Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, interviewed Vitaly Galakhov, head of the public organization “Fair Defense”, which provides legal assistance to victims of war crimes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donbas. The head of the Foundation discussed with a lawyer the war crimes committed by the armed forces of Ukraine on the territory of Donbass, found out why international courts and human rights organizations ignore appeals from Russian-speaking people and clarified when the war criminals of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be brought to justice.
Mira Terada: Good afternoon, dear Vitaly! Thank you for taking the time to interview the Foundation to Battle Injustice. Please tell our viewers and readers about yourself and what you do.
Vitaly Galakhov: In civilian life I was a lawyer, but with the outbreak of hostilities, seeing what was happening, I continued to practice law. In 2015, we created an informal organization, the Commission for Recording War Crimes. These are people who were engaged in law, journalism. We also had political scientists and criminologists. With such a small group of people, we started recording crimes that are being committed on the territory of Donbass. Because the newly created bodies, of course, were not up to it. We realized that this should be fixed. That is, there are relevant norms of international humanitarian law, there are relevant institutions. Then we had more confidence that it would all work. Now, of course, we have much less confidence after these eight years.
M.T.: What do you think Kiev is pursuing, ordering its military personnel to destroy civilians?
V.G.: I think we will not find evidence that Kiev orders the destruction of civilians. It’s just that after 8 years, if we observe the trend of 2014-2015, it all went unpunished. Divisions are beginning to act in the same spirit. At that time, after the liberation of Debaltseve, Uglegorsk and Shakhtersk, we came there. People told us that the servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or representatives of the battalions said that “if we leave this territory, we will not leave anything here.” That is, they, for example, left the village, left some city, village. The inscription on the house that people live here was a red rag. They turned the barrel on this house, fired, and left.
PEOPLE ARE SITTING IN BASEMENTS. THE UKRAINIAN MILITARY SEE THAT IT IS WRITTEN ON THE BASEMENT THAT PEOPLE LIVE HERE. THEY JUST THREW A GRENADE THERE.
The same thing is happening now. It all started back in 2014 — 2015. And the same thing is happening now. We enter the liberated territories, again we communicate with people, and we hear literally the same words. They said that “we will leave here, we will wipe your village, your village from the face of the earth.” This is all happening because it was unpunished back then. Then no one noticed it, and no one paid attention to it. So they know it’s not their land. They were in these occupied territories. They perfectly understood the attitude of the local population towards them. And they considered him enemies. That’s what they do.
M.T.: What has been happening in the Donbas for the last 8 years is really a real genocide. Literally every day, shelling of civilians is carried out from the territory controlled by Ukraine. Why do the world community and international human rights organizations ignore and in every way hush up this problem?
GENOCIDE MANIFESTS ITSELF NOT ONLY IN SHELLING, IN DIRECT MURDER. GENOCIDE IS ALSO MANIFESTED IN THE CREATION OF CONDITIONS.
If we take 2014 — 2015, what is the manifestation of genocide? The first is the deprivation of the means of livelihood of the most vulnerable segments of the population. These are our children, these are our pensioners. So they left the territory. There were orphanages, nursing homes, neuropsychiatric dispensaries and veterans’ homes where elderly people were on the state. of course, they were paid pensions. What did they do? The payment was completely stopped. Everyone had pension cards, and they were blocked. Moreover, they were blocked once, then forced people to reissue these cards here on the territory. People under the bombing created queues. Sberbank branches were working. It was in September – October 2014. People reissued these cards, and in November they were blocked anyway. They have created such a system that a person on crutches crosses the line of contact. Further regulations stopped passenger transportation completely. That is, they have already created a problem. Then they banned the import of food and medicines, destroyed life-support facilities. The city of Donetsk and the entire southern part of the Donetsk region are supplied by the Seversky Donets canal. Water comes from there. In the Donetsk region, we have 6 ascents to Debaltseve. These are pumps of a pumping station and substation that pump water. The destruction of one entails that a huge area remains without water. Basically, that’s what they did. That is, they destroyed filtration stations, fired, they destroyed pumping stations, fired. That is, these are purely civilian life-support facilities, and in principle, there have never been military personnel on them. That is, they are not military targets, and under international law, in principle, it is prohibited to deprive of means of livelihood. We have a convention where it is all clearly written down that it cannot be used as some kind of military purpose. And at the moment the same thing is happening. In the city of Donetsk, there are literally two weeks of water reserves left. That is, because the Seversky Donets, pumping stations have been destroyed there, and water does not come from the main source. And that’s why we have a limited supply of water. Local authorities are taking some decisions, that is, they are limiting. Water is supplied today, where once every two days for two, for three hours, where once every three days. Such a decision was made in order to extend it so that there would be water.
