A story emblematic of Ukrainian police brutality which took over columns of Kharkiv printed press, websites, and local TV, is the story of Yakiv Strohan, which outraged and disturbed society with its gruesome details. http://glavnoe.ua/news/n62973, http://mignews.com.ua/ru/articles/51593.html , http://kharkov-online.com/news/n69460.html.
It started at the end of last summer, says Strohan: “On August 15 we had a quarrel with my neighbor. He broke an empty glass bottle by hitting it on a brick wall. I pointed out to him that it would be safer to throw it away, since our children play there, but he did not settle down, and he lunged at me. Of course, I fought back, and then went home.”
Late at night on August 16 four strange men dressed as civilians knocked on Yakov’s door, and demanded for him to meet them outside. After Strohan refused to do so, they tried to break the door. Strohan called the police, and notified them about strangers trying to break in. However, he was told that the squad was already on its way. Thus the assumption that the men were the workers of Kyyiv District subdivision of Kharkiv police is not unreasonable. The men stayed at Strohan’s door until morning, when they informed him that they are from law-enforcement and are seeking peaceful conflict resolution. They convinced Strohan to open the door. Strohan continues: “As soon as I opened the door, two of them stormed in, twisted my hands, frightened the baby who slept in a cradle, and took me to the branch of Kyyiv regional police department.”
After that things were happening as if he was in a horror movie. Strohan was driven beyond city’s limits, near the cemetery, where he was supposed to give a confession to murder in which he was not involved. He refused to confess to the crime he had not committed. Strohan describes: “Besides me there were three policemen in the vehicle: a captain and two lieutenants. When the vehicle stopped, the senior opened a box with different types of knives and files, and suggested I either sign the document or choose the instrument of torture. After I refused, the torment has started.» “My hands were tied; there were four flasks of water. The water was needed to pour over me later in the forest. Their supervisor told them to start driving, and he drove ahead of us.”
The man was tortured in the forest for about six hours
From Strohan’s words, the supervisor of the regional police department brought the transformer, which was a special devise for electric torture. “Bohdan said that we’ll try another experiment: they ripped my clothes off, pulled my pants and underwear down, and pulled up my t-shirt. Bohdan brought a voltage devise, put me on my knees. Sasha was standing on my legs on one side, and Anton did that on the other side, so I couldn’t move my legs. Bohdan clipped a wire to my testicles, and another one to my chest. My memory is partial at this point.” Pain made Strohan become unconscious from time to time. His butchers poured liquid ammonia down his throat to bring him back to consciousness, which damaged his larynx and esophagus. However, despite this brutal treatment, Strohan did not give up and did not sign the confession, which sadists offered him all the time.
After this, Strohan was taken to an apartment located near the district building, where he was held for two days, and his wife was asked to pay ten thousand dollars for his release. “They even arranged for us to meet in the midway between the school and the childcare facility, so my wife would be convinced that I was alive” – remembers Strohan. His wife couldn’t find such money, and Strohan was released with a condition that he will hurry up and find mentioned sum for his freedom.
However, instead of looking for money, Strohan turned to the Kyyiv District Prosecutor’s office and to the office of the internal police security, and obtained medical report confirming that he had received moderate injuries. At the same time, expert analysis confirmed that the man was actually held in the "torture" room. Traces of Strohan’s blood were found on the mattress, heaters, and the metal. However, despite the obvious signs of a crime, decision of the Kyiv District Prosecutor's Office refused to start a criminal case against police officers, because of the absence of gravamen of a charge. "We were not shown the decision, so we cannot say what were the reasons for this denial, but the regional prosecutor's office promised to provide all relevant materials", - said Srohan’s lawyer Yuri Poul. Then again, such cases involving kidnapping and torture happened before in the Kyyiv District Department of Kharkiv. Aygul Mukanova, who is an attorney from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group remarks:
“Police officers have a well-established scheme of kidnapping and extortion. This statement is supported by the fact that the details of Srohan’s story are impossible to make-up.” “This is not the first time, and not even the tenth or the hundredth time, of prosecutor’s office refusing to bring about criminal proceedings and start investigation, with all the evidence suggesting torture inflicted by the police.”
In his quest for justice, Strohan went to Kyyiv, where on December 1, 2010, he participated in the Parliament hearings on the human rights support in the law-enforcement http://www.dt.ua/1000/1050/71015/. A poster stand was created in the foyer, which described Strohan’s story, and called upon the people in power to stop the lawlessness and bring justice to the police officers involved in torture. Unfortunately, interior minister Anatolyy Mohilyov had not appeared at the hearing, despite the appeal of the Committee Head, Shvets to the Ukrainian Prime Minister Azarov asking to insure Shvets’ presence. http://www.dt.ua/1000/1050/71013/ Sadly, the rest of politicians neither paid attention to the stand nor communicated with the victim of torture. In other words, neither of them showed any care for the citizens of their country. Human rights organizations wrote an open letter to the President of Ukraine: http://helsinki.org.ua/index.php?id=1291367022, where they stated that the police brutality, lack of control by public authorities, and, most importantly, the lack of responsibility on the part of the government became a threat to national security of Ukraine.
