  For a long time, all were accused of the same vague “participation in mass riots’.  The charge is now of causing mass disturbances in the course of which they attacked a peaceful march, using firearms, stones, Molotov cocktails, etc. 

The charges are more serious, but the very fact that the wording is the same in each case raises doubts about how proven they are in any given case.  This is especially disturbing since until recently, 11 of the young men had been in custody for well over a year.  A court on Aug 27 released three of them pending trial, but that still leaves 8 men in detention. 

There appears to be hard evidence against only one defendant – Serhiy Dolzhenkov – who is alleged to have organized and led the attack on the pro-Ukrainian unity march. Artem Davydchenko is in hiding but would otherwise be facing the same charges. 

The May 2 Group believe that Budko (Botsman) was provably responsible for at least the first death of Ihor Ivanov. 

There is also Serhiy Khodiyak, a Euromaidan activist, who is charged with shooting at people on Hretska Square and causing the death of at least one person (Yevhen Losynsky), Tetyana Herasimova from the May 2 Group, says that it is likely that Khodiyak’s lawyer will seek to get the charge of murder withdrawn since no weapon was ever found.  Khodiyak was initially placed only under house arrest, while others, facing lesser charges, were remanded in custody. House arrest can only be extended twice and there are now no restrictions on his movements. 

His separate case has just been transferred to the same court as the cases of the anti-Maidan activists.  There has up till now been very little progress, largely because hearings into his case are regularly obstructed by members of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector who clearly don’t want him tried at all.

It has been argued that Khodiyak should be acquitted on the grounds that he was defending the country.  There probably is reason to believe that a takeover, similar to that in parts of Donbas, was being planned and that the tragic events of May 2 were the jolt that saved Odesa from this fate. It is harder to accept that the use of firearms by anybody during riots can be viewed as necessary defence.  In Kyiv on Aug 31, 2015, an activist angered by the ‘decentralization’ bill passed in its first reading in parliament threw a grenade causing the death of three National Guard conscripts.  He may well have believed he was defending his country in opposing the bill.  Many of the MPs who voted for the bill may equally have viewed their support as defence of the country, as a necessary measure, vital to ensuring an end to the conflict in Donbas. 

Justification of one killing and not another is seriously dubious from a legal point of view and politically very dangerous.  It is the country’s leaders ultimately who will end up making decisions which are not their prerogative.  In neighbouring Russia, it is increasingly people who oppose the regime of Vladimir Putin who are accused of being against the state.  Rule of law demands a different approach. 

Respect for the law and the value of human life are the paramount reason why Ukraine’s leaders must make good their commitment to properly investigate the events of May 2, 2014.  They should also, however, consider the damage their inaction is doing Ukraine.  Moscow and the Russian media have pushed claims of a ‘massacre’ from the outset, using cynical lies and deliberately edited video footage to distort the truth.  It is likely that they will continue to do so in any case, but they are  only helped by Ukraine’s failure to fully examine what went wrong that day and ensure that those responsible are held to answer. 

Against torture and ill-treatment

“Those who survived the hell”

Recent studies of illegal deprivation of liberty and the use of torture, cruel or inhuman treatment was realized by the coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas.” We are talking about the cases of illegal detention, kidnapping and tortures of people in the zone of anti-terrorist operations (ATO).

This short intervention is the announcement of today’s side-event and I’d like to draw your attention to the presentation of the report with the analytics and concrete descriptions of cruelty of the hell in the illegal detention places. The team of the project and the witnesses will share the information during this event starting from 18.00, the hard copy of the report will be distributed.

In 1945 Europe said “never again” to the atrocity and horrors of the war – killings, murders, tortures, persecutions. The international mechanisms, instruments and institutions such as the Council of Europe, UN, OSCE, NATO were created and a number of conventions and their control mechanisms were elaborated and established.

1995 Ukraine has become the member of the CoE and introduced the jurisdiction of the CoE mechanisms on its territory. However, despite this we may confirm that in the Crimea, partly in in Donezk and Luguansk regions controlled by pro-russian illegal armed forces in the ATO zone we observe the entire area where is no law, no rule of law and no mechanism that protect basic rights of the persons. There is the “area of the gray law” without any mechanisms of justice. The main purpose of the study, that will be presented to your attention, was to find out, to record the cases of torture and ill-treatment, in order to pursue the perpetrators and bring them to justice at national or international level.

Why such brutality and cruelty occurred on the territory of this “zone of the gray law”?

