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

Ukraine’s leaders continue to stall on International Criminal Court

   RUSSIAN WORLD - NO RIGHTS,  WHO IS NEXT?  Protest outside Russian Embassy in Kyiv on Human Rights Day (Dec 10)

Ukraine’s leaders are continuing to drag their feet on formally recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court [ICC] in the Hague.  Constitutional amendments tabled in parliament by President Petro Poroshenko finally enable ratification, yet bafflingly delay this by a further three years from when the law is published.

This is one of several significant failings pointed out by human rights activists in the proposed amendments to Ukraine’s Constitution regarding the justice system. The Human Rights Agenda, an initiative uniting various human rights organizations, has set out specific concerns regarding the constitutional amendments proposed, with the issue of jurisdiction of international courts in first place.

The law proposes addition of the following sentence as paragraph 6 of Article 124 of the Constitution : « Ukraine can recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court according to the conditions set out by the Rome Statute of the ICC”.

This simple sentence is all that is need to remove current obstacles to ratification, and according to one of the activists Oleksandra Matviychuk, politicians have already boasted about this supposed new step towards compliance with the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.  They do not mention the planned delay which places compliance in question.  The hitch is in the Final and Transitional Provisions which state that the law comes into force three months after its publication except paragraph six of Article 124 which takes force only three years after publication.

The Human Rights Agenda points out that such a delay is totally unjustified, especially given that the ICC has already begun a preliminary investigation of the situation since Feb 20, 2014. 

As reported, on September 8 this year Ukraine lodged a formal submission to the International Criminal Court accepting the Court’s jurisdiction to investigate possible war crimes committed since Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and the military conflict in Donbas.  Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute enables a State not party to the Statute to accept the exercise of jurisdiction of the Court.  

This is the second declaration under article 12(3) of the Statute lodged by Ukraine. On 17 April 2014, Ukraine lodged a declaration under the same article accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC over alleged crimes committed on its territory from 21 November 2013 to 22 February 2014.

In an article for Dzherkalo Tyzhnya, Matviychuk calls the proposed 3-year delay extraordinary and wonders whether Ukraine’s government is hoping to retain the option of revoking it’s declarations and stopping the investigation.  If so, she warns, this retrograde step, worthy only of an undemocratic regime, would block all doors to the EU. 

The human rights activists point out that there are other possibilities for international justice which the draft amendments have failed to include.  The UN Security Council, for example, recently considered creating an international tribunal over the downing of the Malaysian airliner MH17 over Kremlin-backed militant-controlled territory in Donbas.   Those moves were supported by Ukraine and other countries, but blocked by Russia.  The Human Rights Agenda warns that if the Constitution only mentions ICC, that Ukraine will have problems recognizing the jurisdiction of such international tribunals.  It therefore proposes a broader scope, with the wording as follows:

“Ukraine recognizes the jurisdiction of international courts created in accordance with international agreements which Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada has recognized as binding, or in accordance with the decisions of international organizations to which Ukraine is a party”. 

At present the constitutional amendments proposed will preclude the involvement on special courts of any person who is not a Ukrainian national.  The human rights initiative stresses that the amendments should stipulate that this is “except for cases envisaged by international agreements which Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada has recognized as binding”. 

That will make it possible to create special international courts including judges from other countries. 

What are politicians afraid of?

There have been suggestions that Ukraine does not want to ratify the Rome Statute fearing counter claims from Russia of supposed Ukrainian war crimes in Donbas. 

If this is the case, Ukrainian legislators are seriously underestimating the international judges. 

Russia’s Investigative Committee was recently forced to drop its charges of ‘war crimes’ against Ukrainian Serhiy Litvinov after it was proven that the people he was alleged to have murdered, raped, etc. were figments of the investigators’ imagination.  Litvinov was unfortunate enough to cross the border into Russia because of an acute tooth inflammation and was seized, tortured and remains in detention 18 months later (see: Russia forced to withdraw insane charges against Ukrainian hostage)

The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre has subjected the charges made by Russian investigators against two Ukrainians of war crimes in Chechnya to similar scrutiny and placed in question the alleged crimes and the methods used here also to obtain ‘confessions’   Alexandr Bastrykin, head of the same Investigative Committee has come out with extraordinary allegations about Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk on the basis of the ‘testimony’ tortured out of these men. 

He has also asserted Russia’s supposed ‘universal jurisdiction’ which seriously clashes with the Russian parliament’s recent decision allowing Russia to flout the rulings of international courts.

With respect to ‘witness’ testimony, the use made by Russian propaganda channels of actors, a supposed Sloviansk resident describing the alleged ‘crucifixion’ of the 3-year-old son of a militant on a non-existent square, and numerous other lies make it difficult to believe that Russia really has accumulated credible evidence. 

Unlike Russia, Ukraine is not denying Ukraine’s obligations under international law.  Its leaders, however, would gain credibility if they stopped offering half-measures as though they had something to fear.  


New Zaporizhya paid ‘separatist’ stunt linked with close Putin associate

    Photo: - Putin with Viktor Medvedchuk with the ’Ukrainian Choice’ logo in the background

Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] has disrupted a ‘separatist congress’, reportedly planning to declare a so-called ‘Zaporizhya people’s republic’ and demand ‘special status’ for the Zaporizhya oblast.  The analogy with the Kremlin-backed ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ is disturbing, as is the reported link with Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

There is no information at present on the SBU site to back the initial report and video broadcast by TSN.  The reports say only that the SBU confirmed that searches had been carried out, but refused to give further information.  

TSN reports that the congress was planned by ex-socialists linked with Viktor Medvedchuk.  The SB carried out searches of the homes and offices of the congress organizers on Saturday, Dec 12, and four people, including Sergiy Kuzmenko, a former MP from the Socialist Party, were taken away for questioning.  . 

As with previous ‘congresses’, ‘separatist protests’, etc., it seems money was offered the participants.  Around a thousand people were invited, with each promised 200 UAH.  Whether they would have received their money is not clear, since the SBU had already intervened.  Those who arrived were told only that the congress had been called off and that they would later be told when and where the new one was to take place.  Most of those present who spoke with TSN journalists had no idea what was to be discussed at the ‘congress’, and had heard nothing of any demands for ‘special status’.  

According to TSN’s sources, the congress was the work of an organization called ‘Social Zaporizhya’ which has close links with Medvedchuk.  Members have on a number of occasions travelled abroad, TSN reports, to meet with the ideologues of ‘Ukrainian Choice’, Medvedchuk’s party. 

Medvedchuk has rather disappeared from the public eye since his highly controversial participation in the negotiations with Kremlin-backed Donbas militants in the summer of 2014. 

Medvedchuk was one of the first people against whom the USA imposed sanctions back on March 17 “for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine”.  He was also targeted for having “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support to Yanukovych”. Medvedchuk’s Ukrainian Choice party was deemed by the USA to be undermining democratic processes in Ukraine. 

His appearance at all, and German chancellor Angela Merkel’s apparent interest in giving him official status at peace negotiations in June 2014 raised considerable concern in Ukraine.  Medvedchuk is known to be a good friend of Putin’s, and was closely associated with the regime  of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, now in hiding in Russia. 

