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.

A typical history of a deserter

This is a complaint of a soldier’s mother Zezekalo L.A. This complaint was handed to Kharkov Group for human rights protection.

In the beginning of April 1995 my son Dadashyants Sergey Gervandovich (a Ukrainian, born in the town of Chernigov in 1974, has grown without father since two years of age), came home on leave from the army in a very strange state: with a black eye, with scars on eye-brows, with the broken and deformed nose. Besides, he had a bad cold. When I saw him, I was frightened and started to question him. At first he was silent, and then he confessed that he tried to stop another soldier, who was cutting his veins. The scars were the result of Sergey’s attempt to stop the suicide. I wanted to go to his military unit, but he persuaded me not to start anything, if I wanted him to finish his service normally. I took him to a hospital to treat his nose, since he hardly could breath through the nose and suffered from headaches. In the hospital they put him the diagnosis: acute antritis. Having passed the course of treatment he remained very nervous, and it was obvious that he did not want to return to his unit. Before the army he was anxious to enter the military university, but now he was doubtful.

On 25 April 1995 he started on his way back to the unit and disappeared. In several days a friend of his came to me and said that Sergey all this time had been hiding in the Kharkov Polytechnic Institute hostel. Then he borrowed some necessary things and a passport from one of his acquaintances and promised to return them back by post. Since that day a week passed, but there was no information about Sergey. I was frightened and asked his friends to write an application to the district militia precinct on the loss of a bag with things and the passport. It was written in the application that he had stolen the things and the passport. I thought that militia would find him soon, and we should settle the rest.

In a week the bag and the passport were found. As it appeared, he even did not come to the railway station. The reason was that he looks like his Armenian father. That was why he was detained on the way to the station. So, militiamen took his things and documents and told to follow them to the precinct. So he was practically forced to run away. When I learned about this, I thought that he was killed in the militia precinct.

Several times I came to the Kyivskiy district precinct and wrote an application to organize the all-Union search. They laughed at me, but, finally, took my application and Sergey’s photo. I did not turn to the district military commissariat. I thought that he would be found by militia, and then I should smooth the matter in the military commissariat.

And Sergey, as it appeared, went after his nose and came to Volgograd. Here he lived for some time under the surname Zezekalo, since he did not want people to think that he was a Caucasian. (‘Caucasian’ does not mean ‘white’ or ‘Arian’ in our language, it means ‘an inhabitant of the Caucasus’, who are disliked by simple folks and militia. – Translator’s note). In October he was detained in Volgograd as a man residing without a passport. The Volgograd militia learned Sergey’s place of residence (from Sergey himself) and sent a request to Kharkov, but they got no answer. Similar requests were sent in 1996, in 1998, and only in 1999 a request accidentally got to me. During these four years Sergey committed no crimes either in Russia or in Ukraine. He was detained in Volgograd, checked and released several times. He was detained because he several times tried to return to Ukraine. He wrote letters home and to his friends, but he did not mention his Volgograd address. Neither of these letters got to the addressee, because letters without a return address are thrown away at the frontier. So he decided that nobody at home needed him. Several times representatives from his military unit and from the district military commissariat came to me and persuaded me to tell about thereabouts of Sergey. They said that if Sergey returned to the army by his own will, he would be permitted to end his service. They showed me the orders of amnesty. I believed them and promised that when I saw Sergey, I would lead him myself to the district military commissariat.

On 25 March an acquaintance of mine, a militiaman, phoned to me and said that a teletype message about Sergey came from Volgograd. On 31 March I already was in Volgograd, and the next day we were at home. Immediately after his arrival Sergey came to the regional military commissariat and gave himself up. From there he was sent to the district military commissariat. From there he was sent to the military commissariat of the town of Lozovaya for interrogation. From there he was returned to Kharkov and placed into the guardhouse. They explained to me that the case was given to a very young investigating officer (23-year-old) and the latter arrested Sergey. Later the officer said to me that the case was such that Sergey could get from three to five years of prison, not of the disciplinary battalion. He said that Sergey was a deserter and guilty of high treason. You, if you have children, must understand my state, the more so that Sergey said at our last meeting that he would finish the army service and then would try to enter the military university. How naïve he was!

If Ukraine needs good clever soldiers, then military bureaucrats must permit my son to serve the remaining eighteen months. Sergey has become more grown-up, now he would certainly be a good soldier. At school he was a good pupil, additionally studied the English language, then finished successfully the vocational school of electric and radio equipment, he knows computers well, after the school he entered the institute, but had to leave it. I could not support him for my wages of 80 grivnas, I fell ill and he went to work. He said, I’ll go to the army and complete my education. He dreamed to launch rockets to the cosmic space.

He lived in Volgograd without documents and without parents for infinite four years. He thought that he was not needed by either his mother nor Ukraine. Is it not a sufficient punishment? People say to me: you should pay. But what can I pay? My salary is 80 grivnas, and I have not got it for the last four months. His classmates want to write a petition to the President, and I am desperate.

Help me for God’s sake! My son is not a threat for society, and he may become a good military engineer.

PL commentary.
Young men, who left their military units because of dedovshchina, or, more often, their parents, frequently turn to Kharkov Group for human rights protection or Kharkov district Union of soldiers’ mothers. In April-June 1998 the General Prosecutor’s office together with the Ministry of Defense started a humane campaign: they turned to deserters with the proposition to give up and return to the army; if the causes to desert were mitigating, the deserters would be freed from the criminal persecution. This campaign was rather successful, for example, 17 deserters gave up only in Kharkov region. Deserters and their parents who turn to Kharkov Group for human rights protection naturally put the same question: what would happen with the deserter when he gave up. Lately we answered them that the deserter who left his unit because of dedovshchina and gave up voluntarily would not be prosecuted. Yet Kharkov military prosecutor’s office recently started to prosecute a deserter and informed us that the campaign lasted for two months and was terminated in August. Meanwhile the Ministry of Defense continues to appeal to deserters to give up.

We are sure that this campaign must be continued because the majority of deserters hide in various countries of the CIS and do not know about the campaign. This action will diminish the level of crime, since young men without documents is an easy prey to criminals. Nonetheless, the new wave of prosecutions has begun and we have no moral right to advise deserters to give up.

We ask the General Prosecutor’s office to give us an official response: what will be with young men who, without committing any crimes, left their unit because of dedovshchina and later gave up. It seems to us that the actions of the Ministry of Defense, of the General Prosecutor’s office and of Unions of soldiers’ mothers should be coordinated, since neither of the sides wants deserters to stay in hiding.

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