Russian court rejects appeal to free Ukrainian human rights activist Maksym Butkevych

A Moscow court has rejected an appeal by Ukrainian human rights activist Maksym Butkevych against his 13-year jail sentence. Butkevych was found guilty by a kangaroo court in Russian-occupied Luhansk in Ukraine on March 10 of allegedly firing a grenade launcher into an apartment block in Sievierodonetsk, despite clear evidence he was elsewhere at the time.

Butkevych is well-known in Ukraine for his long history of activism. He was a co-founder of No Borders, an NGO dedicated to assisting refugees and internally displaced people in Ukraine, and worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He also co-founded the ZMINA Human Rights Centre.

With the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Butkevych joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, stating in a Facebook post: “Unfortunately, I have to put my refugee assistance, humanitarian, and human rights activism on hold. I think you can understand why ... There are times when you have to be ready to defend what is important — I firmly believe that. And the rest — after the victory.”

Butkevych, along with other members of his unit, were captured by Russian forces near the village of Hirske in the Luhansk oblast on June 24.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Denis Krivosheev said of the August 22 appeal court ruling: “A court in Moscow has upheld the decision made during a sham trial which was held in secret, against a defendant who had limited contact with the outside world, including his lawyer, and was apparently forced to incriminate himself on video for a crime which Maksym Butkevych simply could not have committed…”

“The sham trial against Maksym Butkevych and his treatment since his captivity is a reprisal by Russia for his civic activism and his prominent human rights work, and so is the outcome of the appeal hearing, which should have quashed the 13-year sentence and ordered his immediate release from custody.

Russia, Krivosheev noted, “has wilfully deprived Ukrainian prisoners of war of the right to a fair and regular trial, which constitutes a war crime, and those responsible must be brought to account.

“Russia must fully abide by international law governing occupation. It must end immediately its war of aggression against Ukraine.”