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 journalist and former editor abducted from Russian-occupied Henichesk

Halya Coynash
While the pretext is new, Hennadiy Osmak is one of an ever-growing number of Ukrainian journalists abducted on territory under Russian occupation
Hennadiy Osmak Photo from open sources
Hennadiy Osmak Photo from open sources

A Russian propaganda Telegram channel has reported the ‘arrest’ in occupied Kherson oblast of Hennadiy Osmak, the former editor of the Henichesk website ‘Novy Vizyt’.  It appears that the Ukrainian journalist has become the latest victim of one of the conveyor belts of repression which Russia first launched against Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea, and has, since February 2022, extended to occupied parts of Kherson oblast.

Hennadiy Osmak was, for many years, the Chief Editor of Novy Vizyt in Henichesk, one of the first cities to be seized after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  By 12 March, Osmak announced that the publication was suspending its work “due to the present situation”.  According to Ukraine’s Institute for Mass Information, there was no contact with Osmak himself after that. 

The Russian propaganda media claim that after the full-scale invasion, Osmak assumed Russian citizenship and tried to conceal his supposed link with Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but that “people reported him to the police”.  ‘Mash’ claimed on 7 March that Osmak was ‘a PR person for the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, which it wrongly referred to as a “Crimean Tatar nationalist battalion of the Ukrainian Armed Forces”.  On the basis of that allegation, he is facing entirely illegal charges under Russian legislation of “involvement in an illegal armed formation’  (Article 208 of the Russian criminal code).  Mash said that he was facing up to 15 years’ imprisonment “however that period could increase if it turns out that he was a ‘sleeping agent’ for Ukraine Security Service.”

Not only has the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion long ceased to exist, but it was never, despite the name, an armed formation.  The Battalion was a peaceful civic organization, founded by Crimean Tatar activist and businessman Lenur Islyamov on 1 January 2016, with the first members people who had taken part in the peaceful civic blockade of occupied Crimea from 20 September 2015. The blockade began with human rights demands, including the release of all political prisoners and reinstatement of the other human rights that Russia had been systematically crushing since its invasion and annexation of Crimea.  It also drew public attention to the absurdity of a situation where Ukraine and Ukrainian traders were continuing to do business with Crimea despite Russian occupation.  Russia first reacted with hysteria, then with repression to the blockade which highlighted the degree to which Crimea was organically dependent upon mainland Ukraine. 

Unproven claims of involvement in the Battalion have been used to imprison Ukrainians, mainly Crimean Tatars, since 2018.  The charge is invariably of “taking part in the activities of an unlawful armed formation acting on the territory of a foreign country for purposes which are against the interests of the Russian Federation”, under Article 208 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code. In June 2022, the increasingly politicized Russian Supreme Court declared the Battalion  a ‘terrorist organization’.  This was almost certainly an attempt to justify the ever-increasing number of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians whom the Russian invaders had abducted from the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. 

These included Oleksiy Kiselyov, former Commander of the Ukrainian Navy’s Slavutych Command Ship who was abducted by Russians from the centre of occupied Henichesk on 22 July 2022.  Although 58 at the time, he was subjected to beatings and savage torture, including with electric currents attached to parts of his body.  He refused to provide the ‘confessions’ they demanded, and he was finally taken to occupied Crimea and formally remanded in custody, accused of having been a member of the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion and having planned a ‘sea blockade of Crimea’.   Despite the absurdity of the charges, Kiselyov was sentenced to 8.5 years’ harsh regime imprisonment with the first year in a prison, the worst of Russia’s penal institutions.  That sentence was upheld by the illegal ‘Crimean high court’ in August 2023, with Kiselyov now illegally imprisoned thousands of kilometres from his family in Russia.

A number of Crimean Tatars have also been abducted from their homes in Kherson oblast, with the same charge laid, and sentences passed with conveyor belt speed and near anonymity.

It Is very likely, as the Russian propaganda Telegram channel claimed, that Hennadiy Osmak supported the civic blockade.  So did a huge number of Ukrainian patriots.  It is less likely that he actually worked to promote the Noman Çelebicihan Battalion, however there would have been nothing illegal in this even if it were the case, and he is undoubtedly a victim of Russian political persecution.

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