Tetiana Kozak https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/25732/all cached version 18/12/2018 20:24:08 en How Christian conservatives are trying to influence the media in Ukraine https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/tetiana-kozak/christian-conservatives-media-influence-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Novomedia forum in Kyiv offered an up-close look at the communications strategies of internationally-connected ultra-conservatives.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-39788983.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-39788983.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>LGBT rights are under attack from Christian conservatives in Ukraine. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>At the entrance to the Kyiv conference and event centre, copies of the New Testament were on sale along with a handbook for followers of Ruslan Kukharchuk entitled “The Mandate”, and several books on journalism and “eternal values”, published by his organisation, Novomedia.</p><p>Kukharchuk, a Protestant minister, is a prominent “pro-family” figure in Ukraine who has led an anti-LGBT campaign in the country since the early 2000s. In early November, he opened the annual forum of <a href="http://novomedia.ua/">Novomedia</a>, an association of Christian media workers in Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">Journalism, he told his audience of around 350 current and future media workers, is “a civic profession, which is why values are important for it. These are eternal values — the values of truth, facts, goodness, Christian traditions and a balance of opinion that serves the search for truth”.</p><p dir="ltr">He contrasted a “fight for a balance of opinions which serves the search for truth” with “propaganda and popularisation of deviations and unhealthy inclinations”, giving as examples interviews “with both victims of violence and maniacs”, or “with a paedophile who says that’s his sexual orientation”.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“You know this is a new trend”, Kukharchuk elaborated. “Paedophilia is starting to be seen as a sexual orientation! And believe it or not, in five years time they’ll prove it! Then we have to save and preserve our children”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We have to save and preserve our children”</p><p dir="ltr">Conservative and far-right voices have become louder in Ukraine since the 2014 EuroMaidan revolution and the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych. Defending “universal” or “traditional” values, they’ve attacked proposed laws they don’t like, artists, feminists and LGBT rights activists.</p><p dir="ltr">Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and war in Donbass, also in 2014, these groups have increasingly looked west for ideas and support, from the US and other European countries where conservative and far right movements enjoy growing power.</p><p dir="ltr">The Novomedia forum in Kyiv offered an up-close look at the communications strategies of these internationally-connected movements – and how they’re trying to influence journalism, and politics, in Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">Along with frequent references to Christian values, speakers echoed US President Donald Trump’s obsession with “fake news”.</p><p dir="ltr">Kukharchuk claimed that few people in journalism, as in academia, are searching for truth anymore – referencing the recent case of three US researchers who published fake research in sociology journals to expose what they saw as <a href="https://phys.org/news/2018-10-real-fake-hoodwinks-journals.html">ideological bias</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">He also shared supposed examples of “fake science” – for instance, ideas he summarised as “we need to abolish all gender roles and differences between men and women. They are all the same, and daring to say that boys and girls are different is flagrant obscurantism”.</p><p dir="ltr">Further ridiculing struggles against gender stereotypes, he asked the assembled participants: “What has more value for an audience, a real event or the personal emotions and concerns of someone who interprets events?”</p><p dir="ltr">Answering his question, he said: “For men, as I understand it, it’s a question of events; for women, it’s interpretations. Of course, what I’ve just said is a blatant gender stereotype of the type that we need to ‘fight against’”. </p><h2>Preaching “eternal values”</h2><p dir="ltr">Novomedia was founded more than a decade ago, in 2004. It has preached about “eternal values” at its annual forum in Kyiv since 2011.</p><p dir="ltr">More than 100 media experts and journalists have attended these events, including those from leading Ukrainian publications. In 2017, the headliner was Seva Novgorodtsev, a former BBC radio presenter legendary in the Russian-speaking world.</p><p dir="ltr">This year’s programme mixed sermon-like talks from figures like Kukharchuk with popular master classes by prominent TV or radio hosts on how to become a professional radio DJ; live presentation techniques; conducting interviews; and working as a multi-platform journalist.</p><p dir="ltr">Discussions at the forum also touched on topical themes like the safety of journalists, freedom of speech, and war and political journalism – increasingly relevant subjects in Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">But the event’s links to Christian conservative movements were not hidden. On registration, participants received folders containing the conference programme along with “pro-family” advertisements, leaflets and magnets bearing the words “All together for the family”.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www1.cbn.com/">CBN</a>, a US evangelical TV and radio network, was among the forum’s sponsors along with a Ukrainian construction and investment company, NovaBudova, whose director-general Yevhen Savochka has <a href="https://www.epravda.com.ua/news/2018/02/13/634041/">participated</a> in the annual US National Prayer Breakfast.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-29956487.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/PA-29956487.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Donald Trump the National Prayer Breakfast, 2017. Photo: Win Mcnamee/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After Kukharchuk took the stage, the forum was blessed by Mykola Myshkovsky, a Roman Catholic priest and editor of a <a href="https://credo.press">Vinnytsa-based religious media outlet</a>. As the audience stood for the prayer, the room was filled with the sound of people repeating Myshkovsky’s words.</p><p dir="ltr">This year’s headliner was well-known Ukrainian TV presenter Olha Freimut, whose recent book (<a href="https://vivat-book.com.ua/non_fiction_literatura/etiket-shkola-pani-freymut">“Miss Freimut’s Etiquette School”</a>) was published to scandalous reception. Commenters on social media have slated Freimut’s advice on how to become a “real lady” as misleading and potentially harmful.</p><p dir="ltr">Brushing over this, Freimut talked at the forum about the long road from her childhood in a small village in western Ukraine to stardom in national journalism. It took more than hard work and daring to get there, she said.</p><p dir="ltr">“I always knew that I was being led by a higher force. And what is impossible for people is possible with God. Everyone has their own source of strength, but I have always followed my path with help from heaven”. </p><h2>“A global right-wing renaissance”</h2><p dir="ltr">A whole panel session was devoted to conservatism and the media, with Kukharchuk, Ukrainian MP Ihor Lutsenko, and editor-in-chief of the Vgolos news agency Yury Gritsyk. They talked about the need to create conservative media or the possibility that some existing outlets could swing to the right.</p><p dir="ltr">“The global right-wing renaissance is a revolution”, said Lutsenko, himself a former journalist and <a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/euromaidan/lutsenko-recounts-kidnapping-beating-by-death-squad-with-political-agenda-335605.html">prominent figure</a> in the 2014 EuroMaidan protests. This “sharp confrontation”, he said, “could also have quite an interesting future” in Ukraine, where there are “a wide range of possibilities”.</p><p dir="ltr">“But we lack the ability to translate these ideas into reality”, continued the MP, whose parliamentary advisor is Serhiy Mazur, a coordinator of the far-right C14 group which <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/06/26/ukraine-fatal-attack-roma-settlement">human rights activists say</a> is one of several radical groups that have recently attacked Roma settlements and LGBT people.</p><p dir="ltr">“And since this confrontation is already before us, in this context these media can give us an opportunity to reduce the level of hate and even prevent violence”, Lutsenko said, clicking through his presentation slides which included a portrait of Donald Trump.</p><p dir="ltr">“We know that there have been <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-lgbt-march/kiev-police-detain-56-far-right-protesters-against-gay-pride-march-idUSKBN1JD05H">attacks on Gay parades</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-sokolova/can-integration-help-ukraines-roma">inter-ethnic clashes</a>”, he said, “but this was because these were the only possible form of protest and expression of Ukraine’s conservative renaissance”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Lutsenko.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563303/Lutsenko.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ihor Lutsenko, 2012. Photo: Leonst/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.</span></span></span>Lutsenko read out a list of left-liberal opponents for Ukrainian conservatives, starting with independent TV and radio station <a href="https://en.hromadske.ua/">Hromadske</a> (which was ironic, as its programmes have <a href="https://news.liga.net/all/pr/vosem-jurnalistov-i-redaktsiy---laureaty-novomedia-awards-2018">received</a> several Novomedia awards for their coverage of Christian themes). </p><p>Other named “agents of left-liberal influence” included the <a href="http://www.irf.ua/en/about/irf/">International Renaissance Foundation</a>, part of the Open Society Foundations network, “thousands” of sexual and reproductive rights organisations “with massive budgets”, and Ukraine’s <a href="http://www.cje.org.ua/en">Commission on Journalist Ethics</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is a kind of lobbying industry, copied from the Western model”, Lutsenko claimed. Along with Kukharchuk, he accused left-liberals of vanity, antagonism towards dissenting views, and “double standards”.</p><p dir="ltr">“A particular model of thought is being promoted as an absolute truth which rejects any alternative thinking”, Kukharchuk said.</p><p dir="ltr">“We haven’t even got to the stage of creating a national education system, but we’re already readily accepting that which others are trying to force on us, those things that Europe itself is now starting to reject”, added Gritsyk.</p><p dir="ltr">Universities are dropping history and other courses that could raise responsible parents and “defenders of our fatherland”, he said, replacing them with those teaching tolerance of “sexually depraved minorities”.</p><p dir="ltr">“Liberalism is destroying Europe,” the Vgolos editor continued. “We are all being brainwashed into thinking that traditions are bad… We will all quietly, imperceptibly turn into liberals”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We are all being brainwashed into thinking that traditions are bad”</p><p dir="ltr">The specific, “pro-family” and evangelical rhetoric of the forum was hardly surprising, given Kukharchuk’s public and political activities.</p><p>In addition to leading the Novomedia association, Kukharchuk heads the “Love versus Homosexuality” movement, which holds counter-demonstrations during Kyiv’s annual March of Equality (for the fifth time this year), and the ‘pro-family’ <a href="https://vsirazom.ua">“All Together”</a> (<em>Vsi razom</em>) movement.</p><p dir="ltr">The “All Together” movement – which defines families narrowly, excluding those with LGBT parents – organises a “Marathon of Family Festivals” in cities around Ukraine. Its activists have also lobbied local and central government to pass laws protecting “traditional family values”.</p><p dir="ltr">This fall, more than 50 local councils <a href="http://vsirazom.ua/council">called on the Ukrainian government</a> to criminalise “homosexual propaganda”; delete the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the Labour Code; and preserve the constitution’s definition of marriage as between a man and woman only.</p><p dir="ltr">A recent draft bill, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-targets-same-sex-relationships">aiming to implement most of these changes</a>, cited the work of “All Together” as evidence of social demand for them.</p><p dir="ltr">The Novomedia association has also <a href="https://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/zhdanov/5b2e985935318/">defended</a> Hanna Turchynova, a head of faculty at the National Pedagogical Dragomanov University, after she wrote a controversial series of articles against “gender ideology”, which prompted calls for her dismissal from human rights campaigners.</p><p dir="ltr">“The main aim [of gender ideology] is overcoming heterosexuality”, <a href="https://censor.net.ua/blogs/3070251/gomodiktatura_chastina_1_yak_rozbeschuvati_dteyi">wrote</a> Turchynova, who is married to Oleksandr Turchynov, the current Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council (who recently became <a href="https://nv.ua/ukraine/events/protestantskie-tserkvi-ukrainy-obedinilis-v-edinyj-obshchestvennoe-dvizhenie-kto-eho-budet-koordinirovat-2496206.html">coordinator of the country’s Union of Protestant Churches</a>).</p><p dir="ltr">As the Zaborona media outlet <a href="http://zaborona.com/interactive/radical-discriminators/8/">reported</a>, before the EuroMaidan revolution and the war in eastern Ukraine, Kukharchuk had also enjoyed friendly relations with Christian activist organisations in Russia, although later these groups supported the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass.</p><p dir="ltr">In his opening remarks, amid references to “His Excellency, the Fact”, Kukharchuk showed off his pastor skills, reproving his audience (“you’re missing the places where you need to clap”).</p><p dir="ltr">Several of the journalists who spoke at the forum, however, privately admitted they hadn’t realised quite what sort of event it was, and have no intention of attending again.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/claire-provost/anti-abortion-propaganda-cinemas-america">This is how anti-abortion propaganda gets into US cinemas</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ukraine </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 oD Russia Ukraine Culture Equality International politics Women's rights and the media Tracking the backlash gender Tetiana Kozak Wed, 05 Dec 2018 09:58:31 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 120847 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the Ukrainian mothers battling for their sons held in Russian prison https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/meet-the-ukrainian-mothers-battling-for-their-sons-held-in-russian-prison <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Families of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russian jails are fighting for their release – and this struggle is changing them. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatiana-kozak/v-boy-idut-odni-mamy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_1img_0435_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_1img_0435_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rally in support of Oleg Sentsov and other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, June 2018. Photo from the editorial archive.</span></span></span>Lyudmila Sentsova and Larisa Kolchenko hug one another silently, both with tears in their eyes. This is their first meeting in the four years since their sons, Oleg and Alexander, were arrested in 2014. Lyudmila is askin g Larisa to tell her son to call off the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">hunger strike he began on 14 May</a>, while her own son is three weeks into a hunger strike himself. Then the mothers call on Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko to do all that he can to have Alexander and Oleg released from Russian prison.</p><p dir="ltr">Film director Oleg Sentsov and anti-fascist activist Alexander Kolchenko were arrested in May 2014 in Russian-annexed Crimea, and were charged with planning a terrorist act. In August 2015, a court in Rostov-on-Don sentenced Sentsov to 20 years in prison, 10 for Kolchenko. On hearing their sentences, they sang the Ukrainian national anthem in the courtroom.</p><p dir="ltr">Larisa Kolchenko was in the courtroom that day in Rostov. The four years since have turned her into another woman. Before, she was a quiet person who avoided contact with the press, but observed the court proceedings silently and attentively, trying to work out what she could do and how she could help her son. Now she openly campaigns for the release of not just her Sasha, but other political prisoners as well.</p><p dir="ltr">“I need to stay strong. I keep going, of course,” Larisa tells me when we meet in Kyiv. She is here for a meeting with the presidential administration, organised by families of Ukrainian political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">“I never thought I would meet the president, but it happened today,” she says, tired out from the meeting and the press conference afterwards. Only the day before, she learned that Alexander had called his hunger strike off, for health reasons.</p><p dir="ltr">“It was a real ordeal for both him and for me as his mother,” she says. “I was really worried. When I heard about it through the media, I went into shock.” Larisa was under a lot of pressure from the public prison watchdog in Chelyabinsk, where Alexander is serving his sentence. They kept phoning and trying to get her to force Sasha to stop.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s Sasha’s own decision, all I can do is support him in it,” Larisa tells me categorically on the phone. But she cheers up when she hears later that he has called his hunger strike off.</p><p dir="ltr">After her trip to Kyiv, Larissa is traveling to Crimea to get ready for her visit to her son in prison in Chelyabinsk, almost 3,000km away.</p><p dir="ltr">“Three days is usual for a long visit,” she tells me about her rare visits to her son. “We’ll be together all that time. There’s hotel-style accommodation for visitors, with a kitchen for every ten rooms, a communal bathroom and separate bedrooms. When I come to visit, I bring food for three days and try to cook something tasty for him.” She hasn’t seen him for eight months, and her next scheduled visit has been postponed because of the hunger strike.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Sometimes you just lose hope, but then you start to calm yourself down and find some hope for the future”</p><p dir="ltr">When I ask what has happened to her in the last four years, she says cautiously: “Life has brought me various experiences. It’s really hard when your family is so far away, you don’t know what’s going on there and his sentence is so long. Sometimes you just lose hope, but then you start to calm yourself down and find some hope for the future.”</p><p dir="ltr">After Larisa’s son was arrested, many of her relations dropped all contact with her. And at work, “they just put up with me”.</p><p dir="ltr">“They understand what I’m going through as a mother, but they don’t support me. I’ve worked in the same place for a long time; they know me and they know Sasha,” she says. “They may not share my opinions, but they know that something awful has happened to me. I’m so sad that Sasha is spending his youth there. I’d obviously like him to finish his studies, to have a different kind of life. But…I’m still hoping for the best. Things have to change. Not yet – but soon.”</p><p dir="ltr">On Oleg Sentsov’s birthday, Larisa holds a picket in Crimea. She stands, dressed in a traditional embroidered shirt, beside the bust of Ukraine’s national poet Taras Shevchenko in Simferopol (where pro-Ukraine rallies took place during the annexation) and unfurls a banner in Ukrainian, addressed to Oleg and her Sasha, with the words: “Happy birthday! It’s time to come home.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">“It all seemed like a terrible dream”</h2><p dir="ltr">“It all began with young Ukrainians in Crimea becoming politically active – going to protest rallies, supporting Ukrainian soldiers who were locked up in military bases. They fed them, collected money to buy uniforms and other necessities,” Olga Afanasyeva tells me, remembering the events that turned her son Gennady’s life, and her own, upside down. “I was worried, of course, tried, as his mother, to stop him, although I was proud of him at the same time.” Olga was then a successful businesswoman, the owner of a travel agency living in Crimea’s capital Simferopol. She learned of her son’s arrest on the evening of 9 May 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">“I had a phone call from the FSB, telling me he had been arrested. I was in such a state of shock – you don’t know where to run, who to phone, who to turn to – there had just been a change of government, after all.”</p><p dir="ltr">At that point, Olga was alone in a completely new situation. Her son, along with Alexey Chirny, Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko had been accused of membership of a terrorist guerrilla group that was supposedly planning terrorist acts in Crimea. Afanasyev and Chirny were beaten into making statements that formed the basis for the charges against Sentsov and Kolchenko. In return, they were given “mild” sentences of seven years.</p><p dir="ltr">Later, Gennady Afanasyev showed his courage by reneging on his statements and telling the court that they had been made under torture. He also described the torture. It didn’t help Oleg or Sasha, though – their sentences weren’t reduced.