“If people forget about freedom, dignity, honor, the world will cease to exist” – man sentenced for Ukrainian flag in occupied Crimea
Volodymyr Balukh was accused in the illegal storage of ammunition and explosives, which were supposedly found on the attic of his building. Balukh did not recognize his guilt. His defense declared that the case is fabricated and that they will appeal the verdict.
The 45-year old Crimean farmer decorated his house with the Ukrainian flag starting from the Euromaidan Revolution of 2013-2014, and then attached a plaque with the words “Heroes of the Heaven’s Hundred Street” to it – a reference to the more than a hundred Euromaidan protesters who were shot by the riot police in the streets of Kyiv. During the preliminary “court” session, the prosecution admitted that it sought to punish the man for his pro-Ukrainian views. The detainee was openly blamed that he had not renounced the citizenship of Ukraine and not given up his Ukrainian passport. Back in 2014, Balukh decisively refused to take a Russian ID. He called the latter an Ausweis thereby obviously hinting at the similarities between the Nazi and Russian occupation practices.
The persecution of Balukh by the self-proclaimed Crimean ‘authorities’ has long had signs of systematic and politically motivated repression. Police searches were repeatedly conducted in his house, resulting in the detention and battery of the activist. Volodymyr was falsely accused of ‘car theft,’ however, the law enforcers did not even try to ‘prove’ the slander and quickly forgot about it. Twice in succession he was sentenced for the same act (alleged insult of a Russian officer, whom Balukh called an ‘occupier’) to 10-day administrative arrest and 320 hours of forced labor. Each time the Russian security forces appeared in his dwelling, they threw down the hated blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag, but Volodymyr Balukh installed it on the roof again and again. Many Crimeans, he said to the Ukrainian journalists, thanked him for his courage and for reminding them of the stolen homeland. Balukh had an opportunity to leave for mainland Ukraine but he stayed in Crimea to take care of his elderly mother.
Here we publish the English translation of Volodymyr Balukh’s last word in court. It was first published in Russian by the Crimean Human Rights Protection group.
I won’t say anything now for the court. I’ll say it for the people, not only for those present here now, but also for those outside this building.
To begin with, there is actually no criminal case, only a farce played by those who were instructed to play it out.
This all started not from some cartridges, nor in some substance, which the court established as an explosive for unclear reasons; this is all not grounds [for the criminal case]. A decision to “do me in” was made starting from the occupation of Crimea. And the situation around me has been ongoing for a long time, probably since 1999, when I first took part in the elections not only as a candidate but also as a member of the district election commission. Since then, I worked in all elections in commissions, both district and regional. My principled position is the reason.
Often people say: we had no life, so at least let our children have one. And they try to make a living, give their children some well-being, but they don’t understand one simple thing – [it won’t be possible] until we hand over to our children not even an ideal state, but, at least, will plant inside them the desire and necessity to be free people, defend their freedom and their human dignity, and kick the ass of the state each time when it crosses the line. And not only kick its ass but advance human life.
Life is a great gift that is given to everyone, and a great test. When they burn this life, people should understand that their freedom, honor, and dignity are only in their hands.
Historically speaking, I don’t any state which would protect human honor and dignity. When a state assumes certain state functions, it also assumes the monopoly on violence, on paper committing itself to defend honor, dignity, and human rights. But in fact, this monopoly is used for one purpose – to protect itself from the people, to oppress them, to force them to do what is necessary not for the state itself as a structure, but for selected individuals of that state, who consider themselves monopolists not only of its resources, but also monopolists of honor and human dignity.
If a person does not agree with some decision for objective reasons, then it is always possible, using the state machine, to break his will, break the person himself, to deprive him of his health and life. Such a machine will not stop at anything, because the most sacred thing is at stake for them – money, the opportunity to take and use what actually belongs to the whole world, to the people who live on this earth.
Therefore, in my opinion,
if at some point people, God forbid, forget about such words as freedom, dignity, and honor, this world will cease to exist.
And as long as there are such people, the world will exist. If the Lord will bless us and there will be more of such people, then the state, without which we can’t exist at this stage of history, and its structures will be forced to improve. This always happens under the pressure of the public and civic organizations.
What is happening to me is a vivid example of how the state machine can work. There is nothing sacred, no legal arguments, nothing can influence it, and it’s all after the testimony of one or two people. This is the first reason for me being here. The second reason is my love for my Motherland, everything I belong to, my nationality, the memory of my ancestors, all whom I know were Ukrainians, worthy people who kept their traditions. So my mother and father raised us. My homeland for me is the same as my mother, family, children.
The occupation of Crimea was the starting point. It’s no coincidence that details from 2010 have surfaced in my case. The system has been successfully making ground meat out of such people, and it breaks many, many agree [to its demands]. How is the system arranged?
I had a choice. If I stepped on the throat of my own song, forgot my principles, then for me it would be enough to admit my guilt, to break down morally, in order to avoid prison.
And this character who is sitting opposite me, he would not have asked for 5 years and 1 month, but for some 2-3 years, perhaps, a conditional term, if I just broke down.
So I don’t want life on earth to stop,
I don’t want my descendants, the children of all of Ukraine, to reproach me for acting cowardly or being weak.
Yes, there were objective reasons [for people in Crimea being silent] – nobody wants to experience what I am experiencing now. Any person can be understood, but I have already lived the best years of my life, and at this age I can’t afford to act cowardly. So let everything happen as it happens.
Only one thing, I ask my sister to ask my mom for forgiveness on my behalf.
Putin’s Hostages, documentary about Ukrainian political prisoners of the Kremlin, available online
August 12, 2021