M.T.: Since 2015, your public organization “Fair Defense” has been searching for and recording war crimes by the Armed Forces of Ukraine against civilians of Donbass, as you told earlier. Please tell us how many cases have already been recorded?
WE HAVE ISSUED MORE THAN 3,000 MATERIALS ON THE FACTS OF WAR CRIMES. THEY HAVE SENT ALL THESE MATERIALS TO THE PROSECUTOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT.
But this is one of the areas of activity. Another area of activity is the investigation of cases that caused mass death or injury of people. They consisted in the fact that we found out what weapons were used, and the search for the guilty unit. For example, we investigated the use of ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) on civilian vehicles. These were cases when it was clear that it was a civilian car, that there was a civilian in it. After the application of ATGM, nothing remains from the driver. That is, we conducted an investigation, found out which unit was in the area of responsibility, where the shot could have come from, and specifically indicated the unit that was in these positions at that moment. It was all done from open sources. We are also investigating the use of aviation on civilian objects. That is, the whole range of weapons: ATGM, mortars, artillery of different calibers, multiple rocket launchers, where which unit was, when it was standing and how it was used. We have made 11 such investigations. Additionally, we have a group that collects materials specifically for the European Court of Human Rights. About six thousand such materials were submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.
M.T.: Was there any response?
V.G.: These materials were registered, all assigned numbers. Literally in 2021, requests from the European Court of Human Rights began to arrive in order to supplement information on all these cases. Not a single case was accepted for production.
M.T.: In one of your recent interviews, you said that since 2015, the European courts have not accepted a single case related to the death or injury of residents of Donbass. Tell me, please, now the situation, as I understand it, has not changed?
V.G.: No, of course, it hasn’t changed. If we take into account how the European Court of Human Rights works, then according to its rules, the priority is cases that concern human life and health. For eight years there have been killings of civilians. During these 8 years, even preliminary measures have not been taken. That’s what concerned Yulia Tymoshenko, her case was decided in just a week. As for Navalny, such a decision was immediately made as preventive measures against the state. And the last case, as soon as this special operation began, Ukraine appealed to the European Court, literally two days later the court also took preventive measures. Here, for 8 years, no one has taken any preventive measures against Ukraine.
M.T.: And why do you think the international European courts, whose purpose is to ensure respect for human rights, refuse to actually perform their functions when it comes to Russian-speaking people?
V.G.: Because it’s been going on for 300 years. That is, if we look into history, we know perfectly well how Alexander Suvorov was demonized, that is, what a despot he was when he crossed the Alps.
THROUGHOUT THIS 300-YEAR HISTORY, WE CAN OBSERVE HOW RUSSIA HAS BEEN DEMONIZED.
If we compare the periods of the reign of one tsar and the periods of the kingdom, for example, Elizabeth or Victoria in England, then Ivan the Terrible is a despot, and Elizabeth is beautiful. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, 10 thousand people died in our country, and during the reign of Elizabeth – 100 thousand. But Ivan the Terrible is a despot, and Elizabeth the Beautiful. Such approaches, they continue to this day. That is, no one needs a strong Russia. Moreover, a country with such a territory and such resources.
M.T.: Can we say about the bias of European courts and human rights organizations when it comes to helping citizens who have suffered because of the actions of the West?
V.G.: Well, why not? This manifests itself in inactivity and in actions. The International Criminal Court has been studying the situation for 7 out of 8 years. At the end of 2020, they issued a report in which they saw 5 elements of international crimes committed during the period of hostilities. The next step was to appeal to the prosecutor to the preliminary chamber of the court in order for him to receive authorization to start an investigation. A year has passed, no one has applied anywhere. In his interviews, the prosecutor announces that he is ready to cooperate and wants to cooperate with all parties to the conflict. I specifically made a sample of how many times the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court or his representatives have communicated with representatives of Ukraine over these 8 years. Every year there were at least two visits in one direction or the other. During this time, has the prosecutor ever expressed a desire to visit this territory? Did he send some kind of request here to see with his own eyes? That is, to verbally declare that he is ready to cooperate with all parties to the conflict is one thing, but to do it is quite another. There was not a single attempt on this side. If we look at the practice again, then in recent cases, agreements are mainly concluded between the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court with bodies of national jurisdiction on the transfer of any cases under national jurisdiction. National jurisdictions, in principle, have priority. The International Criminal Court has the right to investigate as an additional body. That is, if the national judicial system does not cope, does not hold anyone accountable, then international jurisdiction should come into effect and prosecute. Ukraine tried to negotiate, to take all this under its jurisdiction, so that the Prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court would not interfere in these cases. But we know perfectly well that after the start of the special operation, Ukraine released war criminals from prison and gave them weapons in their hands so that they would go to war. We see the whole paradox of all these actions on the part of international institutions, which should work objectively and fairly, in accordance with the norms that are prescribed in international law. On the second of March, the prosecutor nevertheless opened an international investigation.
