Crimes of Ukrainian Aidar battalion confirmed in Amnesty Int’l report - Russia

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An Amnesty International report has confirmed that war crimes including abductions, executions and extortion were committed by the Ukrainian Aidar battalion in Lugansk region, eastern Ukraine, an official from Russia’s Foreign Ministry says.

“The report confirms large-scale crimes, including war [crimes] made routinely and under the aegis of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, by the leaders and members of the Aidar battalion,” said Konstantin Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry’s commissioner for human rights.

“Amnesty International points only to some of these [crimes] – abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, including demanding ransom for abducted Ukrainians, and simple robbery from the civilian population,” Dolgov said.

He added that Russian authorities have repeatedly called on international organizations , including Amnesty International, to pay more attention to large-scale human rights violations during Kiev’s so-called “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine.

“We hope that the report on Aidar’s [battalion] crimes will attract more attempts in these sphere because the atrocities of Aidar members is only a part of sinister crimes committed by the punishers,” he said, “All these crimes, including the [May 2] bloodshed in Odessa should be objectively investigated under effective international control and the culprits should be brought to justice.”

Fighters of the Donbass battalion by the building of the Verkhovna Rada in Kiev. (RIA Novosti/Evgeny Kotenko)

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, has called for urgent investigation of the shelling in eastern Ukraine.

“[We] call all sides of the conflict to restrain their forces from any war crimes, any violations of the international humanitarian law and do everything in their power to protect civilians and their lives,” Shetty said.

All allegations of abuses should be investigated, he said, adding: “I call upon the Ukrainian government to do everything in their power to provide the humanitarian assistance which internally displaced people urgently require, as winter is approaching,”

Abductions, extortion, executions: Amnesty slams actions of Aidar Batallion

In its report, released Sept. 8 and titled, “Ukraine: abuses and war crimes by the Aidar volunteer battalion in the north Lugansk region,”

Amnesty International said: “Members of the Aidar territorial defense battalion, operating in the north Luhansk [Lugansk] region, have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.”

Azov battalion soldiers take an oath of allegiance to Ukraine in Kiev's Sophia Square before being sent to the Donbass region. (RIA Novosti/Alexandr Maksimenko)

According to Amnesty, “members of the Aidar battalion act with virtually no oversight or control, and local police are either unwilling or unable to address the abuses.”

Amnesty Intl: Both sides of Ukrainian conflict committed war crimes

“Some of the abuses committed by members of the Aidar battalion amount to war crimes, for which both the perpetrators and, possibly, the commanders would bear responsibility under national and international law.”

Fire brigade members extinguishing fire in a building hit by a shell during an artillery attack by the Ukrainian Security Forces in Lugansk. (RIA Novosti/Valeriy Melnikov)

Amnesty called upon the Kiev authorities ”to bring Aidar and other volunteer battalions under effective lines of command and control, promptly investigate all allegations of abuses, and hold those responsible to account.”

“The [Aidar] fighters abducted local men, often businessmen or farmers, whom they accused of collaborating with the separatists and held in makeshift detention facilities,” says the report. “… The victims were subjected to beatings at the moment of capture and/or during interrogations, and either had to pay ransom for their release, or had possessions, including money, cars, telephones, and other valuables seized by the battalion members.”

A man going down to the basement of a building damaged during an artillery attack by the Ukrainian Security Forces in Lugansk. (RIA Novosti/Valeriy Melnikov)

Swastikas, SS badges and other Nazi regalia noticed among Ukrainian troops

The troops from Ukrainian Azov and Donbass battalions were reportedly noticed wearing Nazi symbols – swastikas and SS badges.

According to a video on German TV station ZDF, Ukrainian soldiers were shown wearing swastikas and the “SS runes” of Adolph Hitler’s elite corps. The footage was shot by a camera team from Norwegian broadcaster TV2.

“We were filming a report about Ukraine’s Azov battalion in the eastern city of Urzuf, when we came across these soldiers,” said Oysten Bogen, a correspondent for TV2, a private television station, NBC News reported.

Bogen then asked a spokesperson if the battalion had “fascist tendencies. “

“The reply was: absolutely not, we are just Ukrainian nationalists,” Bogen said.

Wolfsangel in E. Ukraine: Foreign Policy talks to deputy leader of ‘pro-govt’ Azov Battalion

Ukrainian volunteer pro-government militias were organized in Kiev in 2014 with the help of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.

One such group, the Azov battalion, was formed in May 2014 in Mariupol, based on special patrol units of the Interior Ministry. Participants of the Azov battalion are also known on the Internet as "black men" due to their uniforms.

The Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) Nazi symbol can be commonly seen on uniforms worn by men from the Azov battalion. It was originally used by the SS and the Hitler Youth, as well as various modern-day neo-Nazi groups.

Another militia group under Kiev’s control, the Donbass battalion, was created in Odessa in April to fight against the supporters of the People's Republic of Donetsk. In May the Ukrainian news portal published a video showing a member of Donbass battalion killed in the fighting who has a Nazi swastika on his chest.

Far-right Right Sector party which first came to international spotlight at the end of November 2013, is considered very active in the violence which triggered the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich. Right Sector fighters used clubs, petrol bombs, and firearms against Ukrainian police while wearing Nazi insignia.

During the EuroMaidan protests, the far-right organization Right Sector was formed on the basis of the Donbass battalion and other far-right groups. Russia put the party’s leader, Dmitry Yarosh, on an international wanted list and charged him with inciting terrorism after he urged Chechen terrorist leader Doku Umarov to launch attacks on Russia. Yarosh has also threatened to destroy Russian pipelines on Ukrainian soil.

In the meantime, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has launched an investigation over the crimes of volunteer battalions in eastern Ukraine.

“We have the facts and criminal proceedings where the representatives of volunteer battalions committed crimes against the local population,” the country’s Prosecutor General, Vitaly Yarema, told RIA Novosti.