This article was first published in December 2019.
Backround: “Yarosh’s business card”
In the spring of 2014, Ukraine was going through tumultuous times, daily events were developing quickly and unexpectedly. In April 2014, Russian hybrid forces released information about the so-called Easter shooting in occupied Sloviansk. At that time, a “DNR” military unit under the command of Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, former leader of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and a Russian FSB colonel, announced that Pravy Sektor had attacked their checkpoint directly on Easter day, April 20th.
The “DNR” authorities then blamed a group of Maidan activists for the attack, including 18-year-old Yury Popravka, 25-year-old Yuriy Diakovsky and 22-year-old Vitaliy Kovalchuk. In fact, it was impossible for these men to have attacked the enemy checkpoint as two of them had already been executed.
Two years later, in the spring of 2016, Dmytro Yarosh, ex-leader Pravy Sektor, admitted in an interview with Censor.net that the attack on the “DNR” checkpoint had indeed taken place. It was also at that time that Yarosh’s business card was actually found on the battlefield. Popravka, Diakovsky and Kovalchuk were not involved in those events, as they had already been captured approximately April 17-18.
According to Yarosh, 31-year-old Mykhailo Stanislavenko, a resident of Kyiv, was killed in the Easter battle. His body was found and reburied after the liberation of Sloviansk on July 5, 2014. 25-year-old Yaroslav Antoniuk, nom de guerre “Bury”, was also seriously wounded during the shootout.
Yuriy Popravka, Yury Diakovsky, and deputy of the Horlivka City Council Volodymyr Rybak were tortured and executed before April 20. Their bodies were thrown into the river Torets, near Rayhorodok, Donetsk Oblast. Yuriy Popravka was buried in the village of Morozivka, Kyiv Oblast on April 28. Yuriy Diakovsky was laid to rest in his hometown of Stryy, Lviv Oblast on May 8.
Vitaliy Kovalchuk is the only one of the three Maidan activists to have survived. He says that he was extremely lucky, because he agreed to switch to Russian and told his captors that he frequented the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Yuriy Diakovsky and Yuriy Popravka continued to speak Ukrainian during the interrogations, and they both declared that they did not recognize any church other than the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate.
Torturers from the pro-Russian organization Oplot
Six years after Yuriy Popravka’s murder, we contacted his mother, Yaroslava Popravka. She is raising two children, seven and two years old, but she says that she has three sons. Here is her story:
“In our family, we never spoke negatively about the Russian language. There was never any hatred or contempt. And, we never forced anyone to speak Ukrainian. Ukrainian was Yuriy’s conscious choice. Before my son’s death, I never paid attention to the language issue, but since his death, I have never switched to Russian. Today, this is my conscious choice.
In the spring of 2014, Yuriy, who was studying in Kyiv, and four other Maidan activists travelled secretly to Sloviansk. The boys weren’t prepared, but they were very patriotic, and simply couldn’t accept the fact that someone had invaded their country. Yuriy told me that he was going to see some friends in Kharkiv. In the end, it turned out that in Kharkiv they met up with Automaidan activists who agreed to take them as far as Izium, in the south-east of Kharkiv Oblast. Almost immediately the group ran into Russian-led militants. Two boys fled miraculously; the other three – Diakovsky, Kovalchuk and my Yura – were captured.
At that time, I didn’t know what had happened and started searching for my son. I remember calling him, but some guy answered in Russian and told me coarsely that Yura had been killed.
It was very difficult for me when I was summoned to Kyiv to identify Yura’s body. The investigator showed horrifying photos of his body after torture and being some time in the water. Yura was tortured – his stomach was slashed wide open. I still don’t know how anyone could do something like that to another human being!
According to the investigation, the execution of the three men – my son, Yuriy Diakovsky and Volodymyr Rybak – was managed personally by Igor “Strelkov” Girkin.
The executioners and torturers have also been identified. They are Ukrainian citizens, Kharkiv residents and members of Oplot, a pro-Russian organization and also a fight club. It is believed that these men are no longer alive. But, for the rest of my life, I’ll be wondering of how people who have children were able to torture our young men to death.
When the bodies were found, the investigators in Kyiv informed me that I’d have to go to Sloviansk myself; they refused to go. I began gathering a few things and thinking with whom my husband and I could leave our younger son. That’s when my brother Andriy Tarasenko called. He was a firefighter, working with the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.
In order to continue functioning, I was prescribed some heavy sedatives. The transport of Yura’s body and the funeral arrangements were, for the most part, taken over by my brother Andriy. Later, he himself died heroically. In the summer of 2015, Andriy and his team were called up to extinguish a major fire at a petroleum depot near Kyiv. As always, he was ready to rescue others, but this time, he didn’t return.
It’s been six years since my Yura was murdered. I’ve spoken with dozens of people… with witnesses, with the actual participants, and with other hostages. All of them say that my son could have lived if he had switched to Russian and lied about the church.”