It was not at all clear who he and Nestor Shufrych, a person with a no better reputation in Ukraine, were representing at the meetings. 

The authoritative newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya reported at the time that a source close to Yanukovych had told them that Putin’s insistence on Medvedchuk’s role in the negotiations was partly aimed at getting Medvedchuk back into Ukrainian politics, by first making him governor of the Donetsk oblast, then bringing him back into parliament.  Shufrych would be given governorship of the Luhansk oblast.  These appointments, the source claimed, would be agreed at confidential discussions between Poroshenko and Putin.  It was asserted that Merkel had been brought in to clean up Medvedchuk and his party’s reputation. 

Both were certainly tarnished enough.  The party’s website is notorious for anti-Semitic articles.  A particularly extreme example from 10.12.2013 was entitled “Jews, Jews, there are Jews everywhere” (A screen shot can be found here). The author, Yevgeny Barannik claimed that all power in Ukraine is held by Jews, and “the whole opposition in Ukraine is also Jewish despite some exotic surnames”.  It should be noted that pro-Russian militants repeat both the allegations, and the originally Soviet custom of writing Ukraine’s leaders’ supposedly ‘real’ surnames in brackets.  More about the anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-EU views here Whose anti-Semitic and Homophobic Choice?

Medvedchuk disappeared from the scene after the Malaysian airliner MH17 was downed by a Russian-made Buk missile over militant-controlled territory. 

His involvement and / or that of his party in a ‘separatist congress’ with paid participants would suggest that neither he, nor the Kremlin have given up their attempts to destabilize Ukraine. 

There have been numerous other attempts to create ‘separatist’ movements, so-called ‘people’s republics’ or just fake ‘separatist protests’.  The following is doubtless not an exhaustive list.

Another fake Ukrainian separatist stunt with the trail from Odesa to Moscow

Fake “Ethnic Romanian separatism in Ukraine” for Kremlin’s useful journalists

Separatism’ in Lviv – For Money and Russian Propaganda

Moscow tries a new Polish and Hungarian “separatist” number

Moscow Replays Rusin ‘Separatist’ Card in Ukraine’s Transcarpathia

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

Russia’s crimes in Crimea, not ending sanctions, should be on the West’s agenda,

  Oleksandr Kolchenko, Oleg Sentsov and others imprisoned since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea (protest in Kyiv on Dec 10)

Nobody knows how many people vanished without a trace after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, nor even how many are currently in detention awaiting politically motivated show trials.  Some few political prisoners, like Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, are often mentioned, while others, and there are a number, scarcely at all, although their names are known, as are details of their thoroughly lawless prosecutions. 

There are certainly other parts of the world where rights are violated on a far greater scale. None, however, in a country which 21 years ago was given clear and binding guarantees of security from Russia, the USA and Great Britain.  In accordance with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum these security guarantees were given, it should be stressed, not in exchange for equally stirring assurances from Ukraine, but for its relinquishing a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons.  Had Ukraine not given up these weapons, Russia would not have annexed Crimea nor begun its undeclared war in eastern Ukraine.

US Vice President Joe Biden gave repeated assurances in a speech on Dec 8 while in Ukraine.  The fact that the US does not always talk about Crimea, Biden asserted, does not mean that it’s forgotten.  His words were widely reported, though variously interpreted.  The Crimean activists who held a demonstration outside the Ukrainian President’s Administration on Tuesday evening were clearly bitter about the influence exerted by western countries (which can be assumed to have included America) to pressure Ukraine’s leaders to partially lift the electricity blockade on Crimea despite Russia’s failure to release any of the Crimean political prisoners. 

Gaide Rizayeva, a Crimean Tatar lawyer who was forced into exile and who spent 7 months in Kremlin-backed militant captivity in Donbas, asks why Crimea is not included in the Minsk agreement.  Its inclusion would make it possible to pursue exchanges and the release of Crimean political prisoners. 

There are multiple issues with the Minsk Accords, and many feel that the West is putting too much pressure on Ukraine to make highly contentious concessions while Russia and its proxies continue to ignore their obligations.  The agreements do, nonetheless, provide some kind of leverage, and it is frustrating that Crimea is not even mentioned in either document. 

It is not a question of making Item 1 a demand that Russia end its occupation, however called for that may be.  There are realistic demands that can be made and clearly articulated. 

To an extremely limited extent, this has been done.  On Aug 25, the US State Department condemned the 20- and 10-year sentences passed on Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko, respectively.  It stressed that “both Ukrainians were taken hostage on Ukrainian territory, transported to and imprisoned in Russia, and had Russian citizenship imposed on them against their wills” and that they were targeted because of their opposition to Russia’s forced annexation.  The US again called upon “the Russian Federation to implement the commitments it made in signing the Minsk agreements by immediately releasing Oleh Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Nadia Savchenko, and all other remaining hostages”.

The EU, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and European Parliament have both demanded the release of Sentsov and Kolchenko, while avoiding specifying who else falls under the Minsk agreement which speaks of “all hostages and illegally held persons”. 

Sentsov and Kolchenko must, undoubtedly, be released, but so too must Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy, who were also taken hostage on Ukrainian territory and tortured into testifying against themselves and against Sentsov and Kolchenko. 

Afanasyev found the courage to stand up in court and retract his testimony, stating clearly that he had been tortured into ‘confessing’.  That retraction was ignored in a trial condemned by Russian human rights activists as “absolutely Stalinist”.  Afanasyev has been recognized as a political prisoner by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre, and there have been repeated warnings that he is in danger. 

Whether under the Minsk Accord or elsewhere, it is vital that western countries demonstrate that Crimea remains ‘on the agenda’ by defending the rights of those Crimeans who are currently imprisoned or exiled as a result of Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, as well as demanding a proper investigation into the abductions and disappearances of many others. 

Name them!

There has been a significant deterioration in observance of all rights in Crimea as detailed in numerous reports from international NGOs and western countries.  The Freedom of the Press 2015 report from Freedom House, for example, speaks openly of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and places Russian-occupied Crimea as one of its 10 “worst of the worst.”  The problem with human rights reports is that while they provide undoubtedly valuable information, this gets read by a very limited audience.  Lack of publicity about the many Crimean Tatars and other opponents of Russian occupation who are facing persecution helps Russia and the politicians in the West who are lobbying for an end to sanctions and business as usual with Russia and Crimea under Russian occupation. 

Assurances that Crimea remains on the agenda are quite simply not enough, especially when even the European Union sanctions now in place over Russia’s aggression are being questioned.  Both Ukrainian and western leaders do have levers to defend the victims of Russia’s most flagrant lawlessness.  They should be encouraged to use them.  


The following are brief summaries – please share the links, especially to politicians who lobby for the withdrawal of sanctions. 

