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Group Says Crimeans Who Show Ukrainian Identity Get 'Hunted'

Volodymyr Balukh is a Ukrainian from the Crimean Peninsula who had hung a Ukrainian flag on his property and was imprisoned on weapons-and-explosives possession charges.

People expressing any form of Ukrainian identity in Russian-annexed Crimea can expect prosecution or get on a “hit list,” say two members of the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG).

Displaying the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag or its colors on property can lead to civil fines, criminal prosecution, and land “Ukrainian activists” on an online forum where people “hunt” for them, Olha Skrypnyk, head of CHRG, and group member Volodymyr Chekryhin, told the public broadcaster’s Radio Culture program.

An online forum exists in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet, called “Burn the Banderites in our city,” a reference to devotees of the mid-20th-century Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.

“There are open calls for the massacre of Ukrainian activists, information is collected -- there are 150 pages” on the forum, Chekryhin said. “There are photos of Ukrainian activists, addresses, information about where the families live, and the routes they take with their children to the kindergarten. And it is suggested to find them and deal with them.”

Hanging a Ukrainian flag or displaying its colors can lead to a civil fine, Skrypnyk said, and usually is prosecuted as an “unauthorized” demonstration.

If Ukrainian colors are painted on property, that could lead to criminal charges and jail time for committing “vandalism,” she said.

Other times, criminal cases are “fabricated,” Skrypnyk said, to imprison Ukrainians who “express any form of Ukrainian identity.”

Volodymyr Balukh was mentioned as an example.

Currently serving a five-year prison sentence in Russia, Balukh displayed a Ukrainian flag on his farmstead after Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.

Balukh was originally arrested in December 2016 and convicted on a weapons- and explosives-possession charge in August 2017 that he said is false.

Rights groups like the Memorial Human Rights Center consider him a political prisoner and maintain the charge against him was trumped up.

“On the whole, there are risks in general with the manifestation of Ukrainian identity,” Skrypnyk said. “As for the flag and directly Ukrainian colors, it can very often be used for persecution.”

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