There are several causes and motives:

1. The obvious intention to install the repressive regime with demonstrative cruelty. To punish some, to afraid all.

2. Impunity of criminals. Classic rule in criminology – unpunished crime provokes its repetition and became more cruel.


Truth, fixing of all the cases of tortures or ill treatments – the crimes against humanity – with prosecution and punishment of all perpetrators and organizers through national and international mechanisms – it is a today’s requirement.

It is the ground that “never again” over 8,000 killed and over 18,000 wounded per one year in actual conflict that is real war “never again” of Boeing 777 with the flight MH 17 will be captured.

Unpunished evil creates new evil.

The right to liberty and security

Evangelical pastor taken hostage by Kremlin-backed militants

Taras Sen, Pastor of the Church of the Christian Evangelical Faith, has been seized by militants from the so-called Luhansk people’s republic.

The Church reports that Taras Sen was taken hostage on Sunday, Sept. 27 in the city of Sverdlovsk in the Luhansk oblast by armed militants.  It states that Pastor Taras has been one of the most active religious figures in the occupied territory since the beginning of “the armed aggression”.   The Church in Sverdlovsk has continued its major social work even during the military conflict with Pastor Taras and his colleagues constantly providing food and other aid to the needy.

There were a number of abductions of religious figures during 2014, but that had stopped, so this new disappearance is extremely worrying. 

As reported, in both Russian-occupied Crimea and the areas of Donbas under Kremlin-backed militant control, there is widespread persecution and / or discrimination of all religious groups except for believers linked to the  Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. 

A recent study entitled ‘When God becomes the weapon’ put together evidence of religious persecution with the authors’ stated aim being to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights abuses answer for their deeds and that their victims can seek legal redress in domestic or international courts. 

The report identifies systematic and widespread religious persecution, and also points out that religion is one of the key motivating factors and justification cited for criminal activities by unlawful paramilitary groups within the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [hereafter ‘DNR’, ‘LNR’]. 

Fighting for the ‘Russian World’

The report clearly identifies the major role played by unlawful armed groups who “under the banners of the Russian Orthodox Army and the Cossack Army, openly manifest their adherence to orthodoxy and have begun a ‘crusade’ across the Donbas region’.

While conflicts have arisen between differing armed formations, especially in ‘LNR’, this adherence to a specific form of Orthodoxy and political ideas around this is largely shared by all pro-Russian militants. 

According to the ‘DNR’ ‘constitution’, issued on May 16, 2014 “the leading and dominant faith is the Orthodox faith ... as professed by the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). The historical heritage and role of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) are recognized and respected, including as a main pillar of the Russian World doctrine ".

This concept of a supposed ‘Russian World’ – encompassing Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, as well as Russia itself – has been repeatedly endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.

These armed fighters, and the position of the militants in general, as seen in their ‘constitution’ have had a profound impact on the areas under militant control, with attacks on churches, abductions and torture of representatives of other churches, the murder of four members of an evangelical church in Sloviansk in June 2014, and the prohibition of religious practice other than that linked with the Moscow Patriarchate.

The authors of the report note that the Russian Orthodox Church, like the Kremlin, denies any role in stirring up the conflict in Ukraine.  They point however to increasing “evidence of close ties between the Moscow Patriarchate and the pro-Russian cause”.

Halya Coynash

Journalist held hostage by Kremlin-backed militants for 9 months

30-year-old Luhansk journalist Maria Varfolomeyeva remains in captivity 9 months after being seized by Kremlin-backed militants from the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.  Earlier the militants had threatened her with a 15-year ‘sentence’ on charges chillingly similar to those which Moscow brought against Nadiya Savchenko after she was captured by the militants and taken to Russia by force.  The threats against Varfolomeyeva seem to have subsided, but there is still no progress on obtaining her release, with the negotiations having been disrupted for a tragic reason earlier this year.

Natalya Okhotnikova, Kharkiv Human Rights Group lawyer, explains that Yury Hukov, journalist working for KHPG, had been trying to arrange the journalist’s release via his former wife, Hanna Samelyuk.  She was killed on May 23 this year while travelling in the same car as Kremlin-backed militant Alexei Mozgovoi.  Now any negotiations have to be through volunteer organizations and the state-run groups involved in organizing exchanges. Okhotnikova says that this is an extremely difficult process, with any inept interference able to shatter the framework for exchange agreements thus far built up.

