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Far-right activist who ripped up Poroshenko portrait has sentence quashed

Halya Coynash
The Vinnytsa Regional Court of Appeal has quashed a 4.5 year sentence against activist Yury Pavlenko [Khort] which gained publicity, perhaps unwarrantedly, over the activist’s ripping up of a portrait of President Petro Poroshenko 

The Vinnytsa Regional Court of Appeal has quashed a 4.5 year sentence against activist Yury Pavlenko [Khort] which gained publicity, perhaps unwarrantedly, over the activist’s ripping up of a portrait of President Petro Poroshenko  The appeal court’s ruling on Dec 6 came exactly 2 years after the storming of the Vinnytsa city administration over which Pavlenko had been charged. 

The case has been sent for re-trial to the original Vinnytsa City Court, and 26-year-old Pavlenko, who had spent most of the time in detention, has been freed. 

The court hearing itself appears to have been quite an event, with a large crowd of supporters at one stage singing Ukraine’s national anthem and Pavlenko giving a pathos-filled speech in which he presents himself as a political prisoner.

Pavlenko’s detention, and the sentence passed on April 2, 2016 by the Vinnytsa City Court, were constantly mentioned solely in connection with one scene, captured on video and widely shown on Russian television, where the activist rips up a portrait of Presdent Poroshenko and sets the crowd around him chanting that “Poroshenko is a dickhead”.  The chant was one more often used in connection with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and the Russian media were doubtless delighted to show Poroshenko targeted. 

They were also more than willing to hype up the claims made by Pavlenko and far-right groups that the activist had been persecuted for ripping up the portrait.  The problem here is that Pavlenko was not the only person to have destroyed such a portrait.  Another person can be seen doing the same thing at around 0.48 in the video here.  The video with Pavlenko in the Governor’s office is much better quality and possibly came from Russian journalists present. 

Investigative journalist Anton Bulgakov repudiated the claims that Pavlenko had been persecuted for the portrait.  He suggested that it was the presence of the Russian media that had prompted the attempts “to turn an ordinary hooligan into a political prisoner”. 

Pavlenko is the far-right leader of an organization called ‘People’s Tribunal’ and was one of the main leaders of the events on Dec 6, 2014, when around 200 people stormed the Vinnytsa city administration. 

The apparent reason was a plan by most of the regional council’s deputies to dismiss the head of the council, Serhiy Svitko, who had been installed by the local Maidan in February that year.  Although the majority in the council was held by members of the former ruling party, it seems that representatives of other parties also wanted him out.  

A few hundred people came out in opposition to this, with the protest probably initiated by the far-right VO Svoboda party and Lyashko’s Radical party.  Some of the people present, prompted by, among others, Pavlenko, broke through a police cordon and burst into the building, and some of the offices.   

The police made two arrests – of Pavlenko and of an activist from Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party, Yanuariy Shostak.  The latter was apparently wrenched from police custody by some supporters, and then went into hiding.  Bulgakov expressed scepticism regarding the degree to which Shostak was genuinely in hiding, and it is likely that for one reason or another, the case against him has not been pursued.

The police refuted any suggestion that Pavlenko had been arrested for the portrait, and insisted that it was in connection with hooliganism, seizure of a state or public building and threats or violence against a police officer.   The official reports stated that 8 police officers and 5 activists had been injured. 

There was undoubtedly a level of violence which could have had grave consequences, however in the end Pavlenko was convicted only of hooliganism with the use of weapons (a gas canister, a baton seized from the police and some explosive substances).  While there was plenty of video footage showing Pavlenko actively involved in the events, in the video here it was Shostak and another person who can be seen throwing a smoke flare at police officers.  Here Shostak sprays a gas canister at police officers’ faces.  

Why Pavlenko? 

Pavlenko’s involvement in the events was undisputed, but there was no proof that he had caused any injury and there were plenty of other participants. 

Bulgakov, who clearly attended the hearings, did not believe that Pavlenko had been prosecuted over the portrait.  He suggested that it was more likely that he had been set up by his comrades who first made him the scapegoat, and then turned him into a political prisoner.   He would not have remained in custody, he asserted, had it not been for the quality of his ‘lawyers’, who were comrades in arms.  In Bulgakov’s words, with lawyers like that, who needs a prosecutor?

Pavlenko was also a very well-known figure in Vinnytsa and beyond for his neo-Nazi,  anti-Semitic and xenophobic views.  He had received a three-year suspended restricted liberty sentence in Dec 2013 on a charge of inciting enmity during a protest raid he lead against foreign students.  That sentence was revoked in March 2014 with the Vinnytsa Court of Appeal rather curiously choosing to believe that Pavlenko had not known one of the offensive terms he used, and that another was acceptable since Taras Shevchenko (who died over 150 years ago) had used it.  

Judging by his Facebook page, the activist is all set for further battles.

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