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'Whose Is It?' Ukrainian Activists Confront Russian Blogger In Kyiv, With Violent Results

Russian blogger Aleksandra Mitroshina said her appearance in Kyiv had no political motive. (file photo)
Russian blogger Aleksandra Mitroshina said her appearance in Kyiv had no political motive. (file photo)

Ordered to his knees after being handcuffed by police, Ukrainian activist Leonid Ovcharenko faced abuse from the crowd that had turned out to see a Russian blogger he had confronted with questions over Crimea due to her past visit to the peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Things quickly escalated, and Ovcharenko and another activist were physically attacked – seemingly not only by a few members of the angry mob. Social media posts appeared to show police were involved, and Ovcharenko reportedly bore the brunt of it.

Social media posts and other comments suggested that many were appalled not only by the abuse the activists suffered and the alleged police involvement, but by where it happened. The January 6 incident did not transpire in Russia -- where questioning the country's territorial integrity, and thus its claim to Crimea, is a criminal offense -- but in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.

Amid cries of injustice, the Interior Ministry issued an appeal to the public on January 7.

"If you witnessed any misconduct by law enforcement officers during yesterday's conflict and have evidence, please come forward," the ministry said in a statement quoted by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

The ministry said that the Russian blogger, Aleksandra Mitroshina, had entered Ukraine legally by train. But it announced that she would be added to a list of people banned from entering Ukraine due to having visited Crimea without authorization from Kyiv.

Mitroshina, who had posted photos on social media in 2017 of a visit to Crimea, said on Telegram on January 6 that she did not support Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula, which Russia took control over in March 2014 after sending in troops, securing key buildings, and staging a referendum considered illegitimate by at least 100 countries. Only a handful consider Crimea to be part of Russia.

She also said her appearance in Kyiv had no political motive.

The two activists involved in the incident, Ovcharenko and Oleksiy Kalnytskiy are members of the Vidsich movement, which launched in 2010 to protest the election of Viktor Yanukovych as president. In a Facebook post, Vidsich said the two activists went to the site in Kyiv where Mitroshina was to speak to ask the Russian blogger a simple question: "Who does Crimea belong to?"

A video uploaded to Twitter by a user called lennutrajektoor appeared to show Ovcharenko on his knees and handcuffed, encircled by a crowd, many using smart phones to document it all, as a stone-faced police officer hovers over the activist.

In the clip, Ovcharenko appears to engage in a heated discussion with what appears to be Mitroshina, saying at one point "There are no words to describe the way you spit on Ukraine."

A video uploaded to Facebook by a user called Oleksandr Ivanov, appeared to show both Ovcharenko and Kalnytskiy, being hit and kicked by a young man inside the building on Kozatska Street in Kyiv where Mitroshina was scheduled to speak.

Vidsich said on Facebook that its two activists were detained by police for three hours before being released for "minor hooliganism," charges that were confirmed by police in Kyiv.

Some said the abuse and humiliation that the two activists, especially Ovcharenko, endured was akin to what Ukrainians have faced in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

"One and the same," wrote a poster identified as krtmn79 on Twitter above a split photo of a kneeling Ovcharenko next to a memorable shot of a woman wrapped in a Ukrainian flag being kicked by a woman on a street in separatist-controlled Donetsk in 2014.

Mitroshina, who canceled what had been billed as a "meeting with followers," called the confrontation with the Vidsich activists a "provocation." In a Telegram post on January 6, Mitroshina said she did not "support the annexation of Crimea," and denied working for the state-run Russian TV channel Rossiya-1, as detractors have contended.

In 2017, Mitroshina had posted on Facebook photos of herself in Crimea, apparently having visited the Ukrainian Peninsula without authorization from Kyiv. These posts were taken down just ahead of her planned appearance in Kyiv on January 6, although a screen grab shot captures some of them.

Mitroshina was praised in 2019 for spearheading a campaign on social media to pressure the Russian government to pass a domestic violence bill. She and another activist, Alyona Popova, urged social media users to post images of themselves with the hashtag #янехотелаумирать (I didn't want to die) and to sign a petition. Her image on Instagram has had nearly 470,000 "likes."

Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service, told the Ukrayinskaya Pravda news website on January 7 that Mitroshina faced a three-year ban on entering Ukraine.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.

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    RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

    RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service has seen its audience grow significantly since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022 and is among the most cited media outlets in the country. Its bold, in-depth reporting from the front lines has won many accolades and awards. Its comprehensive coverage also includes award-winning reporting by the Donbas.Realities and Crimea.Realities projects and the Schemes investigative unit.

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