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.


Winter On Fire Blazes Oscar Trail With Gripping Account Of Ukraine’s Maidan Moment

Twelve-year-old Roma Saveliyev is one of the most captivating interviewees in Evgeny Afineevsky’s documentary Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, which has just been nominated for an Oscar.

When a friend in Kyiv called Israeli-American filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky in November 2013 and convinced him to drop everything and take his cameras to Ukraine because "something was happening" there, he had no idea what he was getting himself into, let alone that it would lead to an Oscar nomination. 
"Sometimes you need to be crazy, and I think we filmmakers are crazy, " he told RFE/RL shortly before the resulting movie, Winter On Fire, was short-listed for an Academy Award for best documentary on January 13. "I came initially for two weeks, and that’s how long we planned to be there. But literally after eight, nine days things changed."
Angered at President Viktor Yanukovych’s abrupt rejection of stronger ties to the European Union in favor of Russia, tens of thousands of Ukrainians had gathered to vent their frustration on the capital’s Maidan square, the site of the Orange Revolution nine years previously.

What started as a peaceful movement quickly spiraled out of control as the authorities became increasingly brutal in their attempts to suppress the unrest and, in turn, antigovernment activists attacked police lines and occupied public buildings. Some three months later Yanukovych had fled into Russian exile, and scores of demonstrators had died in the process.
And Afineevsky was there to film it all, capturing the stories of people from all walks of life who took to the streets to steer Ukraine away from Russian influence.

While the gripping story of the Maidan unfolds before their eyes, viewers get to meet enthusiastic activists, wizened soldiers, distressed medics, local pop stars, and even a young Romany boy, who all spend months in atrocious weather facing down police bullets and batons as they fight for sweeping reform and a more westward orientation.
Having originally taken only two cameras to Ukraine, Afineevsky soon realized that he would have to call in reinforcements as events began to evolve rapidly.
"We realized that history was happening here and we started to get more and more filmmakers involved...because the movement was growing so we needed to have more and more eyes on the ground, " he says.
Eventually, Afineevsky had 28 cameramen risking life and limb to record in minute detail those tumultuous days from November 2013 to February 2014, when the Yanukovych regime was toppled. They ended up compiling an incredible 15 terabytes of footage that was then supplemented with material from news organizations, including RFE/RL.
Not surprisingly, editing this work proved to be a tortuous process, with Afineevsky and his team feverishly working "day and night" to knock it into shape.
After five long months, they eventually honed their story into a compelling, visually spectacular narrative that has been captivating audiences since the movie was released in October.
One thing that proved crucial to the process was Afineevsky’s decision to focus solely on the people on Kyiv’s Independence Square and to tell their stories without overburdening audiences with too much background or context. The director did not want to take the audience "out of the Maidan" and he therefore eschewed any detailed explanations of the corruption and political tensions that brought people out onto the streets in the first place.

"I tried to find interesting human stories that could be related to by a lot of people across the globe, " Afineevsky says, explaining how he brought together a motley collection of individuals who recount on camera why they decided to unite in their fight for a better Ukraine and spent months in atrocious weather facing down police bullets and batons to achieve it.

By far the most captivating interviewee is Roma Saveliyev, a 12-year-old boy with a troubled background who leaves home to join the Maidan and comes of age among the barricades, not unlike Gavroche from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. 
His wide-eyed conviction is among the highlights of a film that is fast becoming a runaway success with international audiences, even though not everyone is pleased. Afineevsky, who was born in the U.S.S.R., says a number of Russians have left nasty comments on his Facebook page, but he is not too worried. "You always have haters in this world, " he says.
Oscar nomination notwithstanding, some critics have also taken issue with the film’s "one-sided" narrative, which omits alternative viewpoints such as those of Ukrainians in the east who are now pushing to secede from the country and move closer to Russia. 
Afineevsky gives such reproaches short shrift, however, saying that he is, first and foremost, a filmmaker not a journalist.
He also dismisses claims that he oversimplified the narrative and glossed over some of the Maidan’s more unsavory elements, such as the involvement of the nationalist Right Sector movement, which has been accused of fascist leanings. (Afineevsky points out that insignia of the far-right group can be clearly seen on one of the interviewee’s clothes.) 
In any event, Afineevsky argues, the presence of Right Sector at the Maidan does not detract from the fact that this genuinely popular movement succeeded in bringing down a corrupt regime and effecting change in Ukraine.
"You know what? Right Sector, they actually fought for everything like everybody else. They were a part of these people, " he says. "At the end of the day, it was people who came out, who stood for what they believed in, and who achieved [something].

Since the Maidan, Ukraine has become embroiled in conflict following Moscow’s opportunistic annexation of Crimea and the seizure of swaths of Donetsk and Luhansk by Russian-backed separatists in the east. With the country’s economy now in tatters as a result, Ukrainians face other obstacles as well.

But Winter On Fire serves as a timely and often poignant reminder of the passion that led many Ukrainians to take a leap of faith on the streets of Kyiv two years ago.

Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is available for streaming here.


Politics and human rights

Putin’s Crimean ‘Genocide’

Russian-occupied Crimea is without Ukrainian electricity and is likely to remain so until Russia’s occupation ends.  It will also not receive goods from mainland Ukraine, and probably not water either. Attempts by Crimea’s parliament to call this “genocide’ and demand urgent consideration of the issue by the UN Security Council run up against insurmountable problems, and not only Russia’s internationally condemned annexation of Crimea.  Despite the Kremlin’s attempts to claim that Crimea was always Russian, the peninsula is heavily dependent on mainland Ukraine’s electricity, water and other infrastructure.  It is also not Ukraine that refused to provide Crimea with electricity, but Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.  

Although a civic energy blockade began in late November, the electricity cables were repaired and it remained an open question whether an agreement on providing Crimea with electricity from Jan 1, 2015 would be signed. 

Ukraine offered a contract which called Crimea Ukrainian territory temporarily under Russian occupation.  This was clearly not to Moscow’s liking, but it is true and in full accordance with the UN General Assembly’s Resolution from March 27, 2014 on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine.  That resolution calls on States, international organizations, etc. to not recognize any change in the status of Crimea and Sevastopol, “and to refrain from actions or dealings that might be interpreted as such”.

It would be difficult to imagine a more absurd breach of this resolution and international law than for Ukraine to sign a contract calling Crimea anything other than under Russian occupation.

Putin, however, ordered on New Year’s Eve that Crimeans’ opinion should be asked.   He had tried this stunt once before, with the so-called ‘referendum’ on March 16, which has been used in Russia’s narrative ever since to try to justify annexation. 

That event was organized within 10 days, with no real choice offered and European ‘observers’ invited from various fascist, neo-Nazi or neo-Stalinist parties with a strong pro-Russian position.  All of them declared it a model of democratic choice and claimed to not notice the soldiers and paramilitaries everywhere with machine guns.  This was in contrast not only to international bodies, but also to a report from the President’s Human Rights Council which, perhaps inadvertently, revealed very different results.

This time, the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Centre [WCIOM] was entrusted with the task of ‘finding out Crimeans’ opinions’.  Why it was this body can be easily understood by glancing at the WCIOM website.  A day later, it was reported that 93.1% of Crimeans had expressed opposition to signing a contract stating that Crimea is part of Ukraine, with only 6.2% willing for it to be signed under those conditions. 

Crimeans had apparently been asked if they were willing to endure “temporary difficulties linked with minor disruptions to electricity supplies over 3-4 months”.   The situation is almost certainly not temporary, and the problems not minor. 

