Analytics and Interview

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Oleg Sentsov, Olexander Kolchenko, Hennadiy Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chyrniy have been held in Russian jails for two years already under fabricated charges of ‘terrorism’. We consider it being necessary to express solidarity with those who are persecuted due to their pro-Ukrainian views, civic stand and desire for freedom in Russia-annexed Crimea.
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«We have a few questions for you,» a border guard told Sinaver Kadyrov, a Crimean Tatar activist, at the Armyansk checkpoint in northern Crimea on Jan. 23. Kadyrov was on his way to Kherson, in southern Ukraine, to fly to Turkey for medical treatment. It was the beginning of an ordeal that ended with a local court expelling him from Crimea, his home of almost 25 years.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority It is time to sit back and reflect.

Mark Twain


Youth Human Rights Movement

Cruel attack on Khimki forest defenders

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Early on the morning July 23 the camp of Khimki forest defenders was subjected by double attack. Bandits acted as the vanguard of attackers, while riot police (called OMON in Russia) played the role of the chief forces.

A new felling was found in the wood recently. And work on destroying the wood was going there. The staff wasn’t numerous: it consisted of 8 persons, including both woodcutters and security guards. All of them were drunken and aggressive. So on July 22 forest defenders set up a new camp in the close vicinity of this felling, but not on the felling itself. About 15 environmentalists stayed in this new camp for the night. But they had very little time for sleep.

It wasn’t yet 5 o’clock at the morning, when forest defenders were waked up. A strange gang of unknown people in white masques came to their camp and began to threaten and scare the environmentalists. They even cried: ‘We would stab you to death!’ The bandit-looking young men were numerous. They number 40 to 50 in comparison with 15 forest defenders. Evgenia Chirikova, the leader of Eco-defense of Moscow Region, saw no other way out but to call the police. And the police arrived. However, the policemen found nothing breaking public order in the activities of men in white masques. There was no corpse yet. So the policemen intended to leave the place immediately.

But Evgenia Chirikova had another opinion. She didn’t want to wait until there would be corpses. So she lay down on the way of police car and prevented it to drive away. She kept lying on the ground for nearly two hours, between 6 and 8 a.m. So the two policemen had to stay in the wood. It’s probable that only due to Evgenia’s action the environmentalists have avoided a brutal use of force from the gang of men in white masques.

By 8 a.m. situation began to change. On one hand, several TV and radio journalists came to the camp. And this was the reason for Evgenia to get up and stop blocking police’ departure. But on the other hand, the woodcutting firm sent to the felling new machines accompanied not only by workers but also by numerous security guards. The machines began to fell trees, while the security guards pushed way forest defenders.

About 8.30 OMON (riot police) arrived to the wood. Its attack upon forest defenders was surprising and cruel. Several men were beaten and pushed in police minibus. But the worst hit were the two young women. Journalist Yelena Kostyuchenko from newspaper Novaya Gazeta received an injury of neck with a possible displacement of two neck vertebra. And Margarita Popova, who joined the environmental camp activist for the first night, was seized by her hair and dragged to the minibus. She wept from pain.

In the whole OMON arrested 7 activists and 2 journalists. The environmentalists’ camp was totally destroyed. The small group of activists, who avoided arrest, had to leave the camp’s remnants. The forest was surrounded by police: apparently they received a definite order to help the woodcutters. And the woodcutters used a new Japanese machine, which didn’t only fell trees, but also tear off the bark as well.

The group of nine arrested was transported to Khimki police department. However, according to Russian law all people accused in administrative infringement should be brought to the judge of peace the same day. So in the midday they were transported once again to Khimki court of peace. By this time several supporters of Khimki forest defense, who weren’t in the camp this unlucky morning, also came to the court. And their number was growing. The journalists also arrived, though their number was small.

The group of the arrested looked very tired. They practically didn’t sleep at night. But they didn’t yield. Evgenia Chirikova from time to time told the journalists, what had really happened in the wood. She tried to sleep in the intervals. Other members of the group, including Andrey Margulev, Yaroslav Nikitenko and Vladimir Morozov, also talked to journalists.