Open Lawlessness as Terror against Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz; Ali Asanov; Mustafa Degermendzhy

Oppose Russian Occupation of Crimea & Face 20 Years for ‘Terrorism’

Oleg Sentsov; Oleksandr Kolchenko;  Gennady Afanasyev; Oleksy Chirniy

Russia’s Crimean Victims:  Muslims jailed as ‘terrorists’

Ruslan Zeitullayev, Nuri Primov, Rustem Vaitov and Ferat Saifullayev  

Torture and Legal Thuggery against Maidan Activist

Oleksandr Kostenko   


UN reports reduction in hostilities, but continuing grave human rights concerns

   Photo: ICRC

In a conflict that has claimed more than 9, 000 lives, the last few months have seen a significant reduction of hostilities in certain parts of eastern Ukraine, according to a UN Human Rights report released on Dec 9.  Serious human rights concerns persist, however, including continuing impunity, torture and an absence of the rule of law in the east, as well as a difficult humanitarian situation for those living in the affected areas and for those internally displaced.

The twelfth report by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine states that the “ceasefire within the ceasefire” of 26 August led to a considerable decrease in hostilities, particularly due to the withdrawal of certain heavy weapons by the Ukrainian military and the armed groups. Between 16 August and 15 November, the time period covered by the report, 47 civilians were killed and 131 injured. The total death toll since mid-April last year is at least 9, 098, with another 20, 732 injured. Total figures include civilians, Ukrainian armed forces and armed groups.

The new casualties resulted largely from explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, “underscoring the urgent need for extensive mine clearance and mine awareness actions on both sides of the contact line, ” the report states. There remains, however, an inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from the Russian Federation into the territories controlled by the armed groups, leaving the situation highly flammable.

The report also reveals that serious human rights abuses against people in the territories controlled by the self-proclaimed “Donetsk people’s republic” and “Luhansk people’s republic” continued, including killings, torture, ill-treatment, illegal detention and forced labour, lack of freedom of movement, assembly and expression. Local residents continue to remain without effective protection of their rights. “An estimated 2.9 million people living in the conflict area continued to face difficulties in exercising their economic and social rights, in particular access to quality medical care, accommodation, social services and benefits, as well as compensatory mechanisms for damaged, seized or looted property, ” the report notes, adding that the onset of winter and impediments to the work of humanitarian organisations could worsen the situation.

“The situation for an estimated 800, 000 people living along both sides of the contact line has been particularly difficult, ” the report notes.

The limitations of the freedom of movement of civilians across the contact line, due to the requirements of the January 2015 temporary order issued by the Government, remained one of the major challenges for people living in the conflict-affected areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. As the reports notes, this is leading to an increased sense of isolation for many people, disrupting family and communal links.

The report also cites pervasive self-censorship and the inability of media professionals to exercise their freedom of expression in the east. Restrictions against media professionals by the Ukrainian Government also undermine freedom of expression.

The report also notes that “elements of the Security Service of Ukraine appear to enjoy a high degree of impunity, with rare investigations into allegations involving them.” The report has documented cases of “enforced disappearance, arbitrary and incommunicado detention as well as torture and ill treatment of people suspected of trespassing against territorial integrity or terrorism or believed to be supporters of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.”

Accountability has yet to be achieved for the killing of protestors and other human rights violations committed during the Maidan events in Kyiv between November 2013 to February 2014, the report notes. There has been no progress in ensuring accountability for the death of 48 people during the violence in Odesa in May 2014.

In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the status of which is prescribed by UN General Assembly resolution 68/262, residents continue to be affected by the broad curtailment of their rights due to the application of a restrictive legal framework imposed upon them by the Russian Federation, the report states. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continues to receive allegations of violations of the right to life, liberty, security and physical integrity, as well as fair trial rights and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The report also notes that the trade blockade of Crimea imposed by Ukrainian activists has led to human rights abuses, which were not properly addressed by law enforcement officers.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the absence of the rule of law and legitimate authorities in territories controlled by armed groups, coupled with continuing presence of foreign fighters and sophisticated weaponry, have left people in hardship, with no real protection and no access to redress and justice. 
“Civilians in the conflict-afflicted eastern parts of Ukraine end the year as they began it, in a very difficult humanitarian and human rights situation. Elderly people have no access to their life savings, people with disabilities have little assistance, and reduced access to healthcare has left many in dismal, precarious, even life-threatening situations, ” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“After more than 9, 000 people have lost their lives, the reduction in hostilities, and thus in new casualties, is very welcome. I urge all sides to fully implement the Minsk Agreements and to actively work to ensure the application of the rule of law and international human rights norms everywhere in Ukraine.”

The High Commissioner reminded all involved in the conflict, including those in control of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, that they can be held criminally accountable for the human rights abuses committed in territories under their control. This applies in particular to those with command responsibility.

He noted some progress by the Government of Ukraine in implementing relevant provisions of the Minsk Agreements as well as launching of a National Human Rights Strategy and accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for crimes committed after 20 February 2014. The High Commissioner also urged the authorities to ensure justice and accountability.

#sthash.U08b5ILm.6LJ4dI92.dpuf   (the full report can be downloaded at this link)


’The Day I Killed The Soviet Union’

   Image from Tatyanin Den

December 1 is the happiest day of my life. On this day I killed the Soviet Union. 

I am not a violent person. But on December 1, 1991, I voted in a referendum on the independence of Ukraine, along with more than 90 percent of Ukrainians. 

This was the end of the USSR. I am saying this not because my life immediately became better. In fact, for many of my fellow Ukrainians life became worse, or at least more difficult. 

Nor am I trying to challenge Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who said that the demise of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. God forbid! He may have his own reasons to feel this way. I just want to share my happiness and explain it.

I never liked the Soviet regime. From early childhood one had to learn to be a liar, a hypocrite, to stop being oneself in order to make a career or even to survive. But it was not the kind of regime one bravely stood up to, as you would to a foreign occupation.

I have this constant argument with my Russian husband, who likes to tell me about his relatives who were dying of hunger in besieged Leningrad during World War II. 

I say: true, their suffering was immense. They were holding out against the Nazis, they were treated as heroes -- and rightly so. 

But not all people who were dying of hunger in the Soviet Union were treated as heroes. 

My grandparents and their extended families, who were dying alongside millions of other Ukrainian peasants in the 1930s during the Holodomor, did not receive such an honor. In times of peace they were sentenced to death by, presumably, their own government for being just that: Ukrainian peasants. 

How can I be proud that the Soviet Union liberated Ukraine and half of Europe from the Nazis, if Stalin’s regime killed more people in my family than Hitler’s?

As most young people, I had a thirst for belief. But the communists destroyed religion. They replaced it with a caricature, Marxism-Leninism, in which even its secular priests, party leaders, failed to believe. 

Operating in a country for several generations and using brutal repression as a means of persuasion, they managed to destroy one’s moral compass. Soviet people -- and they did manage to turn some of my countrymen into Soviet people -- had a difficulty in telling right from wrong, because what was right for the regime, was often morally wrong.

This contradiction would eat a person from the inside. A monument to the victims of communism in Prague is a vivid representation of this internal destruction. First, a person whole, then there is crack in him, then the corrosion eats him piece by piece. At the end there is almost nothing left. 

A plaque to the monument says that it is dedicated not only to those who were killed or jailed by the regime, but also to those whose lives were ruined by communist despotism. 

