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Pavel Kanygin, special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, has produced a special feature on life on the war zones of Donbass for Meduza.
Meduza is an independent news site edited in Riga by Russian emigres who left Lenta.ru two years ago.
Locked up in the Donbas | A look at the mass arrests and torture of civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk
In the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, persecutions of civilians have carried on unabated since autumn 2015. Several thousand people have found themselves behind bars or, as they say locally, "in the cellar." A person may be detained for various reasons: settling political scores, redistributing property, or sometimes they're simply arrested at random.
Kanygin, who himself was detained and beaten by the forces of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” last year, writes (translation by Meduza):
Repressions in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (shortened to DNR and LNR respectively) are carried out on suspicion of political and religious offenses. Arrests for religious reasons tend to target the area’s Protestant and Baptist communities. Local business owners unable to find common ground with the new governments are also thrown into the cellar, and rebel officials then “nationalize” their property.
Most often, this means the relatives of high-ranking officials within the separatist governments receive control over these businesses. In the past two months, reports of arrests based on anonymous denunciations have been rising. Some try to free detainees by appealing to their acquaintances inside the new governments, while others hope to buy or bail them out. In the case of political arrests, however, no amount of connections or bribes is usually enough to get a prisoner released.
Kanygin notes that volunteer fighters for the Ukrainian battalions also carry out “random arrests,” but this report focuses on political arrests from the DNR and LNR. He notes that Vladimir Ruban, a respected activist involved in freeing POWs, believes that the Russian-backed separatists are trying to collect people to use as bargaining chips. Under the Minsk accords, there is supposed to be a “one-for-one” exchange of POWs, but in a number of cases, Ukraine has turned over more than one-for-one, or has had to release a number of POWs to get a journalist, for example.
Read Kanygin’s harrowing report here.
Kanygin also writes:
Frontline fighting in the Donbass came to a halt in autumn 2015. Despite the uneasy truce, monitoring missions from the OSCE and the UN report casualties among civilians have, for the most part, been brought to zero.
We would have to disagree. As our Ukraine at War blog indicates, fighting continues daily, and every 3 or 4 days, Ukrainian soldiers are killed, as well as separatists and Russian soldiers. Civilian killings also have continued. The UN reported 8,000 war deaths in September 2015; 9,000 in December and 9,160 this month. Since UN monitors have not had access to the Donbass, they believe these figures are actually underreported.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The occasion is joint naval exercises with Turkey including tactical maneuvers, anti-aircraft defense, and organization of communications.
Ukraine’s frigates Hetman Sagaydachny and the Balta are currently in the Sea of Marmara.
As relations between Russia and Turkey have deteriorated since the October 31 shoot-down by Turkey of a Russian fighter plane near the Syrian border, Turkey has reached out to Ukraine, where it already was defending the fellow Turkic Crimean Tatar people in Russian-occupied Crimea.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Ukrainian government is backing away from the appointment of Adrian Bukovynsky, an extreme homophobe, as Ombudsman on Family Matters, amid much public criticism.
Bukovynsky’s appointment was reported by several Ukrainian outlets yesterday, with Ukrainska Pravda specifying that the decision had been taken on March 2.
But today the government issued the following statement:
Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk has instructed to conduct an open competition for the Government Plenipotentiary for Family, involving scientists, representatives of voluntary human rights and religious organizations, Ministers and other authorities. The relevant decision will be considered shortly in the Government meeting, Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Hanna Onyschenko informed.
However, the Minister noted, Adrian Bykovynskyi has not taken office as the Government Plenipotentiary for Family yet. Now the background check is being conducted on him.
The statement is somewhat confusing as Bukovynsky is already being subjected to background checks while the competition is still apparently open.
— Pierre Vaux
Three Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded by enemy fire over the last 24 hours, announced Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a military spokesman for the Presidential Administration.
This morning the ATO Press Centre reported 54 attacks over the last day.
According to Motuzyanyk, particularly heavy fighting was seen north of Donetsk and near Luganskoye, on the highway between Bakhmut (formerly Artyomovsk) and Debaltsevo.
Motuzyanyk told reporters at a briefing in Kiev that Russian-backed fighters had fired from BMP infantry fighting vehicles for almost four hours on Ukrainian positions outside Luganskoye.
Similar attacks were seen near neighbouring Lozovoye, to the south.
Outside separatist-held Gorlovka, the ATO Press Centre claims that Russian-backed fighters shelled positions in Mayorsk with 82 mm mortars and attacked troops near Novgorodskoye, and also Troitskoye to the northeast, with grenade launchers and machine guns.
To the north of Donetsk, the Ukrainian military reports that tanks shelled Ukrainian positions near Avdeyevka, while 82 and 120 mm mortars were used against positions near Peski. Those near Opytnoye were attacked with grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.
