war crimes in Ukraine

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Ukraine’s SBU abducts asylum seeker, takes her by force to Russia

Halya Coynash
Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] have illegally seized a 26-year-old woman who had just applied for asylum in Kharkiv and forcibly taken her to Russia in a move which human rights activists have called treachery and which suggests a baffling degree of collaboration between Russia and Ukraine’s security services

Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] have illegally seized a 26-year-old woman who had just applied for asylum in Kharkiv and forcibly taken her to Russia in a move which human rights activists have called treachery and which suggests a baffling degree of collaboration between Russia and Ukraine’s security services The SBU effectively abducted her from the migration service and their claims that she ‘voluntarily’ left for Russia where she is very likely to face persecution bear no relation to the truth. 

Amina Babaeva is from Dagestan in the Russian Federation, but had been living in Turkey for the last two years, lecturing in Islam.  Her former husband, whom she has not set eyes on for 2 years, is apparently a preacher in Daish [the so-called ‘Islamic State’].  The Turkish authorities decided to deport Babaeva, but offered her the choice of CIS countries, rather than Russia.  With bitter irony, Babaeva chose Ukraine, trusting that she would be treated fairly in light of the bad relations between Ukraine and Russia. 

Babaeva flew from Istanbul to Kharkiv on September 9.  The problems began on arrival, with a flight attendant accompanying her from the plane to the border guards.  She was told there that she was not being allowed into Ukraine as she was suspected in Turkey of involvement in terrorism. 

She was able to phone the friend who was meeting her and who had booked a hotel for her arrival.  The friend immediately contacted Kharkiv Human Rights Group lawyer, Oleh Maximenko who undertook to represent Babaeva.  He went to the airport but was not allowed to see her.  Both then and the following day, the border guards asserted that Babaeva had not crossed the state border into Ukraine, and that the lawyer could therefore not see her.

From Babaeva’s calls to her friend, it is, however, known that those same border guards allowed in some individuals who said that they were from the SBU.  They took her phone and tablet and, without asking her permission, photographed all her correspondence.

Maximenko even called the police to the airport to record this obstruction of his work in representing his client. The police did arrive, yet the lawyer was still not allowed to see Babaeva.

It was only many exhausting hours after the regional representative of the Human Rights Ombudsperson got involved, that in the early hours of Sunday, Sept. 11, Babaeva was released.  Even then, the border guards came up with a pretext for not returning her passport and the police again needed to be called before the passport was finally handed over.


On Monday Babaeva and her friend arrived at a Migration Service office to lodge Babaeva’s application for asylum.  It was clear from the outset that her arrival was expected, with one of the staff seemingly consulting with somebody by telephone regarding what to do.

Her application was received, however she had not brought her passport and they went to the hotel to get it, arriving back after 17.00.

The two women were then separated.  Babaeva was told that the Migration Service was refusing to process her application for refugee status and apparently issued with a written statement.  She was not given her passport back.  Instead they asked her to wait a few minutes because of some formality and even offered her coffee.

By this stage, it was long after the end of the working day, yet nobody was going home.  There were also around 6-7 young men ‘of athletic build’, one of whom Babaeva recognized as among the men who turned up at the airport, identifying themselves as from the SBU.

That individual tried to get her to go into another office, supposedly to discuss something.  Unfortunately, it was only then that Babaeva was able to ring Maximenko who said that she should talk with nobody and not go anywhere until he arrived.

She was grabbed by force while still on the phone with Maximenko who heard her crying “Help!” before the phone went dead.   While the young men formed an effective cordon, she was pushed into a car and taken away. 

Maximenko immediately called the police, reporting that a person had been abducted and also arrived at the SBU offices demanding to see his client.  Hennady Tokarev, a Kharkiv lawyer also arrived as representative of the Ombudsperson who is entitled to visit any person held in custody. 

Nothing worked, with the person on duty saying that Babaeva was not there and that he had been told not to admit them.  He would not name the person who had given this totally illegal order and then refused to speak to them altogether.  The list of shocking irregularities can be continued.  

Babaeva did not answer the lawyer’s call, though he did receive one text message from her in the middle of the night.  Since then, however, Anvar Derkach, a journalist who knows her, has reported that she was able to phone a friend and say that she had been taken to Russia by SBU officers who’d abducted her from the migration service. 

The SBU have issued an entirely different story.  They claim that the “SBU has forcibly returned a Russian citizen who may be involved in IS, and that at border control “she could not explain the purpose of her visit except that she had been deported from Turkey for involvement in the activities of the international terrorist organization IS”. 

Not even the small details are correct, since Babaeva even had a hotel room booked and could name the person she was visiting.   The claim that she voluntarily left the country is shockingly cynical, and there is absolutely nothing to corroborate the claims of her involvement in IS.  There is nothing to indicate that there had been any request for her extradition.

Under any circumstances, a person who has been refused asylum at any stage of the proceedings, even the beginning, needed to be given a chance to appeal. 

Instead, the SBU prevented her lawyer from seeing her – just as Russia is doing with Ukrainian nationals held illegally in occupied Crimea. 

At a time when Russia is waging undeclared war against Ukraine, its seems that Ukraine’s SBU sees no problem in collaborating with the Russian FSB to breach Ukrainian and international law. 

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