Armed fighters demanding warlord’s release block Kiev court
Armed members of a Ukrainian volunteer battalion back from fighting the self-proclaimed republics in the country’s east are blocking a court in the capital Kiev where a former commander is standing trial for kidnapping and organizing a mob.
Valentin “Wardaddy” Likholit, a field commander in the notorious Aidar battalion, was detained on June 1 on allegations of committing grievous crimes, including organizing an armed gang and an assault related to robbery. Two other members of the battalion were arrested along with Likholit.
The court has now ruled that Valentin Likholit is to remain under arrest for two more months.
When the judge was announcing the Pechorsky court’s decision, members of volunteer regiments that were present in the courtroom started a brawl with the police officers who were guarding the session.
Likholit’s supporters insist the accusations against their leader are “absurd” and are demanding that the warlord be released on bail as soon as possible.
They have threatened to organize a new tent camp protest in downtown Kiev to support their commander.
MP Igor Mosiychuk, a renowned member of Ukraine’s Radical Party, stated on his Facebook page that the new wave of public protests in Kiev would mark the beginning of a “new stage of Ukrainian revolution.”
Egor Sobolev, another Ukrainian MP who is a member of the Self Reliance party, told 112.Ukraine TV channel that lifting the restrictive measures applied to Likholit would be the best move for the authorities, since he is not going to try to flee.
Some of the fighters blocking the court are armed with “legal weapons,” Sobolev said, noting the ceremonial weapons brandished by certain MPs at the scene.
In case of “provocations,” these people would use the weapons “to protect people’s lives,” Sobolev announced.
“This isn’t just a joke, the situation is serious,” he said.
Apart from conducting counterinsurgency operations in eastern Ukraine, the Aidar battalion has been involved in the killing of two Russian journalists.
Valentin Likholit is the former commander of Nadezhda Savchenko, the Ukrainian helicopter pilot that a Russian court found guilty of murdering Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin near Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.
Savchenko was exchanged for two Russian citizens in late May. She had promised to be present at Likholit’s trial, but failed to attend the session.
Members of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions have been repeatedly accused of committing grave crimes against the civilian population of the eastern part of the country since Kiev launched a military operation against the rebel Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
In June of this year, Ukraine’s Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office arrested eight members of the Tornado volunteer battalion on allegations of kidnapping and torturing citizens of the Lugansk region, as well as rape and pillaging.
Over the past two years, Ukrainian radicals, among them members of the ultranationalist Right Sector group and fighters from nationalist volunteer battalions such as Aidar, Donbass, Tornado, and Azov, have repeatedly staged marches through the center of the Ukrainian capital.