According to Motuzyanyk, fighting broke out on the southeastern edges of Avdeyevka, when a group of Russian-backed fighters mounted an assault from the direction of Yasinovataya.
This area has seen heavy fighting over the last few days:
To the west of Donetsk, Ukrainian positions near Krasnogorovka and Marinka were attacked with grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms. Amongst those targets hit in Marinka was the civilian crossing point which remains closed to traffic.
In the south, military spokesman Aleksandr Kindsfater reportedattacks with these same weapons on positions near Granitnoye, Talakovka and Shirokino.
Meanwhile the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency reports, citing local administrators, that Ukrainian troops did not conduct any attacks last night.
— Pierre Vaux
On March 2, the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers selected a new Ombudsman on Family Matters, Adrian Bukovynsky, an outspoken homophobe and opponent of the Association Agreement with the European Union.
“Anti-norms are being forced on our society, we are being prepared to accept them. They expect that the society will change its views regarding these issues. Today we discuss rights of gays and lesbians. But we should talk about other characters of gender spectrum – pedophiles, zoophiles, necrophiles etc.
These are all links of the same chain. We need to talk about all of its parts. They also lay claim to ‘otherness.’ Then the full picture develops of the society that needs to be legalised, as it is being done successfully, step by step, in the countries of the European Union.
Now there is a shift in emphasis. We hear proposals to change points of view. A society of same-sex couples. What future does it have? The answer is obvious. Gay culture will lead to the destruction of the world.
And therefore, we stand up and reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of our citizens.”
These remarks are still available to read on Bukonyvsky’s personal website, which indicates that he has not softened his views in the last few years.
Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group writes that the participants of the conference were calling for the introduction of a law, akin to that passed in Russia that same year:
The bill in question would have slammed all doors to EU Association shut, while achieving alarming unanimity with Russia. ‘Propaganda of homosexuality’ was deemed to be any ‘positive depiction of gay people, gay pride marches, etc. A film like Brokeback Mountain would have impossible to show, and people would have thought long and hard before mentioning the gay partners of numerous famous people. In June 2013, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on both Russia and Ukraine to reject such laws.
The following month, as Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian expert on the far-right has highlighted, Bukynovsky spoke at the All-Ukrainian Parents’ Forum.
Here Bukynovsky shared a platform with Johan Bäckman, a Finnish neo-Stalinist and future “official representative” of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic in Helsinki. Scott Lively, an extreme homophobe from the United States who played a major role in the introduction of life sentences for homosexual activity in Uganda, appeared by video-link.
In May that year, Bukovynsky claimed that the introduction of non-discrimination clauses in Ukraine’s Labour Code, vital to entering into an Association Agreement with the EU, would “accelerate the process of the moral decay of society.”
This all preceded then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s suspension of the preparations for the Association Agreement, and the ensuing EuroMaidan protests that led to his downfall. In 2013, Bukovynsky still served as an aide to Mykola Zhuk, an MP in Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.
Three years later, and with the Rada having finally, after several failed readings, passed the anti-discrimination laws as the country works towards a visa-free regime with the EU, it seems an strikingly odd choice to install Bukovynsky in a role that involves, as Coynash points out, “ensuring that Ukraine complies with its international obligations regarding the rights and legitimate interests of members of families.”
— Pierre Vaux
Calls continue to grow for the release of Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer who was captured by militants in Ukraine and abducted to Russia where she is the subject of a show trial.
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, issued the following statement last night:
I am deeply concerned about the health and welfare of Ukrainian pilot and Rada Deputy Nadiya Savchenko, who since Friday has refused food and water to protest her continued detention by the Russian Federation.
In the 20 months since she was captured in eastern Ukraine and taken to Russia, Ms. Savchenko has reportedly endured interrogations, solitary confinement, and forced “psychiatric evaluation.” Her trial and continuing imprisonment demonstrate disregard for international standards, as well as for Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements.
The United States once again calls on Russia to immediately release Ms. Savchenko and return her to Ukraine.
Savchenko is now on the fifth day of a dry hunger strike – refusing both food and water.
Yesterday Ukrainian consuls who had visited her in jail said her health was deteriorating, with her showing signs of tachycardia and growing cold:
Ukraine Today reports that Iryna Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian representative at the Minsk talks, has announced that the Russian authorities have finally agreed to allow Ukrainian doctors access to Savchenko, who is refusing any examination or treatment by Russian medics.
“Ukrainian diplomats finally managed to get the Russian authorities to promise that our doctors will have access to Nadia March 9. The Ukrainian president ordered to urgently set up a mobile team of the best Ukrainian doctors, also taking into account the wishes and position on this important issue of Nadia’s family – her mother and sister. Today, a mobile team of three doctors sets off from Kyiv to [Russia’s] Rostov region.”
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick and Pierre Vaux