Not only have pro-Russian parties been punished, but also individual dissidents were dealt with severely by Ukrainian law enforcement and mobs.
Ukraine’s Opposition Platform–For Life party leaders Viktor Medvedchuk and Yuriy Boyko give a speech at the party’s election headquarters in Kiev on July 21, 2019, following a day of polling in the country’s parliamentary election. Photo by Vasily Maximov/AFP via Getty Images
American media dedicated at least some coverage to Ukraine’s recent ban on the pro-Russian “Opposition Platform–For Life Party,” which effectively eliminated electoral competition in the country. The sedition laws of Ukraine from March 9, this year, are less well-known.
The Rada Bill 7116, known by a Leninist moniker as the Not a Step Back law, stipulated punishment for collaboration and sedition under martial law. Individuals convicted of treason could be sentenced to life imprisonment and property forfeiture.
Among the accused under the law are mayors and other elected officials of the towns that surrendered to the Russian army when the Ukrainian armed forces withdrew, who allegedly provided the Russian Federation with logistical support. Individuals who provide information on troop movements are also covered by the law. It also imposes penalties on Ukrainians who are favourable to Russia.
Since the the law passed, I have been clipping news items about random citizens who fall under the latter category.
For instance, one entry on the KharkivLife Telegram Channel discusses police “exposing” a “malefactor.” The malefactor is a forty-year-old woman who, in a private conversation, recorded by a person she apparently trusted, said “I’m waiting for Russia, yes. Do you know the reason? You know why?
A similar incident is recorded approvingly by KievLive Telegram. A Ukrainian man was arrested by border police for his support of Russia. He also exchanged photos and video of artillery firing and was in possession of Russian food.
A drunk man brandishing a machete was arrested in Odessa for screaming pro-Russian “propaganda.” I admire the Odessa cops for arresting the lout–as a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I don’t take law and order for granted–but I find it difficult to see his actions as treason.
In another video posted on KharkivLife, a frightened thirty-four-year-old resident of the area issued a public apology for “actively expressing her hate of Ukraine’s defenders.” Her crime was “discovered” during routine “monitoring of social media,” presumably by security services. She asked for forgiveness after “a conversation” she had with police officers.
A news clip released by the Associated Press shows an arrest and a visit to the house of alleged traitors in the city of Kharkiv. According to our sources, one man was caught filming an aftermath of an artillery attack. This act led to suspicion. Later, it was discovered that the man had exchanged electronic messages to enemy forces. His father also confirmed that he is Russian sympathizer. Creepily, a babushka from the neighborhood remarks that the security forces will “cure him.”
Another man in the video appears to be guilty of nothing more than displaying pro-Russian messages on social media. Frightened and visibly upset, he accepted an apology to the Ukrainian Security Service for his actions during his arrest. He stated that he had already changed his mind. A senior member of the family was reassured by an arresting officer that all will be as it should.
The rule of law in Ukraine is notoriously shaky. In peacetime it was terrible, but I don’t think the war is improving. In April Vitaly Kim, the genial-looking governor of Nikolaev Oblast, said in an interview with the Ukrainian Channel 24:
Today, a Russian blogger was shot dead in his car [in Nikolaev]. It means there is still Russian traitors living in Ukraine, and they will all be executed. This world is not scary to me. We will not stop traitors from being shot.
He added that Ukraine has the best cybersecurity in the world, and that they will be able to track everyone and “nobody will be able to escape justice.”
The ill-fated blogger was accused of informing the Russian forces of Ukrainian troop movements. He would be prosecuted for informing the Russian forces about Ukrainian troop movements. In Ukraine, where sedition can be prosecuted in court, the security forces assassinated him. A government official also called for his execution.
Lynchings are apparently taking place with the approval of verified and official Telegram channels. There have been no bodies found, however, there has been a lot of humiliation among alleged Russian collaborators and sympathizers. I saw people kneeling at the polls, covered in plastic wrap and showing signs of beatings.
I have found no estimate of prevalence of mob attacks on the alleged traitors. The Ukrainian government is currently investigating thousands of suspected collaborators. It is not known how many Russian sympathizers there are.
Given that Ukraine is in the midst of a major war, a tightening of rules regarding dissent should be expected. Our country has done the same: Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War and the German-American ethnic identity was stamped out after U.S. entry into the First World War.
The recently banned “Opposition Platform–For Life Party” was the second largest faction in the country. This party joins 10 other banned parties. It is worth noting that Zelensky himself was elected on the platform of rapprochement with Russia and that prior to the 2014 Maidan overthrow of Victor Yanukovich, his “Party of Regions” commanded about half the country.
The key question about Ukraine is whether it can ever exist as a Western democracy. Ukraine is located in Russia and about a third of its population has relatives there. A large portion of the Ukrainian population also prefers Russian. What happens if Russia’s regime relaxes its media controls and Ukraine is unable to convince its citizens that Russia is an enemy?
Katya Sedgwick is a writer in the San Francisco Bay area. You can follow her on Twitter @KatyaSedgwick.