</p><p dir="ltr">In June 2016, Gennady Afanasyev was able to return to Ukraine, thanks to an amnesty from Vladimir Putin, also received by another political prisoner, Yuri Soloshenko. Two others, journalists Elena Glischinskaya and Vitaly Didenko, who had been charged with separatism and treason in Ukraine, were released the same day and deported to Russia.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-19 um 15.11.21_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-09-19 um 15.11.21_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yuri Soloshenko. Source: YouTube.</span></span></span>“It all seemed like a terrible dream. I couldn’t imagine that a 23-year-old lad would be behind bars for such a length of time for no reason,” Olga says.</p><p dir="ltr">She remembers sending Gena his first parcel, when he was still in pre-trial detention in Simferopol. She remembers how the lawyer appointed by the court tried to get a bribe out of her. She remembers her FSB interrogation and the search at her flat in her absence. Then Lefortovo prison and the trial.</p><p dir="ltr">Olga also remembers her son’s letters: “Don’t worry, Mum, I didn’t do anything, you don’t have to be ashamed of me – things happen. I didn’t kill anybody.” She says that the letters are a big help in keeping her strong.</p><p dir="ltr">“We were all – Gena and the other lads –we were all completely alone. There wasn’t a single reporter at Gena’s trial, nobody who could give me any support,” Olga reminisces about that terrible time. “There was Gena sitting in a cage, with dogs outside it and people armed to the teeth, and three judges and me.”</p><p dir="ltr">The day that Gena withdrew his statements was like “a second Victory Day” from Olga: “I was in shock all over again: I didn’t know where to turn, what to do, who to phone. I had no connections, after all. But I had to get my act together, to go on with my life. And my next task was to ensure that the name ‘Afanasyev’ became known. I realised that was the only way I could get him back.” So Olga made a plan: she would come to Kyiv every six weeks, hit the airwaves, do the rounds of every Ukrainian ministry and write to the ombudspersons of both Ukraine and Russia. Human rights activists started helping her and she got to know other political prisoners’ mothers.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“There was Gena sitting in a cage, with dogs outside it and people armed to the teeth, and three judges and me”</p><p dir="ltr">Then she had the idea of organising an exhibition of Gena’s work in Kyiv: he was a keen photographer. Holding back her tears, Olga would talk to everyone who visited the exhibition about her son and what had happened to him.</p><p dir="ltr">She lived like this for over two years. Talking about Gena’s release, she says, “I had a lot of luck” but also talks about “teamwork”.</p><p dir="ltr">“At that time Syktyvkar, in the Komi Republic, had very good human rights activists who were really engaged with establishing truth and justice. They went to the prison colony and worked on its director.</p><p dir="ltr">“And here the teamwork paid off: Ukraine provided informational support to Gena and we had a brilliant lawyer, Alexander Popov. The human rights campaigner Ernest Mezak also worked on the case, and still represents our interests at the European Court of Human Rights.”</p><p dir="ltr">After Gena was released, he and Olga began a new life, in Kyiv. They couldn’t return to Simferopol, where Olga was under open surveillance by the FSB.</p><p dir="ltr">“We had nowhere to go. We hadn’t a fork or spoon to our name. You realise that as a mature woman with a sick kid on your hands you have to heal him, organise his life, get yourself organised and get used to a new life, a new reality. But we were in such a state of euphoria, a high, that this was pure happiness after what we’d been through.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“You realise that as a mature woman with a sick kid on your hands you have to heal him, organise his life, get yourself organised and get used to a new life, a new reality”</p><p dir="ltr">Olga is still engaged with issues around political prisoners. She supports other families in the same situation as she was in and goes to rallies in the defence of Ukrainians who are in Russian prisons for political reasons.</p><p dir="ltr">“I learned how to hand over parcels, how to behave, how to write appeals and letters and where to send them,” she says. “That’s how I help. I talk to someone’s mother or family member every day, and they cry. It’s not easy. I have been in their situation and know how hard it is.”</p><p dir="ltr">Olga is thinking about leading a “peaceful life”: she feels she’s starting to burn out and realises she can’t go on as before.</p><p dir="ltr">“Gena and I have been discussing this. It’s impossible to forget. It’s like a stamp, a brand on your whole life,” says Olga, who is still supporting her son though his difficult process of rehabilitation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Her son is here, mine is there”</h2><p dir="ltr">A trial of two other Ukrainians, Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk, took place in Chechnya in March 2016. According to the the Russian police, the two were members of the ultra-nationalist UNA-UNCO (Ukrainian People’s Assembly – Ukrainian National Solidarity Organisation) and fought against Russian forces in 1994-1995. </p><p dir="ltr">Both men were tortured to make confessions and Stanislav’s health was affected. This was very obvious at the trial – his speech was often disconnected. His mother, Tamara sat through the whole thing at the age of 70.</p><p dir="ltr">“No, it wasn’t a difficult decision to go to Chechnya. I love him so much, it was as simple as that,” she says. She spent 10 days in Grozny at the time.</p><p dir="ltr">“I turned up at the office of the guy in charge of the pre-trial detention centre; there are portraits of the Kadyrovs, father and son, on the wall, with one of Putin below. I naively asked him why they were hung like that: ‘Putin’s the main man, why is he underneath?’ ‘Is there anything else you’d like to know?’ he asked in reply. That was it, I shut up. I thought I was among friends, but I wasn’t,” Tamara recalls.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/bc79b1d51723e08b0297dcd57e4810daa33b62e7309d17ae95bbdf0211325828.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/bc79b1d51723e08b0297dcd57e4810daa33b62e7309d17ae95bbdf0211325828.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="213" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Larisa Kolchenko speaks out in defense of her son and other Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>In July 2017, Tamara Klykh met the mother of Russian soldier Viktor Ageyev, who was detained by Ukrainian forces in a Kyiv-controlled sector. A Ukrainian district court found him guilty of involvement in a terrorist organisation and illegal militant group and possession of firearms. The expectation was that after sentencing, Ageyev would be exchanged for a Ukrainian political prisoner.</p><p dir="ltr">The two mothers, Klykh and Ageyeva, produced a joint video appeal to Poroshenko and Putin, asking them to return their children, pardon them and put a stop to the war.</p><p dir="ltr">“I brought a box of ‘Evening in Kyiv’ chocolates with me, and we immediately hugged one another,” says Tamara. “Her son was here, mine was there. We chatted, got on well together.” But the emotional appeal they made together didn’t please everyone and they attracted some criticism.</p><p dir="ltr">“I asked, and I’ll ask again if I need to. I’ll ask for my son’s release ten times,” insists Tamara. “I wept buckets when they read me some of the responses. I thought that it would make things worse for Stas, that people didn’t all take what I was saying in the same way that I did. And the way any mother would. Dear god, what pain! But how would the people who were criticising me have behaved in my place?”</p><p dir="ltr">Tamara and her son were very close, she tells me. So the worst time for her was when she couldn’t find him for ten months after he was arrested in Oryol in August 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">“I didn’t know whether he was alive or not. We knew that they were being transported to Yessentuki, in Stavropol Krai, but that was it.” Tamara phoned the Ukrainian Consulate in Rostov-on-Don every day, to find out at least some news about Stas. In those days there were no human rights NGOs to help, and Tamara was taken in several times by conmen promising to bring her son home.</p><p dir="ltr">“I walked everywhere, looking for him. And I was on TV everywhere”, she says. “And I still wore high heels, at 70! I couldn’t imagine myself without my heels. I was such a trendy girl, as my husband says.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“I asked, and I’ll ask again if I need to. I’ll ask for my son’s release ten times”</p><p dir="ltr">“But I can’t do it now. My feet get so sore!” Tamara complains. She also has headaches and heart pain. The doctors can’t help, they say it’s all nerves.</p><p dir="ltr">Tamara was still working a few years ago, when she was 72 – she was works manager at a children’s hospital in Kyiv. She tells me that she was highly regarded and serious about her work. After Stas was arrested, work had to take second place, but the hospital didn’t make her retire.</p><p dir="ltr">“The medical director pleaded with me to go on working. She didn’t want to let me go, but I didn’t feel right, just turning up. I came to work in pain and left work in pain,” says Tamara, gratitude in her voice. The hospital staff have supported her throughout, keeping her spirits up and collecting money for her when she needed it.</p><p dir="ltr">“If only I was ten years younger. I was always young for my age, but these last four years have aged me a lot. And used to feel very good about myself, I looked good. But the years have passed. I want to see Stas released before I die, who else will help him?” she says, barely holding back the tears. Her health is not so good now, so she increasingly tends to talk to journalists over the phone rather than going to protests and meetings.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A matter of life and death</h2><p dir="ltr">Only nine Ukrainian political prisoners have been released since the start of the Donbas conflict. There are 71 still behind bars. They are Gennady Afanasyev and Yuri Soloshenko, as well as Nadiya Savchenko (she was exchanged for two Russian military intelligence officers, Alexander Alexandrov and Evgeny Erofeyev, captured in Donbas). Akhtem Chiigoz and Ilmi Umerov, members of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (national assembly) were freed thanks to intervention from Turkey, while Yuri Ilchenko managed to escape from house arrest in Crimea. Yuri Yatsenko and Alexander Kostenko returned to Ukraine when they finished their sentence and Khaiser Dzhemilev, the younger son of the Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, has also been freed.</p><p dir="ltr">The families of the political prisoners are doing all they can to affect the situation using all the legal tools at their disposal, and they are also creating new ones. They have set up their own organisation, and also succeeded in creating a Presidential council which will address issues around the release of political prisoners in Russian jails. They have in addition been working with human rights campaigners to produce a new draft law on political prisoners and will be pursuing it through parliament. And Igor Grib, the father of Pavlo Grib, who is being tried in Rostov-on-Don on a charge of planning a terrorist act in Sochi, has applied for and been appointed head of the department dealing with issues around prisoners at Ukraine’s Ministry for Temporary Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons.</p><p dir="ltr">In August, Ukraine brought an action before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over the infringement of the rights of Ukrainian political prisoners, listing 71 cases and the names of the Russian officials dealing with them. The Ukrainian Ministry of Justice believes this will help convince its international partners to use additional personal sanctions against the Russian government.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/20792161770_79f05f5057_z_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/20792161770_79f05f5057_z_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Freedom to Oleg Sentsov”. Graffiti on the wall in St. Petersburg. Photo CC BY-SA 2.0: Oleg Kuznetsov / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But meanwhile, all the prisoners’ families can do is protest and publicise the issue. The exchange process is not in their hands, and it has already been on hold for nearly a year.</p><p dir="ltr">The longer the Kremlin stays silent and refuses to release the Ukrainian political prisoners, the more desperate the measures taken by their friends and relatives. In June, Raime, the mother of the Crimean Muslim Nuri Primov, who has been convicted of involvement in a terrorist organisation, went on hunger strike, demanding her son be included in an exchange list (she called the strike off in July because of a serious risk to her health).</p><p dir="ltr">The prisoners themselves have also resorted to extreme measures, the only way, they feel, they can assert their rights. On 16 May, not long before Russia hosted FIFA 2018, Oleg Sentsov began an indefinite hunger strike which has been supported by other political prisoners and activists and arts figures from around the world and was a subject of discussion at a recent meeting between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. </p><p dir="ltr">Sentsov was forced to end his hunger strike on 6 October under threats from the Russian penitentiary service. His health is still in great danger, and there has been no answer to the question: when will Ukrainian political prisoners be released?</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov">The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Human rights Wed, 10 Oct 2018 06:29:13 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 120019 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who is ordering attacks on activists in Ukraine? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/who-is-ordering-attacks-on-activists-in-ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Ukraine, activists are being attacked, and law enforcement is standing idle. The pressure on civil society has become systematic. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-kozak/kto-zakazal-aktivistov" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_11.53.01_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_11.53.01_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>CCTV shot of the alleged attacker of Ekaterina Gandzyuk. Source: Police of the Kherson region.</span></span></span>The attack on activist Kateryna Gandzyuk in the southern city of Kherson has become the last straw for Ukrainian civil society. On 31 July, an unidentified man doused Gandzyuk, who works for the executive committee of Kherson city council, with sulphur dioxide near the entrance to her apartment building. She was taken to hospital with burns on 30% of her body.</p><p dir="ltr">“I am almost sure that the person who ordered the attack has a uniform with epaulettes hanging in his wardrobe, and possibly more than one”, Gandzyuk <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/08/16/7189363/">told</a> Ukrainskaya Pravda. Kateryna is well known for her civic activism, campaigning against police corruption and pro-Russian elements in the Kherson region. Indeed, she and her colleagues believe that this work was the reason for the attack.</p><p dir="ltr">Not trusting the police, who could have their own reasons for attacking Gandzyuk, activists demanded that the case be handed over to Ukraine’s Security Service. A month earlier, Kherson journalist Serhiy Nikitenko, another activist who like Gandzyuk had exposed the actions of pro-Russian forces in the area, was <a href="http://gordonua.com/news/politics/izbityy-v-hersone-zhurnalist-nikitenko-opoznal-napadavshih-251490.html">beaten up</a>. In this sense, Kateryna says that the attack against her was not unexpected.</p><p dir="ltr">“After crimes (against activists) went unsolved in Odesa, and the Kherson police took 32 days to establish the fact that Nikitenko was a journalist, I felt it would be me next,” Kateryna Gandzyuk <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1854177837961065&amp;set=a.564728083572720.1073741826.100001066002053&amp;type=3&amp;theater">told</a> friends and colleagues who visited her in hospital the day after the incident. “I’m not scared – it’s all part of my work,” she added.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/12718029_10209760579837680_14445405705609824_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/12718029_10209760579837680_14445405705609824_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kateryna Gandzyuk. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>The local police initially classified the attack on Gandzyuk as hooliganism, but after the mayor of Kherson added his voice to those calling for a more serious qualification, they changed the charge to grievous bodily harm with the object of intimidation, and then changed it yet again – to attempted murder. On the fourth day after the attack, a suspect appeared: the police arrested Kherson resident Nikolay Novikov. The investigation later turned up a second potential attacker; the police posted his photo and asked the public to help identify him. They also established where the acid had been bought.</p><p dir="ltr">However, activists and journalists who are carrying out a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/gandziukgate/?fref=mentions">parallel investigation</a> believe that the police are looking in the wrong direction and that Novikov was not responsible for the assault.</p><p dir="ltr">“Anyone who looks at the evidence will see that it was tweaked to fit someone who looked like him, nothing more,” says Serhiy Nikitenko. “The main evidence they have against him is that his phone was switched on that day. They just found their suspect through the photo-fit image that we published. There’s lots of things that don’t match.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The complete impunity of the attackers has lead to total lawlessness. Since 2016, journalists, activists, rights campaigners and bloggers have been murdered and attacked, one by one, all over the country”</p><p dir="ltr">“I sympathise with the poor guy who was arrested in my case – it’s 99% certain that he’s a random choice,” <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2018/08/16/7189363/">said</a> Gandzyuk. “I realise that they had to calm down the media, but they did it at the price of his life. Friends I was with who saw my attacker say that it wasn’t him.”</p><p dir="ltr">Several witnesses who spoke to journalists during their investigations have said that on the day of the assault he was with them at the seaside.</p><p dir="ltr">On 7 August, Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko announced that the case had been passed to the State Security Services (SBU). According to his statement, the attempted murder with extreme brutality was carried out on the orders of law enforcement and state organs, with the aim of destabilising the socio-political situation in southern Ukraine.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Evil must be punished</h2><p dir="ltr">The number of attacks on civil society activists in Ukraine has risen steeply over the last few years, and the form these attacks take is shocking.</p><p dir="ltr">On the same day as the assault on Gandzyuk, an activist was killed in Berdyansk, in the southern Zaporizhya region. Vitaly Oleshko, a veteran of<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russia-fighting-donbas-rebranding-ato-/28985423.html"> Kyiv’s anti-terrorist operation</a> who took part in the battle for the city of Ilovaisk, continued to fight after returning to civilian life – against businessman and former parliamentary deputy for the Party of Regions Aleksandr Ponomarev, who more or less runs the city. Oleshko was shot in the back with a rifle in his own yard, with his wife and daughter standing nearby.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1007788_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/1007788_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vitaly Oleshko. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>A little more than a month earlier, in June, a tragedy took place in Eskhar, in the Kharkiv region. Mykola Bychko, 23, was found hanged in a forest, and his fellow activists immediately <a href="http://zaborona.com/interactive/zagynuv-za-ideiu/">said that they didn’t believe it was suicide</a>. They believe his death was connected with his activism: he had recently been investigating the pollution of village reservoirs and corrupt practices associated with sewage treatment plants in Eskhar.</p><p dir="ltr">“The complete impunity of the attackers has lead to total lawlessness. Since 2016, journalists, activists, rights campaigners and bloggers have been murdered and attacked, one by one, all over the country,” the organisers of the “Evil must be Punished” action told people who gathered outside the Ukrainian Interior Ministry in Kyiv on 1 August . “The frequency and intensity of these attacks is increasing, but not one of them has been properly investigated by the law enforcement agencies or brought to court.” </p><p dir="ltr">The list of uninvestigated cases that the activists have brought to police attention begins with the killing of journalist Pavlo Sheremet in June 2016. The investigation has still not found any suspects.</p><p dir="ltr">The people taking part in the “Evil must be Punished” protest in Kyiv demanded not only the effective investigation of attacks on activists and the dismissal of the top brass of the Kherson regional Ministry of the Interior, but also the resignation of Ministry of the Interior head Arsen Avakov. They also demanded that Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko and SBU head Vasily Gritsak accept personal responsibility for the attacks.</p><p dir="ltr">The attack on Gandzyuk was condemned by both the UN delegation to Ukraine and the American Embassy. Transparency International Ukraine called on the police “to finally show society that attacks on civil activists are crimes for which their perpetrators must definitely answer”.