To see what this despotism could do to a society, one needs to look at Ukraine’s politics. For many politicians, what is right is what helps one to survive and reap the immediate benefit. Forget about moral principles, national interest, and personal integrity. 

The consequences of this systematic moral distraction are all too visible in Ukraine, and I am afraid, they will be for many years to come. But the system that caused it and supported it with some of the most inhumane methods in history, died on December 1, 1991. 

It is up to an individual now to recollect that he or she is God’s creature with free will, who can act in a moral way because it is right. Isn’t that a good foundation for happiness?


Against torture and ill-treatment

Torture and Legal Thuggery against Maidan Activist

    Oleksandr Kostenko

Convicted under Russian law of an alleged Euromaidan offence in Ukraine

Ukrainian national, on whom Russia is foisting Russian citizenship

Confession’ extracted through torture retracted as soon as Kostenko received a proper lawyer, yet the retraction was ignored

Refusal to investigate clear evidence of torture and of grave irregularities

Illegally held in a Russian prison

Recognized as a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre

Oleksandr Kostenko is a Ukrainian citizen sentenced by a Russian-occupied Crimean court to 4 years imprisonment over an alleged offence in Kyiv, before Russia invaded and annexed Crimea.  The court ignored considerable evidence that his first ‘confession’ had been tortured out of him, and flagrant infringements of procedure from the moment of his arrest.

Surreal charges

The Ukrainian Euromaidan activist was charged and convicted by a court in Russian-occupied Crimea of slightly injuring a Ukrainian Berkut riot police office in Kyiv on Feb 18, 2014.

The alleged offence was thus in Ukraine and under Ukrainian law.  The court lacked any jurisdiction for such a prosecution, and the charges were not just unproven, but fundamentally unprovable.

Despite this, Kostenko was convicted of having deliberately aimed a cobble stone at V.V. Poliyenko, an officer of the Crimean Berkut special force unit.  This had allegedly resulted in Poliyenko receiving an injury “in the form of a large haematoma on the left shoulder”.

Kostenko was supposed to have been motivated by “a feeling of ideological hatred and enmity to law enforcement officers”.

Since the Berkut officer had not been a Russian national at the time of the alleged incident, there was no possibility of keeping Kostenko in detention and then imprisoning him.  Kostenko was therefore later also accused of ‘”unlawfully obtaining, keeping or carrying the main parts of a firearm”).  The investigators claimed to have found a rifle barrel when searching his home. 

Not one of the official witnesses of the search confirmed that weapons were found in Kostenko’s flat.  The investigators claimed that Kostenko’s father, Fedir Kostenko had identified the gun barrel as belonging to his son.  They also claim, however, that it was Kostenko Senior who gave permission for the search.

Fedir Kostenko disappeared shortly after this in circumstances which also arouse concern.

Detention, torture

Kostenko is a former police officer, who took part in Euromaidan from December 2013.  He asserts that he was abducted in Kyiv in February 2015, and taken by force to Russian-occupied Crimea.

He was officially detained on Feb 6, but he and witnesses assert that he was held by  FSB [Russian Security Service[ officers in Simferopol from Feb 5, 2015. 

During those 24 hours he received multiple injuries, including a broken arm.  The only ‘lawyer’ present was one appointed by the investigators, and a ‘confession’ was obtained from Kostenko, as well as a statement that he had been beaten on the street by unidentified individuals. 

Kostenko retracted all such ‘confessions’ as soon as he was able to see to a real lawyer, and Sotnikov has since repeatedly endeavoured to get criminal investigations initiated over both the initial torture, and ongoing ill-treatment of his client while he was held in detention.  Appeal proceedings against the refusal to investigate evidence of torture were simply ‘terminated’.

Contempt for procedure, for Kostenko’s right to a fair trial  

The court ignored Kostenko’s retraction of his initial ‘confessions’, despite the ample evidence of ill-treatment.  Judge Mozhelyansky from the Kiyevsky District Court in Simferopol took only the original ‘confession’ and first interrogation into account and found Kostenko guilty of both charges, and sentenced him to four years imprisonment.  The court of appeal upheld the conviction, but reduced the sentence to 3 years and 11 months.

Kostenko was taken to the Kirov oblast, without his lawyer or his mother who has recognized status as civic defender being informed. 

There have also been unwarranted searches and interrogations of family and friends, and a questionable criminal investigation is currently underway against Kostenko’s brother, Yevhen.

Memorial HRC declared Kostenko a political prisoner in May 2015. 


Please write to Oleksandr Kostenko

If you can write in Russian, then a few words about yourself would be appropriate, but please avoid politics or any mention of Kostenko’s case. 

If Russian is not possible, then even a letter with the following will give an important message to both Oleksandr and the Russian authorities that he is not forgotten.

Добрый день, Олександр!

Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.

Мы о Вас помним.   

Hello, Oleksandr,   I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released.  You are not forgotten. 


613049 Russia, Kirov oblast, Kirovo-Chepetsk, Prison Colony No. 5, Ovranzhnaya St, 16

(ФКУ ИК-5, ул. Овражная 16, г. Кирово-Чепецк, Кировская область,  613049 Россия) 

Костенко Александру Федоровичу,

Russian military & mercenaries directly implicated in torture of Ukrainian prisoners

Ukrainian human rights activists believe that over 87% of Ukrainian soldiers and 50% of civilians taken prisoner by Kremlin-backed, pro-Russian militants in Donbas have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment.  What is more, in over 40% of the so-called ‘interrogations’ and control over them, key roles were played by mercenaries from the Russian Federation or people who identified themselves as Russian military personnel.   

The Coalition ‘Justice for Peace in Donbas’ has released a report entitled “Those who survived Hell”.  The study is based mainly on a survey of 165 people held prisoner by the militants.  In many cases even those who were not themselves tortured report witnessing or hearing the torture of others.  33% of the soldiers, and 16% of civilians had personally witnessed a death as the result of torture.

The results of the Coalition’s study indicate a large number of war crimes which cannot fall under any ‘amnesty’ currently promoted by western leaders as part of a peace deal for the region.  There are separate accounts given by soldiers taken prisoner, and images which the militants themselves posted on the Internet in a video here.

According to groups trying to organize prisoner exchanges, by July 1, 2015, around 2, 500 prisoners had been freed, another 500 remained in captivity.   Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says that over six thousand people have been taken prisoner or disappeared without trace, with the fact of 1500 still unknown.

Oleh Martynenko, one of the authors of the report, notes that the conditions in which prisoners / hostages are held do not meet any international standards.  In two-thirds of the places of imprisonment, there is no medical care available.  Disturbingly, however, the presence of medical staff is no guarantee of greater protection. The researchers found cases where medical workers had taken part in torture, by bringing the victim around in order for the torture to continue. 

Martynenko says that the researchers had not anticipated the high (over 40%) ratio of mercenaries and military from Russia implicated in the torture of prisoners.  This is grounds, he adds, for charging Russia with involvement in war and other crimes.

