Ukrainian death squads

“We can only guess: how many other victims of “Aidar” will be known over time – when the patriotic hysteria in Ukraine rushes back as well as the waves of pointlessly shed blood. Then, many of today’s “heroes of Ukraine” will appear before public in their real form – as racists and criminals.” Andrey Manchuk comments on what Amnesty International describes as the “war crimes” of the Aidar Battalion of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

In Lugansk my friends placed me to spend a night at the home of local electrician who just came back from the hospital. The week before he went to his relatives to a nearby village – north from the town of Schastye that was held by the rebels that time. The war was just starting to flare in Lugansk region, though there were already some shortages with bread supply as well as with other foodstuff. Igor [the electrician] has uploaded his car with loaves of bread and canned food, but some kilometers before the end of his way he was stopped on the road by armed men in camouflage uniform. He pulled out his passport, explaining that he was born in this region, though they threw him on the pavement face down, kicked several times in the back, breaking ribs, then – they took his wallet, foodstuff and finally even tried to pour off the petrol from his car.

From this story I’ve heard for the first time about the ‘territorial battalion’ “Aidar”. Igor didn’t understand the meaning of the tricky words from the vocabulary of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry and called it just a ‘terrorist battalion’. Igor didn’t try to dramatize the incident – he was quite happy just staying alive and that his old car was not stolen. He didn’t hide that voted for ‘UDAR” party of Klichko. Although, after the experience of meeting ‘Aidar” battalion he didn’t join the Donbass militia but started to get ready to evacuate his family from Ukraine. “They will continue robbing us. They may even kill us. We are the enemies for them – one doesn’t behave oneself this way with own people” – said Igor. Thus, Ukrainian “paramilitaries” – as their colleagues from “death squads” are called in Latin America – deprived this (quite loyal to Kiev) man any illusions about the aims and means of their ‘liberation’ policy in the land of Donbass. And soon his fears proved to be confirmed in the most terrible way.

Battalion “Aidar” with the symbol that includes the motto “God with us” was one of the first nationalist volunteers’ battalions that came from Kiev, Lutsk, Rovno, Cherkassy and other cities of Ukraine so that to participate in the crusade for Donbass ‘liberation’. The core of the battalion was the “Maidan Self-Defence” and rightwing football ultras who never hide their Nazi views. The active PR-campaign by their chief Sergiy Melnichuk provided them with broad popularity in Ukrainian media. One by one they produced bravely-militaristic reports about their heroic routine of the “territorial battalion” causing tears of emotion of some patriotic Philistines who collected funds for “the defenders of Ukraine”. Victorious reports, showing how the militants of “Aidar” topple Lenin monuments, collected an abundant harvest of “likes” in Facebook.

In turn, the evidences of eyewitnesses – who claimed and reported in social media that the “volunteers’ terrorize the residents (like Igor) of the ‘liberated territories” since June – were hopelessly lost in the stream of praise. And this is despite the fact that complaints over the terror of “Aidar” battalion came even from the regular army militaries. Ukrainian liberal intelligentsia immediately and completely rejected all the complaints as “false” or the “enemy’s propaganda from the Kremlin”. Some of them also quite cynically hinted at the fact the “heroes of the nation” could not beat or kidnap Lugansk residents just for nothing – therefore, if somebody was abused – then, clearly there were “some reasons for it”.

And on the contrary, Nadezhda Savchenko (nickname “Bullet”) – the mercenary, who used to fight in Iraq, then was captured by the Donbass militia and accused in involvement in Russian journalists’ murder – Kiev immediately called “political prisoner” and awarded with the order. That eventually led her to the top position in the “Fatherland’ party electoral list (even despite the fact that “The Bullet’ was charged additionally for torture of the prisoners).

Meanwhile, the scale of the crimes made by “Aidar” (that de facto controlled northern parts of Lugansk region during 2 months), took such proportions that many of these systemic human rights’ violations became even the subject of the special report by the Amnesty International: “UKRAINE: ABUSES AND WAR CRIMES BY THE AIDAR VOLUNTEER BATTALION IN THE NORTH LUHANSK REGION”.

