Kyiv Post | 14Jan2011 | Olesia Oleshko

People who don't like Stalin may be going to jail

About 300 followers of Ukrainian nationalist organizations Tryzub (the Trident) and Svoboda (Liberty), UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian Nationalist Army) and other ultra-nationalist organizations on Jan. 14, 2011 picketed the Interior Ministry and the President’s Administration, demanding to stop “political prosecution of Ukraine’s patriots.”

The “prosecution” they are referring to started on New Year’s night, when Zaporizhzhia police detained and questioned two activists of local Svoboda branch, accusing them of destroying monument to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in Zaporizhzhia.

The monument to Stalin was unveiled in May 2010, a few days before the 60th anniversary of World War II Victory Day. On Dec. 28, 2010 members of Tryzub cut off the metal Stalin’s head and posted a video on their website. Four days later, a group of unknown people set explosives and blew Stalin’s torso off.

Zaporizhzhia police started the investigation on the case which was first qualified as “hooliganism” and later changed the cause to “terrorism.”

Within the last two weeks, police captured and questioned six Svoboda members. One of them, Yuriy Gudymenko was detained on Jan. 10, 2011 and is still kept in custody. According to Svoboda spokesman Yuriy Syrotiuk, Gudymenko has nothing to do with the demolition of the monument and he has an alibi.

“The police couldn’t prove he did that so they decided to prolong the custody for 10 days,” Syrotiuk said. “You know what was the charge? He allegedly threw paint at the monument to another dictator Felix Dzerzhynksy some six months ago. But, again, I give you my word, he didn’t do that.”

Police also detained 12 members of Tryzub in western Ukraine, but some of them have been released by now. The mobile phones of Ivano-Frankivsk Tryzub leaders were out of service and the only person the Kyiv Post could reach was a member of Kyiv branch who refused to tell his name being afraid of prosecution.

“Yes, we take the responsibility for the Dec. 28 events, but why would we blow up the remains of the monument four days later?” asks the Tryzub activist. “My colleagues have a strong alibi for Dec. 31, so the police detained them on fabricated charges -- illegal possession of guns and arson of Party of Region’s Kyiv office [Dec. 31, 2010]”.

Members of nationalist movements who took part in the picket do not rule out that the Dec. 31, 2010 events could have been a provocation. They say they never heard about the “December 31” organization who claimed responsibility for the explosion in Zaporizhzhia.

The police who searched homes of “Svoboda” and “Tryzub” members, confiscated nationalist literature like books about [Ukraine’s insurgent army leaders] Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, books on Ukraine’s history and even Taras Shevchenko’s “Kobzar”.

The investigation team also “visited” two journalists who, in their opinion, might know something about the accidents.

On Jan. 10, 2011, they came to journalist and poet Maryna Bratsylo and her husband Yuriy Noga in Boryspil. “They rang the doorbell at six in the morning and said they had a search warrant issued in Zaporizhzhia within the investigation of the Stalin monument case”, told Bratsylo the Kyiv Post

I have nothing to do with the Stalin monument! Well, I was born in Zaporizhzhia, that’s it”, Bratsylo said. “And we celebrated the New Year here, in Kyiv. Do they think that I jumped on the plane, went to my hometown, blew up the monument and came back to continue celebration?”

Bratsylo and her husband were relieved when the police told them that they were qualified as “witnesses”, not as “suspects”. There was nothing to witness, though.

On Jan. 12, 2011, the police searched home of another journalist and blogger Olena Bilozerska, who in the past publicly supported destruction of communist era monuments. Bilozerska was questioned on the arson case.

The police confiscated Bratsylo’s and Bilozerska’s laptops, cell phones, cameras and digital recorders “for further expertise”. Bliozerska’s lawyer Sydir Kizin says the police exceeded its powers, as they had no right to confiscate the journalist’s equipment.

Syrotyuk, the “Svoboda” spokesman said the arrests and searches were politically charged. “I have two versions regarding this situation”, Syrotyuk said. “The “best” case scenario is that the police got a cart-blanche in investigation of the Stalin monument case, so they just rake up everybody. The worst case scenario is the following: the new power started a massive crack down on Ukrainian patriotic movements and is trying to destroy them just like Stalin did some 80 years ago.”

The Communist Party of Ukraine has its own take on this situation. Oleksandr Zubchevsky, second secretary of Zaporizhzhia branch of Communist party of Ukraine said that the destruction of their leader’s monument was a crime and wants the guilty ones to be punished. “I know for sure that the monument was destroyed by Ukrainian Nazis and I don’t care what their organization is called” told Zubchevsky the Kyiv Post.

He said that monument cost Hr 80,000 and it was built on Ukrainian pensioners’ donations. Zubchevsky dismissed the remark that people in civilized countries do not build monuments to dictators but demolish them. “If not for Comrade Stalin, neither you nor I nor those Nazis who destroyed the monument wouldn’t live now”, Zubchevsky said. “Only Stalin managed to unite Ukraine within its current borders and liberate Europe from the from Hitler’s yoke. There are plenty of historic facts proving that.”

Communists have started collecting money for a new Stalin. So far the most generous donations came from two pensioners from Zaporizhzhia region -- Ivan Dehtiar and Oleksiy Popov, who gave Hr 2000 and Hr 3000 correspondingly.

Kyiv Post staff writer Olesia Oleshko can be reached at [email protected]