Anyone is at risk

According to the study, most people taken prisoner by the militants are local residents of areas under militant control, although some are people who were trying to reach relatives or friends, volunteers, etc.   Where people were in the region (or planned to be) temporarily, all had been detained at checkpoints without any explanation.  Most chillingly, residents were taken away from their homes or workplace, without any warrant and often with the militants stealing the person’s property at the same time.  Anyone can be targeted, the Coalition points out.

One person recounts how six men in camouflage gear with St George ribbons and brandishing Kalashnkov rifles burst into his home and knocked his elderly mother who fell.  He was dragged from the sofa and had his arms bound behind his back.  They removed a computer, telephone, wallet and even a bottle of vodka.

Oleksandra Matviychuk explains that people are accused of holding the wrong (pro-Ukrainian) views; of speaking in Ukrainian or having Ukrainian flags and other symbols in their home. Or the militants accuse them of having taken part in Euromaidan or pro-unity marches.  Sometimes they’re accused of photographing strategic places.

Maria Varfolomeyeva, the 30-year-old journalist who had stayed in Luhansk to care for her elderly grandmother, has now been held hostage since January 2015.  The militants even claimed that she had been photographing places where militants were living as an artillery spotter for the Ukrainian army, and threatened her with a 15-year ‘sentence’.  There had been no shelling in Luhansk for months before she was seized.  Negotiations are still underway to try to obtain her release almost 11 months later.

11.5% of civilians detained were women.  50% of these, including women who were pregnant or elderly, had faced ill-treatment. 

See also the harrowing account given by Gaide Rizayeva 7 months in Kremlin-backed militant captivity: "You expect to die every day"

Over 18% of those surveyed had been kicked or punched, and almost 22% beaten with the militants’ rifles.  5.7% had experienced other forms of torture.  These included electric shocks; squeezing people’s toes or fingers with tweezers; multiple bullet wounds using shock pistols or similar; using sharp items to cause injury, etc.

“I was beaten by a man who called himself Oleg Kubrak.  He threatened to rape me, and slashed by arms, legs and neck with a knife”;

“The militants began to hit me with the butt of their machine guns around the head, back, to my arms.  They pulled me arms behind my back.  Each tried to hit me, each tried to grab me by the hair”.

Almost 75% of the civilians taken prisoner had been threatened with firearms or other weapons. 

Russian captors

Of the Ukrainian soldiers and members of volunteer battalions captured, an incredible 83.3% reported that they had been seized as the result of military clashes and with the direct involvement of Russian Federation forces.  The person, nicknamed “Greek” who detained one man even presented a document identifying himself as a special response spetsnaz officer from Moscow.  On another occasion the Russian soldiers did not hide their rank or unit.  One was the commander of the Pskov paratrooper unit which, according to Lev Shlosberg, incurred huge losses in Ukraine.

The study showed that over 87% of Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer fighters captured had faced especially brutal treatment, physical violence, deliberate maiming, as well as humiliation. 

The militants have quite openly demonstrated – as ‘trophies’, and to intimidate others – men they have taken prisoner.  The most notorious occasions were on Ukraine’s Independence Day, Aug 24, 2014, where militants from the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ staged a shameful march through Donetsk of Ukrainian prisoners, and a similar display in January this year. 

Much of the above treatment, as well as documented cases of abductions and extrajudicial executions fall within the scope of the International Criminal Court.  Ukrainian human rights activists are adamant that Ukraine must ratify the Rome Statute as a matter of priority, so that those guilty of grave war crimes can be brought to answer. 


See also:  Sloviansk torture, killings, execution orders, yet still no proper investigation

The right to a fair trial

Disturbing Circus over Detention of UKROP Party Leader Hennady Korban

Human rights groups and lawyers have condemned the latest moves in the prosecution of Hennady Korban, politician and close associate of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky.  Concerns over the totally unacceptable methods used to force Korban from hospital into court and remand him in custody have not been assuaged by the news that even the house arrest restrictions against Olena Lukash, Justice Minister under the regime of Viktor Yanukovych have been removed.  Despite having been on the wanted list over her believed role in crimes against Euromaidan activists, Lukash is charged only with economic crimes.  

Korban was arrested on Oct 31, with the Prosecutor General’s Office and SBU [Security Service] holding a special press briefing at which they called the move a ‘special operation’ against a criminal group and emphatically denied any political motivation.  Korban served as a Deputy Governor of Dnipropetrovsk under Kolomoisky until the latter was removed, having fallen out with President Petro Poroshenko.  He is also the head of the new opposition UKROP Party, which is heavily financed by Kolomoisky, and members of the party reported being subjected to searches that day as well. 

Korban is also a millionaire with a fairly chequered history and specific reputation, so although some asserted that the President was attacking a powerful enemy, others were cautious about jumping to any conclusions.

The charges mentioned related to 2014/15, the period when Korban was deputy to Kolomoisky.  He is accused of kidnapping (Article 349 of the Criminal Code); creating a criminal organization {Article 255 § 1) and appropriation, embezzlement or seizure by abuse of official position (Article 191 § 5)  (details can be found at: Ukrainian political party leader detained). 

After considerable controversy, Korban ended up under house arrest, with this due to end on Dec 31.  The prosecution was demanding that he be placed in detention, claiming that he was “trying to influence the investigation” (one of the grounds in the Criminal Procedure Code for detaining a person). 

The court hearing on whether Korban was to be remanded in custody began on Dec 26 in the Dnipro District Court, however Korban was taken ill and an emergency doctor who, according to UNIAN, was there with Korban, insisted that he needed emergency treatment.  The ambulance was, however, initially prevented from leaving the court territory.  He did finally end up in the Amosov Institute Hospital, with the hearing adjourned until Sunday morning. 

Korban was earlier diagnosed with coronary artery disease.  Kharkiv Human Rights Group lawyer Hanna Ovdiyenko reports that in hospital he had just had a coronary stent placed in the coronary arteries to keep them open and reduce the threat of a heart attack.  This was clearly not the moment to be pulled out of his hospital bed. 

Ovdiyenko writes that at around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, a person from the prosecutor’s office turned up at the hospital and read out a court order for a forensic medical examination.  At midday, this was carried out and confirmed high blood pressure, the need for the treatment given and the fact that Korban could not be discharged in such a state.

She points out that none of the grounds for remanding a person in custody can apply to somebody who is ill and in need of hospital care.  Despite this and the fact that there were still 5 days remaining until the end of Korban’s house arrest, seven hours later he was taken by force to the court. 

There are grave concerns about numerous aspects of that highly specific hearing.  Later in the evening, a bunch of ‘titushki’ or hired thugs burst into the courtroom, and according to UNIAN beat people, including journalists.  They were finally fended off by Korban supporters using a fire extinguisher.  UNIAN reports that the police did nothing and simply watched.  The events can be watched here

While doing nothing to stop the titushki from getting in, the police are reported to have kept out two teams of doctors who had arrived to take Korban to hospital.

Most incredibly, the hearing lasted 30 hours, ending finally with his being remanded in custody.  During this time, Korban was not allowed access to doctors from a private clinic and obstruction was put in the way of his being moved to the resuscitation vehicle.  All of this is in breach of Ukraine’s healthcare legislation, as was the failure to hospitalize Korban after he lost consciousness for over 20 minutes. 

