Ukraine: “We do not lose hope”. Parents of human rights activist Butkevich on the ’sentence’ in the ’LPR’


BBC News

March 10, 2023

Ukrainian soldier, human rights activist and former BBC journalist Maksym Butkevych was sentenced to 13 years in prison in an ’LPR court’.

In the summer of 2022, Maksym Butkevych, who fought in eastern Ukraine as part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was taken prisoner by Russia.

Maksym’s parents are shocked by the news of the so-called court in the ’LPR’, but they do not lose hope that their son will return home.

“We hope, we believe, we will do everything in our power to bring him back,” Oleksandr Butkevych told the BBC.

Maksym Butkevych, who has helped hundreds of migrants in Ukraine and has been advocating for human rights for decades, is being portrayed by the Russian media as a “convinced fascist” and “the main underminer of regimes” in Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Russian propaganda called Maksym a “British spy” simply because he once worked for the BBC.

“Trial” in the “LPR”

The news of the trial of the Ukrainian human rights activist was published by the Investigative Committee of Russia. They stated that Maksim was ’convicted’ of war crimes.

The decision of the ’court’ states that Butkevich was found guilty of cruel treatment of civilians, the use of prohibited methods during an armed conflict, and attempted murder of two or more people.

The Investigative Committee stated that Maksim Butkevich had pleaded guilty and was remorseful.

The so-called trial took place in the Russian-controlled part of Luhansk region. Along with Butkevich, two other Ukrainians were convicted on similar charges: Viktor Pohozei and Vladislav Shel.

According to the Russians, last summer in Sievierodonetsk, Butkevich fired an anti-tank grenade launcher at the entrance of a residential building where two civilians were staying at the time, allegedly “with the intention of killing them and causing damage to their property”.

Ukraine does not recognise either the LPR or the courts on this territory.

“What can we expect from such a trial?”

“We just found out about it ourselves. I can’t talk, I’m crying all the time,” says Yevgeniya, Maksym’s mother, about the news from the ’LPR’.

Her son has been in Russian captivity for more than six months. The parents saw their son only a few times on videos published by Russian media and for a long time did not know anything about his fate. In December, a soldier from the unit of Maksym Butkevych, who was exchanged, said that Maksym was held in the Luhansk SIZO.

“This is a fake sentence, this case is fabricated. But what is there to be surprised about when even Lavrov says that we did not attack Ukraine. What can we expect from this country and this kind of justice?” - says Oleksandr Butkevych.

He says that he cannot say anything else in order not to harm his son. He does not know whether his son is on the prisoner exchange list.

“People can apply for an exchange, and the Russian side selectively decides who to release. But we do not lose hope,” says Mr Butkevych.

The Joint Centre for the Search and Release of Prisoners of War is working on Butkevych’s release, as well as that of other prisoners.

Colleagues, friends, and relatives of Maksym Butkevych are outraged that the Russian media portray him as a Nazi.

“If there are people who are hard to imagine capable of ’cruel treatment of civilians’, it is Max Butkevych,” says Olesia Ostrovska, director of Mystetskyi Arsenal.

“Max is the kindest person in the world. Did he think, when he persistently went out to single pickets for the release of Sentsov and Kolchenko from the Russian torture chamber, that he himself would be in their place,” Irina Navolneva, a friend of Maxim’s, told the BBC.

“They say that all the captured media people are under the special crosshairs of the Russians. It seems that he is being made a sacrificial victim,” says Maksym’s father.

Pacifist and migrant advocate

Until 2022, Maksym Butkevych had no combat experience, except for studying at the military department along with a philosophy degree.

After the invasion began in the spring of 2022, Maksym Butkevych went to the front. “He said he had to go and defend the country. There were no other options for him,” his mother Yevheniia Butkevych recalls.

“In February, Max went to defend Ukraine from the Russian invasion, because human rights are impossible in the face of invasion... Perhaps Max is the most radical humanist I have ever met,” recalls his friend, filmmaker Nadiia Parfan.

In June 2022, he was captured along with other members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near the Russian-held towns of Zolote and Hirske in the Luhansk region.

The Russian Ministry of Defence later confirmed that Butkevich was a prisoner of war.

Dozens of Russian websites published news about Maksym, calling him a ’militant’ and ’Nazi’, ’propagandist’ and ’Russophobe’. He is accused of inciting a civil war.

Maksym’s biography includes work at the BBC Ukrainian Service in London, where he made programmes on art and refugee issues; teaching at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy; and work at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

His colleagues and friends call him a pacifist and a defender of migrants. He has repeatedly publicly condemned racism, xenophobia, discrimination, anti-Semitism, Roma, homophobia, fascism and Nazism.

Butkevych devoted almost 15 years of his life to human rights activism. He was a member of the board of the Ukrainian chapter of Amnesty International and the public council at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was a co-founder of the human rights organisation Bez Borders, which fights xenophobic and racist manifestations in Ukraine and helps migrants and displaced persons.

“Maksym fought against discrimination, against hate speech. He fought for Ukraine not to deport people to countries where they were in danger. He helped them to find refuge here,” says Volodymyr Yavorskyi, a lawyer at the Centre for Civil Liberties and a friend of Maksym’s.

According to his estimates, during his human rights activities, Maksym helped hundreds of migrants in Ukraine.

Maksym provided consultations, met them at airports and bus stations, collected humanitarian aid and funds, and debunked xenophobic stereotypes about migrants in the media, according to his colleagues and friends.

“He always saved everyone. He wrote applications to the European Court of Human Rights, raised money for the military. He was a defender of those who suffer the most - people with disabilities, women and children. The most vulnerable and most persecuted people,” says human rights activist Oleksandra Delemenchuk.

“Maksym criticised right-wing organisations in Ukraine for attacking foreigners. He openly opposed the right-wing and had conflicts with it. It’s all the more surprising that the Russian media call him a Nazi. Maxim has completely opposite views,” says Vladimir Yavorsky.

Back in the summer, when it became known about his captivity, public figures, media professionals, and politicians organised a campaign calling for Butkevych’s immediate release on social media, with the hashtag #FreeMaksymButkevych.

At that time, the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky joined the flash mob.

In February, the Berlinale International Film Festival called for the release of Maksym Butkevych from Russian captivity.

Translated using Deepl without proofreading