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.


Kremlin Donbas Proxy Openly Rejects Minsk Agreement Elections

A key Kremlin-backed leader has stated that he has no intention of implementing the Minsk Agreement and holding elections according to Ukrainian legislation.  Western irritation with Ukraine’s supposed failure to come up with a ‘special’ law to enable such elections is therefore unfounded. 

On March 18, 2016 the ‘official DNR website’ posted a press conference where Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DNR] stated the following:

“We have insisted and continue to insist that elections in the Republic should be according to international OSCE standards. It suits us and Europe and generally the world community and absolutely comes under the understanding of democratic elections.  It is absolutely unrealistic to hold elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and I am categorically against it”.

The Minsk Agreement states clearly that the parties agree to “local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, ” and also about the future of these districts based on the above mentioned law. 

The rhetoric about OSCE standards is meaningless and not only because it breaches the above commitment.  OSCE standards ensure universal suffrage; equal participation of all parties; non-discriminatory access of all media, etc.  So does Ukrainian legislation and so must any separate law.  This is what neither the militants, nor Moscow, are willing to accept.  

It is not clear whether Dzherkalo Tyzhnya’s report last week of behind-the-scenes negotiations to install Donbas ‘republic’ leaders that both Moscow and Kyiv could live with seriously reflected current plans.  It is not, however, in dispute that Ukraine has long been under serious pressure to fulfil the so-called ‘political’ parts of the Minsk Agreement, including a law on local elections. 

Before the March 4 ‘Normandy Four’ meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his new French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault were reported to be pushing Ukraine to agree to accelerate such elections. Vladimir Socor from the Jamestown Foundation was blunt about such negotiations in which Russia, Germany and France present a common front “from time to time cornering Ukraine”.  He believes that Germany’s Foreign Ministry “systematically avoids identifying Russia as a party to this conflict” and puts pressure on Ukraine to make “compromises”.

All of this suits Russia which has every interest in preventing implementation of the Minsk Agreement while trying to get sanctions removed by transferring the onus of responsibility on to Ukraine.  Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was reported by the Kremlin-funded RT as being upbeat about consensus with France and Germany about “the sequence of steps that should be taken in order to reach a political settlement in Ukraine”.  He blames Kyiv for the lack of “direct dialogue between Kyiv and Ukraine’s eastern regions”. 

It suits those in the EU who want sanctions against Russia lifted to lay the blame on Ukraine which is indeed insisting that Russia withdraw its forces and allow Ukraine to regain control of its side of the Ukrainian – Russian border before elections can be held.  

There is also pressure on Ukraine to agree to a near total amnesty for the Kremlin-backed militants with this presented as a prerequisite to enable them to stand for election.  Zakharchenko is on record having admitted that his men razed a village to the ground, while Igor Plotnitsky, leader of the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ should at very least answer for his role in the abduction of Nadiya Savchenko.

These so-called ‘political decisions’ are, however, not the only impediments to real elections as Zakharchenko has made quite clear. 

In January this year, Zakharchenko stated that Ukrainian parties would not be allowed to take part in their local elections.  Given renewed ‘arrests’ of people like 60-year-old academic Ihor Kozlovsky, aid worker Marina Cherenkova (later released and ‘expelled’ from DNR) and people who came to Donbas to help relatives, there would be little likelihood of Ukrainians forced to flee Donbas returning to vote even if they were allowed. 

Elections according to Ukrainian legislation means that there must be no media censorship.  As soon as Russian/pro-Russian militants seized control of any area, they cut off all Ukrainian media.  By now the Donbas militants have forced the local Internet provider to block 39 websites, including the main media writing openly about Russian military involvement in the war in Donbas, opposition, etc. 

There have also been attacks and harassment of members of the OSCE Monitoring Mission and most western aid organizations have been thrown out. 

Strip the verbiage about ‘OSCE standards’ away, and what we have is a total refusal to hold free and fair elections.  

Politics and human rights

Two Years After Annexation, Crimeans Wait On Russia’s Unfulfilled Promises

A Russian Orthodox priest attends a rally marking the second anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on March 18.

For many in Crimea, the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula’s takeover by Russia two years ago was a cause for joy and great expectations.

In the run-up to the March 16, 2014, referendum in Crimea -- which has not been recognized as legitimate by the international community -- Moscow and pro-Russian figures on the peninsula promised locals a glittering and prosperous future that would contrast sharply with the fates of Ukrainians under the control of what the Kremlin branded the "fascist junta" in Kyiv.

Two years after the annexation, however, many of Russia’s promises remain unfulfilled. Although many Crimeans feel that the annexation saved the peninsula from the kind of violence that has wracked parts of eastern Ukraine – which is what they were told by Moscow -- many continue to wait for the living-standard improvements they were led to expect.

Among the most prominent promises was the pledge of a genuinely multiethnic and multiconfessional region with three official languages -- Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself made this explicit pledge in his speech to the Russian parliament on March 18, 2014:

"We treat all nationalities living in Crimea with respect, " Putin said. "It is their common home, their little motherland. Thus it would be right -- and I know that people in Crimea support this idea -- to introduce three official languages in Crimea: Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar."

This promise is also enshrined in Article 10 of the Crimean constitution adopted in December 2014 by the Russian authorities that control the peninsula.

Reality Bites

The reality over the last two years, however, has been quite different.

"In commerce, in everyday life, in education, there is no equality of languages in Crimea, " says local activist Veldar Shukurdzhiyev of the Ukrainian Cultural Center. "It exists only formally, on paper."

Even before annexation, there was only one Ukrainian language upper school in the Crimean capital, Simferopol. Immediately after annexation, its leadership was replaced and its lessons switched entirely to Russian. In ordinary schools, Ukrainian language lessons have been reduced to a bare minimum.

The Crimean Tatar ruling body, the Mejlis, reports that Crimean Tatar teachers have been deprived of their pedagogical qualifications and forced to give Crimean Tatar language classes after school hours.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) wrote in a report last summer: "Instruction in Ukrainian and the study of Ukrainian is being restricted in Crimea because of pressure on school administrations, teachers, parents, and children with the goal ending the teaching of Ukrainian. This could in the future lead to the limitation of Ukrainian culture and language on the peninsula. Teaching in Crimean Tatar and the study of Crimean Tatar is encountering restrictions and problems because of the annexation and is in need of support and regeneration."

ALSO READ: Russia Celebrates Crimea Grab, Critics Slam ’Climate Of Fear’

The story with the Russian-installed administration’s economic promises has been mixed. Officials pledged to reduce the retirement age and increase pensions and salaries for state-sector workers and this has been largely accomplished. Immediately after annexation, pensions and state-sector salaries were raised 25 percent per month until they reached Russian standards.

"But immediately prices began to increase and sanctions were imposed, both international and Ukrainian, " says local economic reporter Andriy Yanitskiy. "In 2015, Russia reindexed its pensions and its salaries and things turned out to be not as attractive as had been promised."

The United States, the European Union, and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

Yanitskiy notes that some key social groups -- military and security forces, pensioners, administrative officials, and top managers -- have benefited enormously because they constitute "the foundation of the Russian regime in Crimea." He estimates that the city administration in the port city of Sevastopol has swollen to more than 2, 000 employees and "they all have good salaries."

"But, at the same time, Crimea prices today are higher than prices in Kyiv, " he concludes. "You need to take into account the purchasing power of those salaries -- how many groceries they can buy and what quality goods are available."

Moreover, the pay raises have largely reached only top administrators of state institutions like schools and hospitals. 

