By Senior Voices of Ukraine Staff
Today, activists in both Ukraine, Canada, Poland, Austria, the USA and the Czech Republic marked Ukrainian political prisoner [Oleksandr] Sasha Kolchenko’s birthday in a variety of ways, including by organizing a symbolic action in airport arrival terminals, entitled “Pointless Waiting” or as they called it in Toronto,“Waiting in Vain,” to support Kolchenko and other Ukrainian political prisoners. Each activist carried a sign with Kolchenko’s name or the name of a political prisoner who is being unjustly and illegally held – by now there are around 60 political prisoners whom Moscow is holding in either Crimea or Russia. The action was timed to coincide with Kolchenko’s birthday, it is now his 4th birthday behind bars in a crude, cold and remote prison in Kopeysk, in Chelyabinsk oblast, Russia. The title of this global action carries some irony and is intended to create a sense of dissonance that stays with the viewer, since “Waiting in Vain” is fundamentally about showing up for an act of remembrance, a supportive action of hope-filled determination, and a meme-change from writing postcards to prisoners. Far from being ‘pointless’, it alerts the authorities to the continued determination of global civil society to stand with the dissidents and lets the prisoners themselves know visually that they are awaited globally by many, with flowers and open arms.
The action was started by Czech activists in Prague, one of whom, Otakar van Gemund stated: “We are symbolically waiting for the ‘victims of Putin’s Russia.’ The FB event page specifies: This time around the action will focus exclusively on Ukrainians who find themselves in Russian captivity in Russian-occupied Crimea, the Russian-occupied area of the Ukrainian Donbas region, or in Russia itself. There they are either languishing in jail without any form of due process, are in custody awaiting an unfair and manipulated trial or are already serving a prison sentence after having been unjustly convicted on the basis of falsified charges. This particular action is conceived internationally to take place on November 26, the birthday of the wrongfully convicted Ukrainian activist Oleksandr ‘Sasha’ Kolchenko, at various airports right across the world.”
In Toronto, at the Pearson International Airport, activists gathered at the Arrivals gate to focus on Crimean and especially Crimean Tatar political prisoners–many of whom have not enjoyed the same wider media attention of other Ukrainian political prisoners. The chairman of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center and member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Eskender Bariyev has stated that 57 political prisoners are currently held in Russian-occupied Crimea. Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister for Information Policy Emine Dzhaparova noted that, “More than 50 symbols of resistance in the annexed Crimea are people who are under trial or are serving their sentences in political cases, and it is important to inform [the public] about these cases and other cases of violations of rights and freedoms in Crimea,” adding that 100 children are now left on the peninsula without support from parents who are victims of repression. Since Russian annexation, Crimea has been subject to more frequent searches in the homes and offices of especially pro-Ukrainian independent journalists, public activists, activists of the Crimean Tatar national movement, members of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, as well as Crimean Muslims suspected of having links to the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organization with no links to violence in Crimea, that is banned in Russia, but not in Ukraine.
Signs held by activists participating in the Pearson International Airport action included the names of Sasha Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov, Bekir Degermendzhi, Mustafa Degermendzhi, Ali Asanov, Asan Chapukh, Kazim Ametov, Volodymyr Balukh, Muslim Aliev, Remzi Memetov, Enver Mamutov.
Last year at mid-November, according to the U.S. OSCE Mission to Ukraine, there were 21 Crimean Tatars facing baseless charges of “terrorism” or “extremism” and 30,000 Crimean residents had fled the peninsula fearing reprisal for their pro-Ukrainian views. These repressions were the basis for global sanctions to remain in place against the Kremlin until Russia ends its occupation and attempted annexation and returns control of the territories to Ukraine. Today, a year later, both of those numbers have grown exponentially and the OSCE Mission’s current report states: “The politically motivated targeting of Crimean Tatars, and others opposed to Russia’s occupation of Crimea, continues unabated…Russia has detained dozens of Ukrainians on a variety of baseless pretexts…Those who have survived more than three years of Moscow’s bloody conflict face ever deteriorating conditions…we all know the truth: this is Russia’s conflict, but it is unwilling to make even simple moves to reduce tensions…We demand the sides treat detainees humanely, and call on Russia to respect the spirit of the Minsk agreements, and to authorize the exchange of detainees without delay.”
The Crimea Human Rights Group has put together a blacklist of information regarding all judges involved in illegally imprisoning Ukrainian citizens in Russian-occupied Crimea. Despite the fact that decisions to persecute individual Ukrainian citizens are made in the Kremlin, this list provides evidence to back demands for these individuals to face sanctions and is documentation for the international courts.
Last month, in October, the Kremlin’s most famous Ukrainian political prisoner, filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, was sent to a brutal prison north of the Arctic Circle in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the ‘White Bear’ Prison Colony No. 8 in Labytnangi. This prison colony is said to be ‘red’, a term used when the staff are free to impose their own ruthless regime, with many reports of prisoners being brutally beaten.
If you can write even a sentence in Russian (as only Russian messages are accepted) to support Sasha Kolchenko, send him a postcard to the address:
Kolchenko Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (born 1989),
IK-6, 20 Kemerovskaya Str.,
Kopeysk, Chelyabinsk Oblast, 456612, Russia.
For a list of Ukrainian political prisoners and their profiles and information on their cases, see at the end of the article here: Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
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