There are clear violations here not only of fundamental norms of Ukrainian legislation, but of the European Convention on Human Rights.  In a statement on the events, KHPG has pointed out that a 30-hour hearing under such circumstances can be considered cruel and inhuman treatment, and potentially places a person’s life in danger.  It calls for Korban’s immediate transfer to hospital.

The statement from the Centre for Civil Liberties was extremely succinct, and left the last words to be added by the reader.  After referring to the court hearing as “the final destruction of the remnants of the justice system”,   the authors wrote “if the court and law enforcement systems are not totally revamped in the near future, then everything …”   Colleagues have, however, noted that in fact the earlier court hearing in November on a restraint measure was entirely fair and in full accordance with the law.

The arrest of an opposition politician is likely to arouse attention in any country, and how much more so in Ukraine, which is all too slowly removing the legacy of politically motivated prosecutions, puppet courts, etc. under Yanukovych. 

At a briefing given by the Prosecutor General’s Office on Dec 29,  supposed evidence of Korban’s guilt and of his corrupt dealings with particular opposition MPs, was presented.  Whether or not the material is genuine, and one of Korban’s lawyers Oksana Tomchuk, says that it is not, the place for presenting it was the court, not a public briefing.  The officials would have done better to have addressed the serious concerns raised by human rights groups and note KHPG’s warning that total disregard for the law demonstrated by the authorities will arouse warranted suspicion that political motives are at play.

Ukraine has been there, and its leaders would do well to remember that this is a road that was emphatically rejected two years ago.   

Law enforcement agencies

Prosecutor suspected of involvement in Odesa May 2 tragedy

The 2 May Group has challenged Odesa’s Regional Prosecutor to investigate allegations that could implicate one of his employees in the concealment of the weapon used by anti-Maidan activist Vitaly Budko [‘Botsman’] during the violent disturbances on May 2, 2014. This is only the latest disturbing development since there are already strong grounds for believing that Budko was helped to escape by a high-ranking police official.    

Ample video footage was available from the outset showing Budko shooting from behind a police cordon, with officers making no attempt to stop him.  The International Advisory Panel, set up by the Council of Europe, recently published a damning report on the investigation into the May 2 events and mentions this scene as an example of the “impression of general passivity” made by the police.  It notes also that “video footage posted on the Internet gave rise to allegations of collusion between some members of the police force and pro-federalism protesters.”

There are two separate videos raising serious questions about the behaviour of Dmytro Fuchedzhy, the former deputy head of the Odesa police who, like Budko, is now in hiding.  At around 17.55,   Fuchedzhy received a slight injury to his hand, but the ambulance doctor insisted that he needed to be evacuated.  In the footage below (from around 1.40) the ambulance door opens, and Fuchedzhy clearly recognizes a person inside who does not give off the impression of being injured.   Fuchedzhy nods and seems to recognize him.  Just as suspiciously, the ambulance does not take a police officer who is clearly badly wounded.  Serhiy Dibrov is one of the journalists in the 2 May Group which formed to carry out a civic investigation into the events.  He was present throughout the events that day, and saw the man inside the ambulance when the door opened.  He is in no doubt that this was Budko.

Budko is believed to have fired the shot which killed Maidan activist and lawyer Ihor Ivanov.  Numerous accounts of the events that day suggest that it was the news of this first death that played a fatal role in the subsequent escalation. 

Specialists from the 2 May Group had earlier demonstrated the lack of substance to claims that Budko was shooting blank bullets.  It remained a mystery, however, what had happened to the ‘Vulcan TK’ automatic rifle he used. 

On the basis of new photographs that have come to light, the Group now believes that the machine gun was removed from the scene in a car which is registered in the name of an employee of the Odesa Regional Prosecutor’s Office. 

The photographs are from Hretska Square and appear to have been taken after 17.00.  On a number of them, you can see a white Niva VA3 2121, parked at the back end of the Bulgarian Cultural Centre.  This was a zone occupied during the confrontation by anti-Maidan activists.  This is easily confirmed, the Group points out, by the St George ribbons and the gear of those surrounding the car.  The car’s driver can be seen both in the driver seat and by the boot with a long-barrelled rifle in his hands. They believe that the weapon wrapped in a bag is a pump rifle.

Several photos show a man easily identified as Budko standing next to the car. On one photo Budko, who is no longer holding his rifle, is speaking with the driver.  In a photo shortly after, Budko is clearly visible and, again, without a rifle.

The 2 May Group established that the Niva was registered in the name of a current employee of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office.  The person claimed that he had earlier sold the car to an old acquaintance via a general power of attorney. 

He claimed to know nothing more about the car, although it remains unclear in that case why he did not simply sell it outright, getting his name removed altogether from the registration papers. 

While the prosecutor’s office employee may be telling the truth, and his name is rightly not given, the 2 May Group points out that the person he allegedly sold the car to, Mikhail Surikov, was one of the leaders of the anti-Maidan [or pro-federalist] tent camp on Kulikovo Pole.  After the separatist protests in the city failed, he fled to Donbas where he became a fighter in the Prizrak battalion of the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.   

The prosecutor’s office employee is also an avid collector of firearms, with at least 12 weapons  officially registered in his name, including a rifle and pump rifle. 

The May 2 Group believes that the Niva was used to take away the weapon used in at least one killing and has publicly addressed specific questions to the Regional Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze,   They ask:

how a car registered in the name of a serving employee of the Regional Prosecutor’s Office should have been in the epicentre of the mass riots, driven by Surikov, a well-known anti-Maidan activist;

how many weapons are officially registered in the employee’s name, and what kind of firearms they are;

whether from 2011 to 2014 the said employee cancelled his registration on specific firearms, selling them to others;

where he was from 12.00 to 24.00 on May 2;

whether he had the opportunity to influence the course of investigative operations into the events on May 2. 

It should be stressed that the International Advisory Panel’s assessment of the authorities’ investigation into the events of May 2, 2014 was damning, with the overall conclusion being that no progress has been made.  Doubts were expressed about possible conflict of interest, and about the motivation of law enforcement bodies to identify those responsible for the deaths and injuries that day and bring them to justice.   


Deported peoples

FSB use electric shock torture against Crimean Tatar

The FSB, or Russian Security Service, in Russian-occupied Crimea have tried to force a Crimean Tatar to collaborate with them using not only threats against the man’s wife and children, but also physical torture.  

Mustafa Dzhemiliev, veteran Crimean Tatar leader, Ukrainian MP and President’s Representative on Crimean Tatar Affairs, reports that on Dec 16, 24-year-old Enver Krosh from Dzhankoy in Crimea was taken by force to the district police station where he was handed over to FSB officers.  The latter tried to get him to give a written undertaking to collaborate with the FSB. 

Having failed to obtain Krosh’s agreement, the FSB used electric shocks as a form of torture.  He was held in the police station from 16.30 on Dec 16, to the following morning.  They released him but told him to “think about his wife, children, family …. and to consider our proposal”. 