"Average teachers and doctors don’t get such impressive salaries, " Yanitskiy says. "On top of this, there have been problems with service personnel in schools and hospitals getting their salaries at all." 

’Russia’s Great Pyriamid’

According to the Russian government, average wages in Crimea are lower than those of almost any region of Russia.

Russian officials also promised that annexation would be a boon to Crimea’s tourism industry and that commercial flights would be started from Sevastopol’s Belbek airport in the summer of 2014. The plan to begin such flights has now been postponed until late spring of this year. 

And Russian officials have said the level of service at Crimean resorts is below national standards. 

Government activity in the tourism sector has been largely limited to the redistribution and privatization of resorts, including resorts that were the private property of Ukrainian citizens.

Pro-Russian authorities also promised in 2014 to end Crimea’s reliance on the rest of Ukraine for the lion’s share of its water. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced a plan to build a desalination plant, new reservoirs, and a water pipeline from Russia’s Kuban region.

No progress has been made on any of these initiatives and Crimea’s water has been supplied by pumping out deep aquifers, a strategy that environmentalists warn will result in disaster.

Sevastopol’s pro-Russian administration head Aleksei Chaly pledged to build in his city a technology center comparable to Silicon Valley. Putin himself endorsed the 2 billion ruble plan, but no work on the project has begun.

As for the ongoing construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait to link Crimea with Russia, Yanitskiy is somewhat more optimistic.

"I can believe they will actually finish the Kerch bridge because it is an ideological project, sort of Russia’s Great Pyramid, " he says. "But, by the way, Russia has been building a bridge across the Amur River to link China and Russia since 1995. But with Kerch, there is no choice -- without it, maintaining Crimea is very expensive."

Robert Coalson contributed to this report


Appeal by the leaders of Ukrainian national communities to the Dutch population

We, leaders of the national associations and communities of Ukraine, we appeal to the Dutch citizens and urge them to support the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in the April 6 referendum. Millions of Ukrainians of different ethnic origins and religions not only want to live in a fair society, but also to get the prospects of entering the family of European Nations and a common European home.

Currently, Ukraine is experiencing one of the most dramatic moments in its history. The Ukrainian nation composed of many ethnic and religious groups, has made its civilizational choice – to become not only geographical, but a true part of European civilization, to overcome the consequences of totalitarian and imperial past, and to enter the family of free nations which are building their future based on shared values.

For that choice we have paid a terrible price – we have been subjected to military aggression, a part of our territory was occupied, there is a hybrid war against our country. But we are determined to defend our right to Freedom and Independence, and we think that the Dutch people with their history, with their centuries-old struggle for the right to live as free people in their country, can understand and support us.

Ukraine is a multinational country, and in this context we are not only ethnic Ukrainians, but also different ethnic communities and religious groups. But we are one nation. Ukrainian citizens of different nationalities took an active part in the Revolution of Dignity. They fought for a European future for our country, for the rule of law, for the triumph of the principles of tolerance and the inviolability of human rights. Many of them are fighting for a new European Ukraine in the military units opposing the aggressor.

It is important to note that, despite the war and the existing problems, we live in a country where the rights of national minorities enshrined in law. We maintain a confessional identity, national language, and develop national cultures.

Some of us have historical roots in Western and Eastern Europe, others do not, but that doesn’t prevent all of us to share and support Ukraine’s aspirations towards European and Euro-Atlantic choice.

The Association Agreement is only the first step, it is far from full membership, but it is a clear signal of support for our country and of the readiness of the European community to support the aspirations of Ukraine to freedom and democracy.

We ask you, citizens of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to come to a referendum on 6 April and vote "Yes!" to the desire of our multinational country to be closer to Europe. Our children are now paying for that desire with their blood and their lives. What we ask you is only to support us in a referendum.

• Arnaut Fedora, Union of Gagauz people of Ukraine

• Avanesyan Ashot, President of the Council of National Communities of Ukraine, President of the National Council of Armenians of Ukraine

• Belman Semen, Vice President of the Ukrainian Jewish Council, Chairman of the Chernigov Regional Association of Jewish Communities and Organizations

• Boshesku Aurica, Secretary of the Interregional Association "Romanian Community of Ukraine"

• Fetesku Anatoly, President of the Ukrainian Cultural Moldovan Association

• Hasanov Georgy, President of the Association of Kurdish Public Organizations

• Grigorichenko Peter, Chairman of the Ukrainian Roma Conress

• Kapalb Adrian, Vice-President of the Society of Romanian Culture "Petru Movila"

• Kalimulin Arthur, Deputy Chairman of the Kiev Tatar Community

• Khachaturova Violetta, Head of the Armenian Cultural Center

• Khoruzha Virginia, Head of Kyiv Society of Lithuanian Culture

• Kostova Dora, President of the All-Ukrainian Assembly of Bulgarians of Ukraine, Chief editor of the newspaper of Bulgarians of Ukraine "Roden Krai"

• Kovalenko-Schneider Ludmila, Head of the German Society of Kiev "Center of German Culture "Widerstrahl", head of Educational-Information Center "BIZ - Ukraine"

• Leysle Vladimir, Chairman of the Board of Germans of Ukraine

• Litnevska Mare, Chairman of the Estonian Communities

• Mukhina Lyudmila, Head of the Czech Society of Kiev "Vysehrad"

• Protsenko-Pichadzhi Alexander, Chairman of the Federation of Greek Societies of Ukraine

• Sadayev Salman, Chairman of the Board of the NGO "Diaspora of the Chechen people, "

• Stefanovich Anthony, Chairman of the Union of the Poles of Ukraine

• Shaitan Alexander, President of the Greek Cultural Center "Zorba the Greek"

• Shevchenko Alfiya, Head of the Kiev Center of Tatar Culture "Creative Studio "Alfiya"

• Taghiyev Rovshan, President of the Public Organization "Assembly of Nationalities of Ukraine"

• Tselsdorf Lydia, Chairman of the Cultural Society of Germans in Kiev "Wiedergeburt"

• Chubarov Refat, Chairman of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, President of the World Council of Crimean Tatars

• Valeev Emir, Chairman of NGO "All-Ukrainian Assembly of the Tatars"

• Zissels Josef, Executive Vice-President of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine, Co-President of the Association of Jewish organizations and Communities of Ukraine

Human rights in Crimea

Creation of an atmosphere of fear, powerlessness and hopelessness; terror against dissidents; war crimes; the most flagrant violations of rights and freedoms; contempt for human dignity; the substitution of inalienable values with a ‘Russian world’ doctrine.  This is just a brief description of the Russian Federation’s policy in occupied Crimea. There are all indications that in Russia, and especially on the occupied peninsula, a semi-totalitarian regime is being created.

Historical revisionism of the Stalin regime is in process. This is reflected not only in the statements from politicians and noisy festivities with the display of the ‘leader’s’ portrait.  Arrests, searches and torture of those detained and accused of fictitious crimes are carried out in Stalinist style. This was seen in the cases of Sentsov, Kolchenko; Afanasyev; Chirniy; in the case of Kostenko and in many other political trials.

Trying to create an impression in the eyes of the international community that there was total support from Crimeans of the annexation of the peninsula, the occupation authorities go all out to prevent any demonstrations of disgruntlement from the population. Russia’s policy on the occupied peninsula is aimed at crushing any pro-Ukrainian sentiments, at intimidating and persecuting all those who don’t agree with the occupation.

