By Halya Coynash of Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign is calling for the release of the three soldiers being held hostage by the Russian forces in Donetsk. On Saturday 25 June 12:00 we have a protest at the Russian Embassy in London, and in Nottingham on Sunday 26 June at 10: 30 at the Old Market Square
Three foreign nationals fighting for Ukraine in Mariupol have been ‘sentenced to death’ by an unrecognized ‘court’ from the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ All three men – Britons Shaun Pinner (48) and Aiden Aslin (28) and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun – were serving in the Ukrainian marines or army and are therefore prisoners of war, whose imprisonment and show ‘trial’ reflect Russia’s latest egregious breach of international law. Any terms like ‘pro-Russian separatists’ and ‘break-away republic’ should be discarded immediately, as Russia created, armed and entirely controls the so-called ‘republics’ and any moves linked with the POWs were undoubtedly coordinated with Moscow.
Russia has been using the imprisoned Britons for propaganda since their seizure in April 2022. On 18 April, both Pinner and Aslin were shown on Russian state television asking that they be exchanged for Viktor Medvedchuk, the pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and crony of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, facing trial in Ukraine for treason. There is every reason to assume that they made the videos under duress. Both of the Britons were reported at the time to have been living in Ukraine with Ukrainian partners when Russia began its total invasion, and to have been serving as marines for Ukraine’s Navy. Less is known about Brahim Saadoun, except that he too was serving in the Ukrainian Army. All of this means that the men are prisoners of war, and their prosecution for military service is in direct and flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention.
Russia has tried to present the men as mercenaries, which they are not, and has even repeated false claims that Pinner was on a wanted list in the UK. The state-controlled RIA Novosti claimed that the men had admitted to “actions aimed at violent seizure of power” and said that Aislin had also admitted to “undergoing training to carry out terrorist activities” and that they had surrendered in Mariupol in the middle of April. This was a closed ‘trial’ by a ‘court’ which no democratic country recognize, and there are simply no grounds for believing that any of the men would have given any ‘testimony’ except under duress. None of this is, of course, acknowledged by the state-controlled Russian media which instead mention Putin’s lies used as pretext for the full invasion that began on 24 February this year.
The British government, hopefully also their Moroccan counterparts, have become involved and protested over these ‘sentences’. The latter can be ‘appealed’ within the space of a month.
While it is, hopefully, unlikely that Russia will persist with these ‘death sentences’ against foreign nationals, they highlight the danger for all Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilian hostages seized by the Russian military and formally held in occupied Donbas (or occupied Crimea and/or Russia). Russia’s proxies have already used fake Donbas ‘courts’ to sentence several Ukrainian POWs for defending their country. Bohdan Pantyushenko, for example, was ‘sentenced’ to 18 years; Volodymyr Voskoboinyk to 30 years.
Even before the full invasion, there were known to be at least 300 Ukrainian POWs and civilian hostages held in occupied Donbas, although the real figure was probably higher. Most of those whose ‘sentences’ are known were ‘convicted’ by closed courts of ‘spying’, although very many had probably been seized for no more than pro-Ukrainian posts on social media.
Such lack of any resemblance of judicial process is just one of the many reasons why Freedom House has rated both occupied Donbas and Crimea as not far off North Korea.
Since Russia’s full invasion, the Russian invaders have killed at very least two Ukrainian defenders after they had been captured, and are holding a huge number of people hostage. The gruesome discoveries after Russia retreated from Kyiv and Sumy oblasts, including the bodies of men and women who had clearly been tortured to death, should already have made the West fully conscious of what Russian control over any Ukrainian territory will entail. Instead, western leaders, like French President Emanuel Macron seem intent on trying not to ‘humiliate’ Moscow, and getting Ukraine to cede territory. On 9 June, Russia demonstrated, via its Donbas puppets, what any Ukrainians, or foreign nationals, can expect if Russia is not driven decisively from all Ukrainian territory.