This, Mustafa Dzhemiliev writes, is not the first time that methods of intimidation and blackmail have been used to try to ‘recruit’ FSB informers, but it is the first reported case where the FSB used torture.  

Dzhemiliev was blunt about the methods.  He explained to QHA that the FSB are “looking for those who’ll report on their friends, family, acquaintances.  And they [the FSB] have no qualms about threatening a person’s family and loved ones.  Even the most courageous man fears for his family”.

Abdureshit Dzhepparov from the Contact Group on Human Rights spoke with TV 112 Ukraina about the treatment Krosh received and about other worrying developments.  Since Nov 30 there have been seven searches carried out of Crimean Tatar homes.  There have also been two (fortunately, suspended) sentences over the notorious ‘3 May’ case.  As reported, many months after a peaceful protest on May 3, 2014, over the ban imposed on Mustafa Dzhemiliev from entering his homeland, the occupation regime began carrying out armed searches, interrogations and arrested a number of Crimean Tatars on dubious charges linked to the protests.

Dzhepparov also mentioned the four Crimean Tatars who are facing charges of ‘terrorism’ over alleged involvement in the Hizb ut-Takhrir organization, which is legal in Ukraine and all other countries, but which Russia has decided is ‘terrorist’.  They are likely to soon be moved to Rostov in Russia, presumably to the same military court which sentenced Crimeans Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko to long sentences for non-existent terrorism.

There is increasing concern over the disappearance of two Crimean Tatars Ruslan Ganiev and Arlen Terekhov from Kerch who have not been seen since Dec 15.  Dzhepparov believes that they may have been abducted. 

Dzhepparov’s own 19-year-old son Islam was abducted in September 2014, together with his cousin, Dzhevdet Islamov.  Although the van they were forced into was seen, and the registration number recorded, the occupation authorities were supposedly unable to find the vehicle.  Neither young man has been seen since.  (see: Disappearances and Groups at Risk in Russian-Occupied Crimea). 

With respect to FSB attempts to ‘recruit’ informers, their methods of surveillance were seen from the beginning of Russian occupation.  Mustafa Dzhemiliev reported even before Russian banned him from his homeland (on April 22, 2014) that FSB officers were carrying out surveillance of worshippers in mosques.  He said that they were not even trying to conceal the fact, so presumably the aim was chiefly intimidation. 

Nor are only Crimean Tatars targeted.  Archbishop Clement of Simferopol and Crimea from the beleaguered Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate recently spoke of men in plain clothes who sat at the back of services and then told the priest what should be removed.  You could not say that the good times would return, for example.  The Archbishop does not spell out that these are FSB officers, but it was almost certain them, or officers from Russia’s so-called ‘Centre for Countering Extremism’.  

Both the FSB and these ‘counter-extremism’ officers also actively follow and frequently harass Ukrainian activists.  Iryna Kopylova and Veldar Shukurdzhiyev, for example, have recently faced administrative proceedings after being detained while trying to photograph themselves with a Ukrainian flag near the monument to Vladimir Lenin on Simferopol’s central square.  Shukurdzhiyev is constantly harassed, with the FSB threatening that he would be banned from Crimea after he was stopped after returning from mainland Ukraine and held for many hours


Open Lawlessness as Terror against Crimean Tatars

   Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz has been held in custody since Jan 2015  (Photo: Radio Svoboda)

All of Russia’s Crimean victims have had to confront varying forms of lawlessness, but none demonstrates contempt for the law quite so flagrantly as the criminal proceedings against Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz and other Crimean Tatars. 

The entire case is illegal under Russia’s own legislation, since the charges are under Russia’s anti-protest laws, yet pertain to a pre-annexation demonstration over which Russia has no jurisdiction;

Only Crimean Tatars are targeted although there were also pro-Russian demonstrators present on Feb 26, 2014.

There is no evidence against any of the three men who remain in custody yet court after court has extended their detention.

Natalya Poklonskaya, installed as prosecutor after Russia seized control in Crimea,   announced on Dec 7 that the case against six Crimean Tatars had been sent to the court.  Typically, although 6 defendants are mentioned, the charges listed are against Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People.  He is accused of having organized “mass disturbances” outside the Crimean Parliament on Feb 26, during which two people died. 

No legal jurisdiction

According to Russia’s Criminal Code (Article 12 § 3), a criminal prosecution can only be initiated against foreign nationals who committed an offence on the territory of another country if “the crime was directed against the interests of the Russian Federation or a citizen of the Russian Federation.”

Chiygoz has been held in detention since Jan 29, two other men for over 6 months, in connection with ‘a case’ that Russia’s own law prohibits.

Against Crimean Tatars and specifically the Mejlis

Chiygoz is the highest ranking leader of the Mejlis remaining in Crimea, after Russia banned Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov from their homeland.  His arrest is impossible to not view as part of a major offensive against the Mejlis which has been unwavering in its opposition to Russia’s occupation and which holds enormous authority with the vast majority of Crimean Tatars.  

    Ali Asanov is not able to see his children, the youngest of whom was born in June, after his arrest

There are strong grounds for concluding that the two men also in detention -  Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy – have been put under enormous pressure to testify against Chiygoz, and may be still held in custody as punishment for refusing.

The protests

There were around 10 thousand Crimean Tatars and Maidan supporters who gathered outside the parliament building in Simferopol on Feb 26, 2014, fearing that plans were underway to push through a bill changing Crimea’s status.  They were opposed by a smaller, but still considerable, number of pro-Russian demonstrators led by Sergei Aksyonov, then the leader of a marginal pro-Russian party in the Crimean parliament.  Aksyonov was installed as self-proclaimed leader on Feb 27 after Russian soldiers seized control of government buildings, etc.

Radio Svoboda reported at the time of Chiygoz’s arrest that their video footage clearly showed all representatives of the Mejlis seeking only to calm the crowd and prevent bloodshed.  This was also confirmed by a Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin, writing for Novaya Gazeta, and present during the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014  He reports that Refat Chubarov used a megaphone to call for calm after the first scuffles broke out.  Later, after the parliamentary session believed to be planning to take control was cancelled,  Chubarov and Aksyonov came out together and called for calm and for the demonstrators to disperse.  Kanygin adds that the Crimean Tatars heeded this call, not the pro-Russian demonstrators who remained and kept chanting “Russia!”  One of the two people who died was reported to have had a heart attack.   

Mustafa Degermendzhy

Terror and intimidation

There is no justification for holding any of the three men in custody.  Ali Asanov, in particular, has four small children, one born after he was taken into custody, and an elderly father, all of whom he is prevented from providing for.  Chiygoz has made it quite clear that he sees this case as aimed at terrorising Crimean Tatars into leaving Crimea and that he is remaining in his homeland. 

Six men are on trial: Chiygoz, Asanov, Degermendzhy, Eskender Kantemirov; Eskender Emervaliyev and Arsen Yunusov. 

They are not, however, the only Crimean Tatars who have been targeted over the last year, with many others also called in for questioning, visited by the FSB and subjected to searches of their homes. 

