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.

Ukrainian veteran sentenced to six years in Russia for 'a crime of a theoretical nature' - defending Ukraine in 2016

Halya Coynash
The charges against Volodymyr Linnyk could not have been more surreal in their lawlessness and sheer cynicism

Volodymyr Linnyk Photo press service of the Southern district military court

Volodymyr Linnyk Photo press service of the Southern district military court

Russia’s notorious Southern District Military Court has sentenced Volodymyr Linnyk to six years’ imprisonment on bizarre and cynical charges based on the 49-year-old’s months serving in Ukraine’s Armed Forces in 2016.  He was accused of having taken part in a ‘terrorist society’, although Russia has never declared the Aidar Battalion, which it claims that Linnyk served in, to be ‘terrorist’.  Linnyk himself dismissed the charges saying that he “couldn’t have been and wasn’t a participant in a terrorist society – serving your country cannot be terrorism”.

In a letter to his family, Linnyk wrote “I never thought that a tractor driver from Ukraine could in Russia become a terrorist in Russia which I had never once set foot in, yet it’s all decided. However I’m not going to give up, that’s not in my character.  I will fight.”

Linnyk denies that he was ever in the Aidar Battalion, and also told the court about the methods used to extract ‘testimony’ from him.  Since it was another person from Aidar who is also in Russian captivity who claimed to recognize Linnyk, it is very likely that he too gave such testimony under similar forms of duress.

Linnyk lives in Bondareve, a village near Staroblisk (Luhansk oblast) with his elderly mother and two brothers, Viktor and Roman.  It seems that he was initially detained for a while in 2014, but then Starobilsk remained under Ukrainian control.  It was seized by the Russians after their full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

Both Volodymyr and his brother, Viktor, are veterans from the war in Donbas and, as such, were in danger under Russian occupation. Both men were detained in May 2022 after they were forced to go to occupied Starobilsk to seek passes enabling them to cross occupation checkpoints.  The men did not attempt to lie about their military service, and were held for several days, with the Russians taking fingerprints, etc. and questioning them.  On that occasion, however, they were eventually released.

The brothers were seized again on 21 July 2022, and this time only Viktor was released.  In late August, it became clear that the Russian proxy ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ was accusing Linnyk of having served in part of the Aidar Battalion.  It seems that an unrecognized body of this fake ‘republic’ which even Russia only ‘recognized’ on the eve of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, had declared Aidar and a significant number of other units of Ukraine’s Armed Forces ‘terrorist’.  The ‘charge’ was under article 244 § 2 of the unrecognized ‘LPR criminal code’. 

After Russia claimed, at the end of September 2022, that occupied parts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts had ‘joined the Russian Federation’, the charge against Linnyk was reclassified under Russian legislation. 

This is where the story becomes even more bizarre since Russia has not even declared Aidar to be ‘extremist’, let alone ‘terrorist’.  Therefore, instead of claiming ‘involvement in a terrorist organization’, they came up with ‘participation in a terrorist society’ under Article 205.4 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code.  Graty correspondent Anton Naumliuk explains that the ‘advantage’ of using this different term for the Russian prosecution was that there did not need to be a separate court ruling declaring something a ‘terrorist society’.

The Russian prosecution claimed that Aidar had carried out ‘terrorist activities’ in Luhansk oblast, with this then purportedly incriminating Linnyk since, it was claimed, that he had served in the Battalion.

The linguistic acrobatics are extraordinary with prosecutor Dmitry Yunishev claiming that “Linnyk carried out a grave crime of a theoretical nature against civil security.”

It should be stressed that Linnyk served in Ukraine’s Armed Forces.  The originally volunteer Aidar battalion was dissolved in 2015 and then reformed as the 24th Separate Assault Battalion. 

Whether or not he served in this successor to Aidar, and Linnyk says that he did not, he was, undoubtedly, a military serviceman within Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Had he been serving as such when seized by the Russians in July 2021, he would be a prisoner of war who cannot, in accordance with international law, be prosecuted for such service. 

There were no specific charges against Linnyk, with the indictment based solely on the assertion that he was part of Aidar and allegations about the latter. Those allegations pertained to a period before Linnyk had anything to do with military service.  Although there were concerns about some members of the Aidar Battalion in 2014-15, they had no relation to the 24th Separate Assault Battalion in 2016, nor did they make Aidar a ‘terrorist society’.  There is especially breathtaking cynicism in the Russian prosecution’s attempt to justify such lawless charges by citing criticism of Aidar from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Russia claimed from 2014 until early 2022 that it had nothing to do with its proxy ‘Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics’ and even sought to avert more severe sanctions by not formally recognizing the illegal formations.  It has now claimed that a person defending his country back in 2016 was guilty of participation in ‘a terrorist society’ and “committed a crime of a theoretical nature against civil security”, whatever that means. 

Linnyk is planning to appeal against the sentence.   

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