She adds that it’s much harder to obtain the release of a civilian since it’s difficult to find somebody to exchange them for.  At the moment, KHPG’s main task is to ensure that Varfolomeyeva is not removed from the exchange list.  The journalist’s disappearance has also been added to Ukraine’s single list of criminal proceedings and the relevant applications have been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights, she says.  The problem with the latter measures is, of course, that they hold no weight with the militants who are holding the young woman hostage.

As reported, Maria Varfolomeyeva was captured on Jan 9, and has now been held hostage longer than any journalist so far.  In May a number of journalist NGOs 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.  The SBU have said that they are working towards her release, but with no success

The militants keep changing the conditions for her release. According to Konstantin Reutsky, a rights activist originally from Luhansk, they 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 reneged. 

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. 

The militants – and, typically, Russia’s Life News, have both subjected Maria to ‘interviews’, which will, we hope, one day be used as evidence of methods of torture and psychological pressure used by the Kremlin’s proxies in Donbas. More details here: Desperate plea from Luhansk hostage facing 15-year ‘sentence’


Freedom of expression

Ukraine shoots itself in the foot with unexplained sanctions

With Ukraine facing such clear threats to its national security, it should not be letting incompetent officials compound the dangers  The Foreign Ministry began drawing up a list of individuals and entities to face sanctions back in February this year.  There was, therefore, plenty of time for the Ministry and the National Security and Defence Council [NSDC] to have done their homework and avoided predictable fallout from an inept list.   The fiasco is especially frustrating as it has effectively blurred legitimate objections to the role of media workers, mostly from Russia, whose coverage of events in Donbas, for example, has nothing to do with journalism. 

44 journalists and bloggers were included in the list of people who supposedly pose a threat to Ukraine’s national security.  NSDC has now announced that the three BBC journalists, as well as one German and two Spanish journalists are to be taken off the list.  The damage caused by their manifestly unwarranted inclusion cannot now be rectified so easily.  There is no trust that the same vague and unsubstantiated claims against other journalists on the list are justified.  Nor, it would seem, that the journalists even exist.  According to, three Latvian journalists included in the list are in fact pseudonyms of other Vesti Today journalists. 

There were statements on Thursday from both Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemning Ukraine’s move and demanding that all sanctions against journalists be removed.

CPJ, for example, asserted that “while the government may not like or agree with the coverage, labelling journalists a potential threat to national security is not an appropriate response. In fact, this sweeping decree undermines Ukraine’s interests by blocking vital news and information that informs the global public about the country’s political crisis."

At the beginning of the conflict in Donbas, Mijatović condemned any attempts to restrict the activities of Russian journalists in Ukraine.  Later she acknowledged  that journalists were engaged in dangerous propaganda and that the governments behind this should be ‘named and shamed’. 

Many Ukrainians would question whether the activities of reporters from certain Russian propaganda channels can legitimately be considered journalism.  That view would be endorsed by former employees of some pro-Kremlin channels who recently described the role they played in what was openly called a no-holds-barred information war and ‘propaganda machine’.  We are not dealing with a legitimate presentation of alternative views where material is deliberately manipulated or falsified in order to claim that, for example, Ukraine's army is "carrying out genocide against the Donbas population" or that radicals deliberately burned people alive in the Trade Union building in Odesa on May 2, 2014.   This is standard fare on many Russian television channels with such lies being used to justify Russia's aggression against Ukraine and, in many cases, to con young men into fighting on the Kremlin-backed militants' side.

The problem is not per se the inclusion of journalists on the list but the lack of any rationale about who is on it and who omitted.  The list of journalists, for example, does not include Yulya Chumakova who gained notoriety in July 2014 for her ‘interview’ of an alleged refugee who claimed to have witnessed the crucifixion of the three-year-old son of a militant.  The fake refugee gave a number of details about Sloviansk which proved she was not from there, and the story was not backed by any evidence, but was presented entirely uncritically as yet another heinous crime committed by Ukrainians.  

Oksana Romanyuk from the Institute for Mass Information, therefore, agrees that all journalists now on the list should be removed, but she believes that the list should then be reviewed with representatives of the media and media experts.

The packaging of this list all around could not have been more incompetent.  In some cases, for example, the fact that a person is a journalist is largely irrelevant.  Magdelena Tasheva is listed as a Bulgarian journalist which she may well be, but it is not the reason for sanctioning her.  Tasheva was part of a delegation from Bulgaria’s extreme right Ataka party which visited Crimea in February and publicly assured Crimean officials of their party’s recognition and support for Crimea “as part of the Russian Federation”.  