The first process began only at 14.30 or even slightly later. The courtroom was a rather small room with a rather dirty Russian state flag in it. The secretary of the court, a young woman called Luiza, promised to wash the flag in the near future. Except for the judge, the secretary and the accused, only 5 to 7 persons could place in this room. Of course, most of them were Khimki forest defenders, who organized video and audio recording of their own. The remaining people in the courtroom were journalists.

The first case was the case of Yelena Kostyuchenko. The judge Arkady Khalatov first read loudly the police version. According to it, Yelena allegedly prevented moving of police car. Then he let her speak. Yelena told the judge and the public that police version was a lie. When Evgenia was lying before the car, Yelena just squatted nearby to talk to her. Nobody of policemen asked her to leave. As for her arrest, it happened an hour later and was rather cruel. Yelena had an old injury of neck vertebra and now this injury was apparently worsened. She claimed that she received no medical aid spending several hours in police department. Yelena didn’t only feel pain in the neck but also a strong sickness. Only recently in the court she took a tablet and felt somewhat better.

The judge didn’t call for any witnesses. He just left the courtroom for writing his decision. He was absent for an hour or more. No events happened in this long interval in the courtroom, except for Luiza’s desperate shriek. The secretary of the court observed a cockroach. The insect was soon killed by one of Khimki forest defenders, but it aroused critic from another Khimki forest defender, who believed that cockroaches also had a right to existence.

At last the judge returned to the courtroom. Listening to his decision was long, but the main fact was that Yelena Kostyuchenko was acquitted.

Evgenia Chirikova’s case came second. The scenery was quite the same. First the judge read loudly the police version, then Evgenia had the chance to disprove it. She admitted that she lay on the ground before police car. But Evgenia claimed that it was a way to save her life (a life of mother of two little daughters) and lives of other forest defenders from bandits’ attack. She also noted that arrests happened half an hour or more after she got up from the ground and no more prevented the police car to move. Police behaved tough during arrests, Evgenia claimed. For example, her husband Mikhail Matveyev (who also was among the arrested) didn’t receive permit to shut the door of his car, which was open at the moment of the arrest.

The judge quit the courtroom, but this time he returned much sooner. He acquitted Evgenia on formal grounds: police accused her of ‘breaking public order’, but the wood was no public place.

The third case was the case of Margarita Popova, whose first visit to Khimki forest became rather unlucky. Margarita had surely neither political nor judicial experience and looked in the courtroom as a naïve girl. To our general amazement, she even told the judge that she agreed to admit her guilt. She said that blocking of police car was the only way out for forest defenders, because there were 50 bandits to 15 environmentalists. Margarita also mentioned her cruel arrest, when she was caught by her hair, while her legs were dragging on the ground.

The judge quit again, and we asked Margarita, whether she felt pain still. But she answered that now it was alright. She didn’t regret that she went to Khimki forest defenders camp. The judge acquitted Margarita for the same formal reasons as Evgenia.

The last case that day was the case of Andrey Margulev. Probably we’ve become too optimistic to the moment. We had little if any doubt that Margulev would be also acquitted. The only pessimist was Margulev himself, who was sure that the judge had to condemn somebody, if he wanted to avoid conflict with police (and surely he wanted). Unfortunately Margulev was the prophet: the judge sentenced him to fine of 500 rubles.

The sentence was absurd. Margulev didn’t stay in the camp for the night. Though he arrived early in the morning (about 8.00), the whole story of Evgenia lying on the ground and blocking the police car happened before Margulev’s entry to the scene. So he was certainly falsely accused in blocking police car and preventing police from fulfilling its duty. Margulev intends to appeal this sentence.

As for 4 other men arrested in the camp – Mikhail Matveyev, Vladimir Morozov, Yaroslav Nikitenko and Yury Timofeyev – their cases are suspended to Monday, July 26. This news is barely good, because police has the time to make its accusations somewhat better from formal side. Fortunately, the people are free now. The ninth arrested was a 17-year-old boy, who was freed much earlier than all others and wouldn’t be brought to court. But some problems can arise for his parents.

Despite the police blockade of the part of Khimki forest, where felling is going on last evening a small group of environmentalists led by Roman Belousov returned to the part of the wood in the close vicinity of destroyed camp. And, of course, Evgenia Chirikova and other victims of cruel and vicious attack wouldn’t yield and struggle would go on.

Ivan Smirnov