A grave has been exhumed in Sloviansk containing the remains of people killed during the months in 2014 when Sloviansk was under the control of ‘former’ Russian military intelligence officer Igor Girkin and his militants.
The police reported on 18 August 2020 that the grave had been uncovered as part of a preliminary criminal investigation, and some of their findings are, for this reason, secret.
The grave was on the territory of the cemetery but was clearly not intended to be found. DNA samples have now been taken and sent for analysis to Kyiv in the hope that people can finally learn the fate of loved ones who disappeared without trace during the months of occupation – from 12 April to 8 July 2014. Forensic experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross were present during the exhumation.
The police note that this is not the first such exhumation of mass graves in Sloviansk. On 24 July 2014, just weeks after the militants fled the advancing Ukrainian Army, a major exhumation was carried out which uncovered the bodies of 14 civilians believed to have been killed by Girkin and his Russian and pro-Russian militants. These included four members of the Evangelical Church of the Transfiguration in Sloviansk: the two sons – Reuben and Albert – of Paster Oleksandr Pavenko, and two deacons of the church Viktor Bradarsky and Volodymyr Velichko. The four were abducted from the Trinity Sunday festive service on June 8, and are believed to have been tortured and then killed the next day. Russian television had already tried to pass the murders off as the work of Ukrainian soldiers, claiming – falsely – that they had been killed for helping the militants. In fact, they may have been killed to steal their cars – which would not be the first time that militants, treated as heroes by Russia, killed purely for gain.
The militants did not bother to hide the bodies of all their victims. Volodymyr Rybak, a 42-year-old Horlivka City Council deputy, was seized on 17 April 2014, after he tried to remove the flag of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’] which the Russian and pro-Russian militants had hung over the Council building and restore the Ukrainian flag to its place. His horrifically mutilated body was found in a stream near Sloviansk, together with that of 19-year-old Yuri Popravka. The young lad had, together with Yuri Dyakovsky, who was 25, and three other young Maidan activists, set off for Sloviansk to try to gather information about the militants. They were seized almost immediately, with Dyakovsky’s body found a bit later.
The first evidence of extrajudicial executions and other war crimes was reported by western journalists who arrived in Sloviansk soon after the militants fled. Girkin, who is on trial (in his absence) in the Hague for his believed role in the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17, likes to boast of his activities in Donbas, and in 2016 admitted to extrajudicial executions during an interview. Although the latter was later removed, it has been widely reported, and was doubtless saved for submissions from Ukraine to the International Criminal Code. More recently, Girkin also admitted to using civilians as human shields in Donbas.
In July 2020, Christopher Miller, one of the journalists who had entered Sloviansk after the militants left, and other RFERL journalists published an article entitled ‘The Executioners Of Sloviansk’. In it, they identified some of what they called “the Russia-backed militants — including one with ties to a longtime Putin aide in the Kremlin — who ordered the extrajudicial executions of Ukrainians by firing squad and set a dark tone for the war in the Donbas”.
There are documents about the extrajudicial killings of civilian Oleksiy Pichko and two Ukrainians who joined the militants (Dmytro Slavov and Mykola Lukyanov) which show that the order to execute came from so-called “military tribunals” set up by Girkin “on the basis of a draconian law conceived by dictator Josef Stalin and imposed shortly after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in World War II.” The authors were able to identify nine militants who took part in these ‘military tribunals, and discovered that one of them, Viktor Anosov, “is tied through a Moscow-based organization for Russia-backed fighters to Vladislav Surkov, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest aides at the time of the executions and the architect of the Kremlin’s Ukraine policy.”
The authors ascertained that at least some of the nine men had received Russian citizenship and will doubtless be protected from prosecution, just as Russia is shielding the men on trial over MH17, the men who tortured and murdered 16-year-old schoolboy Stepan Chubenko and others. That is one of the reasons that justice is denied the victims and their families, but unfortunately Ukraine is also to blame. In the seventh year of Russian aggression against Ukraine, the latter’s legislators are still dragging their feet on critically important legislation that will enable criminal prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity, etc.
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