A machine of political repression is gaining momentum. Among the most high-profile political trials against Ukrainian nationals in occupied Crimea are the ’26 February 2014” case and the trial of Euromaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko.  In both cases Russian ‘justice’ has exceeded itself in the level of lawlessness. Russia is charging Ukrainian nationals with actions in Ukraine (and Kostenko for actions actually in Kyiv) in February 2014 when even according to Russian laws, Crimea was not part of the Russian Federation.  In this way, the Russian authorities are applying universal jurisdiction, and recognizing retroactive force of the law, violating their own constitution, principles of law and common sense.  9 people in all have been charged in connection with the ’26 February’ case. Akhtem Chiygoz is charged with organizing mass disturbances, the others with taking part.

These and other cases are supported by the Strategic Litigations Centre of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Our organization has 20 cases involving Crimea, 10 of which are under review at the European Court of Human Rights.

There is pressure in Crimea on all religious communities except the Russian Orthodox Church.  Churches of other denominations are being closed, and Muslims persecuted.

All opposition media are also closed. There is widespread use of intimidation of journalists through searches, interrogations, detentions and the initiating against them of criminal proceedings. Most religious communities and media simply did not get re-registered. There is active propaganda on all channels in occupied Crimea.

A process is underway of latent deportation of Crimean Tatars (the cases of the ban on entry to Crimea of Mustafa Dzhemiliev, Refat Chubarov and Ismet Yuksel).  Impossible conditions are created for the existence of the Crimean Tatar people in the peninsula : repression, infringement of cultural and religious rights ; the closure of Crimean Tatar media.  The Crimean Tatar people are being separated from their leaders, with these driven from Crimea, representatives of the Mejlis and activists severely repressed. Musicians, artists and journalists have been forced to leave Crimea due to repression and the impossibility of developing in their field. There is no point in even speaking of freedom of assembly with Crimean Tatars even prohibited from holding their meeting in memory of the victims of the 1944 Deportation on May 18.   There are politically motivated proceedings underway on declaring the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People an extremist organization.  Such a court ruling could bring with it criminal prosecution not only of Crimean Tatars taking part in the work of the Mejlis, but of all its supporters in general. This policy is aimed at destroying the Crimean Tatar people, depriving them of their ethnic and religious identity.

Russia is committing war crimes in occupied Crimea: the occupying nation is moving part of its own civilian population onto the occupied territory; forcing the population of the occupied peninsula to serve in the armed forces of an enemy state; unlawfully destroying and appropriating property and other crimes.

The practice of Soviet security services has re-emerged in the form of extrajudicial repression of dissidents: killings, abductions, torture, beatings and intimidation. Nor do the occupation authorities investigate disappearances and killings or carry out prosecutions. The Ukrainian prosecutor of Crimea has spoken of 30 criminal proceedings over disappearances in Crimea.

At the same time Ukraine’s policy towards the occupied territory is not well-thought-out or consistent. One has the impression that the government is always trailing events rather than pre-empting them. This policy has negative consequences both for people living in the occupied territory, and for people from Crimea internally displaced.

The government has, for example, continued to restrict freedom of movement. The Cabinet of Ministers adopted resolution No. 367 which unlawfully restricts entry to and departure from occupied territory for Ukrainian nationals, foreign nationals and stateless persons, and effectively deprives journalists and members of international human rights organizations of the possibility of visiting Crimea for fact-finding, monitoring or rights protection.

Cessation of transport communications with occupied territory, the so-called ‘Crimea blockade’ have been marked by infringements of the rights of residents of Crimea and of mainland Ukraine.  The procedure established for moving goods to Crimea has deprived people of the possibility of moving property from Crimea. People with Crimean registration are subjected to discrimination and restrictions in exercising their economic rights, property rights, the right to education, to vote and other rights.

The state’s tough policy on not recognizing any documents issued by the occupation authorities is the source of violations of many personal non-property rights and results in numerous problems with recording birth, death, etc.

Our organization has prepared a package of draft laws aimed at overcoming discrimination of Crimean residents and those who left Crimea.  We hope very much for support from our western partners in advocacy of these draft bills.

Nonetheless, the main source of the catastrophic human rights situation on the peninsula remains the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. This is an unprecedented violation of international law and challenge to the entire civilized world. Yet the world has yet to provide an adequate response. It must be understood and remembered that the ‘Russian world’ only stops where it is stopped.

The text was prepared on the basis of the unit on human rights in Crimea in the annual report of human rights organizations ‘Human Rights in Ukraine – 2015’.


Former Soviet political prisoners call on Holland to say yes to Ukraine’s European future

More than eighty former political prisoners from ex-Soviet republics have appealed to the people of the Netherlands to vote in favour of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.  This, they stress, will help Ukraine make the transformation from “survival to self-expression, from authoritarian norms to democratic values”.  The signatories point out how difficult this is “under conditions of acute geopolitical threat from Russia”, reflected both in Russia’s military aggression and a virulent propaganda drive.

The authors note that Ukrainians have twice – in 2004, and then during Euromaidan - strongly indicated their wish to integrate into Europe. 

They ask why the people of the Netherlands have any doubts, while acknowledging that one of the answers lies with Ukraine itself.  It is much easier to fight for values, than to live in accordance with them, they note.  This is a problem, they recognize, but ask for time.  It would be a shame if the Dutch ‘no’ deprived them of this chance. 

The authors also, however, focus on reasons within Europe itself, a Europe which is facing attempts by the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin to push the imperial idea of a strong Russia.  Putin, they stress, is in fact destroying Russia’s greatness through his reliance on aggression, military occupation of other countries, violations of the international order, disinformation and hate speech.

Ukraine cannot compete with Russia’s propaganda capabilities and is the victim of lies and false narrative. 

“In this sense, Ukraine depends on you, on your ability to distinguish truth from lie. However, at stake is not only the security of Ukraine. Failure to decode the propaganda construction of Putin regime seriously undermines the security of Europe in its entirety. Only the blind cannot see how great the danger is today.”

As former political prisoners of the Soviet regime, they paid for their commitment to European values with their freedom.  Some paid with their lives.

This letter has been signed by 45 Ukrainians including Mustafa Dzhemiliev who spent 15 years in the camps and Myroslav Marynovych, one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group who paid for his courage with a 10 year sentence.  The signatories also include 23 Russian former political prisoners, 6 Lithuanians, 3 Georgians, 2 Armenians, one Estonian and one Belarusian. Three former Polish political prisoners have also added their voice including the well-known dissident leader Adam Michnik. 

The address from so many former political prisoners comes just weeks after Ukrainian Jewish leaders addressed a moving appeal in which they asked the people of the Netherlands to give their country the chance to really break with the past. 

That appeal was important because of the major propaganda campaign waged by Russia to try to convince the world that both Euromaidan and today’s Ukraine are the work of far-right anti-Semitic ‘fascists’.  Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to justify Russia’s invasion of Crimea by claiming that this was a reaction to the "rampage of reactionary, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces" in Kyiv. 

The Jewish community in Ukraine actively condemned such distortions then and it again sets the record straight in this appeal to the people of the Netherlands. 

“Ukraine, together with its Jewish community, which is one of the largest in Europe, is living through one of the most dramatic moments in its history. For the first time in hundreds of years of co-existence in this multinational land, the country has gained the chance to create a political nation.  This chance is the result of the victory of civil society, a victory in which Ukrainian Jews played a major role, over the authoritarian and corrupt regime of ex-President Yanukovych.

On April 6, the Dutch population are voting in a referendum to decide whether to support the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine or not. Even though the referendum is not binding, the Dutch government has indicated it will abide by the outcome.