Such visits are in breach of Ukrainian legislation and it seems reasonable to impose sanctions.  The same applies to all of those, journalists, politicians or others who supposedly ‘observed’ the pseudo-referendum on Crimea in March 2014, in Donbas in May 2014 and ‘elections’ in the Kremlin-backed ‘republics’ in early November 2014.  There must, however, be consistency, with all involved facing sanctions.   If, as has been suggested, people have ended up on the list because they crossed a border into occupied territory illegally, then this needs to be clearly stated so that others know what will incur sanctions.  At the moment, unfortunately, it’s anybody’s guess.    

Many of the Russians on the list – such as State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin; Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of Russia Today Dmitry Kiselyov – are there with good cause, yet even here there is no full consistency.  As journalist Vahtang Kipiani pointed out, if only one Russian deputy Ilya Ponomaryov voted against Russia’s forced annexation of Ukraine’s territory, why are the others not all under sanctions?  

For the moment Ukraine’s security officials have demonstrated that anybody can end up included or omitted from the list, and it will take more now than merely backtracking on 6 journalists to counter the blow that this has dealt the country’s reputation.

Deported peoples

Russia Threatens to Ban Crimean Tatar Mejlis as extremist while claiming ‘it doesn’t exist’

     CRIMEA IS OURS - this catch cry behind Russia’s annexation of Crimea is restored its correct use  in this image by Oleksy Kustovsky.  

The Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative assembly could face a ban, making it illegal in the Russian Federation and Russian-occupied Crimea.  The threat comes just days after the media in Crimea was informed that the Mejlis does not legally exist and “strongly advised” not to give it any coverage.  And after an attempt to have a prominent Crimean Tatar figure taken into custody on spurious charges.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Sept 24 that the Mejlis could be banned within the Russian Federation.  It quoted Ruslan Balbek, deputy prime minister of the de facto government as its source for highly distorted information.  The Mejlis is described as headed by Ukrainian MPs Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Dzhemiliev « who left the peninsula ».  Neither man left: 71-year-old Mustafa Dzhemiliev, veteran Crimean Tatar leader, former Soviet political prisoner, and twice nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, was banned from his homeland within two months of Russia’s invasion, and Refat Chubarov, Head of the Mejlis – in early July. The  Deputy Head of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz has been in detention on legally absurd charges since January this year.  His detention is part of a long-standing offensive against the Mejlis, which has refused to buckle under and cooperate with the Russian occupation regime.  

Both Dzhemiliev and Chubarov are among the Crimean Tatar initiators of the present blockade of Crimea which is preventing trucks carrying commercial loads from entering the peninsula.  They plan to continue the blockade until very specific rights-linked demands are met.  These include the release of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov and other Ukrainians whom Russia is holding illegally; an end to repressive measures against Crimean Tatars and to the stifling of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian media.  The blockade is backed by a number of Ukrainian organizations including the far-right-wing Right Sector which is now banned as ‘extremist’ in Russia.

Balbek claimed that “Dzhemiliev and Chubarov’s organization” is carrying out destructive activities against the people and called them “parasites who, using patriotic slogans, destroy their own country and pose a threat to others. If these figures continue to engage in extremist activities, and also hold join protests with organizations banned in the RF, they will achieve a ban on their activities”. 

He asserted that these “professional Crimean Tatars » as he saw fit to call the two internationally respected Crimean Tatar leaders, and Right Sector are all financed « by western funds » and have one paymaster.

Revenge for the blockade or pretext?

The blockade, which began on Sept 20, is already having an impact, and there are suggestions that Crimea may limit its own export of produce to Russia to avoid an expected sharp increase in prices.  

The blockade nearly had another impact as well on Tuesday Sept 22 during the latest court hearing in the dubious prosecution of Tair Smedlyaev, brother of a prominent figure in the Crimean Tatar Qurultay or National Congress.  Smedlyaev is charged over the peaceful protest on May 3, 2014 at the Armyansk crossing into Crimea after the ban against Mustafa Dzhemiliev was imposed.  Both the May 3 case, and the specific prosecution of Smedlyaev, are widely seen as attempts to intimidate Crimean Tatars.  Smedlyaev was held in custody for two months late last year, but then released on a signed undertaking.  On Tuesday, the prosecution suddenly tried to have him remanded in custody again, claiming that “Smedlyaev is continuing to promote the forming of a positive image of Dzhemiliev; Chubarov; Bariyev [Eskender Bariyev - coordinator of the Crimean Tatar Rights Committee] among the Crimean Tatar and pro-Ukrainian population, and their actions which show elements of extremism aimed at violating the integrity of the Russian Federation”.

