KYIV – The court's verdict was unanimous and harsh: Ukraine's top leaders, including President Petro Poroshenko, were guilty of war crimes. Their punishment: life imprisonment and the confiscation of their personal property.
But the sentence is highly unlikely to be seen -- much less recognized -- by most people and even less likely to be carried out, since this so-called court is a product of a Russia-backed separatist group in war-torn eastern Ukraine that calls itself the Luhansk People's Republic. It's known simply by its Russian acronym, the LNR, and is viewed as illegitimate by the vast majority of the world.
As far as reality shows go, the LNR's months-long "Ukrainian People's Tribunal" -- which handed down the "sentences" in absentia after hundreds of "witness hearings" and more than 1,089 volumes of material, including video footage showing several real instances of shelling in residential areas on June 22 -- might fall somewhere between a high-school class project and a Judge Judy rip-off for a local public-access TV channel.
In an attempt to inject a dose of authenticity, the "tribunal," aired during dinnertime and promoted with a logo showing Lady Justice, claimed to have based the case on Ukraine's own criminal code.
Arguing for the "state" was the "people's prosecutor," Serhiy Kozhyemyakhin, who spent much of his time looking down and reading from prepared remarks during the televised hearings.
Defending Poroshenko and other Ukrainian officials, such as Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman and National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov, who were represented in court only by their photographs shown on a TV screen, was "defender" Olena Hridina.
After arguing their cases in front of a panel of three female "judges" and a "jury," the "court" was ready to deliver its decision on June 22.
In keeping with reality TV norms, its finale was held live and at an exclusive location -- in this case, fittingly, on Luhansk's Theater Square. There, the three LNR "judges" in long black gowns stood upon a stage and read out the sentences to a reportedly bused-in crowd of hundreds of locals waving signs condemning the Ukrainian leadership's actions.
Ukrainian and international media had largely ignored the "tribunal" of the unrecognized territory, while Russian state-run media devoted a significant amount of coverage to the finale (see below) in an apparent attempt to add legitimacy to it.
Channel 24 sent a correspondent to Luhansk who filed a 3-minute segment on the June 22 "sentencing."
The TASS news agency headlined its June 22 report, "Thousands of people in the center of Luhansk await announcement of the Ukrainian people's tribunal."
Citing the "presiding judge," Olena Shishkina, TASS reported that the "tribunal's" full "sentence" would be sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations Office on Genocide Protection, and other international human rights organizations "for measures to be taken for its implementation."
Representatives of the LNR could not be reached for comment via the contacts listed on the website created for the "tribunal."
Poroshenko's office declined to comment.
Ukraine has itself submitted a lawsuit to the ICC in The Hague against Russia, accusing it of military aggression, including in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the shelling of the southeastern coastal city of Mariupol.
Ukraine has been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk since April 2014, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea. More than 10,300 people have been killed in the fighting, which continues today despite a 2015 peace deal signed by the warring sides.