The referendum, while ostensibly only on the issue of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, has wider significance.  A ‘no’ vote would be a major propaganda boost to Russia and all Euro-sceptics, including in the United Kingdom which has its own referendum on whether to stay in the EU in late June this year.  

It is very noticeable that Russia is supporting European politicians and parties which are against the EU.  Most, like Le Pen’s National Front, are right-wing or far-right and strongly anti-migrant.   The majority of these parties, including those in the UK favouring ‘brexit’ (leaving the EU) also tend to take a strong pro-Kremlin line, including over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine.  

Halya Coynash


The appeal in full

Appeal to the Dutch population

March 11, 2016

At the end of the 1990s, the famous European diplomat Romano Prodi said: "We expect Ukraine to give us a clear signal of where it wants to be - with EU or with Russia. We will respect any decision".

Since then, twice, in 2004 and in 2013-14, Ukraine gave strong signals of its desire to integrate into Europe. Those signals were so strong, that they raised tough questions about the identity of Europe itself and its values.

Why does The Netherlands then doubt today?

One of the reasons can be found in Ukraine itself. It turned out that to fight for the values is much easier than to live in accordance with them. Probably everyone knows it from his own experience. To move the focus from survival to self-expression, from authoritarian norms to democratic values, under conditions of acute geopolitical threat from Russia is difficult. Europe is beginning to experience similar difficulties, while facing the challenge of a stream of refugees.

So, Ukraine needs time, and it would be a shame if it would be deprived of the chance to acquire European values with a Dutch "No".

The second reason is related to you, to the citizens of the European Community, and to your ability to find the truth. In the present circumstances, this task has at least three aspects.

The Putin regime has made its choice and is trying to restore the imperial idea of a strong Russia. Russia has indeed greatness and strength, but Putin is looking for it in the wrong place. Actually he is destroying Russia’s greatness, because he relies on aggression, military occupation of other countries, violations of the international order, disinformation and hate speech. Therefore Putin is not Russia, and neither were Brezhnev, Stalin and Lenin before him.

Ukraine is not able to compete with the propaganda capacities of Russia, and therefore inevitably becomes a victim of false interpretations. In this sense, Ukraine depends on you, on your ability to distinguish truth from lie. However, at stake is not only the security of Ukraine. Failure to decode the propaganda construction of Putin regime seriously undermines the security of Europe in its entirety. Only the blind cannot see how great the danger is today.

We, former political prisoners of the communist concentration camps, already at an early age believed in European values and paid for them with our freedom, and some of us with their lives. Today we are concerned about the national selfishness and everyday pragmatism that are slowly eroding the basic values of European civilization.

Without restoring one’s ability to distinguish truth from deceit, it becomes impossible to distinguish good from evil.

We, fighters against Communist regimes, we know that it is impossible to hide from evil in self-isolation. Evil will reach you everywhere and will make you choose: either to surrender to evil, or to stop it.

To a certain degree this is the choice that stands before you during the upcoming referendum.

Signed by:
(name, country of origin and current residence if different, number of years in imprisonment)

Antoniuk Zinovy (Ukraine – 11 years)
Arutyunyan Vardan (Armenia – 8 years)
Ayrikyan Paruyr (Armenia – 17 years)
Babich Sergey (Ukraine – 27, 5 years)
Bolonkin Alexander (Russia/USA – 15 years)
Brodsky Vladimir (Russia/Israel – 1, 5 years)
Buival Valery (Belarus)
Bukovsky Vladimir (Russia/Great Britain - 12 years)
Cherniavskaya-Naboka Inna (Ukraine – 3 years)
Chornomaz Bogdan (Ukraine – 3 years)
Davydov Viktor (Russia – 4 years)
Dudaeva Alla (Russia – Sweden)
Dzabiradze Vahtan (Georgia – 3, 5 years)
Dzhemilev Mustafa (Ukraine – 15 years)
Geiko (Matusevich) Olga (Ukraine – 6 years)
Genke Nikolai (Russia – 4 years)
Glebovich Petr (Poland)
Gluzman Semyon (Ukraine – 10 years)
Gorbal Mykola (Ukraine – 16 years)
Gorin Bogdan (Ukraine – 3 years)
Gorin Olga (Ukraine – 6 years)
Gviniashvili Tariel (Georgia – 4 years)
Idiogov Ahiad (Russia/France)
Ivlyushkin Nikolai (Russia- 8 years)
Kadyrov Sinaver (Ukraine – 3 years) 
Kalynets Igor (Ukraine - 9 years)
Karavansky Sviatoslav (Ukraine/USA – 31 years)
Khmara Stepan (Ukraine – 7 years)
Khmelevskaya Yadviga (Poland)
Kravchenko Valeriy (Ukraine – 4 years)
Kudyukin Pavel (Russia - 1 year)
Kuksa Victor (Ukraine – 2 years)
Kulchynsky Mykola (Ukraine – 3 years)
Kutsenko Grigory (Ukraine – 4 years)
Kuznetsov Eduard (Russia/Israel – 14 years)
Lifshits Vladimir (Russia/Israel – 1 year)
Lokhvitskaya Larisa (Ukraine – 3 years)
Lukyanenko Levko (Ukraine – 27 years)
Makowiychuk Gregory (Ukraine – 3 years)
Manannikov Aleksei (Russia – 3 years)
Marmus Mykola (Ukraine – 8 years)
Marmus Vladimir (Ukraine – 9 years)
Marynovych Myroslav (Ukraine – 10 years)
Matusevich Mykola (Ukraine – 10 years)
Matviyuk Kuzma (Ukraine – 4 years)
Mazur Dmytro (Ukraine – 9 years)
Michalko Myhaylo (Ukraine – 3 years)
Mikhnik Adam (Poland – 5 years)
Mikitko Jaromir (Ukraine – 5 years)
Miliyavski Leonid (Ukraine – 3 years)
Niklus Mart (Estonia – 16 years)
Orlov Yuri (Russia – 7 years)
Ovsienko Vasyl (Ukraine – 13, 5 years)
Pavlov Vadim (Ukraine – 3 years)
Pečeliūnas Saulius (Lithuania – 7 years)
Podrabinek Alexander (Russia – 5, 5 years)
Podrabinek Kirill (Russia – 5, 5 years)
Popadyuk Zoryan (Ukraine – 15 years)
Popov Kirill (Russia – 1.5 years)
Povilionis Vidmantas (Lithuania – 2 years)
Protsenko Pavel (Russia – 8 months)
Reznikov Alexey (Ukraine – 7 years)
Rivkin Michael (Russia/Israel – 5 years)
Rudenko Raisa (Ukraine – 6, 5 years)
Rusin Ivan (Ukraine/USA – 7 years)
Sadunaite Nijole (Lithuania – 6 years)
Senkiv Vladimir (Ukraine - 7 years)
Shevchenko Oles (Ukraine – 7 years)
Skobov Alexander (Russia – 7, 5 years)
Slobodyan Mykola (Ukraine – 5 years)
Smirnov Alexey (Russia – 5 years)
Smogytel Vadim (Ukraine – 3 years)
Sofyanik Oleg (Ukraine – 2 years)
Soselia Guram (Georgia)
Superfin Gabriel (Ukraine/Germany, 7 years)
Terleckas Antanas (Lithuania – 13 years) 
Timofeev Lev (Russia – 2 years)
Tuckus Andrius (Lithuania)
Vilkas Leonardas (Lithuania)
Virchenko Nina (Ukraine - 6 years)
Yakubivsky Myhaylo (Ukraine – 1 year)
Zissels Joseph (Ukraine – 6 years)



The right to life

Body Of Ukrainian Reporter Gongadze Finally Buried

The body of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze has been buried in Kyiv, nearly 16 years after his killing, but family and friends say their fight for justice is not over.