Poklonskaya herself is planning to present the prosecution’s case.  The woman’s grip of the law has always seemed more than tenuous, but it is inconceivable that Russia’s Investigative Committee is not aware that the case is against Russian law, begging the conclusion that lawlessness is being used as a weapon, aimed at instilling fear and intimidating Crimean Tatars into submission or exile.


News from the CIS countries

Russian Investigators: Ignore Bad News, Bad News Kills

Vladimir Markin has been the public face of Russia’s equivalent of the FBI since 2011.

MOSCOW -- A prominent Russian official has some bad news about bad news: It can kill you.

If you’re Russian, that is, and the bad news is about Russia.

The spokesman for the powerful federal Investigative Committee has appealed to Russians to "ignore" bad news about their country in the media, asserting that negative headlines can have a psychosomatic effect and increase the death rate.

What’s more, Vladimir Markin warned that the problem is worsened by a virulent and deadly strain of "Russophobia" spawned in the West that could "infect" the Russian media and ravage the country.

"Russophobia is like AIDS, an illness that is untreatable and fatal, " Markin wrote in a striking column published in pro-Kremlin tabloid Izvestia on December 16.

"You can only buy more time with painkillers and military psychosis stimulants, but the result is always the same -- self-destruction and shameful death."

The spokesman argued that the prevalence of negative news in Russia is driving up the country’s death rate. "For example, during the summer wildfires of 2010, illness and fatality increased not only in regions that were gripped by smoke, but everywhere where this was the main news, " he wrote.

As an antidote, Markin espoused a head-in-the-ground strategy.

"We have a chance if we don’t react to Russophobia. We can only ignore these attempts to attract attention to our sores, " he wrote. "If we react in any way other than ignoring, then it is food for the virus of Russophobia. The correct therapy is to take heed of the positive and to support the smallest steps toward normalization."

Markin’s appeal comes with Russia in recession and with the low price of oil, its main export, showing little sign of recovery. Russia watchers have been eyeing the country closely for clues to whether the economic downturn is eroding support for the government. 

On December 16, a poll published by the Moscow-based Levada Center showed that Russians’ trust in TV news has fallen by almost half since 2009. Russian television networks, which were swiftly brought to heel by Vladimir Putin in his first term as president in 2000-04, are a key tool for the Kremlin to convey its version of events to the Russian people. 

’Information Infection’

Markin went on to warn Russians that an "information war" is under way. He pointed to an unnamed "neighboring country" -- hinting transparently at Ukraine, where Kyiv and the West accuse Moscow of arming and supporting pro-Russian separatists -- as a cautionary tale of what can happen when an "information infection" takes hold of a victim. 

"A few years ago it was possible to deny that these methods are a deliberate part of the information war against Russia, " Markin wrote. "Now it is enough to look at the pathetic remains of the state and economy of one of our neighboring countries, which has been hit by an information infection."

Markin’s piece is largely in keeping with the Kremlin’s portrayal of Russia as a fortress of moral conservatism surrounded by danger, extremism, and Western moral decay.

Markin has essentially been the public face of the Investigative Committee -- a Russian answer to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) -- since it was made an integrated entity independent of the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office in 2011.

Markin is slightly unusual in that he has actively cultivated a public image. In February, Markin performed a patriotic song called We Have One Motherland on prime-time TV, reportedly then donating the proceeds to charity. He also starred as himself in a Russian film about fighting corruption. 

Markin argued that Russophobia derives from a sense of envy at Russia’s spiritual integrity.

"Where does Russophobia come from? It all comes from there -- from envy. Only, they don’t envy our material prosperity but our spiritual qualities -- kindness, fairness, being prepared to come to help, to share the last you have, and not to waver under any circumstances."

Kremlin critics hardly see Markin as a paragon of kindness and fairness. As spokesman for the Investigative Committee, he is often the one to announce criminal accusations or charges that rights activists and opponents of Putin say are trumped up.

Markin also used his opinion piece to take a swipe at "rootless cosmopolitanism" and "anti-Semitism." He likened them to venereal diseases gonorrhea and syphilis, respectively.

Russia is killing 73-year-old Ukrainian hostage Yury Soloshenko

Yury Soloshenko is not Russia’s only Ukrainian hostage, tried and convicted on absurd charges, but he is the only one who has been issued a death sentence.  The 73-year-old pensioner from Poltava, who has a heart condition, is certain that he will not survive even the arduous journey to a Russian prison colony.  Human rights activist Zoya Svetova clearly agrees, calling his situation one of life or death. 

“We were almost in tears as we said goodbye.  Earlier he hoped to be exchanged, but today he told me: “Ukraine won’t exchange me, after all I’m in no way a spy. I didn’t do anything against Russia”.

Russia’s elderly hostage has been held in detention since August 2014, and was fed lies about an exchange, suspended sentence or similar if he just ‘cooperated’.  Those lies were told by the state-appointed lawyer whom Soloshenko was forced to accept after the investigators literally prevented Ivan Pavlov, the human rights lawyer he and his family had chosen, from meeting with his client. 

In a closed trial on Oct 14, on charges that have still not been disclosed,  the 73-year-old with no access to state secrets or Russian weapons was sentenced to 6 years maximum security prison colony. 

Svetova visited Soloshenko several times, and wrote back in April that in all her years of visiting remand prisoners, she had never seen such flagrant violation of Russia’s Constitution as in the case of Yury Soloshenko.  

In all her reports, it was clear that Soloshenko denies any ‘spying’ or illegal activities, and this would doubtless have been the position taken in court had he not illegally been deprived of proper legal defence.  Instead, he was pressured into rejecting Ivan Pavlov and his team, and the state-appointed lawyer Gennady Blokhin reports that Soloshenko ‘confessed to spying for Ukraine’.  After the trial Blokhin said that he would not be appealing against the sentence, and suggested that Soloshenko could be extradited to Ukraine.  Earlier, Svetova reported, Soloshenko had obviously been promised a suspended sentence.

The FSB Press Service claimed  that Soloshenko had been arrested by the FSB in August 2014 in Moscow “when trying to illegally purchase secret components for S-300 surface to air missile systems. He was acting on behalf of the State enterprise “Generator Factory” and the “Skies of Ukraine” Corporation, and the items which were to be bought were intended for reinstating Ukraine’s air defence system”. 

Soloshenko’s son Vladislav earlier called the charges insane nonsense  He believes that his father who has long been retired was simply tricked into coming to Moscow.  A former colleague insisted on him coming for a business meeting connected with buying and selling equipment.  When he arrived on Aug 5, 2014, and went to the place arranged, he was immediately seized by FSB officers.

Soloshenko is the retired director of the long-bankrupt Poltava-based Znamya factory which once specialized in high-frequency electro vacuum lamps used in anti-aircraft warfare.  The factory had always depended for its survival on orders from Russia, meaning that there was nothing secret between the two countries, with it all a single system.  

Secrecy only goes so far and the facts are against Moscow.  An elderly man in ill-health has been tormented, tricked into allowing the prosecution to deprive him of real defence, and he is now being treated in a way that places his life in the gravest danger.  

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2015, #12