News of the ’survey’ and its alleged results were met with considerable scepticism on social networks.  A Short History of Crimea posted on the Internet on Jan 3, 2016 takes just 10 seconds and requires no translation

Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemiliev points out that the occupation authorities in Crimea tried to claim from the outset that the peninsula doesn’t need electricity from mainland Ukraine, that any blockade was good since they would now be fully independent.  They also asserted that the blockade had united Crimeans. 

Dzhemiliev was responding to the Crimean parliament’s Statement of Jan 13, 2016 “On preventing the crime of genocide against the Republic of Crimea and punishment for it”. 

This expresses “serious concern at the increasing activity of terrorist groups and the danger of the growing number of crimes closely linked with terrorism on territory adjoining the border crossings at Kalanchak, Chaplinka and Chonhar”

The blockade, it claims, “is a vivid example of the flagrant violation of human rights, hate-related crimes and genocide which are causing damage to the civilian population of Crimea”.

It goes on to claim that a series of unprecedented terrorists acts “sends a challenge to the fundamental pillars of human civilization and the entire world community in fighting terrorism”. 

One purported example is provided, namely the damage caused through explosions on Nov 21 to electricity pylons causing a total blackout.

The statement goes on to speak of the danger that the lack of electricity poses for healthcare institutions, and calls this an attempt on the life and health of the civic population of Crimea, for which the perpetrators must one answer. 

In view of this, the Crimean parliament sees fit to remind the reader that genocide is a grave crime that violates norms of international law and is a serious danger for human rights.    It therefore calls on Russia to help in appealing to the UN General Assembly and Security Council; the CIS; OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. 

These bodies should, it asserts, carry out an investigation into Ukraine’s alleged violation of its obligations to prevent genocide.   The issue of the blockade should be urgently put on the agenda of the Security Council, and after consideration, be handed to the International Criminal Court.    Ukraine, it claims, should be called on to clearly observe its obligation to fight terrorism and disarm unlawful formations. 

It finally calls on the Russian Prosecutor General and Russian Investigative Committee to carry out an investigation into alleged genocide against residents of Crimea by Ukrainian MPs, “including the formation of criminal groups aimed at damaging the health and endangering the life of people in conditions of the Crimean blockade”. 

Russia and the leaders it installed in Crimea have consistently failed to investigate murders, abductions and disappearances committed since Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  They have also ignored the legitimate human rights demands initially posed as the conditions for an end to the goods blockade.  These include the release of political prisoners and end to persecution of Crimean Tatars and all who oppose Russia’s annexation.  

Mustafa Dzhemiliev is doubtless correct in saying that the international community will not take this « absurd » statement seriously.  In fact,   its authors have chosen to ignore the fact that Russia has already been stripped of its rights at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe because of its invasion of Crimea and military aggression in Donbas.  The penalties are likely to be extended at the PACE winter session beginning on Jan 26. 

Dzhemiliev has announced that the blockade in any case is “changing its format” in light of Ukraine’s ban on supplies to Crimea. 

Legitimate concerns have been expressed over the last four months about the behaviour of some of the participants in the blockade.  However the recent reports, as well as suspiciously well-organized protests over overt criminals, wearing camouflage gear with the emblem of the ‘Aidar’ volunteer battalion, do bear some of the hallmarks of deliberate provocation

Nobody ever admitted responsibility for the damage caused to the electricity pylons.  On the other hand, Crimean Tatar leaders had long expressed frustration that the Ukrainian authorities were maintaining a policy effectively of business as usual, while the rights situation in Crimea continued to deteriorate and huge numbers of Crimeans had been forced from their homeland. 

The de facto authorities in Crimea are understandably stressed by the current situation which is belatedly demonstrating what Putin and his military generals should have understood from the beginning.  Crimea is Ukrainian in law, but also for geographical and logistical reasons.  The peninsula depends on Ukraine for much more than Russia can provide for the foreseeable future. 

The claims of ‘genocide’ are absurd, but are also now misplaced.  If Ukraine bore some responsibility for the electricity blackout in November-December, the responsibility lies now with Putin. He failed to understand the consequences of his land-grab back in February 2014, and is now showing his customary – and criminal – indifference to the suffering he is forcing on Crimeans.


Poland’s rightwing government plans sweeping powers for own party Prosecutor General

One day after the European Commission announced its decision to probe rule of law concerns in Poland, the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość [PiS] party now in power adopted a highly contentious law on police surveillance.  It is also planning to make the current Justice Minister Prosecutor General and give him powers never before held in democratic Poland.

PiS has reacted aggressively to any criticism, claiming that the political opposition, aggrieved to have been ousted in free and fair elections, is spreading lies.  The same concerns have, however, also been expressed by human rights organizations and numerous legal and professional bodies.   The criticism also extends beyond the situation concerning the Constitutional Tribunal and the changes to the Public Broadcasting Law cited by the EC.     

PiS certainly won the elections in October, but it has since seen a sharp fall in support.  According to 2 opinion polls this month, were elections to be held today, PiS, even together with its current allies in the Kukiz-15 party, would probably not have a majority in parliament.  Elections will not be held, but PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński’s dismissive comments about mass protests and his reported announcement to party colleagues of likely changes to electoral law suggest a frightening determination to push through changes that were not clearly articulated during the elections, and which are obviously alarming voters.

The Helsinki Human Rights Foundation was one of a number of organizations that made submissions against the law extending police surveillance powers passed on Jan 14. It is convinced that the law does not fulfil the requirements of a judgement issued earlier by the Constitutional Tribunal.  Consideration of this new bill is unlikely in the near future given another law effectively paralyzing the Constitutional Tribunal - one of the developments now under EC scrutiny. 

The Foundation warned that the draft law does not provide any independent control over the surveillance and does not meet EU requirements on personal data protection.  Enforcement bodies will have access to Internet data without any court ruling and without having to provide any reason for the surveillance.  Court consent will only be needed for reading the contents of correspondence, etc.  The Human Rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar considers that the requirement that the courts are provided with surveillance statistics every 6 months gives only “illusory control’.  His view is shared by the Helsinki Foundation, Panoptykon Foundation and a number of other rights organizations. 

New and Old Prosecutor General

PiS is forging ahead with plans to merge the positions of Justice Minister and Prosecutor General, while adding dangerous possibilities for interference. The proposed merger is one of the few changes that could be anticipated.  PiS has consistently opposed the separation of the two posts which was introduced in 2010 by the former Civic Platform [PO] government.  The new bill, however, would give the new Prosecutor General vastly extended powers. 

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro claimed in the Sejm that the body responsible in Poland for security in the country is the government which must have the means to ensure this security.  Ziobro has already made it quite clear, both in parliament and in television interviews, that he wants to bring  disciplinary proceedings against Andrzej Rzepliński, the President of the Constitutional Tribunal and get him out of his post early.  Concerns expressed by the European Commission, and by all legal bodies who have criticized the government’s law on the Constitutional Tribunal pertain, among other things, to measures aimed at reducing the terms of the Tribunal’s President and Vice-President.

The PiS proposals have been criticized by Poland’s National Council of the Judiciary which has since 2008 supported the division of the posts of justice minister and prosecutor general.  It states that there are no grounds for once again merging the posts, and “the subordination of the prosecutor’s officer to the Justice Minister, simultaneously equipping him with a number of supervisory powers, will have an adverse effect on the independence of prosecutors carrying out investigative proceedings”. 

