Ukraine and the growing number of disappeared
David Blair reports on a secret campaign against dissent
In normal times, the route from the golden domes of Mikhailovsky Cathedral to the grandeur of Independence Square in the heart of Kiev might count among the most beautiful walks in Europe.
On the morning of January 3, a young Ukrainian set out on this 10-minute journey across a carpet of snow. But Rostislav Tolstoy, a 31-year-old protester swept up in the struggle against the country’s autocratic leader, never reached his destination.
Today, his face stares from a “missing” poster on the wall of Trade Union House, an occupied public building forming the nerve centre of Ukraine’s protest movement. At some point in his short daylight walk, he simply disappeared.
“We always warn people ‘don’t go anywhere alone’,” said Alexeiy Soloviyov, a fellow demonstrator and friend of Mr Tolstoy.
“Unfortunately, he did go out by himself. We called him constantly for three days, but he didn’t answer his phone. We called all hospitals, morgues and police stations – but there was no news.”
As Ukraine’s turmoil enters its third month, President Viktor Yanukovych remains locked in confrontation with tens of thousands of demonstrators occupying central Kiev behind icebound barricades.
An anti-government activist shines a laser pointer toward police at a barricade in central Kiev (AP)
Mr Yanukovych, a burly former electrician, who served time in jail for theft and assault in his youth, has not yet steeled himself to clear the protest camps in Independence Square with a full scale assault.
Rather than risk such bloodshed and obloquy, Mr Yanukovych’s security forces have chosen an alternative strategy: they are trying to cripple the rallies with a covert campaign of abduction and torture.
Daily incidents lift the veil on this silent offensive by a desperate president.
The first pillar of the effort is straightforward harassment. Thousands of demonstrators have found their names, addresses and birth dates suddenly appearing online. These long lists also disclose the colour, make and registration number of their cars.
The effect of releasing this information – which could only have emerged from a government database – was incendiary in the literal sense. Cars belonging to protesters have been set ablaze in the middle of the night, with perhaps 200 receiving this treatment so far.
This kind of vandalism is carried out by people derisively known as “Tutuskhi” – jobless youths hired by the government to cause trouble.
Above them stands a more dangerous tier of state agents, centred around the SBU, Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service. To retain deniability, the evidence suggests that hardened criminals are paid by the SBU to do the bloodiest jobs.
This nexus between the secret police and organised crime controls the second pillar of Mr Yanukovych’s hidden offensive: the kidnapping of protesters.
The ordeal of Dmytro Bulatov, a prime mover behind the protests, provides the most compelling recent evidence. After he went missing in Kiev on 22 Jan, nothing was heard from Mr Bulatov until Thursday night, when he staggered into a village outside the capital having been dumped in a forest by his captors.
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Ukraine protest leader says he was tortured into saying he was a US spy
Anti-government activist Dmytro Bulatov calls for guarantee he will not be prosecuted after fleeing to Lithuania
Reuters in Vilnius
- theguardian.com, Thursday 6 February 2014 12.41 EST
Ukrainian opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov at a press conference at Vilnius University hospital. He says his kidnappers beat him and drove nails through his hands. Photograph: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images
A Ukrainian anti-government activist who fled the country after being abducted said he had been forced under torture to declare himself a US spy.
Dmytro Bulatov, the leader of a protest group known as AutoMaidan, said his kidnappers forced him to say on camera that he had accepted money from the US embassy to organise anti-government protests in Ukraine.
“I was telling them lies just to stop the torture … at one point I asked them to kill me because I couldn’t stand it any more,” the 35-year-old said on Thursday, speaking at the Vilnius University emergency hospital in Lithuania where he is being treated after leaving Ukraine on Sunday.
Bulatov was found bloodied and injured in woods outside Kiev on 30 January. He said unidentified assailants had driven nails through his hands in a “crucifixion” and had beaten him during a week in captivity.
EU leaders offered to help the activist after Ukrainian police said they wanted to charge him with taking part in “mass disorder”.
The potential charges relate to AutoMaidan’s protests, which involve convoys of sometimes hundreds of cars driving to the homes of allies of the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Bulatov described his kidnap as “the worst experience I’ve ever had” and said he still suffers severe headaches and dizziness.
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Ukrainian protestor shows scars where he was nailed to a cross when he was crucified by government supporters ‘and forced to declare he was a US spy’
Dmytro Bulatov says kidnappers kept him in the dark for more than a week
35-year-old told rescuers he was severely tortured then dumped in forest
He has scars from where nails were hammered through both hands
Bulatov is a member of Automaidan, an anti-government car owner group
Kidnapping is the latest attack on a Ukrainian anti-government protester
President Viktor Yanukovych is accused of ‘intimidating the opposition’
Attack comes as anti-government protests in Ukraine continue to grow
By Lizzie Parry and John Hall
A Ukrainian anti-government activist who fled the country after being abducted said he was tortured and forced to admit he was an American spy.
Dmytro Bulatov, 35, a member of Automaiden – a group of car owners that has taken part in protests against President Viktor Yanukovyvh – went missing on January 22.
He said he was kidnapped, crucified and had part of his ear cut off as his captors forced him to say on camera that he had accepted money from the US Embassy, to organise anti-government protests in the country.
He was discovered outside Kiev yesterday and told rescuers that his kidnappers kept him in the dark for more than a week, beat him severely, nailed him to a cross and sliced off a piece of ear, before eventually dumping him in a forest.
Ukrainian opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov holds up his hands to reveal the scars left when kidnappers nailed him to a cross, holding captive for a week
Bulatov said his captors forced him to admit he was a US spy. He said: ‘I was telling them lies just to stop the torture’
The 35-year-old told rescuers that his kidnappers kept him in the dark for more than a week, beat him severely, nailed him to a cross and sliced off a piece of his ear
Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko speaks to Dmytro Bulatov in the Kiev hospital where he is receiving treatment after the alleged kidnapping
Bulatov talks to the media in a hospital in Vilnius, Lithuania. He fled the Ukraine for fear of being prosecuted
Dmytro Bulatov’s badly swollen hands appeared to show nail marks from his alleged crucifixion
Opposition leader Petro Poroshenko (right) rushed to the hospital where Bulatov (left) was taken
‘I was telling them lies just to stop the torture… At one point I asked them to kill me because I couldn’t stand it any more,’ said the 35-year-old, speaking at the Vilnius University Emergency Hospital in Lithuania where he is being treated after leaving Ukraine on Sunday.
He said unidentified assailants had driven nails through his hands in a ‘crucifixion’ and had beaten him during a week in captivity.
‘They crucified me, they nailed down my hands. They cut off my ear, they cut my face. There isn’t a spot on my body that hasn’t been beaten…Thank God I am alive,’ Bulatov told Ukraine’s Channel 5.
Footage shows his face and clothes covered in blood and his swollen hands showing nail marks.
EU leaders offered to help the activist after Ukrainian police said they wanted to charge him with taking part in ‘mass disorder’ related to protests consisting of convoys of sometimes hundreds of cars driving up to the homes of allies of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Bulatov described his kidnap as ‘the worst experience I’ve ever had’. He still suffered severe headaches and dizziness.
Video of his bloodied face has been replayed repeatedly on opposition television channels in Ukraine, fuelling anger among protesters occupying main streets and public buildings across the country.
Bulatov said he would not return to Ukraine unless he got guarantees that he will not be prosecuted.
‘I want my government to give guarantees to the international community that I will not be politically prosecuted,’ he said.
‘The government should close all criminal cases against activists, including me, who have taken part in the protests.’
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