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Ukrainian MP and former military pilot Nadiya Savchenko.
Halya Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.
On the same day that Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution calling on Russia to release Ukrainian MP and former military pilot Nadiya Savchenko, her lawyers have expressed concern over her state of health in Russian detention.
Lawyer Ilya Novikov reports that she is suffering an ear inflammation and that the prison doctors are not dealing with the situation. “Loss of hearing in that ear is already total, and it looks as if it will get worse”, he writes.
Savchenko’s defence are stepping up their efforts to obtain the release of the former pilot who was captured by Kremlin-backed militants in the Luhansk oblast and is now facing dubious charges in Russia. On Dec 15 a Moscow court will consider two appeals from the defence, including one against her extended term of detention.
On Dec 11 the Verkhovna Rada adopted a Resolution “On an appeal to Russia’s State Duma and President Vladimir Putin to release Ukrainian pilot and MP Nadiya Savchenko”.
The Resolution states that Ms Savchenko was elected to parliament on Oct. 26 2014 from the Batkivshchyna Party and that her signed oath was publicly demonstrated in parliament on Nov 27 meaning that she has now been sworn in as MP.
“The Verkhovna Rada states that Ukrainian MP and member of the Batkivshchyna faction … Nadiya Savchenko will, outside the quota system will represent the entire Ukrainian parliament in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and will be a member of Ukraine’s permanent delegation to PACE.
The statement goes on to explain that this is the first time that an elected member of the Verkhovna Rada is unable to take up her duties because she is clearly unlawfully and on groundless charges held in detention in another country in overt violation of international human rights.
Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada therefore calls on the State Duma, the Russian President and other Russian bodies and officials to take all measures to secure Nadiya Savchenko’s release
It also calls for the “release of all Ukrainian nationals who, during the period of armed conflict in the east of Ukraine, were taken prisoner, illegally taken to the Russian Federation and held there against their will”.
321 MPs voted for the resolution. There were no votes against, however 28 MPs did not vote at all.
Media reports say that the resolution calls for the release of Nadiya Savchenko, Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov and other prisoners, however the wording means that it only applies unequivocally to Nadiya Savchenko. She was taken prisoner by Kremlin-backed militants from the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ on around June 17. On July 3 a Russian court remanded her in custody and she has been in Russian detention ever since. Savchenko says that she was taken across the border with a bag over her end and hands tied, and has made her attitude to the ‘lying Russian courts’ abundantly clear. Russia’s Investigative Committee claims that she voluntarily entered Russia, pretending to be a refugee. The Investigative Committee studiously avoids mentioning her capture by the militants, but even so the Russian version is difficult to take seriously. The investigators have also threatened to charge her with ‘illegally crossing the border’.
The investigators claim that in June, as a member of the Aidar Battalion, Savchenko found out the whereabouts of a group of TV Rossiya journalists and other civilians outside Luhansk, and passed these to fighters who carried out a mortar attack which killed TV Rossiya employees Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.
The prosecution tried hard to prevent inclusion of evidence from the defence which apparently demonstrates that Ms Savchenko was already in custody when the two journalists were killed. This was in such flagrant breach of the law that their objections were finally overridden.
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, 31, fought in eastern Ukraine in the ranks of the Aidar volunteer battalion and in June was taken prisoner by militia forces near the town of Shchastya in Luhansk Oblast. © Courtesy
Russia’s authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Nadiya Savchenko a political prisoner.
Russia is holding at very least 5 other Ukrainian nationals whose cases arouse grave concern. Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other Crimean opponents of Russian annexation of the Crimea were arrested in Simferopol in May and were soon taken, against their will, to Russia [Moscow], where they remain in detention. The FSB claims that they were behind a ‘Right Sector’ plot to carry out terrorist acts and destroy major parts of the infrastructure in Simferopol and Sevastopol on Victory Day, May 9. Russia has constantly demonized the far-right and ultra-nationalist Right Sector and paid effectively no head to the party’s dismal showing in both presidential and parliamentary elections.
