UCC Calls for Ukrainian POWs’ Release

Ukrainian sailors in Russian court

NP-UN National Affairs Desk.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) is calling on Canada and the international community to increase pressure on Russia to immediately release 24 Ukrainian sailors captured during a Russian naval attack on Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea on November 25, 2018.

“Russia’s continued incarceration of the 24 Ukrainian sailors is a grave violation of international law,” stated Alexandra Chyczij, National President of the UCC. “Canada and the international community must significantly increase sanctions on the Russian regime to secure the release of the Ukrainian sailors and over 70 Ukrainian political prisoners taken hostage and imprisoned by the Kremlin.”

Canada, the United States and the European Union have repeatedly condemned Russia’s illegal detention of the 24 sailors and imprisonment of 70 Ukrainian political prisoners and called for their immediate release. None have taken actions that would increase pressure on Russia to do so.

The UCC calls on Canada to:

  1. Implement specific sanctions against Russia in response to the November 25 Kerch Strait attack. Actions should include: a) Sanctions on Russian state financial institutions; b) Sanctions on Russian shipping including banning Canadian ships from docking in Russian ports in the Sea of Azov and Black Sea and banning Russian ships from Canadian ports.
  2. Use the tools available in the Magnitsky Act to implement sanctions against Russian officials responsible for the violations of internationally recognized human rights of Ukrainian citizens;
  3. In cooperation with the EU, the G7 and other like-minded nations, strengthen economic sanctions on Russia, including the removal of Russia from the SWIFT international payments system, in order to exert pressure on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine;
  4. Together with NATO allies, increase military assistance to Ukraine, including providing Ukraine with naval armaments, surface-to-ship missiles, patrol boats, radar systems and surveillance equipment.

In its December 2017 report, Canada’s Support to Ukraine in Crisis and Armed Conflict, the Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN) called on the Government of Canada to “expand Canada’s sanctions, including implementing the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), against those responsible for contributing to the armed conflict in Ukraine, and to work with its allies, including NATO, to maintain and enhance their sanction regimes against Russian operatives.”

In its December 2018 report, Responding to Russian Aggression against Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the Black Sea Region, the NDDN Committee called on the Government of Canada to “consider sanctions against Russia in the financial and energy sectors in response to its escalation of hostilities against Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, a Moscow court has prolonged the pretrial detention for 12 of 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian forces who attacked three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Black Sea in November.

In a series of rulings on January 15, the Lefortovo district court granted requests by the Russian Investigative Committee to keep commander Denys Hrytsenko, Security Service (SBU) officer Andriy Drach, and 10 sailors in jail until April 24, reports RFE/RL

As Russian security officers escorted some of the sailors from the courtroom during a break in the proceedings for lunch, some spectators chanted “Glory to Ukraine!”

The court was expected to issue identical rulings for the other 12 sailors later in the day. All 24 said they considered themselves prisoners of war.

Russia has held the Ukrainian sailors since its forces fired on, boarded, and seized their vessels near the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, on November 25.

Moscow claims the Ukrainian vessels illegally entered Russian territorial waters near Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia occupied and took over in 2014. The sailors have been charged with illegal border crossing and face up to six years in prison if convicted.

The court rulings come five days the European Union reiterated its call on Moscow to release the sailors and all other Ukrainians whom Brussels says have been “illegally detained” in Russia and Crimea.

The United States and other Western countries have also called for their release. U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton said in December that there will be no substantial meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin while Moscow still holds the Ukrainian ships and sailors.