World

02.01.14

Was A Ukraine Activist Tortured By A Government ‘Death Squad’?

Was tortured Auto-Maidan leader Dmytro Bulatov the latest victim of the security services’ rumored torture and death squads?

On January 30, Ukrainian protest leader Dmytro Bulatov, who had been missing for a week, finally turned up bearing signs of torture—and he was likely kidnapped and brutalized by police, according to the ex-spokesman of the security services, Stanislavv Rechinsky. 

Bulatov belonged to the Auto-Maidan, an unofficial movement of car owners that moves to different locations around the capital to protest. Mostly they picket private houses of officials they say are responsible for civil-rights violations, including those of President Victor Yanukovitch and the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vitaly Zaharchenko. Those in power have tried to eliminate the Auto-Maidan protests with the help of the traffic police and the courts. In one recent example, an Auto-Maidan driver got slapped with a falsified police report that said that the car owner did not stop on policeman’s demand and a judge made a decision to confiscate the driver’s license for six months. According to local media reports, more than 100 licenses were confiscated.

However, there are too many drivers in the Auto-Maidan to arrest all of them, so apparently officials have decided to take more brutal steps.

Bulatov, one of the best-known activists in the Ukraine, disappeared on January 23th. Having known that another recent kidnapping, of activists Yury Verbitsky and Igor Lutsenko, led to the pair’s torture and Verbitsky’s death, almost no one in the protest movement hoped to see Bulatov alive again. Rechinsky, the ex-spokesman of the SBU (the Security Service of Ukraine) posted on his Facebook: “I have 100 percent evidence that the kidnapped activist Lutsenko was tortured by a riot police squad…these are death squads in the ministry of Internal Affairs’ structure.” Rechinsky gave no proof for his assertion, saying that he was protecting his sources from danger, but noted that “kidnapping, intimidation or murder in the forest are old traditions of the Ukrainian police.”

But on January 30, Bulatov was thrown from his kidnapper’s car in the middle of a wintery forest. After an hour of wandering in the dark, he managed to reach a little town and called his friends. The details of his kidnapping shocked many—for seven days, Bulatov says he was held blindfolded and tortured brutally: his captors cut off a part of his ear, slashed his face, and apparently even tried to crucify him. He said that for the last two days of his detention, the thugs did not even feed him.

Rechinsky, the ex-spokesman of the SBU (the Security Service of Ukraine) posted on his Facebook: “I have 100 percent evidence that the kidnapped activist Lutsenko was tortured by a riot police squad…these are death squads in the ministry of Internal Affairs’ structure.”

When the news about Bulatov’s release was first reported in the media, police expressed concern that his friends did not call the law-enforcement authorities to report the attackers. The reason for this hesitance soon became clear: the Ministry of Internal Affairs published on its website that  Bulatov is wanted by the authorities for the organization of mass riots, which could cost him 15 years in jail. On Friday, police visited Bulatov in the private hospital where he was recuperating to demand his extradition, but they were turned away by the doctors. In response, the Ministry of Internal Affairs made public on its website a version of events that claimed Bulatov had faked his kidnapping to smear the government and the security forces.

Bulatov surely has his own reasons to avoid the police. Almost everybody remembers the story of Georgy Gongadze, a journalist who was kidnapped and murdered in 2001. An investigation by the courts found that the main executor carrying out the order to murder was the then-general of the police, Olexy Pukach. According to investigators, he acted with two policemen by order of the then-minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Kravchenko. Right after the Orange Revolution in 2004 Kravchenko  apparently committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Pukach, who was deprived of his rank by the court, later asserted that Gongadze's murder was ordered by the then-president Leonid Kuchma, but the court finally decided to find the late Kravchenko solely responsible for the murder.

From the beginning of the Ukraine's political crisis and the Euromaidan, scores of protesters have gone missing in Ukraine. A range of people and organizations have been blamed for the disappearances. For their part, the police say that the missing people were kidnapped by the opposition or even faked their own abductions in order to stoke the society's indignation and anger directed against those in power.

There have been no confirmations for these assertions so far.

On the other hand, the opposition (through its site INTV) says that the deputy head of the president's administration, Yury Chmyr, and the deputy of the minister of Internal Affairs, Victor Ratushnyak, formed special squads that included policemen and gangsters. These squads are supposedly tasked with eliminating all the active protesters and harming their relatives in Kiev and others regions of Ukraine. Undercover agents reportedly infiltrate the Maidan to pass information about the protesters to the squads. The opposition says that the same scheme was used against activists in 2004 during the Orange Revolution, also allegedly organized by Victor Ratushnyak.

Opposition activists point to the case of journalist Tetyana Chornovil, whom they say the death squads tracked down at the Maidan on December 25th, 2013. The previous day, she had take pictures of the private house of the minister of Internal Affairs, Vitaly Zaharchenko. According to Chornovil, gangsters chased her by car on the way to her house, rammed her car to the ditch and beat her black and blue, leaving unconscious with blood in her lungs.

Meanwhile, a list of the license plates of Auto-Maidan members has been published on the Internet. This is information that only the traffic police would likely know, and the opposition has accused the police of giving license plate numbers to arsonist thugs. After the publication of the information, activists have reported mass arsons targeting their cars, and last night, arsons torched the car of Canadian embassy worker Inna Tsarkova. Police have so far not made any arrests for the arsons.