Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 09.06.2018
“Political prisoner V. Balukh is starving for more than 80 days in occupied Crimea. His life is threatened. We demand his release.” So said Mariana Betsa, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, on Twitter on June 8.
Volodymyr Balukh went on hunger strike on March 19, to protest his illegal ‘sentence’ by a court in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea.
82 days of starving has taken a terrible toll on his health, and his life is now in danger. Volodymyr Balukh is reported to have lost 30 kilograms of his weight.
The name of Volodymyr Balukh is near the top of Ukraine’s list for the exchange of prisoners. Only a lack of political will in the Kremlin holds up the prisoner swap that would see Ukrainian political prisoners and prisoners of war exchanged for terrorists and criminals who serve the Russian cause. Putin has been stalling on the exchange of prisoners, even though he agreed to an “all-for-all” swap with the Minsk Agreement of 11 February 2015. There was a partial exchange of prisoners on 27 December 2017 at Mayorsk in Donetsk region, but the Ukrainian political prisoners of war were kept out of the swap by the Putin regime.
Volodymyr Balukh and the other Ukrainian political prisoners of war languish in the hell of Russian prisons because the Putin regime pretends that Ukraine’s Crimea is a part of Russia and it pretends that acts of loyalty to Ukraine are criminal acts against Russia. Volodymyr Balukh’s only ‘crime’ was to fly the Ukrainian flag over his house.
Intense pressure is being placed on the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, who are meeting now in Canada, to act to free the over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners being held by Russia. On June 8, leaders of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) testified before a House of Commons human rights committee, where they called on G7 host Canada to ensure that the G7 responded to Russia’s egregious human rights violations. G7 members Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom have ‘Magnitsky’ laws, and the UCC urged sanctions on “the Russian judges, prosecutors, investigators, security service officials, and politicians responsible” for violations of internationally recognized human rights.
A diplomatic, political, and governmental boycott of the FIFA World Cup in Russia is gathering momentum. Australia announced that it was joining the United Kingdom in a boycott. Ukrainian hostage of Russia Oleg Sentsov started his hunger strike on May 14 to demand that Russia release all Ukrainian political prisoners of war. The timing of his hunger strike was designed to put pressure on Russia at the time of the World Cup, when the Putin regime was otherwise expecting to garner prestige.
Volodymyr Balukh is the first hunger striker against the Russian regime of state terrorism. He has been followed by his compatriots Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Shumkov. Countries of the civilized West have demanded that Russia release its hostages. The G7 is a prominent forum where pressure can be brought to bear on Putin. A boycott of the FIFA World Cup in Russia is a way to demonstrate that Russia’s violations of human rights are not forgotten and will not be tolerated.
Time is running out. Free Volodymyr Balukh now.