Political Persecution in Ukraine: Zelenskyi’s vision of how to lead the country
Interview with Sofiya Fedyna by Khrystyna Khomyk, Editorial Team of Libertas
Sofiya Fedyna, Member of the Parliament of Ukraine, tells us the story of her legal battle with the current President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi. As her story is filtered through the lens of political persecution, she answers questions such as how the current litigation began, the evidence brought along with the claim against her, as well as the implications with regard to other lawsuits, Ukrainian civil activism and public opinion at large.
- Why did Volodymyr Zelenskyi personally file a lawsuit against you?
I will start by inducting you into the events that, in my opinion, unfolded into the current situation: as a long-standing volunteer of the Revolution of Dignity / Euromaidan phenomenon and Ukrainian Army, my suspicions ran deep about Zelenskyi’s priority commitment to security. Thus, the next move after the 2019 election was to politically protect soldiers I helped for years, through my election and representation in the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament of Ukraine). President Zelenskyi then disgraced Ukrainian frontline soldiers in a video, and demanded to enlarge the military grey zone through a withdrawal of Ukrainian forces, actions which I could not ignore. So, after watching his video, military staff member Marusia Zvirobii and I felt compelled to record a stream on Facebook expressing our opinion on this subject. This stream was subsequently propagated by Russian (including pro-Kremlin) media, after which the President of Ukraine filled a lawsuit against us two, alleging intent of murdering him. Unfortunately, there are significant gaps in the law relating to the position of President, gaps which allow the Security Service, National Investigation Bureau and National Prosecutor’s Office to adopt a deferential attitude to the President. We see the affair as an instrumentalisation of administrative resources against critics and a stab at Poroshenko, or even the whole opposition.
- What piece of evidence does the court provide against you?
Let me be straight on details argued as evidence supporting Zelenskyi’s claim. The accusation rests on statements from my Facebook stream, expressing outrage at the President’s actions and speech, in the context of dire and perilous conditions for frontline Ukrainian soldiers (in particular, the telling questions ‘do you know that there is shooting there?’, ‘do you know that grenades explode there?’ and the affirmation ‘someone thinks that he or she is immortal’). Moreover, the accusation extends to people accidentally appearing in the stream as part of a ‘group plotting organized murder’ and linking this litigation to that of Poroshenko’s, as well as other volunteers.
- Did this case have an influence on how the public perceives you as a politician?
The general public is more willing to engage with us, giving us increasing possibilities to explain the situation we find ourselves in. This has translated, over time, into sympathy and support for our cause, seen in the presence of supporters at our court hearings. To that sentiment, the unilateral withdrawal of troops in the absence of counterpart withdrawals or guarantees added an increased feeling of unsafety regarding protection as should be provided by the state – at the time of our Facebook stream, Ukrainian soldiers protected and supplied medical services to over 400 civilians now living in the grey zone (despite President Zelenskyi claiming none were living there). The aforementioned citizens were fearful that, once Ukrainian soldiers withdrew, the separatists would murder or incarcerate them for their pro-Ukrainian views; what they did certainly, however, was move into former Ukrainian positions. According to the statistics, during the first year of Zelenskyi’s presidency, twice as many Ukrainian soldiers were killed in warfare than during the last year of Poroshenko’s mandate. One particular very recent case within the death toll was the murder of a Ukrainian medic (during so called no-shooting time) and Ukrainian soldier, left for 4 days to die from his wounds in a forest, with the Presidency ignoring his death to fulfill a “29 days without shooting for the 29th anniversary of Ukrainian independence” pledge. The case should have been discussed in a UN Security Council meeting, while Zelenskyi uses proxies from his temporary conflict resolution group to express his views, including those concerning elections in Donetsk and Luhansk without the recovery of administrative control from the separatists.
- Would you call your case a political persecution? In your opinion, is it connected to cases against Poroshenko and other members of the opposition?
I can, for sure, frame my judicial case in the broad definitions of political persecutions and relate it to at least that of former President Poroshenko’s lawsuit. Listing the allegations brought to those I regard in a similar situation – against Volodymyr Viatrovych for the activity of the Institute of National Memory, against Tetiana Chornovil and Andrii Parubii for their pro-Maidan activity, as well as the unproven guilt of Sheremeta plus volunteer/veterans and 50 counts of accusation against Poroshenko – I certainly see connections between all of them. For one, the State Investigation Bureau is responsible for all of the above cases and is allegedly controlled by a Zelenskyi loyalist, going as far as demanding the persecution of Maidan supporters. Nevertheless, 13 penal cases are pending in Zelenskyi’s party, including corruption and threats to those in charge of investigating this issue; the release of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group; and the selling of authority positions in the public/governmental hierarchy. On top of all these issues, we are labelled as guilty before our evidence has been submitted or acknowledged and we claim illegal deprivation of our right to appeal decisions.
- How can reforms in Ukraine help to prevent political persecution in the future?
I would advocate for civic education on the prevalence of the rule of law. It is especially important to believe in it, in the context of the reversal of reforms during 2014 – 2019 by Zelenskyi. The strict equality of people under the same laws should be considered paramount. I count on EU assistance, though a zero tolerance attitude to political persecution, especially since I view our government as more sensitive to blunt statements from EU officials. In addition, I consider that statements from members of the “Servant of the People” party, such as the EU integration process being a hindrance to ‘building Ukraine’ makes them a threat to the country’s democracy.
About the Author:
Khrystyna Khomyk is LYMEC IMS, former International Officer of LYMEC MO “European Youth of Ukraine” and former trainee of Renew Europe Group in the European Parliament.