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Criminal conglomerates, repeated attacks and discreditation</h2><p dir="ltr">“The most obvious reason is the absence of any reform in the system,” says Tetiana Pechonchyk, head of Kyiv’s Human Rights Information Centre, when asked why attacks are on the increase. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/where-is-ukraines-new-police-force">Police reform</a>, announced in 2015 has only affected beat officers. Their supposed <a href="https://www.unian.ua/politics/1367007-chleni-komisiy-zapevnyayut-scho-pereatestatsiya-u-mvs-peretvorilasya-na-pokazuhu.html">reassessment was also a failure</a> – only 7% were dismissed, and some of those were reinstated through the courts. The reform didn’t apply to investigative departments.</p><p dir="ltr">According to the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement’s annual <a href="http://umdpl.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Styslyy-vyklad_ukrai-nskoyu.pdf">report</a>: “We’ve gone back to the old times, when the police report monthly on how the number of crimes reported has fallen while the number solved has risen. This ‘bubble’ always eventually bursts.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Reforms have taken place, and they are continuing,” Avakov <a href="http://project.liga.net/projects/avakov/">told</a> Liga earlier this year, as he recalls the work accomplished during Ukraine’s most difficult time: the creation of the National Guard, the formation of volunteer battalions within the Interior Ministry, the settlement of the situation in Kharkiv in April 2014. And also the phasing out of the State Traffic and Road Safety Inspectorates and transport and veterinary police and their replacement by “up-to-date government service structures”. He also lists the successes of the Cyber Police, the National Interpol Bureau and the Migration and Border Services and the renewal of the State Emergency Service.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_24847292579_7d246c3fae_k_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/rsz_24847292579_7d246c3fae_k_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Bogdan Genbach / Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Nevertheless, the <a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/reytingijfojseojoej8567547">polls</a> carried out by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov Centre Sociological Service show that public trust in the law enforcement agencies is in decline. Experts polled by the sociologists <a href="https://dif.org.ua/article/reformi-v-ukraini-ekspertna-otsinka-cherven-2018">believe</a> that the police, the Prosecutor General’s office and the courts are holding up reform.</p><p dir="ltr">Police corruption is yet another reason, says Pechonchyk, for cases such as attacks on civil activists not being investigated. “The law enforcement bodies often merge and form ‘conglomerates’ with the authorities, dishonest business owners and local bullies and criminal elements,” she says.</p><p dir="ltr">The Human Rights Information Centre, which Pechonchyk directs, has been documenting attacks since 2014 and has noticed several trends. Several groups of activists tend to be targeted. The first is the anti-corruption activists fighting for transparency in government finance and against corrupt practices. In July, for example, Vitaly Shabunin, the head of the Anti-Corruption Centre, was splashed with brilliant green paint during a protest outside the Specialised Anti-Corruption Procurator’s office and received chemical burns to his eyes. The police arrested two attackers, filed a charge sheet and let them go. The attack was classified as hooliganism.</p><p dir="ltr">In Kharkiv in August 2017, Dmytro Bulakh, the head of the city’s Anti-Corruption Centre and member of the Regional Council, suffered a beating. He believes that the attack was linked to the activities of the centre, which investigates financial machinations in the city and regional institutional bodies, among them a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/anticor.kharkiv/photos/a.1617708965171990/1963792753896941/?type=3&amp;theater">cooperative operation</a> in which Kharkiv’s mayor Gennady Kernes is involved. Another attack took place just a few weeks later – the victim this time was Yevhen Lisichkin, an expert with the Anti-Corruption Centre.</p><p dir="ltr">The second group of activists are the environmentalists, who oppose tree-felling and dodgy construction companies. One known incident here involved the beating up of four activists in the Kyiv region – Aleksandr Kulibabchuk, Vadim Mashtabey, Yevhen Melnichuk and Viktor Barkholenko. They fight against tree-felling and illegal housing development on behalf of the local authorities in the towns of Buche and Irpen.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In small towns you very often find a coalition consisting of of the local authority, local criminal elements, construction firms and service sector businesses. When people start objecting, they find themselves under pressure from all sides”</p><p dir="ltr">“The dividing line between anti-corruption activists and environmentalists can also be pretty vague,” Tetiana Pechonchyk tells me. “Activists fighting for a clean environment and land rights can sometimes uncover instances of corruption as they go along. They are de facto also anti-corruption activists.</p><p dir="ltr">“In small towns you very often find a coalition consisting of of the local authority, local criminal elements, construction firms and service sector businesses. When people start objecting, they find themselves under pressure from all sides,” Pechonchyk explains.The result is that these attacks are only followed through by the police in individual cases.</p><p dir="ltr">The final group that is particularly subject to violence is LGBT activists: Amnesty International registered 30 attacks on them by far right groups in Ukraine in the last year alone. And in only one case were the villains brought to justice.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our monitoring activities tell us that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the activists being assaulted are completely defenceless before their attackers. The only chance of having a case investigated is to get the attention of the media – then the police will start doing something,” says Pechonchyk. “But in most cases, the attackers get away with it.” </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_12.09.24_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen_Shot_2018-08-21_at_12.09.24_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>August 19: attack on the “Platform TU”, Mariupol. Source: TU platform.</span></span></span>Another trend is repeat attacks on activists who continue their activities after they are initially attacked: that’s what happened to Mykhailo Berchuk, an environmental activist from the Kirovograd region. He was beaten up in the autumn of 2016, when he became interested in waste dumping from a local factory producing meat, ketchup and mayonnaise. The second time he was attacked was in the spring of 2017 – this time they fractured his skull and he ended up in intensive care. A year and a half later, the police have been unable to identify his attackers, despite the fact that the attack happened one morning in a busy area, the car’s number plate was noted down and there were witnesses.</p><p dir="ltr">Sometimes the attacks aren’t physical: they can be smear campaigns against activists and well-known anti-corruption organisations. Trumped-up charges are an example of this kind of persecution.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017, a case was initiated against the Ukrainian Patients organisation and the Living with HIV Network – they were accused of stealing grant money, as well as cooperating with the Russian security service and separatist groups in the occupied “LNR” and “DNR”. The organisations’ office was subjected to a search, but the case was closed in February 2018 for want of evidence. The members of the patient organisations believe that it was revenge for their anti-corruption activity.</p><p dir="ltr">“On the one hand, the law enforcement system can’t effectively investigate real attacks on activists, while on the other, it is busy fabricating evidence and concocting non-existent cases out of non-existent crimes,” concludes Tetiana. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A step backwards</h2><p dir="ltr">In its recent report, <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/nations-transit-2018">“Nations in Transit: Confronting Illiberalism”</a>, Freedom House notes the decrease in indicators of democratic processes in Ukraine – a situation that the report’s authors haven’t seen since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">The reasons listed by Freedom House researchers include growing activity on the part of radical groups, assaults, physical violence and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/devin-ackles/controversial-law-takes-aim-at-ukraine-s-anti-corruption-ngos">attempts to restrict the work of NGOs</a>. This last issue is to some extent connected with recent legislative changes.</p><p dir="ltr">In March 2017, President Poroshenko supported changes to the law “On Opposing Corruption” passed by Ukraine’s parliament, which requires members of anti-corruption organisations to file tax declarations online. Despite protests and strong criticism by EU, US and Canadian representatives, the law is still in force. A month ago, a group of 65 MPs appealed to the Constitutional Court to have this measure repealed.</p><p dir="ltr">In June 2018, a <a href="https://gazeta.ua/ru/articles/politics/_sergej-taruta-vydvinul-zakon-protiv-inostrannogo-vliyaniya-na-ukrainskuyu-politiku/843563">new draft law</a> appeared on the statute books, its aim to counteract “foreign influence”. It requires charities and NGOs who receive funding from outside Ukraine to declare their sources of income.</p><p dir="ltr">“Having accused NGOs and journalists of anti-nationalism, politicians are now trying to exclude legitimate voices from public debate just because they criticise the government,” <a href="https://ukrainian.voanews.com/a/freedom-house-ukrayina-dopovid/4340883.html">says</a> Nate Shenkan, the director of Freedom House’s Nations in Transit Project, about the worsening situation with civil rights.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Rights campaigners believe that the upcoming election will worsen the freedom of speech situation in the country</p><p dir="ltr">“The battle for power will be intense and very brutal,” Freedom House’s director of operations in Ukraine Matthew Schaaf tells me. “We are expecting a continuation of what we have been seeing already – physical violence combined with legislative attempts to limit the activities of activists and civil rights campaigners. The forecast for the near future is not very good, unfortunately.” </p><p dir="ltr">In April 2018, activists and organisations responded to this situation by setting up a <a href="https://helsinki.org.ua/en/articles/memorandum-on-the-creation-of-a-coalition-for-the-protection-of-civil-society-in-ukraine/">Coalition for the Protection of Civil Society in Ukraine</a>. A joint memorandum was signed by nearly 30 organisations, including the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Freedom House’s Ukrainian delegation, the Human Rights Information Centre, the <a href="https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=http://vostok-sos.org/about-project/&amp;prev=search">Civil Initiative East-SOS</a> and many other civil and human rights initiatives.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="https://helsinki.org.ua/articles/memorandum-pro-stvorennya-koalitsiji-na-zahyst-hromadyanskoho-suspilstva-v-ukrajini/">memorandum</a> concludes with the following statement: “The Ukrainian Government must recognise the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders and activists, who act in the interests of the public, and instead of hindering them, to assist them in their work, as well as to ensure efficient investigation of all instances of threats, attacks, intimidation, oppression or any other type of persecution.”</p><p dir="ltr">Freedom House’s Matthew Schaaf has announced that the coalition will soon have a website with a map showing all the cases of clampdowns on civil society, which will help to provide an accurate measure of the issue over the whole of Ukraine, including all its regions.</p><p dir="ltr">Today, Kateryna Gandzyuk is in Kyiv’s burns centre, where she was flown from Kherson. She has had several operations in recent weeks and will need several more. Her condition is still serious. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Office has now <a href="https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/08/22/7189896/">closed</a> the case against initial suspect Nikolay Novikov due to lack of evidence. Five further suspects have been detained. </p><p dir="ltr">Back home, a banner has appeared on Kherson’s city hall. It reads: “Excuse me, but who ordered the attack on Gandzyuk?”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/valeria-costa-kostritsky/who-killed-irina-nozdrovska">Who killed Iryna Nozdrovska?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-goncharuk/where-is-ukraines-new-police-force">Where is Ukraine’s new police force?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-movchan/what-are-ukraines-train-drivers-fighting-for">What are Ukraine’s train drivers fighting for?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/william-jay-risch/turning-a-protest-into-metaphysics">Turning a protest into (someone else’s) metaphysics</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/the-real-barriers-to-freedom-of-assembly-in-ukraine">What are the real barriers to freedom of assembly in Ukraine?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maksym-kazakov/how-workers-in-ukraine-metal-industry-are-fighting-for-wages-rights-democracy">How workers in Ukraine’s metal industry are fighting for wages, rights and democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-botanova/ukraines-blacklists-in-defence-of-democracy">Ukraine’s blacklists in defence of democracy and national security are doing it no favours</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Thu, 23 Aug 2018 13:35:30 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 119414 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A war for hearts and minds: how Georgian civil society is putting Abkhazia and South Ossetia back on the agenda https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/a-war-for-hearts-and-minds <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Almost 10 years on from the 2008 war, Georgian civil society – both informal and formal – is increasingly engaging in the country’s breakaway territories. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/konflikt-tleet-idet-voyna-za-umy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ на трассе 2_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest against Russian occupation of South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There are no longer any military clashes along the demarcation lines between Georgia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia – there are now more or less established processes for crossing them, although <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/102574/eng">dozens of people are arrested on them every year</a>. Georgia’s internal problems have relegated these conflicts to the back burner. The Abkhazian issue is now 25 years old; the South Ossetian – 10 years. But when Abkhazian border guards shot and killed Giga Otkhozoriya, a citizen of Georgia, at the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint in May 2016, the incident opened old wounds.</p><p dir="ltr">According to eyewitnesses, an argument developed between the 30-year old refugee from Abkhazia and the border patrol. As a result, a guard started chasing Otkhozoriya and started shooting at him by the time he was on the Georgian-controlled side of the border. The guard’s name is known, but for two years now the Georgian government has been unable to negotiate the handover of Rashid Kandji-Ogly, despite the issue having been frequently discussed in Gali, on the Abkhazian side of the unrecognised border, and during discussions in Geneva. Thus, Kandji-Ogly was eventually tried in Georgia in absentia and condemned to 14 years in prison. The Georgian authorities have also issued an international arrest warrant through Interpol. The Abkhazian de facto government initially claimed that Kandji-Ogly was being held under house arrest, but the case against him was closed in April 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar tragedy took place two years later, but in another breakaway republic. In February 2018, police in the border district of Akhalgori in South Ossetia (where the district is known as Leningor) arrested Archil Tatunashvili, a Georgian citizen, for spying. He was taken to Tskhinvali (Tskhinval in South Ossetia), and a day later the authorities announced that he had died in custody. The dead man’s body was not immediately released to the Georgian authorities, and the cause of his death has never been established. The South Ossetians claim that he died of acute heart failure, but the Georgians claimed that he had been tortured and brought an in absentia charge against two South Ossetian police officers.</p><p dir="ltr">In amidst these tragedies, civil society groups are trying to put Georgia’s relationship with South Ossetia and Abkhazia at the top of the agenda.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Citizen patrols</h2><p dir="ltr">Several times a week, a dozen activists from the Georgian Strength in Unity movement drive along the country’s main motorway, displaying photos of Tatunashvili and Otkhozoriya. At the point in the road where the demarcation line with South Ossetia is just 400 metres away, they line up along the hard shoulder and unfurl Georgian flags and posters reading, “I remember August 2008” and “Russian Occupiers”, while trucks and cars honk their horns in support.</p><p dir="ltr">After last July, when South Ossetian border guards once again moved the demarcation line in the village of Berusheti in the Gori district, taking about 10 hectares away from the local residents and leaving part of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline on the South Ossetian side, Georgian activists decided to start monitoring the situation along the whole border.</p><p dir="ltr">The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali denied seizing the land, insisting that the border signs had been installed according to the official map and that they had notified the Georgians and the OSCE about it in advance.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The border with South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The patrols will be constant – this isn’t a one-off or one-week action”, David Katsarava, a well known sportsman who heads both Georgia’s National Rafting Federation and the Strength in Unity initiative said at the time. “The aim is to find Russian border guards and groups of engineers before something happens, so we can inform the international public”. As for concerns voiced in Tskhinvali about possible “acts of provocation” on the border, the movement promised that all actions would be agreed with the Interior Ministry.</p><p dir="ltr">The activists have now encountered an extra problem: the regular arrests of Georgian citizens living in the area of the demarcation line. This April, for example, Strength in Unity organised a blockade of Russian trucks and cars with Russian number plates after a local resident, 65-year-old Akakii Misireli was detained in the village of Kere, on the border with South Ossetia. Misireli was handed back to the Georgian police after paying a fine.</p><p dir="ltr">“People in border villages are just scared: they feel like they’re all alone,” Ana Sino, a student and member of Strength in Unity tells me. “‘We’re the little people: the journalists come and go but we have to live here’ – that’s what they think. We want to show and tell them that they are not alone. We come here from Tbilisi every day and talk to them.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Tbilisi, activists have also set up an “anti-occupation taxi” where customers, as well as being taken to wherever they want to go, are told about the August 2008 war. The car is also covered in barbed wire stickers, symbolising the breakaway territories, and passengers can watch videos showing the armed conflict of 2008 and speeches by Vladimir Putin.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Деоккупационное_такси_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Деоккупационное_такси_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An “anti-occupation taxi”. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The Russian threats shown on the videos haven’t gone away,” says Lasha Berulava, an activist and journalist.</p><p dir="ltr">“We want to bring the subject of occupation back into the headlines,” says Ana, “this is a war for hearts and minds.”</p><p dir="ltr">Activists feel that in this war, the Georgian authorities are playing into the hands of the Russian government, parroting its propaganda slogans.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our government doesn’t want to provide the public with information,” Ana tells me. “They don’t want to annoy Russia. ‘We’re just a small country,’ they say. And they don’t want to frighten the public. But people need information.”</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the supposed “normalisation of relations with Russia” announced by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, there has been no breakthrough in the rapprochement between the two countries, and diplomatic relations have still not been re-established. Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories describes Russia as a country engaged in military occupation, and Russia’s calls to repeal the law are so far unsuccessful.</p><p dir="ltr">Ordinary Georgian citizens aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the idea of rapprochement with Russia, as is clear from recent research by the<a href="http://www.iri.org/"> International Republican Institute (IRI)</a>. In 2012, when Georgian Dream came to power, the idea of a dialogue with Russia had the fully support of 83% of the population and partial support by 11%, but this year, full support had dropped to 46% and disapproval had risen to 12%. The number of respondents who didn’t know if they supported dialogue had also increased in number, to 30% of the population.