There were no terrorist acts although the arrests were made after the supposed date planned for them. The only ‘evidence’ comes from ‘confessions’ given by Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy. Both claim that Sentsov ‘masterminded the plot’. Both Sentsov and Kolchenko have repeatedly alleged that they were subjected to torture and that Sentsov was warned that if he didn’t give testimony against EuroMaidan and the new Kyiv government, they would claim that he was the mastermind of the purported ‘terrorist plot’.
Sentsov is a well-known film director with a growing international reputation. He is also a solo father with two young children, one of whom is autistic. If this makes him a wildly improbable candidate for ‘terrorist mastermind’, so too must the claim that Kolchenko, a left-wing anarchist, was part of a far-right nationalist party ‘plot’. Add to this the fact that the only ‘evidence’ is from confessions obtained while the men were totally in the control of the Simferopol enforcement bodies without access to lawyers or contact with their families.
Amnesty International has called for Sentsov and Kolchenko’s release from Russian detention and Memorial has recognized them as political prisoners.
Yury Yatsenko, a Lviv law student in his final year, was not illegally taken to Russia but there are very strong grounds for believing that the charges against him and his detention in a Russian SIZO are impelled by political considerations and do not bear scrutiny.
Yatsenko and his friend Bohdan Yarychevsky, were detained in Russia’s Kursk oblast in early May. They were held in a police station without food or sleep for two days, and not allowed to ring their relatives, a lawyer or the Ukrainian consul. During that time the FSB [Russian security service] turned up, interrogated them, suspecting that they had been ‘sent by Dmytro Yarosh’ [the leader of Right Sector] or by Ukraine’s SBU. The ‘grounds’ for such suspicions were a map showing Kursky Station found on their mobile telephone. Yarychevsky explains that they’d saved it in order to get their bearings and know how to get to the station to catch the coach home. The FSB, however, deemed the photo ‘suspicious’ and possibility indicating a plan to blow up the station.
Yatsenko and Yarychevsky were not officially detained for imaginary ‘radicalism’ or ‘nationalism’, nor were they suspected of any criminal offence. A court on May 8 ruled that they had committed an administrative offence by ticking the box ‘private purpose’ on the border entry form, when they should have ticked the ‘tourism’ box.
Both young men were subjected to torture with the FSB wanting them to publicly testify that a military junta had taken over in Ukraine and to ask for political asylum. They constantly received threats that if they didn’t cooperate, criminal charges would be concocted, with drugs or weapons planted.
This is basically what happened, though against only one of the two – Yury Yatsenko – who has been charged with ‘smuggling explosive devices’. Yarychevsky was deported and is taking part in efforts to obtain his friend’s release.
- Savchenko Case: No legal grounds, no evidence and total distrust in Russian justice.
- G20 Putin Pack: Captured by Militants in Ukraine, Tried in Russia.
- Nadiya Savchenko: I’m sick of Russia and your lying courts.
- Chief suspects in abduction of Nadiya Savchenko named.
- Savchenko: Abducted, then charged with ‘illegally crossing the border’.
- Nadiya Savchenko: Unbroken in Russian detention, now Ukrainian MP.
- “They torture POWs here” Moscow voices in defence of Nadiya Savchenko.
- Nadiya Savchenko’s treatment amounts to torture, lawyers say.
- Savchenko: Appeal delayed while psychiatric assessment goes right ahead.
- Memorial recognizes Nadiya Savchenko as a political prisoner.
People hold candles in the cellar in Donetsk on Dec. 2, 2014. © AFP
Maria Tsvetkova, Reuters.
SLOVYANOSERBSK, Ukraine, Dec 3 (Reuters) – Anna Tsvirinko takes her hand out of the jacket she is wearing over her nurse’s uniform to keep warm and points at a dirty mattress in the unheated ward of the Ukrainian psychiatric hospital where she works.
“That’s where a woman who died last night was lying,” she says, estimating she was the 50th patient to die at the hospital since the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces began in April.