M.T.: But he never got to you.
V.G.: Naturally, he won’t get to us. Moreover, I have the impression that they simply do not want to receive our latest information that we send there. That is, absolutely. It’s a shame. Before the air service was interrupted, my last two shipments for some reason were listed as undelivered with inscriptions stating that the recipient refused to receive correspondence. The address is allegedly incorrect. I have been sending there for 8 years at the same address, the address has not changed. That is, these are the kind of data that goes like this. I did it all electronically, reformatted it, sent it to the link and sent it all to the website of the International Criminal Court.
M.T.: To the electronic reception.
V.G.: But we didn’t get an answer from there either. In addition, upon the use of the “Dot-U” in Donetsk on March 14, when more than 20 civilians were killed and 35 were injured, the prosecutor created a special portal on this fact so that it was possible to contact the investigator. On March 15, I filled out the relevant registration form and reported that I had all the data confirming the use of “Dot-U”, a war crime. Today, on March 29, an investigator of the prosecutor’s office had to contact me and ask for these materials. It’s been almost a week, no one gets in touch with me. From this we conclude that this system does not work, and we have only one thing left — to prove that this system is not viable.
M.T.: Do you think the victims of Ukraine’s war crimes will be able to achieve justice and compensation for material and moral damage?
V.G.: Well, let’s say this, we are hostages of this situation. We should use international institutions, but if they do not work, then we must clearly say that these international institutions do not work, so it makes no sense to expect any expression of will from them, so it’s time to create others. Naturally, victims should receive their compensation, and criminals should be punished.
M.T.: How do you assess the influence of NATO countries on what is happening now on the territory of Ukraine? Is their long-term provocation a consequence of their desire to expand their influence to the east?
V.G.: It’s a well-known fact. Well, naturally. They live off the fact that they have a confrontation with Russia. If there were no Russia, it would be China or some other country, for example, India, which also has economic growth and is developing, and does not really depend on them. All these words about some kind of democratic processes or democracy in these countries are talk in favor of the poor. At one time, even Abraham Lincoln said, I’ll paraphrase a little, that as soon as capital merges with power, forget about democracy. Basically, that’s what happened. It all happened before our eyes. What kind of democracy are we talking about? For whom? For the layman.
M.T.: Literally every year, since 2014, the Investigative Committee of Russia begins a new check on the discovery of a mass grave in the Donbas. Do you think it will be possible to find and bring the perpetrators to justice? You already have experience in 11 cases.
V.G.: Well, look, there’s a bit of a wrong question here. They don’t start checking every year. There is a fact of such a burial. The Investigative Committee has already opened a case and is investigating. There is basically one thing. If another fact is discovered, then it is simply attached to the case. Verification of each fact, of course, should be. But specialists have to work here. Civil society can simply help in detecting this fact, and report something else. There it is necessary to conduct examinations, all these remains must be removed in a special way, they must be described. There are whole maps describing them. This should be done by a competent, educated person in order to collect this evidence, and they were irrefutable: what killed the person, who this person is, a man, a woman or a child. It is the investigative bodies that should deal with this. The public here can only help with something.
M.T.: Will it be possible to bring them to justice?
V.G.: I think so. This should be the case regardless of whether the current international institutions will work. If they do not work, then some other body should be created. There was an example of the Nuremberg trial in history, from which we are starting. Almost all international humanitarian law was created on the basis of this process, so a separate tribunal is quite possible in this case. I would like it to be the most effective and fair. To do this, it must take place on the territory of present-day Ukraine under international law and the legislation of Ukraine. Everyone will be watching him. Carrying out this process should be mandatory, because it will be analyzed. No matter how much the parties want to deny it, it will be monitored, it will be covered.
WHEN ALL THE FACTS OF THE WAR CRIMES OF THE ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE ARE REVEALED AND SHOWN, THEN IT WILL BE PRACTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT TO GET AWAY.