Judges in both Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea are notoriously loath to disagree with the prosecutor, but but this nonsense was too much for Judge Larissa Likhacheva who rejected the application.

Members of the occupation regime have not coordinated their stories.  On Sept 22, it was learned that Natalya Poklonskaya, the de facto prosecutor had effectively warned the media against mentioning the Mejlis.  Not, however, because the Mejlis is ‘extremist’, but because it officially does not exist.   On the basis of her letter, Crimea media were “strongly advised … to stop using the name or parts of the name of non-existent organizations in news, articles, and interviews.”   It is true that the Mejlis has never been acknowledged full official status, but it is undoubtedly the Crimean Tatar self-governing body, recognized by the vast majority of Crimean Tatars.  Attempts to treat it like some kind of NGO, and still more to ban it, are insulting and confirm the worst fears about Russian occupation. 

It seems possible also that Russia or its proxies in Crimea have seized on the opportunity to link the Mejlis with Right Sector which the Russian Investigative Committee and pro-Kremlin media have been demonizing since Euromaidan. Attempts to lump the two together and label both as ‘extremist’ organizations are impossible to take seriously given the offensive against the Mejlis that began shortly after annexation.  Constant ‘warnings’ about supposed ‘extremism’; arrests, armed searches and interrogations of Crimean Tatars have all become standard practice against the Mejlis which has continued to use such hurtful vocabulary as ‘invasion’ and ‘occupation’ and to insist that Crimea is Ukraine.

If the first measures were directed against Crimean Tatar leaders and prominent activists, a major offensive against the Mejlis itself began in September 2014.  On Sept 16, just two days after pseudo elections which the Mejlis had called on Crimean Tatars to boycott, armed men appeared at the Mejlis building in the centre of Sevastopol and blocked access while the FSB spent 11 hours carrying out a search.  Having failed to find anything ‘incriminating’, a new pretext for the offensive was presented the following day.  Bailiffs turned up with a court writ giving the Mejlis and the Crimea Fund – the charity which owns the building – 24 hours to vacate the premises (See: Crimean Tatar Mejlis given 24 hours to leave). 

Then on Jan 29, 2015, Akhtem Chiygoz, the most senior figure in the Mejlis following the ban on Chubarov and Dzhemiliev, was arrested and has been held in custody ever since.  The charges are breathtakingly lawless since they pertain to a protest that took place prior to annexation over which Russia, even according to its own legislation, has no jurisdiction (see: Russia breaches own law to imprison Crimean Tatar leader).

After initial attempts to woo Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the Mejlis failed, the occupation regime has resorted to both repression and attempts to undermine the authority of the Mejlis and install malleable people, loyal to the Russian occupation regime, in top Mejlis posts.  It can try to use the involvement of Right Sector as a pretext, but the fact will remain that the Mejlis’ ‘extremism’ lies in their demands that fundamental rights are observed in Crimea, and their affirmation that they are in their – Ukrainian Crimean – homeland. 

News from the CIS countries

’A Politician Can’t Be Afraid’: Russian Lawmaker Loses Seat After Taking On Governor, Kremlin

A lawmaker in Russia’s north-western Pskov region known for his relentless criticism of the Kremlin has been expelled from the local legislature, a move denounced by the opposition as politically motivated.

The Pskov regional assembly overwhelmingly voted to strip Lev Shlosberg, a member of the Yabloko opposition party, of his mandate. 

Critics accuse him of unlawfully defending his NGO in court after authorities declared it a "foreign agent" under a controversial new law.

During the September 24 vote, lawmakers called Shlosberg a "mouthpiece of the [U.S.] State Department" and said he "betrayed" Crimean residents.  

Shlosberg has strongly criticized Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

He was severely beaten up by unidentified assailants last year after publishing an investigative report into the death of two Pskov paratroopers suspected of having been killed while fighting Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine. 

Shlosberg denounces the vote as yet another attempt to silence him.

"My political relationships with the governor, with the United Russia party, and with its representatives at the regional parliament are extremely strained, " he tells RFE/RL (read full interview, in Russian). "Over the course of my four years in parliament, we’ve had violent political clashes several times a year. This is why these people, at the governor’s initiative, organized this bid to force me out."

Shlosberg says prosecutors called for the vote over his battle in court last year to scratch his nongovernmental organization, Vozrozhdenie (Revival), from the list of groups labelled as "foreign agents" under a controversial new law.

Prosecutors argue that Shlosberg’s status as a lawmaker barred him from defending the organization in court, an action they say justifies his exclusion from the legislature.

