Olha Skrypnyk, Coordinator of the Crimean Human Rights Group and her colleague Volodymyr Chekryhin have finally been freed after being unwarrantedly detained for several hours by Russia’s FSB while in the buffer zone near Kalanchak. The activists were driving, together with a representative of the Ombudsperson’s Office, to the Ukrainian checkpoint near the border between mainland Ukraine and occupied Crimea.
There were Initial reports that they were being taken against their will inside occupied Crimea. These proved unfounded, however the very fact that they were taken away from the buffer zone to Armyansk for interrogation is already a serious infringement. The group was carrying out normal monitoring work, and the FSB’s actions seem clearly aimed at intimidation.
The FSB have since asserted that they fined the activists for what they claim, without any justification, were ‘border infringements’.
Olha Skrypnyk has been tirelessly monitoring and reporting on human rights violations in Crimea since Russia’s invasion in February 2014. Her original group – the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission – was in July 2015 placedon Russia’s so-called “patriotic stop list” of foreign NGOs likely to be deemed ‘undesirable’ and effectively outlawed in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea.
The Crimean Human Rights Group has so far not elicited the same response, but Skrypnyk’s treatment on Monday is extremely worrying. It is probably no coincidence that it came just days after the hearings at the European Court of Justice at the Hague into Ukraine’s suit against Russia. Skrypnyk and other human rights activists played a major role in preparing the government’s case, at least as far as rights violations in Russian-occupied Crimea are concerned.
Skrypnyk and other activists have also begun advising any Ukrainians travelling to Russian-occupied Crimea on measures to stay safe and not find themselves arrested on grotesque charges. They should show extreme caution, avoid any comments on social networks or unnecessary conversations, and leave all technology in mainland Ukraine.