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.

Russian expert in Ukrainian Library Director case finds ’extremism’ in children’s magazine

Halya Coynash
The Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow was, it transpires, a hotbed of ‘extremism’. That’s according to Yevgeny Tarasov who was commissioned to carry out a ‘psycholinguistic’ assessment of books from the library as part of the criminal proceedings against Natalya Sharina, director of the library and recognized political prisoner

The Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow was, it transpires, a hotbed of ‘extremism’.  That’s according to Yevgeny Tarasov who was commissioned to carry out a ‘psycholinguistic’ assessment of books from the library as part of the criminal proceedings against Natalya Sharina, director of the library and now a recognized political prisoner.  Tarasov was asked to investigate 24 publications from the library and found ‘extremism’ in 22 of them, including the children’s journal ‘Barvinok’. 

Natalya Sharina remains under house arrest 7 months after an armed search was carried out of the library and her home, and she was taken into custody.  She was then charged with ‘inciting national enmity or hatred, and also denigrating human dignity” (Article 282 § 2b of the Russian Criminal Code).  A book by Dmytro Korchynsky, which is on Russia’s  highly specific list of prohibited literature, was allegedly found during the search of the library.  Both Sharina and her colleagues dispute this, and believe that the book was planted. 

The Investigative Committee’s announcement also asserted that printed matter had been removed containing “calls to anti-Russian state and anti-Russian propaganda”.  It was this, presumably, that prompted an investigator from the department for ‘particularly important cases’ to commission Tarasov’s study, and Tarasov did not disappoint them.  

He was asked to decide whether the works contained utterances denigrating, or presenting a negative attitude or negative feelings towards any particular group.  Did any of these contain elements inciting to enmity or violence?  Could the material have an influence on the formation or changing of mass consciousness and serve as a basis for forming extreme radical, religious or nationalist attitudes?

It was yes all the way for Tarasov.  He noted, for example, criticism of the USSR’s actions with respect to Ukraine in some of the periodical journals. “This negative assessment contradicts the established historical explanations of Ukraine and the USSR”, he writes, and goes on to assert that this would “undoubtedly impact upon the formation of a negative opinion among Ukrainians of Russians.

Asked what elements confirm the ‘extremist nature’ of the publications scrutinized, Tarasov mentions the use of negative adjectives describing bodies of Soviet power and the actions of the Soviet regime. “The material analysed has elements of extremism since it justifies the terrorist activities of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army [OUN-UPA], gives an extremely negative description of the activities of the Soviet government of which the current government of the Russian Federation is the successor.”

Tarasov pulls out such ‘extremist utterances’ as “Russian imperialism” and “Soviet occupation”

He was asked to look at 10 issues of Barvinok from 2015.  He found 7 innocuous, but the other three effectively ‘extremist’.  The reason is the same for all three: they contain material about the military conflict in Donbas. 

No. 9 contains a story in which “the war in Ukraine is presented as a war between Ukraine and Russia which does not correspond with the facts since the military action was between Ukrainian forces and units of the DNR and LNR”. 

These self-proclaimed ‘republics’ were formed by Russians (former Russian military intelligence office Igor Girkin & others) and pro-Russian militants with military equipment and funding from Russia.  This is confirmed by countless studies and reports. 

It is, however, disputed by Moscow and any such utterances deemed to be aimed at stirring up ‘interethnic enmity’. The article of the Criminal Code under which Sharina could face up to 5 years’ imprisonment is increasingly used against those who express criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military involvement in Donbas, with this also interpreted as aimed at inciting hatred of Russians as an ethnic group. 

In fact, one or two of the terms quoted from Barvinok do seem rather inappropriate for a very young audience, they were, however, used by the authors whose stories are being published. 

The subject matter of some of the works thus ‘analysed’ includes Holodomor, or the manmade Famine of 1932/33, which is recognized by many countries in the world as either an act of actual genocide or a crime against humanity. 

In today’s Russia a work strongly criticizing policies which resulted in the death of around 4 million Ukrainians is described as “anti-Russian”, or against the Russian state which considers itself to be the successor to the Soviet regime.

None of the material was on the list of prohibited literature and any demand that the staff of a library scrutinize each publication or face criminal prosecution would be grotesque.  The renowned Memorial Human Rights Centre  has condemned the criminal prosecution of the director of a library over material (allegedly) held in the library and deemed extremist as new repressive practice and declared Sharina a political prisoner.  It writes that “The criminal proceedings against Natalya Sharina have taken place against the background of the anti-Ukrainian campaign continuing since Spring 2014 in the state-run media and in utterances made by public officials holding high posts in the Russian Federation’s leadership.  One of the parts of this campaign is to initiate criminal cases against citizens publicly expressing a position on what is happening in Ukraine that differs from the official position or in any way linked with Ukraine. In our opinion, it is specifically in the light of this anti-Ukrainian campaign that the case of Natalya Sharina should be viewed”.

Ivan Pavlov, Sharina’s lawyer, says that the new assessment finding ’extremism’ everywhere cannot influence the case against his client, but that the prosecution will undoubtedly try to use it. It is thanks to Pavlov and his colleague Yevgeny Smirnov that Sharina was not remanded in custody, however her house arrest has already been extended a number of times. 

The charges with or without Tarasov’s opus are sloppy and absurd.  This should have been a reason to terminate the whole farce.  Unfortunately, this does not happen in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and new charges, no less implausible,  have now been added to this Soviet-style prosecution of the Director of Moscow’s beleaguered Ukrainian Literature Library.   

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