war crimes in Ukraine

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Open Appeal over the lawless actions of the Kharkiv authorities and Police

It is vital that we demonstrate to the crushing of peaceful protest in Gorky Park has no justification in a democratic country and that such actions must not go unpunished. Please add your voice to our appeal to the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner

To the Council of Europe, Human Rights Commissioner,

Thomas Hammerberg

Dear Mr Hammerberg,

We would like to bring to your attention highly disturbing actions by the Kharkiv authorities and police in connection with the controversial felling of century-old trees in Kharkiv’s central Gorky Park. The local authorities not only acted in breach of the law and ignored public opinion, but also used unlawful measures, including physical force, against peaceful protesters. Particularly worrying was the way in which the police abetted the use of force by unidentified strong men gangs as well as repressive measures against the victims of violence.

No public discussion was held and there is still no openness regarding the actual building plans. The local authorities claim that it is all for Euro-2012, yet the Ministry for Environmental Protection revoked agreement of a plan for the construction of a “hotel complex and apartments, and for a vehicle road”. Instead of openness and dialogue, the local authorities have resorted to violence together with misinformation, defamatory invectives against the park’s defenders and, it would seem, attempts to bribe them.

 The decision to fell 503 trees in Gorky Park in order to build a road and hotel facilities on park territory was adopted by the Kharkiv City Executive Committee on 19 May 2010.  Men were sent to carry out the work the very next day. During those first days, no safety precautions were taken and the area was not cordoned off. It is a miracle that the trees did not fall on passers-by. 

These are only some of the many flagrant breaches of legislation. The Governor of the Kharkiv Region M. Dobkin, and Acting Mayor of Kharkiv, H. Kernes, both claimed publicly on a number of occasions that the work was in accordance with the General Plan for the city, approved back in 2004, that all relevant permits had been obtained, and that there had been public hearings as required by law and the Aarhus Convention. Yet the Ministry for Environmental Protection confirmed on 1 June that the permits were not in place, and that the Ministry had no information of any public hearings having been held (

Even more disturbing is the reaction of the Kharkiv authorities to lawful protest by city residents against the illegal destruction of their park. The entirely peaceful protest began on 20 May. When it transpired that the workmen could produce only a copy of the decision taken the day before the activists called the police.  On that occasion the police still responded correctly to the lack of permits and suspended the felling work.

Most regrettably this was to be the last time that the police carried out their duty to protect citizens from lawlessness and violence. During the confrontation, police officers either stood aside, failing to protect people from attack, or themselves used force against peaceful activists.  They also only detained defenders of the park, and not their assailants.

At 4 a.m. on 25 May around 100 police officers escorted workmen into the park and encircled the area.  Activists who tried to protect the trees with their bodies were dragged away and beaten by police officers. This can all be viewed at:

 On the morning of 28 May, around 50 men of athletic build with badges saying “municipal security” entered the Park where police were already present. They formed chains and began brutally moving away the tree defenders, beating up some of them. They could provide no identification, nor has anybody heard of a “municipal security” department.

Despite the fact that a group of thugs without proper identification had fallen upon peaceful protesters, the police at first looked on, and when they did react, detained the protesters.  12 were charged with disobeying police orders which is patently absurd. The activists asked the police to protect them against the assailants..

Following publication of the Ministry for Environmental Protection’s clear indication that the felling was unlawful, and that the planned works were NOT in the General Plan for the city, the Kharkiv authorities might have been expected to back down. Instead in the early hours of 2 June, some 50 men in black turned up at the site, together with workmen and police. While the police looked on and did nothing, the men in black turned on those attempting to protect the trees. Several protesters were injured. Despite the fact that it was the activists who were set upon, that they committed no offences and certainly did not show resistance to the police, the latter yet again detained only them. The culmination of the lawlessness can be seen here, One of the workmen saws through a tree which falls straight onto one where one of the protesters is holding vigil.

The unlawful destruction has ended, with far more trees felled then stated originally. Civic organizations have lodged complaints over police behaviour and plan to appeal court rulings.

The Kharkiv authorities through their actions demonstrated total contempt for the interests and even the very safety of members of the public as well as for legislation.

The police carried out unlawful instructions, not only failing to protect citizens but actually violating their constitutional rights.

There has also been no adequate response from the top management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Cabinet of Ministers or the President, although the level of overt lawlessness and the attack of the authorities and police on members of the public raises doubts regarding any commitment to democracy or human rights.

