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.

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In Memory: Ukrainian schoolboy Stepan Chubenko, whose Donbas militant torturer & killer Russia is protecting

Halya Coynash

It is exactly four years since 16-year-old Stepan Chubenko was seized by Kremlin-backed militants in Donetsk, savagely tortured and killed.  Three years later, Russia went through a shameful pretence of detaining Donbas militant commander Vadim Pogodin. who ordered Stepan’s torture and fired the last fatal shot, and then released him, even though the militants themselves had established his role in the torture and murder of a schoolchild, and a Ukrainian court has sentenced him (in absentia) to life imprisonment.   

Stepan Chubenko was 16, wrote poems and gave teachers who liked obedient, passive children a headache for his free-thinking. He was passionate about football and played as goalkeeper for the Kramatorsk youth team.  He was very pro-Ukrainian and provided help to Ukrainian soldiers, as well as taking part in protest meetings. 

His parents had sent him to stay with relatives in Kyiv after Sloviansk and neighbouring Kramatorsk were seized by former Russian military intelligence officer Igor Girkin (Strelkov) and his heavily armed men. 

Kramatorsk was liberated in July 2014, and his parents decided it was safe for him to return home.  Donetsk, however, was by then occupied, and Stepan was seized on July 23 as he passed through the city on his way home because of the Ukrainian blue and yellow ribbon on his rucksack and then the ‘Karpaty’ football club scarf that they found inside.

His parents became anxious after he stopped answering their calls and set off for militant-controlled territory in search of him.  They met with Alexander Zakharchenko, now the official leader of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR], who promised to find out what had happened.  He told them the next day that their son had been killed.

They soon learned that Stepan had been beaten in Donetsk, and then taken to a village outside the city where the militants, on Pogodin’s orders, tortured the lad and then shot him.  Pogodin is reported to have taken the gun after seeing that Stepan was still alive, and fired the last fatal shot.

Presumably because of the Chubenkos’ personal appeal, Zakharchenko initiated a criminal investigation over Stepan’s murder and one of the three men believed to have been involved – Yury Moskalev – was taken into custody.

Novaya Gazeta recently published a copy of Moskalev’s interrogation, in which he states clear that Pogodin gave the order to kill Stepan and that it was Maxim Sukhomlinov who had carried out the order. 

Moskalev served a short sentence then fled to Russia. Stepan’s mother Stalina Chubenko has learned that Moskalev was detained in 2016 on an INTERPOL red notice, however Russia did not hand him over to Ukraine.

Sukhomlinov was ordered to kill Stepan, who was on his knees, with his hands bound behind his back.  When Pogodin saw that he was still alive, he grabbed the gun and shot him.

Stalina Chubenko described to Donbas.Realii how “three burly and armed men shot a tortured, unarmed 16-year-old boy, whom they’d tied up with the T-shirt he played football in over his head. During the exhumation, I saw my child with his hands bound with scotch tape”. 

The militants told her that her son had not cried, and not asked for mercy.

The report from the so-called DPR prosecutor  says that Pogodin told Sukhomlinov and Moskalev that Stepan was “a member of Right Sector, a participant in the burning of people in the Trade Union House in Odesa (a Russian propaganda lie), “and is also the bearer of other political and ideological views for which he should be shot”.

Worth noting why Stalina Chubenko managed to see Zakharchenko and get a criminal investigation initiated even in the militants’ ‘republic’.  She is from Magadan herself, and a Russian citizen.  When asked why she has not taken Ukrainian citizenship, she told Novaya Gazeta that nobody had ever caused her any problem for her Russian citizenship until they turned up “to defend them”.  Let them see, she says, that there are Russians who also love Ukraine, but who do not renounce their country even now. 

Two of the three killers of Stepan Chubenko have now been detained because of INTERPOL Red Notices, and then released. 

As reported, the news of Pogodin’s arrest on June 20 aroused panic and indignation among ex-Donbas fighters living in occupied Crimea or Russia. 

They need not have worried. 

Any excuse, should they be forthcoming, that Pogodin could be tried in Russia can be dismissed with contempt, as indeed Pogodin does himself.  He is clearly not worried, and planning to continue living in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Girkin earlier predicted that Russia would not hand Pogodin over and that he would soon be in possession of a Russian passport, like many former Ukrainian Berkut officers wanted for their suspected role in the gunning down of Maidan activists. ‘’

In fact, Pogodin may well know too much for the current regime to be prepared to hand him over.  This includes about Sergei Dubinsky and the downing by Russian or pro-Russian fighters of the Malaysian airliner MH17 over militant-controlled Donbas on July 17, 2014.  It is Dubinsky whose voice was intercepted by the Ukrainian Security Service and who is believed to have been directly involved in transporting the Russian Buk surface-to-air missile system which killed 298 passengers.  

Pogodin may be celebrating too seen – a suspiciously large number of former fighters have met a violent end either in Donbas or in Russia.  While the militants and Russian propaganda like to present at least those killed in Donbas as ‘murdered’ by Ukrainian Security Service, military intelligence, or similar, Ukraine wants them put on trial.  As with MH17, it is Russia that is seeking to prevent this. 

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