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Ukrainian activist and volunteer dies after apparent hate crime attack

Halya Coynash

Artem Myroshnychenko, a Ukrainian activist and volunteer from Bakhmut (former Artemivsk) in Donetsk oblast died on 5 December of injuries sustained during an attack in the late evening of 29 November.  He had been in a coma ever since the attack which many believe should be viewed as a hate crime, linked with the activist’s pro-Ukrainian position and the fact that he always spoke Ukrainian. 

Myroshnychenko was found near his home, with severe head injuries.  Bakhmut (then still called Artemivsk) had been seized by the Russian / Russian-controlled militants in 2014, however was liberated by the Ukrainian Army on 7 July 2014.  Bakhmut remained a frontline city, and the entire Myroshnychenko family were reportedly active members of the volunteer movement.  They helped in building fortifications around the city and also in visiting the Ukrainian soldiers.  Artem Myroshnychenko helped, for example, at the military hospital in 2014/2015.

CCTV footages shows that he encountered the two adolescents, both of whom were inebriated, at around 21.00.  Reports speak of an unnamed witness who was on the other side of the street, but heard one of them asking: “what are you doing, walking here?” and “Can’t you speak in a normal language? We don’t understand that”.  

The witness phoned the police after hearing of the attack from the press, and understanding that she had heard those blustering questions at the time and close to the place where he was set upon.

It was a kiosk seller who found Artem and ran to his parents who in turn rang for an ambulance.  He underwent major surgery that night and never regained consciousness.

The police apprehended the two adolescents, a 17-year-old who already has a criminal conviction for robbery and the 16-year-old believed to have inflicted the blows.  The police announced on 6 December that they have now changed the charge to “deliberate grave bodily injuries, causing death” (Article 121 § 2 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code). 

What the police have thus far not suggested is a hate motive, although this was an unprovoked attack, without anything being stolen and with the testimony of an apparent witness suggesting that this was a deliberate attack on Myroshychenko.  Artem’s brother, Serhiy Myroshnychenko, is convinced that his brother was attacked because of his pro-Ukrainian position.

The case is still under investigation, and other charges could, in principle, still be added.  The enforcement bodies are notoriously loath to add hate crime or incitement to enmity charges, in part because they can be harder to prove.

In its propaganda accompaniment to the invasion of Crimea and military aggression in eastern Ukraine,  the Kremlin and Russian state-controlled media have constantly pushed the claim that Russian-speakers are under threat or in danger in Ukraine. The heavily politicized Russian Investigative Committee even came up with criminal charges (in absentia) over alleged “genocide of the Russian-speaking people”. 

In fact, during Euromaidan and from the beginning of Russia’s (overt) aggression, it has generally been those speaking Ukrainian and holding pro-Ukrainian positions who have been subjected to attacks.  16-year-old Stepan Chubenko was tortured and then shot dead in July 2014 after the militants in occupied Donetsk targeted him because of the ribbons in the colour of the Ukrainian flag on his rucksack.

In both occupied Crimea and Donbas, it is the Ukrainian language that is under threat, as is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

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