Shlosberg insists that his court appearance was lawful, as confirmed by a court of first instance, and dismisses the vote as politically motivated.

Despite Pskov lying far from Moscow’s corridors of power, Shlosberg’s bold and pointed criticism of the authorities has drawn nationwide attention.

’Rampant Corruption’

The lawmaker has been a long-time detractor of Andrei Turchak, the Pskov region’s powerful governor and a member of the ruling United Russia party, whom he accuses of overseeing rampant corruption and abuse of office.

Last year, Shlosberg accused Turchak of sabotaging his 2014 electoral campaign for Pskov governor, calling him a "coward" -- an insult Shlosberg suspects deeply rankled the governor.

"I called him a coward, " he recalls. "Publicly, before the entire region, I told him that he got scared of competing against me in elections."

Turchak, in turn, has described Shlosberg and his Yabloko colleagues as part of a "fifth column" colluding with Western powers to undermine Russia’s interests.

Shlosberg has also ruthlessly picked holes in Kremlin policies.

He has poured scorn on Russia’s decision to ban the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, condemned the annexation of Crimea, and accused the government of lying to Russians about its involvement in the conflict pitting pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces against each other in eastern Ukraine.

To add weight to his claims, Shlosberg has conducted investigations into the actions of political leaders both in Pskov and Moscow through his newspaper, the independent Pskovskaya Gubernaya.

In August 2014, the newspaper published a report on the death of two Pskov paratroopers suspected to have been killed while fighting Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine.

The report, which challenged Moscow’s denials that it is lending direct support to the separatists, caused a stir in Russia.

Several days later, Shlosberg was brutally assaulted by unidentified assailants. Investigators have yet to name any suspects in the attack.

Despite sustaining a severe concussion, head injuries, a broken nose, and numerous cuts and bruises, Shlosberg reiterated his allegations in interviews from his hospital bed.

"Politicians cannot be afraid, " he says. "If a politician shows fear, it severely demoralizes society. The situation in Russia is very grave and very dangerous but we cannot afford to be scared, otherwise we will lose everything."

Kashin Assault

But Shlosberg believes it was a damning report linking Turchak to the near-fatal beating of a prominent Moscow journalist that prompted the move to banish him from parliament.

Earlier this month, Pskovskaya Gubernaya became the first newspaper in the Pskov region to publish new evidence suggesting that the governor ordered the assault on Oleg Kashin.

Kashin had criticized Turchak in his blog two months before the beating, accusing him of using his father’s close ties to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to clinch his appointment as Pskov governor in 2009.

The journalist had later dismissed Turchak’s demands for an apology.

"Maybe the fact that the newspaper broke the information blockade and wrote about all the new details of the investigation was the last drop, " Shlosberg says.

The chances for Shlosberg to retain his regional parliamentary seat appear slim. His detractors need to gather 23 out of 44 votes to secure his exclusion. United Russia, Turchak’s party, has 28 lawmakers in Pskov’s regional assembly.

But Shlosberg has no intention of going down without a fight. If expelled, he pledges to wage a legal battle to have the decision overturned.

"I will prove myself right in court, " he says. "That’s what civilized people do"

Russia’s opposition rallies in Moscow following much criticized elections

Thousands of Russian opposition activists and their supporters rallied in Moscow, in the wake of regional elections that saw the ruling party trouncing opposition candidates in voting criticized as rigged.

The protest, called A Meeting to Change Power, was the first in many months to publicly challenge President Vladimir Putin’s government, but it drew far fewer numbers than organizers had hoped for -- between 2000-4, 000, by several unofficial estimates. 

Held in a southern district of the Russian capital, well outside the center, it featured many from the country’s beleaguered and fractious opposition, with attendees waving Russian flags and the flags of the coalition group called Parnas.

Many held signs referring to the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down near the Kremlin in February. Other signs read “Putin is a Tsar; He is a Bureaucrat” and “Enough of the Lies and Stealing.”

“We will continue to tell people about corruption and thievery because this is our country. This is our civic obligation, ” Ilya Yashin, a longtime activist, told the crowd. 

The Kremlin-backed United Russia political party, which dominates the country’s political system, won convincingly in the September 13 voting to choose governors and regional and municipal parliaments in more than two dozen regions. 

Some opposition groups had hoped for a decent showing in the region of Kostroma, northeast of Moscow, but later complained that they were allowed to run there only so that United Russia could win a decisive victory there and discredit them.

Golos, an independent election watchdog, said in a report after the vote that the overall election demonstrated the lack of political competition and showed the government’s control over the results.

