war crimes in Ukraine

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No charges and racial motive denied in bloody attack on students in Kharkiv

The only 5 young men arrested following a brutal attack on the student area of Kharkiv on June 11 have been released, with no charges laid. The police deny any racial motive since some of those injured were Ukrainians, although this is clearly not a view shared by many foreign students in Kharkiv.

The only five young men arrested following a brutal attack on the student area of Kharkiv on June 11 have been released, with no charges laid.  The head of the Kharkiv police, Andriy Kryshchenko, asserts that there was no racial motive since some of those injured were Ukrainians, although this is clearly not a view shared by many foreign students in Kharkiv. 

At a press briefing on June 24 Kryshchenko explained that the five young men, all under 22 and unemployed, had been released after ‘investigative activities’. Nobody has yet been formally warned of being under suspicion, however one report says that all men have signed an undertaking to remain in Kharkiv, and Kryshchenko says that they are “quite actively cooperating with the investigators”.  No other arrests have been made.  

Two weeks after the attack, Kryshchenko said that they must carry out a number of forensic tests before charging anybody with a specific crime.  He spoke of “complicated tests because a great deal of biological material belonging to the criminals was removed from the scene and DNA tests are underway”.  

Kryshchenko also denies any racial motive in the attack, giving as his reasons the fact that some ethnic Ukrainians were also injured, and also that the young men are not members of any political party.  He mentioned as well that there were no racist or other chants at the time, with the assailants attacking in silence until one of them called out to disperse. 

One report, however, says that Kryshchenko mentioned a T-shirt with a Celtic Cross on it and said “whether this symbol relates to any group, we are for the moment trying to establish”.   The Celtic Cross is a common symbol among those espousing neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideas, so what exactly they are trying to ascertain is not quite clear.

As mentioned, there is scepticism, though little surprise, over the police assertion that there was no racial motive to the attack.  The police regularly deny such motives, and in this case some of the victims were indeed of Slavonic appearance.

The problem is that the accounts given by people at the scene suggest very strongly that on the contrary, students of non-Slavonic appearance were targeted. 

Nine people were injured, of whom four Jordanian nationals and two Ukrainians were hospitalized.  Although the police report at the time said that none had life-threatening injuries, two of the Jordanian students were reported by Radio Svoboda and other media to be in critical condition with head and skull injuries, and knife wounds.  It was reported on June 15 that the two had been taken by place to Jordan.  On that same day around 100 students from Jordan, Syria, Morocco and Libya held a protest with placards reading “No to racism and nationalism” and calling on the Governor of Kharkiv to find the culprits, and to protect foreign students. 

Shortly after 11 p.m. on June 11 around 30 young men in black, most wearing balaclavas, rampaged through the area containing several student hostels which mainly accommodate students from other countries.

Jordanian student Ali Alesavekh told Radio Svoboda that the attackers had slashed the wheels of his car and broken the windows.  He says that he and others fled, but that one person didn’t manage to get to the hostel.  The attackers began beating him and he was knifed in the back.

He says that the assailants split into two groups, with one attacking the students on Otakar Yarosh St., the other running towards the women’s hostel on Klochkivska St, outside which there is a café where foreign students hang out.

As reported here, both the far-right Tryzub organization’s site and a  ‘Voice of the Nation. Ultra-right Radical’ VKontakte entry clearly viewed the attack as being the work of so-called ‘patriots’, although neither claimed responsibility for it.

It should be noted that within a day of the attack, the police were suggesting that the attack might have been carried out to destabilize the situation in Kharkiv, and underplaying any possible racial motive.  From the outset the formulation was that “as a result of the attack Ukrainian nationals were hurt, among them there were also several foreign students”.   The Security Service version was that the Russian Security Service was involved, however Kryshchenko stated clearly that he saw no grounds for viewing this as anything but a criminal case. 

It is disturbing that the hate crime motive was effectively being denied from the outset, and unfortunately the police report on June 24 will have convinced few of the grounds for rejecting it.  

Halya Coynash

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