Gongadze, a dogged investigative reporter who exposed high-level political corruption, was kidnapped in September 2000. His headless body was found that November in a forest outside the Ukrainian capital.

After years in a morgue, his body was buried on March 22 on the grounds of a Kyiv church. His widow, Myroslava, the head of VOA’s Ukrainian Service, and two daughters, Solomia and Nana, flew in from Washington to attend the ceremony.

Gongadze’s relatives "feel relieved that Georgy ’s body has been buried with the dignity every person deserves, " according to a statement from the family that was read at the funeral by a friend of Gongadze’s, journalist Yevhen Hlibovytskyy. 

"Whoever contracted his murder must sooner or later be convicted by law, " the statement read. "The rule of law is the path to establish justice in society. Freedom of speech and democracy in Ukraine will be the best memory of Georgy." 

’No Expiration Date’

Friends of Gongadze emphasized in interviews with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that the investigation into his killing – which is widely believed to have been a contract murder -- should continue until whoever was behind it is prosecuted and punished. 

Leonid Kuchma, who was president from July 1994 to January 2005, came under suspicion after the publication of a tape on which a voice that sounded like his spoke of the need to "deal with" Gongadze.

Prosecutors charged Kuchma with involvement in the case in 2011, but a court dropped the charges later that year. 

In 2008, three former police officers were sentenced to lengthy prison terms after being convicted of involvement in the killing. In 2012, former top police official General Oleksiy Pukach received life in prison after being convicted of strangling Gongadze to death.

Yehor Checherynda, a journalist and former colleague of Gongadze’s, said that Kuchma had been Gongadze’s "enemy number one." 

Much of the slain journalist’s investigative work dealt with Kuchma and his inner circle. 

"[Kuchma was] the enemy of the press, the enemy of all non-liberties in Ukraine. It’s a shame, I think, that now this person represents Ukraine in some international organizations, " Checherynda said. 

Many people present at the ceremony expressed hope that justice will prevail. 

Viktoria Syumar, head of the Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy in Ukraine’s parliament, said that Ukraine would not change unless the country finds out everything about his murder.

Death And Dignity

"I think it’s a matter of honor for young politicians and those politicians who came to power on the wave of the Revolution of Dignity to conduct objective society can finally see those who are guilty behind bars, " she said.

Many Ukrainians refer to the pro-Western protests that pushed Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014 as the Revolution of Dignity.

Rostyslav Pavlenko, deputy head of President Petro Poroshenko’s administration, also said it is crucial to get to the bottom of Gongadze’s killing.

"A case like this has no expiration date, and society must know the answers, " he said, adding that "the government will do everything it takes for it to happen." 

Gongadze’s mother, Lesya Gongadze, fought for answers until her death in November 2013. She did not believe that the body in the morgue was her son’s.


The right to liberty and security

Ukrainian Journalist Details Her 419 Days In Separatist Captivity

The separatists would tell Maria Varfolomeyeva that she had "resort conditions" in her captivity. "As if, when you don’t get beaten up, that’s a resort, " she said.

March 07, 2016

Ukrainian journalist Maria Varfolomeyeva spent 419 days in Russia-backed separatists’ captivity in eastern Ukraine, where the 30-year-old woman was accused of spying.

On March 3, the separatists exchanged her for two people -- a Russian citizen who was fighting for the separatists and whom Ukraine had sentenced to 11 years in prison, and Luhansk local Oksana Lytovchenko, whom Ukraine accused of helping the separatists.

Three days after Varfolomeyeva’s release, Ukrainian news portal Levy Bereg spoke to the journalist in her hospital room in Kyiv about her detention and captivity, which began more than a year ago.

Members of the Russia-backed separatist group that calls itself the "Luhansk People’s Republic" detained her outside of a residential building, which another journalist asked Varfolomeyeva to photograph. Thinking there was no danger, Varfolomeyeva said she took photos of the house and tried to confirm its address with the people who emerged from the building.

"They looked at me completely stunned.... ’Come with us, ’ they said.... They were wearing civilian clothes, but inside there were people with assault rifles.... Turns out it was pretty much [the Luhansk separatists’] general staff headquarters, " Varfolomeyeva said in the interview.

Yuriy Aseyev, the journalist who purportedly asked her to take photos, claimed Varfolomeyeva knew well what the assignment was and the dangers it entailed. Aseyev allegedly told her not to risk her life for this.

"I watched the video of Maria’s interrogation released by [the separatists] and understood that she did exactly the opposite [from what I had told her], " Aseyev said in an interview with Ukraine’s Fakty newspaper.

Varfolomeyeva claimed that Aseyev was lying. "He came to the exchange [of prisoners], but I couldn’t look him in the eye, " she said. "I still can’t understand how one could have done so."

’I’ve Been In All The Cellars’

After detaining and questioning Varfolomeyeva, the separatists found a photo of the woman wearing the radical organization Right Sector’s kerchief and showing off a business card in the Right Sector’s signature red and black colors. Besides looking through her social networks, the separatists also searched her house and took everything, she said, "even a tent."

Varfolomeyeva said that at first they assured her that she would soon be let go. Later, however, the separatists’ so-called interior minister said on TV that they had detained a dangerous criminal -- in reference to Varfolomeyeva.

"It was like a zoo that doesn’t have an elephant because it can’t afford one, but there is a pony with fake ears and trunk. The unsophisticated public will eat it up, " the journalist said. "’Look, she has the Right Sector symbols. It means she isn’t just a member, but a coordinator.’"

During 419 days of captivity, the Luhansk separatists reportedly moved Varfolomeyeva frequently from one building to another, from one cellar to the next. "All the basements in [separatist-controlled parts of Luhansk] are mine, I’ve been everywhere, " she said.

At the beginning of her captivity, Varfolomeyeva was often interrogated, she said. Separatists wanted her to give up passwords and safe houses. "I didn’t know anything at all. I told them, ’I could make them up, if you want, I could confess to murdering Kennedy, ’" she said.

The separatists used psychological pressure, but Varfolomeyeva didn’t mention any physical torture. "They would put a gun to my head, to my knee, these huge men, and would start shouting that they will cripple me. They didn’t shoot. But the threats with the gun were very realistic, " she said.

In time, however, she said, their attitudes toward her changed significantly. "When one exchange fell through, then the other, they told me: ’Don’t worry, everything will be alright. Hang on.’ They couldn’t find the right words, but they tried, surprisingly, " she said.

’Phoning Obama’

The separatists would tell Varfolomeyeva that she had "resort conditions" in her captivity. "As if, when you don’t get beaten up, that’s a resort, " she said.

Many of her cellmates, however, weren’t so lucky.

Fighters from the group’s security arm claimed not to beat people up, Varfolomeyeva said. "But those who left for interrogations would come back with broken ribs, hematomas. The halls were just ’very slippery; people fell, ’" she said she was told.

The separatists tortured some captives by attaching generators to their ears, Varfolomeyeva said. "They call it ’phoning [U.S. President Barack] Obama.’"

While in captivity, Varfolomeyeva tried to keep herself busy, including by studying French, Italian, and German, and read books that her father sent her. She was not allowed to go outside except to be moved.