“The results of most campaigns were predetermined by the incumbents and electoral commissions at the stages of candidate registration and campaigning, ” the group said. 

Attendees at the Moscow rally were met with a sizable police presence, including helmeted riot officers, metal detectors, and a helicopter that hovered over the crowd.

At one point, a multistory banner, which hung from one of the towering apartment blocks ringing the square, mocked the organizers and their slogan saying We Want to Change the Opposition.

Though the United Russia party has suffered in the past amid perceptions of corruption, President Vladimir Putin remains hugely popular with approval ratings well above 80 percent, according to some independent polls. 

National parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year, while the next presidential vote will be held in 2018. 

Putin, who is eligible to run for the six-year presidency again, has not yet said if he will be a candidate, though many experts predict he will. 

With reporting from Reuters

Russian captured in Ukraine exchanges emotional greetings with parents back home

Russians Aleksandr Aleksandrov (left) and Yevgeny Yerofeyev were detained by Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.

Aleksandr Aleksandrov hasn’t seen his parents in person in months -- he was captured in May in eastern Ukraine, where he says he was on active duty with the Russian military on a mission to help separatist rebels fighting against Kyiv’s forces.

But now, Aleksandrov has exchanged emotional videotaped messages with his anxious mother and father, courtesy of a Russian journalist who knocked on their door in the remote Russian village of Rozhki, in the Kirov region about 1, 000 kilometers east of Moscow.

Pavel Kanygin, a special correspondent with the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, has posted videos of two visits to the home of Aleksandrov, whose capture added to mounting evidence of a direct Russian role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

Kanygin first travelled to Rozhki in late August to tell the Aleksandrovs, Anatoly and Zinaida, about their son. The parents, recognizing the journalist who had interviewed their son in Ukraine, were immediately suspicious.

"This is a traitor, " Anatoly, Aleksandrov’s father, said. "Who let you come here? You are working for Ukraine and America, you are working for the other side."

Kanygin was eventually invited inside, but the first hour of conversation was held in raised voices. Kanygin writes that Anatoly discreetly turned on a voice recorder, trying not to attract the journalist’s attention.

But Aleksandrov’s parents seemed to warm up slightly to Kanygin, even sharing a meal of dumplings and garden vegetables with the journalist. "I would love to talk to him, " Zinaida, Aleksandrov’s mother, said of her son.

Kanygin offered to record a video message for Aleksandrov. 

After arriving in Kyiv and getting permission from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), the journalist showed the recorded greeting to Aleksandrov -- whom he calls Sasha, short for Aleksandr. "He doesn’t take his eyes off the screen, " Kanygin writes. "He is blinking, barely restraining himself, then he laughs when his father talks about potatoes."

The journalist then recorded a video message from Aleksandrov to his parents and his wife, Katya. "Well, tell everyone that I miss them, " he says. "That I am very happy that everything is fine, that you are not sick, that everything is fine at home. I miss Katya. I love her very much. I believe she’ll wait for me, " Aleksandrov says in the video. 

Two days later, when Kanygin returned to the sergeant’s home, his parents still met him with "doubts and accusations." But their attitude softened again when they saw their son on video.

"We will love and wait for him no matter what, and we won’t change our opinion" Anatoly tells Kanygin. "Whatever he decides, he is our son."

"If you publish this story, it will probably help all of us, " Zinaida adds.

Aleksandrov and another Russian, Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured and detained on May 16 in Luhansk Oblast and accused of terrorism. The SBU claims the two men have admitted to being part of a sabotage and reconnaissance group helping pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Despite ample evidence, Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied that Moscow has sent soldiers into eastern Ukraine, where the conflict has killed more than 6, 500 people since April 2014, and said that any Russians fighting there have gone of their own accord. Russia’s Defense Ministry has said Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev left the military before their capture.

Aleksandrov has adamantly denied that, saying he never resigned from the Russian military and was carrying out orders when he was captured.

Both men are currently awaiting trial in Kyiv.

Moscow, which has long claimed there are no Russian servicemen in Ukraine, says the two men had retired from the military intelligence service before going to Luhansk to join the separatists.

Some officials have spoken of the possibility of exchanging Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev for Nadia Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot jailed in Russia after being captured in eastern Ukraine last year.