The National Council also criticizes Article 19 § 4 which envisages the creation of an Internal Department for investigating criminal offences allegedly committed by judges and prosecutors, and carrying out the prosecution in such cases.  The Council says that the creation of such an internal department could undermine public trust in the justice system and cause it harm. 

The National Council reiterates concern expressed by the opposition and journalists regarding Article 12 which allows the Prosecutor General, the National Prosecutor or prosecutors empowered by them to reveal information “to other individuals’ about specific cases, if this “information could be relevant for the country’s security and its proper functioning”.  The permission of the prosecutor in charge of the case would not be required. The National Council points to the lack of clarity as to what kind of information could be passed on, and to whom.  This will give grounds for making arbitrary decisions regarding divulgence of information. 

Ewa Usowicz, writing for Rzeczpospolita, which can in no way be considered an opposition newspaper, writes:  “I don’t know if Zbigniew Ziobro will politicize the prosecutor’s office. I do know that if he wants to do that, the planned amendments will give him unprecedentedly effective powers.”  The scope for politicization of the prosecutor’s office is enormous.  

The Prosecutor General will be able to issue binding instructions to each prosecutor in the country.  At present, a superior can only give a limited range of instructions which must be in writing.  If the prosecutor disagrees s/he can simply refuse.  A prosecutor’s boss cannot force a particular direction for an investigation,   for example, by insisting that a case be terminated.    If a person’s superior demands that a prosecutor bring charges against a person over the Smolensk plane crash on April 10, 2010, there is no formal way of forcing him to do so.  If this new law is passed, then there will be no formal way of not obeying, except to resign. 

The example is of relevance given the insistence by members of the ruling PiS party that there was a bomb on the plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczyński and a huge number of other high-ranking Polish officials to Katyń near Smolensk in Russia.  An independent commission produced entirely different results, and the version  presented by Antoni Macierewicz (now Minister of Defence) and some rather questionable experts, was not previously given official credence.   That has now changed, and a new investigation is planned, with this widely expected to reach the conclusions earlier presented by Macierewicz. 

Usowicz, acknowledges the hierarchical system within the prosecutor’s office, but stresses that in any situation where the Prosecutor General or a superior tells a prosecutor to act in a certain fashion, this should be in writing and with an explanation, which must be added to the file material.  “Otherwise the Minister will be able to use others to organize any case, without providing justification and without leaving any particular trace.”

And, as mentioned above, any prosecutor or the Minister/Prosecutor General will not only have access to the files of any case, but will also be able to make the information available to the media or “other individuals”. 

Concern is also legitimate over the vague principles for job advancement in the new bill.  According to this, the Prosecutor General will be able to bypass all competition procedure and considerations of work experience in appointing particular candidates.  What criteria would be applied can only be guessed.  Traditional terms of service will be abolished, and it will also be easier to remove individual prosecutors. 

All of this would almost certainly have a very negative effect on prosecutor independence. Prosecutors may well come under pressure to bring charges and send a case to court despite the lack of solid evidence, or to obtain evidence through unlawful force, etc.  Ewa Siedlicka from Gazeta Wyborcza notes that prosecutors never needed to fear criminal prosecution for using pressure to fabricate evidence, but they could face disciplinary proceedings.  The draft law in question specifically states that a prosecutor will not be considered guilty of a disciplinary offence or negligence if they acted “in the public interest”. 

The present Justice Minister claims that the broad powers proposed in the law on the prosecutor’s office and his leading role are needed to protect the country’s ‘security’.  His impunity, as acting “in the public interest”, will thus be guaranteed for the next four years if this highly retrograde and dangerous law is passed.  

‘Clear Signs of Sabotage’ in Odesa 2 May Investigation

20 months after the deadly disturbances and fire in Odesa on May 2, 2014, Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies have not only failed to properly investigate the events and find those responsible, but are effectively stymieing the investigation.  This has forced the 2 May Group, a civic initiative of journalists and various experts, to publicly express their lack of confidence in the Prosecutor General’s Office and Interior Ministry and speak of ‘clear signs of sabotage’. 

There seems more than enough cause for such criticism.  It is over two months since the International Advisory Panel’s Nov 4 report identified serious failings in the investigation and lack of any real progress.  That report clearly stated that, given evidence suggesting police complicity, as well as omissions, and the failure of the emergency services to respond in time to the fire, the investigation needs to be carried out by a body independent of the Interior Ministry.  The 2 May Group soon afterwards publicly called upon the authorities to pass the entire investigation over to the same Department for Special Investigations within the Prosecutor General’s Office that is finally, albeit slowly, making progress on investigating crimes committed against Euromaidan activists.

The criticism and such constructive recommendations have all been ignored.  Instead the Interior Ministry team has been reduced to two investigators and there is no visible progress on any front. 

There is, however, permanent activity on the information war front with Russia and pro-Russian organizations actively pushing a narrative about a ‘massacre’ with the Trade Union building claimed to have been set alight on purpose by ‘Ukrainian radicals’.  These are lies that have been used actively to recruit young men to fight in Donbas, and are regularly touted around Europe via a suspiciously well-funded ‘victim’ and highly misleading exhibition.

The 2 May Group has worked tirelessly to refute the lies which are also debunked by the findings of the International Advisory Panel.  This is simply ignored in the propaganda reports while the failings in the investigation are trumpeted and often claimed to be deliberate sabotage because of  things that need to be hidden. 

It is impossible not to share the 2 May Group’s frustration over the failed investigation. While criticism is mainly directed at the Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO] and Interior Ministry  - the bodies purportedly investigating the events, the activists also criticize the Security Service or SBU.  The latter has not initiated any criminal prosecutions on separatism charges for which there would be every justification.  The 2 May Group writes that following Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the events in eastern Ukraine, some of the anti-Maidan groups, particularly Odesskaya Druzhyna and Narodnaya Druzhyna, “turned into an instrument for dividing Ukraine – so-called ‘federalization’”.  It was members of Odesskaya Druzhyna who provoked the disturbances on that fatal day and there is plenty of evidence that this was a planned attack. 

Whoever started the trouble, it turned into full-scale disturbances with weapons used by both anti-Maidan (or pro-federalism) and pro-Ukrainian unity supporters.

6 people were killed and a further 12 injured by gunshot wounds during the disturbances in the centre.  42 died as a result of the fire which broke out in the Trade Union building on Kulikovo Pole.  The fire was 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.  

The Interior Ministry’s Central Investigative Department was put in charge of investigating the riots, establishing the causes of deaths earlier in the centre and in the Trade Union building.  They were also responsible for identifying those directly responsible for deaths; establishing where the weapons had come from (and disappeared to); and establishing the motives of the organizers of the troubles.

This same police CID was entrusted with investigating suspected negligence by emergency services staff.  Most, if not all the deaths in the Trade Union building would have been averted had the fire brigade not taken forty minutes to arrive, despite repeated calls.  The Prosecutor General’s Office [PGO] was put in charge of investigating negligence by police officers.

Both PGO and the Interior Ministry promised a swift and open investigation, with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov also announcing that foreign specialists would be involved, and that cases would be passed to the court within 3 months.

The earlier disturbances

Only one of the people currently facing charges – Serhiy Khodiyak, a Maidan activist -  is accused of involvement in these deaths.   He is not in custody and members of Euromaidan have consistently tried to obstruct court hearings into the charges against him. 

