Free Russia Foundation Launches #NoToWar Campaign

Russian Military and Mercenaries Directly Implicated in Torture of Ukrainian Prisoners

Dec 14 2015

Ukrainian human rights activists believe that over 87 percent of Ukrainian soldiers and half the civilians who have been taken prisoner by Kremlin-backed, pro-Russian militants in the Donbas have been subjected to torture or ill treatment.

Additionally, in over 40 percent of the so-called “interrogations,” key roles were played by mercenaries from the Russian Federation or by people who identified themselves as Russian military personnel.

The coalition Justice for Peace in Donbas has just released a report entitled “Those Who Survived Hell.” The study is based mainly on a survey of 165 people, both soldiers and civilians, who were held captive by the militants. In many cases, even those who were not themselves tortured report witnessing or hearing the torture of others. One-third of the soldiers in the study, as well as 16 percent of the civilians, had personally witnessed a death as the result of torture.

Oleh Martynenko, one of the authors of the report, notes that the conditions in which prisoners and hostages are held do not meet any international standards. In two-thirds of the imprisonment sites, no medical care is available. Disturbingly, however, the presence of medical staff is no guarantee of greater protection. The researchers found cases where medical workers had taken part in torture, by bringing the victim around in order for the torture to continue.

Martynenko says that the researchers had not anticipated the high ratio of mercenaries and Russian military personnel implicated in the torture of prisoners. This is grounds, he adds, for charging Russia with involvement in war crimes and other offenses—offenses that cannot fall under any “amnesty” currently promoted by Western leaders as part of a peace deal for the region.

Anyone is at risk

Groups organizing prisoner exchanges say that by July 1 of this year, around 2,500 hundred prisoners had been freed, and another 500 remained in captivity. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says that over 6,000 people have been taken prisoner or have disappeared without a trace, with the fate of 1,500 still unknown.

According to the study, most of the people who have been taken prisoner by the militants are local residents of areas under militant control, although some were simply trying to reach relatives or friends and were detained at checkpoints without explanation. Most chillingly, residents were taken from their homes or workplaces without warrants, and often the militants would then steal their property. Anyone can be targeted, the coalition points out.

One person recounts how six men wearing camouflage gear decorated with St. George ribbons and brandishing Kalashnikov rifles burst into his home and knocked down his elderly mother. He was dragged from the sofa and had his arms bound behind his back. The soldiers removed his computer, telephone, and wallet, and even took a bottle of vodka.

Oleksandra Matviychuk, one of the authors of the report, explains that people are usually accused of holding the wrong (pro-Ukrainian) views, of speaking Ukrainian, or of having Ukrainian flags and other symbols in their home. Or the militants accuse them of having taken part in Euromaidan or pro-unity marches. Sometimes they’re accused of having photographed strategic places.

Maria Varfolomeyeva, the 30-year-old journalist who had stayed in Luhansk to care for her elderly grandmother, has now been held hostage since January. The militants claimed that, as an artillery spotter for the Ukrainian army, she had been photographing the militants’ residences, and threatened her with a fifteen-year “sentence.” There had been no shelling in Luhansk for months before she was seized. Negotiations are still underway to obtain her release, almost eleven months later.

Just under 12 percent of civilians detained were women. Half of these, including women who were pregnant or elderly, faced ill treatment.

Over 18 percent of all of those surveyed had been kicked or punched, and almost 22 percent were beaten with the militants’ rifles. Almost 6 percent experienced other forms of torture, including electric shocks, squeezing of their toes or fingers with tweezers, multiple bullet wounds from shock pistols or similar weapons, and the use of sharp items to cause injury. Almost 75 percent of the civilians in captivity had been threatened with firearms or other weapons.

A woman taken prisoner said of her experience, “I was beaten by a man who called himself Oleg Kubrak. He threatened to rape me, and slashed my arms, legs, and neck with a knife.” Another prisoner recounted, “The militants began to hit me with the butt of their machine guns around the head, back, to my arms. They pulled my arms behind my back. Each tried to hit me, each tried to grab me by the hair.”

Russian captors

Of the Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer battalion members who were captured, 83 percent reported that they had been seized as a result of military clashes and with the direct involvement of Russian Federation forces. One Russian soldier, nicknamed “the Greek,” even presented a document identifying himself as a special response Spetsnaz officer from Moscow; another was commander of the Pskov paratrooper unit.

