Nationalists, soldiers may kill with impunity: Ukraine courts

The right to kill fellow citizens

By Andriy Manchuk

March 1: The Ordzhonikidzevsky district court of Mariupol sentenced a soldier of the “Azov” regiment, who right in the street, in the center of the city, stabbed a local resident who came into conflict with him over his political views. According to the “Azovtsa,” the victim provoked him to kill — the deceased Mariupolite allegedly insulted the soldier and grabbed him by the clothes, for which he cut his throat with a knife.

These claims were not corroborated by the testimony of witnesses. It is quite possible that in fact everything was completely different, and the instigator of the conflict may have been the nationalist himself. But, in any case, the law enforcement agencies unconditionally believed the version he proposed — although the country’s laws so far do not make allowances for murder for political reasons. The initial charges against Azov’s representative were unprecedentedly mildly — the brutal crime was qualified as murder in excess of self-defense measures, which provides for imprisonment of not more than two years — less than can be given in Ukraine for the theft of a chicken or scrap metal. But the court’s verdict was even more lenient — it ruled that the murderer should not be promoted in office or rank within two years, and the state would withhold 20 percent of his income.

The perpetrator, who was immediately released to freedom, was essentially left without punishment. It’s impossible to say that this greatly surprised the residents of Mariupol — because even during the trial, local bloggers actively talked about the fact that the judicial authorities were surely afraid to punish the Azov soldier according to the law. After all, this ultra-right paramilitary unit, legalized as part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, has for several years now controlled the seaside city, and managed to thoroughly intimidate the local justice system. For example, when the Nazis shot up the apartment of a local communist with a grenade launcher in 2015, the case was hushed up without even trying to find the perpetrators. And “Nasravdi” published a detailed investigation of the “organized crime group behind the screen of Azov,” reporting that members of the regiment are implicated in numerous criminal offenses, which were never disclosed by the police — including the unpunished killings of Mariupol residents. 

Members of Ukraine’s fascist Azov Battalion take oath in Kiev
before being sent to fight against the Donbass Republics.
However, a considerable part of the Ukrainian public took this verdict as an alarming precedent, which once again shows that representatives of ultra-right military formations and former participants in the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO) can commit criminal offenses against civilians with impunity. And the authorities will always be on their side, blaming the victims themselves for what happened — they treated the veterans with insufficient piety, and in general were certainly at the bottom of their souls “separatists.”

Indeed, the Mariupol case confirmed that Ukrainian soldiers and nationalists are becoming a closed caste with the right to commit lawlessness, and the life of a “common” citizen is worth much less than the life and freedom of a professional patriot. In fact, in Ukraine there is a privileged class of new “Kshatriyas,” and the judicial system of the country gradually begins to live according to the rules of the feudal era, which allowed the elite to officially pay off the murder of commoners. “Everyone is surprised at the fine for the Azov soldier for killing a resident of Mariupol. But the Lithuanian Statute of 1588 explicitly stated that a nobleman faces only a fine for the murder of a commoner. At the same time, the nobleman could cleanse himself of all charges by his oath and two witnesses. So all the current passion for archaism directly leads to a class society with unpunished arbitrariness of the nobility. And you hoped they would not treat people like rag dolls?” wrote Odessa blogger Vyacheslav Azarov.

“For a light blow against an ATO soldier a person can get 7 years, and for a murder committed by the same ATOchnik, he will bear a conditional punishment or administrative penalty. All according to the ‘Russian Truth’ of Prince Yaroslav, where for the murder of an artisan one had to pay 12 hryvnia, and for the death of a serf, 5 hryvnia,” echoed blogger Vitaly Svobodin.

In connection with this, many commentators immediately recalled a recent incident in Kiev, where former ATO participant Viktor Balabukh killed the famous Odessa chef Ruslan Yurchenko with a knife, when he did not let him cut ahead in the queue for a bus. Despite the obvious guilt of the demobilized soldier, the nationalist public immediately began to blame the victim for what happened, not sparing the insults. “The guy is accustomed to standing up for himself. He stood up! He slaughtered the fattened pumped-up abuser and did the right thing!”, Dmitri Babkin, an officer of the National Guard, wrote in his blog. Armed Forces of Ukraine volunteer Alex Nojt called the victim “fucking vatnik,” and the head of the Main Department of Moral and Psychological Support of the Armed Forces, Oleg Gruntkovsky, officially stated that the deceased chef deliberately provoked the retired soldier.

“As soon as it became known that the man who killed another person in the queue for the minibus was with the ATO, the story immediately changed — the dead man was already called a separatist and, it turns out, he beat the soldier right in the queue. And the fighter was very slender and could not stop it. The ATU fighter (not wounded, not disabled) could not stop it?! And he did not find any better way than to kill a passenger. And then the message was — and so one family has lost its breadwinner, so we will not deprive another of its father and put him in jail? Have you people lost your minds? What is the difference between an ATO fighter and other citizens? Can I also slaughter a guy who did not give me his seat in a minibus?” journalist Irina Tiran wrote, trying to remind readers that in Ukraine they have not yet officially abolished the provision of universal equality before the law.

But everything points to the fact that Balabukh will also get off with a conditional punishment for murder. A large-scale support group in the form of ultra-right “activists” and nationalist deputies will certainly come to his trial, as was the case in November at the sessions of the Supreme Specialized Court for the Consideration of Civil and Criminal Cases that acquitted the nationalist Sergei Kolmogorov, who shot an innocent woman at a checkpoint near Mariupol. This decision shocked European human rights activists — but the defense attorney got the support of Prosecutor General of Ukraine Lutsenko, who did not miss an opportunity to curtsey towards the ultra-right. And the Mariupol judges, who originally condemned Kolmogorov to 13 years, apparently derived from this a simple conclusion — it is clearly not worthwhile to put patriots guilty of the deaths of local residents into prison.

Yes, we are talking about a trend long obvious to all — practically all former or active participants of the ATO, who have been accused of committing particularly resonant and serious crimes before the law, were acquitted or escaped with conditional sentences. Such episodes numbers in the dozens, if not hundreds. For example, three servicemen of the “Dnepr-1” battalion, who abducted and killed the vice-mayor of Slavyansk, Vladimir Kulmatitsky, along with his personal driver, were eventually given a conditional sentence. The trial of the killers of journalist and writer Buzina frankly put on the brakes. Participants in the scandalous massacre in Mukachevo, where fighters of the “Right Sector” fired machine guns and grenade launchers at local law enforcement officers and residents of the Transcarpathian city, hitting one of the passers-by, are already at large. A demobilized rapist, who forced a young resident of the Kiev region to have sex, ended up not going to jail — although this incident made a lot of noise, and got into the summaries of all human rights organizations and groups. Obviously, the situation will only get worse — as long as the state and the loyal support group of the Maidan continue the policy of condoning “ideologically correct” killers, in fact, encouraging their impunity for new crimes.

“And not five years after Vradievka, when there were mass protests against the arbitrariness of law enforcement officers and a march to Kiev demanding the resignation of the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, ‘Azov’ gets fined for the murder of a passer-by in Mariupol. And there is deathly silence on the part of the Witnesses of the “Revolution of Dignity.” I will not appeal to conscience and reason, just consider the future — you will get your throat cut and pay a fine. Live with it,” warns blogger Marina Markova.

Alas, in this atmosphere of legalized lawlessness, not all will survive. And everyone who helps put a new caste of people in camouflage above the law should remember that they can become the next victim in the future.

Translated by Greg Butterfield

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