Yanukovych takes protesters hostage | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.02.2014
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Yanukovych takes protesters hostage

There might not be fighting in Kyiv's streets at the moment, but the calm is deceiving. President Viktor Yanukovych's repressive apparatus is working at full speed, and hundreds of people face long prison sentences.

"I haven't slept properly for a single night these past two weeks," 28-year-old Darya said. She is worried about her fiancé Myhailo Ovsienko who has been detained in Kyiv's Lukyanivska prison since January 24.

The gloomy, grey 19th century building is hopelessly overcrowded. Many prisoners fall ill in the dark and cold cells. Darya still can't believe her fiancé, a young engineer with a promising career, is being kept there.

Myhailo was driving through downtown Kyiv in his Opel Vivaro on a Friday afternoon. At first, he wasn't surprised when a traffic policeman stopped him. After all, his car antenna sported a blue-and-yellow ribbon - the colors of the Ukrainian and European Union flags. People who fly symbols of the protest movement against the country's authoritarian president on their cars can count on traffic controls.

Clamping down on the Automaidan movement

For weeks, the police have been targeting activists of the Automaidan movement, which organizes motorcade protests outside President Viktor Yanukovych's country estate near Kyiv. The movement is a veritable thorn in the leadership's side.

"But Myhailo didn't participate in the Automaidan actions, his car wasn't on the police's wanted list," Darya told DW.

He was detained all the same because of his car's worn tires. The beribboned antenna and a set of old tires were enough to let the police tie Myhailo in with the unrest in the government quarter. After all, demonstrators burned thousands of old tires to hide from the security forces behind a smouldering wall of flames.

civil unrest in Ukraine, flames (photo: Reuters)

Anti-government protesters faced riot police behind blazing tires

Myhailo Ovsienko faces eight to 15 years in prison for violating the peace. According to his criminal records, he is accused of having organized a "group of 3,000 to 5,000 people" to join in the unrest in the government quarter.

According to the prosecutor's office, a total of 234 people were arrested under the same allegations. Human rights activists say that figure could be closer to 300.

Many criminal records seem to have simply been copied, Dmytro Husiy says. He is one of the more than 30 Kyiv lawyers who launched the initiative "Euromaidan SOS" that looks after the detained activists and "random victims of judicial arbitrariness" free of cost.

'We don't stand a chance against Yanukovych's system'

Verdicts on whether a detainee remains in pre-trial custody are handed down "assembly line-style," Husiy told DW. "Witnesses are ignored, lawyers' petitions are all rejected - we don't stand a chance against the judiciary in Yanukovych's system."

Olga Salo holds up poster that reads 300 arrested (photo: DW/ Eugen Theise)

Activists demand the release of detained demonstrators

For the most part, the Ukrainian lawyer adds, he and his colleagues try to document the outlandish injustice.

The human rights groups plan to inform Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights about judicial arbitrariness in Ukraine on Tuesday (04.02.2014) when he visited Kyiv to look into human rights violations in the country.

"Myhailo is a hostage taken by President Viktor Yanukovych who stages a war against his own country," Darya said.

Pre-trial custody or house arrest

About one third of the roughly 300 people who face up to 15 years in prison are still in pre-trial custody. The others are under house arrest.

Myhailo Ovsijenko and finace Daria (photo: privat)

Darya is worried about her imprisoned fiancé Myhailo

The opposition demands an unconditional amnesty for everyone prosecuted in connection with the protests. Under the new amnesty law, the release of detained prisoners is conditional on the protesters' vacating seized buildings.

Darya, however, argues protesters should not vacate the buildings. "If the people give in to the President's blackmailing and leave the Maidan, then Myhailo certainly won't be released. And we won't live in freedom, either."

Just a few weeks ago, she and her fiancé dreamed of getting married in spring. Now it is up to judges and politicians to decide whether this dream will come true.

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