According to the AI representatives, the local residents accused the battalion in “abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.”

Moreover, the AI general secretary Salil Shetty (quite loyal to Kiev government) has personally voiced the facts, stating also that he told it to the Ukrainian PM A.Yatsenyuk during the conversation over liberation of the captured “Bullet”. And Ukrainian PM had to accept the fact of the inconvenient “problem”.

The Amnesty International report – which cannot be (despite all the desire of Ukrainian patriotic audience) attributed to the Kremlin’s propaganda – clearly reveals all the brutality of rightwing militants’ crimes. Their victims are peaceful civilians, including bedridden disabled person and elderly woman. Moreover, under the guise of “searching for planted everywhere enemy agents” the rightwing militants hide usually the banal robbery.

So, e.g. on August 23, the members of “Aidar” broke into the house of Alexandra Serova (the 82 y.o. resident of the village Alexandrovka) accusing her in links of her grandson to “separatists”. They started to shoot in her house and seriously wounded the elderly woman in the stomach. To save her life the doctors had to make 7-hours long surgical procedure. Her grandson managed to pay off, giving the assaulters his money and car which was then illegally sold by the rightwing militants of “Aidar”.

And just in 2 days after the incident, the militants of “Aidar” kidnapped 4 miners from the town of Novodruzhesk, including a person with lung cancer treated by a course of chemotherapy. According to him, the militants of “Aidar” broke into his home, threatened him with guns throwing to the floor and began to beat him breaking his jaw. Then they tied him up, rolled  scotch-tape around his head, and brought him to the organized by “volunteers” temporal prison, already containing “12-15 persons”. He heard the cries of those who were tortured in the next room. The ill man was released only in some days, though the “Aidar” members took his keys, the wallet, money and banking cards. Another detained man, who was held in a secret prison of Severodonetsk-town, tells that the kidnapped persons were forced to “recite” the national anthem of Ukraine, while those who refused to sing it were brutally beaten.

On August 25 near the town of Starobelsk, the members of “Aidar” kidnapped a local small entrepreneur directly on the road, taking his money, car, mobile phones, and gold jewelry. They put a mask on the head of the abducted man, brought him into garage, where they began to beat him with riffle butts and axe handle, threatening to shoot him down in the field. After that, they asked him directly how much he is ready to pay for his release.

“In nearly all cases documented by Amnesty International the victims were subjected to beatings at the moment of capture and/or during interrogations, and either had to pay ransom for their release, or had possessions, including money, cars, telephones, and other valuables seized by the battalion members” – says the AI report about the crimes of the “Aidar” militants. It is obvious that they were acting on the territory of Lugansk region so as any occupying army of an enemy state would rather hesitate to act.

“Aidar” participated in the “cleansing” in the town of Schastye [Lugansk region], which ended with the death and kidnapping of many people. And Igor Rodchenko, one of the “Aidar” commanders, told human rights activists that his militants used the “light procedure of detention”, i.e. unlawful capturing the “suspicious” (from their point of view) persons.

“It’s not Europe. It’s a bit different… There is a war here. The law has changed, procedures have been simplified… If I choose to, I can have you arrested right now, put a bag over your head and lock you up in a cellar for 30 days on suspicion of aiding separatists” – openly told to the Amnesty International the commander of “Aidar”. These words so shocked the human rights activists (who have heard so much about Maidan struggle for “European choice” of Ukraine and democratic rights for citizens) that they put them in the epigraph of their report about the crimes of “Aidar” battalion.

