The Creative Profession of a SBU Employee: Anatomy of Pro-Russia Separatist Cases

On July 9th 2020, the head of the SBU Zaporozhye press service Sergey Levchenko wrote that the SBU “stopped the activities of a group of separatists who were part of one of the pro-Russian radical movements, whose followers advocate the separation of the southeastern regions from Ukraine to create terrorist organisations on their territory in the image of the L/DPR”.

According to Levchenko, the participants of this group, “after an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in Zaporozhye in the spring of 2014, went to temporarily occupied Lugansk and, according to the idea of the curators, were supposed to return to Zaporozhye and wait for further instructions.” Apparently, waiting for such instructions for 6 years, they, “on the eve of public holidays, distributed destructive materials in the city with calls for the overthrow of the constitutional system, forced federalisation, and the creation of a fake ‘Zaporozhye People’s Republic'”. In support of the above, during the search, SBU officers allegedly seized “computer equipment, mobile phones, medals and badges of the so-called ‘L/DPR’ and the aggressor country, ammunition, and separatist and communist symbols”. According to Levchenko, criminal proceedings were opened under part 2 of article 110 (encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine) and part 1 of article 436-1 (dissemination of communist symbols).

“Sleepers” in Zaporozhye

This message immediately raised a number of questions. What “pro-Russian radical movement” did they belong to? Why wasn’t it specified? What is the attempt to seize power in Zaporozhye in the spring of 2014? Or is this attempt actually a rally of 500 people sanctioned by the city authorities on the Walk of Fame near the City Hall? Why is it necessary to separate the territories of the southeast in order to create “terrorist organisations” on them? What prevents them from being created without separation, and who will they terrorise if they separate? Why did the cell “sleep” for 6 years and become active only by the summer of 2020? What are these “destructive materials calling for the creation of the ZPR” that they distributed in the city and why do the citizens not know about them, if they were “distributed”? What is the danger of creating a non-existent ZPR? What are the medals of the L/DPR and the “aggressor country”? Why can’t a person keep Russian medals at home and what law prohibits it? Why, if it is said about calls to overthrow the constitutional order, were proceedings initiated not under article 109 (actions aimed at forcibly changing or overthrowing the constitutional order), but under article 110 of the constitution (encroachment on the territorial integrity of Ukraine)?

Then specific media outlets started not only to spread this, to put it mildly, strange statement of the SBU, but also to invent their own tall tales. So, associated with “Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc” and “National Corpus” Zaporozhye Internet channel “Zaporozhye NOW” (the one that first published a video showing “National Corpus” bullying a 14-year-old girl) wrote: “The SBU detained a group of people in Zaporozhye who came to the city to do a ‘Russian spring’. In 2014, after the attempt to create a ‘ZPR’ failed, the men went to non-controlled parts of Donbass, where they helped the terrorists. In 2020, they decided that they can ‘do it again’, but it turned out that they can’t.” The phrase “they came to the city to do a Russian spring” sounds very original in relation to people who lived in it constantly both before 2014 and after. In addition, the SBU report does not say that the men were “detained”. It says they “stopped their activity”, whatever that means.

“Channel 24”, a member of the media pool of former President Petro Poroshenko, picked up the story, saying that the attackers “propagandised the ideas of a “Russian spring”, in particular regarding the creation of a fake “People’s Republic”, adding: “in the interests of probably Russian intelligence agencies.”

The public page “Typical Zaporozhye” (part of the all-Ukrainian network created during Maidan) and its news site came up with the idea that “in Zaporozhye, they detained separatists who tried to create a ‘ZPR'”. We remember that the SBU did not say anything about a detention, or about an “attempt” to create a ZPR — only about the distribution of materials calling for such a creation.

Perhaps the Zaporozhye website most illiterate and, as a result, the most susceptible to espionage, “Zanoza”, also fantasised about “detention”, but added that “two cases were initiated in relation to the detainees.” The SBU also said that “criminal proceedings have been opened” and nothing more. Why two? How do we know what happened to the detainees?

As a result of these and other similar publications, one of the guys who was searched for lost his job. The photos posted by the SBU have been retouched, but you can recognise familiar faces.

“It cuts, it crushes, it gives help”

Now let’s explain how things really are.

On July 7th, by order of the judge of the Zhovtnevy district court of Zaporozhye (the SBU works exclusively with this court during the investigation), the Security Service of Zhukova conducted searches. The decree states that a criminal case was opened in January 2018 against a participant of the anti-Maidan movement in Melitopol, Ekaterina Umanets. She, staying in Russia, allegedly created a certain Zaporozhye cell of underground workers, who, on her instructions, are shaking the situation in the Zaporozhye region. Where this is taken from is unknown. This shaking consists of “acts of vandalism with the application of symbols of the DPR and ZPR terrorist organisations in the places where the crime was committed, with further distribution of photographs of this fact via the Internet and thus popularising the ideas of separatism and autonomism”.