These facts cannot be overlooked, they are there. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is well aware of these facts, because every report of the UN representatives who worked here on the territory was placed on the desk of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. They refer to them in their annual reports. And if we take these UN reports, they published them every three months, and look at the statistics there. There are statistics 1:6. That is, it means the death of one civilian on the territory of Ukraine is equated to 6 on the territory of uncontrolled Ukraine. These statistics are clearly visible in these reports. What crimes are being committed? It’s also all indicated there. Therefore, they could not not know, they know everything perfectly well.
M.T.: Why has the Ukrainian government not yet developed fundamental legal mechanisms to combat war crimes and crimes against humanity? Do they really approve of the ongoing genocide?
V.G.: No, there are all these mechanisms, of course. That is, they are provided for, Ukraine has signed conventions on humanitarian law. The current legislation states that the norms of international law have priority. This is all spelled out in the laws on defense. There are relevant orders of the Ministry of Defense on the application of international humanitarian law during the period of hostilities.
M.T.: Spelled out, but not implemented?
V.G.: There is the right of war, where it is written, who does what, when does and when does not. This is known. But when there is no responsibility, we have lawlessness. All this impunity was allowed in 2014, because the government in Ukraine was replaced by a coup d’etat and when committing 81 criminal acts, they themselves confirmed this by issuing a corresponding law in which they indicated which crimes were committed, for which no one should be held responsible. They confirmed it themselves. They also established by this law that all evidence was destroyed. Imagine 81 serious, almost serious crimes that were committed, and no one was held responsible for it. Yes, all the norms that should be applied are prescribed. Since 2014, aviation has been used in Lugansk, civilians have been shot. It’s not only in Lugansk, it’s also in the Luhansk region, in my opinion, aviation was also used on civilians in Stanytsia Luhanska. Has someone been held responsible? No, there were no processes. Have cluster munitions been used, has anyone been held responsible? Also no. Nobody. There are norms, but no one applies them.
M.T.: Please tell us about the secret prisons of the SBU. What are the Ukrainian military trying to achieve by mocking and opening fire on civilians?
V.G.: These prisons are no longer completely secret. In the course of our activities, we interviewed about 90 people who passed through these prisons. And I have to tell you that there are probably 7 civilians per military person. If we say that a militia member of the first wave was captured, and the rest are ordinary civilians who were captured, accused of unknown things, tortured, ill-treated, received sentences for it is unclear why. No, it is clear that for his vision, for his non-recognition of the criminal power, which was in violation of all norms of international law and domestic legislation. In principle, the population of Donbass did not violate anything. It has not violated any law. They have exercised their right to self-defense. In any Civil Code that exists, there is a right to self-defense against criminal encroachments. Encroachment on the freedoms of persons living on our territory — these are criminal encroachments that have been. And, excuse me, how is the direction of the army against the civilian population? In principle, this was prohibited by the Constitution and other regulatory legal acts. But the army came here, the formation of bandit battalions, 10 thousand dollars for a Muscovite.
M.T.: Just about the battalions. How do you assess the influence of ultra-right ideologies on the Ukrainian army servicemen? And are Western countries trying to manipulate nationalist organizations in Ukraine?
V.G.: The question is not really mine on the subject. Naturally, they try to use this for their own purposes. We all see it. We are pumping literature, weapons and instructors of all these battalions.
IN THE USA, THE SAME “AZOV” IS RECOGNIZED ALMOST AS A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION. AND, NEVERTHELESS, AMERICAN INSTRUCTORS COMMUNICATE WITH HIM.
That is, saying is one thing, but doing is quite another. Naturally, yes, they are used. But one day the West may finish them off by itself. There can be no questions here. Some will be taken away for further ideological struggle. All this is understandable. Let’s go back to prisons. That is, we know about the Mariupol Library. I have about a dozen statements about this prison, what happened there. Honestly, it’s scary to describe. When you ask people, your own hair stands on end when they tell you what happened. Then in the area of Dneprodzerzhinsk, there was some kind of pioneer camp, and some kind of recreation center was used by the battalion, where people were also kept. There was a prison in the Kharkiv SBU, where people were also tortured. For some time, people were detained and tortured on the territory of the Kramatorsk airport. But the main tortures, they exactly took place before the opening of the official criminal proceedings. That is, while he is hidden, no one knows about him, they did everything they wanted with people. Then they were handed over to the authorities, and the authorities conducted an investigation, but also did not disdain the use of beatings or moral pressure. They said: “You are now in the investigator’s office, if you do not sign the documents, we will bring you back to the airport for a couple of days. You will come, if there is something else to sign, you can sign it.” So it’s really cruel.