By Ruslan Kotsaba, translated to English and published on Liva.com, Feb 16, 2017
Introduction by New Cold War.org:
Ruslan Kotsaba is a citizen journalist in western Ukraine who became renowned when he was arrested in February 2015 for opposing the Ukrainian government’s civil war in eastern Ukraine. He was arrested by the Security Service of Ukraine and charged with ‘high treason’. The source of the accusation was his call on Ukrainians to refuse to serve when called up for the compulsory military service. Conscription was re-introduced by Ukraine in the spring of 2014 following its abolition only one year earlier.
At a trial on May 12, 2016, Ivano-Frankivsk city court acquitted Kotsaba of treason but found him guilty of “obstructing operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine”. He was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. On July 14, 2016, the Appeal Court of Ivano-Frankivsk region acquitted him and ordered his release from custody. You can read the story of his acquittal in an article by Halyna Mokrushyna here on New Cold War.org.
The following essay by Ruslan Kotsaba was translated to English and published in the Ukrainian web publication ‘Liva’ on February 16, 2017.
Two years have passed since my arrest. On this sad anniversary, I recollect my 524 days in prison and time and again assure myself that I have nothing to regret. To be sure, I am sorry for those days lost in prison. Nowadays, I try to be in contact as much as possible with my beloved daughters – Kvitka and Zirka. But I feel no regret that I made the video against the unlawful mobilization undertaken by the Ukrainian authorities that led to my imprisonment, and I would do it again in similar circumstances. I’m fully aware that our special services have been converted into “thought police” analogous to the Tsarist “Okharanka” and that they will not forgive me. They exist using taxes paid by us, but protect only a small group of men and do not pay attention to the concerns of the state as a whole and its people.
Furthermore, I believe that every person who considers himself honest has no right to keep silent while looking at our current state of affairs. The existing regime tries to implement a dictatorship in Ukraine with fancy camouflage and sharovary [traditional clothing]. At first sight it looks ridiculous, but at its core it is ugly and brutal. People are stripped of their rights and impoverished. And every person who dares to criticize the existing authorities, every person protesting against the war, is labeled an agent of Putin and enemy of the people.
In these sad circumstances, we must first of all unite and act together – and not be afraid of the government. The regime is faltering. The economy is not working and manufacturing is wiped out. All is propped up thanks to the printing machine producing large quantities of hryvna and this is clearly propelling inflation. The regime is losing crucially-important backing from the United States – the new authorities in Washington allude to withdrawal of money granted to build democracy and actually used to facilitate dictatorship and persecution of dissidents (me among them).
I have nothing to regret. After my release, I stated my position openly and sincerely – and the majority agrees with me. Many features which I tried to draw attention to in my video two years ago have gained significance since then. We see new facts exposed concerning crimes and looting by paramilitary groups. The rank and file is found guilty and persecuted for crimes committed by commanders and politicians. I tried to give warning that the proliferation of law enforcement authorities would lead to total corruption. Indeed, we are leading in the global corruption ranking and renowned globally as the most corrupt state. The regime admits it is corrupt, then theatrically holds out its hands and asks for money to fight its own total corruption. A Theatre of the Absurd in the center of Europe.
But everything has its beginning and its end. I am convinced that Petro Poroshenko and his entourage, who converted the so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation into a tool to rob the people, will be prosecuted for Constitutional violations. The irony is that Petro Poroshenko should be the guarantor that the Constitution is not violated. I refer first of all to the unconstitutional use of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against the people of Ukraine. It is a crime which should bring Poroshenko to the Hague Tribunal. For three years his group has maintained the Anti-Terrorist Operation in the country. But can the entire population of a densely inhabited part of Ukraine be considered terrorists? Is it lawful to kill them, to deny them their pension allowances and other social security payments? And will it go on forever?
You can’t deny that it is indeed a Theatre of the Absurd when the president says that Ukraine is strictly fulfilling the Minsk accord and no shelling is made by Ukrainian troops in Donbass, while at the same time television channels report a hill being captured near Debaltsevo or Donetsk. The TV even reports that a particular hill bears a Chechen flag on top. Nobody has seen this flag, but these reports by themselves show that Ukraine violates the Minsk accord. And the entire world sees it and feels the weariness of undernourished Ukrainians.
I was invited to Brussels by European Parliament members from the European United Left–Nordic Green Left and The Greens–European Free Alliance political groups. They state that Ukrainian authorities have no intention to investigate the murders committed at Maidan and in Odessa in May 2014. These political groups want European society to acknowledge this. On February 28 I am going to appear at a round-table discussion with the revealing title, “Three Years since Kiev and Odessa Tragedy: Where is the Outcome of the Investigation?”
To me it seems important that European politicians see a connection between those tragic events. In fact, both of them are essentially two points in the ascending power of the current Ukrainian regime. The authorities try to conceal the truth about these tragic events of 2014. Three years ago I saw with my own eyes the looted arsenal of the Security Service of Ukraine in Ivano-Frankivsk. Several hundred guns, including sniper rifles used by Ukrainian special forces, were taken. Where are these guns? Who was killed using them?
Please note that nobody was prosecuted for the Ivano-Frankivsk assault. A question should be asked – why does the regime pardon en masse its supporters who committed grave crimes, yet has no intention of doing the same for Donbass citizens who tried to exercise their rights to oppose hostile authorities (illegitimate at that period of time) and in principle doing the same thing as Maidan supporters?
There are a lot of similar issues. Why are there so many political prisoners in Ukraine (reporters and bloggers among them)? Why was I persecuted for simply trying to use the right of freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution and president? And why even now, after I was released under pressure from the EU, does the General Prosecutors Office challenge the decision and try to return me to prison? A judge put this claim aside, as it could not be enforced for political reasons. If that appeal by the General Prosecutors Office is formally denied, I will have grounds to file an action against Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights to get indemnity for my unlawful imprisonment.
We should acknowledge that Ukraine is slipping into totalitarian mire. I worked in the “Memorial” group and I am well informed about legal cases of Ukrainians who were prosecuted during Stalinist political repressions (including my own grandmother). It is a pity, but the oppressive atmosphere reigning in Ukrainian society today is very similar to that of the 1930s.
I will not be afraid. I was imprisoned and I have overcome my fear. I will speak the truth and I urge you not to remain silent. We shall unite ourselves despite political differences. Only common action can save our country.