Of the 21 pro-federalist activists held in detention for very long periods (with 5 still in SIZO or a remand centre], most are facing vague charges of involvement in riots which could just as well be laid against a huge number of other people that day. 

There are very serious questions to be answered over why a crucial action plan codenamed Khvylya [Wave] was ready but not registered and therefore did not come into effect.  Petro Lutsiuk, the head of the regional police at the time, was placed under house arrest on May 13, 2015, and charged with professional negligence for the failure to register the action plan.  Initial optimism that this might indicate real, albeit belated, progress soon fizzled.  Lutsiuk was released from house arrest, and although he is supposedly now at the stage of reading the material against him, members of the 2 May Group are sceptical about the case turning into a real prosecution. 

There have been constant attempts to blame the events on Dmytro Fuchedzhy, then deputy head of the Odesa Regional Police, who fled shortly after the events and is now believed to in Transnistria.  It is known that Fuchedzhy supported the pro-federalism camp on Kulikovo Pole and there is video footage showing Fuchedzhy leave the scene with a minor injury in an ambulance almost certainly containing anti-Maidan activist Vitaly Budko [‘Botsman’], a key murder suspect.  It was Fuchedzhy who allowed the storming of the police station by pro-Russian activists on May 4 and he personally ordered the release of 63 anti-Maidan activists, most of him were able to escape prosecution.  Despite all of this, Ukraine has still not bothered to have Fuchedzhy added to the international wanted list.  

The investigation was hampered from the outset by the destruction of material evidence during the night after the disturbances when the communal services were deployed in cleaning the streets.  The 2 May Group reports that there was no attempt to cordon off areas where crimes had been committed, nor to carry out a proper inspection of the terrain. 

The Trade Union building in turn was only closed to public access a month after the fire.  Incredibly, the official inspection of the building failed to notice evidence, including bullet marks, demonstrating that firearms had been used to shoot at pro-Ukrainian activists from within the building.  This was only added to the file material after the 2 May Group’s expert pointed it out. 


The 2 May Group calls the list of firearms removed absurdly short and notes that video footage shows that a much greater number of weapons were used.  Some were taken from anti-Maidan activists and handed to the police, however there is no information as to what happened to them.  The weapons used to kill Euromaidan activists Ihor Ivanov and Andriy Biryukov, and anti-Maidan activist Hennady Petrov have never been found.  This is despite the fact that the bullet which killed Andriy Biryukov came from a weapon which is quite unusual in Ukraine and needs a special licence.   

There has been no more than a formal response to the Group’s demand that the Odesa Regional Prosecutor investigate allegations that could implicate one of his employees in the concealment of the ‘Vulcan TK’ automatic rifle Budko is believed to have used to kill Ihor Ivanov (see:  Prosecutor suspected of involvement in Odesa May 2 tragedy)

The Trade Union House Fire

The 2 May Group is convinced that the investigation into the fire “is clearly being sabotaged at the highest level in the Interior Ministry”. 

The Prosecutor General’s Office has narrowed the number of police officers accused of criminal inaction to just one person – Lutsiuk and is openly sabotaging the transfer of this case to an investigative body independent of the police and PGO. 

The charges against Lutsiuk could also be laid against Volodymyr Bodelan, then head of the Odesa Emergency Services.  Bodelan has admitted that he was personally responsible for delaying the fire brigade for 40 minutes.  He finished his contract as planned, then stood for election to parliament.  He disappeared for a few months after Lutsiuk was arrested, and liberally gave interviews to the Russian media full of misleading information and minimizing his role in the events.  He recently returned, and obviously has his reasons for believing himself to be safe from prosecution. 

An internal inquiry with the emergency services department found that nobody had been at fault, and the supposed criminal investigation is being carried out, as the international panel observed, by the Interior Ministry which cannot be considered an independent body. 

There are no suspects, which the 2 May Group points out, allows the Interior Ministry to drag out the case indefinitely. 

Failure to properly investigate events in which people lost their lives is a clear breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.  This, as well as the numerous other failings in the so-called investigation, make it extremely likely that the European Court of Human Rights will in future issue judgements against Ukraine. 

Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies are thus sabotaging an investigation which is of critical importance for Odesa and for Ukraine as a whole, given the cynical propaganda lies circulated about the tragic events.  It is not only the victims and their families who have been betrayed. 


Free the Kremlin’s 20 Ukrainian Hostages Now

   Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko in court (Photo: Anton Naumlyuk)

From the Atlantic Council*

Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov looks on from a defendants’ cage as he attends a court hearing in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, August 25, 2015. A Russian court sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in a high-security penal colony for "terrorist attacks" in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in April 2014, RIA news agency said. Credit: REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov

Soviet dissident Vasyl Stus—an important Ukrainian poet of the twentieth century—never lived to see the fall of the Soviet Union. He died in a prison camp near Perm in 1985.

As I read one of Stus’s poems about Siberia, I realized that Gennadiy Afanasyev, a 25-year-old Crimean photographer exiled to the Sytkyvkar penal camp in Russia’s Komi Republic, is enduring the same thing Stus did. Some assert that the camp was part of the Soviet prison system, and photos of the prison that Afanasyev’s lawyer showed me leave no doubt.

Memorial, the authoritative Russian human rights organization,  declared Afanasyev a political prisoner. He is one of four Crimeans to be convicted of terrorism in Russia.

Crimea’s suppressed rebellion

Afanasyev was indifferent to the Maidan protests that swept Kyiv in late 2013. Like many Crimeans, he had a distorted view of the events occurring at the square. However, according to his friends, the arrival of "little green men" in Crimea changed everything. Afanasyev became an active participant in the pro-Ukrainian movement.

In the spring of 2014, a small but courageous group of pro-Ukrainian activists in an increasingly threatening atmosphere tried to persuade peninsula residents that the arrival of Russian soldiers was a bad sign. Some organized peaceful protests, such as one held at a Taras Shevchenko statue. For some, these events ended grimly. Four participants of the pro-Ukrainian Crimean movement who barely knew each other were captured by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents in May 2014, illegally transferred to the Russian Federation, forcibly granted Russian citizenship, deemed a "terrorist group, " and imprisoned on terrorism charges. Afanasyev was one of those captured by the FSB. As he testified, the FSB subjected him to torture, beatings, interrogations, sleep deprivation, and psychological pressure. He was forced to give a false confession and testify against the others, including film director Oleg Sentsov and left-wing activist Aleksander Kolchenko. But Afanasyev, who was a key witness in the government’s case against the two, admitted that his testimony was given under pressure. At their trial, he renounced his deposition. This, however, was not enough to save Sentsov and Kolchenko, who received twenty and ten-year sentences, respectively.

Afanasyev confessed to burning down the door of the Russian Unity office in Simferopol. He was charged with committing acts of terrorism—a crime disproportionate to the actual act. Normally, a person would have been charged with hooliganism, not terrorism.

The cases of Sentsov and Kolchenko are well known, though this story is not the only one. Even in March 2014, investigations into pro-Ukrainian activism were already underway in Crimea. Activists were abducted, questioned, and tortured. Some of them disappeared without a trace. Reshat Ametov, famous for his one-man protests, was found dead.

The campaign to persecute Ukrainian citizens as a continuation of military action

Afanasyev is one of twenty Ukrainian citizens being held in Russia and occupied Crimea for political reasons. Nadia Savchenko—the pilot whose trial continues in Russia—is the best known. According to #LetMyPeopleGo, a campaign dedicated to the release of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia, twelve Ukrainians are in Russian prisons for political reasons. Another eight are being held in Crimea.

