New appeal: Solidarity with mayors and local government representatives in Ukraine!

By Mike Phipps

As the No War on Ukraine appeal, previously reported on Labour Hub, gathers nearly 200 signatories, a new initiative has been launched calling on mayors and local government representatives in the UK to speak out and take action over the abduction of Ukrainian mayors and elected officials in Russian-occupied areas.

As Prof Simon Pirani, author of Change in Putin’s Russia and other books on Russia and Ukraine, has documented, “Abductions and executions of activists, journalists and local government representatives by Russian forces have been reported throughout the occupied areas. On 15th March an alliance of 85 Ukrainian non-governmental organisations appealed to the United Nations and international committee of the Red Cross to take up the issue.  They pointed to the execution of Yuri Prylypko, mayor of Hostomel near Kyiv, and two volunteers, Ruslan Karpenko and Ivan Zorya, who had been distributing humanitarian aid.”

He adds: “A series of local government representatives have been abducted, as occupation forces put pressure on them to collaborate. One of the latest cases, on 19 March, is that of Oleksandr Shapovalov, mayor of Beryslav. He is apparently still in captivity.”

And on 16th March, “Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian foreign minister, reported that Oleksandr Yakovlev and Yevhen Matveyev, mayor and deputy mayor of Skadovsk, in Kherson region, had been abducted.”

Political scientist Mattia Nelles confirms the policy: “For now three weeks, Russians are targeting local officials, elected councillors, journalists, activists, priests, businessmen, or random civilians some targeted, some randomly picked up… In Kherson, on 22nd March, the Russians abducted Dmitry Afanasyev, a deputy of the Korabelnyi District Council, head of the European Solidarity faction, and a Taekwondo athlete… In Chernihiv (northern Ukraine), the Russian occupation forces abducted Alexander Medvedev, the head of the Snov territorial community, and Grigory Bozhko, a businessman and former regional council deputy.”

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group highlights other cases. “Public figures, including Viktor Maruniak, Head of the Stara Zburivka Council in the Kherson oblast, Dmytro Vasyliev, Secretary of the Nova Kakhovka City Council, and 23-year-old Ihor Prusayev have not been seen since they were abducted several days ago.”

It is in response to this that an appeal has been launched calling on mayors and councillors here to take action in defence of Ukrainian local democracy and against the forced disappearances of local councillors. It calls for an end to the use of kidnapping, arbitrary imprisonment and other violence against mayors, local government representatives, journalists, civic activists and other civilians.

The appeal states: “We call on the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and other international bodies urgently to protest to the Russian government. 

“To the best of our ability, we will take the following actions, and we appeal to mayors and local government representatives here in the UK, and in other countries, to join us:

1. To record all cases of human rights abuses against mayors and local government representatives in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.

2. To offer material and legal support to mayors and local government representatives whose human rights are abused.

3. To campaign internationally in support of Ukrainian mayors and local government representatives whose human rights are abused, and publicise each and every breach of human rights and attack on democracy.”

The abduction of Ukrainian local elected representatives seems to be a systematic policy, carried out by Russian security forces, when local mayors and others refuse to collaborate with the occupying forces, even when pressurised and threatened. Nelles notes: “The vast majority of mayors and councillors categorically refuse to cooperate. An increasing number is being ousted and replaced by loyal puppets.”

In one incident, reported in the Guardian, a mayor in a Ukrainian town occupied by Russian forces was released from captivity with Russian soldiers agreeing to leave after a mass protest by residents.

“Slavutych, a northern town close to the Chernobyl nuclear site, was taken by Russian forces but stun grenades and overhead fire failed to disperse unarmed protesters on its main square on Saturday. The crowd demanded the release of Mayor Yuri Fomichev, who had been taken prisoner by the Russian troops.”

This refusal to collaborate with the occupying forces has taken the Russians by surprise. “In contrast to 2014, the number of local officials who have openly sided with Russian occupying forces has so far remained limited to the heads of two towns and several villages,“ reports Open Democracy.

“The legitimacy of local mayors puts them at the centre of symbolic non-violent resistance to Russian occupying forces. They can credibly speak on behalf of the entire community, articulate demands and serve as focal points for coordination of town residents. They also symbolise continuity in Ukraine’s sovereign rule over these localities, and hence the persistence of the Ukrainian state there, despite the Russian military presence. The tenuous nature of Russian claims to have control over Ukrainian cities is exposed with every new act of defiance of city officials.”

The No war on Ukraine appeal argued that the basis for building the broadest possible action against the unprovoked attack on Ukraine was to focus on three clear demands:  Russian troops out of Ukraine, No to war and Refugees welcome here.

It was a response to the small size, and limited participation of Ukrainians, on anti-war marches in the UK, in contrast to the hundreds of thousands who have protested elsewhere in Europe. The appeal struck a chord, gaining support from a diverse range of activists, including Mary Kaldor, Director of the Conflict Research Programme at the London School of Economics, Jon Lansman, former Labour Party NEC member and Chair of Momentum, former Jeremy Corbyn policy advisor Andrew Fisher, Global Justice Now Director Nick Dearden, filmmaker Ken Loach and National Chair of BARAC UK Zita Holbourne – as well as a host of writers, lawyers and human rights activists.

This new appeal, aimed specifically at mayors and local councillors, seeks to translate that solidarity into action. Please contact your local mayor, council leader or councillor to get their support.  It can be read in full below.

Defend democracy – solidarity with mayors and local government representatives in Ukraine

We, elected mayors and other local government representatives, condemn the reign of terror in areas of Ukraine occupied by the Russian army. We demand an end to the use of kidnapping, arbitrary imprisonment and other violence against mayors, local government representatives, journalists, civic activists and other civilians.

We condemn attempts by the Russian army and security services to destroy elected local government structures and replace them with their own appointees. We declare our solidarity with those who resist such blows against democracy, freedom of representation and freedom of speech.

We call on the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and other international bodies urgently to protest to the Russian government. 

To the best of our ability, we will take the following actions, and we appeal to mayors and local government representatives here in the UK, and in other countries, to join us:

1. To record all cases of human rights abuses against mayors and local government representatives in areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.

2. To offer material and legal support to mayors and local government representatives whose human rights are abused.

3. To campaign internationally in support of Ukrainian mayors and local government representatives whose human rights are abused, and publicise each and every breach of human rights and attack on democracy.

To add your name to this letter, please email 2022ukrainesolidarity[at]gmail.com.

Mike Phipps’ book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018. His new book Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: The Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2022) can be ordered here.

Image: . Press Service of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Source: «PULSE NEWS» 21 February 2015. Author: An authorized Youtube stream of the STRC Ukrainian television and radio broadcasting «UTR – TV channel,  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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