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 sentenced to 12 years in Russia for Ukraine's national anthem, balloons and anti-war speech

Halya Coynash
Not only was Krystyna Liubashenko, the mother of two small daughters, charged with ‘military fakes’ and ‘terrorism’ for peaceful protest, but she was probably tricked into coming to Moscow

Krystyna Liubashenko Photo Aleksandra Astakhova, Mediazona

Krystyna Liubashenko Photo Aleksandra Astakhova, Mediazona

A Russian military court has sentenced Krystyna Liubashenko to 12 years’ imprisonment for playing the Ukrainian anthem and anti-war messages out of the window of rented accommodation and flying balloons.  Not only were the charges laid against her over such peaceful protest entirely unwarranted, but it appears that this was a deliberate setup, with the Ukrainian mother of two tricked and blackmailed into coming to Moscow and carrying out the protests. 

Considering the nature of the charges and the length of the sentence, disturbingly little has been heard of this case.  The sentence, passed after just two days of hearings at the Second Western District Military Court in Moscow, was reported on 17 June by the independent Russian site Mediazona.  No information about the verdict, as of late on 17 June, was present on the court website’s entry about the case..

Krystyna Liubashenko was detained on 8 May 2023 after arriving on Vorobyovy Hills (in Moscow) with while balloons, tied with the white-blue-white flag used by the ‘Free Russia’ Legion (or Freedom of Russia Legion).  This paramilitary organization opposes the regime of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war against Ukraine.  It was declared ‘terrorist’ by Russia’s Supreme Court on 16 March 2023 with this enabling Russia to imprison people for 20 years without any actual crime, merely on grounds of extremely loosely interpreted ‘involvement’ in the Legion.  

Liubashenko was accused of two supposed ‘offences’.  The prosecution claimed that she had, early on 8 May, from the flat that she was renting in Moscow region, placed a speaker on the window and played a recording of Ukraine’s national anthem and an anti-war address.  That was used as pretext for charges of ’circulating military fakes as part of a group, motivated by hatred or enmity, under Article 207.3 § 2b and d of Russia’s criminal code.  This is the worst of four repressive charges rushed into legislation within ten days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

She was also charged over the balloons with involvement in a terrorist organization’ under Article 205.5 § 2 of Russia’s criminal code, with such ‘involvement’ allegedly demonstrated by the white-blue-white flags used to bind the balloons.  This article of Russia’s criminal code is regularly used against Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners, with the grounds for its use here equally unfounded.

The prosecutor claimed to be ‘merely’ demanding a 15-year sentence because of extenuating circumstances, namely that Liubashenko has two young daughters.  The court handed down a 12-year sentence in a prison colony. 

The impugned actions, even if true, could not under any circumstances warrant the charges laid, and sentence passed.

In this case, however, the defence also presented evidence that Liubashenko had been tricked and blackmailed into carrying out such protests.  Mediazona explains that Liubashenko, her two small daughters, her mother, who is suffering from cancer, and her grandfather who has dementia, fled Kyiv after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.  They reached Switzerland where, according to Mediazona’s source, they received asylum. 

There were, however, financial difficulties which, according to the defence, Liubashenko spoke about with a neigbhour, identified as Vitaly Yurchenko.  The latter claimed to also be a refugee from Ukraine and initially lent her money, and then proposed that she go to Moscow, with this being for payment,  and hold a peaceful anti-war protest, letting off balloons in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.   Both Lubashenko and her lawyer, Liudmyla Posmitnaya, insisted that nothing had been said about the speaker and anti-war message, nor about the white-blue-white flag.   When the new demands were presented, she had tried to refuse but ‘Yurchenko’  had threatened that he would go to the Swiss authorities and get her daughters taken from her.  According to the lawyer, there is telephone correspondence with such blackmail and threats in the case material.

If true, it seems likely that this was a planned setup, with Liubashenko’s arrest always planned.  Her lawyer was clearly sceptical about the ability of the enforcement officers who seized Liubashenko the moment she began letting off the balloons to detect the white-blue-white flag.  The officer who detained her was questioned in court and claimed that, while there had been information about a planned protest, he had “by chance” noticed Liubashenko.

There were also glaring procedural irregularities, with the young woman clearly tricked, if not forced, into signing the ‘confession’ that formed the basis of the prosecution’s case.  She was also ‘represented’  during the interrogation by a lawyer, Vasily Domoradsky, whom neither she nor her family had appointed.  Such methods are standard, with ‘lawyers’ appointed by the investigators in many cases involving Ukrainian political prisoners used for signing papers and / or persuading a person to admit to the charges.  There have been a number of cases where such individuals have been present and said nothing when the political prisoner was subjected to torture.

In this case, both the ‘investigator’ and the lawyer assured Liubashenko that, if she signed the protocols thrust in front of her, she would get a suspended sentence for hooliganism and return home.  She was, in fact, jailed on 11 May 2023 on a charge of ‘hooliganism’ (Article 213 § 2) and had no reason to understand how horribly she was being tricked.  It is not clear when the graver charges were formally laid, but she has clearly been in custody ever since then.  On 21 May 2024, the case was registered with the Second Western District Military Court, under ‘judge’ Roman Ivanovich Kiforenko.  

Mediazona reports that the defence called on the court to terminate the charges for lack of any elements of a crime.  Krystyan Liubashenko spoke in Ukrainian, denying any guilt and suggesting that it was clear to all how the case had been concocted. 

 Share this