Sloviansk and Those, Who Turned out to be “Not our Boys”
Human rights activist
On April 15, 2014, during a meeting of the Sloviansk city council, the mayor, Nelya Shtepa, and a staff member discussed the situation in the city.
Staff member: “I don’t understand what is going on…”
Shtepa: “You don’t understand, he does all this here, he does it right here.”
Staff member: “Who do you mean?”
City council meetings usually took place every Tuesday in the Sloviansk city administration. This time the meeting took place in an unusual place. After the city administration building had been occupied by “DPR” militias on April 12, Nelya Shtepa assembled the city council in the town’s cultural center.
“We gathered in the culture center for a meeting, and the first thing she (Shtepa) said was ‘these are not our boys,’”says one of the participants of this meeting, who was interviewed by the author but has asked to retain his anonymity.
The mayor claimed she didn’t know where the militias had come from. Shtepa asked the heads of the city’s ward councils not to help the separatist combatants, not to approach them on their checkpoints etc. According to the words of one interviewee, the mayor behaved very nervously and she seemed to understand that she had lost control of the situation.
The point of no return
When studying the circumstances of Sloviansk’s occupation, one cannot stop wondering about the reasoning of the city’s leadership. Their behavior, in hindsight, seems not so much unprofessional or shortsighted as outright childish and as if they had lost orientation and totally misunderstood the role the creators of the “Russian spring” had intended for them. The local elite took a long time to realize that they had been used. And once they understood, it was too late to change course.
Shtepa suddenly changed her opinion about the men she had called “not our boys”, who had occupied all the city’s strategic objects. A couple of days earlier she had asked the people of Sloviansk not to provoke the militias, because, in her words, they were people from Donbas, just like anyone else. She said their demands were “adequate” and she could accept and understand their ideas. Perhaps it was also with their help that she kept up the appearance of stability, when municipal vehicles blocked the city’s central square from a motorcade of Automaidan activists, who had come to the city to present their side of the argument about what had happened in Kyiv.
The frantic groups of “Self-defense”, the openly tolerated meetings with calls for an armed intervention to the president of a neighboring country, and the rather weird address to the passengers of the over-night train Moscow-Kislovodsk, may have attuned Shetpa to the cruel reality in which her personal interests had no place.
Two days after the city council meeting, on April 17, militiamen of the “DPR” arrested Shtepa and detained her in an office in the city administration until July 5, the day the city was liberated by the Ukrainian army. Its an irony of fate that during her detention Shtepa signed a decision of the city council taken on April 28 that ordained the founding of a so called “Sloviansk people’s vigilance group”. On April 30, the city council voted to strip Shtepa off her office, “at her own request”.
After the occupation of Sloviansk ended, Shtepa was arrested by prosecutors of Kharkiv oblast. She now has to stand in trial and faces the accusation of an assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which led to fatalities and other tragic consequences. Shtepa justified her policies with the attempt to liberate hostages held by the separatist militias. It will be hard for her to argue that she did put a lot of effort in preventing the things that happened.
The passivity and laissez-fair by the local government around the events that took place in spring 2014, created favorable preconditions for an attack. The city was already well prepared for an armed intervention from outside. In the beginning of April 2014, battle-ready and well-organized groups of the so-called self-defense virtually took over the city. They received access to arms, started to control all important communication lines and could rely on propaganda support.
The events that followed and that still unfold in eastern Ukraine compel one to take an unfavorable view of the local elite’s role in the events of spring 2014. Their weaknesses and political immaturity were cunningly exploited by the puppet masters in the Kremlin. The leaders of Sloviansk brought damage to their own country, the dimensions of which are still hard to estimate.
On Monday, June 3rd, Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives with its partner organizations from the Coalition “Justice for P...
A chance to explore 13 rifts of war: the exhibition “On the Rift” is now open in Kyiv
On Monday, June 3rd, Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives with its partner organizations from the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas” presented the touring exhibition on human rights violations in eastern Ukraine “Na Zlami / On the Rift” at “Zoloti Vorota” museum. The exhibition shows 13 changes in life of civilians since 2014 as a result of the war in Donbas.
Presentation and creation of the exhibition “Na Zlami / On the rift” are the results of the project “Empowering civil society for a transformation of commemorative culture”, implemented by KURVE Wustrow in collaboration with Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives and its partner organizations from the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas”.
Former victims of human rights violations during the war in the Donbas were the guests of the event as well as representatives of international and Ukrainian NGOs. Artists and journalists were also present during the presentation.
The visitor can see 13 conventional rifts that demonstrate demographic and social changes in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the destruction of family relations, and the marginalization of the local population along with the personal drama of civilians, trying to survive in new harsh conditions.
The exhibition is a collaborative project of the partner organizations of the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas”: Vostok SOS, Moloda Prosvita Prykarpattia, Human Rights Civil Research Centre, Committee for the Protection of the Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of Citizens, Crisis Media Centre “Siverskyi Donets”, and Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives.
«We have fifth year of war with Russia in our country. However, a part of Ukrainians neither want to hear about it nor see it. We want to show those, who have not experienced horrors of war, that the pain and suffering of our citizens is real. That is the primary reason why we have created “Na Zlami” and want to present it all over Ukraine», - mentioned Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, head of Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives.
Former witnesses and victims, who had become protagonists of the exhibition, spoke about the dramatic experience of change after the start of war. Many of them experienced uncertainty, the loss of social ties, and the disruption of daily life. Many of them had to survive.