“If there is no light when I’m on duty and a patient dies I go in with a candle or a torch. I’m the only nurse for six wards. I need to wash and dress others but there is no light and no water. What can I do?”
The Psycho-Neurological Hospital outside the village of Slovyanoserbsk is caught in the crossfire in separatist-held territory about 30 km (20 miles) northwest of the rebel stronghold of Luhansk and near the frontline.
There is a strong smell of urine in the ward of a dozen beds. Elderly women lie under blankets, wearing headscarves to keep warm.
Younger patients in their 30s and 40s walk along dark corridors or sit on the floor. Some seem unable to speak and one woman cries on a bench by the window.
“She wants to go home”, Tsvirinko says.
Medical workers say the head of the hospital was killed by a shell in Luhansk and about half the 180 staff have fled. There were 400 patients when fighting began, they say.
“DON’T FORGET US”
When Reuters visited the hospital this week, it had no heating, no electricity, no running water and meals were being cooked outside on an open fire.
Artillery rounds could be heard a few kilometres (miles) away. Patients helped two women cooks to chop firewood.
“We wake up, wash and then go and help our cooks. It’s cold to sleep at nights. We sleep in our clothes,” said Vyacheslav Shavkin, one of the less seriously ill patients.
On good days, the hospital has electricity, the cooks say.
When temperatures dropped in November, the number of deaths in the hospital rose quickly. Medical records show 22 patients died in a month.
The latest, on the night of Nov. 30, were Olga Beletskaya, 57, who had infantile cerebral palsy, and Irina Taranskaya, 68, who suffered from encephalopathy, or disease of the brain.
“They died because it was cold and we had nothing to treat them with,” Tsvirinko said.
Nurses said the hospital was running out of medicine. As a result, the patients were more aggressive than usual.
“They cry, they go crazy and you can’t do anything for them,” nurse Svetlana Nechvolod said.
Medical personnel and patients say they have not received their wages or pensions for more than six months.
At least one shell hit the backyard of the hospital a week ago. But the conflict is not what frightens them most.
“The most important thing is that everyone doesn’t forget us,” said Dmitry Shevshenko, a 33-year-old patient.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood).
The European security watchdog, the OSCE, says Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels have agreed ‘in principle’ on a ceasefire in the Luhansk region. A months-old ceasefire has been frequently broken.
epa04481972 Ukrainian servicemen take up positions near Luhansk, Ukraine, 08 November 2014. A new wave of violence was reported although there is a cease-fire declared in the main separatist city. Ukraine on 06 November accused Russia of continuing the latest military build-up along the border of the two countries. Some 60 armoured vehicles, including 50 T-64 tanks, were moved by train to a town close to the border in Russia’s southern Rostov region, the Security Council in Kiev said. Latest reports on 07 November state that Ukrainian claims that a column of Russian military vehicles, including tanks, had crossed into eastern Ukraine. EPA/DMITRIY LIPAVSKIY
The government in Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists agreed to a ceasefire in the eastern war-torn region of Luhansk in Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement released late on Monday.
“All agreed in principle to a total ceasefire along the entire line of contact between Ukrainian Armed Forces and those under control of the (Luhansk People’s Republic), to be effective from 5 December,” the OSCE said.
“They also agreed that the withdrawal of heavy weapons would start on 6 December.”
A fragile truce signed between Ukraine and the separatist rebels in Minsk in September helped reduce some of the bloodiest fighting but fighting has continued since then. The UN said in late November that almost 1,000 people had died since that truce was signed, and more than 4,300 since fighting began in April.
Heavy battles now rage around the devastated airport in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk. Ukraine’s military said on Monday that a temporary truce had been declared, but it is unclear whether it is holding up.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Monday accused Russia of violating the Minsk ceasefire, by sending large deliveries of weapons to the pro-Moscow separatists – charges the Kremlin has always denied.
jr/ksb (AFP, dpa, AP)
Pro-Russian rebels at the entrance to Donetsk, a city of 950,000 residents that they control, on Nov. 30. © AFP
A Russian convoy of 12 trucks with what Russia calls a humanitarian help and 30 military trucks without the license plates came to the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Nov. 30.
