Russia has violated international law by using its proxy, the “Donbas republics,” to stage the “trial” and “sentencing” of three Ukrainian prisoners of war, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group’s Halya Coynash reports.
One of them is Maksym Butkevych, a journalist and human rights defender, who has been accused of “attempted murder” and claims that he shelled a residential building. He has been denied access to an independent lawyer and other fundamental rights since his capture in June 2022. Russia’s Investigative Committee has used torture to obtain videoed “confessions” from him and the other two men. The charges against Butkevych pertain to a time when he was not in Donbas and could not have committed the “crimes” for which an unrecognized and totally Russian-controlled “court” in the so-called “Luhansk people’s republic” sentenced him to 13 years’ imprisonment in a harsh-regime prison colony.
The Investigative Committee began fabricating “war crimes” cases against Ukrainians in captivity back in 2014. In June 2022, a stunt was staged in the so-called “Donetsk people’s republic” with two British nationals and a Moroccan “sentenced to death.” The Russian proxies claimed them to be mercenaries, although all were soldiers serving within Ukraine’s Armed Forces. On 10 March 2023, Russia’s Investigative Committee stated that three “sentences” had been passed in the two proxy “republics” against three Ukrainian military servicemen “implicated in crimes against the civilian population.” The Investigative Committee report says that Butkevych was, like the other men, convicted of violating the rules of war under Article 356 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code; while also being accused of (and ‘found guilty of’) “attempted murder” (30 § 3) and deliberate damage to property under Article 105 § 2.a, 2e.
It had been clear since June 2022 that the Russians and their proxies had singled Butkevych out and were attempting to get propaganda value out of his capture. There were overt attempts to present a person whose whole career has been spent defending human rights and fighting fascism and intolerance as some kind of “Nazi” or “rabid nationalist.”
The Investigative Committee also claims that all three men “admitted guilt and repented.” There is considerable evidence that Russia is using Ukrainians forcibly deported to Russia from Mariupol and other cities under occupation for propaganda videos and for alleged ‘testimony’ claiming that its most shocking war crimes were committed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Maksym Butkevych, aged 45, is a renowned figure both in Ukraine and overseas, particularly in the UK, where he pursued his studies and briefly worked for the BBC, Coynash reports. He actively participated in the human rights campaign “Without Borders,” which aimed to raise awareness about the plight of asylum seekers facing deportation from Ukraine to countries such as Russia, Belarus, or other hazardous regions. Maksym played a pivotal role in establishing Hromadske Radio and the ZMINA Human Rights Centre.
Like many Ukrainians, Maksym felt compelled to enlist in the military on the day that Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. He posted a photo of himself in military attire, along with the message,
“Unfortunately, I must put my work helping refugees, and my humanitarian and human rights activities on hold. I imagine from the photo, you can understand why…. There are times when you need to be ready to defend what is important, I firmly believe that. And the rest – after our victory.”