"If I calculate how much time I spent outside in a year -- it would be about 24 hours, " she said.

Varfolomeyeva is reportedly recovering in the capital, Kyiv. In the Bereg interview, she said she was unsure about what to do next.

But the same day the conversation was published, Varfolomeyeva was said to have been offered a job at one of the biggest Ukrainian TV channels, 1+1. The anchor of the evening news made the announcement on air.

"We are proud to call our colleague a person who wasn’t broken by militants’ cellars, who betrayed neither her principles nor her country in the ordeal."

Law enforcement agencies

Fighting Corruption in Ukraine or Those Who Fight It?

  Left to right: David Sakvarelidze, Vitaly Kasko

Relief that Viktor Shokin has finally been removed from his post as Prosecutor General was tempered on Tuesday by a final blow against the reform camp through the dismissal of David Sakvarelidze and criminal charges against his former colleague Vitaly Kasko, with concern mounting that Shokin’s successor may only differ in passport details

The crucial and long-overdue vote in parliament came just hours after Shokin dismissed Sakvarelidze, the last remaining reform-minded Deputy Prosecutor General.  And a day after fellow reformer Vitaly Kasko’s flat in Kyiv was frozen as part of criminal proceedings initiated just before Kasko resigned from his analogous post in February.  It was also announced on Tuesday that one of the prosecutors whom Sakvarelidze appointed in Odesa, Aleksandr Modebadze had been arrested and charged over alleged bribe-taking.

President Petro Poroshenko was reported to have specially asked for a meeting with Sakvarelidze and told him that the dismissal had not been agreed in advance with him.  Sakvarelidze himself says that Poroshenko had just a few days ago asked him if he would like to resign, making it difficult to believe that the President was unaware of Shokin’s plans. 

Sakvarelidze has played a major role in corruption cases, including that of the so-called ‘diamond prosecutors’, Volodymyr Shapakin and Shokin’s friend Oleksandr Korniyets.   He has come into conflict both with Shokin, and with Yury Sevruk, current acting Prosecutor General and Yury Stolyarchuk, another deputy.  Both men are seen as close to Shokin, and both are being discussed as likely candidates for the main post. 

Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre [AntAC] which has frequently criticized both Sevruk and Stolyarchuk, believes that President Petro Poroshenko is currently considering two options.  One would be to leave Sevruk as indefinitely acting Prosecutor General.  The other would be to make Stolyarchuk the head, and Sevruk his first deputy.  That, he says, would be “a reincarnation of Shokin with other faces”. 

As reported, the Prosecutor General’s Office last week obtained two court orders allowing them to remove documents and other items from AntAC, and to demand access to confidential information from the NGO’s bank.  The claim was that this was part of an investigation into the disappearance of money given by the USA for reform of the prosecutor’s office.  Shabunin condemned the move as overt pressure on the NGO which had never had any contact with that money, as Shokin knew very well.  They had, however  strongly criticised the work of both Sevruk and Stolyarchuk.  

It was Vladislav Kutsenko from the PGO who first reported the investigation into the missing funds which for some reason targeted an anti-corruption NGO, though the claim to fame here lies with Stolyarchuk who told Ukrainska Pravda that he could not exclude the possibility that the US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt would be summoned for questioning.  

Kutsenko was not to be outshone.  On Tuesday he announced that Modebadze had been detained, allegedly while receiving a bribe.  Just to raise public confidence that this had nothing to do with Sakvarelidze’s dismissal, Kutsenko added that “this is the daily work of the prosecutor’s office, the military prosecutor, the Prosecutor General’s Office. And it’s not one “diamond prosecutors” came which is all unfortunately that David can boast of talking about how he’s working for new Ukraine”.

The order dismissing Sakvarelidze speaks of “flagrant infringement of prosecutor ethics” which was presumably linked with his involvement in a protest outside the Prosecutor General’s Office and had supposedly breached ethical principles. 

It also mentions several collective MPs’ appeals and a court suit brought by an MP.  It does not mention another suit brought by Korniyets, one of the two ‘diamond prosecutors’. 

It is their prosecution which Sakvarelidze has repeatedly alleged was being blocked. One letter from Odesa MPs has been reported.  The signatories include Serhiy Kivalov, who played an active role in the worst judicial distortions under Viktor Yanukovych and  others who, according to MP and investigative journalist Serhiy Leschchenko, should themselves “be Prosecutor General’s Office clients”.

Vitaly Kasko

A criminal investigation against Kasko was initiated on Feb 12, 2016, three days before Kasko resigned from his post as Deputy Prosecutor General saying that he did not wish to be part of a body where “total lawlessness is tolerated”.   Under the present leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office, he added, he saw no possibility, of creating a European-style prosecutor’s office able and willing to effectively investigate corruption and other cases. 

Kasko had also not concealed his frustration at the sabotage of efforts to reform the prosecutor’s office.  In November last year he said that “while the Prosecutor General spends so much time in the President’s Administration, we will not create either a European prosecutor’s office or a European state.” 

Kasko was viewed, like Sakvarelidze, as a key reformer and his resignation was widely regretted and only fuelled calls for Shokin’s removal. 

On March 28, a flat in Kyiv which is the subject of the criminal investigation was frozen.  Kasko writes that he learned of this from the media and he directly accuses Shokin of carrying out a reprisal attack on him.   Perhaps coincidentally, the court order was issued on exactly the same day and by the same Pechersk Court as those allowing the search and removal of material from the Anti-Corruption Action Centre.

The watchdog Nashi Hroshi [Our Money] has outlined the property relations in question here. It also points to the counter-accusations of corruption made by Kasko. 

In a blog on Tuesday, Kasko rejects the charges and points out that he underwent a lustration check in 2015 which included a check on whether property had been lawfully obtained.  This, he says, was signed by Shokin who has now personally dealt with the writ on the flat.  Kasko names a whole range of actions linked to this which he says shows that this is an act of revenge. 

It is not our place to judge the merits of any charges.  It is, however, true that both Kasko and Sakvarelidze were widely seen as promoting vitally needed reforms in the prosecutor’s office and were constantly under fire for this.  Civic activists have called for public discussion of the choice for a new Prosecutor General.  They fear, and with reason, that without open competition, the fourth prosecutor general since EuroMaidan will prove as unwilling to carry out reform and as short on any progress as his or her predecessors.  

Prosecutor General’s Office obtains carte blanche to raid anti-corruption NGO

Kyiv’s Pechersky District Court has issued a warrant allowing investigators from the Prosecutor General’s Office to remove documents and other items from the Anti-Corruption Action Centre [AntAC]. They have also been permitted to demand access to confidential information from the NGO’s bank.  All of this is, purportedly, how the Prosecutor General’s Office, still under Viktor Shokin, is planning to investigate the disappearance of money donated by US and European partners for reforming the prosecutor’s service. 

Vitaly Shabunin, head of the NGO’s Board, calls the move pressure on his organization and points out that they have strongly criticised the work of two of the people Shabunin says may be appointed to replace Shokin.  If the latter goes which is also looking doubtful, despite promises and his disappearance for a few weeks. 

Oleksandra Ustinova, who works for the NGO, says that one of the two court rulings from March 22, enabling the investigators to receive bank information, could lead to the organization’s accounts being blocked.  There may also be other rulings, she adds, which are not recorded in the State Register of Rulings, for example, concerning surveillance and wiretapping.  

