Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 30.11.2018
The Russian Federation attacked the Ukrainian Navy in international waters on November 25. This was an act of war. The Russians captured Ukrainian Navy sailors, but instead of treating them as prisoners of war they charged them with so-called ‘crimes’ and forced some of them to appear on television to recite forced ‘confessions.’ This is a violation of the Geneva Convention and a war crime.
In accordance with the Geneva Convention, Ukrainian Navy personnel held captive by the Russian Federation are prisoners of war and are protected by international law.
The 24 Ukrainian prisoners of war were taken to temporarily Russian-occupied Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine. There they were placed – contrary to the Geneva Convention – in a remand prison for accused criminals and not in a detention facility for prisoners of war. In Simferopol – again in contravention of the Geneva Convention – the Ukrainian POWs were brought up on false charges of “illegally crossing the state border of the Russian Federation.” As the Ukrainian navy ships were in transit from Odesa, Ukraine, through the Kerch Strait to Mariupol, Ukraine, this made-up criminal charge describes an impossibility. In any event, the Geneva Convention is clear that POWs cannot be prosecuted for taking a direct part in hostilities.
Ukrainian citizens who make up the captive population of Russian-invaded and occupied Crimea gave a remarkable show of support to the Ukrainian POWs. Crimean Tatars, who are especially persecuted by the Putin regime of state terrorism, took on some risk of retaliation to themselves when they brought clothes, food, and money to captured Ukrainian sailors. The cause of obtaining the release of the nation’s brave sons from the Russian enemy has been taken up by Ukrainians in free Ukraine as well, with a fervent resolve not seen since the early peak of fighting in the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine in 2014-15.
On November 29 it was reported that the Ukrainian POWs were removed from the remand prison in Simferopol. One report said that they had been taken to Moscow, possibly to the notorious Lefortovo prison. This report was given by Nariman Dzhelyal, a Crimean Tatar activist, referring to information from lawyers for the Ukrainian Navy sailors (who confirmed the story to the news outlet Crimea.Realities). The report of a move to Moscow was denied by another source, though – former hostage of the Putin regime, Akhtem Chiygoz. While Chiygoz said that the men were not taken to Moscow, he did confirm that they had been removed from the Simferopol remand prison. Their whereabouts are currently unknown.
The Russian Federation is attempting to treat the captured Ukrainian Navy sailors as ordinary criminal suspects. They are, though, prisoners of war and are subject to all the protections of the Geneva Convention as such. The fact that the Russians ‘disappeared’ the Ukrainian Navy sailors on November 29 shows consciousness of guilt. The Russian invaders of Ukraine do not have the right to proceed in temporarily occupied Crimea under Russian Federation law. But the Russians do not have the wisdom or the morality to treat prisoners of war in a proper fashion, in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
Ukrainian prisoners of war do not need to be visited by lawyers – they need to be visited by delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Russian Federation that holds the 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors captive must be made to understand this and to comply with international law. So far, the Putin regime has figuratively spat in the face of world leaders who have called for the release of the Ukrainian POWs, the release of the Ukrainian naval vessels, and for the opening of the Kerch Strait for free passage to and from Ukrainian ports on the Sea of Azov. The Russians have ignored all of that, and are escalating their war crimes against Ukrainian POWs instead.
The Russian Federation has been committing acts of war, acts of piracy, and committing war crimes since it began its invasion of Ukraine on 20 February 2014. What’s different now, since the Battle of the Kerch Strait, is that the Russian Federation is doing it openly, brazenly, and under its own flag. A state of war exists in Europe and the Russian Federation is the aggressor. Ukraine has declared a “war state” in all of its regions facing the Russian aggressor. It’s well past time the rest of the civilized world did the same, declares that a state of war exists, and acts decisively to save Ukraine, save Europe, and save the West.