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Let’s talk</h2><p dir="ltr">Georgian civil society, as well as several politicians, are worried about Russian propaganda being spread through media and social networks. In 2016, for example, the Georgian government approved a broadcast license for Russian international channel<a href="https://www.broadbandtvnews.com/2018/04/10/ntv-plus-expand-to-georgia-as-ott-service-booms/"> NTV-PLUS</a> to operate in the country. Two years on, though, the licence was revoked after protests from opposition and civil society campaigners.</p><p dir="ltr">In Zugdidi, on the Georgian border with Abkhazia, people feel the increase in Russian propaganda very keenly. “We have Russian TV channels, and even my mother watches them,” cries Maya Pipiya, a journalist and presenter at the Atinati radio station, which promotes peace in the Zugdidi and Abkhazia. “The propaganda is directed at convincing us that Russia is our guarantor of security, although I can barely remember any stage when even good relations with Russia brought us any notable successes.”</p><p dir="ltr">On Atinati, Maya presents a Russian-language radio programme called “Points of Contact”, in which she talks about areas for concern for people on both sides of the demarcation lines. For example, farming problems – both Zugdidi and Gali depend on agriculture. The programme doesn’t cover hard politics, but engages with social issues and talks about general cultural contexts. The station also works with journalists from Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, who regularly send Pipiya programmes. There are frequent disagreements over language – it’s not easy to find ways to talk about things in a way that is acceptable to listeners on both sides of the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In the studio of Atinati radio station. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Maya has been involved in dialogue issues for a long time. Her first attempt to find common ground took place in 2009, when she created a programme called “Let’s Talk”.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted to know about the rising generation – how they think, how they see us. And it turns out that we can talk to one another,” says Maya, who is herself a refugee from Sukhumi. “The more time that passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict.”</p><p dir="ltr">Before 2008, Zugdidi was just a small town, but now it has the highest number of immigrants after Tbilisi. Many of them still have no home of their own and are still living in collective accommodation built by the state. At the market, there’s brisk trade between Abkhaz and the locals.</p><p dir="ltr">Anna Kochua provides aid to both refugees and other vulnerable groups. “I’m still as close to it all as I was in the first days of the war. I’m not a refugee myself, but I find it difficult to see how displaced people live. Our country has got a lot of things wrong, but Georgia wasn’t a proper country then. During the fighting, the Georgian government was in the hands of bandits,” says Kochua, who was actively involved in Georgian-Abkhazian dialogue in her student years.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The more time passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict”</p><p dir="ltr">“The Abkhaz who were students back then are now responsible for decision-making in Abkhazia: they work in various ministries and there are ambassadors and people taking part the Geneva talks among them. They are the younger generation – they speak European languages and can express their views very easily and convincingly. I am proud of them and value them: they are people you can talk to, sit down at a table with. But I’d rather not have Russia involved. We have such a lot in common as it is, without Russia,” says Anna.</p><p dir="ltr">“But unfortunately, Russia will always be there – we couldn’t choose our geographic situation,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Giga Otkhozoriya, who was killed at the Khurcha checkpoint in May 2016, was a classmate of Anna’s at school.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Bedbugs, horses and people</h2><p dir="ltr">“Both here and there – they’re all business people, not a government,” our taxi driver David complains as he drives us along the demarcation line with Abkhazia. David is also a refugee, from the Gali area, and now lives in Zugdidi. His family didn’t manage to get state housing – you need connections to get a flat quickly, he says. He spent 15 years working as a labourer on building sites in Moscow, but when he came back home, to his family, he got work as a taxi driver to make ends meet.</p><p dir="ltr">“But now there’s a bridge – (Eduard) Shevardnadze built it after the war,” David tells us, referring to Georgia’s second president. The bridge spans the Inguri River on the way to Pakhulani, the village where one of the checkpoints is between Abkhazia and the area under Georgian rule. “There used to be a pedestrian rope bridge – it was used by refugees. A lot of looting went on – people had gold and money in their pockets and they would take it. Our lot as well as the Abkhazians.</p><p dir="ltr">“I remember lots of good times, but you never forget the bad ones,” adds David, who also crossed that bridge.</p><p dir="ltr">David’s eldest daughter died in the war. There was no money for medicines – and no medicines either, for that matter. He now has just two sons, one aged 24, the other 19.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The closed border crossing where Gigu Otkhozoria was killed. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“My son is training as a professional soldier,” he tells us. “What can you do? Say there’s a war between Abkhazia and Georgia, anything could happen, a military man is better prepared. You need to know everything, if you want to go on living,” says the taxi driver.</p><p dir="ltr">We drive past a tea processing factory, in ruins since the 1990s. The economic situation was so bad then that it was taken down for its metal parts and building materials. There are hardly any tea plantations left in the region. They grow walnuts here now instead.</p><p dir="ltr">“There’s no work now,” says Tinatin Rogava, a young woman from the border village of Rukhi. “They planted nut trees instead of tea. But the nuts won’t grow, because of the beatles. We should have stuck with the tea. Life’s very hard.”</p><p dir="ltr">This is then second year that Tinatin’s family, her parents and brothers, who live in the neighbouring village of Rikhi, have had no harvest, income or work. Neither the Zugdidi nor the Gali district has been able to rid itself of the<a href="https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=https://taraklop.ru/klopy/mramornyj-klop/&amp;prev=search"> marble bug</a>, an infestation of which wipes out the citrus and hazelnut harvests. The bug is becoming a problem on a national scale, discussed at Georgian-Abkhazian meetings in Gali.</p><p dir="ltr">And bugs are not the only issue discussed in Gali. A few months ago, one of the main talking points was the release of Archiko and Paata Rogava, father and son. In early 2017, 59-year-old Archiko and 25-year-old Paatа were detained by Russian border guards beside the Inguri River, where they were searching for their lost horse.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Archiko and Paata Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The horse, the reason for the ten-month detention of Paata and eight-month detention of his father, is hidden in the walnut grove beside the Rogavas’ house. Their plot is the last one before the border with Abkhazia. The only thing stopping the horse escaping is a wide stream, which it can easily cross in dry weather. But now the horse’s legs are hobbled and it tramps disgruntedly on the spot.</p><p dir="ltr">The men were accused of crossing the border illegally. But the Rogavas claimed that it was not they, but the guards, who crossed the border. Paata also told the court that he was beaten and had dogs set on him during the arrest. But the Abkhazian Security Service claimed that he had “physically insulted” a guard.</p><p dir="ltr">Sitting round the big table in their modest, but hospitable home, Archiko and Paata tell us about their imprisonment. They don’t speak Russian well, so Tinatin helps with the interpreting.</p><p dir="ltr">“We had very good relations with the prison staff,” says Archiko. “The guards were all Abhaz, so there were no problems with them. They believed us when we said we hadn’t crossed the border. But the Russians didn’t believe us. I met an Abkhazian guy who had fought in 2008. He didn’t say anything bad about us. Now people in Abkhazia are saying that the war was all the fault of Shevardnadze and Gorbachev.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Abkhazians can’t do anything when there is Russia over there,” Tinatin adds.</p><p dir="ltr">“If Putin doesn’t get out of Abkhazia, there’ll soon be a war, and Abkhazia will be on our side,” says her father.</p><p dir="ltr">To release her father and brother, Tinatin planned an action on the Inguri River bridge linking Abkhazia to the area ruled by Georgia. The Rogava family organised four protests – a chain of people closed the bridge to traffic and lay down on the roadway. At the last protest, Tinatin’s sister Daredjan was arrested for resisting a police officer by knocking his cap off. Daredjan didn’t have the money to pay the fine of 250 Lari, so she spent several days in detention.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Тинатин_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Тинатин_Рогава_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tinatin Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“We did it all ourselves,” Tinatin says. “No one helps.” The men were released when the family paid a 100,000 rouble fine: all their friends and relatives helped collect the money.</p><p dir="ltr">“Because my father and brother are good people. Everybody knows and respects them. And they’re still the same,” she tells us.</p><p dir="ltr">“Now they are heroes!” I say.</p><p dir="ltr">“Well, I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t use the word ‘hero’. But fame hasn’t gone to their heads,” says Tinatin modestly.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Taking responsibility</h2><p dir="ltr">The cafe-bar beside the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint is empty. The road to Abkazia is blocked by a metal mesh fence, although the buildings on the other side are visible despite the mesh and thick vegetation.</p><p dir="ltr">Irina, who works in a café in the village centre, tells me that everything has been “calm and boring” since the Abkhaz side closed the checkpoint in March 2017. Another one further down the Inguri, between the villages of Orsantiya and Otobaya, was also closed at the same time.</p><p dir="ltr">These checkpoints used to be used by the residents of Abkhazian border villages. Children crossed them to go to school; adults to buy groceries and other essentials, as well as accessing medical services. Now they have to make a 10km detour via the Inguri Bridge for everything.</p><p dir="ltr">The closure of three out of four of the checkpoints on the demarcation line between Abkhazia and Georgia was one of the election promises made by Abkhazia’s president Raul Khajimba in 2014. Residents in the Gali district protested, but the Abkhazian government claimed that the protesters were people involved in “illegal business activities” and “smugglers”, and that the checkpoints had been closed at the request of the “overwhelming majority” of the population.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="333" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anuna Bukiya. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>So hundreds of people – both Gali district residents and ethnic Georgians – are now forced to cross the border by illegal means. Many of them don’t have the right papers, including Abkhazian passports, as they don’t want to lose their Georgian citizenship. Others are refugees who still have houses and agricultural land on the Abkhazian side.</p><p dir="ltr">An elderly woman leaning on sticks struggles at a barbed wire barrier; a few men help her through, pick her up in their arms and run. A young lad rolls up his trousers, a girl climbs on his back and the two wade across the river. Men and women run, one by one, across an open space towards a strip of wood – the Abkhazian border guards send a rocket flare into the sky. These are all shots from<a href="http://net.adjara.com/Movie/main?id=22652&amp;lang=0"> “I Swam across the Inguri”</a>, a documentary made by Anuna Bukiya about this unofficial to-ing and fro-ing across the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The filmmaker made this journey herself, from Georgia to Abkhazia: Bukiya wanted to go to Sukhumi to have a look at her house, which she was forced to leave at the age of four. She had a shock at the sight of her childhood home, she tells me – she was overcome by all sorts of emotions. And making the film was really important – an expression of her civil rights, a kind of activism.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted people from both sides to see what was actually going on,” says Anuna. She feels that people who have been involved in the peace process for so long, on both the Georgian and Abkhazian sides, have monopolised the right to information about the conflict and don’t talk about the real problems at the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The most difficult thing for Bukiya was to show her documentary on TV – she was worried about how it would be received, and what effect this would have on the people whose story it was.</p><p dir="ltr">“I realised that I needed to take responsibility for it. Otherwise things would just go on as they had done over the last 25 years,” she says. “Because nothing can get any worse than it has been and still is. The worst thing is just waiting for something unfathomable to happen, be it war or peace.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">25 years of being apart</h2><p dir="ltr">“The fact that Georgian and Abkhaz society has been living apart for too long is a very big problem,” Olesya Vartanyan, an analyst at the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Crisis_Group"> International Crisis Group’s</a> Tbilisi office tells me. In 2008, Vartanyan covered the conflict from Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, and her reports were published by the international press. But then she dropped journalism for peacemaking. “I’m more comfortable with myself in this role,” she says. “I can do something to change things.”.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Vartanyan, the subject of the unrecognised territories is no longer a priority for Georgia. It only makes the headlines when a serious incident occurs, such as the killings of Giga Otkhozoriya and Archil Tatunashvili. And peacemaking efforts on the Georgian side are not always welcome in Abkhazia: it was not particularly happy, for example, when in spring 2017 the EU lifted visa formalities for Georgian citizens travelling to Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is definitely a new attempt by Tbilisi to entice our citizens into Georgia,” announced the Abkhazian government at the time, “and like all previous attempts it is doomed to failure. If Georgia’s leaders are genuinely concerned about Abkhazian citizens’ freedom of movement, they should abandon their policy of isolating our citizens, who are denied entry to EU countries thanks to Tbilisi’s stance.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мост_через_Ингури_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мост_через_Ингури_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bridge across the Inguri. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“In Tbilisi, there’s not always an idea of what is actually going on in the breakaway regions,” says Olesya Vartanyan. “For example, how much they need what is being offered here, and whether this is creating excuses that might be used by local nationalists to, for instance, close the border or put pressure on the people who are beginning to cooperate with the Georgian side.” This, Vartanyan considers, is the fundamental issue in relations between Georgia and the breakaway territories.</p><p dir="ltr">“These communities live their separate lives, and have no contact with one another,” is Vartanyan’s analysis of the situation. “After 25 years, that’s where we are.”</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/georgia/249-abkhazia-and-south-ossetia-time-talk-trade">A recent International Crisis Group</a> report states that although no political compromise is in sight, informal trade between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia is growing. And discussion of mutually beneficial commerce “might open up long since blocked channels of communication” between the two sides.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, the then acting Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced a new initiative – “A Step towards a Better Future” – designed to improve the humanitarian and socio-economic situation of people in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. The Tbilisi government declared that it wanted to reduce all procedures involving trade along the demarcation lines to a minimum, as well as opening education to people both within Georgia and outside its borders and giving them access to the benefits that Georgian citizens have received thanks to close relations with the EU.</p><p dir="ltr">In Sukhumi and Tskhinvali this peace initiative has been dismissed as a “PR offensive” and “a semblance of friendship”.</p><p dir="ltr">“The only step towards a better future would be for Georgia to recognise the independence of the Republic of Abkhazia and enter a real intergovernmental dialogue between our countries for the sake of stability and the prosperity of future generations,” says Abkhazia’s de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs Daur Kove. “There is no alternative to this process.”</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, in the Georgian border village of Rukhi, the shopping centre and market built in 2016 for traders from Abkhazia both stand deserted.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This text is part of the Unrecognised Stories project, supported by crowdfunding platform <a href="https://www.pressstart.org/funding_sessions/10">PressStart</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia">Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus">Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher">Georgia’s Russian cipher </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Georgia Caucasus Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:14:22 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 118657 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/trial-continues-askold-kurov-on-his-visit-to-oleg-sentsov <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Russian documentarian Askold Kurov recently visited filmmaker&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Oleg Sentsov</a>, who is on hunger strike in Russia. I spoke to him about the role of documentary today, activism and conditions in Russia's Far North. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/interview-askold-kurov-sentsov">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/11201906_1436041440032584_4329710980419666743_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Askold Kurov. Source: <a href=http://lira.megakino.com.ua/cinema/index>Cinema Lira</a>. </span></span></span>The last time I met Russian documentary filmmaker Askold Kurov, he was still filming his documentary <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFohGYNapj0">The Trial</a>. In 2015, Kurov was a constant observer of the show trial of two Crimean residents — filmmaker <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Oleg Sentsov</a> and anti-fascist <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-novikova/a-birthday-in-the-urals-oleksandr-kolchenko">Alexander Kolchenko</a> — who were sentenced on terrorism charges to 20 and 10-year sentences respectively. The Trial, which follows Sentsov’s case in depth, was first shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017, and screenings have since turned into public events in support of releasing the Ukrainian filmmaker and other political prisoners. Indeed, filmmakers from across the world have called for his release.</p><p dir="ltr">On 4 June, Kurov met Sentsov in prison at Labytnangi in Russia’s Yamal-Nenets region, where Sentsov has declared a hunger strike in support of releasing all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Sentsov’s hunger strike has led to a whole series of actions across the world. Sentsov recently wrote a letter to G7 leaders with a request to do something to change the fate of Ukrainian political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">Kurov and I met a few days later in Kyiv to talk about his mission, activism, the trip to Labytnangi and The Trial.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Why are you in Kyiv? Have you come on some sort of mission?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, I have a mission. I was in Labytnangi prison on Monday, I met Oleg Sentsov. And so Maria Tomak, a Kyiv rights defender, invited me here to attend a closed meeting with representatives from embassies of G7 states. This was a special meeting dedicated to Oleg Sentsov. I talked about our trip to the prison colony, meeting Oleg, his condition, his living conditions there and what Labytnangi and the region in general is like. We spoke about the solidarity movement among filmmakers in support of Sentsov. Natalia Kaplan, Oleg’s cousin, talked about Oleg’s family. Maria Tomak talked about Ukrainian political prisoners as a whole, the trials, what will happen next.</p><p dir="ltr">Of course, the main aim was to convince the representatives that Oleg Sentsov’s plight be included on the G7 summit’s agenda. We didn’t receive, of course, any answers, but these people weren’t authorised to give us any. But they promised to give this information to their governments. We really hope something comes of this.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>What’s your impression after the meeting?