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Belarusian activist threatened with deportation from Ukraine for criticizing the police

20.07.2021
Halya Coynash

Oleksiy Bolenkov in court Photo Stas Yurchenko, Graty

Human rights defenders are calling for media and public reaction over dangerous attempts to deport a Belarusian activist living permanently in Ukraine and over the highly questionable reasons presented for why the Security Service [SBU] is claiming that Oleksiy Bolenkov [Belarusian: Alyaksei Balyankou] poses “a danger to national security”.   The young man, who has lived in Ukraine legally since 2014 and who has a Ukrainian wife) has not been charged with any crime, and his anarchist views and civic activism are legal in Ukraine.  A vital appeal is due to be heard on 20 July by the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeal in Kyiv, with the young activist represented by Yevhen Chekaryov from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU]. 

As reported, the first sign of trouble came on 21 April 2021 when police turned up at Bolenkov’s apartment in Kyiv and carried out a search.  He also received a visitation from SBU officers who presented him with a decision on his ‘forced return’; gave him 24 hours to get ready and said that they would accompany him to the border.  The decision did not stipulate which border he would be taken to, however this might well not be a matter of choice since Bolenkov would have every reason to fear being forcibly returned to Belarus if he crossed over into Russia, and would probably have difficulty asking for asylum in an EU country as he was coming from Ukraine, not Belarus.  The document asserted that Bolenkov had infringed the law on the legal status of foreign nationals and that his activities as a member of the anarchist movement “run counter to the interests of ensuring Ukraine’s national security, its sovereignty, integrity and constitutional order.” 

The only reason mentioned in April was that the police supposedly suspected Bolenkov of involvement in an arson attack on a mobile communications tower in a district of Kyiv in December 2019. According to the documents seen by Bolenkov’s lawyers (Chekaryov and Yana Moroz), several such attacks are believed to have been carried out in Kyiv and Kyiv oblast by members of anarchist groups, although which specific groups are suspected is not stated.  At the time, Graty reported that an anarchist group called after the Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno had admitted to carrying out the attack.  Such ‘suspicions’ hardly warranted the decision to deport Bolenkov since Chekaryov has obtained formal confirmation from the Prosecutor General’s Office thatt Bolenkov has never faced administrative or criminal charges in Ukraine.

Despite this, the SBU claim that Bolenkov violated a number of articles of Ukraine’s Criminal Code.  This includes, most incredibly, Article 109, namely “actions aimed at a violent change or overthrowing of the constitutional order, or seizure of state power”.  Other articles mentioned are 110 (seeking to change the state border of Ukraine); 258 (an act of terrorism, that is the use of weapons; explosions; arson or other actions) and 345 (threats of or violence against an employee of the law enforcement bodies).

All of this sounds very alarming, but is, in fact, the result solely of the SBU’s analysis of brochures from the anarchist website ‘Revolutionary Action’ .  There is no proof that Bolenkov had anything to do with preparing the brochures and, in any case, anarchism is not prohibited in Ukraine.  Chekaryov notes that the SBU assume that if Bolenkov is an anarchist, that he is against the state.  If he is against the state as such, then they go on to assume that he is against Ukraine.  Ukraine’s Constitution does stipulate that people have freedom of views, he stresses.

Most disturbingly, the SBU also appear to view Bolenkov’s participations in legal protests to be grounds for his deportation.  During an earlier appeal hearing against the SBU decision in June, SBU representative Natalia Dubniak noted that Bolenkov had taken part in protests such as one against police lawlessness and had chanted slogans calling the now former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov “a devil” and chanting that “the cops are morons”.  She asserted that: “as a foreign citizen, Bolenkov systematically participates in protests against the law enforcement system, publicly insults officers of the [enforcement] bodies and the system as a whole, effectively encroaching upon Ukraine’s national interests; creating obstructions for ensuring citizens’ needs and well-being”.

Worth noting that these arguments are similar to those used under the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych to prevent Ukrainian citizens from exercising their right to peaceful protest.  None of the above-mentioned protests or chants break any laws in Ukraine.

Other protests mentioned in the SBU documents include one in support of Belarus where he is alleged to have promoted a violent change of regime, although one of the slogans is the standard (and woolly) “Death to empires” and the other, “Luka go” (referring to Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko) has been a call of the peaceful anti-regime protests since (at least) August 2020.

The SBU also claim that Bolenkov is facing criminal charges in Belarus, citing INTERPOL.  According to the activist himself, the proceedings have been terminated.  Even if they had not, the savage crushing of any democratic protest in Belarus over the last year and more make it difficult to understand how the SBU could cite criminal charges laid by the Belarusian regime as grounds for deporting a Belarusian activist.

Further grounds for concern lie in where the SBU obtained information, with their sources apparently including posts on the far-right Telegram channels ‘Volyer’ and ‘STALKERUA’.  The latter is believed to be run by Oleksiy Svynarenko, leader of the Kyiv branch of the far-right ‘National Resistance’ and accused by Bolenkov of close links to Sergei Korotkykh.  As reported, there have long been concerns about Korotkykh, and how a person with neo-Nazi views and suspected links, at least in the past, to the security service in Belarus and in Russia, should have been so publicly granted Ukrainian citizenship and then hold a post within the National Police.   

One of the posts which the SBU cites claims that Bolenkov attacked some veterans of the military conflict in Donbas, as well as volunteers and ‘young nationalists’.  As well as one alleged victim who has denied Bolenkov’s involvement in the attack, the others include Svynarenko and Bohdan Khodakovsky, head of the far-right organization ‘Tradition and Order’. 

UHHRU has earlier reported that the site Volyer is disclosing personal data about human rights and civic activists. Having turned to Ukraine’s cyber police, they were told that the latter does not study the content of the site unless specifically asked to in connection with a criminal investigation.  It is UHHRU that is investigating a homophobic attack by members of ‘Tradition and Order’ which the police have not managed to register as a criminal investigation for the past seven months.

It is, therefore, very disturbing that the SBU are treating these sites and far-right activists who clearly view Bolenkov as their ideological enemy as their grounds for seeking the Belarusian activist’s deportation.

Update

On 21 July, the Sixth Court of Appeal found in Bolenkov’s favour , ruling that the SBU's decision to deport the Belarusian activist had been illegal. 

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