In the last two years, campaigns persecuting Ukrainians have become an entirely normalized and systemized form of Russian military aggression.

Arrests started in March 2014 when Right Sector leader Myloka Karpyuk was arrested and have continued to April 2015 when FSB agents accused Crimean Tatar Ferat Saifullaev of working with the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Saifullaev has been held in a Crimean jail ever since.

Some of the Kremlin’s twenty hostages have already been tried. Eight sentences have been handed down, ranging from three-and-a-half to twenty years; six are currently undergoing trial; another six are still at the pretrial stage.

These prisoners are being held across Russia and Crimea. A fourth of those associated with Sentsov’s group were transferred to the harsh Magadan region. Four Crimean Tatars including Saifullaev are being held at a Sevastopol penitentiary. The case against Karpyuk and Kyiv historian Stanislav Klykh who have been accused of taking part in the First Chechen War more than twenty years ago with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk—an absurd allegation—is being reviewed by the Chechen Supreme Court in Grozny.

The twenty hostages are different ages and have backgrounds. Some hold diametrically different political views, and some hold none at all. Not all are heroes like Savchenko, nor are they all as selfless as Afanasyev. Some are complete victims of circumstance and war. However, the authorities keep them imprisoned, using them for the regime’s ruthless propaganda machine.

Many of these cases share another unfortunate commonality—the application of torture. Electric shock, beatings, placing needles under prisoners’ fingernails, and threats of harm to their families. Of course, allegations of torture must be confirmed by evidence. In the case of Klykh, the European Court of Human Rights released evidence of torture. Still, testimonies in court and the written depositions of Sentsov, Afanasyev, Karpyuk, and Kostenko—all of whom gave soul-wrenching descriptions of their first stint behind bars—raise the level of trust we should have in those who claim to endure or witness torture

The Kremlin’s hostages must be freed swiftly and categorically

The #LetMyPeopleGo campaign insists that the Kremlin’s hostages be freed swiftly and categorically. One of the main points of the Minsk agreement is "the freedom and exchange of all prisoners and illegally detained persons founded on the principle of ’all for all.’" In light of the recent deadline extension of the Minsk agreement, the hostages’ prospects for freedom are more uncertain. The current wording of the Minsk agreement says that this process must be completed no later than five days after the withdrawal. This is unacceptable. Their lives and the lives of hundreds more trapped in the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples’ Republics should not depend on the withdrawal of weapons. Ukrainian hostages in the Donbas, Crimea, and Russia must be freed independently of whether the other points of the agreement are observed. Until then, their lives remain in danger.

Maria Tomak is a civic activist and journalist at the Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv, Ukraine. This article was translated from Russian to English by Joshua Solomon.  


* hyperlink removed in 2019 as it doesn't open and the original is not appearing on the Atlantic Council site 

The right to a fair trial

Ukrainian farmer persecuted for opposing Russian occupation of Crimea

    Volodymyr Balukh  (Photo: Ivan Zhilin)

The trial is ending in Russian-occupied Crimea of a Ukrainian farmer accused of  ‘publicly insulting a police officer’.  The circumstances of this case, and previous run-ins over recent months give serious grounds for believing that Volodymyr Balukh is facing systematic persecution for taking an openly pro-Ukrainian stand.

44-year-old Balukh first raised the Ukrainian flag over the home he shares with his common-law wife in December 2013 during Euromaidan.  The flag remained after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  In an interview given to Nadezhda Prusenkova from Novaya Gazeta, Balukh explained that he does not recognize the annexation and did not take Russian citizenship.  The problems began on April 30, 2015. 

On that day he was at the other end of the village helping his mother with her stove when a car turned up with two men.  One was a police officer, the other, he later found out, from the FSB [Russian security service].  They demanded that he come with them, but he refused, saying that he would only if there was a warrant. 

Unnerved by the visitation, he asked a friend to go over to his home and see what was happening.  After the friend returned and said that the house had been entered and that the people were saying they were from the FSB, Balukh decided to stay away, and only returned to his home on May 10. 

By that time the FSB had turned up at his mother’s place 4 times.  Both his home and his mother’s had been turned upside down.  The Ukrainian flag had been ripped down. 

They claimed to be looking for a stolen box from a tractor and that he had been in a café in Razdolne, drunk, and offered to sell the box to a stranger, giving his full name and address.  The story was particularly absurd since Balukh actually owns two such tractors.

There was relative peace for around 6 months from the FSB, however the Crimean Human Rights Group reports that in July 2015 police officers detained him for 72 hours, claimed that he had refused to comply with the legitimate demands of police officers’.  Balukh believes that he was detained to stop him attending a meeting with Vladimir Konstantinov, parliamentary speaker because of Balukh’s openly expressed opposition to Russia’s actions in Crimea.  After 72 hours, he was brought before a court which fined him for supposedly drinking alcohol in a public place. 

The second visitation was on Nov 14, early in the morning.  Balukh says that first a man in plain clothes walked straight into his bedroom and demanded to know who he was.  Then a woman turned up, said “yes, it’s him”, at which point two men in masks and another man burst in and became beating him and then dragged him out of the bedroom and forced him into their car. 

Once again the actions were claimed to be in connection with a theft, this time of a car.  The officers either suffer from acute lack of imagination or were intent on demonstrating lawlessness, since they came up with exactly the same story about a supposed drunken offer made in a café. 

Having found nothing at all incriminating, they opted for Article 319 of the Criminal Code – ‘insulting a police officer’.  This has the advantage that it’s next to impossible to prove innocence. 

The charges pertain to the events that morning when Balukh asserts that he was beaten by the police.  One of the officers – Yevgeny Baranov claims that Balukh tried to run away and they therefore used handcuffs, with Balukh supposedly using foul insulting language.  In the indictment this is presented as denigrating Baranov’s honour, infringing the normal activities of the police and undermining their authorities.

“It turns out, when they detain you, kick you around the kidneys and put their foot on your head, you’re supposed to express yourself solely using the language of Dostoyevsky, ” Balukh says drily.

The court debate was due on Jan 21, and the final court hearing and verdict can be expected soon.  Article 319 carries either a fine that Balukh would probably have difficulty paying, or compulsory labour. 

There have been a number of court hearings on administrative charges linked with the Ukrainian flag, and four people received periods of community work last March literally for the Ukrainian flag and ribbons during a gathering marking the anniversary of the poet Taras Shevchenko’s birth.  The police claimed that the flag was a prohibited symbol and this was accepted by the court. 

There have been similarly heavy-handed measures and unfounded administrative charges against Iryna Kopylova and Veldar Shukurdzhiyev for trying to photograph themselves with a Ukrainian flag near the monument to Vladimir Lenin on Simferopol’s square.  in that case, they were accused of holding an ‘unauthorized meeting’.  Three young people from Kerch were prosecuted back in August after marking Ukraine’s Independence Day by trying to photograph themselves with a Ukrainian flag on Mount Mitridat.  The police told them openly that they’d been detained because of the Ukrainian flag, and pro-Ukrainian words on a T-shirt, but they were charged with ‘obstruction of public order and bad language’.

It is particularly disturbing that this current trial is under criminal law, since the overtly implausible charges and other aspects of the case seem just as clearly linked with Balukh’s Ukrainian flag and his opposition to Russian occupation.  