</em></p><p dir="ltr">They were interested, they listened. Then they asked questions. We gave them a link to the film. I hope they watch it. It will help them relay the case in more detail.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Tell me about your trip to Labytnangi.</em></p><p dir="ltr">I went on the request of Radio Liberty to shoot a film about the journey of Dmitry Dinze, Sentsov’s lawyer, to Labytnangi together with Archbishop Kliment of Simferopol and Crimea, who also wanted to get a meeting with Oleg. When we arrived, it turned out that Archbishop Kliment couldn’t get a meeting with Oleg. And I wasn’t counting that I would get one either. Dmitry Dinze mentioned that perhaps they might permit a telephone conversation with Oleg, perhaps a meeting. But the prison administration somehow heard this, and they decided to permit a meeting.</p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GFohGYNapj0" height="256" width="460"></iframe><em>A trailer for Askold Kurov's film The Trial.</em></p><p dir="ltr">This is an unprecedented case — it’s a strict regime prison, Oleg should only have meetings with relatives or his lawyer. And I don’t know why they decided to permit it. I have a theory that they wanted to demonstrate some sort of openness, friendliness. On the other hand, they understand what kind of international attention from the press is on Oleg’s hunger strike, and thus on the prison colony itself. And perhaps, they just needed a unbiased witness to the fact that Sentsov isn’t complaining about the conditions there, that he’s in a normal physical condition.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>A gesture of good will, then.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes. A big thank you to them.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>How was it?</em></p><p dir="ltr">The meeting was short. We lost half a day just getting to Labytnangi. The ice has started melting on the Ob river and you can’t take the ferry from Salekhard to Labytnangi, you can only go by helicopter. We had to wait for it. It’s very cold there now, there’s still snow on the ground. There’s not much in the way of plant life, a very harsh climate — and that’s affecting Oleg’s health.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Of course Oleg wants to live, he hasn’t got a death wish. He’s got something to live for — kids, aims in life. But he’s an idealist and these higher tasks, his convictions, are more important than everything else</p><p dir="ltr">It took a long time to get there, then, and there had to be time for Dmitry Dinze to meet with Oleg. Our meeting lasted 45 minutes in total. He seemed to be in a good state psychologically. He isn’t depressed or in a bad way. He isn’t wavering or doubting what he’s doing. He’s as decisive as before, logical and confident in himself. As to his health, yes, he has lost eight kilos since he started even preparing for the hunger strike. He prepared for it over a month and a half, gradually refusing and stopping taking food. The day we arrived, he was taken to a hospital outside the prison for a medical inspection. They did an ultrasound, some other tests that didn’t find any problems with how his body is working. Oleg agreed to have supporting therapy — twice a day he gets an IV with glucose and some other vitamins, to support his body.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Is he writing anything?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, he’s writing. He didn’t tell me what he’s writing. But he said that he’d written several short stories. And a novel. And now he’s working on two film scripts. I told him that I was really looking forward to when he’ll be able to make these films, because I really like his cinema. He said that, yes, he’s also waiting. </p><p>Of course Oleg wants to live, he hasn’t got a death wish. He’s got something to live for — kids, aims in life. But he’s an idealist and these higher tasks, his convictions, are more important than everything else.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>So it turns out you met the main protagonist of your film.</em></p><p dir="ltr">At last! I couldn’t film it, record it. The prison officers recorded it on camera. That’s also unprecedented. Usually, prison visits aren’t filmed. But that was a condition here. Oleg and I later joked that we would ask the man who filmed our meeting to save that recording, we’ll definitely need it later.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Did you speak about The Trial?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Oleg told me: “Sorry, but I won’t watch your film, I don’t want to.” I understand him completely, no one wants to live through all that all over again, to remember. You want to forget it like a bad drea,. But still he was very interested how it’s going in general, where the film has been shown, what the press reaction was, the audience reaction. He was very happy that the film was being shown in Ukraine, including on television. Now the film is <a href="https://ovdinfo.org/articles/2018/05/28/process-film-o-sude-nad-olegom-sencovym">free to watch in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania</a> in connection with the hunger strike — this is to attract more attention, so that people can watch it.</p><p dir="ltr">I told him that this year was the last <a href="http://artdocfest.com/eng">Artdocfest</a> in Russia. He was interested in all the news. And about cinema, too, he asked about Cannes, but I couldn’t answer him — he told me off for not preparing for the visit. And, of course, he asked about what was going on — the support actions in 30 countries, 80 cities. It was clear that his mood lifted, it’s important for him that people don’t forget about him, that this wave of support has come up, this movement. It seems to me that he’s got what he wanted: attention to the problem of political prisoners in Russia. I think he’s done it.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>I remember a quotation of Oleg at trial, it’s in your film: “This sentence of 20 years, I’m not scared. I know that the era of the bloody dwarf’s rule will end before then.” And now he is on hunger strike — until his demands are met.</em></p><p dir="ltr">As Oleg said: “Why should I live like this for the remaining 16 years, at least I can do something for Ukrainian political prisoners.” That’s a direct quote. I think it’s connected to the fact that, it’s true, hopes are fading. There’s already been so many reasons to expect an early release — after the release of Nadiya Savchenko, Hennady Afanasyev. Every time this wave of support rises, we think: oh any day now, it’ll happen. And then earlier this year there were Putin’s elections in Russia, now the World Cup — and again nothing happens. So this is probably an act of desperation. If nothing is changing, then he doesn’t just want to live another 16 years like this.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Oleg_Sentsov,_Ukrainian_political_prisoner_in_Russia,_2015 (2)_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Sentsov. CC BY-SA 4.0 Antonymon / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Today people are really supportive of Sentsov. There’s a lot of interest from media, politicians are getting involved. But the trial itself, as you remember, attracted little attention in comparison. And I thinking why did it turn out like this, wouldn’t it have been simpler to stop the trial at the very beginning, when no sentence had yet been announced — after all, it was clear then that this case was fabricated, “sewn with white threads” as Oleg put it.</p><p dir="ltr">On the contrary, I think there were less chances before. Now, at least, there are reasons — the G7 meeting, the World Cup in Russia just about to begin. And that’s why there are many more chances now, the time frame is clear. First, we are counting the number of days he’s on hunger strike, reminding one another and ourselves that time is running out — this man is getting closer and closer to death by the time, because he won’t give up. This is why everyone has mobilised, come together to apply their energies. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Another courtroom quote from your film, this time from Russian political scientist Kirill Rogov: “This is how repressions in autocratic states are organised, this is what we’re seeing in Russia today. They work very well with the media agenda, and repressions for them are very important stories. They popularise, signal to the elites, activists and general population about how to behave, what the costs might be.” Your film is about part of the media story. What role is it playing?</em></p><p dir="ltr">I often have the following dialogue after I show the film to audiences. Especially abroad. They ask: “Are you being persecuted?” I say: “No, I’m not being persecuted”. “Have you had any problems filming?” “No, no problems.” “Why, do you think?” And I say probably because that this is a show trial, they want it to be seen. “So you’re being used?” “Yes, I’m being used. But I think that this film is not fulfilling that task. Yes, it shows the cynicism and absurdity with which this case was fabricated. But I think that the topic of choice is important here. Someone will see the film, get scared and decide that they’ll never stick their neck out and do anything on dangerous ground. But someone else will hear Oleg’s call “to learn how not to be afraid, and stop being frightened.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>You’re one of the people who heard that call. </em></p><p>Well, I hope so. Although what I’ve done is not comparable to what people in prison, including Oleg Sentsov, are suffering for.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>So you’re not afraid?</em></p><p dir="ltr">How am I not afraid? Any person is afraid. Not a single normal person wants to be in prison. No one wants to go through all of this. It’s just you start thinking and realise that you can’t behave differently. If you behave differently, it means, that you’ve broken something inside yourself, you’ve gone somewhere — and from there, you won’t be able to restore and repair yourself.</p><p><em>Having met Oleg, you, it seems, have moved from documentary cinema to activism. Or were you always an activist? Or are you still more of a documentary maker?</em></p><p dir="ltr">I’ve never been an activist. But here, in the situation with Oleg… You could call this activist cinema. Cinematic activism. This film is the least directorial one I’ve made. I had different concepts, there were some very creative ideas, to use animation, a voice over.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Any person is afraid. Not a single normal person wants to be in prison. No one wants to go through all of this</p><p dir="ltr">But I understood that this film doesn’t need any of that. You just need to leave Oleg on his own. All these effects are out of place here. The most important thing is to edit it properly, arrange it the right way, to make sure that Oleg is the focus, his speech addressed to us.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Was it difficult to edit?</em></p><p dir="ltr">Very difficult. We had three versions, three editors - a Russian, German and, in the end, a Swedish one of Polish background Michal Leszczylowski, which we found thanks to co-producing from the Polish side, Dariusz Jabłoński and the Polish Film Institute. Leszczylowski is a leading editor, very experienced. One of his first films was Sacrifice by Andrey Tarkovsky. It’s a big honour for me that he helped create the final version.</p><p dir="ltr">Coming back to activism, then I need to say: we understood from the very beginning that this film should become part of the campaign in support of Oleg Sentsov. This is not simply a piece of art, it isn’t a piece of creative documentary. As Vitaly Mansky said, it’s a film-gesture. I think that’s a new term. I haven’t read about it before. And sure, let it be a film-gesture.</p><p dir="ltr">At showings, people often stay for the discussion, and they ask how they can help. Last year, Artdocfest printed postcards, two kinds of them. One set had bank details where you could transfer money, and others had Oleg’s address in Labytnangi, where you could write him a message.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Are you ready for a new film now? Or are you still finishing work on The Trial? </em></p><p>I’m already finishing edits of a new film about <em>Novaya Gazeta</em>. I spent a year and a half with them, documenting the life of the team there — this coincided with difficult moments such as the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">LGBT crackdown in Chechnya</a>, persecutions, the case of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/igor-yasin/by-defending-russian-journalist-ali-feruz-we-defend-ourselves-now-we-need-to-re">Ali Feruz</a>, the <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> journalist who they fought for and got released in the end. Now they are actively participating in the Sentsov campaign: each issue they print some kind of material on him, and they have a counter of the days he’s been on hunger strike. The last issue had an image of Oleg across the front cover and the hashtag FreeSentsov. And Oleg is subscribed to the only newspaper in prison, <em>Novaya Gazeta</em>. He hasn’t seen the cover yet — the paper gets there two weeks after it comes out. Everything, it turns out, is connected one way or another.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ganna-grytsenko/this-is-why-ukrainian-film-director-oleg-sentsov-is-on-hunger-strike">Why Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov is on hunger strike</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-novikova/a-birthday-in-the-urals-oleksandr-kolchenko">A birthday in the Urals</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/open-letter-in-support-of-ukrainian-political-prisoners">An appeal to the representatives of countries who are expected to travel to the World Cup football games in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/oleg-sentsov-and-aleksandr-kolchenko-prisoners-of-conscien">Oleg Sentsov and Aleksandr Kolchenko: prisoners of conscience</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-gukovsky/making-them-pay-for-maidan">Making them pay for Maidan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Tue, 12 Jun 2018 10:59:25 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 118361 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The permitted and the forbidden: Ukraine’s security services turn their eyes to “banned” Islamic literature https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukrainian-muslims-forbidden-literature <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">For the first time since Maidan, Ukrainian Muslims have started speaking out about harassment from Ukrainian security services. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/dozvolennoe-i-zapretnoe" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 18.22.00_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Witnesses look on as Kyiv's Islamic Cultural Centre is searched on 6 March 2018. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>Last month, Mufti Said Ismagilov, a charismatic and prominent Muslim leader in Ukraine, <a href="https://glavcom.ua/country/politics/provedeni-sbu-obshuki-v-mechetyah-islamskih-centrah-ta-domivkah-ukrajinskih-musulman-pres-konferenciya-479135.html">announced</a> to journalists at a press conference that Muslims in Ukraine were being subjected to “systematic persecution”. The day before, on 6 March, SBU operatives had raided the Islamic Cultural Centre in Kyiv, producing a warrant that authorised a search of the premises for literature “promoting hatred and cruelty, racial, ethnic or religious intolerance and discrimination.”</p><p dir="ltr">The raid took place early in the morning, when only one security guard was on site. Some twenty security forces personnel arrived at the Islamic Cultural Centre together with six witnesses and demanded that the library, gymnasium (school) and a little street-side bookshop all be opened up for inspection. While the guard, prevented by the siloviki from informing the centre’s senior staff about what was going on, took some members of the raid party around the premises, the others remained outside. Looking out of the window, the guard saw them breaking down the door of the bookshop.</p><p dir="ltr">“I can’t imagine them arriving at the Kyiv Lavra and crowbarring their way into the church shop if no religious representatives were present. That’s inconceivable. But they did it to us,” says Said Ismagilov, who is indignant as he presents <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Avfyr5iZSBg&amp;feature=youtu.be">CCTV footage of the incident</a>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Avfyr5iZSBg" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>CCTV footage of the 6 March search at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Kyiv. </em><p dir="ltr">The footage captured several significant moments. Firstly, after searching the bookshop, SBU operatives emerged with a black bag containing allegedly seized books. They took the bag off site, beyond the camera’s field of view, before returning with it a while later. Secondly, the footage shows a member of the search party entering the otherwise empty staff room of the centre’s gymnasium with the bag. After he leaves, three books are found in the staff room and seized.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“They could have planted anything there. It’s a good thing it was religious books rather than weapons,” says Mufti Ismagilov.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In addition to raiding the Islamic Cultural Centre, the SBU also conducted a two-and-a-half-hour-long search at the home of Sheikh Tarik Sarhan, head of the Centre’s Department for the Study of the History of Islam and Eastern Culture. Sarhan has been active in Ukraine since 1995, participating in an interfaith dialogue group and in peacekeeping and educational projects. He’s also served as a Ukrainian envoy at the <a href="http://islam.in.ua/ru/novosti-v-strane/posol-mira-tarik-sarhan-sredi-organizatorov-konferencii-za-mir-v-kieve">World Peace Forum</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">“Even before they started going through my books — and I’ve an enormous amount of them — they looked behind my fridge and allegedly discovered something in a nook where you can’t see anything, it wasn’t even captured on camera,” Sheikh Sarkhan <a href="https://hromadskeradio.org/programs/kyiv-donbas/sbu-pryshly-ko-mne-domoy-so-svoymy-ponyatymy-y-podbrosyly-knygy-sheyh-taryk-sarhan">recalls</a>. “They made their witness retrieve books they themselves had planted there. My five children are still frightened. They keep asking what’s going to happen next and whether they’re going to come back. I’ve taught them that we have to live tolerantly, that this represents our only hope for the future in Ukraine, and now they’re doubting my words.”&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Later, Ismagilov and Sarhan joked about the whole affair on social media: “If a Muslim has a fridge, he’s got to be hiding something under it!”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">According to the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement personnel seized a total of some 100 books during the searches of the Islamic Cultural Centre and Tarik Sherhan’s home.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr"> “If a Muslim has a fridge, he’s got to be hiding something under it!”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Kyiv prosecutor’s office <a href="https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-kyiv/2417350-stolicnaa-prokuratura-zaavlaet-cto-ne-presledovala-religioznye-organizacii.html">countered</a> accusations of harassment: “We must emphasise once again that the bodies of the capital’s prosecutor’s office have due respect for the work of all religious organisations registered on the territory of our state, and any allegations of&nbsp;discreditation or persecution are groundless and unsubstantiated.”</p><p dir="ltr">Nevertheless, the Islamic Cultural Centre’s legal team resolved to pursue the matter in court. “We’re convinced that the alleged extremist materials [found by the siloviki] were planted, as evidenced by our surveillance footage,” maintains lawyer Olga Bashei, who represents the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine (DUMU-Ummah), which Ismagilov heads. “All our books feature the Alraid NGO seal, or that of Islamic Cultural Centre, which means the books they found can’t be ours. We plan to file several lawsuits regarding premises search procedure violations and anti-Muslim discrimination.”&nbsp;</p><h2>“Amongst the cups”</h2><p dir="ltr">No register of “extremist literature” exists in Ukraine. However, as per a ruling issued by the Odesa Regional Administrative Court in May 2012, distributing a pamphlet entitled “The Violation of Monotheism” on Ukrainian territory is illegal.</p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://document.ua/pro-primusovii-rozpusk-likvidaciyu-gromadskoyi-organizaciyi-doc108662.html">forensic assessment</a> found that the pamphlet incited “religious hatred and enmity” and propagandised “the ideology of the fundamentalist Wahhabist movement, recognised in many countries around the world as an extremist Saudi sect whose members and supporters employ radical political methods vis-à-vis representatives of other religions and creeds.”</p><p dir="ltr">The pamphlet was found together with another book (<em>The Alleviation of Doubt</em>) during a search of an Odesa mosque belonging to the Pryamoi Put (Straight Path) organisation. As <a href="https://www.segodnya.ua/regions/odessa/cbu-opechatala-mechet-v-odecce-dvoe-vakhkhabitov---v-cizo-doma-u-nikh-nashli-vzyvchatku.html">reported in the media at the time</a>, the book was found and handed to the SBU by a pensioner (who also happened to be an ex-KGB officer). Law enforcement operatives searched the apartments of Straight Path leaders Oda Khaled and Masri Mohammad (of Egyptian and Syrian origin respectively). Media reports <a href="https://www.segodnya.ua/regions/odessa/cbu-opechatala-mechet-v-odecce-dvoe-vakhkhabitov---v-cizo-doma-u-nikh-nashli-vzyvchatku.html">suggested</a> that the two men’s apartments were found to contain explosives, but the court’s ruling makes no mention of this. The organisation was ultimately closed, and all suspicious materials seized.