Not surprisingly, the NGO staff have been removing computers, etc. from the office which they expect to face a search any time.  It is hard to believe, following the publicity about this that the Prosecutor General’s Office will seriously go ahead with the measures. The rulings make it clear that the NGO had not been called to attend the hearing and it seems likely that it was not supposed to know what was planned. 

The reason cited is baffling and appears to be linked with the news on March 16 that the Prosecutor General’s Office would be initiating criminal proceedings over the possible embezzlement of 2.2 million dollars allocated by the USA and EU for reforming the prosecutor’s office. 

At a briefing on March 16, Vladislav Kutsenko, a prosecutor from the PGO, announced the plans for an investigation, saying that these were because of a submission from 50 MPs wanting to know how the money had been spent.  He said that the amount mentioned which was the total of several amounts had not reached the PGO’s official accounts, and that they would be looking into where they had got to.  While too early to lay charges, they might, Kutsenko said, be looking at a crime under Article 191 of the Criminal Code (appropriating or embezzling property through abuse of official position.) It is this Article which is mentioned in the Pechersky District Court rulings (№ 757/12890/16-к ,  № 757/12893/16-к)

On that same day, the US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt responded without undue concern for diplomatic niceties.  He pointed out that the money provided by the USA had not all been paid directly to the prosecutor’s office, but to international partners.  200 thousand USD, for example, had been paid for drawing up tests for prosecutor’s office staff, and 2 million for the International Organization on Development and Labour for later use in reform of the prosecutor’s office.  It was some of this money which the Centre received for a specific project on overseeing the reform.  Pyatt reportedly stated that the USA wanted to see a real struggle against corruption from the Prosecutor’s Office, and not “open and aggressive opposition to reform”.

Pyatt is not alone in expressing open frustration with Shokin and his people.  The money used in drawing up tests guaranteed to prevent corrupt arrangements were effectively sabotaged by Shokin himself who appointed the old guard in the majority of cases.   This is just one of numerous grounds for concern.

After it seemed that Shokin had stepped down, civic activists, lawyers and relatives of Nebesna Sotnya, those killed during Euromaidan, even issued a public statement calling for a proper competition so that the fourth Prosecutor General since Euromaidan actually kept the promises they all make, including on fighting corruption.

As the end of March approaches, it is not even entirely clear that Shokin is planning to vacate his post, and the struggle at present seems more akin to an offensive against an NGO fighting corruption.  

Deported peoples

2,300 directly at risk if Russia bans Crimean Tatar Representative Body

If Russia declares the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or representative body of the indigenous people of Crimea ‘extremist’, around 2, 300 members of Crimean Tatar self-government structures could be in immediate danger.

According to veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev, for all the repressive nature of the Soviet regime, there were no cases of disappearances.  It was not like now in Russian-occupied Crimea when Islam Dzhepparov, the 19-year-old son of a Crimean Tatar rights activist and his cousin could be abducted and taken away, and simply never seen again.  When there is scarcely any pretence of investigation into the abduction and hideous death through torture of lone protester Reshat Ametov despite video footage showing his abductors. 

Dzhemiliev has long pointed out the specific contempt for the law demonstrated by the current regime in Russia, and the 72-year-old certainly has plenty to compare it with.  He was just 6 months old when the entire Crimean Tatar people were deported from Crimea in May 1944 and has devoted most of his life to peacefully upholding the rights of his people and human rights generally.  That commitment cost him 15 years in Soviet labour camps.  Less than 2 months after Russia’s invasion and annexation, he was banned from entering his native Crimea.  Russia has since demonstrated particular cynicism by initiating criminal charges against him for trying back on May 3, 2014 to enter Crimea.  It is also using his son Khaiser as a hostage, and holding him in a Russian prison.  

Dzhemiliev himself, and the events on May 3, 2014, are among the pretexts Russia is using to try to ban the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative body, claiming it to be ‘extremist’.  

In an interview on the eve of the first, preliminary hearing into this planned ban, Mustafa Dzhemiliev spoke of the reasons for Russia’s antagonism towards the Mejlis and its leaders, and the likely consequences of a ban. 

The Mejlis is the last organized bastion of resistance to the occupation. They tried for a long time to break it down, bribe it with promises of posts, blackmail it.  It didn’t work.   Then they set about trying to clone the bodies of national self-government, calling a new national congress of the Qurultay [Crimean Tatar national congress] and electing a ‘mejlis’ which was to the occupiers’ liking.  That also failed. The overwhelming majority refused to have any part of this ‘Qurultay’.  No Qurultay on occupied territory can be considered legitimate. »

They have now turned to creating their own puppet organizations, such as Kyyrym Birligi.  Dzhemiliev notes that the leader of this organization Seitumer Nimetullaev is wanted in mainland Ukraine on suspicion of large-scale embezzlement.  There is also Kyyrym, led by Remz Ilyasov. 

This, he says, is a parody of the Mejlis, and even if they ban the Mejlis, such organizations will not, as Russia is hoping, be accepted by Crimean Tatars.  These are people, he adds, who “are collaborating with the occupiers, and in moral isolation from the people”.

The Mejlis’ strength is in its representative nature, in the fact that it is elected by the people. 

The attempts Mustafa Dzhemiliev speaks of to override the Mejlis are continuing in parallel to the attempt to ban it.  On March 5, the website 15 Minutes reported the creation of something called ‘TOS, or ‘territorial bodies of self-government’ which are clearly being used to try to push out local mejlises.  Once again, the person pushing for these, Teyfuk Gafarov is a person expelled from the Mejlis back in 2014 for his willingness to collaborate with the occupiers. 

Like others, Mustafa Dzhemiliev predicts that the ban of the Mejlis will lead to an escalation in repression.    

The Russian regime has already demonstrated that you don’t need to have committed any offence to face repression. 

Dzhemiliev cites the situation with alleged members of the pan-Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir which Russia has decided is terrorist.  Hizb ut-Tahrir is a legal organization in Ukraine and although Dzhemiliev does not especially like the organization which he says divides Muslims into the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ kind, its adherents are neither extremist nor terrorist.

That, however, is of no interest to Russia.  The Memorial Human Rights Centre in fact declares all those convicted of ‘terrorism’ purely on the grounds of involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir political prisoners. 

There are now 8 people in Crimea facing such charges, with it highly questionable in a number of the cases whether the men in fact have anything to do with Hizb ut-Tahrir. 

The same principle will doubtless be used against members of the Mejlis.  If Russia declares this representative body of the main indigenous people of Crimea to be ‘extremist’, then the members of the Mejlis will be in immediate danger of arrest.  Including local mejlises, Dzhemiliev says that around 2, 300 people involved in all structures of Crimean Tatar self-government could be at risk. 

Dzhemiliev points out that under the Soviet regime the national movement of Crimean Tatars was also not recognized.  The same labels were used, and repressive measures applied.  However “you had to do something to get imprisoned. It wasn’t enough to take part in the national movement.  They had to find some prohibited material falling under Article 190 – possession and circulation of material defaming the Soviet state and political system.  This is now an innovation of modern Russia that they can arrest you simply for being a member of the Mejlis. .. From the point of view of repression, the Russian Federation is much more insidious and vile than the USSR”.

There was a procedure, he points out.  Yes, a person who opposed the Soviet regime would certainly be arrested. But procedure was followed: a court, defence, and definitely being sent to a camp.  “And now people can simply disappear”. 

Or they can find themselves declared ‘extremists’.  Here Mustafa Dzhemiliev says that at one level there is nothing that can be done.  Those 33 members of the Mejlis (as well as Deputy Head of the Mejlis Akhtem Chiygoz who has been imprisoned now for 14 months) will not leave Crimea. 