See also:  FSB & Cossacks carry out raid on Crimean Tatar village over Ukrainian symbols

Halya Coynash

On refugees

Well-known Russian actor fights for right to stay in Ukraine

   Sergei Anisiforov in Kiev during the Maidan

Sergei Anisiforov, 45, gave up a successful career as a TV and film actor in Russia to participate in Ukraine’s Maidan. Now he is part of the Odessa Maidan self-defence forces, but he is also battling the Ukrainian Migration Service for the right to remain in the country legally. Anisiforov talked to X Soviet about his situation.

“My parents abandoned me when I was born, ” Anisiforov said. “I went to school in a children’s home. After the army the wild 1990s started. I went to prison. I got out in the early 2000s. And fate gave me a chance – films. Moreover, a lot of crime serials were filmed in St. Petersburg. My typecasting played an important role in my life.  No one is more accustomed to tyranny, lawlessness and injustice than I am, because since my childhood I’ve been through fire, water and copper pipes. I had to do everything in my life myself, there was never any help.”

Anisiforov got his first break in 2008 when he was cast in the penultimate episode of the series “Brothers”, chosen for his rough looks. “We were called to an arrest at a flat, then I was in a scene outside with the main character, kidnapping a child, ” he said. Ironically, Anisiforov was even photographed with Putin. “The best moments in films for me were the socialising, ” Anisiforov said. “Many luminaries of Russian cinema taught me about life, ” he added.

 “In 2011 I started to understand the situation in the country, ” Anisiforov said. “Plus in 2011 after filming in Odessa I got very sick. When I returned to Russia I went Cherepovets in Vologda Oblast for an operation. I started working with the Other Russia party and took part in protest actions in Cherepovets against the policies of the governor of Vologda Oblast and Putin’s policies. In October 2013 I went to Ukraine on personal business. I had been to Ukraine more than once after 2011. I went to improve my health by the sea after the operation. Unfortunately I saw an unstable situation there. That’s why I joined the ranks of the Euromaidan in December 2013, ” he continued.

“I came to the Maidan in Kiev in early December 2013, ” Anisiforov said. “I went through [the shootings on] Hrushevsky and Institutskaya [streets]. I got a concussion. In April 2014 I couldn’t leave Ukraine from the Maidan to get a stamp in my passport to legally come to Ukraine. After recovering in hospital in May I was in an illegal situation. In July I applied to the Kherson Migration Service to be given refugee status, since I couldn’t go back to Russia, ” he explained. In October 2014 Anisiforov made a video appeal to President Petro Poroshenko asking for Ukrainian citizenship.

“Serious threats have been made against me by anonymous people in Russia because I went against the Yanukovych-Putin regime in the Maidan, ” Anisiforov said. He gave X Soviet a screenshot from a message to him on the social network VKontakte in which a man calling himself Stanislav said, “You’ll all be wiped out by Chechen special battalions, you’ll be cut up like rats!”, accompanied by a photograph of hanged men. Anisiforov is also pictured in camouflage, holding a weapon, on the website Tribunal, which promises that “retaliation will come”.

 “I supported the Ukrainian people in their struggle against tyranny and so on, ” Anisiforov said. “After two weeks the Migration Service refused to examine my application. I started to appeal their decision in court. Since 2014 I’ve won in all courts right up to the Supreme Court, but the Migration Service appeals all the rulings. They don’t want to admit that I’m in danger in Russia, although all the courts recognise that I can’t go there, ” he continued.

“The Migration Service refuses to look at what’s happening in Russia, and says that Russia is a democratic country, ” Anisiforov said. “The structure of the Migration Service still hasn’t undergone reforms and lustration hasn’t happened. After my first refusal I went to the UN Refugee Agency in Ukraine. Their lawyers have been dealing with my case in the courts for almost two years. I’m also the only Russian from the Maidan who goes to the courts. The others gave up on the courts at the first instance. I’m not giving up and I don’t plan to, ” he added.

Going back to Putin’s Russia means death

“Now I’m facing my fifth court, we constantly present new evidence in the courts about what’s happening in Russia, and the dangers that are threatening me, but the Migration Service doesn’t want to accept it, ” Anisiforov said. “I know [Russian political emigres] Vyacheslav Martynov, Petr Lyubchenkov and Vladimir Malyshev from back in the Maidan. You need to give people the opportunity to become legal in Ukraine. The country should accept them, this concerns all Russians who have been fighting on the front for Ukraine. Unfortunately we’re seeing the opposite. The Migration Service is preventing this. It’s clear that going back to Putin’s Russia means death. The Ukrainian Migration Service is a branch of the FSB, there’s no doubt about it, ” he added.

 “I came to the conclusion a long time ago that no one wanted us here, despite the fact that some went through the Maidan and fought in the ATO. To be honest I’ve wanted to go to another safe country for a long time, but I don’t have that opportunity to leave, ” Anisiforov said.

 “The Moscow oprichnik Putin has exceeded even Hitler and Stalin, and also Ivan the Terrible, ” Anisiforov said. “Russia has gone back to 1937. I think that we need to very quickly set up a Hague tribunal and bring the Moscow tsar there under escort otherwise the botoxed dwarf will go even crazier. The punishment should be the harshest – he should be shot. He should answer for everything, ” Anisiforov insisted.

 “I’ve been in the Maidan self-defence force of Odessa activists for a long time, ” Anisiforov said. “We fight against manifestations of separatism in all respects in Odessa. We fight against supporters of the Russian world. Thanks to the self-defence forces the LNR-DNR scenario hasn’t come to Odessa. And thank you so much to those guys for supporting me in every way. The most important thing now is to drive the aggressor Putin out of Ukraine and liberate Crimea. Glory to Ukraine!!!”

Seeking Asylum In Ukraine, Russian Dissidents Get Cold Shoulder

Pyotr Lyubchenkov, a political activist from Russia seeking asylum in Ukraine, faces extremism charges back home.

Three Russian activists are facing lengthy jail terms after promoting broader autonomy for their region. One is in detention pending trial for extremism, the others have fled to Ukraine.

When Russian psychologist Pyotr Lyubchenkov started receiving telephone threats and was detained by the police for 10 days after posting several online comments denouncing Moscow’s support of separatists in eastern Ukraine, he knew it was time to leave.

In June 2014, he fled Russia for what he thought would be a better, safer life in Ukraine.

But a year and a half later, his successive applications for political asylum have all been rejected and the Ukrainian authorities are now seeking to extradite him to Russia.

Lyubchenkov, who faces prison on extremism charges in his home country, has a word of warning for other embattled Russian opposition activists. "I strongly advise them against traveling to Ukraine and asking for political asylum, " he said in a telephone interview from Odesa. "If you are in danger, you had better ask another country. Ukraine is not a safe place for refugees from Russia.

Amid a deepening Kremlin crackdown on dissent, more than 200 Russians who have fallen afoul of the authorities in their country have fled to Ukraine since the beginning of 2014, according to the Ukrainian State Migration Service.

Only a handful have been granted political asylum or other forms of protection by Ukrainian authorities.

For the rest, the apparent freedoms gained since the pro-democracy Maidan protests in Kyiv toppled Ukraine’s Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 remain elusive.

Ukraine’s migration service insists that its screening procedure for asylum applications is fair and impartial. "We are open, " spokesman Serhiy Hunko told RFE/RL. "If it is the applicant’s wish, we are ready to consider each case together with the United Nations’ refugee agency and human rights organizations, and to listen to the opinion of independent experts."

