A spinoff of war

In ad­di­tion to sep­a­ratism with its ref­er­enda and Rus­sian hu­man­i­tar­ian con­voys, the war in Ukraine be­got a stra­tum of crim­i­nals con­sist­ing of war veter­ans, both real and fake

The Ukrainian Week - - SOCIETY - Stanislav Ko­zliuk

In the win­ter 2015-2016, bor­der guards in Zakarpat­tia, on Ukraine’s western bor­der with Slo­vakia, tried to block the illegal traf­fic of coun­ter­feit cig­a­rettes to Europe. As it turned out, the trucks con­tained not only the prod­ucts of Lviv To­bacco Fac­tory in­volved in a se­ries of scan­dals, but also the cig­a­rettes of Khamadey To­bacco Plant from Donetsk. How to­bacco from the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries crossed the con­tact line re­mains an open ques­tion.

The list of crimes that be­came wide-spread af­ter the war broke out in­cludes extortion, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, racket and even mur­der, in ad­di­tion to smug­gling of goods. Com­pli­cat­ing the sit­u­a­tion is the fact that, when ser­vice­men or vol­un­teers are in­volved, they tend to jus­tify their ac­tions with ar­gu­ments about sep­a­ratism of the lo­cal res­i­dents, and claim that, in time of armed hos­til­i­ties, there is no time to in­ves­ti­gate and con­firm whether the af­fected lo­cals do co­op­er­ate with the “LNR” and “DNR” mil­i­tants. More­over, the charges against the mil­i­tary wrong­do­ers are of­ten based on al­le­ga­tions of open sep­a­ratists. This is the case with the recent proc­ced­ings against one of the com­man­ders of Ai­dar bat­tal­ion, Va­len­tyn Lykholit (known by his nom de guerre, Batya), and his sub­or­di­nate Ihor Rad­chenko (nom de guerre Rubyezh). They were charged with steal­ing a cam­corder, a cam­era and al­co­hol from the cur­rent Mayor of Severodonetsk Va­len­tyn Kaza­kov. Kaza­kov him­self is widely sus­pected, not with­out ground, of col­lab­o­ra­tion with ter­ror­ists: he is cred­ited with pro­mot­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of the so-called self-de­fence mili­tias, help­ing or­ga­nize the fake ref­er­en­dum, and more.

The fig­ure of Batya is not as straight­for­wardly evil as the po­lice are try­ing to show. Most Ai­dar fight­ers speak of him only pos­i­tively and can­not re­mem­ber any openly crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties of their com­man­der. As for Rubyezh, all those in­ter­viewed by The Ukrainian Week ad­mit­ted off-record that he is a rogue, who was do­ing his own busi­ness rather than fight­ing. How­ever, they re­fused to pro­vide any de­tails out of fear for their lives.

The case of Rubyezh is not unique. In the early 2016, Cen­ter for Civil Lib­er­ties, a hu­man rights watch­dog NGO, un­der the aus­pices of the "Jus­tice for Peace in Don­bas" Coali­tion of NGOs and ini­tia­tives, as well as in co­op­er­a­tion with lawyers and hu­man rights ac­tivists, pre­pared a re­port en­ti­tled "In Search of Jus­tice." It fo­cused on the breaches of law in the anti-ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tion (ATO) area. Mem­bers of mon­i­tor­ing groups col­lected over a dozen facts demon­strat­ing that since 2014, war veter­ans have be­come ac­tive play­ers of the crim­i­nal world.

One such case comes from the town of Biloku­rakine, Luhansk Oblast. It hap­pened in the summer– win­ter of 2014. Olek­sandr Hlad­chenko, a pri­vate farmer, bor­rowed money for sow­ing from a lo­cal at­tor­ney. Shortly, he was paid sev­eral vis­its by un­known armed men who pre­sented them­selves first as the mem­bers of Ukrainian Armed Forces, then as Ai­dar, and then as the Right Sec­tor. Af­ter a few vis­its, the anonyms wear­ing mil­i­tary fa­tigues moved from words to deeds. Ac­cord­ing to Hlad­chenko, he was beaten and threat­ened in or­der to ex­tort money. Only the in­ter­ven­tion of Ai­dar helped re­solve the sit­u­a­tion. The bat­tal­ion vol­un­teers helped de­tain three ex­tor­tion­ists, who were handed over to the law en­forcers. The vic­tim knows noth­ing about the fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Ac­cord­ing to his lawyer, as of April this year, his of­fend­ers were not even un­der sus­pi­cion for com­mit­ting the crimes. Pre-trial de­ten­tion is not in ques­tion, ap­par­ently.