At the hearing mentioned above, Strohan had personally met with Ukraine’s Ombudsman, Nina Karpachova, to whom he told his story and gave evidence of what happened to him. Karpachova stated that she will personally take his case under control. She also promised to come to Kharkiv, and conduct an investigation of human rights violations by the law-enforcement organs. Talking live on Radio Liberty, Karpachova agreed to the fact that police brutality, lack of control from the public, and lack of responsibility of the law-enforcers became a threat to national interests of Ukraine: http://www.radiosvoboda.org/content/article/2245052.html.
Strohan hoped that his case, which received considerable social response and support from the public and the ombudsman, will finally gain the characteristics of adequate government regulation, and that actions of the police will be classified as crimes. The hoped that he could finally continue to live in peace with his wife and child.
Now I would like to remind Nina Karpachova about her promises. Namely to protect the innocent, and to bring the criminals, so sure of their impunity, to justice. What happened next shocked even the most experienced human rights activists, who, in their careers, have witnessed a variety of human rights violations, and have never seen such arrogance.
On December 9, 2010, Strohan was called to the Kyyiv District Police station as a witness in the case of neighborhood fight. There he was detained without any order from the court. His wife said that prior to this he was healthy and did not have any injuries. On December 10 at about 15:30, Strohan was transported to the Kyyiv District Court (Judge Murattova, prosecutor Surzhenko). In the court Strohan was accused of an attempted murder of his neighbor. Artificiality of the accusation that happened after almost four months after ordinary fight is obvious. Strohan’s wife and activists from Kharkiv Human Rights Group saw a big bruise near his left eye, red mark on his neck, and black and blue spots on his body. http://www.khpg.org/index.php?id=1291975338, http://www.khpg.org/index.php?id=1291906105
Strohan moved and breathed with great difficulty. In the courtroom he became sick, and, after his wife insisted, an ambulance was called. Emergency team recorded closed head injury, multiple hematomas, and possible brain concussion. Doctor said that the hospitalization and further examination were necessary in order to clarify the diagnosis. However, judge Muratova did not allow the hospitalizing of Strohan, neither he allowed to even give him sedatives. Moreover, the judge, without giving any explanation, ordered for wife and human right activists, who intended to provide bail, to leave the courtroom.
It also became known that in the evening of December 2, 2010, Strohan was already examined by emergency doctors, which recorded physical injuries. That same night he was seen by neurosurgeon.
During the court session, Strohan told that after he was arrested he was beaten by police officers, the same ones that tortured him in September. He also pointed out that investigator Ischenko, also present in the courtroom, was involved in the beating.
After reviewing the investigation materials, judge Muratova took Strohan in custody. The cause for such decision: Strohan’s prior criminal record. She did not take into account the fact that Strohan did not avoid the law-enforcement officers; on the contrary, he constantly made contacts with them. The bail offered by Kharkiv Human Rights Group was not accepted by the court without any explanation.
Today we still do not know whether any measures were taken by judge Muratova and prosecutor Surzhenko regarding Strohan’s statements about the beatings: http://glavnoe.ua/video/v657
On December 10, 2010, Kharkiv Human Rights group sent a telegram to the prosecution office, demanding to investigate the circumstances of the beating.
We can state with full responsibility, that today life and wellbeing of Strohan is under threat. The court decision placed him in hands of those who tortured him in August, 2010, those against whom he fought and devoted tremendous effort in order to bring these offenders to justice. http://www.khpg.org/index.php?id=1292088894
It seems that the law does not apply to the criminals in the uniforms, but only works in the favor of their intentions and whims.
A question arises: what kind of government gives some impunity to torture and demand ten thousand dollars, and refuses others in institution of criminal proceedings despite the obvious signs of the crime? What kind of government always makes bias decisions in the favor of the first?! We cherish the hope that the people, whom we call our government, and who are maintained by our taxes, will be just, civilized, adequate, and have clear position on protecting citizens rather than torture and blackmail them, covering the real offenders.
What can be done in this country in order to make punishment for a crime inevitable for everyone regardless of their ranks and positions? What can we do to have one law for all, and have its servants protect all humans, and not violate their rights?
Translation from Ukrainian by Yuliya Shadyrya the_rhubarbs
Video - on 2:10 Yakov Strogan after he was beaten