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.

Russian invaders intensify abductions and terror against Ukrainian civic activists and journalists

Halya Coynash

Kostiantyn Ovsiannikov, Russian invaders confronted by local protesters in Skadovsk, Kherson oblast Photo Skadovsk City

Russian soldiers have been targeting activists, journalists and local politicians in all towns and cities they have seized, with the latest victim Kostiantyn Ovsiannikov, a civic activist and journalist from Prymorsk in the Zaporizhya oblast.  Ovsiannikov, the head of two local civic initiatives, had been active in the peaceful protests since Russia occupied Prymorsk on 1 March, and the invaders almost certainly knew this when they turned up at his home in the morning of 26 March.  Ovsinnikov was, at least, released that evening, though the invaders have removed his computer, etc., and very likely tortured him.  Other public figures, including Viktor Maruniak, Head of the Stara Zburivka Council in the Kherson oblast, Dmytro Vasyliev, Secretary of the Nova Kakhovka City Council, and 23-year-old Ihor Prusayev have not been seen since they were abducted several days ago.  There are particularly grave concerns for the life and safety of Maruniak, who is being deprived of vital medication.

On 26 March, the Ukrainian Armed Forces Headquarters reported that the Russian invaders are intensifying terror against the local population in the Kherson oblast.  They are carrying out searches aimed at finding Ukrainian soldiers, journalists; volunteers and members of their family.  Among those abducted have been women and many local residents have been tortured by the Russians.

The invaders are also increasing the number of armed checkpoints, making it much harder for the local population to move around or try to flee areas under occupation.

Russia has been trying to seize control of the media in occupied areas since the beginning of the war.  One of the methods is, as usual,  the abduction of journalists and / or their families, with this aimed at forcing the specific victims, or others, to collaborate with the invaders.  There is nothing to indicate that these methods are working, however the abductions are continuing.  Such treatment of journalists has been noted and condemned by Reporters Without Borders [RSF], who stated on 26 March that the aim was “to prevent them reporting the facts and get them to spread Kremlin propaganda”.

RSF records the abduction of the 75-year-old father of Svitlana Zalizetska, the Editor of Holovna gazeta Melitopolia, and the Melitopol regional information agency’s website.  She has been told that she must come to the Russian invaders and fears that they will demand that she collaborate with them, or that she shuts down the news site.

RSF has also spoken to one of the Berdiansk journalists who were, as reported, held hostage on 8 March in an attempt to force them to collaborate with the invaders. The journalist said that the Russians had threatened them with weapons for over five hours, while also offering them a salary and food if they agreed to collaborate.  They had also tried to justify their invasion and claim that the war was against ‘Nazis’, not civilians.  Nobody agreed to collaborate and they were eventually released, although the journalist who spoke with RSF and one of his colleagues were badly beaten by the Russians.  “Ever since this hostage-taking, Novosti Berdiansk has been broadcasting Kremlin propaganda calling on Ukrainians to lay down their arms. Access to its website, one of the most visited in the region before the start of the war, is blocked.”

Several other Melitopol journalists have also been taken prisoner for several ideas by the Russians.  Others in areas under occupation have faced very serious threats if they do not stop their so-called “anti-Russian” activities, and a very large number of media have been temporarily or totally blocked.

RSF notes that Russia’s bombing of ten radio and TV towers “constitute a war crime and are the subject of two complaints that RSF has filed with the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor. 

At least two journalists have been abducted, with Hromadske journalist Viktoria Roshchyna released ten days later after being forced to record a video claiming that the Russians had ‘saved’ her and threated her well.  Oleh Baturin from Kakhovka was held and tortured for eight days.  A fixer working for Radio France, who does not wish to be identified, was subjected to identical treatment after being abducted on 5 March.

As reported, all of these methods were applied back in 2014, especially in those parts of Donbas seized by the militants that the West has for far too long called ‘separatists’, although they were and remain Russians or Ukrainian citizens who take their orders from Moscow.

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