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Ukraine vs. Yuri Barabash

Recently the Yanukovych regime in Kyiv has learned that in addition to the problems with the official Ukrainian opposition, which today consists of the Yatsenyuk-Tyahnybok-Klitschko triumvirate, it has a more serious enemy – the resistance movement at local level, the so-called “activists”.

August 22, 2013 - Roman Kabachiy - Articles and Commentary

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Whatever people say, arrangements are still possible with the opposition. They can be invited to negotiations with the president; an opportunity Yatsenyuk and his escorts have taken eagerly; “UDAR” representatives occasionally vote together with the representatives of the ruling party, and even “Svoboda” members, after arguing or even fighting with the regionals for the TV cameras, later smiled and joked with each other in the parliament halls or canteen.

However, the grassroots movement is a different story. In 2010, the Tax Maidan protests – protests by entrepreneurs against the bureaucratisation of relationships with business and the state – was broken up. In spring 2013, activists and journalists protested that Yanukovych’s living at a Mezhygirya residence is illegal and several Democratic Alliance activists, including its chairman Vasyl Gatsko, were jailed for several days for an administrative offence. Later, journalists arriving to Mezhygirya on June 6th, their professional holiday, were met by a special police force “Berkut” (Ukrainian name of the golden eagle), and the car of Tetyana Chornovil, one of the journalists, was confiscated for several days for “being wrongfully parked”.

After the well-known events in Vradiivka, where militiamen raped Iryna Krashkova, a seller at a local shop, there was a revolt in the village, and protesters marched to Kyiv on foot. On July 22nd, the organiser of the Vasyl Lubarets protest was jailed for ten days for “violating the rules of peaceful meetings”. The average Ukrainian understands ever more clearly that the authorities with Donetsk origins are above all afraid of the “average” person.

The case of expulsion, that is, denying entry to Ukraine, of Yuri Barabash, a Russian citizen with Ukrainian origins, only supports this tendency. On July 15th, at 8:15am Ukrainian time, he was dropped off at the Ukrainian station of Konotop, and notified that he was banned from entering Ukraine; he was first sent to the Khutir Mykhailivsky border station, and then sent back to Moscow. According to Barabash, the border guards were themselves “shocked”, but were obliged to perform this instruction pursuant to the decision of the Security Service of Ukraine. On July 10th, Yuri Barabash was banned from entering Ukraine for five years.

In fact, Barabash was not “entering”, but returning to Ukraine. He has lived in Kyiv for the last five years, working as a designer at a publishing house of historical literature called Tempora, which publishes a great deal of foreign literature and essays. Barabash’s hobby was photography and he attended many significant events of modern Ukrainian history with his camera. For example, he was among those detained at the 8th anniversary of the Orange Revolution at Maidan Nezalezhnosti in 2012 (Viktor Yanukovych prohibited the commemoration of this day as the Day of Freedom, as established by Yushchenko).

Barabash has photographed the actions of the Russian opposition in Moscow, where his mother, Kateryna Barabash, is known not only as a famous film critic, but also as a critic of Vladimir Putin. Yurko (diminutive for Yuri) Barabash is an ethnic Ukrainian raised in Moscow. His grandfather, also Yuri Barabash, moved to the capital of the USSR from Ukraine and became a famous literary scholar. On the day Yurko was “not admitted” to Ukraine, the press secretary of the Security Service of Ukraine, Lada Safonova tried to avoid answering questions. When the publication Tyzhden.ua asked her about the reasons for pulling Yuri off the train, she said: “At the moment we can not comment on this situation, and if there are any additional details, we will inform the public later.”

In response to the question whether Barabash would be able to enter Ukraine earlier than 2018, Safonova emphasised: “We just can not comment on this situation, period.” The next day, friends of Barabash, activists and his girlfriend Tetyana came to the main office of the SBU (the Security Service of Ukraine) in Kyiv protesting: “Return Yurko to us”! The protesters wrote on their posters “Would you dare to deny admission to Putin?”, “Explain and stop it!” Human rights activist, Anna Preis, commented on her reasons for coming to the SBU: “It looks like Ukraine is following the path of Belarus, where there is the similar practice of banning entrance to the country. Barabash is not a criminal, he hasn’t robbed or killed anyone; he only has an administrative record, but as far as I know, this is not grounds for banning him from entering … The SBU must explain its decision, since my views are similar to those of Barabash, and it is possible that I am also dangerous to Ukraine.”