The scale of the violations, as well as the lack of proper response from those in power, compels us to seek your help in drawing the attention of the authorities to the need in the first instance:

1.      to carry out an investigation into all stages of the confrontation and the actions of the local authorities. The commission should include representatives of leading human rights and environmental organizations, with the organizations choosing representatives, not the authorities;

2.      on the results of the investigation to hold to answer those guilty of unlawful action or failure to act, including those who issued unlawful instructions;

3.      pending conclusion of the investigation to suspend any further work on the territory in dispute;

4.      to not obstruct peaceful gatherings aimed at expressing the attitude of members of the public to the actions of the authorities.

 It is vital that we demonstrate to the authorities and police that contempt for the law and human rights have no justification in a democratic country and that such actions will not go unpunished. Your support and attention to this situation can help achieve this.


Thank you.


Ukrainian Helsinki Human RightsUnion

Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Environmental Organization “MAMA-86", Hanna Holubovska-Onisimova, President

Foundation of Regional Initiatives

The Environmental Group “Pechenihy”, Kharkiv,  Serhiy Shaparenko

National Ecological Centre of Ukraine [NECU]

Konotop Zeleny Svit [Green World]

Bureau of Environmental Investigations, Dmytro Skrylnykov, Lawyer and Head of the Bureau

Human Rights Centre “Postup” [Progress], Luhansk

Helsinki Initiative – XXI, Oleksandr Stepanenko

Public Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, Luhansk, Mykola Kozyrev

Kharkiv Regional CO Dobra Volya [Good Will]

Information Centre of the Environmental Organization Zeleny Svit [Green World], Serhiy Fedorynchyk

Centre for Civic Advocacy

Youth Initiative KOLO, Pavlo Horak

Pylyp Orlyk Institute of Democracy

Kryvy Rih City Association of the All-Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko Society “Prosvita”, Mykola Korobko

Vsesvit [Universe], Kharkiv

Mykolaiv regional association DANA

Territory of Success, Inna Dudnik

City Youth CO Ecoclub, Rivne

Civic Organization “M’ART” [Youth Alternative], Chernihiv

Mykolaiv Centre for Monitoring Human Rights

Youth Human Rights Centre, Olha Vesnyanka

Adaptation Men’s Centre, Ternopil

Expert Club, Nikolai Feldman

“Svoboda” [Freedom] Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, Andriy Dydenko

Office of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung in Ukraine, Kiril Savin

Poltava regional branch of the Civic Organization [CO] Power of the Law

Centre of Civic Liberties, Oleksandra Matviychuk

Konotop Society of Consumers and Taxpayers “Hidnist” [“Dignity”]

Kharkiv Regional Foundations “Civic Alternative”

Khmelnytsky Regional CO Centre of Legal Defence

“Maidan” Alliance, Ludmila Yamshchykova

Environmental Journal “Living Ukraine”, Yaroslav Movchan

CO Donetsk Environmental Movement

Ukrainian Association of Women Bar Lawyers, Natalya Shcherbata

Kherson Regional CO RIGHT TO LIFE

Environmental-Cultural Family CO ETNOS

Regional Charitable Fund Resonance, Lviv, Olena Hrabovska

Institute of Contemporary Issues, Ukraine (Kyiv), Tetyana Metelyova, President

Karlivsk District Branch of the CO Hromada [Community], Anatoly Dokukin

Netishynsk City Society for Consumer Rights ContrAct, V. Boiko

Environmental-Cultural Centre Bakhmat, Volodymyr Berezin

Chernihiv Civic Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, Viktor Tarasov

Odessa Regional Roma Congress

Kharkiv Regional Youth CO SVITLO, Mariya Savina

Daryna Halatchenko, "МАМА-86"

City Youth CO Ecoclub, Rivne, Andriy Martynyuk, Head of the Board

International Youth Organizaiton AIESEC, Olha Petruk

Children’s Environmental Organization Legion of the Earth, Lviv

Institute of Legal Research and Strategies

Website “Nature of Ukraine”, Kateryna Borysenko

Association of Environmental Organizations “Zeleny Svit”, Zhytomyr region, Oleksiy Semenyv

