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.

Abducted 69-year-old Ukrainian put on trial in Russia for defending Ukraine in 2014

Halya Coynash
Russia’s surreal indictment against Petro Tsarevsky inadvertently confirms that all of Moscow’s claims in 2014 were cynical lies

Petro Tsarevsky

Petro Tsarevsky

Petro Tsarevsky from Luhansk oblast was abducted by the Russian invaders over a year ago, and remains imprisoned, despite serious health issues, including heart problems and diabetes.  And despite the cynicism of the charges against him. The aggressor state which invaded Tsarevsky’s country plans to ‘try’ the 69-year-old for taking part in the Starobilsk Self Defence volunteer unit during the first months of Russia’s military aggression in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, back in 2014.  This, it is claiming, constituted ‘participation in a terrorist organization’. 

Armed Russians burst into Tsarevsky’s home in the village of Chmyrivka (on the outskirts of Starobilsk) on 13 March 2022 and essentially abducted him from his sickbed.  Even before Russia’s full-scale invasion Tsarevsky had invalid status due to a blood circulation disorder (Raynaud’s disease) and chronic arthritis.  Extreme stress after Russia began its total invasion prompted serious heart problems and, since his abduction, he has begun suffering from diabetes.  His granddaughter, Natalia, explains that for the first two weeks after 24 February 2022, Tsarevsky was completely bedridden.  For that reason, when the Russians first appeared, they left without trying to take him prisoner.  Natalia assumes that his age and obviously poor state of health may have made them decide they had come for the wrong person.  They, unfortunately, returned.  

In 2014, Petro Tsarevsky did indeed take part in preventing the Russians and Russian-backed militants from seizing Starobilsk.  He was one of the local residents who joined the Starobilsk Self Defence which became a part of the Aidar Volunteer Battalion.   Natalia says that her grandfather, who would have been 60 at the time, served on the checkpoints that the Sefl-Defence volunteers created, and was certainly never directly engaged in military combat.  Starobilsk remained free, and the self-defence unit was dissolved at the end of 2014.  Tsarevsky returned to civilian life, but retained an active civic position, helping war veterans and their families. He was also elected a deputy of the district council in 2015.

Around 10 armed men in military uniform burst into Tsarevsky’s home on 13 March 2022.  While some of them pulled the pensioner from his bed and took him away, without any explanation, others carried out the first of several searches, with the Russians intent on finding military uniform, medals, etc. Olena Tsarevska immediately set off for Starobilsk in search of her husband, but all the relevant bodies, seized by the invaders, denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

At the end of April, a so-called ‘investigator’ from the Russian proxy ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [LPR] turned up and told Olena that her husband was in the Luhansk SIZO [remand prison] and that he was accused of ‘participation in a terrorist organization’.

Olena immediately went to Luhansk, but was not allowed to see her husband, nor given any real information.  She has, however, been able since then to get parcels with vital medicine, food, etc. to him.

It was only in March 2023 that it became clear that Tsarevsky was to go ‘on trial’ at the notorious Southern District Military Court in Rostov (Russia), which has been actively passing politically motivated sentences against Ukrainians since 2014.   Tsarevsky was at least provided with a lawyer who, at his client’s request, searched out the family and who does appear to be trying to properly represent his interests. 

The Ukrainian citizen, seized on Ukrainian territory, is charged under Article 205.4 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code (with it claimed that the Aidar Battalion was a ‘terrorist organization’).  He faces a sentence of between 5 and 10 years, with the indictment truly surreal.  The ‘prosecution’ is claiming that, from May 2014, the Aidar Battalion, together with other Ukrainian military, “occupied part of the territory of LPR” and that Aidar actively took part in military action aimed at “crushing the will” of the people of this fake ‘republic’, which they had supposedly expressed in the farcical pretence of a ‘referendum’ on 11 May 2014.  The Russian prosecution claims that Aidar thus “carried out deliberate and unlawful actions of a terrorist nature” and then descends into pure fantasy mode.  It is asserted that Aidar, together with other divisions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, acted "“with political aims, directed at violently changing the constitutional system and violating the integrity of the Russian Federation, in order to seize power in regions and destabilize the situation both on the territory of the ‘Luhansk people’s republic ‘ and on the territory of the Russian Federation”

In 2014, Russia was still pretending to have nothing to do with the conflict in Donbas, and claiming it to be a Ukrainian ‘civil war’.  It was only on the eve of the full-scale invasion that Russian president Vladimir Putin formally ‘recognized’ the fake ‘republics’, with a fake ‘referendum’ at gunpoint, staged in September 2022, then used to try to justify total annexation.  The Russian prosecution has, through its nonsensical indictment, effectively acknowledged that this was always a lie.

Tsarevsky’s lawyer points out that neither the Aidar Battalion, nor any other divisions of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, have been labelled ‘terrorist’ or ‘prohibited organizations’ in Russia.  Aidar was also not ever active in Russia, and, during the period in question, Starobilsk was recognized by Russia as part of Ukraine.  

These and other arguments are compelling, but almost certain to be ignored by the ‘court’ which has long passed the sentences demanded of it.  Tsarevsky is one of many Ukrainian civilians who have been illegally abducted by the invading state which then tries to accuse them of ‘terrorism’.

It is unclear why Petro Tsarevsky remains in the Luhansk SIZO since his ‘trial’ in Rostov was first scheduled to begin in March and there remain very strong concerns about his state of health.  Two hearings have already been adjourned, with the next scheduled for 15 May.

Based on various reports including those by the Ukrainian Service of Deutsche Welle and the ZMINA Human Rights Centre

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