Lada Safonova had to come out to the resentful friends of the photographer, although she didn’t convey any new information, claiming that the security services anywhere in the world are not obliged to explain their decisions. “The citizen Yuri Barabash is banned from entry in the interests of the state of Ukraine,” the press secretary snapped. Publicist and historian Petro Zhyzhyian, arguing against the official on the website of Tyzhden.ua, noted: “SBU’s explanations of its ‘no comments’ position is in fact ridiculous … introducing the ‘banned from entry lists’ is an element of a diplomatic game. It is usually a symmetric reply to unfriendly acts of the other state: you give us ‘the Magnitsky list’ – we give you ‘the Guantanamo list’ etc. Such acts may serve as evidence of a principal stand in relation to a certain issue in international relations. Think, for instance, of the sanctions against Belarusian officials who were banned from entry to the EU in response to persecutions of the opposition in this country … Such behaviour of a state or organisation is logical, as they understand that the national interests in any area of the state’s life need to be defended and no position shall be yielded.”

A few days later, the SBU decided to slightly lift the veil on banning the designer from entry. In his response to the written inquiry of Tyzhden.ua as to whether there are lists of persons banned from entry, and who gets onto such lists, the head of the counter-espionage department of the SBU commented: “Persons that are banned from entering Ukraine receive the ban on the basis of information that they are involved in terrorist activities, illegal migration, planning, preparing to, or fighting in a war [in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions], and attempts to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” In other words, Barabash was suspected either of being involved in terrorism, or in preparing military activities. And it gets worse as it goes on.

On July 22nd 2013, “Svoboda” member Sergii Bondar was arrested. He was charged due to the events of May 18th, when a fight occurred between “Svoboda” members attempting to turn a military vehicle upside down with a giant carrot (a jest about the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, known as the Rabbit) driven by the authorities. Yuri Barabash’s name appeared in the filing of the investigation, regarding the necessity to arrest Bondar and several others. This filing was accidentally (or maybe not accidentally) left behind during the court session break, when resentful “Svoboda” members and journalists demanded that Sergii be released into his own custody. The accused were charged of damaging special vehicle BRDM-2RKhB and “inflicting bodily injury” to a number of individuals (“BRDM passengers”), and according to the investigation officer, these “illegal acts” lasted for 50 minutes. And it all happened in front of the militia, which failed to respond to militants acting as “antifascists”, beating up two journalists.

Barabash in his comment to Ukrainska Pravda said that he learned of his participation in the BRDM attack from the media. However on one photo, which was published by Novaya Odessa, one can see that an unidentified person kicking Yuri Barabash, who is holding a camera, in the stomach. But even assuming that Barabash participated in the roll-over of the BRDM vehicle, which caused damages to the amount of 30,000 Ukrainian hryvnias (3,712 US dollars), is punishment of a five-year ban from entering the country reasonable? A state which declares it has European priorities, fails to distinguish between administrative and criminal punishments.

I am grateful to the Ukrainian authorities for at least sending Yurko safe and sound back to Moscow,” his girlfriend Tetyana said with bitter irony as she stood near the SBU, “for not punching him in his kidneys or breaking his jaw.” Her words contain a hint that the Ukrainian authorities have recently taken up an offensive against journalists: severe beatings happen throughout the country – there have been up to ten such cases during the last month.

Barabash is going to prosecute Ukraine. It has already done a lot to make him, his mother and grandfather famous. Now it is Ukraine’s turn to “become famous” for fighting against the book designer in the European courts. In the internet era, one can of course ban a person from physical entry, but cannot make him or her silent. And this will most likely be the case for Barabash.

Translated by Olena Shynkarenko

 You can support and keep in touch with Yuri Barabash by following his blog here.

Roman Kabachiy is a Ukrainian historian and journalist and a regular contributor to the Polish bi-monthly Nowa Europa Wschodnia.

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