The study showed that over 87 percent of the Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer fighters captured faced especially brutal treatment, including physical violence and deliberate maiming, as well as humiliation.

To intimidate others, and to show off their captives as “trophies,” the militants have quite openly paraded the men they have taken captive. The most notorious occasion occurred in 2014, on Ukraine’s Independence Day, August 24: militants from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” staged a shameful march through Donetsk of Ukrainian prisoners. A similar display took place in January this year.

Much of the above treatment, as well as documented cases of abductions and extrajudicial executions, fall within the scope of the International Criminal Court. Ukrainian human rights activists are adamant that Ukraine must ratify the Rome Statute as a matter of priority, so that those guilty of grave war crimes can be brought to answer for their offenses.

This article first appeared on The Atlantic Council site.

by Halya Coynash,
member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Additionally, in over 40 percent of the so-called “interrogations,” key roles were played by mercenaries from the Russian Federation or by people who identified themselves as Russian military personnel.

The coalition Justice for Peace in Donbas has just released a report entitled “Those Who Survived Hell.” The study is based mainly on a survey of 165 people, both soldiers and civilians, who were held captive by the militants. In many cases, even those who were not themselves tortured report witnessing or hearing the torture of others. One-third of the soldiers in the study, as well as 16 percent of the civilians, had personally witnessed a death as the result of torture.

Oleh Martynenko, one of the authors of the report, notes that the conditions in which prisoners and hostages are held do not meet any international standards. In two-thirds of the imprisonment sites, no medical care is available. Disturbingly, however, the presence of medical staff is no guarantee of greater protection. The researchers found cases where medical workers had taken part in torture, by bringing the victim around in order for the torture to continue.

Martynenko says that the researchers had not anticipated the high ratio of mercenaries and Russian military personnel implicated in the torture of prisoners. This is grounds, he adds, for charging Russia with involvement in war crimes and other offenses—offenses that cannot fall under any “amnesty” currently promoted by Western leaders as part of a peace deal for the region.

Anyone is at risk

Groups organizing prisoner exchanges say that by July 1 of this year, around 2,500 hundred prisoners had been freed, and another 500 remained in captivity. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says that over 6,000 people have been taken prisoner or have disappeared without a trace, with the fate of 1,500 still unknown.

According to the study, most of the people who have been taken prisoner by the militants are local residents of areas under militant control, although some were simply trying to reach relatives or friends and were detained at checkpoints without explanation. Most chillingly, residents were taken from their homes or workplaces without warrants, and often the militants would then steal their property. Anyone can be targeted, the coalition points out.

One person recounts how six men wearing camouflage gear decorated with St. George ribbons and brandishing Kalashnikov rifles burst into his home and knocked down his elderly mother. He was dragged from the sofa and had his arms bound behind his back. The soldiers removed his computer, telephone, and wallet, and even took a bottle of vodka.

Oleksandra Matviychuk, one of the authors of the report, explains that people are usually accused of holding the wrong (pro-Ukrainian) views, of speaking Ukrainian, or of having Ukrainian flags and other symbols in their home. Or the militants accuse them of having taken part in Euromaidan or pro-unity marches. Sometimes they’re accused of having photographed strategic places.

Maria Varfolomeyeva, the 30-year-old journalist who had stayed in Luhansk to care for her elderly grandmother, has now been held hostage since January. The militants claimed that, as an artillery spotter for the Ukrainian army, she had been photographing the militants’ residences, and threatened her with a fifteen-year “sentence.” There had been no shelling in Luhansk for months before she was seized. Negotiations are still underway to obtain her release, almost eleven months later.

Just under 12 percent of civilians detained were women. Half of these, including women who were pregnant or elderly, faced ill treatment.

Over 18 percent of all of those surveyed had been kicked or punched, and almost 22 percent were beaten with the militants’ rifles. Almost 6 percent experienced other forms of torture, including electric shocks, squeezing of their toes or fingers with tweezers, multiple bullet wounds from shock pistols or similar weapons, and the use of sharp items to cause injury. Almost 75 percent of the civilians in captivity had been threatened with firearms or other weapons.

A woman taken prisoner said of her experience, “I was beaten by a man who called himself Oleg Kubrak. He threatened to rape me, and slashed my arms, legs, and neck with a knife.” Another prisoner recounted, “The militants began to hit me with the butt of their machine guns around the head, back, to my arms. They pulled my arms behind my back. Each tried to hit me, each tried to grab me by the hair.”