Another story took place far from the front line. Olek­siy Petro­vsky left Donetsk in 2014 for the Ukrainian-con­trolled ter­ri­tory. Af­ter cross­ing one of the check­points on the bor­der of Donetsk and Dnipropetro­vsk oblasts, he was beaten up. About a dozen armed men blocked the road with their jeep, ac­cus­ing Petro­vsky of be­ing a sep­a­ratist and of steal­ing the car

he was driv­ing (even though he had all the nec­es­sary doc­u­ments to prove he owned it). He was taken to the base­ment of a res­i­den­tial build­ing, with a bag on his head. He spent three days there, where­upon he got back his car and per­sonal be­long­ings. How­ever, his net­book, mo­bile phone and UAH 3,000 in cash were miss­ing. Ac­cord­ing to him, one of his guards was a man with nom de guerre Dwarf, who later was him­self cap­tured by the Right Sec­tor. Petro­vsky sus­pects that he was held at one of the re­cre­ation fa­cil­i­ties of Vodokanal mu­nic­i­pal en­ter­prise, where the Right Sec­tor was sta­tioned. The Na­tional Po­lice clas­si­fied the of­fense as un­law­ful im­pris­on­ment or kid­nap­ping for mer­ce­nary mo­tives con­cern­ing two or more per­sons by prior agree­ment un­der Art. 146.2 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Ukraine.

How­ever, not all the vic­tims got off so cheap. Hu­man rights ac­tivists have recorded some cases when the fight against sep­a­ratism took the form of mur­ders. That was the case of the Doro­hin­sky fam­ily, Zi­naida and Hanna, in Luhansk Oblast. The two women lived in the vil­lage of Luhanske in Bakhmut County. In June 2015, two Armed Forces ser­vice­men broke into their home "to search for mem­bers of illegal armed groups." The po­lice and the mil­i­tary prose­cu­tor's of­fice could not reach a unan­i­mous con­clu­sion on who ex­actly shot the fam­ily. How­ever, the in­ci­dent was clas­si­fied as pre­med­i­tated mur­der and vi­o­lent home in­va­sion un­der Art. 115 and Art. 162.2 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Ukraine.

In other cases, ser­vice­men them­selves be­came vic­tims of crime. The case of Ser­hiy Kostakov (nom de guerre Mae­stro) is quite well-known. He had con­flicts with se­nior of­fi­cers and re­peat­edly warned of his in­ten­tion to dis­close the information about their illegal ac­tiv­i­ties. Kostakov went miss­ing in late Novem­ber 2014, fol­low­ing his trans­fer from the 72nd to the 81st brigade. He was seen alive for the last time at a check­point near Vol­no­vakha (on Slo­viansk–Donetsk high­way), which at that time was guarded by the sol­diers of Kyiv-2 Pa­trol Po­lice Bat­tal­ion. Ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses, Ser­hiy was beaten up and hand­cuffed to a ra­di­a­tor. The rea­sons that led to this are a mys­tery to this day. Six months later, in June 2015, his body was found near the vil­lage of Prokhorovka in Vol­no­vakha County. His hands were hand­cuffed, and there were 20 bul­let wounds in his head. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was started by the Prose­cu­tor's Of­fice in Donetsk Oblast, and later taken over by the Gen­eral Prose­cu­tor's Of­fice. The crime was clas­si­fied as pre­med­i­tated mur­der un­der Art. 115.

