Surrealism During the Plague: How the SBU Fights Traitors and Spies in Ukraine During Coronavirus

After the new team came to power, i.e. people close to President Zelensky, many expected that the state security system would come to order and that Ukrainians would stop being jailed for fictional crimes. It turned out that these hopes were in vain. And under the new leadership, the practice of “politically motivated jailing” continued.

In February of this year, the head of the SBU, Ivan Bakanov, met with a representative of the US State Department, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, and concurrently Chief Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales.

A lot was said about the high level of cooperation, threats to the civilized world, etc. Bakanov even reported to the State Department about the activities of the SBU: “The main task of our special service is not to catch small fraudsters, but to take care of national security. And our results just confirm the effectiveness of the new approaches.”

Here it becomes interesting what these new approaches are. The old approaches are the work of Poroshenko/Gritsak, under the leadership of which many hundreds of people (and according to a number of human rights organisations – thousands of people) were arrested by the SBU for treason and encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine — for publishing articles in newspapers, posts on social networks, speeches at legal and coordinated rallies, etc. Maybe the “new approaches” should consist of some kind of opposite activity. Maybe the opening of criminal cases against SBU employees who were engaged in kidnapping and torture? Or maybe something is being actively done concerning the arson on the May 2nd in Odessa? There is a lot to do in a country where an armed coup took place 6 years ago, and where no one has been punished for it.

But let’s not try to guess, because everything can be found in the latest public report of the SBU for 2019, exactly the year of Bakanov’s “new approaches”. We look at the section “Military counterintelligence” that interests us: “according to the materials of military counterintelligence, more than a hundred persons were reported as suspicious. 37 persons were convicted of terrorist and sabotage activities, and 31 persons were convicted of treason and espionage. In total, 195 court sentences came into force last year in the opened criminal proceedings based on the materials of the national security protection and counter-terrorism units.” If we do not take into account one Chinese and one ISIS member with an exotic surname, then all spies and terrorists are citizens of Ukraine, allegedly acting in the interests of Russia and/or the LDPR.
But maybe it was under Poroshenko that those who publicly called Poroshenko a terrorist were declared terrorists, while now the real saboteurs, spies, and agents of influence have appeared in large numbers? Let’s look at the latest March detentions.

March madness

On March 4, “agitators who called for the seizure of state power and violation of the territorial integrity of our country” were detained in Odessa and Zaporozhye. However, it is not specified to whom this call was addressed. The press service of the SBU assures us that these people posted on their pages on the “forbidden Russian social networks” (meaning “VKontakte”, but it has not been banned, just simply blocked by a number of Internet providers, which everybody perfectly circumvent with the help of a VPN) “destructive materials that promote ideas of forced federalisation and the secession of the southern regions from Ukraine”. The content, of course, was obtained from the “propagandist Internet publications of the aggressor country”. In short, the posts were disseminated/shared.

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Does anyone understand what the “idea of forced federalisation” is? Is it when you come to the regional council with a machine gun and declare the Odessa or Zaporozhye region a federal district of Ukraine? And if the government in Kiev does not agree, then what? Well, you can still imagine the forced secession of territories, the creation of a separate state, but the forced federalisation of a region is a kind of surrealism. And yet, what exactly did the citizens call for – federalisation or withdrawal of the southern regions from Ukraine? Actually, these are different things. A woman from Odessa was accused on the basis of part 2 of the article 109 (seizure of power) for this, a man from Zaporozhye — of part 1 of the article 110 (encroachment on the territorial integrity).

On March 18, again in Odessa, a “separatist who has increased his activities” in connection with the coronavirus quarantine was captured — he publishes untruthful information about the coronavirus (I wonder if there is an examination by expert virologist concerning his case?), raises panic and sows protest moods among citizens, discredits the government, and calls for forced federalisation (they liked this stupid phrase simply because it is not prohibited by law to call for non-violent federalisation). As a result, he was accused of the same article 110 (encroachment on territorial integrity).

On March 20, “propagandists who were spreading separatist appeals and ideas of the so-called ‘Russian world'” via the Internet wee detained in Kiev.

This time, the investigation believes that the citizen was supervised by some mysterious Russian public organisation that the Russian government uses for information warfare against Ukraine, and the “agitator” even received money on a Russian bank card. Here’s a great phrase: “Law enforcement officers have identified materials that confirm the connection of the Internet propagandist with a pro-Russian public association, bank institutions of the Russian Federation, as well as a journalistic certificate of one of the Russian publications.”

Everything is wonderful here. At the beginning of the statement there was a “Russian” organisation, and at the end — a “pro-Russian” one. A connection with a Russian bank was identified — this is powerful. What kind of connection? Is he a bank customer, employee, or maybe a cash collector? What article of the Criminal Code of Ukraine prohibits having a “connection” with Russian banks? What article of the Criminal Code of Ukraine prohibits working as a journalist for Russian publications? Experience shows that such “miracles” do not come to court, but are used by the Press Service of the SBU for public justification of their actions. While the court, as usual, will notice the shares on social networks, something like: “Stop discriminating against the Russian language in Ukraine” or “Stop bombing Donbass”. Nevertheless, this person is accused under part 2 of the article 109 (seizure of power).

