Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 24.01.2019
The Russians – who are at war with Ukraine – are dragging out the captivity of 24 prisoners of war they captured two months ago in the Black Sea. World opinion and international humanitarian law demands that the POWs be released. But the Putin regime ignores their status as POWs entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention, ignores demands that seized Ukrainian naval vessels be released, and ignores calls to lift the maritime blockade at the Kerch Strait which is choking Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov. Mere disapproval is not stopping the Russian Federation’s total war against Ukraine.
The Putin regime has hidden the POWs away in Moscow, denying them access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Russians are going through the motions of a sham criminal court proceeding, which they put off until April at a hearing this week. All 24 Ukrainian captives have declared themselves to be POWs, demanded the protections of the Third Geneva Convention, and refused to enter pleas in Putin’s kangaroo court.
Relatives of the men who hostages of the Putin regime are distraught. Some had a brief opportunity to see their loved ones outside a courtroom in Moscow. On January 23rd, some of the family members of the Ukrainian POWs were in Strasbourg, France to meet with Council of Europe and European Union politicians and officials.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) had a screening of “Putin’s Hostages: Ukrainian Political Prisoners of the Kremlin” on January 23. “Putin’s Hostages” is a reminder about the more than 70 political prisoners who are being held by the Russian regime that is at war with Ukraine. It focuses on the stories of the three political prisoners: Pavlo Hryb, Yevhen Panov, and Bekir Dehermendzhy. The documentary screening was followed by a discussion with the filmmakers, human rights activists, and relatives of the Ukrainian Navy sailors who are POWs after the Russian Federation’s attack on their boats in the Black Sea.
On January 24 in Strasbourg there will be a debate and a vote for a resolution condemning Russian aggression in the Kerch Strait and calling for the release of 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors who are prisoners.
The European Union delegation to the Council of Europe is at the PACE meeting in Strasbourg. The Head of Delegation for the EU in the Council of Europe is Meglena Kuneva, a former cabinet minister in the Bulgarian government. She met with relatives of the Ukrainian POWs. The EU delegation posted this afterwards on Twitter: “Worried about their deteriorating health situation, relatives of captured #Ukrainian sailors met with Ambassador Kuneva. EU expects Russia to immediately release the captured sailors and to ensure that the injured crewmen receive appropriate medical treatment. #EU4HumanRights”
The Embassy of Ukraine to the United Kingdom posted on Twitter on January 22 that Ukrainian Navy officer Vasyl Soroka was wounded in the Russian attack and has not recovered. His hand is immobilized and still has shrapnel lodged in it. He has been denied competent medical treatment and his captors have provided no medical records.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, met with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 23. In the words of a statement released by the Bankova (the administration of the Presidency of Ukraine), “Particular attention was paid to the consequences of Russian aggression against Ukraine in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The interlocutors underscored the need for the immediate release of Ukrainian sailors, vessels and ensuring free navigation in the Kerch Strait in accordance with international law.”
The two leaders also discussed how to implement UN General Assembly resolutions on the dire human rights conditions in Russian-occupied Crimea, Ukraine and the reckless militarization of the peninsula by the Russian Federation.
The Russian Federation is committing an outrage against international humanitarian law by its treatment of Ukrainian prisoners of war. The attention of the diplomatic community remains fixed on the fate of the Ukrainian Navy sailors who are being held hostage in Moscow. This week the European Union sanctioned the Russians who attacked in Salisbury, United Kingdom with a nerve agent. There is hope that the EU and other supporters of the rules-based international order will do more than express “deep concern” about the Russian Federation’s act of war against Ukraine on 25 November 2018 and its outrageous treatment of Ukrainian POWs since.