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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.
© Kyiv Post
In his address to the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, President Vladimir Putin said on Dec. 4 that Crimea is to Russians what the Temple Mount is for Muslims and Jews.
He based his statement on the fact that Prince Volodymyr the Great, the ruler of medieval Kyivan Rus in the 10th century, was baptized in Crimea as he brought Christianity to his kingdom. The fact is that Volodymyr ruled in Kyiv. Putin’s remarks underscore Ukraine’s connection to the peninsula, not Russia’s.
A bold cat refused to let the falling ruble stand between him and his fish. Wikicommons.
The Moscow Times.
A sneaky cat from Vladivostok seems to have found a way around the rising prices of groceries in Russia, causing a seafood store some 60,000 rubles ($1,100) in damages by nibbling through a wide array of its delicacies.
The cat burglar made his way into the window display of a fish store located in Vladivostok International Airport, then tore through packaging with his teeth and claws, enjoying a feast of squid, flounder and dry fish, local news site Prima Media reported.
The incident, which occurred on the night of Dec. 5, was caught on video by passers-by. The video, posted to YouTube, shows bewildered onlookers laughing as the cat devours various products in the shop’s window display case.
The airport forbids keeping animals on its premises for safety and sanitary reasons, and it remains unclear how the feline entered the fish store, the airport’s press service told Prima Media. The refrigerated store window was disinfected and sanitized after the cat’s feast, the store’s manager assured.
Citing an unnamed airport shopkeeper, RIA Novosti reported Thursday that the cat burglar lives near the airport and occasionally drops by the terminal.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Photograph: Denis Grishkin / Vedomosti.
Allison Quinn, The Moscow Times.
As human rights activists on Thursday reported that at least six homes linked to Islamic insurgents had been burned to the ground by masked men near Grozny following calls by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to punish militants’ kin, federal lawmakers moved in Moscow to hold the families of insurgents criminally liable for the actions of their relatives.
Human rights group Memorial published a report Thursday providing detailed accounts appearing to verify earlier media reports that masked men had descended upon Chechen villages in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attack in Grozny, leaving a trail of charred homes in their wake.
The Dec. 4 attack sent shockwaves through the republic and saw 14 policemen killed while battling the militants. At least 10 of the militants were killed, and dozens on both sides were injured amid the chaos.
The village homes were destroyed after relatives of Islamic insurgents involved in the Dec. 4 attack on the Chechen capital identified the bodies of their loved ones, and on the same day Kadyrov declared via Instagram that family members of militants would be deported and their homes razed to the ground in retaliation for their relatives’ terrorist activities.
The first home destroyed in an apparent act of retaliation for the attack belonged to Yunus Gekhayev, whose son Yusup had been identified as one of the Dec. 4 attackers a day earlier. Witnesses told activists from Memorial that armed, masked men pulled up in a vehicle on Dec. 6 before rounding up all the home’s inhabitants and making them wait on the street until the home was engulfed in flames.
Some of the other homes destroyed between Dec. 6 and 7 had no direct connection to the Dec. 4 attackers. One had been vacant for more than a year, Memorial reported, though the deceased owner of the home had a son who was thought to be involved with the republic’s underground insurgency.
Although the identities of the masked arsonists remain unknown, human rights activists have expressed concerns that Kadyrov’s statement about holding the families of militants responsible for their actions may have encouraged the attacks.
“It’s time for Russian leaders to take a clear position on this savage form of collective punishment, and not make it look like they are encouraging it,” Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of the Moscow branch of Human Rights Watch, wrote in the report.
Amnesty International also condemned the incident in a statement released Thursday, referring to it as an “outrageous violation of international law.”
Kadyrov seemed unfazed by the effect his words had, however, championing himself through his Instagram account Thursday as Chechnya’s chief human rights defender.
“Earlier I declared that relatives should answer for the criminal actions of their sons, if they did not stop them themselves or turn to police. Some Kalypin stood up for the militants and their relatives,” Kadyrov said, referring to Igor Kalypin, chairman of the Committee Against Torture and a member of the Kremlin’s human rights council.
On Wednesday, Kalypin had appealed to Russia’s prosecutor general to look into the legality of Kadyrov’s statement about punishing the relatives of militants.
At least one Russian lawmaker has expressed support for Kadyrov’s idea, however.
Roman Khudyakov of the Liberal Democratic Party has submitted a bill to the State Duma that would hold relatives of militants criminally liable for failure to inform the authorities. Relatives would face charges if they were aware of the activities of their loved ones, “if they foresaw or should have foreseen danger to the public … and permitted an attack to happen or treated [the situation] carelessly,” the text of the bill reads.
Separatists from the Chechen “Death” battalion stand in a line during a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 8, 2014. Maxim Shemetov / Reuters.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), dozens of armed men in camouflage uniforms from Russia’s republic of Chechnya train in snow in a camp in the rebel-held east Ukraine.
They say their “Death” unit fighting Ukrainian forces has 300 people, mostly former state security troops in the mainly Muslim region where Moscow waged two wars against Islamic insurgents and which is now run by a Kremlin-backed strongman.
Seasoned Chechen fighters, whose combat experience often dates back to the 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars, fight on both sides in east Ukraine, adding to the complexity of a conflict in which the West says Russian troops are involved.
“This is volunteer battalion Death,” a deputy commander of the group who only gave his nickname “Stinger” said at a former tourist camp the unit turned into their base outside of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in east Ukraine.
“There are about three hundred of us in the Donetsk region. We have battlefield experience ranging from 10 to 20 years starting from 1995,” said the man in his 40s, a pistol fixed to his thigh.
He had a little Chechen flag in green, white and red stitched to his cap and spoke Russian with a strong Caucasus accent. Several cars with Chechen registration plates were parked in the camp.
Russia sides with the rebels in east Ukraine but denies sending serving troops to reinforce them. Some fighters on the ground admit to being former Russian servicemen, or “on leave.” Moscow has said any Russians fighting there are volunteers.
In Chechnya, two brutal wars quashed the separatist insurgents but unrest is still simmering.
Gunmen attacked a police post and captured a building in the regional capital of Grozny last week and at least 20 people, including 10 police and 10 suspected militants, were killed in gunbattles that ensued.
Violence erupted just hours before President Vladimir Putin was due to give a major speech in Moscow, a symbolic challenge to the man credited for the Russian army victory in the second Chechen war.
Reestablishing Moscow’s control over Chechnya and then introducing an uneasy peace under Ramzan Kadyrov, whom critics and rights campaigners accuse of heavy-handed tactics and massive rights violations, is seen by Putin’s supporters as a key achievement.
In Ukraine, Stinger’s men are sworn enemies with another group of Chechens who fight on the opposite side of the conflict and support the Kiev government troops.
Some of them have Western passports after fleeing Russia following the two wars. They say Moscow is theirs and Kiev’s joint enemy and that Chechnya is occupied by Russia.
Stinger, however, said Chechnya was being destroyed in the wars of the 1990s and became peaceful again only when some local leaders allied with the Kremlin.
Some of those in the Death unit said they had initially fought against Russia in Chechnya but later switched sides and were amnestied by a former Kremlin-allied head of the region, Ramzan’s father, Akhmed Kadyrov.
“Now we are [former] soldiers and officers of the Russian army, of Russian special forces, mostly veterans of war campaigns,” Stinger said.
- Crimea, Chechnya and Putin’s Double Standards.
- Chechnya’s Kadyrov ‘Blacklists’ Obama, EU Officials Over Ukraine.