On March 23, an Internet agitator was neutralized in Dnepropetrovsk, who, “on the instructions of the Russian side, published on social networks untruthful information about the spread of COVID-19 in Ukraine, calling to violate the constitutional order and territorial integrity. To create panic, he had to photograph empty shelves in stores, queues at pharmacies, and record the work of special equipment and law enforcement officers. This was planned to be used for preparing fake news.”

It is unclear why the news will be fake if you actually get photos of empty shelves and queues at pharmacies. Although it is obvious from the wording that the detainee did not even take pictures of anything (is this forbidden?), but simply “had to”. Suspicion under article 110 (violation of territorial integrity).

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On March 24th, a female resident of the Kherson region who maintains contacts with the LDPR militants and coordinates her activities with the administrators of separatist groups in social networks was caught. Her activities against the state security of Ukraine consisted in the fact that on the social network she called coronavirus a “biological weapons of the United States” which got out of control. It is interesting: did the criticism of the United States start to undermine the national security of Ukraine before or after the meeting of the head of the SBU Bakanov with representatives of the State Department?

On March 27th there was a terrible “betrayal”. A female resident of Lvov who not only whipped up panic “fakes” about coronavirus to destabilise the situation in the region (is it Galician separatism, or what?), but also “promoted the idea of creating of the so-called Novorossiya”, was caught. I.e., Lvov is now pro-Novorossiya? The connection of the Lvov woman “with the special services of the Russian Federation and terrorist organisations of the LDPR” is being verified. Apparently, they themselves can’t believe it. Suspicion was raised under part 2 of article 109 and part 2 of article 110. This is already very serious, up to 10 years in prison.

What to do if they come to arrest you

I must say that Bakanov is right, the “new approach” is indeed very visible. If earlier you could be caught for the phrase “Poroshenko is a killer”, now it can happen for the phrase “the government is not fighting the epidemic”. When we say that almost all political prisoners were either released from prison in various ways or exchanged, we are talking about political prisoners from the time of Poroshenko. The names of the new ones — and we see that they do exist – are still unknown to the wide public.

And since many are dissatisfied with the epidemiological situation and the way the state is coping with it, many express their dissatisfaction publicly, including on social networks. So, what is the guarantee that “persons concerned with national security” will not come to them?

Well-known Kiev lawyer Valentin Rybin gave advice on what to do in the event “persons concerned” come to home: “If someone comes to your house, then before you open the door, ask for a court order authorising the search, and get a copy of it. Call a lawyer and don’t let the guests in until the lawyer arrives. If they come directly ‘through the door’ and put your face on the floor, then you should relax and wait for the moment when you will be able to call a lawyer (as a rule, this is the moment when ‘guests’ start talking to you). In any case, do not say a word until you are given the opportunity to call a lawyer, any one who is not gratuitous. If you are detained on the street or at work, at home or elsewhere, do not resist, go with your ‘friends’ to their place and call a lawyer from there. Remember: do not sign anything and do not give any evidence until your lawyer appears.”

Zaporozhye-based lawyer Olga Zelinskaya, through whose hands many “terrorists” passed, gives 6 points that a “terrorist” should follow during the search in order to stand more of a chance of avoiding prison: “1. call a lawyer; 2. carefully read the search warrant and maximally buy time until a lawyer arrives; 3. demand the involvement of an independent witness, and if there is a refusal, then record the reason for this on video or, at least, in the search report; 4. check the documents of all participants of the search and note their ID, because very often, the search is carried out not by the people in whose name the warrant was issued; 5. carefully make sure that the search is carried out simultaneously in one room, so that nothing is planted, and that it is done by the investigator, and not by the operative workers or any other people; 6. write down what is specifically seized during the search.”

Legal adviser from the law firm “Sich” (Kiev) Denis Korkunov explains that every citizen, even one to whom the SBU employees came, has constitutional rights: “A person who was visited by state security officials has rights enshrined in the Constitution and in criminal procedure legislation. First and foremost, you need to demand an explanation as to whether you are arrested or not, if yes – on what grounds you are suspected, to outline your right to have a lawyer, the right to receive medical care, the right to testify on the subject of matter of suspicion or to completely refuse ‘sentimental’ conversations with employees of the Security Service or the police, if such were sent to carry out the dark deeds of cloak and dagger knights. In accordance with article 213 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a detainee has the right to inform relatives, family members or other persons of their detention. In no case should you refuse the services of a professional defence lawyer, and before their arrival you should communicate as little as possible with law enforcement officers and do not sign any papers.

The most important thing is to remember that, according to article 63 of the Constitution of Ukraine, a person is not responsible for refusing to give evidence or explanations about themselves or their close relatives. And the main thing is that a person is considered innocent of committing a crime until the appropriate court verdict is passed.”

According to the law, a person is considered innocent. But the law is not taken into account either by the Press Service of the SBU or by journalists of the vast majority of Ukrainian publications that follow the SBU, declaring a person as criminal in advance, before the court has made a decision.

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Unfortunately, the jokes that appeared after 2014 about “thieves’ cant” and tattoos like “convicted for a ‘like’, “this author of successful comments was jailed”, “reposted in Odnoklassniki”, or “inveterate extremist of VK” did not remain a sad reminder of the past era, but quietly migrate to the present day, just hiding behind the fig leaf of the “new approach”.

Pavel Volkov

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