war crimes in Ukraine

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Stop the Persecution of Historians!

Letter from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group regarding the detention of Ruslan Zabily


The President, V. Yanukovych

The Prosecutor General, O. Medvedko

The Head of the Security Service, V. Khoroshkovsky


The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group demand that the Security Service of Ukraine stops its persecution of historians


At 7.30 a.m. on 8 September on his arrival in Kyiv by train from Lviv, Ruslan Zabily, historian and Director of the National Memorial Museum of Victims of the Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho” in Lviv was detained by six (!) officers of the Security Service [SBU] and taken to the SBU building on Volodymyrska St.

In detaining him, none of the officers identified themselves or showed any documents. Mr Zabily was simply asked to “come to the car”. Nor was he told the reason why he was being detained. The SBU officers had no detention order. Mr Zabily was not informed of his rights when being detained, not allowed to make any phone call, except to his wife, and his request for a lawyer was also ignored.

The interrogation last fourteen and a half hours, being carried out by SBU officers who did not identify themselves or show any documents.

Such actions by the SBU are a clear violation of Article 29 of the Constitution and criminal procedure legislation.

During the interrogation, without any legitimate grounds, the SBU officers tried to persuade him to voluntarily hand over his laptop and two external hard disk drives. These had copies of historical material and his academic research. The historical material comprises 16 thousand archival documents declassified in 2009 which have already been passed to public computer libraries, for example, the Kyiv Mohyla National Academy and the Lviv Ivan Franko National University. These documents have thus not been classified as secret for a long time.

Having failed to persuade Zabily to sign a document agreeing to voluntarily hand over his laptop and disks, the SBU officers, without any court order and with numerous infringements of legislation, drew up an act of confiscation of the laptop and two hard disks. Neither the laptop nor the disks were sealed making it possible to insert any information on them.

Zabily now has grounds for fearing that they could add any information to his computer needed to persecute him.

It was only after the news of his detention was made public on 9 September that official information from the SBU appeared.

“The Security Service has initiated a criminal investigation over plans by an SBU employee to divulge information which is a State secret, i.e. over elements of the crime set down in Articles 15 § 1 and 328 of the Criminal Code.

It has been ascertained that SBU employee R.V. Zabily collected information which constitutes a State secret without authority in order to pass it to a third party. On 8 September 2010, he was detained on his arrival in Kyiv from Lviv with this information.

At the present time the circle of people for whom the said information was intended is being ascertained.

Such reports must be viewed as an infringement of the presumption of innocence since they assert, before any court ruling, that a specific person has committed a crime.

There was also extraordinary speed in coming up with the assertion that they had found material on Zabily which are state secrets. Have they really carried out an expert assessment of several gegabytes of information removed and established that these documents are state secrets?

On 9 September it was also learned that instructions had been issued by the Head of the Lviv Regional Department of the SBU to not allow the Directorate and employees of the National Memorial Museum of Victims of the Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho” to their work places and work computers. In 2009 the SBU handed over the premises of the former KGB prison for the creation of the museum.

UHHRU and KHPG are concerned by the overt disregard for criminal procedure legislation by SBU officers whose actions are more reminiscent of those of the KGB in Soviet times.

UHHRU and KHPG believe that further harassment of historians, removal of historical documents and the retention of “secret” classification on a considerable percentage of such documents is a step towards a totalitarian future, where a history is artificially constructed with no basis in real facts and historical events. It is inadmissible that what constitutes the history of our country should be determined by the Security Service and politicians, and not historians and researchers.

The 16 thousand SBU archival documents declassified in 2009 are only a small percentage of the overall number of documents held in the archives.  Millions of documents held there have yet to be declassified although for many of them the maximum term envisaged by law – 75 years – has long passed. For example, there is no access at all to the Ministry of Internal Affairs archive which contains hundreds of thousands of archival files of those subjected to “dekulakization” in 1930-1931. Ukrainians remain a people effectively without their own contemporary history since access to its sources is closed. In light of this, such “special operations” against historians seem like barbarism, all the more so since we are talking about documents classified by a country which has long not existed – the USSR, which in this way simply concealed its crimes against the Russian, Ukrainian and other nations which had the misfortune to live under its jurisdiction.

In view of this, we demand:

-        That the President carries out a check of the lawfulness of the actions of the SBU officers, and also of the grounds for suspending the work of the National Memorial Museum of Victims of the Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho” in Lviv;

-        That the Prosecutor General check whether R. Zabily’s detention was legal and his right to liberty and personal security observed; whether procedure was followed during his interrogation; whether his right to defence was ensured; whether it was legal to remove his laptop and two external hard drives and warranted to initiate a criminal investigation;

-        That the SBU carry out an internal check of the legality of the SBU officers’ actions, as well as returning the laptop and two hard disk drives removed;

-        That the SBU fully restore the activities of the work of the National Memorial Museum of Victims of the Occupation Regimes “Tyurma na Lonskoho” in Lviv.


Volodymyr Yavorsky,

Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Yevhen Zakharov, member of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and Member of the Board of the International Memorial Society

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