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.

Slovyansk’s “mayor” threatens to kill, not take prisoners

It is not clear whether any of these pro-Russian militants whom the Kremlin and Russian television channels treat as representing the voice of the people of Donbas understand what they are seeking to achieve. Their language and behaviour is, however, becoming ever more aggressive

Serhiy Lefter (left), Artem Deineha

Two journalists, Serhiy Lefter and Artem Deineha, held hostage by the Kremlin-backed militants in Slovyansk are now safe in Kyiv. Thankfully, since the self-styled “mayor” Ponomarev is now threatening to simply kill people, rather than taking prisoners.

Serhiy Lefter a Ukrainian journalist reporting for the Polish Open Dialogue Foundation was held hostage for 17 days by the Kremlin-backed militants in Slovyansk.  He was released on May 2, together with Artem Deineha, however for security reasons the news was not released to the media until the men were safely out of Slovyansk. 

There were strong grounds for concern about the men’s safety especially since the heavily armed militants in Slovyansk are believed to have already murdered at least three people they abducted.  The bodies, with signs of torture, of Horlivka city council deputy, Volodymyr Rybak and 19-year-old student Yury Popravko were found in the river Torets near Slovyansk on April 19.  On April 28 another body was found in the same place.  The murdered man was Yury Diadkovsky, a 25-year-old student from Stryi [Lviv oblast]. 

Serhiy Lefter was abducted soon after arriving in Slovyansk on April 14.  The militants accused him – without any grounds – of links with the right-wing nationalist movement Right Sector and of “spying”.  Deineha was abducted on April 13 seemingly after his live streaming of the storming of the SBU offices angered the militants.

In an interview taken by Victoria Bilash for Telekritika, Lefter explained that he had been talking on the phone with Open Dialogue on April 15 when two men approached and asked him to come with them, supposedly to show his documents.  They suspected him of spying since he was a Ukrainian journalist working for a Polish organization.  They later looked him up on social networks and found that he had been on Maidan and also accused him of collaborating with Right Sector.

Right Sector is the most actively demonized Ukrainian organization on Russian television at present.  The frequency with which it gets mentioned by militants and other protesters in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea is not justified by its level of public support, and almost certainly not by its genuine activities.

Lefter was held for some time in the mayor’s offices, then taken to the SBU basement.  Over the three weeks he was held in three different rooms with different people.

He apologizes for the wrong information circulated about his release about where he was.  He was released around midnight on May 2, but simply told to wait, and given no information how to get out of the city.  He also had no documents or phone, etc.  The anti-terrorist operation began and he remained in hiding within Slovyansk.  Information is being concealed so that others, if necessary, can use the same refuge and way of getting out.

It was all strange - a man turned up, split the hostages into two groups – one lot were released, the others not.

As of May 2, theatre producer Pavlo Yurov and his friend Denis Hryshchukk were imprisoned, as well as a Kyiv 19-year-old student called Ihor.  Ihor had tape over his hands and eyes, but at least they weren’t hitting him.  Pavlo and Denis were in a far worse situation, he says:  Denis may have a fractured rib, while Pavlo has a broken nose.  They asked for doctors to be brought, but they haven’t been allowed to see them.

A lot more people were brought in, he says, sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for a couple of days.  They didn’t talk to them all, being aware that they could have been planted to then give the militants information about them.

Lefter says that journalists probably got the best treatment.  You might get cuffed during interrogation, but that was nothing compared with how the others were treated. It was worst in the first week, being blindfolded and having his hands tied. Later they took these off and he just sat and waited. The conditions were awful – they were simply taken outside when they needed the toilet; received food twice a day.  “We were to some extent lucky since were held with local people whose relatives provided some food and they shared it with us. We slept on the floor, but the guards brought more or less warm clothes which we covered ourselves with them as much as we could. Sometimes at night when it was very cold we slept virtually huddled up to each other.

Most worryingly, Lefter says that although in the SBU building he was only beat a bit, “other guys, who they say were found dead, were treated much worse. I heard their cries and blows.”

Lefter does not mention some other people who disappeared in Slovyansk.  Lviv journalist Yury Lelyavsky and Volyn Post correspondent Serhiy Shapoval have both been missing since April 26.  There are also media reports that a Slovyansk city council deputy, . Vadym Sukhonos has been taken hostage.

Nebulous “victorious end”

Lefter says it is unclear what the militants actually wanted, and why they continued holding them. They talked about holding them “till the victorious end”, although what that victorious end is he has no idea.

It is not clear whether any of these pro-Russian militants whom the Kremlin and Russian television channels treat as representing the voice of the people of Donbas understand what they are seeking to achieve.  Their language and behaviour is, however, becoming ever more aggressive.  The self-styled people’s mayor, Viacheslav Ponomarev stated during Victory Day ceremonies on May 9 that they will no longer take Ukrainian military prisoner, but will simply kill them.  He claimed that this was because peaceful residents had been shot.  “

“We will now simply destroy them without mercy. Nobody will talk with them … the more brutally we treat them, the quicker they will begin to respect us”.

As reported, Ponomarev has already on many occasions make clear how those who don’t go along with them will be treated (see: Moscow’s “Voice of the People” in Slovyansk

Tragically, they have already demonstrated this by horrifically torturing and murdering at very least three hostages. 

Halya Coynash

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