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/rsz_img_6732 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Islamic Cultural Centre in Kyiv. Source: Tetiana Kozak. </span></span></span>Completely unknown prior to 2017, the pamphlet and the book suddenly materialised during searches of Kyiv’s Islamic Cultural Centre, which has gathered under its roof a number of organisations including DUMU-Ummah, <a href="http://www.arraid.org/en">Alraid All-Ukrainian Association of Social Organisations </a>and other NGOs. The library and school exist alongside male and female mosques, with as many as 2,000 adherents in attendance for Friday prayers. There’s also a hairdresser, sports facility, conference hall and a room for marriage ceremonies. The neighbourhood around the Islamic Centre is teeming with halal shops and cafés, and a food market is held here on Fridays.</p><p dir="ltr">The Our Future school, housed on the third floor of the Islamic Centre and searched by SBU operatives on that same morning, was celebrating the Days of Shevchenko, dedicated to Ukraine’s national poet, when I visited. The corridor walls are hung with children’s portraits of the Ukrainian poet alongside quotes from his works.</p><p dir="ltr">The pupils here follow the standard Ukrainian curriculum; in addition, however, they also study the Qur’an and start learning Arabic and English in Year 1. Another of this institution’s idiosyncrasies is that some of the girls wear headscarves, as is customary in Islam.</p><p dir="ltr">“Here’s our staff room. They planted books in the cupboard. There’s cups in there — no imagination on their part as usual, looking amongst the cups. It’s always the kitchen for some reason. No imagination,” the school administrator jokes. The operatives also inspected the bookcase in reception, but discovered nothing of use for the investigation.</p><p dir="ltr">A few days on from the search, the staff in the little shop in the Islamic Centre’s courtyard have adopted a wary attitude to journalists. “You’re taking photos now, but what if there’s problems later?” says a saleswoman. Everything was in its proper place after the search, she adds, except for “some bits and bobs” in a couple of corners.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/rsz_img_6743.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Our Future school at Kyiv's Islamic Cultural Centre. Source: Tetiana Kozak. </span></span></span>The Islamic Centre is adamant that the banned materials allegedly discovered during the search of its premises (“The Violation of Monotheism” and <em>The Alleviation of Doubt</em>) do not belong to the organisation. “These books simply aren’t ours. We don’t agree with certain parts of their content,” insists Alraid chief Seiran Arifov. “Furthermore, supporters of this movement are constantly polemicising against us or accusing us of something. Specifically because our views on these issues diverge.”</p><h2>“Revolting FSB-style ploys” </h2><p dir="ltr">“I’ve only ever witnessed this sort of thing — books being planted in mosques — in occupied Crimea,” Said Ismagilov told the news conference. “They’d even plant them out in the yard near the toilets and then adduce them as evidence of an offence.” Ismagilov also believes that “egregious and revolting FSB-style ploys are now a regular occurrence in Ukraine”, referring to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/CrimeanTatar_picket1_1_2.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Crimean Tatars are not terrorists” After a new round of arrests of Crimean Tatar “extremists” in Bakhchisaray in early October 2017, 100 Tatars across the peninsula came out to hold one person pickets in protests. Source: Crimean Solidarity / Facebook. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the Islamic Cultural Centre’s mosque in Simferopol, the peninsula’s capital, and the premises of the Alraid organisation were searched three times — yielding <a href="https://ua.krymr.com/a/news/27518630.html">“discoveries” of prohibited literature</a>. The DUMU-Ummah centre there had to be closed down as a result.</p><p dir="ltr">The Islamic Cultural Centre’s premises in Ukraine were <a href="http://www.vinnitsa.info/news/chi-mozhe-u-vinnitsi-zyavitis-idil-i-yak-boyoviki-verbuyut-lyudey-rozpovid-imama.html">first searched in Vinnytsia in early 2016</a>, with the SBU, the Migration Service and border guards checking the documents of everyone who’d come to the mosque for Friday prayers. The check yielded no discoveries. The law enforcement bodies failed to produce any official documents on whose basis the check was being conducted. But, as Vinnytsia imam Musa Salim, a native of Palestine, admitted at the time, worshippers’ documents had been subjected to checks on previous occasions as well.</p><p dir="ltr">In late April 2017, the SBU descended on a mosque in Sumy. The SBU went about their business in the tried and tested fashion, searching the mosque, the library, the women’s room and Imam Rustam Khusnutdinov’s office. According to the search record, they seized the following titles: The Tolerated and the Permitted in Islam (11 copies), The Science of the Hadiths (2 copies), The Science of Tafsir, Monotheism, and Methodology for the Worshipers (3 copies each), as well as several copies of “The Violation of Monotheism” and The Alleviation of Doubt. Some of this literature really did belong to the mosque, but, so the imam asserts, the titles banned by the Odessa court had been planted.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">“That was the first search I’d ever experienced in my life. Nothing like this happened in Donetsk,” says Khusnutdinov, who prior to 2015 had been based in the Donbas, home, before the war, to one of the largest Muslim communities in Ukraine (the very largest being that in Crimea).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_6803 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Imam Rustam Khusnutdinov, Sumy Mosque. Source: Tetiana Kozak. </span></span></span>In addition to the books, the SBU also seized a digital video recorder. In the two months following the search, around 20 students (almost all of them natives of countries in the Middle East) were summoned for interrogation as witnesses. Law enforcement operatives wanted to know what lectures and sermons were being held at the Islamic Cultural Centre, what topics they covered, and whether the imam had made calls for violence, urged anyone to join IS or preached hatred towards other religions. Imam Khusnutdinov was among the last to be summoned.</p><p dir="ltr">“Since it happened things have been quiet. I don’t know whether that bodes well or ill,” says the imam. “Why did they come, why did they do this – there’s still massive question marks over it all for me.” The Islamic Centre has now adopted a new rule: a daily review of its books must be performed by the imam or some other accountable individual.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the premises of the Nur al-Islam community in Zhytomyr were searched in late July last year, also for the first time. The same modus operandi was deployed as for other Islamic centres: operatives searched the mosque and the apartment of the community head, Imam Akhmat Adzhiyev, while also interviewing his wife at her workplace. The search record alludes to the above-mentioned prohibited texts, on several disks allegedly discovered in the mosque. The imam insisted at the time that it had all been planted. The files of the case launched into the matter <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/28650103.html">alleged </a>that Akhmad Adzhiyev may have been involved in importing weapons, drugs and literature promoting “a cult of violence and cruelty, racial, national and religious intolerance.” Since 2014, the 57-year-old Imam, a Chechen by nationality, has been fighting in Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation in eastern Ukraine as a member of the Sheikh Mansour Battalion.</p><p dir="ltr">“Yes, the SBU has given direct ammunition to the FSB, but this situation is exclusively Ukrainian, and we’ll do everything in our power to protect the rights of Crimean Tatars and other citizens,” <a href="http://islam.in.ua/ru/tochka-zreniya/refat-chubarov-obysk-v-islamskom-kulturnom-centre-kieva-bolshaya-usluga-rossiyskoy">said</a> Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, during a press conference in Kyiv. Chubarov doesn’t want people to draw parallels between the Russian and Ukrainian law enforcement, since such a comparison, in his opinion, only plays into the hands of the Russian regime.</p><p dir="ltr">“No one there would be able to capture the general public’s attention and drum up a public discussion,” Chubarov explains.</p><h2>“Ethnic criminals”</h2><p dir="ltr">It’s difficult to attribute the upsurge in searches of Islamic centres to any single factor. Experts allude to several issues that may have contributed to such an unswerving focus on Muslims on the part of the security services.</p><p dir="ltr">First, we must consider the state’s equivocal policy towards refugees, who continue to be prosecuted and deported despite the adoption in 2015 of the <a href="http://www.president.gov.ua/documents/5012015-19364">National Human Rights Strategy</a>. Secondly, there’s the situation within the Muslim community itself: the struggle for influence amongst religious organizations has intensified since 2014. And there’s a third issue, too: &nbsp;Islamophobia.</p><p dir="ltr">“The search in Vinnytsia was precipitated by the fact that Salafi Muslims, migrants from Crimea, were convening there. It was a move aimed specifically against them, and not against the Islamic Cultural Centre,” says Oleg Yarosh, a religious studies scholar at the Philosophy Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/rsz_img_6781.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sumy Mosque. Source: Tetiana Kozak. </span></span></span>Islam expert Denis Brilev agrees. “It’s clear,” Brilev says, “that these searches are directed not against DUMU-Ummah and the Islamic Cultural Center but rather against their ‘fellow travellers’.” (“Fellow travellers”, in Brilev’s interpretation, are refugees with potential links to terrorist groups.)</p><p dir="ltr">“The transit route from the Middle East to Europe via Turkey passes through Ukraine,” says Brilev. “People with links either to the Syrian opposition or IS are particularly numerous here. Some of them settle in Ukraine. They have their own religious needs, and eventually they’re drawn into existing religious structures in Ukraine that are ideologically close to them.”</p><p dir="ltr">“DUMU-Ummah and Alraid specifically welcome political activism,” Brilev clarifies.</p><p dir="ltr">Nevertheless, DUMU-Ummah’s stance on radicalism is unequivocally negative.</p><p dir="ltr">Political refugees from Russia have been fleeing to Ukraine from Russia since 2014, as have Crimean Muslims who have fallen victim to repression from the Russian state. At the same time, ever more people deported from Turkey are arriving in the country.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Ukrainian human rights activists express constant discontent with the methods employed by law enforcement agencies and special services in their attempts to control the country’s migrant situation</p><p dir="ltr">“Refugees and deportation problems — we never had this before,” Oleg Yarosh remarks. “And it creates problems for human rights activists, Muslim organisations and state bodies as well. The latter, unable as they are to get to grips with the matter, use the materials [from criminal investigations] of the Russian FSB and, in so doing, put themselves into an ambiguous position.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ukrainian human rights activists express constant discontent with the methods employed by law enforcement agencies and special services in their attempts to control the country’s migrant situation.</p><p dir="ltr">“The state would appear to be adopting migration strategies, human rights strategies that it uses to say, ‘We’re no longer “hunting” for people who look different, we’re giving them the opportunity to secure legal status in this country so as to use their potential in order to further the country’s development,’” laments Darina Tolkach, advocacy coordinator at Right to Protection, a Ukrainian refugee-aid NGO. “Simultaneously, however, they’re putting into effect an operation predicated solely on the physiognomic differences between foreigners and natives and geared towards isolating from society at large those individuals who, for one reason or another, have violated the migration legislation,” &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Discussing the aims of the operation, Ukrainian law enforcement personnel unequivocally <a href="http://mvs.gov.ua/ru/news/9188_DMS_obnaruzhila_okolo_300_narushiteley_migracionnogo_zakonodatelstva_FOTO.htm">dubbed</a> it a campaign against “ethnic criminals”, searching for potential targets at markets and detaining people at airports. Human rights defenders, for their part, believe that that Ukrainian state bodies are frequently prejudiced in their attitude to migrants, their actions characterised by proizvol (lawlessness and arbitrariness). Furthermore, Ukrainian law enforcers are accused of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/no-place-is-a-safe-haven">collaborating with the authoritarian regimes</a> of various post-Soviet countries. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The KGB still exists, and the SBU collaborates with the FSB and the special services of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, among others”</p><p dir="ltr">“The KGB still exists, and the SBU collaborates with the FSB and the special services of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, among others,” says Boris Zakharov, a Ukrainian human rights defender. “Other countries’ special services operate via the embassies and work together with the SBU to punish their dissidents.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Ukrainian security services’ biased attitude to religious belonging has also been <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ru/index/exclusive/reportage/70354/">condemned by Ukrainian parliamentarians</a>, Refat Chubarov included.</p><p dir="ltr">“Since the 1990s, there’s been this constant tandem in Ukraine: while politicians have talked about the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, Muslim religious figures have spoken out alongside them. And they’ve been talking about the Islamist terrorist threat for two decades now, even though those two decades have seen no terrorists, no terrorist acts, no nothing,” says Alraid chairman Seiran Arifov, explaining Muslim organisations’ difficult relationship with the authorities. Before the organisation closed its Crimea office in the wake of the annexation, Arifov <a href="http://arifov.com.ua/%D0%BE%D0%B1-%D0%B0%D0%B2%D1%82%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B5/">worked</a> at the Islamic Centre on the peninsula.</p><p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://www.novoross.info/ecskluziv/4916-alraid-ili-besplatnyj-syr-po-vostochnomu.html">propaganda campaign against Crimea’s Muslims</a> had already been unleashed back then, and it was being conducted with the involvement of pro-Russian organisations. Ukraine’s Communist Party (KPU) enjoyed <a href="http://qha.com.ua/ru/obschestvo/grach-prinyal-visshii-razum-vselennoi-za-vahhabitov/112727/">making claims about Wahhabi training camps</a>, Chechen fighters and a caliphate in Crimea — claims that would be promptly be reproduced in <a href="http://fakty.ua/110394-vahhabizm-prost-kak-stolb-i-agressiven-kak-sernaya-kislota">oligarch-controlled and tabloid media outlets</a>. The “threat of terrorism” often reared its head on the eve of an election, thereby mobilising the electorate.</p><p dir="ltr">Ahmed Tamim, mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Ukrainian Muslims (DUMU), an <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ahbash">Al-Ahbash organisation</a> that has been operating in Ukraine since 1992 (and which differs from DUMU-Umma), has <a href="https://www.unian.net/politics/694500-muftiy-ukrainyi-priznal-chto-v-ukraine-est-ugroza-rasprostraneniya-islamskogo-radikalizma.html">voiced concerns </a>about the threat of terrorism in unison with the Ukrainian authorities. After the annexation of Crimea, DUMU was left as the sole Muslim administration within the Council of Churches, and Ukrainian politicians pay close attention to its recommendations.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/26850477_1575700162521574_8050046703530605466_o (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mufti Said Ismagilov. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>This, in turn, does not suit other Muslim organisations, and namely DUMU-Ummah, which, in the wake of EuroMaidan and events in the Donbass and Crimea, is gaining authority both in the Muslim community and among Ukrainians at large. DUMU-Ummah mufti Said Ismagilov was involved in the revolution on the Maidan and subsequently took part in the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">pro-Ukrainian rallies in Donetsk</a>. He also played a role in the interfaith in Ukraine prayer marathon in Donetsk in July 2014. After religious figures there began falling victim to repressions, Ismagilov was forced into a clandestine flight from the city. Meanwhile, DUMU-Ummah and Alraid supported the volunteer movement from the very outset of fighting in the Donbas, inaugurating an institute of imam-chaplains.</p><p dir="ltr">“The Islamic Cultural Centre, Alraid, and DUMU-Ummah have been very active in the public sphere of late. They’ve drawn attention to themselves by dint of their various social and political initiatives. Perhaps this is an attempt to intimidate them, to cut them down to size,” Oleg Yarosh suggests.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Despite the efforts of Crimean Tatar leaders and the Muslim community, Islamophobic rhetoric has by no means disappeared after Maidan, persisting both on the level of state officials and citizens themselves</p><p dir="ltr">In particular, Yarosh recalls the fact that DUMU-Ummah helped inaugurate the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations in 2016. This new organisation opened its doors to religious organisations not represented in the Council of Churches. Mufti Said Ismagilov was elected as its head. The purpose of the All-Ukrainian Council is “to establish in Ukraine a model of tolerance and partnership in interfaith relations and in engagement between the state and religious organisations.”</p><p dir="ltr">“The state isn’t yet pursuing any single-minded policy rooted in Islamophobia or designed to restrict Muslims’ rights. Compared to previous years, however, the situation has deteriorated,” notes Yarosh.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/yagotyn - azov (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>12 March 2016: members of Azov's "Civil Corps" <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest>protest</a> against the housing of Syrian refugees in Yagotyn, Kyiv region. Source: vk.com/batalion.azov.</span></span></span>According to a sociological investigation conducted by the <a href="http://razumkov.org.ua/uploads/article/2017_Religiya.pdf">Razumkov Center</a>, over 20% of Ukrainian respondents surveyed in 2017 held negative attitudes towards Islam; in 2000 that figure was a mere 13.7% .</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the efforts of Crimean Tatar leaders and the Muslim community, Islamophobic rhetoric by no means disappeared after Maidan, persisting both on the level of state officials and on that of the citizenry itself.</p><p dir="ltr">In post-Maidan Ukraine, anti-Muslim rhetoric is parroted by right-wing organisations. In 2016, representatives of the nationalist groups Azov, Right Sector and Svoboda made anti-immigrant pronouncements at rallies <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">protesting the opening of a temporary refugee accommodation centre </a>outside Kyiv. Many local residents shared their opinions. Furthermore, information about the conflict was presented by many Ukrainian journalists <a href="http://texty.org.ua/pg/news/textynewseditor/read/66430/Ukrajinski_ZMI_podajut_problemu_bizhenciv_u_dusi">“in the spirit of Russian media outlets”</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">That same year saw the publication on the Azov website of an article declaring that <a href="https://ru.krymr.com/a/27532575.html">“Crimea must be Ukrainian, not Tatar”</a>. Right-wing radicals accused the Crimean Tatars of Islamicising the west Ukrainian city of Lviv. These pronouncements were very much in tune with the sentiments of Lviv residents, who <a href="https://zaxid.net/u_lvovi_zbuduyut_mechet_tilki_z_dozvolu_gromadi_n1333293">spoke out against the construction of a mosque in their city</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Most Ukrainian politicians simply try to turn a blind eye to the problems faced by Muslims. One issue that requires an urgent solution is a shortage of mosques and burial plots; another is the ban on hijabs in ID photos. The ongoing dialogue with Ukraine’s Muslims exists in large part thanks to the efforts of the Muslim community itself. Are Ukrainian politicians ready to deal with the challenging situation in the Muslim milieu while making genuine conciliatory gestures towards Muslims? Ukraine’s coming elections will provide the answer. The elections will also serve as a new test case for tolerance and for a real, and not merely professed, observance of human rights in Ukraine.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/inside-ukraines-evangelical-business-empire">Partners in piety: inside Ukraine’s evangelical business empire</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-ismail-djalilov/left-behind%20">Left behind: Eurasia’s overlooked political prisoners appeal for justice </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/why-we-should-write-about-the-crimean-tatars">Why we should write about the Crimean Tatars</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Thu, 26 Apr 2018 05:41:31 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 117501 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Partners in piety: inside Ukraine’s evangelical business empire https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/inside-ukraines-evangelical-business-empire <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This church will “really change your consciousness and reform your life”. But at what cost? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-kozak/ya-dovedu-vas-bystree" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/rsz_img_6502.