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.

‘Inconvenient’ Kherson oblast Mayor held hostage for over 2 years for refusing to collaborate with Russian invaders

Halya Coynash
Russia is refusing to even admit to its abduction and imprisonment of Oleksandr Babych, Mayor of Hola Prystan, whom the invaders seized in March 2022

Olekandr Babych

Olekandr Babych

Oleksandr Babych has been held incommunicado, without any charges being laid, since the Russians abducted him from his home in Kherson oblast on 28 March 2022.  Nothing at all has been heard from him since April 2023 and it is not even certain that the Russians are continuing to hold him prisoner in occupied Crimea.  Olha Babych is convinced that her husband was seized at the instigation of Oleksiy Kovalyov, a former Ukrainian MP, turned traitor.  It is also likely that Babych was targeted because he had continued serving his community as Mayor of Hola Prystan after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and refused to collaborate with the invaders.  None of this, however, can explain the chilling lawlessness which Russia is demonstrating by holding him , without any status or access to a lawyer for well over two years.

Olha Babych recently told Hromadske Radio that her husband did have the opportunity to leave Hola Prystan after Russia’s invasion in February 2022. He was, however, the elected Mayor of Hola Prystan, and there was no question of abandoning his post while he was needed.  During the first weeks after the Russians gained control, he and his colleagues in the City Council ensured that benefits were paid and helped organize humanitarian aid.  He received over a hundred calls from people in need of help every day, his wife earlier recalled,, saying that she sometimes suspected that people were hoping that her husband would drive the enemy out.  He and his deputy, Svitlana Linnyk, took serious risks, passing through the enemy’s checkpoints every day.  Babych even produced his driver’s licence, with the Russians having no idea that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor were thus checking on the situation.  Other City councillors also travelled around the city, warning residents where it was safe to pass, and where the Russians had set up checkpoints.

The Russians have begun seizing civilian hostages in any area that came under their occupation, and it was probably always a question of time before they came for Babych, because of his position, his pro-Ukrainian stand and his refusal to collaborate.  On 21 March 2022, the invaders abducted Viktor Maruniak, 60-year-old Village Head of Stara Zubrivka in Kherson oblast.  He was held prisoner and tortured for three weeks, and has since recounted how the Russians seemed to ‘get kicks’ out of the torture.  Maruniak believes that Babych was targeted because of his pronounced pro-Ukrainian position. 

Babych was aware of Maruniak’’s abduction and clearly understood that he was likely to be next.  On 22 March, he managed to find a way out for his wife and children but stayed behind himself.  It was on 28 March, the day after his family finally reached relative safety, that the Russians came for Babych.  They took him from the family’s home, however then arrived with him in handcuffs at the City Council building, where they interrogated him and carried out a search.  Olha Babych has learned from his colleagues that the Russians held ‘conversations’ with them, trying to force them to collaborate.  “They said “Why don’t you want to live like in the Soviet Union?” We’re brothers, after all, we’ll live fine, we don’t want to do you any harm.  And your boss is a criminal”.

Had Oleksandr Babych been ‘a criminal’, and not a Ukrainian patriot, carrying out his duties as a citizen and as an elected representative of his community, Russia would not still be holding him hostage, while refusing to even acknowledge his imprisonment.  It became known August 2022 that Babych was being held in SIZO No. 1, a remand prison in occupied Simferopol.  He was later moved to SIZO No. 2, one of two remand prisons created by the Russians in the first year after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  SIZO No. 2 appears to only contact Ukrainian political prisoners or civilian hostages, abducted from occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, and is under the control of Russia’s security service [FSB]. 

It was thanks to human rights groups’ contacts and former prisoners that the family have received any information at all about Babych, with the Russian authorities continuing to say nothing.  It is known that he was held for some time in a cell with 75-year-old Mariano Garcia Calatayud, a Spanish national seized by the Russians from Kherson oblast, whom Russia only admitted to holding in April 2023.

The last information that Olha Babych received was over a year ago, on 7 April 2023.  Her husband had managed to scribble a note to pass to her on toilet paper which a prisoner who was being freed passed to her.  “That was the last message about him, where he is and in what condition.  That he continues to love Ukraine and believes that he will return”.

Oleksandr Babych is one of several local leaders, including Mayor of Kherson Ihor Kolykhaev, whom the Russians abducted and are continuing to hold prisoner.  In Kolykhaev’s case, it was a full 15 months after his abduction that the Russians admitted that he was in their custody   They have refused to provide any information about Babych’s whereabouts or confirm that he is in their custody.  The lack of any formal charge means that he is quite simply a civilian hostage, without any charges laid, any access to legal defence and held totally incommunicado.

As mentioned, Olha Babych is convinced that former MP and traitor Oleksiy Kovalyov played a role in her husband’s abduction.  Babych’s deputy, Svitlana Linnyk has effectively also confirmed such suspicions.  She and Babych were returning from Kyiv when Russia began its full-scale invasion, with the trip in connection with the latest attempt by Kovalyov to get Babych removed.  The  Council members were about to hold an urgent meeting in connection with this when she received a call on WhatsApp from Kovalyov.  He was clearly in a euphoric state, she recounts, and told her to tell her boss that he would be spending sleepless days and nights in a cellar.

This may be true, however Babych’s refusal to collaborate would have made him a target even without Kovalyov.  The latter was found dead in his home on 28 August 2022, a few months after he turned traitor. 

Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] have initiated criminal proceedings, unfortunately only in absentia, against Pylyp Kvartnyk, the Rosgvardia officer believed to have ordered Babych’s abduction. 

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