The "sui­cide" of Dmytro Shabratsky (nom de guerre Poet), sol­dier of the 24th As­sault Bat­tal­ion, bet­ter known as Ai­dar, is less fa­mous, but no less heinous. The man was as­so­ci­ated with the afore­men­tioned Rad­chenko (they served in the same unit). As we found out, he of­ten crit­i­cized his com­man­der, ac­cus­ing Rubyezh of us­ing his sol­diers for illegal ac­tiv­i­ties, such as the kid­nap­ping of a pro-Ukrainian ac­tivist and the for­mer Mayor of Pryvillya Valery Besh­enko. Fol­low­ing the lib­er­a­tion of Lysy­chansk, a city in Luhansk Oblast, from the mil­i­tants, pub­lic hear­ings on the co­op­er­a­tion of lo­cal busi­nesses and in­dus­trial groups with the sep­a­ratists were to be held at a City Coun­cil ses­sion. Besh­enko was sup­posed to speak there. How­ever, on the same day he was kid­napped by Rad­chenko's group and taken to Polovynkyne, where Ai­dar was sta­tioned at that time. Af­ter the ses­sion of the City Coun­cil was over, the ac­tivist was re­leased. How­ever, there was an is­sue: Shabratsky, a res­i­dent of Pryvillya, was in the group of kid­nap­pers. He rec­og­nized Besh­enko, and later went to Rad­chenko with his claims. There is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve that Poet also took part in a num­ber of other illegal ac­tiv­i­ties of Rubyezh's group, or at least was aware of them. He was even sup­posed to give tes­ti­mony to the State Se­cu­rity Ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Shortly be­fore his death, he warned his par­ents that his life was at risk. On the day of his death, March 26, 2015, he called his friends ask­ing them to col­lect him from Lysy­chansk. How­ever, no one came to help. Shabratsky com­mit­ted a "sui­cide" at the bat­tal­ion's base by shoot­ing him­self from his Kalash­nikov and blow­ing him­self up with a grenade at the same time. The death of Poet, strangely enough, was re­ported by Rubyezh him­self, who hap­pened to be at the same floor at that time. The case was clas­si­fied as pre­med­i­tated mur­der and in­cite­ment to sui­cide un­der Art. 115 and Art. 120. No in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the death was car­ried out. More­over, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors did not check whether the bul­lets were fired from Shabratsky's gun. Rad­chenko, the key wit­ness/ sus­pect, was not in­ter­ro­gated. The crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mur­der was closed for some rea­son. Through the lawyers' ef­forts the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has now been re­sumed, and the story con­tin­ues.

The above ex­am­ples are not ex­haus­tive, but at least can give a rough pic­ture of how the war af­fects the crim­i­nal sit­u­a­tion. We haven't men­tioned the mur­der of the group led by Ser­hiy Halushchenko, nom de guerre An­drew, that was in­ves­ti­gat­ing and re­port­ing illegal smug­gling in Luhansk Oblast. We did not talk about the racket of lo­cal Luhansk farm­ers, which is also as­so­ci­ated with Rubyezh, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal ac­tivists. The af­fected busi­ness­men sim­ply re­fused to talk to the jour­nal­ist of The Ukrainian Week out of fear for their safety and lives. We have not men­tioned the cases that have not been reg­is­tered, be­cause lo­cal res­i­dents have not re­ported them to the po­lice, since they don’t trust law en­forcers.


The mil­i­tary make the sit­u­a­tion more com­pli­cated by ac­cus­ing lo­cals of sep­a­ratism. While the case of Mayor Kaza­kov is more or less clear, the sit­u­a­tion with the mur­dered Doro­hin­sky fam­ily or with Petro­vsky who was beaten up is more ob­scure. Suc­cess­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion into those crimes by the law en­force­ment agen­cies could help re­solve the sit­u­a­tion. How­ever, un­for­tu­nately, in most cases they just cre­ate a sem­blance of ac­tiv­ity. And while crim­i­nal records col­lect dust in their archives, con­tra­band traf­fic through the line of de­mar­ca­tion con­tin­ues.

Mem­bers of vol­un­teer batal­lions in court. The scan­dalous Tor­nado brigade fight­ers have been un­der trial in Kyiv for six months upon al­le­ga­tions of loot­ing and kid­nap­ping peo­ple

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