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Resurrection church in Vydubychi, Kyiv. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>Sunday services at Kyiv’s Vozrozhdeniye, or Resurrection, church attract hundreds. Most travel by metro, trudging the last bit through an industrial estate to Vydubychi, a historic area on the edge of the city. The church itself is an immense metal box, painted to look like a blue sky with a few clouds floating in it. Above it, a banner showing a happy (traditional) family: “Dream, act and win. Resurrection”. With the surrounding industrial landscape, the building appears like a ray of light in a kingdom of darkness.</p><p dir="ltr">“Precious, anointed ones, come this way”. The security guys organise the crowd with ease, directing them to the few empty seats left. The interior could pass for a Eurovision venue – a floodlit stage with a large screen, spotlights and multi-coloured lighting effects. The priests wear shiny red suits and bowties. The women wear dramatic make-up, and their hair is done to perfection. The services are rousing, often with an acapella prayer and a musical finale that brings the more impressionable members of the congregation to ecstasy.</p><p dir="ltr">The congregation, hungry for spiritual spectacle, repeat the words of the chanted prayers and shout “Amen” in American fashion, waving their arms in the air. A few speak in tongues after receiving the Holy Spirit. Many have brought notebooks to note the important bits of the sermons – there are many of these, one after another.</p><p dir="ltr">The preachers talk about strength of character and faith, and quote passages from the scriptures, each in their own style, but all loud, full of inspiration and accompanied by guitar riffs. In between times, people are exhorted to sign up for church events and activities: going on a “crusade”; enrolling on bible courses where they can render “powerful praise and worship unto God” and hold “healing” sessions, not to mention “summits” at which Muntyan expounds his teachings about the fourth dimension, which will “really change their consciousness and reform their lives”. All these events cost money.</p><p dir="ltr">Although there is a lot of talk of prosperity in the church, most of the followers of the Resurrection church are people on the breadline, pensioners, desperately ill people and small business owners.</p><h2 dir="ltr">God’s partners</h2><p dir="ltr">The Resurrection church was first set up in Pereshchepyne, a small town in the Dnipropetrovsk region. In 20 years, it has spread throughout and beyond Ukraine. It also has daughter churches in other former Soviet countries, Israel and Germany.</p><p dir="ltr">The thousands of followers of the Apostle Vladimir Muntyan aren’t just members of a church, but “partners of God”. They are active partners, making regular payments to its funds: tithing, swelling the collections at Sunday services, contributing to the funding of courses and summits. To receive something from God, you must give something in return – this is Resurrection’s philosophy of success. </p><p dir="ltr">“If you want to spread the gospel, you are in constant need of money. The partners are people who love the Gospel, the Bible. He understands people like that!” This is Muntyan’s message to his followers: if you can’t pay, you can’t be saved. And we don’t need people like you.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6499_0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6499_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The path to Vozrozhdeniye (Resurrection) – through the industrial zone and mud. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>“Muntyan has a particular type of ministry,” says a church member, a pensioner. “He is engaged in very large projects that need a lot of money, and lots of people, including me, provide him with it. Two days ago I handed over my partnership tithe, as I do every month. I’ve visited five of his ‘Moses Mountain’ courses.” This woman has been coming to Muntyan’s church for a long time, but still has eye problems and can barely see. She admits that she can’t afford to come to all the church events.</p><p dir="ltr">“There was a summit recently, in December,” she tells me. “They were asking 4,000 hryvnya (£107) for registration. The leader of the home group just told me to borrow the cash and pay it back later. But if I have no one to borrow from and nothing to pay it back with, then what? How could they make me borrow 4,000 hryvnya when my monthly pension is just 1,500?” she complains, but stops herself short. “I don’t want to offend anyone – not the Lord or his anointed, and I don’t slander anyone.”</p><p dir="ltr">There is a persistent odour of old clothes and unwashed bodies in the room.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Say: I am a winner!” calls the pastor.<br />“I am a winner!” respond the congregation.</p><p dir="ltr">Their model “winners” are Vladimir and his wife Viktoria. At Sunday services, other pastors, among them colleagues from other countries, tell the story of his hard path. Videos about Muntyan often show a photo of pastor Vladimir at the start of his journey. The skinny, smiling young man, in a white shirt and trousers, is standing beside his wife with a bible college in the background, and then he is playing a guitar, his hair a thick black mop, or instructing a small group of followers in Pereshchepyne.</p><p dir="ltr">The photo of the young Pastor Vladimir arouses friendly laughter in his flock. Muntyan has physically changed over the last 20 years, and turned into their idea of a successful person. He has an American smile, a muscular, tattooed torso that he flaunts on his Facebook page and photos of his trips to exotic destinations – a lifestyle unattainable for many of his parishioners.</p><p dir="ltr">As well as exercising his apostolic calling, Vladimir Mirchavich Muntyan is a businessman. He is the co-founder of<a href="https://youcontrol.com.ua/en/register/"> Millionaire Ltd</a>, a company whose main business is producing pasta, but subsidiary activities include everything from brokering trade in fuel, ore, agricultural products, animals and semi-processed goods to trading in foodstuffs, drinks and tobacco products. He has, in addition, yet another business, <a href="https://youcontrol.com.ua/contractor/?id=19690421">Neo Production</a>, that makes films and TV programmes, while his son Daniil <a href="https://youcontrol.com.ua/contractor/?id=22892450">heads his own video company</a>. The Resurrection religious organisation is <a href="https://youcontrol.com.ua/contractor/?id=7098814">registered</a> in his wife Viktoria’s name.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1001_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1001_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Muntyan. Source: vladimirmuntyan.com</span></span></span>The church has its own charitable foundation, which regularly collects donations to help disabled children, cancer patients, elderly people, the military and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLcD5tf3tyU">displaced people</a>. There is no open access documentation of the foundation’s work, but the religious centre’s website has a whole section with videos of grateful recipients accepting its charity.</p><p dir="ltr">Resurrection is also a media empire, with its own TV channel of the same name and live broadcasts of services and crusades as well as sermons from the Apostle. It also has its own social media platform, a message app with a range of stickers with photos of Vladimir and Viktoria and an online shop.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Bringing God into politics</h2><p dir="ltr">In the summer of 2014, hundreds of Resurrection followers dressed in yellow and blue t-shirts gathered outside Kyiv’s city council building, where they prayed for Vitaly Klitschko, the city’s newly elected mayor, and President Petro Poroshenko.</p><p dir="ltr">“A new time is coming,”<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DpVphsOV9Y"> they announced</a> from the building’s steps.</p><p dir="ltr">The group also held a mass rally outside the Central Election Commission building as city counsellors met for their first working session. Over two thousand people, in the same t-shirts and carrying Ukrainian flags, prayed “for peace and unity in Ukraine and for our government”.</p><p dir="ltr">“At this difficult moment for our country we, as believers, as Christians, fulfil our obligation to God and our people – we pray daily for peace in Ukraine and for unity and good government. Just as our thousands of soldiers defend us from terrorists every day and every hour, so should we show great devotion in our prayers to God,” <a href="http://vo.org.ua/news/19-iyunya-dukhovniy-tsyentr-vozrozhdyeniye-provyel-grandioznuyu-aktsiyu-pod-nazvaniyem-molitva-za-mir-i-yedinstvo-v-ukrainye?lang=en">declared</a> Muntyan, who had decided to bless the work of the president, Kyiv’s mayor and council members. They, admittedly, ignored the initiative.</p><p dir="ltr">Resurrection also regularly assembled its flock during the Euromaidan, often for night prayers where Muntyan would explain the relevance of his views to the situation in the country.</p><p dir="ltr">In the first days of March 2014, when people had already died on the Maidan and ex-president Viktor Yanukovych had fled, the Apostle told his followers: “Today America and Russia are squabbling and we are hostage to their political game. Who can we rely on? We will not rely on one side or the other, but on Almighty God.”</p><p dir="ltr">At the same service, the church members were shown letters written by Maidan protesters, including messages of thanks for a donation of 100,000 hryvnya (£2,670) from the Ukrainian Coordinating Centre for International Aid to Victims, headed at the time by Olha Bohomolets, and for 30,000 hryvnya (£800) for the Central Civil Defence Staff, signed by Andriy Parubiy, then HQ Commandant and now Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament. And while donations were also collected for those on the other side of the barricades, according to Muntyan, his church <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1430&amp;v=WXfGdgcYmjU">raised</a> 209,000 hryvnya for people who suffered from “police activities at the Maidan”. At the time, it also planned to take part in the reconstruction of Khreshchatyk, Kyiv’s central thoroughfare.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It’s the devil who’s our enemy, not the Russians. It’s not the Russians that do it, it’s the devil”</p><p dir="ltr">“The devil wants war, dead people, fear among the public. He wants Russia and Ukraine to be like enemies, not friends,” declared the Apostle, whose views on the situation in eastern Ukraine and Crimea are consistent. “Russia, Russian people, are, after all the same as us – half of the people in Ukraine are Russians and half of the people in Russia, Ukrainians. How can we be enemies? Our relatives live there. It’s the devil who’s our enemy, not the Russians. It’s not the Russians that do it, it’s the devil. And this mood the Russians have got into – it’s the devil winding them up against Ukrainians and making them say that we’re all nationalists and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banderites">Banderites </a>and so on. It’s the demons that do that. And it’s the same here: the demons are winding Ukrainians up against Russians.”</p><p dir="ltr">In the summer of 2016, Muntyan held an international prayer meeting at Kyiv’s Palace of Sport during his <a href="http://vo.org.ua/college">“Moses Mountain” bible course</a>. The apostle’s speech, heard by 10,000 people, was very much in the spirit of the decommunisation policies being implemented in Ukraine at the time:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“You and I are the fruit, the harvest, the result of the price paid by people who believed in God and carried this banner in Soviet times. Those people went to prison, experienced humiliations, suffered for Christ, and they paid this great price so that you and I could believe in God and not be sent to prison or humiliated for it”.</p><p dir="ltr">In May 2016, the first politicians – deputy parliamentary speaker Oksana Syroyid and Kyiv City Council member Serhiy Husovsky, both members of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self_Reliance_(political_party)">Samopomich political party</a> – appeared on the church’s stage. </p><p dir="ltr">“The pastor told us to ‘bring God into politics’. I think that is our common aim, our greatest challenge,” said Syroyid, whose message to the congregation focused on decentralisation, the draft law on Ukraine’s occupied territories and a new law on elections.</p><p dir="ltr">Admittedly, Muntyan had to correct her. After the deputy speaker described Russia as an aggressor, he added that “the people of Russia and Ukraine are brothers” and flirtatiously invited her to join his church given her ability to deliver a great sermon.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-11_at_12.38.32.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-04-11_at_12.38.32.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Muntyan as Nestor Dyachenko in “Servant of the People”. Source: 112. </span></span></span>The Apostle himself <a href="https://comments.ua/interview/596266-vladimir-muntyan-v-politiku-sobirayus.html">has not declared</a> any political ambitions of his own, but is happy to play the role of Pastor Nestor Dyachenko, a presidential candidate in the popular TV satirical serial Servant of the People. “It wasn’t my plan to become president, but a voice from above told me: stand up and go. And you: stand up and vote. For the sake of the Lord,” Muntyan-Dyachenko tells his audience.</p><p dir="ltr">Muntyan, however, for all these efforts, remains a political amateur. Political heavyweights such as Yulia Tymoshenko prefer the<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&amp;v=2yypEzXkaAw"> Evangelical Church of Christians of Ukraine</a>. Mykhaylo Panochko, the head of this church, the largest Pentecostal organisation in Ukraine,<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPkA1a9GcQE"> preaches from the tribune on the Maidan</a> and discusses family politics in the Verkhovna Rada. The organisation he heads is a member of the interconfessional All-Ukrainian Council of Churches, and President Viktor Yushchenko also awarded him the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Spiritual asset-grabbing</h2><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s Pentecostalists keep their distance from Muntyan and the Resurrection church. </p><p dir="ltr">“It’s a distortion, it bullies people, it’s just another pyramid scheme like the one run by his predecessor Sandey Adelaje [an evangelical pastor defrocked after admitting to multiple affairs with female parishioners] that cheated our people,” said Panochko in 2013 in response to Muntyan’s running of a “healing mission” for an entire month at the capital’s Palace of Sport. “I am amazed at our government’s behaviour. They should be reacting to this.”</p><p dir="ltr">Gennady Mokhnenko, the bishop of the Pentecostal Ukrainian Church of God is also an outspoken critic of Muntyan. In his video blogs, Mokhnenko <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8WiXhzdvQY">denounces</a> the Apostle for his fake “healings” as well as fraud and his harassment of and insulting attitude to his flock.</p><p dir="ltr">“He’s a very dishonest man,” says Mokhnenko, accusing Muntyan of an excessive love of money. “I was a businessman before I became a churchman. I’m nearly 50 now, and I still can’t provide a normal standard of living for my family. The pastor, on the other hand, has adopted 32 orphans and built a children’s rehabilitation centre, the ‘Pilgrim Republic’. As soon as war broke out in eastern Ukraine, he became a chaplain of the Ukrainian army and he and his team travelled around the front the equivalent of four times round the earth.”</p><p dir="ltr">The media are also on Muntyan’s back, exposing his lavish lifestyle. As well as <a href="https://tsn.ua/video/video-novini/apostol-muntyan-yizdit-na-ferrari-599-i-zaproshuye-sektantok-do-dzhakuzi.html">his Ferrari and luxury homes</a>, they have uncovered the Apostle’s criminal past: <a href="https://tsn.ua/ukrayina/zhurnalisti-znayshli-elitniy-budinok-pastora-muntyana-yakiy-zbiraye-u-svoyiy-sekti-milyoni-315476.html">according to the TSN TV channel</a>, before founding his church he was convicted of theft and fraud and spent time in a special prison colony in Kryvyi Rih, in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault (2)_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault (2)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: Youtube.</span></span></span>Muntyan <a href="http://www.invictory.com/news/story-50387-%D0%92%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%80-%D0%9C%D1%83%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8F%D0%BD.html">denies</a> all these allegations, accuses his critics of lying and threatens them with the courts. To defend himself, he resorts to heated arguments on social media and denounces his competitors during his church services and on TV. He has, however, a good name among some national TV channels.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2013 the Ukrainian Council of Churches (UMS) <a href="http://umrada.org/15-10-2013-zayava-ukrayinskoyi-mizhtserkovnoyi-rad/">announced</a> that Muntyan and Resurrection would no longer be recognised by the Evangelical community and called on all Ukrainian Christians, and especially church leaders, to be cautious and take steps to protect themselves and people close to them from his influence.</p><p dir="ltr">“Muntyan has often stated in public, including during UMS meetings, that his mission is not the creation of a new union of churches but the staging of evangelical crusades in every region of Ukraine, designed to provide help for local churches,” ran the UMS statement. “In fact, at the same time, the Resurrection Spiritual Centre he heads was carrying out its own wide-ranging exercise in rapid church-building throughout the country and the affiliation of existing churches to these new ones, including those belonging to other denominations.”</p><p dir="ltr">The council also identified “typical signs of totalitarian sectarianism” in Resurrection’s activities: the use of psychological stress and consciousness manipulation techniques; the constant emphasis on the superiority of his ministry over others; the creation in members of his congregation of excessive attachment to himself and his organisation; the formation of a personality cult and the promise he made of guaranteed access to Divine blessing in return for large donations. His “healing” sessions are considered an occult practice, dubious in terms of Evangelical teachings.</p><p dir="ltr">Since 2013, Apostle Vladimir hasn’t been a member of the UMC: he left it himself, thus removing any need for him to comply with its recommendations and at the same time creating an image of his church as “persecuted and beleaguered”.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Losing control</h2><p dir="ltr">“When a phenomenon reaches a certain mass at national level, it needs to be assessed by government,” says theologist and Doctor of Philosophy Viktor Bondarenko. “We need to carry out an expert review and take a decision on the basis of its conclusions.”</p><p dir="ltr">“In a country with such a large number of active religious organisations, there is effectively no organ to do this,” Bondarenko continues. Until 2005, Bondarenko headed Ukraine’s State Committee for Religious Affairs, but in 2012 that organ was abolished and its functions transferred to one of the departments of the Ministry of Culture. Bondarenko believes that the Ministry’s remit is now so wide that it simply cannot physically cope with its responsibilities.</p><p dir="ltr">Resurrection was subjected to a review in 2007, and as a result Muntyan was forbidden to hold mass events at a stadium in Dnipropetrovsk. The review’s conclusion included the fact that actors were involved in the “healing” and that loud rhythmic music, constantly changing coloured lighting and a pendulum effect could put people into a trance.</p><p dir="ltr">In late 2016, when posters appeared in Lviv advertising Muntyan’s Resurrection TV channel, members of the Lviv Regional Council attempted to ban its transmission in the region on the grounds that the “visual effects are harmful to viewers’ physical, psychological and moral development.” There has, however been no ban as yet and the Channel continues to broadcast.</p><p dir="ltr">Viktoria Titarenko, a theologist, believes that a ban is not the answer: “Any ban means the loss of some observational monitoring, especially as the law on the activities on religious bodies is framed in such a way as to allow these bodies to function with or without official registration. And being ‘persecuted and beleaguered’ only brings people closer together, because it gives them a feeling of having been chosen. And as for harm – where’s the harm? What do we mean by harm? A faith that is different from that of other people? And do the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukraines-orthodox-church-conflict">Moscow Patriarchate’s negative connotations</a> not cause more harm to Orthodoxy?” asks Titarenko, saying that she doesn’t want to excuse or defend the Resurrection church. Instead, she believes alternative forms of religious life should exist, and people should be informed about the church’s work at all levels.</p><p dir="ltr">“There is another problem: a low level of religious literacy,” says Titarenko. “Despite the fact that Ukraine remains a nominally Christian country, where statistically, over 90% of organisations have a basis in Christianity and about 50% are Orthodox, we are desperately ignorant of the tenets of our faith.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Ukraine, there is no ban on religious organisations, which is, on the one hand, democratic – but on the other, gives less protection from fraud and manipulation by dishonest religious organisations. The only bodies that could now deal with Resurrection church are Ukrainian law enforcement. They are the people who should be looking at financial machinations and pressure being brought on people. But it seems they’re not yet interested. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukraines-orthodox-church-conflict">Ukraine’s Orthodox church “conflict” takes to historic Kyiv</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-fert/putin-is-your-god">“Putin is your God!”