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Sentsov-Kolchenko Trial. Day 2: Still looking for Right Sector

Halya Coynash
Two Russian activists holding a Novorossiya flag and a sign demanding that “the fascist scum be held to answer” set the tone for the second day of the trial of Ukrainian left-wing anti-fascist activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and film director Oleg Sentsov. The witnesses for the prosecution demonstrated similar confusion as to the meaning of words like ‘Right Sector’, ‘fascist’ and ‘Nazi’ though they used them constantly.

  Screenshot from Youtube (July 21) 

Two Russian activists holding a Novorossiya flag and a sign demanding that “the fascist scum be held to answer” set the tone for the second day of the trial of Ukrainian left-wing anti-fascist activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and film director Oleg Sentsov.  The witnesses for the prosecution demonstrated similar confusion as to the meaning of words like ‘Right Sector’, ‘fascist’ and ‘Nazi’ though they used them constantly.  They were no more coherent when challenged to explain how a fire bomb which called damage to the porch and furniture in the kitchen of a building housing pro-Russian organizations “had destabilized the situation in Crimea”.

As reported, Sentsov is charged with having received instructions from the far-right organization Right Sector to create a Right Sector unit in Crimea “and carry out terrorist acts in order to destabilize the situation and act on the authorities so that they take the decision to leave the Russian Federation”.  There is nothing in the background of the world-renowned film director to indicate any involvement with Right Sector, yet he is supposed to have masterminded a ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’.  He is also alleged to have recruited Kolchenko who is well-known for his strong left-wing views and most unsuited for the role assigned him in this ‘plot’.

The following are some of the telling moments from Monday’s hearing, based on the reports sent by Mediazona’s correspondent.

Two men with ‘victim status’ had already been questioned on July 21.  They were Andrei Kozenko, head of the pro-Russian organization [Russkaya Obshchyna Kryma] whose offices were subjected to a fire bomb attack, and Alexander Bochkarev whose United Russia office was, according to the investigators, also damaged by the attack.

All witnesses at the second hearing, including two fire fighters, gave testimony about the attack and the fire which caused damage to the porch of the building and to furniture in the kitchen. Witnesses claimed that the building was next door to a home for deaf children and residential buildings, however gave no details, when asked, to prove this.  Certainly no attempt had been made by the firemen to evacuate adjacent buildings during the firebomb incident .

On July 27, Igor Filippenko, a member of the ‘People’s Insurgence’, the paramilitary organization that helped Russian soldiers gain control in Crimea in early 2014, gave testimony by video from Crimea.  He asserted that he was working as ‘a volunteer’ at the building which suffered the arson attack.  He could only give first names of those who had instructed him to guard the building, yet when asked why that building had needed to be guarded, referred the defence to “the management”.

Sentsov’s lawyer Dmitry Dinze asked him what Russkaya Obshchyna Kryma did.

“Ordinary civic activities. Old ladies came there.”  He was asked what they did there.

“I didn’t pay attention, ” he said, “they gathered there and probably read poetry”.

His answer to a question from Kolchenko’s lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina made it clear that the paramilitaries had received instructions each day and extra fire extinguishers for possible ‘provocation’, “probably from Ukrainian radical nationalist organizations”.

On why there were grounds for such measures more compelling than the need to protect elderly poetry lovers, see: Sentsov-Kolchenko Trial: Crimea and what Russia has to hide.

Filippenko was able to name only one ‘radical organization’ – Right Sector. Sidorkina asked whether his organization’s activities or the activities of the state bodies had been curtailed by the attack.  Everything continued, he answered, but the activities of his organization in that building “were destabilized”.  This he asserted was because the burned door allegedly deterred people from going in.

The paramilitaries, he told Sidorkina, were “a cry of the heart”. 

Filippenko:  “Look at what’s happening in Ukraine. It would have been like that here.”

Sidorkina:   “So these were assumptions?”

Filippenko:  “The trains that arrived with Right Sector – they weren’t assumptions, they existed!”

Sidorkina:   “Did you personally meet these trains with Right Sector and see it?”

Filippenko:   “They didn’t get out of the train”.

Dinze also joined in the questioning, trying to pin Filippenko down on how those who threw the firebomb had attempted to destabilize the situation in Crimea; why, as he claimed, everybody believed that it was the work of Right Sector, and whether he personally had set eyes on them.

Mediazona reports that he tried to evade the questions, saying only: “I’m against Nazism! I don’t like Nazis, that’s all”!

Dinze asked what relation Nazism had to Crimea at that moment.  Despite this being in response to the witness’ assertion, the judge rejected the question as not pertaining to the charges,

Dinze then asked the judge to tell Bochkarev to stop prompting Filippenko when the latter was obviously at a loss as to how the attack had destabilized the situation in Crimea.

There was curious testimony from Andrei Yudin, a medical engineer working for the ‘Health Life’ Clinic about his former colleague Stepan Tsiril.  The investigators claim that Tsiril is a member of Right Sector and instructed those accused of terrorism. 

Yudin’s reasons for asserting that Tsiril was a member of Right Sector verged on the comical. Tsiril, he said, had expressed support for nationalist Stepan Bandera and had constantly gone on the site of the far-right Tryzub organization (one of the organizations that, at least until recently, was part of Right Sector).  He was always talking on the phone to somebody “and said that he’d been in Poland at some kind of meeting, and they’d trained them there”.  Yudin probably had no idea how intensely most Poles hate Bandera and might well be training Tsiril, but most certainly not in anything related to Right Sector.

It transpired later, during the interrogation, that the Polish camp had, in any case, been 10 years before, but since Tsiril had constantly gone onto the Tryzub site, that was surely as good as meaning that he was a member of Right Sector.  Yudin also claimed that Tsiril had held conversations on the telephone in “military manner”, calling the person at the other end “commander”.  “He didn’t like Putin, he was disgruntled with Yanukovych”. 

After all this highly incriminating information, the defence clearly saw no need for further questions.

Whoever this Stepan Tsiril may be, the search of his work desk found only Tryzub-related material. This was duly ‘examined’ and only one article – justifying the ‘Imarat of the Caucuses’ and containing negative comments about Russia – was declared ‘extremist’.

His computer, like those of other suspects, had been removed with infringements of procedure, but in any case proved to have nothing that even the investigators claimed was of significance.   Other material, also obtained with gross irregularities, was also of questionable relevance.  Tsiril had, for example, in 2013 sent various people a message calling them to come to a nationalist march on Bandera’s birthday.

The prosecutor Oleg Tkachenko also produced as evidence a Russian Supreme Court ruling which finds Right Sector, Tryzub and other organizations to be ‘extremist’ (and therefore illegal).  That ruling, dated November 17, 2014, repeats almost verbatim the indictment against Sentsov and Kolchenko.  The defence assert that the ruling had not even come into force at the time of the first trial and sentence of Gennady Afanasyev in December, 2014.

Tkachenko also read out the protocol of the search carried out of Kolchenko’s home at which he was present.  In stark contrast to the alleged findings at the homes of two suspects whose whereabouts are unknown, Kolchenko’s belongings contained only gloves, a paint canister and a Russian Unity banner – and lots of reading material.

The prosecutor appears to have felt no discomfort as he read out the list of texts.  These indicated Kolchenko’s strong interest in anarchist theory, anarchist communism, and no trace of support for Right Sector or any other right-wing organization.  There is no evidence of Sentsov having supported the Right Sector either.  Monday’s hearing demonstrated how little any of that appears to matter.   

The next hearing is set for July 29.  

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