"If we must take the path of negotiating an exchange, we will look at this possibility, definitely, " Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told Ukraine’s Channel 5 in a September 7 interview

See also: Moscow prevents captured Russian POWs from contacting their families


Memorial Human Rights Centre fined over ‘foreign agent’ label

On 4 September 2015, magistrates’ court No. 423 in Moscow’s Tver district ruled that the Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) must pay 600, 000 roubles (!) for refusing to apply the label ‘foreign agent’ to materials that were placed on the website of another organization, a correspondent for Kasparov.Ru reported from the courtroom. 

Judge Sergei Komlev found Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) guilty of an administrative violation under Article 19.34, Section 2, of the Administrative Code for disseminating materials without the ‘foreign agent’ label. 

The paradox is that the complaint drawn up by Roskomnadzor, in essence, indicates that the human rights defenders did not put the ‘foreign agent’ label on materials published by another organizations and concerning events organized by others. 

On 30th June the Memorial Human Rights Centre received a warning from the Ministry of Justice that, in not using the descriptor ‘foreign agent’ on two of its documents, ’11 June, Report by Kirill Velikanov, and Discussion’ and ’Society can regenerate itself, ’ it had infringed the law on non-profit organizations. 

As the representatives of Memorial Human Rights Centre explained, both these documents were placed on the website of the International Memorial Historical, Educational, Human Rights and Charitable Society, prepared by staff of the International Society, and included under events organized by the International Society (as an organization). No one from the Memorial Human Rights Centre, either as a representative or in an individual capacity, participated in these events. 

As the senior lawyer acting for Memorial, Kirill Koroteev, explained: ‘Although these organizations occupy one premises and collaborate with one another, they have, however, different statutes and dates of registration in the register of legal entities.’ Kirill Koroteev also stressed that Memorial Human Rights Centre and International Memorial Society are different organizations. 

At the same time, Kirill Koroteev pointed out, if various materials are published on a single website, this fact does not mean that they are being disseminated by the same organization. The human rights defenders asked the court to dismiss the case against them. 

 ‘There has been an obvious bureaucratic mistake by the Ministry of Justice and this mistake was sent to Roskomnadzor, and then proceeded to court. And this mistake is covered up by five paragraphs of very strange reasoning, ’ a perplexed Aleksandr Cherkasov, chair of Memorial Human Rights Centre, said. ‘They are trying to foist on us someone else’s material and someone else’s event. And they demand that we put the "foreign agent" label on all this.’ 

‘We don’t refuse to take responsibility for our actions, but they are forcing us to take decisions and take responsibility for another legal entity. This is complete nonsense. We are taking part in a farce, ’ Aleksandr Cherkasov stressed. 

According to Kirill Velikanov, a witness in the case, he was not invited to Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) and did not speak there. ‘This organization has no relationship at all with my paper or my presentation.’ 

Immediately after the first prosecution, a second case against Memorial Human Rights Centre was brought. This concerned a second complaint relating to a second publication belonging to another organization that Memorial Human Rights Centre did not label, the human rights defenders point out. 

‘Since all our requests related to the second administrative case against us were rejected, our lawyer Kirill Koroteev declared that the principle of equality of arms has been violated. The judge had taken on himself the role of the prosecution by not allowing the officials who had drawn up the official complaint to be summoned to the court, and therefore ceased to act in the role of a judge. Kirill Koroteev asked for the judge to be recused. The judge thought this over in his retiring room and decided that he would not recuse himself, ’ Memorial Human Rights Centre reported on Facebook. 

The judge also fined Memorial Human Rights Centre in relation to the second administrative case – imposing a second fine of 300, 000 roubles. As a result in one, if the expression may be allowed, ‘day of judgment’, the human rights defenders were fined 600, 000 roubles for two publications, neither of which was theirs. 

‘Of course this is a scandal, ’ those who were at the court on 4 September commented on the case. ‘Some “inventor” from the silovik lobby (regime hardliners – ed.) thought all of this up to close down Russia’s human rights defenders using financial means….’ 

International Memorial Society has made clear its views concerning the law on foreign agents in a special statement: ‘[...] The very notion of the law on foreign agents in essence has nothing in common with the rule of law. This law does not resolve a single issue. The purposes of those who proposed the law were strictly political and related to on-going political developments, and the language used in the law obviously makes for legal uncertainty.The law on foreign agents for all intents and purposes introduces a presumption of guilt in relation to an artificially identified group of organizations [...].’ 

Russian NGOs have regularly expressed their disagreement with the law and have brought an application against it to the European Court of Human Rights. The human rights defenders stress that the law is clearly discriminatory in nature and has extremely negative historical connotations. 

However, discrimination against independent non-profit organizations in Russia continues.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2015, #09