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.

Russia uses abducted Ukrainians for propaganda video claiming Ukraine is bombing ‘liberated’ Melitopol

Halya Coynash
It is near certain that the men gave their supposed ‘confessions’ under torture, with the video yet another extraordinary attempt by Russia to try against all evidence, to blame the Ukrainian Armed Forces for its bombing and shelling of civilians

Ihor Artyomenko in the supposed confession given without a lawyer, and after weeks held incommunicado by the Russians Screenshot from the video

Almost a month after Russian soldiers seized Ihor Artyomenko from his home in occupied Melitopol, he and five other abducted Ukrainians have appeared in a Russian propaganda video.  It is near certain that the men gave their supposed ‘confessions’ under torture or other forms of duress, with the video yet another extraordinary attempt by Russia to try against all evidence, to blame the Ukrainian Armed Forces for its bombing and shelling of civilians,

According to Anastasia Artyomenko, her father was abducted on 21 April.  52-year-old Ihor Artyomenko is a former police employee with this clearly known by the armed Russian military who burst into his home, carried out a search and took documents and telephones away – as well as abducting Artyomenko himself.  The Russians also took Artyomenko’s sister’s phone and threatened her with consequences if she tried to interfere. 

Artyomenko simply disappeared, with his family hearing nothing at all until 13 May, when a Russian propaganda video was posted on YouTube.  This shows images of the kind of destruction that Russia has been causing civilian targets throughout Ukraine, with the sole difference being that the video claims it is the Ukrainian Army that has targeted “civilian Melitopol”.  This city in the Zaporizhzhia oblast was seized by the Russians soon after the total invasion on 24 February,  In the video, this is described as Melitopol being ‘liberated’.

Even without those brazen lies, there would be no grounds for trusting such a video which closely follows the style and content of countless videos of ‘confessions’ from Ukrainian political prisoners in occupied Crimea or civilian hostages in the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’. Even where there are no obvious signs of torture, the men invariably appear to be reciting what is demanded of them.  In virtually all cases where those shown ‘confessing’ have later been allowed to see an independent lawyer, or have been released as part of an exchange, they have given consistent accounts of the electric shocks, beatings, mock executions and other forms of torture used to extract such ‘confessions’.  Worth noting that, in the case of FSB videos about political prisoners, the alleged crimes ‘confessed to’ very often differ significantly from what the people are eventually convicted of.

Russia has already used people it forcibly deported from besieged Mariupol to try to rewrite the facts about the carnage and destruction it has inflicted upon this city.  It has now forced six men abducted from Melitopol to take part in an equally cynical propaganda stunt.  As well as Artyomenko, there are two men involved in rescue work for the State Emergency Services: Serhiy Butnar and Boris Klishchov, the head of a fire brigade. Then there is Oleh Zubov, a lawyer and former police detective, as well as his son, Hlib, who is also a lawyer.  The last person, Vitaliy Hvozdenko is described as Butnar’s neighbour. 

The men are all claimed to be facing prosecution “under Russian legislation”, but their alleged ‘confessions’ are given without a lawyer being present and after lengthy periods held incommunicado and under the total control of their Russian captors.  One by one, they ‘confess’ to having provided information about Russian military movements; having corrected missiles on Melitopol enterprises where Russian military technology was held, etc.  As an extra, lest anybody forget Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s surreal claim that Russia’s aggression is aimed at “the denazification” of Ukraine, various Nazi symbols, photos, etc. are shown, with these claimed to be owned by Butnar. 

There are reports almost every day that the Russian invaders have abducted elected representatives; civic activists; journalists or others in occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.  While some are later released, a large number of civilians remain in Russian custody, including at least one child, Vlad Buriak.  It became clear after the Russians retreated from Kyiv oblast that they had killed at least some of those abducted, including the Head of Motyzhyn, Olha Sukhenko, her husband and adult son.  Since others are known to have been taken to occupied Donbas or Russia, more such ‘confessions’ extracted by torture seem likely.

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