Some local rights groups are nonetheless alarmed by the massive legal hurdles facing Russian political emigres in Ukraine. "It is unacceptable to not provide asylum for people facing persecution for peaceful opposition activities in their own country, " the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group said last week on its website.

"Incredibly, given the ongoing imprisonment of [Nadia] Savchenko, [Oleh] Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, and other Ukrainians, as well as long sentences passed on Russians for peaceful protest, the Migration Service is still claiming that Russia is a democratic country to which activists can be returned, " it added.

Prisoner Of Conscience

Russian opposition activist Vyacheslav Martynov, who fled to the northeastern city of Kharkiv in 2014, is among the lucky few. After a protracted legal battle, he was finally granted special protection by Ukrainian authorities several weeks ago.

Martynov landed in hot water with Russian authorities after attempting to organize a rally demanding broader autonomy for the part of southern Russia known as the Kuban together with Lyubchenkov and a third activist, Darya Polyudova. 

The three were briefly detained, placed on a terrorist watch list, and charged with extremism.

Polyudova, who chose to stay in Russia, was sentenced to two years in prison in December 2015 on charges of "calling for Russia’s territorial integrity infringement" -- a sentence that sparked an outcry from rights groups around the world.

Russia’s leading Russian rights organization, Memorial, has since declared Polyudova a prisoner of conscience.

If sent back to Russia, Lyubchenkov risks a similar fate.

Several weeks ago, Russian prosecutors officially asked Ukraine to extradite him at the behest of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

He says he is now hiding from prosecutors in Odesa, who issued a warrant for his arrest in mid-December. "Odesa prosecutors are trying to arrest me and hand me over to Russia because I called for the Kuban to join Ukraine, " he said. "This is how absurd the situation is."

Like Martynov, Lyubchenkov has won several court appeals overturning earlier decisions by migration authorities to deny him political asylum. But under Ukrainian law, judges cannot force migration authorities to deliver asylum status, only to reconsider applications.

Olga Kurnosova, another Russian opposition activist who is trying to rebuild her life in Ukraine, attributes the Migration Service’s reluctance to help Kremlin critics to what she says is the large number of Moscow sympathizers still serving in its ranks since Yanukovych’s ouster.

"The migration service has not undergone any lustration, " she said. "People there already served under Yanukovych and they are doing their jobs dishonestly, just like they did under Yanukovych."

See also:

How can Ukraine claim it’s safe to send opposition activists back to Russia?

Solidarity & asylum needed as Russians face persecution for opposing aggression against Ukraine

Solidarity & asylum needed as Russians face persecution for opposing aggression against Ukraine

   Ildar Dadin calling for Nadiya Savchenko’s release 

It has long been dangerous in Russia to express support for Ukraine and, especially, opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.   It is increasingly likely to get a person arrested and, in some cases, such as Rafis Kashapov and Ildar Dadin – imprisoned. 

Euromaidan SOS has just issued a statement of protest over Dadin’s sentence in which the civic activists point to clear evidence that the shockingly severe punishment for entirely peaceful protest was in part because of Ildar’s active support for Euromaidan. 

As reported here, Ildar Dadin was sentenced on Dec 7, 2015 to 3 years imprisonment under the new article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code which allows for up to 5 years imprisonment if a person has received three or more administrative penalties over a 6 months period.  Since Vladimir Putin came to power, it has become standard for police to detain peaceful demonstrators whom they then accuse of ‘resisting the police’ or ‘infringing the rules for holding a demonstration’.  This was what happened to Dadin who was accused of taking part in protests on Aug 6, Aug 23, Sept 13 and Dec 5 2014.   The criminal charges and sentence for exercising his constitutional right to freedom of expression and assembly have been condemned within Russia and abroad.

Euromaidan SOS adds its condemnation and suggests that a decisive factor in the prosecution and sentence may have been Dadin’s “pro-Ukrainian uncompromisingly liberal position”.  This can be seen from the case material, with both the investigators and the court having actively pushed information about Dadin’s position on the so-called ‘Ukrainian question’, as well as his visits to Ukraine. 

The material, for example, claimed that he had visited Kyiv three times “in order to gain skills in opposing the police”.  Friends and acquaintances were summoned for questioning by the investigators who asked about Dadin’s trips to Ukraine. 

The investigators also tried to claim that Dadin had established contact with members of  the ultra-nationalist Right Sector which Russia has systematically demonized since Euromaidan.  The only ‘evidence’ for such claims was a ‘business card’ supposedly from Dmytro Yarosh, the head at the time of Right Sector.  The said card was doubtless one of the huge number of humorous responses to Russia’s Foreign Ministry claims in April 2014 that Right Sector had been involved in a shootout near Kremlin-backed militant-controlled Sloviansk.   The ministry claims that the remarkably intact business card had been found in a totally gutted out car led to hilarity and a flood of Yarosh card memes on the Internet.   The prosecution in Dadin’s case treated the card seriously, and claimed that Dadin had it for Yarosh’s contact details.

The material also states that Dadin was detained on April 20, 2014 with symbols of “the Ukrainian junta” with these including, in the investigators’ view a T-shird with an image of Taras Bulba, the Cossack leader in Nikolai Gogol’s famous book. 

Even the sentence mentions Dadin’s visits to Ukraine. 

Ildar Dadin did indeed take part in Euromaidan as one of the self-defence activists. He was not engaged in any violence and mainly gave medical assistance to the wounded.  Having returned to Russia, he was active in peaceful protests against Russia’s invasion of Crimea, military aggression in eastern Ukraine, and the ongoing imprisonment of Nadiya Savchenko and other Ukrainians held illegally by Russia. 

This is one of the many cogent reasons why Ukrainians should show particular solidarity to Ildar Dadin.  It is also one of the disturbing indicators of how Russia’s justice system has become so degraded, that trips to Ukraine are treated as incriminating evidence. 

  Rafis Kashapov

Another such case, reported here, was that of Rafis Kashapov.  The 56-year-old was sentenced in June 2015, with the prosecution claiming and the court accepting that social network posts criticizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine constituted ‘public calls to violate Russian territorial integrity’ and ‘hate speech’   He has been in detention since Dec 2014, and Russia’s Supreme Court recently confirmed the three-year sentence.  Please circulate the material which clearly demonstrates what kind of criticism of Putin, the Kremlin and its invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine can result in serious prison sentences in today’s Russia.

On Dec 25, 18-year-old Vlad Kolesnikov took his life after his brave demonstration of pro-Ukrainian views resulted in him being rejected by his family and mercilessly tormented by his peers.  Russian poet Alexander Byvshev lost his job, faced criminal charges and was added to Russia’s list of so-called ‘extremists and terrorists’ for poems in which he condemned Russia’s invasion of Crimea.  It is likely that the five year sentence passed on Russian blogger Vadim Tyumentsev was so harsh because of a video clearly demonstrating opposition to Russia’s military engagement in Donbas.  Yekaterina Vologzheninova, a solo mother from Yekaterinburg is on trial accused of ‘inciting inter-ethnic enmity’, otherwise known as reposting material and ‘liking’ social network posts critical of Russia’s policy with respect to Ukraine

The list can be continued.

Euromaidan SOS calls on the Ukrainian public to express solidarity with citizens of Russia defending those same values that Ukrainians upheld on Maidan and expressing a pro-Ukrainian position despite the danger this exposes them to.  The international community, the activists stress, must also use any means available to put pressure on Russia’s leaders to stop such persecution. 