Russian captors

Of the Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer battalion members who were captured, 83 percent reported that they had been seized as a result of military clashes and with the direct involvement of Russian Federation forces. One Russian soldier, nicknamed “the Greek,” even presented a document identifying himself as a special response Spetsnaz officer from Moscow; another was commander of the Pskov paratrooper unit.

The study showed that over 87 percent of the Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer fighters captured faced especially brutal treatment, including physical violence and deliberate maiming, as well as humiliation.

To intimidate others, and to show off their captives as “trophies,” the militants have quite openly paraded the men they have taken captive. The most notorious occasion occurred in 2014, on Ukraine’s Independence Day, August 24: militants from the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” staged a shameful march through Donetsk of Ukrainian prisoners. A similar display took place in January this year.

Much of the above treatment, as well as documented cases of abductions and extrajudicial executions, fall within the scope of the International Criminal Court. Ukrainian human rights activists are adamant that Ukraine must ratify the Rome Statute as a matter of priority, so that those guilty of grave war crimes can be brought to answer for their offenses.

This article first appeared on The Atlantic Council site.

by Halya Coynash,
member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Signing of the Treaty on the “Incorporation of New Territories into Russia,” De Facto the Annexation of the Occupied Territories of Ukraine

Sep 30 2022

On Friday, September 30, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic,” as well as the occupation administrations of Zaporizhia and Kherson regions, signed treaties in the Kremlin on “joining Russia.”

Free Russia Foundation strongly condemns the decision of Vladimir Putin and his administration to continue the illegal annexation of the occupied territories in Ukraine. The forcible change of international borders at the expense of another sovereign state and the so-called “referenda” that preceded it are a serious violation of the foundations of international law and cannot be recognized under any circumstances.

Natalia Arno, president of Free Russia Foundation: “Today Vladimir Putin has de facto announced the illegal annexation of the occupied territory of a sovereign state. The signing of this treaty is a blatant violation of the fundamental norms of international law and the Charter of the United Nations, of which Russia is a member. Such actions by the Russian President, together with previously announced military mobilization and nuclear blackmail, only lead to an escalation of the conflict and new human sacrifices. In the modern world, borders cannot be redrawn at gunpoint. Russia’s actions are illegal and unacceptable to the civilized world.”

Free Russia Foundation, which provides support to Russian activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, calls on all countries and international organizations to join us in resolute and public condemnation of Russian military aggression and its illegal actions to tear away the territory of sovereign Ukraine. We urge you to call on the Kremlin to cease its hostilities and leave the territories it has seized.

Free Russia Foundation Condemns the Kremlin’s Decision to Annex the Occupied Territories of Ukraine and Preparations for Mobilization in Russia

Sep 20 2022

On September 20, 2022, the occupation authorities of the self-proclaimed republics “LNR” and “DNR” and other occupied territories of Ukraine, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, hastily announced that they would hold “referendums on joining Russia” in the near future. The authorities of the “LNR” and “DNR” added that the vote will take place as early as this week, from September 23 to 27, 2022.

On the same day, the Russian State Duma introduced the concepts of “mobilization,” “martial law” and “wartime” into the Russian Criminal Code. The deputies voted for the law in the third reading unanimously — all 389 of them. Now voluntary surrender, looting and unauthorized abandonment of a unit during combat operations will result in imprisonment.

From the first day of the war unleashed by Putin’s regime and its allies against independent Ukraine, Free Russia Foundation, which supports Russian activists, journalists, and human rights activists forced to leave the country because of direct security threats, has condemned the crimes of Putin’s regime against independent Ukraine. We respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states and consider human life and freedom to be of the highest value.

The forthcoming “referendums”, mobilization, and martial law are a collapse of the whole system of “Putin’s stability,” the illusion of which the Kremlin has been trying to maintain since the beginning of the full-scale war with Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is preparing to blatantly violate international law once again and launch an attack on democracy and freedom in Ukraine and Europe. Any statements by the Kremlin that residents of the occupied territories of Ukraine want to become part of Russia are false.

