Ukrainian authorities lack the commitment and resolve to indict former government officials who contributed to the start of the war

Author: Dmytro Snegiryov, Head of Prava Sprava public initiative.

On July 30, 2016, the former head of the Party of Regions faction, Oleksandr Yefremov was detained at Boryspil airport on suspicions of infringing on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine.

According to the Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, Yefremov is charged with embezzling Luhanskvuhillya company property, committing intentional actions that aimed to change the borders of Ukraine, violating the Constitution, which led to hundreds of deaths, and providing organizational and other support for the establishment and activities of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic.

The evidence against Yefremov regarding the economic offense is weak to begin with. The case is difficult to prove. Luhanskvuhillya is located in territory under the control of the separatists so it is impossible to obtain any documents or conduct an investigation, which would prove Yefremov’s guilt.

The charges on the promotion of separatism and treason are more promising. Investigators suspect Yefremov of encroaching on the country’s territorial integrity. With expertly collected evidence, these articles would lead to life imprisonment.

However, despite the fact that the trial has already lasted a long time, there is serious doubt that a real sentence will be passed. The key witnesses who could confirm Yefremov's direct involvement in the creation of LPR either fled Ukraine or had the prosecution against them lifted.

Arsen Linchayev in particular, the “right hand of Yefremov” is currently in Russia. Interestingly, Klinchayev was able to leave the country without any issues, which suggests that he could have been allowed to leave on purpose. Without this key witness, the case against Yefremov weakens considerably.

The charges were dropped against another of Yefremov's accomplices, former MP Volodymyr Medianyk. Medianyk was arrested on August 6, 2016. He was charged with encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as involvement in the creation of the separatist LPR.

On August 8, Pechersky District Court of Kyiv ordered that Medianyk be detained for a period of 60 days until October 4. Then Lutsenko stated that "that there is enough evidence in the case and it will move on to the court hearings."

Later on, the Prosecutor General changed his rhetoric and said that when the separatists were capturing governmental buildings in Luhansk, former MP from the Party of Regions Volodymyr Medianyk was an intermediary between the separatists and the Ukrainian side and "played a positive role for Ukrainian state for the moment."

Just to add a few words regarding “Medianyk’s positive role” in Ukrainian state.

According to open sources, there was a time when Medianyk publicly offered a 1-million-hryvnia reward for the head of Ukrainian pilot who was allegedly involved in the rocket attack on the Luhansk Regional State Administration.

In September 2014 Medianyk also played "a positive role for the Ukrainian state" he and a group of MPs visited the Russian State Duma which prompted the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs to open a criminal investigation for based on article 110, paragraph 2, of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, “violation of territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine by the representatives of the authorities”.

Medianyk’s “positive involvement on these occasions” could have contributed to his unfettered departure from the country.

In the case of another of Yefremov’s henchmen, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has formed no adequate response. Deputy Chairman of the Regional Council, former member of the Party of Regions Evhen Kharin was promoting the idea of creating a so-called regional branch of "Vsevelikoe Voisko Donskoe" or “The Great Don Republic” in Luhansk territory.

Those were direct calls for changing the administrative-territorial system and military aggression by Russia. It is now known that it is precisely the Don Cossacks who formed the basis of anti-Ukrainian rebellion in the east of the Ukraine. The SBU said that Kharin’s actions do not constitute a crime.

There is one interesting detail in Yefremov’s case. Realizing that the charges against Yefremov could be refuted by the defense or closed because of the lack of proof, on January 12, 2017, Prava Sprava public initiative sent an open letter to Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. The letter said that it is possible that the former head of the Party of Regions faction committed a number of criminal offenses. These include abuse of official powers, obstruction of lawful activities of trade union and incitement of a person to commit suicide at a time when Yefremov headed Luhansk Regional State Administration.

In July and August 1998 in Luhansk, Krasnodonvuhillia Company mining employees picketed the regional administration and regional council, whose leaders were then Oleksandr Yefremov and Viktor Tikhonov, demanding payment of wages that had been in arrears for two and a half years.

In accordance with the law, the miners who participated in the picket filed their application for the celebration of Independence Day beforehand. It included a torchlight procession down the street to the Soviet monument of "Luhansk worker" and afterwards burning of the effigy of the "parasite."

As a result of a pressure exerted by the regional leaders Yefremov and Tikhonov, the leadership of the directorate of Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Luhansk region approved the decision to disperse the protest.

Authorities used batons and tear gas against the participants of the peaceful protest. According to official data, 22 miners, 12 “Berkut” employees and 3 police officers were injured. The internal investigation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and hearings in the Verkhovna Rada did not lead to the punishment of the perpetrators of the attack on civilians. The demands made by the picketers were ignored. Once again, the administration promised to restore the payment of wages on December 15.

On December 3, 1998, the Verkovna Rada adopted a resolution that demanded to take immediate and effective measures to pay off the debts to miners. However, the executive authorities of the Luhansk region ignored the resolution made by the Verkhovna Rada, the highest legislative body of the country.

Further, the failure to fulfill the demands prompted miners to use more radical forms of protest. An indirect reason for this was a speech by the Deputy Chairman of the regional council, Valery Holenko, broadcast on Luhansk television, who said that the resolution document was false and would not be executed.

On December 14, 1998, after 155 days of picketing outside the building of Luhansk regional state administration by the miners, who were demanding insurance payments and payment of wage arrears, an employee of the Barakov coal mine, Oleksandr Mikhalevich made a definitive public statement. He set fire to himself and died in the square in front of the regional administration.

All this time, the public had been demanding the creation of a commission to investigate the violence against the peaceful protesters. The authorities have not heard these demands. Reality has demonstrated that the slogan "Bandits belong in prisons" is nothing but words.

It should be noted that Yefremov was previously charged with inciting ethnic hatred in 2013-2014. However, after a philological examination it appeared that Yefremov did not say anything incriminating in his speeches.

At the time, the Prosecutor General's Office could not find grounds for charges in the actions of Oleksandr Yefremov. Criminal proceedings were closed and bail was refunded on March 24, 2016 after the decision by Pechersk District Court judge Chrystyna Tarasyuk to do just that.

The case against Yefremov, most likely, is about the so-called "deals" with the Opposition Bloc party. This is evidenced in particular by the recent vote of the Opposition Bloc together with the ruling parties in favor of auditing NABU.

To this day there have been no real punitive measures against former and current officials whose actions contributed to the annexation of the Crimea and the initiation of the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. No charges have been pressed against the organizers of the separatist rally in Kharkiv, which was held in February 2014.

Criminal cases are being investigated very slowly and inefficiently. Constant attempts are made to divert the attention of Ukrainians towards internal political strife, while cases are quietly closed for lack of evidence. Ukrainians are starting to think about who is in power today and whose interests they really defend.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of UAWire. The article has been published with the permission of the author.

  Ukraine, Oleksandr Yefremov