Russian FSB comes for Ukrainian Cultural Centre activist in occupied Crimea
Olena Popova, Olha Pavlenko, Meryev Zeytullaeva (wife of political prisoner Ruslan Zeytullaev). Photo – Anton Naumlyuk
Olha Pavlenko has become the latest activist from the Ukrainian Cultural Centre to come under attack in Russian-occupied Crimea. A search was carried out early on 29 August, with Pavlenko later summoned to the FSB for interrogation. She and members of her family are suspected of links with Right Sector, the Ukrainian nationalist organization which Russia has been systematically demonizing since Euromaidan and which it banned in November 2014. This latest offensive has followed an aggressive piece of propaganda published on the pro-Russian News-Front website and other similar sources earlier in August, accusing the Ukrainian Cultural Centre of ‘subversive activities’.
The Ukrainian Cultural Centre was created in May 7, 2015, as a totally apolitical organization, focusing on Ukrainian culture, history and language. This, under Russian occupation, was still enough to provoke harassment and persecution and two of UCC’s founders – Leonid Kuzmin and Veldar Shukurdzhiev, as well as other activists (Natalya Kharchenko and her husband), have been forced to flee arrest and imprisonment.
Both Pavlenko and UCC activist Olena Popova were summoned for questioning in April 2018 about the work of the Centre and the newspaper they publish, ‘Krymsky Teren’. Both women refused to answer any questions, citing their right under Article 51 (of Russia’s constitution) to not give testimony against themselves.
Olha Pavlenko’s daughter Alina is in mainland Ukraine, and was a volunteer fighter in Donbas for a year. She reports that her parents have already faced several less formal visitations from the FSB, who tried to get her mother to phone her and persuade her to return to Crimea. Judging by several abductions, arrests and imprisonment of Ukrainians, as well as one Russian, charged solely with involvement in Right Sector, Alina Pavlenko would face immediate arrest if she returned to occupied Crimea.
The search on 29 August began at 6.30, with the FSB first knocking loudly and claiming that they were from the technical services and that the Pavlenkos had flooded the flat below. Pavlenko understood what was going on and rang her lawyer. The FSB then admitted to having a court order, but Pavlenko refused to allow them in until her lawyer, Oleksiy Lisovy arrived. She refused to sign the protocol of the search, saying she would do so only in the presence of her lawyer at the Investigative Committee offices. She and her lawyer were later summoned for questioning.
Krym.Realii was told by one person who knows the situation that Pavlenko and her husband had been expecting such a search after phone calls over the last few weeks. Although she was not directly threatened, there were clear attempts to exert psychological pressure.
Ukrainian human rights groups have issued a statement condemning this latest persecution of a Ukrainian Cultural Centre activist, and calling on the international community and international NGOs to put political and diplomatic pressure on Russia to stop its persecution of Ukrainian activists in Crimea.
Pavlenko has also actively participated in meetings of Crimean Solidarity, the civic initiative formed to provide support to political prisoners and their families. A number of members of Crimean Solidarity are now imprisoned on fabricated charges.
Russia’s persecution of Crimeans for supposed involvement in Right Sector began back in 2014, though there was no evidence that the organization had any presence in Crimea at all. Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, left-wing civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko were sentenced to 20 and 10 years, respectively, for an entirely fictitious ‘Right Sector terrorist plot’.
Over the last year, there have been several arrests and ‘trials’ in Russia of Ukrainians and Russians on charges of involvement in Right Sector in Ukraine where the organization is entirely legal.