Zhytomyr City CO Teachers for Democracy and Justice

Kharkiv Regional Trade Union of Businesspeople, Valery Relin

Myroslav Marynovych, Vice Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv

Ihor Sirenko, NECU

Oleksiy Vasylyuk, Deputy Head of NECU

Kateryna Levchenko

Dr. Leonid Ponomarenko, School of Physics & Astronomy, Manchester University,UK

 Krzysztof Sledzinski, Architect

Serhiy Yarovy, student, Kharkiv

Vitaly Rohachov, programmer, Bliznyuky, Kharkiv Region

Lyubomyr Krupnytsky, journalist

Pavlo Slavynsky, Kyiv

Fion Gunn, Artist, UK

Bohdana Stelmakh

Volodymyr Kryzhanovsky, engineeer, Donetsk

Anna Lysakova, Kharkiv

Democratic Alliance, Vasyl Hatsko, Head

Kharkiv Regional Branch of the CO Democratic Alliance

Olha Zdir, Kyiv

Ksenya Habenko, student, Hlukhiv

Ludmila Slominska, Institute of Geography, Academy of Sciences, Kyiv

Olena Shostkov, Kharkiv 

Ivan Terefenko

Dmitry Bohdanys, student, Kharkiv 

Maria Furnik, Kharkiv 

Civic Information and Analysis Centre for Youth

Newspaper “Promin Prosvity”, Kryvy Rih, Serhiy Zinchenko, Editor

Oleh Listopad, journalist, Kyiv

Antonina Nikishyna, Kyiv

Viktor Tkachenko, Head of the Sviatoshynsk regional branch of Zeleny Svit

Ruslan Tarantula, lawyer and human rights activist, Lviv

Kharkiv CO Ecoland, Olena Noda, Head

Tatyana Shlyakhova, student, Kharkiv 

Angelina Rusanova, biologist, Kharkiv 

Edward Klochko, Head of the Board of Zeleny Svit, Sicheslav

Volodymyr Shyshkin, Head of the Self-Defence Committee, village Stara Zburyivka

Varvara Ilnytska, employee of the National Nature Park Homilshansk Forests

Volodymyr Andreichenko, Head of the Khmelnytsky Regional Branch of Podillya, the Ukrainian Environmental Union “Saving from Chernobyl”

Sergiy Pylypets, software developer, Prague,Czech Republic

Halyna Kucherenko, Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional CO People’s Control

Yekateryna Tokovets, school student, Hlukhiv

Halyna Protsiv, Environmental Club “Krai”, Berezhany, Ternopil region

M. Vitko, Zeleny Svit, Marhanets

Katya Lachina

Oksana Nesterenko, lawyer

Vladimir Aleksandrovych, Krokhmal

Mykola Vepruk, student, Kharkiv 

The Drobotko Family (five members)

Ihor Polshchykov

Vadim Honcharuk, environmentalist, Vinnytsa

Kateryna Shtamburh, Kharkiv  

Yury Babinin, Head of the Civic Watch, Nikopol

Yevhen Roman, “Planeta”

Viktor Marunyak, Village Head of Stara Zburyivka

Olena Feshovets ,  UCU, Lviv

Mykola Moros, Toronto ,Canada

 Bohdan Slabyj

 Ludmila Ostryakova, Kyiv

Lyubov Shaida, “Svoboda” [Freedom] Centre for the Defence of Human Rights

Ludmila Tyutyun, designer, Kyiv

Ihor Kyslyak

CO Kyiv Residents Unite

Svitlana Korzun, City CO Khors, Zaporizhya

Mykhailo Podhainy, member of the organizing committee for National Parks under the Kherson Regional Administration

Oleksandra Klusenko, programmer, Kyiv

Iryna Romanchuk, Head of the Children’s Environmental Organization “Malva”, Vinnytsa region

CO Clean Wave, Deputy Head of the Board, Antonina Yerysheva

Artur Denysenko, NECU

Yury Dzyadyk, Cybernetics Centre, Academy of Sciences

 Arkady Ivanov, MGU, Moscow, Russia 

Illia Korniiko, programmer, Kyiv

Victor Klymko

Olexiy Logvinov

Dr. Serge Utevsky, Department of Zoology and Animal Ecology. Kharkiv National University

 Gyulnar Nazarova, Head of the Chernivtsi Regional CO Human Rights

The CO Ukrainian Youth Cathedral

Yevhen Shapovalov, Donetsk Regional Oleksiy Tykhy Society

Ruslan Kavatsyuk, Editor of the section Events, journal “Krayina” [“Country”]

Dmytro Nikiforov, student, Kharkiv 

Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, East Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives

Tetyana Chetverkova, expert on classifying equipment for nuclear power stations

Angelika Komarova

Oleh Andros

Kristin Afara

 Kostiantyn Sokolinskyi, Kharkiv

This appeal can be endorsed by writing to [email protected]

The list of signatories is being updated for the moment only in the Ukrainian – English version here: 



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