“We are called scumbags” – proudly told to the correspondent of Kiev media “Insider” one of the “Aidar” militants who participated in seizing the town of Schastye. And the militant didn’t hide that there are members of Nazi unit “White Hammer” fighting in the battalion. The members of “White Hammer” were previously detained for murders. The militant of “Aidar” also didn’t hide the facts of cynical execution of the wounded in the seized town:

“There was no sense in taking captives because only the heavily wounded left there. They were finished off – said another “Aidar” member – Our surgeon then earned the nickname “Doctor Death”. Once he came up to the wounded and dying separatist, started to find something in his bag with drugs – then looked at the wounded and said to him – “I’ve got nothing for you” – and finished him off from the Kalashnikov” – recalls Oleg from “Aidar”.

Another “Aidar” militant under the nickname “Gutsul” told the reporter that he was going to cut captive’s ear but the commander convinced him not to do it.

According to police of Severodonetsk, there are 38 criminal cases immediately opened against the members of the battalion. The cases are brought the Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry – however, official Kiev “washed its hands”, rejecting to punish the culprits, and even publicly promised to grant “Aidar” the status of the special police unit. That’s why the human rights activists without any surprise have noticed that local residents quite often fear to witness in public against the “heroes of the nation” and “saviors of Ukraine” who robbed them. These people from “Aidar” are still the “authorities’ in many towns in the North Lugansk region. Moreover, after their retreat from Lugansk (the city that was indiscriminately shelled also by “Aidar”) the commander of the battalion Sergey Melnichuk publicly announced that his men have mined Lugansk thermal power station in the town of Schastye – and they made it despite the fact that the destruction of such objects is forbidden by international conventions regulating the military actions (because their destruction affects lives of hundreds thousands locals).

And on September 16 there was a huge blast in the station – half a million people left without electricity. Although, official Kiev predictably accused “separatists”, but after the public confessions of the “heroic” supporter of the ‘scorched earth tactics’ only the most devoted and naïve “Aidar” fans can believe it.

Neither the report of Amnesty International, nor the promises of the Ukrainian PM to stop the political and criminal terror could effectively stop it. Moreover, the “paramilitaries” only expanded the territory for their terror campaign. On September 9 the opposition journalist and editor of the Nikolayev newspaper “Our city” Alexander Vlaschenko was kidnapped. The persons who presented themselves as battalion “Aidar” and battalion “Azov” have captured him, taking his mobiles and personal belongings. They put a sack on his head, pushed him in a car, where the journalist was interrogated and beaten. Then the abducted journalist was taken out of the city, where the militants imitated his execution. They demanded from the journalist to inform them about the people dissatisfied by the Kiev regime policy.

And on September 17 the resident of Lisichansk – Ekaterina Naumova – told that she was looking for her 31 y.o. son Alexander Minchenko during 2 months. On July 21 – when he tried to evacuate his grandmother to Kharkov – he was captured by “Aidar” members. The grandmother then appeared in the hospital, but Alexander disappeared as well as his car.

“Alexander was driving the SUV Mitsubishi Pajero Wagon and I think that the main reason is his car. My son is completely apolitical; he is for the integrity of Ukraine and totally against any violence. Moreover, the militants of the battalion didn’t answer me where is the car” – said the woman looking for her son.

While reading the reports I remembered the electrician Igor who was happier after meeting the death squad “Aidar”. We can only guess: how many other victims of “Aidar” will be known over time – when the patriotic hysteria in Ukraine rushes back as well as the waves of pointlessly shed blood. Then, many of today’s “heroes of Ukraine” will appear before public in their real form – as racists and criminals who murdered, robbed and tortured own citizens.

Dozens of paramilitary battalions are fighting in Ukraine, being legalized by Kiev. And the entire report of the Amnesty International dedicated to “Aidar” points only at the visible top of the iceberg made up of the crimes committed by these battalions.

However, this day will come. And then it will be important to recall all the actual accomplices of the crimes, that is – Ukrainian media that covered up and promoted those rightwing thugs, intoxicated with feeling of total impunity, as well as the authorities that patronized them.

Andrey Manchuk

Original in Liva

English translation by Dmitriy Kolesnik for Liva

Read Amnesty International’s report 

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