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Russia Arrests Ukrainian Library Director Over 'Extremist' Books

Natalia Sharina, the director of the Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow (file photo)
Natalia Sharina, the director of the Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow (file photo)

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By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- Following a raid in which they say scores of "extremist" books were seized, Russian investigators have announced that the head of the Ukrainian Literature Library in Moscow has been arrested on suspicion of "inciting ethnic hatred." 

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said on October 29 that investigators were seeking court authorization to criminally charge Natalya Sharina, saying she circulated banned publications authored by Dmytro Korchynskyy, a radical Ukrainian nationalist, between 2011 and 2015.

Police conducted hourslong searches of the library on October 28, seizing up to 170 publications, according to local news agencies. Sharina's home was also searched, as was the home of Valery Semenenko, who heads a Ukrainian diaspora organization named Ukrainians In Moscow.

Sharina could face up to five years in jail.

The arrest is the latest in a spate of controversial Russian criminal cases connected to Ukrainians, the most high-profile of which is the trial of Nadia Savchenko. The Ukrainian military pilot is charged with participating in the killing of two Russian journalists during fighting in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and subsequently crossing into Russia illegally -- allegations seen by many in Ukraine as fabricated.

The Ukrainian Culture Ministry has called for Sharina's immediate release, describing the raids and arrest as "the latest brazen Kremlin act designed to frighten the Ukrainian ethnic minority in the Russian Federation."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS news agency that the arrest and raids at the library were "not on the agenda" for discussion.

The raids were purportedly launched after an appeal from Dmitry Zakharov, a municipal deputy of Moscow's Yakimanka district.

Speaking to Govorit Moskva radio, Zakharov said that "there was information that extremist materials were being stored in the library...so I appealed to the authorities."

Video footage shared on YouTube showed a masked police officer in combat fatigues walking out of the Ukrainian library on October 28 with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, holding two filled plastic bags:

Zakharov posted photographs of publications being seized during the raid on his social network page. They included a Ukrainian children's cartoon (below left) that he said bore the slogan "Glory to Ukraine, Glory to the Heroes."

This work is not on the list of banned books in Russia, but appears to contain the red-and-black flag of the far-right Ukrainian group Right Sector, which is a banned organization in Russia:

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Referring to Ukrainians in derisive, coarse language, Zakharov also posted photographs of books about Stepan Bandera, a deeply divisive Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with Nazi Germany to fend off Soviet troops during World War II. 

The statement from the Investigative Committee said that the books contained "calls for anti-Russian propaganda."

Markin's statement singled out "extremist" publications by Korchynskyy, who is now wanted in Russia for allegedly making calls for terrorist activity but who has past links to pro-Kremlin Russian activists.

In 2005, Korchynskyy was invited to give a lecture to the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi on how to confront the threat of an Orange Revolution-style protest movement in Russia. He was a member of a far-right group led by Kremlin-connected ultranationalist Aleksandr Dugin.

In a reversal, Korchynskyy came out in support of the Euromaidan uprising in Ukraine in early 2014. He reportedly went on to fight in eastern Ukraine for pro-Kyiv forces against Russia-backed separatists. In March 2014, Russia opened several criminal cases against Korchynskyy on charges linked to "terrorist" activity.

Semenenko, whose apartment was searched on October 28, told RFE/RL, "I was very distressed that my apartment was turned upside down. These people are absolutely not specialists in literature, but bone-breakers!

"They took books and memory sticks belonging to my daughter, who is a city planner, and took my wife's laptop," he continued. "Then, as soon as we left home, an NTV television crew turned up. My wife drove them out," he said. 

A criminal investigation was launched against Semenenko and the Ukrainian Literature Library in 2010, leading police to search the library for extremist publications. Charges of inciting ethnic hatred related to the alleged circulation of anti-Russian books were dropped in late 2011, however, for lack of evidence.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

Tom Balmforth

Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics.

 

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