The DPR is not recognised as a terrorist organisation by the UN Security Council or any Ukrainian court, but it at least exists. What ZPR is, it’s a mystery. Nevertheless, we see what the essence of the crime is – painting something in the city with the symbols of the DPR and ZPR (let’s assume that this is a crime). And this, as stated in the decree, is vandalism. Vandalism is outside the jurisdiction of the SBU, and the police should deal with it. Moreover, it is unclear where the qualification under article 110 (encroachment on territorial integrity) comes from, if it clearly states that responsibility comes for “calls”. Putting anywhere the symbols of the DPR and ZPR does not constitute any calls. Also, the symbols of the DPR and ZPR are not prohibited by the law “on the condemnation of the communist and nazi totalitarian regimes” as communist symbols. Thus, there is no article 436-1.

But it’s still interesting what was done and where. It turns out that on May 9th 2020, on the concrete base of a billboard in the Khortitsky district of Zaporozhye, unknown people put an inscription in white paint: “From May 9th, the DPR/ZPR”. And that’s all. The mountain gave birth to a mouse, and the specific media suffered a tantrum. By the way, here is the same photo, so that the reader can assess the full power of the “special operation of the Russian intelligence agencies” to overthrow the constitutional order in Ukraine with the help of a group of saboteurs who have been “sleeping” for 6 years.

Now about “popularising the ideas of separatism”. The court’s ruling said that on the same day, this photo was posted on the Facebook page, and then distributed “on the resources of the same name associated with the page ‘Zaporozhye NOW'”. The person whom the SBU considers the author of the inscription does not have a Facebook page. So, the primary source of “popularisation of ideas of separatism” is the SBU’s fabrication tank and the PR office of “National Corpus” – the anonymous website “Zaporozhye NOW”, which has no website, but only accounts on Facebook, Telegram and YouTube. So it’s like Aleksandr Tvardovsky: “It’s kind of like an ambulance goes: it cuts itself, it crushes itself, it gives help itself.”

Further, the investigation, trying to create the impression that the photo was purposefully distributed by an organised group of “terrorists”, misleads the court, saying that a similar photo was posted on May 11th “on the DPR website ‘'”. News-Front is a Crimean site, not a Donetsk one. And a dozen Ukrainian sites posted the same news, but for some reason they are not listed in the investigative documents.

What did judge Zhukova allow to search for? According to the decree, computers and mobile phones that were used to “commit an act of vandalism”, documents that confirm the connections of these people with various authorities of the Russian Federation, Crimea and the L/DPR, symbols and stencils of the L/DPR, flash drives, and other media. Not a word about “medals and badges”, nor a word about “communist symbols”.

The mountain gave birth to a mouse

So, on the morning of July 7th the searches began. Who are these people? In 2014, even before the start of hostilities, before the announcement of the ATO and before the introduction of the permit system, the guys actually went to Lugansk via ordinary public transport. Many people went there at that time — it was interesting to see what was really happening there, since it is very difficult to believe most of the Ukrainian media. After returning to Zaporozhye, everyone had a warning conversation with the SBU. Only a warning and nothing else — they did not violate any laws and were not involved in criminal prosecution. Since 2014, they have lived and worked quietly in Zaporozhye. And suddenly in the summer of 2020, the guys are tied to a criminal case from 2018 in relation to Ekaterina Umanets on unknown grounds. And there is a particularly serious article 111 (state treason), during the search for which a lawyer must be present. However, they not only did not have their rights explained to them, but also their phones were taken, not allowing them to contact a lawyer. So what are these mysterious “medals and badges of the so-called ‘L/DPR’ and the aggressor country” that were found during the search? A medal “for the capture of Crimea” or “for the Debaltsevo cauldron? By no means. We are talking about collectible badges that one of the guys ordered at Ukrainian online auctions for his personal collection. For example, anniversary badges of the KGB of the USSR, “200 years of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation” or “Northern Fleet” (ship with the St. Andrew’s banner).

Forbidden symbols, even if they are there, are not prohibited on collectible items. The court’s decision does not allow the removal of badges and collectible medals, so the SBU employees exceeded their authority, which is a criminal offence.

About “ammunition”. One of the searched people had camouflage-coloured clothing and berets (such gear is available for a lot of people, ranging from ATO soliders to fishermen), as well as an old Soviet helmet for historical reenactments, confiscated from them. The other guy was in possession of army boots and camouflage fabric (not even confiscated). The mountain again gave birth to a mouse, but the propagandists who incited civil strife within the country again supported the population’s espionage hysteria, creating an atmosphere of hatred and suspicion in society.

Collectible badges and berets are not a reason for arrest at the scene of a crime, even for the SBU, so no one was detained in accordance with the procedure defined by the Criminal Procedure Code. However, the guys were detained without a protocol being drawn up, i.e., illegally, and taken to the SBU department (in fact, they were kidnapped). As who? Suspects? But a notification of suspicion was not served to anyone. It turns out, as witnesses. Under the threat of beatings and the fact that they will not leave the department, people were forced to read their testimony on a video camera from a pre-written piece of paper, and then released. The guys are at large, they have not been charged at the moment, and lawyers are engaged in ensuring their constitutional rights.

However, there is no guarantee that the guys will not be charged after the examination. After all, the SBU investigator is a creative profession.

Pavel Volkov

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