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-botanova/ukraines-blacklists-in-defence-of-democracy">Ukraine’s blacklists in defence of democracy and national security are doing it no favours</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Tue, 17 Apr 2018 05:24:59 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 117239 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ukraine’s Orthodox church “conflict” takes to historic Kyiv https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/ukraines-orthodox-church-conflict <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The stand-off between Ukraine’s “Moscow church” and patriotic citizens receives a new breath of life in the country’s capital. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatyana-kozak/novye-ikonoborzy" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6474_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6474_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The rally near the Kyiv’s Appeal Court building, February 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>In late January, Kyiv’s police service received an distressing call – there had been arson attack at the Church of Tithes, located near the city’s landmark Andriyivsky descent. Two local architects, Oleksandr Gorban and Oleksiy Shemotyuk, were apprehended at the scene. They claimed that it wasn’t arson, but a protest aimed at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which owns the church. </p><p dir="ltr">Gorban and Shemotyuk’s action was not the first of its type: the Moscow Patriarchate’s decision to build the monastery in the very heart of Kyiv – on the grounds of the National History Museum – has created conflict between the Church and city residents for more than a decade. </p><h2 dir="ltr">A convenient miracle</h2><p dir="ltr">The Church of the Tithes (Desyatynna tservka) is one of Ukraine’s most important historical and architectural monuments. Built in stone in 996 by Prince Vladimir the Great, who introduced Christianity to Kievan Rus’, it was burned down in the 13th century during the Mongol Invasion. Only the foundations survived, and it was here that the Orthodox Church attempted to establish a foothold in 2006. First, without any authorisation, they erected a tent surmounted by a cross in the museum grounds. The idea was for the priests to celebrate Easter there, but they somewhat overstayed their welcome.</p><p dir="ltr">“At first, the plan was to celebrate a single Mass there,” the church’s website <a href="http://desyatynniy.org/">reads</a>, “but such was our parishioners’ joy and wish that they asked for permission to hold services throughout Holy Week. They would probably have had to take the tent down at the end of the week, but… the Lord blessed them all with a miracle – a vision of his Holy Mother Mary, the Queen of Heaven.”</p><p dir="ltr">The church’s clergy say this was the first miracle to take place there on the Feast Day of the icon known as the “Life-giving spring”, before which the Virgin herself had prayed. The icon was brought from the USA, where it was painted by the artist Alexander Kharon, whose brother Gedeon is the monastery’s abbot. The church’s website claims that there are still witnesses of the miracle among its parishioners today. </p><p dir="ltr">After the miracle, more and more people began visiting the church, and its clergy decided to replace the tent with a wooden building, which was consecrated in 2007. Since then, the building has been encased in cement and faced with stone and marble. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">All this time the Moscow Patriarchate, under the protection of the Party of Regions, has been putting forward plans to rebuild the church</p><p dir="ltr">All this time the Moscow Patriarchate, under the protection of the Party of Regions, has been putting forward plans to rebuild the church, despite official government disapproval: both the Ministry of Culture and the Cabinet of Ministers <a href="https://ukranews.com/ua/news/171244-popov-zapevnyv-shho-ne-dozvolyt-budivnyctvo-na-misci-desyatynnoi-cerkvy-v-kyyevi">believe</a> the foundations should be conserved and the church ruins “museified”. Archaeologists and architects also deplore the Moscow Patriarchate’s position, and are supported by UNESCO, under whose protection the monastery site lies. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, the Moscow Patriarchate’s occupation of part of the National History Museum site was partially legalised. Its official head was to be Mikhail Goitman, a former advisor to Serhiy Arbuzov, the head of Ukraine’s National Bank during Viktor Yanukovych’s time as president. </p><p dir="ltr">It was then that the conflict came to a head: the first arson attack on the monastery took place in 2012 and the perpetrators were never found. Shemotyuk and Gorban’s action was the first newsworthy protest aimed at the monastery in post-Maidan Ukraine. But the demands that the illegal structure be removed have also acquired a political angle – the complete removal from Ukraine of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrii-fert/putin-is-your-god">systematically accused</a> of defending the interests of the Russian government in general and Vladimir Putin in particular. </p><h2 dir="ltr">What are the priests complaining about?</h2><p dir="ltr">Civil activists and the media have <a href="https://hromadskeradio.org/programs/kyiv-donbas/podzhog-yly-performans-maf-yly-hram-podrobnosty-skandalnogo-dela-s-popytkoy-podzhoga-desyatynnogo-monastyrya-v-kyeve">compared</a> the arson attack with the stunts of Pyotr Pavlensky. The action’s echoes of the Russian performance artist’s own stunts – the most famous of which include setting fire to the doors of the FSB’s headquarters in Moscow – are quite clear:</p><p dir="ltr">“My actions were intended to draw public attention to, in the first place, this illegal structure and, in the second, to the presence of FSB officers in cassocks in Ukraine,” Shemonyuk said at his trial. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6371_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6371_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>For many Ukrainians, the Moscow Patriarchate is a synonym for the FSB. Protesters near the Monastery of the Tithes, February 3, 2018. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>However, if Pavlensky got away with a fine in Russia, judge Tetyana Levytska was made of stronger stuff and sentenced the two architects to pre-trial detention for two months, with bail of 2.2 million hryvnya (£53,000). Levytska based her decision on the fact that the church contained icons, that people could have been inside, and that “the burning building might melted the foundations of the ancient church.”</p><p dir="ltr">Given that people accused of serious offences at the time of Maidan have recently emerged from high-profile trials with <a href="http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1513962865">suspended sentences</a> and <a href="http://gordonua.com/news/maidan/sudya-kotoryy-prigovoril-krysina-k-uslovnomu-sroku-otpustil-iz-sizo-dvuh-obvinyaemyh-v-pokushenii-na-ubiystvo-aktivistov-evromaydana-223991.html">house arrest</a>, the punishment imposed on Shemotyuk and Gorban seemed absurd. Indeed, it sparked outrage among the Ukrainian public and a viral response on social media, where their supporters have set up the hashtag #Свободу_архітекторам (#Freedom to the Architects). </p><p dir="ltr">There is also a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/1875977039079557/">Facebook group</a> aiming to coordinate efforts to free the two architects and fight the possible rebuilding of the Church of the Tithes: it amassed more than 3,000 members in a few days, and has been used to plan a peaceful protest. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“We’ve got laws in Ukraine! What are those priests yelling about?”</h2><p dir="ltr">On 3 February, around 300 people gathered at the monastery: not to pray but to demand the release of Shemotyuk and Gorban. The space around the entrance is crowded: the priests have asked their parishioners to come and “defend”, as they phrase it, “the alma mater of Kievan Rus churches” from an attempt to take it by force by radicals.</p><p dir="ltr">“People are in prison because of these priests,” shouts Konstantin, part of an action in support of the architects. </p><p dir="ltr">“What are you yelling for? You’re stopping people from praying to God,” the church members hiss back at him. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“For some reason, priests here are a separate caste, above everybody else. What’s that about? Why do they get all kinds of benefits and preferential treatment?</p><p dir="ltr">“What god is that, then? We’ve got laws in Ukraine! What are those priests yelling about?” Konstantin is not to be shouted down and continues to argue loudly. “For some reason, priests here are a separate caste, above everybody else. What’s that about? Why do they get all kinds of benefits and preferential treatment? So that they can drive Mercedes-Maybach cars and rob people who come to them for counselling? The church should be helping people, not itself! But it helps itself, because it belongs to Moscow. There have been no normal people in the Moscow Patriarchate church since the commies killed them all – there have just been KGB and FSB agents!” </p><p dir="ltr">High-ranking Orthodox church officials, including the late UOC(MP) leader Metropolitan Vladimir, are regularly in the headlines, with journalists <a href="https://zn.ua/SOCIETY/zhurnalisty_snyali_roskoshnyy_osobnyak_nastoyatelya_kievo-pecherskoy_lavry_video.html">investigating their sumptuous lifestyle</a> and close links with the politicians, especially those from the now defunct <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/international/2014/08/140813_ukraine_onufriy_new_metropolitan_analysis">Party of Regions</a>. And Metropolitan Pavel, abbot of the historic Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, one of the most sacred sites of Orthodoxy, has no scruples about entering into conflict with the media: his security people <a href="https://nv.ua/publications/ljubov-k-roskoshi-skandaly-i-lizane-tapochek-samye-gromkie-istorii-s-uchastiem-vladyki-pavla-67782.html">have been known to threaten journalists</a>, and the Metropolitan himself has verbally abused media people and even taken a mobile phone off one of them. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6339_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6339_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>February 3, 2018: protest action near the Monastery of the Tithes. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>During the Maidan protests in 2014, Metropolitan Pavel assured then President Viktor Yanukovych that he had the support of the Church, and after Russia annexed Crimea, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) on the peninsula was re-registered and now is under direct control from Moscow. This was taken by Kyiv as recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, and the Moscow Patriarchate’s <a href="http://tass.ru/obschestvo/4854199">calls for peace in Donbas echo the clichés of Kremlin propaganda</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">Two elderly women are frantically praying for peace as they circle the monastery site with icons in their hands. </p><p dir="ltr">“There is no love, you see. Just hatred,” they wail. </p><p dir="ltr">“Down with the FSB! Free the architects!” counter the protesters. They include ultra-nationalists, members of radical groups and people who have fought against the separatists in Donbas, as well as members of the creative professions – architects, artists, planners. </p><p dir="ltr">The diversity of the crowd is no accident. For the last few years, urbanism has been developing as a movement in Ukraine. People are involved in initiatives aimed at humanising urban spaces, studying and transforming towns and cities “from below” and basing their plans on residents’ needs rather than those of business or government. And architects are by definition an important part of this process. Shemotyuk and Gorban also have close links with the veterans’ movement – Oleksey did his military service in Ukraine’s air reconnaissance service and Oleksandr supported the Ukrainian Army as a volunteer. </p><p dir="ltr">The rally sings Ukraine’s national anthem, and start including lyrics from popular poet Serhiy Zhadan. </p><p dir="ltr">“What’s happening now is madness, Satanism, paganism, unbelief in the real God,” comments one of the church members. </p><p dir="ltr">Shemotyuk and Gorban’s friends and colleagues are worried about potential provocation and call for the protest to remain peaceful – any violence could threaten their court appeals. Dozens of police and National Guard officers are keeping their eyes on the situation, and whenever confrontation seems to be looming, the police form a line between the two factions. But in general, the rally passes off without incident – both the churchgoers and the protesters have brought children with them. And both groups actively engage with one another and debate the situation. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6299_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6299_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Archimandrite Gedeon (left) near the Church of Tithes on the day of the protest. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>A member of the “Moscow church” tries to reason with the protesters: “We’re nothing to do with Moscow: we’re the canonical Ukrainian Church.”</p><p dir="ltr">“We have to respect all religions, and especially because it’s a single religion,” says church member Vladislava angrily. “We don’t want them to spoil that. We’ve been Orthodox all our lives – I’ve been baptised, and so have my children. What way is this to resolve the issue?” </p><p dir="ltr">Archimandrite Gedeon, abbot of the Church of Tithes, explains his views on the subject a little way off: “It’s radical elements who are responsible for this conflict. And they include members of parliament, pagans, who incite people to make war on canonical Orthodoxy.” He repeats his message that the monastery is legal, that all the documents are in order. And also, that it’s a popular parish with thousands of members and the monastery has 20 monks, 10 priests, two miraculous icons and a large number of relics. </p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, beside the church, the protesters have unrolled a banner with a portrait of Putin on it, and the children are using it to slide down the hill. The prayers and the protest continued till evening.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“I regret having insulted ordinary believers”</h2><p dir="ltr">On 5 February, it was impossible to reach the fifth floor of Kyiv’s Appeal Court. Dozens of people had come to support Shemotyuk and Gorban as they put their case for the overturning of their sentence. Their defence counsels were going to demand that the court release them on bail, and the public prosecutor was also asking for a milder form of pre-trial custody. Several MPs announced their readiness to support the architects, as indeed did clergy from the monastery (although they failed to turn up in court). </p><p dir="ltr">The defence appended an addition to the court papers from the Planning and Architecture department responsible for the monastery. It stated that it hadn’t assigned any address to the monastery, that the land registry had not received any plans for the building and that the department had received no data on the design of the project. </p><p dir="ltr">The accused were not in the courtroom: they took part in the proceedings by videolink. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6489_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img_6489_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleksiy Shemotyuk via video in the hall of Kyiv’s Appeal Court, February 5, 2018. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span>“Where such a sensitive and painful subject as religion is concerned, any violence is totally impermissible,” admitted Oleksiy Shemotyuk. “And although we just wanted to draw attention to the issue, there was a certain element of violence involved. And I would agree that we insulted those apolitical believers who go the church. I’ve had time to think it over,” the activist told his supporters in the courtroom. The Appeal Court released Shemotyuk and Gorban on bail for the duration of their judicial investigation</p><p dir="ltr">As the case attracted increasing public attention, Ukrainian MPs have also got involved. The illegal building situation was examined by the Parliamentary Anti-corruption Committee, after which Ihor Lutsenko, one of its members, filed two lawsuits with the public prosecutor’s office – one for the unauthorised acquisition of land and the other for the destruction of an architectural layer as a result of unauthorised construction works. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Moscow Patriarchate is more interested in preserving its influence than its soul</p><p dir="ltr">Ministry of Culture officials also announced that they would take part in the examination of the case and re-send their original requests to Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies. Kyiv’s relevant municipal committee also supported the monastery’s demolition, and on 9 February MPs <a href="http://interfax.com.ua/news/general/483908.html">examined</a> the petition initiated by the two architects, </p><p dir="ltr">The church’s parishioners produced their own response – 10,000 signatures on a petition asking for the building to be preserved. Archmandrite Gedeon meanwhile sent a request to “all current organs of power”, not to mention the UN and USA president Donald Trump, to defend “the right to security and freedom of religion”.</p><p dir="ltr">The church has now acquired a major new relic – St George’s right hand – a gift from Mount Athos, and daily prayers are being offered up there for peace in Ukraine before the beginning of Lent. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Self-preservation</h2><p dir="ltr">By this stage, public attention is focused on other unauthorised church buildings that were proposed or under construction – an interactive map of them recently appeared online. And after the arson attack on the Church of Tithes, another protest was organised, this time to protect a famous Kyiv monument, the <a href="https://www.interesniy.kiev.ua/place/pamyatnik-loshadka-yozhik-v-tumane/">“Hedgehog in the Fog” sculpture</a> (the eponymous animal was the star of a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eaVOYizc80">popular 1975 cartoon film</a>). The Moscow Patriarchate also recently erected a cross nearby, on the site of St George’s Church, which was demolished by the Soviet government in 1934. </p><p dir="ltr">“These attempts at pin prick occupations are part of a hybrid strategy of the Moscow Patriarchate to legitimise its ancient Russian origins. ‘We have always been here,’ they seem to be saying. But we’re saying: ‘The hedgehogs were here first,” reads the protest organisers’ statement. People tore down the Orthodox cross and gave it back to the priests. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“There are people who don’t believe priests driving around in expensive cars are moral compasses, but still believe that the Church is higher and stronger than the weakness of a single person, including one wearing a cassock”</p><p dir="ltr">The pollsters have identified a decrease in membership of the UOC(MP) in Ukraine. According to a 2017 survey by the Razumkov Center, more than 38% of Orthodox Church members <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/67089/">belong to the church’s Kyiv Patriarchate</a>, and only 17.4% to the Moscow Patriarchate. And only 7.7% of believers (as opposed to 22% in 2010) <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/69680/">want the UOC to remain part of the Russian Orthodox Church</a>. The number of people wishing to unite around the Kyiv Patriarchate is growing, with more than 50 former Moscow Patriarchate congregations becoming part of the UOC(KP). </p><p dir="ltr">Despite the high level of trust <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/68726/">enjoyed by the church in general</a>, its institutions are <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/social_questioning/67093/">losing their moral authority</a>. As Elena Bohdan, a senior lecturer in sociology at the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, <a href="https://risu.org.ua/ua/index/expert_thought/interview/67601/">says</a>: “There are people who don’t believe priests driving around in expensive cars are moral compasses, but still believe that the Church is higher and stronger than the weakness of a single person, including one wearing a cassock.”</p><p dir="ltr">Over the last four years, Ukrainian civil society has shown its capacity for self-sacrifice in the interests of building a state based on the rule of law and determining the future of its country. The Moscow Patriarchate, unfortunately, is not prepared, as it is more interested in preserving its influence than its soul. This is why it will have more and more questions to answer. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrii-fert/putin-is-your-god">“Putin is your God!”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/iannis-carras/can-ukraine%E2%80%99s-divided-church-help-heal-divided-country">Can Ukraine’s divided church help heal the divided country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-botanova/ukraines-blacklists-in-defence-of-democracy">Ukraine’s blacklists in defence of democracy and national security are doing it no favours</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Ukraine Tue, 27 Feb 2018 05:37:47 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 116315 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tetiana Kozak https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/tetiana-kozak <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Tetiana Kozak </div> </div> </div> <p>Tetiana Kozak reports on conflicts connected to the transformation of the former Soviet Union, new conflicts related to the refugee crisis and the rise of nationalism in Europe.</p> Tetiana Kozak Mon, 26 Feb 2018 13:54:52 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 116335 at https://www.opendemocracy.net