Three decades ago, the Ukrainian people proclaimed the independence of their state. Since 2014, the world has seen that Vladimir Putin has undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty and any attempts at anti-war protest in Russia through military force, repressive legislation, false statements, and massive state propaganda. Despite all the suffering inflicted on Ukraine, Putin has failed to achieve this goal: Ukrainians continue to show fortitude and determination to defend their country at any cost, and Russian anti-war resistance continues despite repression.

We consider any attempts to tear away Ukrainian territory through so-called “referendums” categorically unacceptable and call on state institutions and international human rights organizations to join the demand for an immediate end to the war and the liberation of the occupied territories. Any war brings suffering to humanity and endangers peace. We will not allow a totalitarian dictatorship to prevail and we will continue to fight for Ukraine’s independence and Russia’s democratic future.

Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Vladimir Milov as Vice President for International Advocacy

Sep 01 2022

September 1, 2022. Washington, DC. Free Russia Foundation announces the appointment of Russian politician, publicist, economist, and energy expert Vladimir Milov as FRF Vice President for International Advocacy.

In her announcement of Vladimir’s new role, Natalia Arno, President of Free Russia Foundation, remarked: “I am delighted to welcome this distinguished Russian civil society leader to our team. I am certain that Vladimir will become our force multiplier and make a profound contribution to FRF’s mission, including strengthening civil society in Russia, standing up for democracy defenders who oppose war, both inside and outside the country, building coalitions and mobilizing supporters. Vladimir Milov’s professional skills and extensive experience in human rights advocacy will help us come up with effective and innovative approaches to combat the authoritarian regime and repression that the current Russian government has unleashed against citizens of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.”

Vladimir Milov was born on June 18, 1972. From 1997—2002 he worked in government agencies, more than 4 years of which were in senior positions, from assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Energy Commission to the Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia.

Vladimir Milov has bravely and publicly called out the authorities for monopolizing the economy, and encroaching into public and political life of Russian citizens. Milov’s profile as an opposition leader rose thanks to his joint project with Boris Nemtsov. The report titled “Putin. Results,” condemned the activities of the Russian government during Putin’s presidency. In 2010, Mr. Milov headed the Democratic Choice movement, which later served as the basis for the creation of a political party with the same name.

In 2016, Mr. Milov became an associate of the unregistered presidential candidate Alexei Navalny. On May 11, 2017, he began hosting a weekly segment on the economy, “Where’s the Money?” on the NavalnyLIVE broadcast on YouTube.

In April of 2021, he left Russia for Lithuania amidst persecution of Alexei Navalny’s organizations. In February of 2022, he categorically condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On May 6, 2022, the Russian Ministry of Justice added Vladimir Milov to the list of media outlets considered as “foreign agents.” Vladimir Milov is a regular guest expert for the world’s leading media outlets — CNN, CNBC, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal.

Kara-Murza faces a new charge as the Kremlin cracks down on its opponents

Aug 04 2022

Russian pro-democracy politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, who’s been in jail since April for allegedly spreading “disinformation” about the Russian military, now also stands accused of “carrying out the activities of an undesirable organization,” which names Free Russia Foundation in the newly filed charge.

Free Russia Foundation, unconstitutionally designated as an “undesirable” organization by the Russian government in June 2019, did not organize an event on political prisoners in Moscow in 2021. FRF does not have any presence or programs inside Russia. Additionally, FRF has never conducted any work in the State of Arizona.

FRF strongly condemns the new charges brought against Vladimir Kara-Murza by Russian authorities and demands the dropping of all charges against him and calls for his immediate release.

“All actions of the Kremlin directed against Russian opposition politicians and activists have nothing in common with establishing the truth. They are instead aimed solely at getting rid of opponents of Putin’s regime,” FRF President Arno stated.

Free Russian Foundation and Boris Nemtsov Foundation launch “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign

Jul 25 2022

Russia is not Putin. We are Russia.

We aim at sharing this message with our friends around the world — therefore, in cooperation with Boris Nemtsov Foundation we are launching “Russians for Change” fundraising campaign.

We are going to be telling the stories of active pro-democracy anti-war Russians who have not lost their hope. US nationals also participate in this campaign: Francis Fukuyama, investigative journalist Casey Michel, and alumni of Boris Nemtsov Foundation media school.

Thank you for your donation:

The Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom honors the political legacy of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian liberal opposition politician assassinated in Moscow in 2015. It promotes freedom of speech and education along with the vision that Russia is a part of Europe.