Crimean Tatars will however be waging a major campaign in the West to increase political pressure including through extending personal and sectoral sanctions.

Mustafa Dzhemiliev was speaking before the court hearing on March 3.  This proved to be a preliminary hearing and the Mejlis have received time until March 10 to read the material presented by the de facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya to justify the application. 

Pressure from all western bodies, governments and NGOs is urgently needed now while there is still time.   

News from the CIS countries

Ukraine Lists Individuals It Wants EU To Blacklist Over Savchenko Trial

BRUSSELS -- Ukraine has identified nearly 50 people it considers responsible for the "illegal detention and falsified trial" of Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko and has urged the European Union to impose sanctions against them.
The list of 46 names, which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko handed over to the heads of the European Council and the European Commission in Brussels on March 17, includes 44 Russians and two Ukrainians.
All are "directly involved in the illegal process against the Ukrainian officer and pilot Nadia Savchenko, who is illegally kept in a Russian prison, " Poroshenko told RFE/RL.
Savchenko is currently awaiting her verdict in a Russian military court trial in which she is accused of complicity in the murder in 2014 of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been engaged in a conflict against separatist forces. The pilot’s case has been widely condemned as a show trial and has led to calls by U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders for Russia to release Savchenko.

Savchenko, who has defiantly denied the charges and said she will not recognize the court or its ruling, is a member of the Ukrainian parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in absentia.

Poroshenko was adamant that the European Union should act quickly to punish individuals who have played a role in Savchenko’s case.
"If you are talking about values, neither Ukraine nor the European Union can keep silent and do nothing, " Poroshenko said, arguing that sanctions would be an "effective reaction against the brutal violation of international law and human rights."
He said that more names could be added to the list, noting that officials Kyiv believes are involved in the detention of up to 10 other Ukrainian prisoners in Russia should also be punished.
European Council President Donald Tusk, speaking together with Poroshenko and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, addressed what he described as Savchenko’s illegal detention in Russia.
"Let me in this context reiterate the call by the EU for her immediate release, " he said, along with "all other illegally detained Ukrainian citizens."
The list handed over by Poroshenko includes Russian Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin, Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov, and Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Grin.
The two Ukrainian citizens listed are Valeriy Bolotov, who at the time of Savchenko’s capture was a separatist leader in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk region, and Igor Plotnitsky, the region’s current separatist leader and commander of the armed group that Kyiv believes captured Savchenko.
Many on the list are also included in a similar list of 29 people that members of the European Parliament handed over to EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini last week. The Ukrainian list, unlike the European Parliament’s, does not include Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Several EU foreign ministers brought up the issue of Savchenko during a meeting in Brussels on March 14, but EU sources told RFE/RL that the desire to adopt new restrictive measures in the European Union is low at the moment. The EU recently prolonged by six months asset freezes and visa bans imposed against 146 people and 37 entities from Ukraine and Russia the EU deems responsible for violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The EU might, however, face a struggle to extend economic sanctions against Russia’s banking and energy sector that are up for renewal on July 31. With that in mind, an EU source told RFE/RL, imposing new sanctions would be a hard sell, although the source said it was possible that foreign ministers could discuss the possibility of new sanctions when they meet in Luxembourg on April 18.

During his interview with RFE/RL, Poroshenko also discussed Ukraine’s desire to obtain visa-free status within Europe’s Schengen zone. Following his meeting with Tusk and Juncker, in which the European Commission’s intention to propose a visa-free regime with Ukraine in April was confirmed, Ukraine was poised to reach the level of Georgia in its efforts to gain access to the passport-free zone, according to Poroshenko.
“We are now together with Georgia in one boat, " he said. "We fulfill everything. This is very positive news; this is a great achievement for Ukraine and I am absolutely sure that this is a great achievement for the European Union because this is a win-win situation for both sides.”
Georgia and Ukraine were long coupled in the visa-free process, but in February the European Commission decided to separate them due to the lack of progress on key reforms in Ukraine. Earlier this week, however, the Ukrainian parliament passed several laws related to strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption.
According to RFE/RL sources, the European Commission proposal is expected to come after the Dutch referendum on April 6 on the Ukrainian Association Agreement. Any proposal to allow Ukraine to enjoy visa-free travel within the Schengen zone will need to be approved by the European Parliament and the 28 EU member states.

Mystery ’Trial’ begins of Russia’s Elderly Ukrainian Hostage

The preliminary court hearing took place on Oct 5 in the Kafkaesque trial of 73-year-old Yury Soloshenko, a pensioner from Poltava in Ukraine.  He is facing charges of ‘spying on behalf of Ukraine’, but this is effectively all that is known.  It is, however, enough to make it entirely clear that the case is fabricated, since the retired director had no secrets to disclose.  

As reported Soloshenko has now been held in the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow for 14 months, with only state-appointed lawyers allowed to see him.  The case material has been classified as ‘secret’, and Ivan Pavlov, the lawyer Soloshenko and his family had chosen was illegally prevented from seeing his client, and thus effectively forced off the case.

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.  

The only contact Soloshenko seems to have is with human rights activist Zoya Svetova, who has been able to visit him in prison and adds a few new details on the circumstances behind his arrest.   He came to Moscow in August 2014 for a meeting with a former business partner from Russia’s Defence Ministry with which he had long cooperated. She explains that this cooperation was regulated by an inter-governmental agreement signed in 1993.  It was apparently dissolved on May 20, 2014, soon after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

It is unclear what exactly was dissolved. Not only is Soloshenko retired, but the factory that he worked for is no longer functioning.  It is more than likely that the elderly pensioner had no idea that anything had changed and was, as his son has suggested, tricked by a former colleague.  

Svetova notes that, like all cases involving treason or spying charges, you can only find out about the charges after a verdict has been issued. All parties, from the investigator and defence lawyers to Soloshenko’s relatives, have been forced to sign undertakings not to disclose any information.

He appears to be accused of planning to transport to Ukraine some kind of large weapons in a KAMAZ military truck, with this carrying a sentence of between 7 and 20 years.  Soloshenko was 72 when arrested, with a heart condition and other health issues. 

Back in April this year, Svetova wrote of the refusal to allow Soloshenko to see his chosen lawyers and other infringements, saying that she had never seen such flagrant violation of Russia’s Constitution as in this case.

Soloshenko’s isolation is almost complete making him especially susceptible to pressure and manipulation by the investigators.  He is in a cell for two, with the cellmate often changing, but seemingly planted there to advise Soloshenko “to confess”.  The investigator and state-appointed lawyer also promise that he will be released if he ‘confesses’. The investigator sometimes threatens Soloshenko with a long sentence, at other times promises a suspended sentence and freedom.

For a long time Soloshenko was also held without access to the consul, but this changed after the two military intelligence officers were captured by Ukrainian forces.  They were allowed to see the Russian consul, so suddenly Soloshenko got permission for a visit from Ukraine’s consul.

Soloshenko has told Svetova that the FSB investigator advised the elderly man to ask the consul for a letter from Ukraine offering to exchange him for the captured intelligence officers.  He is clearly pinning his hopes on such a letter, which Svetova says has long been written. 

Svetova also hopes that Soloshenko will be released, however it seems likely, after holding the pensioner prisoner for over a year, that the court will find him guilty of the mystery charges and sentence him to a real term of imprisonment. 

This, she warns, would likely be a death sentence for Yury Soloshenko. 


Halya Coynash

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2016, #03