Who will be next? The case of Ukrainian political prisoner Alla Alexandrovskaya

By Artyom Buzila

On June 30, the Kiev district court of the city of Kharkov ordered the preventive arrest for 60 days of Alla Alexandrovskaya, head of the local cell of the outlawed Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), a two-time deputy of the regional council, and four times a member of the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament]. She was held nearly twenty-four hours awaiting the court’s decision, during which time the 67-year-old woman became ill, and was forced to attend the session hooked up to an IV. In addition to being sent to prison, the court seized her possessions. 

Alla Alexandrovskaya
Earlier, however, investigators had conducted a search of Alexandrovskaya’s apartment, where they seized computer equipment, then sent her to a temporary detention center. The suspect is charged with committing crimes under two articles of the Criminal Code of Ukraine: Art. 110 (separatism), and Art. 369 (bribery of an official). Allegedly, Alexandrovskaya, together with her son Alexander (who now resides in the Russian Federation), gave large bribes to deputies of municipal councils (in particular, the Yuzhonoy city council) for the purpose of gaining votes in favor of federalization. Of course, according to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), such activities were directed by the Russian Secret Service (FSB).

Alexandrovskaya’s defense denies the charges and insists that in politics she has always acted according to the laws of Ukraine.

First, a few details about the personality and activities of Alexandrovskaya. You may be wondering: Was this inveterate “separatist” a member of the local Anti-Maidan that seized the regional administration or municipal council in the spring of 2014? Or at least, was she an active commentator on Russian media? Not at all: after the Maidan coup, Alexandrovskaya worked in the civic organization “Sloboda.” The objectives of the organization were quite peaceful, even by the standards of the current harsh political regime: Granting more powers for the Kharkov region within the framework of government reform, and decentralization of economic measures. There was no mention of self-determination for Kharkov, national-cultural autonomy for ethnic Russian citizens, its own parliament, or, God forbid, autonomy.

For almost a year, Alexandrovskaya conducted these activities publicly and openly. “Sloboda” held their meetings in Kharkov hotels, not in secret. They organized rallies in the capital. They even collected signatures for a petition to the Ukrainian president. And, what’s more, they received a response from the deputy chief of the Poroshenko administration, Alexei Filatov, who said the request for special status would be considered. During all this time, there was no “pressure” on the part of the security services, nor any allegations of illegal activity.

And now – things have changed.

Why? The “separatist” threat, when politicians and ordinary citizens took to the streets wearing St. George ribbons, waving flags of Russia and chanting slogans like “Down with junta!”, disappeared a long time ago. At least for the time being. But the regime is tottering: millions of people are suffering from the economic situation and price hikes, and many are tired of the police state. However, the valiant SBU keeps locking up freethinking citizens in its dungeons.

The only possible threat, in theory, comes from the legal opposition, formally permitted by law and still fighting for scraps in Ukraine. They (the opposition) do not call the events in Donbass a civil war, do not call for canceling the criminal policy of European integration, and refuse to recognize that Crimea has been forever lost. At the same time, they criticize the socio-economic policy of the authorities, from time to time call for the resignation of certain government officials, and support the Minsk agreement. That is, they try, if possible, not to sell their souls while also trying to stay out of jail.

On that list you can put some members of the “opposition bloc” (or at least the left wing of its ranks, such as Vadim Rabinovich and Yevgeny Muraev), the leader of the “Union of Left Forces” Vasili Volga, and Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalia Vitrenko. To their number you can add Alexandrovskaya, who operated within the law, but clearly did not support Poroshenko and company. Ending the legal opposition has become the next task of the SBU (and the Kiev regime as a whole) after finishing with the radical “separatists” and while the remains of the Russian Spring were forced underground.

And this persecution is not limited to politicians, but also public figures, journalists and intellectuals.

In Odessa, members of the People’s Council of Bessarabia, which acted within the law, despite its draconian and dictatorial nature, were faced with similar accusations. This writer, for example — who worked for one of the largest Ukrainian-language Internet publications, “Naspravdi,” as editor in chief, and wrote occasional articles and reports for the daily “Vzglyad” — also tried to stick to the rules of the fascist law. [Artyom Buzila was charged with separatism and faced 5 years in prison.] I spent 11 months in prison and left the country immediately after being released. Or, say, Elena Glischinskaya and Vitaliy Didenko — their professional work as journalists barely touched on the arrival of Russian tanks in Odessa or the declaration of Bessarabia and Odessa as an independent state.

The most recent case occurred only a few days ago. Head of the Odessa “Right Sector” Sergei Sternenko demanded that the director of the National University of Odessa dismiss Elena Radzikhovskiy, Associated Professor and Doctor of History. He accused the woman of being exactly like her son [Borotba activist Andrei Brazhevsky], who died in the House of Trade Unions on May 2, 2014. And she dared to speak on this matter in the European Parliament. Now she faces losing her job due to organized harassment by some of the same radicals likely behind the death of her son. I would not be surprised if the matter soon interested the SBU — no, not to investigate the acts of the “Right Sector” against the innocent, but rather the views of Radzikhovskiy herself.

Ukraine continues to sink into an authoritarian quagmire. Arrests, harassment – anything is possible. Many of my Russian colleagues sagely ask: “Why has the Southeast surrendered? Why are Odessa, Kharkov, Kherson silent?” I always cite the example of cases such as Alexandrovskaya’s. Any socio-political activity, not to mention acts of protest, at best, end in harassment and threats from the radical right, and at worst — arrest and long imprisonment by the security services. If they do so with former parliamentary deputies and well-known journalists, what will they do to ordinary citizens? No activity is possible without coming to an agreement with the regime.

And meanwhile, the repression continues with no end in sight. Who will be next?

Translator’s note: On July 22, the Kharkov Court of Appeals upheld the 60-day preventive detention of Alla Alexandrovskaya.

Translated by Greg Butterfield

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