Oleg Voronov, deputy head of Russia’s Crisis Management Center, said Donetsk will receive 800 tons of goods, while another 400 tons will be delivered to Luhansk.
A separatist soldier checks a car entering the city of Donetsk on Nov. 30. © AFP
This is an eighth Russian humanitarian convoy coming to Ukraine that violates the rules of passing the state boundaries between the two countries.
Neither international observers, nor Red Cross activists are allowed to check the cargo that trucks are delivering, which is why it remains unclear what is exactly being brought to the Donbas in these convoys.
A Russian convoy of 12 trucks transporting humanitarian goods for pro-Russian soldiers enters on Nov. 30 the eastern city of Donetsk controlled by the Kremlin-backed rebels. © AFP
Ukraine’s State Security and Defense Council believes convoys bring new Russian soldiers as well as arms for them to fight against the Ukrainian army in the Donbas.
A military convoy of about 30 trucks without license plates moves on Nov. 30 on an avenue in the eastern city of Donetsk controlled by pro-Russian rebels. © AFP
Pro-Russian soldiers welcome a Russian convoy transporting humanitarian goods to Donetsk. © AFP
A Russian convoy of 12 trucks transporting humanitarian goods for pro-Russian soldiers enters the rebel-held city of Donetsk. © AFP
Pro-Russian soldier at a checkpoint on the road entrance to Donetsk. © AFP
Nina Nykyforivna, a retiree in the rebel-held Ukrainian city of Donetsk, cries at her home on November 25, 2014 as the shooting continues despite the cease-fire, agreed in Minsk on Sep. 5. © AFP.
Oksana Torhan, Kyiv Post.
Donbas residents are facing the choice of which country they want to live in as Ukraine goes through the tenth month of war that Vladimir Putin-led Russia started in February. Some prefer Ukraine, others lean towards Russia.
Yelyzaveta Zaspa, a 23-year-old student of the master program in psychology at Luhansk Taras Shevchenko University, says she wants Luhansk, a city of some 420,000 residents that she grew up at, to stay with Ukraine.
After the pro-Kremlin separatists took over the city in May, Zaspa has lived in a dormitory in Kryvyi Rig in central Ukraine as an internally displaced person and then moved to Kyiv where she rented a hostel with her own money. After three months of such a life, she finally settled at Starobilsk, a major city in Luhansk Oblast that became a temporary home to her Taras Shevchenko University.
In a phone interview, Zaspa says she just wants peace.
Anna, 22, a graduate student in social work at Eastern Ukrainian Volodymyr Dal University, another Luhansk school, says she wants nothing but peace too, though prefers Luhansk, her home city, to get separated from Ukraine. She refused to be mentioned by her last name when the Kyiv Post approached her through Vkontakte, a social network popular with Ukraine’s Russian-speaking community.
Even though the Dal University officially moved to Severodonetsk, another city in Luhansk Oblast, Anna stayed in Luhansk to continue her studies in what now claims to be the Dal University too, but is not officially recognized and is ruled by so called “Luhansk People’s Republic,” a pseudo-state controlled by the Kremlin.
A seeker of master’s degree in social work doesn’t know whether her diploma will ever be accepted anywhere.
Anna says she doesn’t have any money or relatives outside the rebel-held territory and plans to stay in Luhansk as long as possible. She thinks Ukraine doesn’t help the Donbas, while she has received aid from the Russian humanitarian convoys.
Oleksiy Antypovych, head of Rating, a sociology center in Kyiv, says 17 percent of Ukrainians think Ukraine should let the Donbas join Russia or live its own life. “And these views get more popular,” he adds. “Western Ukraine doesn’t want to fight and central Ukraine is overcrowded with the displaced people from the east.”
United Nations Refugee Agency reported there were more than 450,000 internally displaced persons from the war-torn Donbas as of Nov. 21. Many also leave for Russia, looking for jobs in Russia’s western region that is neighboring with Ukraine’s eastern oblasts.