«I always had the feeling like I was on the edge. When I had left my city, I did not have any money. During the first six months after departure, I had a strong feeling of hunger because I could not find a job. I did not have social connections; I did not know where to find a job. I had to work as a loader or a miller. It was a hard time», - said Evhen Shliakhtin, one of the protagonists of the exhibition, former detainee of illegal prison in Luhansk.
“Na Zlami / On the Rift” tries to convey a holistic picture of the disruption of the fabric of Ukrainian society during the war in Donbas. The exhibition stands combine excerpts from interviews of former victims or witnesses of human rights violations along with infographics and statistics.
«Na Zlami” is an attempt to lend a voice to people, who have lost their rights, their freedom, their health, their home or a person close to them to the violence in eastern Ukraine. This has led to a multilayered picture that still can only begin to explain why this war broke out and how it could be settled», - mentioned Simon Schlegel, one of the coauthors of the idea of the exhibition.
All those, who were present during a presentation, noted that “On the Rift” focuses the viewer`s attention not only on the problem of the civilian population in the past, but also on their integration into society as well as brings a new perspective on the acceptance of witnesses and victims of war in society.
On the 30th of May female survivors of the armed conflict together with the representatives of component public authorities discusse...
On the way to justice: survivors of the armed conflict shared their experience in Mariupol
On the 30th of May female survivors of the armed conflict together with the representatives of component public authorities discussed how to restore justice in the situations when people were detained, undergone violence or their other rights were violated.
The public discussion “What does “restoration of justice” mean for women and girls affected by the armed conflict” was initiated by an NGO “Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives” with the support of the Special Representative of the Ukrainian government on gender policy Kateryna Levchenko
«There are many specific problems related to women only, but they are not discussed in the society. Today we see here almost all the sides that should be included into the process of justice restoration. How this justice should look like? Should it mean reparations or compensations, just punishment of the perpetrators and the degrees of punishment? That’s why we’ve initiated such event”
He suggested to work in small groups where both the women and the law enforcement officers discussed “what is justice” and “what are the impediments to restore justice”. After these discussions the participants shared their thoughts in order to decide together about the mechanisms of justice restoration.
“Such discussions help us to hear those in need and translate the language of the documents into the language of regulator acts that are very pertinent”,
Kateryna Levchenko commented on the ideas of the participants.
A major part of the event was dedicated to the discussion of gender-based violence. Hanna Yanova, the Center’s researcher, who worked on the report “War without Rules: Gender-Based Violence in the Context of the Armed Conﬂict in Eastern Ukraine”, pointed out:
“The conflict contributed to many various human rights violations. These are shelling, enforced disappearances, murder and torture. There are different responsible persons and the crimes are very specific, but there is one thing that is common—people want to restore justice. They want to achieve compensation of court’s decision, find those guilty, or the body of the disappeared person”.
Kateryna Levchenko said it was important that the representatives of law enforcement agencies and the OSCE observers took place in this discussion. She also said that judges are currently being trained to hear cases related to violence, committed during the armed conflict. She added that they will take into account the issue of social and other kinds of aid.
Among the participants of the event, there were women who survived violence, were held in detention, as well as relatives of the deceased and people who lost their house or it got damaged as a result of shelling. The female participants either live in the government-controlled territory in the east of Ukraine or are IDPs. All of them shared their views on the restoration of justice.
“I wish that none of women survived what I had been through, because for the past several years I’ve been trying to support others, to set an example that it’s important to tell about your problem”
said a former detainee Iryna Dovhan.
“If your relative had been killed and you got money for that, it wouldn’t bring him back. There should be material compensation, but does it restore justice?”
asked one of the survivors.
Each of the small groups worked on the issues of material compensation, social benefit programs, as well as social and medical aid. Kateryna Levchenko received the results of the discussions to pass them on for regulation at the legislative level.
The event was held with the support of Swedish Institute and the Department of State of the USA.
The 39th ECCHRD meeting, hosted by OSCE/ODIHR took place in Warsaw on 17 and 18 May 2018. European Co-ordination Committee on Human ...
Hanna Yanova: "Documentation is not the end, it's only a beginning"
The 39th ECCHRD meeting, hosted by OSCE/ODIHR took place in Warsaw on 17 and 18 May 2018. European Co-ordination Committee on Human Rights Documentation (ECCHRD) is an open network of Europe-based organisations and institutions producing human rights information. More precisely, it is an annual meeting of librarians, documentation and communication workers and similar staff that work with these organisations. Hanna Yanova, researcher at Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives, who represented the Coalition of NGOs “Justice for Peace in Donbas”, participated in the event this year.
‒ Hanna, was there anything that the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas” could learn from the organizations who participated in the event?
–In this regards, the Coalition has excelled also because we not only document information on human rights violations but also use it in different ways. To carry out reports for national and international advocacy, for creative projects such as documentaries and graphic novel. This is a brand new way to present the collected information. As it turns out, we have many ways to deliver information to broad audience compared to others.
– So the Ukrainian organizations are sort of synthesizing the ways to use information on human rights violations?
– Yes. In the Coalition, we collect, process and use information further. It’s a full cycle unlimited by solely the collection of information. And documentation itself is not the end but rather the beginning of the process of litigation submission to international committees. Several organizations do so, they submit information to the UN committees. But as for the participants of the event, they were mainly interested in the creative aspects which the Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives focuses on. It’s a documentary about the transformation of Luhansk regional administration into a place of illegal detention, and a graphic novel “The crossroads: nine stories about war and violence”. Others don’t do such things. I think that such ways only enlarge the circle of people to deliver this information to, and it’s always positive.