It also calls on Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry to publicly react in cases where Russians face persecution for expressing a pro-Ukrainian position. 

One other call should surely be added.  An increasing number of Russian citizens have been forced to flee to Ukraine.  76-year-old Vladimir Ionov, for example, was about to face sentence on the same monstrous anti-protest charges.  He is now in Kharkiv.  Pyotr Lyubchenkov, one of the civic activists who tried to hold a peaceful march in support of greater federalization for Kuban last September has been in Ukraine for the last year.  Despite the fact that another of the activists Darya Polyudova was recently sentenced to 2 years imprisonment after her initial arrest over the planned march and inclusion on Russia’s Federal List of Terrorists and Extremists, there are ominous suggestions that Ukraine could send Lyubchenkov back to Russia. 

There can be no excuse for Ukraine’s authorities abetting Russia in persecuting its nationals.  This is true in any situation, but especially clear when we are talking of people facing persecution for opposing Russian aggression against Ukraine.   

News from the CIS countries

Russia refuses to extradite Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev’s hostage son

33-year-old Khaiser Dzhemiliev’s lawyer Nikolai Polozov reports that Russia has now formally rejected Ukraine’s application for Khaiser’s extradition, despite all legal grounds under bilateral agreements for returning the young man to Ukraine.  The son of veteran Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemiliev was taken from Crimea a few months ago and is now being held in a Russian prison in Astrakhan.  This makes it extremely difficult for his mother to visit him, with her needing a special ‘invitation’ from the authorities.  Mustafa Dzhemiliev has not seen his son since he was banned by Russia from his homeland in April 2014, shortly after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.

Polozov writes that his next battle will be to get early release for the young man who has only a year of his sentence to serve.  Judging by the unwarranted rejection of Ukraine’s extradition request, and Khaiser’s treatment in the prison, it seems likely that Russia will wish to hold on to their ‘hostage’ as long as they can. 

Khaiser Dzhemiliev appears to have been moved to Astrakhan around the same time that his father initiated the Crimean Blockade.  This was almost certainly a reprisal against his father and illegal even according to Russian legislation which stipulates that he should be imprisoned either according to his place of residence, Crimea, or in the Krasnodar region where the trial took place. 

By late November Polozov reported that Khaiser had been twice placed in a punishment cell.  Safinar Dzhemilieva explained that her son has to stand in a damp and unheated solitary cell all day and is only allowed to lie down at night.  He gets only one meal a day – like in Soviet times, she said.  It was hardly surprising therefore that out of physical emaciation and tiredness, he could have fallen asleep during the day, which is what the second period in a punishment cell was officially for. 

Mustafa Dzhemiliev, who himself spent 15 years in Soviet labour camps, has repeatedly accused the Kremlin of open blackmail by holding his son in prison. 

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 by 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, yet ignored, despite all legal requirements under joint agreements being fulfilled.

There was a cheering moment 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 ignored this and demanded a 5 year sentence which the court obligingly provided.  The Supreme Court, however, reduced this to 3.5 years. 

A particular example of legal nihilism in this case, as in those of Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Oleksandr Kostenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russian-occupied Crimea or Russia, is that Russia is claiming that the men ‘automatically’ became Russian nationals as a result of Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea. 

All remain Ukrainian nationals whom Russia is legally obliged to return to Ukraine. 

Russian Blogger gets 5 years for ’extremist’ criticism of authorities & war in Donbas

35-year-old Vadim Tyumentsev from Tomsk (in Siberia) has become the latest Russian to receive a serious prison sentence for calls to peaceful protest and critical comments on the Internet regarding Russian military aggression in Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists.   Tyumentsov, who has been in detention since 28 April this year, was declared a political prisoner by the renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre in November. 

Tyumentsev was charged with ‘public calls to extremism with the use of the Internet’ (Article 280 § 2) and under Article 282 § 1 (‘inciting enmity or hatred, denigrating people on ethnic grounds).   He denied the charges which were based on two video clips posted on YouTube and his VKontakte social network page.  One called on Tomsk residents to come out on an “unauthorized” protest against a hike in public transport costs and reduction in safety, and called the heads of the city and oblast corrupt. 

In the second Tyumentsev protested against the arrival in the Tomsk oblast of refugees from Donbas in eastern Ukraine.  He blamed them for the armed conflict in Donbas and accused them of treason against Ukraine, demanding that they be removed. 

Memorial believes that there are no grounds whatsoever for the charges of ‘public calls to extremism’, and that the only charges “even theoretically” conceivable would be under Article 282 with respect to the comments about people from Donbas.  Memorial says that the contentious nature of some of these comments do not stop them from recognizing Tyumentsev as a political prisoner, since nowhere was there any call to violence.

The human rights defenders stress that calling on people to take part in an unauthorized protest can hardly be called a public call to extremism.  They point out also that the boundaries of acceptable criticism are broader with respect to public officials. 

In addition, the two charges laid over the same material effectively introduces double punishment for the same material. 

Memorial is also concerned that Tyumentsev’s right to defence was restricted.  He was represented by a lawyer appointed by the court, who was forced to sign an undertaking not to reveal any details of the case.  The judge rejected the application of two people willing to act as civic defenders (a status allowed for in Russian legislation.). 

Back in November Memorial called for the charges over the public transport protest to be withdrawn, and for a proper examination under one artcle of the video clip to residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Instead Tyumentsev was convicted of all the charges, with the resulting 5 year sentence even more than demanded by the Prosecutor.  The court on Dec 30 also prohibited Tyumentsev from posting material on the Internet for 3 years and ordered that he pay court and legal expenses – for the lawyer it provided, after refusing to allow civic defenders willing to represent him free of charge. 

The video saying that the people from Donbas should get out of Tomsk seems to have been blocked.  It is, however, clear from reports that Tyumentsev was criticizing Russian aggression in Ukraine and considered those people being brought to the region as supporting the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas.  It is, of course, very likely that Tyumentsev is unfair, and that not all those arriving as refugees had supported the Kremlin-backed militants.  

It may well be relevant that in 2014 Tyumentsev was one of the Siberians who endeavoured to hold a march in support of greater federalization.   At a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin was aggressively demanding federalization in Ukraine, the Russian authorities reacted in repressive and thoroughly excessive manner to an initiative seeking no more than a greater say over what happened at regional level.   Tyumintsev is a civic activist who also opposed Russia’s war against Georgia in 2008. 

This new sentence comes a week after another Russian involved in attempts to hold a federalization march was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, also for the same supposed ‘public calls to extremism’.  The charges against Darya Polyudova related to three ‘incidents’.  She had held a banner during a single-person picket on April 4, 2014, saying “No war against Ukraine, but revolution in Russia! No war, but revolution”!  She had shared somebody else’s post containing the phrases “Wake up, people! Why can we not get rid of Putin and then make a socialist revolution?!!! Enough sleeping! It’s time to go out onto the square and overthrow this regime””.  A third repost was of a picture with the words: “Ethnic Ukrainians of Kuban want to join Ukraine”.

In June 2015, a Russian court sentenced 56-year-old Rafis Kashapov to three years imprisonment over social network posts criticizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.  These were demed to have been ‘public calls to violate Russian territorial integrity’ and ‘hate speech’ They can be viewed here and should be shared widely as indicators of the kind of criticism of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s annexation of Crimea that can land a person in prison for years.   

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2016, #01