Responding to the evidence of abduction and murder of Ukrainian mayors and local democracy activists, a group of UK mayors and councillors have issued an appeal for solidarity. Don Flynn reports
The evidence of atrocities committed against civilians by the Russian armed forces in the recently liberated towns around the capital Kyiv is dominating news headlines at the present moment. Witness accounts report “hundreds” of bodies left in the streets of the towns that had been occupied by Putin’s military, with a number showing evidence of people having been tortured and executed, dying with their arms tied behind their backs.
Reports of actions that breach international law on the treatment of civilians during wartime have been circulating since March, when an incident taking place in Kherson on the 21st involved Russian troops shooting at residents of the city who had come out with Ukrainian flags to protest against occupation.
Assault on local government
In addition to this assault, Ukrainian witnesses have reported scores of what amount to abductions of activists, volunteers, journalists and representatives of local self-government bodies in Hostomel, Kherson, Berdyansk, Melitopol, Volnovakha, Nova Kakhovka and other Russian-occupied populated localities.
Accounts of the treatment of local government politicians and officials is beginning to produce actions in solidarity among their counterparts in the UK. The refusal to cooperate with the occupying forces has produced harsh reprisals which have included the murder of Yuriy Prylypko, mayor of Hostomel town (Kyiv region); the abduction of Oleksandr Shapovalov, mayor of Beryslav; and the similar abduction of the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, who was taken after he refused cooperation with the occupation forces. He was held hostage and later released in an exchange for nine Russian soldiers who had been taken prisoner.
A long article, published on the openDemocracy website in early March, set out the grim choices facing local authority officials in the occupied districts who are faced with the dilemma arising from the demand to “cooperate or die”. The author, Serhiy Kudelia, reported that a refusal to collaborate was the most common response from officials, even in towns where Russian-speakers are in the majority.
UK councillors appeal for solidarity
In an act of solidarity with Ukraine’s local democracy, an appeal has been set out which currently has the support of 19 mayors and councillors representing UK communities (as of 3rd April). In the early days of this appeal, signatories represent the Labour and Green parties and independent councillors in Liverpool. It remains open for further signing from an elected official, irrespective of political affiliation.
The text of the appeal is:
An appeal by mayors and local government officials in the UK
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.
Siân Berry, London Assembly member, Greens
Alison Clarke, Councillor for Knotty Ash, Liverpool, Labour
Emily Clarke, Councillor for Lewes Castle Ward, Lewes Town Council, Labour
Jan Davis, Councillor for Brundall, Broadland, Norfolk, Green Party
Maureen Delahunty-Kehoe, Councillor for County, Liverpool, Labour
Lucy Galvin, Norwich City Council, Green group leader
Osh Gantly, Councillor for Highbury East, London Borough of Islington, Labour
Alan Gibbons, Councillor for Warbreck, Liverpool, Labour
Sam Gorst, Councillor for Cressington, Liverpool, independent
Alfie Hincks, Councillor for Everton, Liverpool, Labour
Barry Kushner, Councillor for Norris Green, Liverpool, Labour
Sue Lukes, Councillor for Highbury East, London Borough of Islington, Labour
Paul Neale, Norfolk County Councillor, Greens
Zack Polanski, London Assembly member, Greens
Dave Poyser, Councillor for Hillrise, London Borough of Islington, Labour
Anna Rothery, Councillor for Princes Park, Liverpool, independent
Caroline Russell, London Assembly member, Greens
Lena Simic, Councillor for Anfield, Liverpool, Labour
David Stanley, Councillor for Kidbrooke Hornfair, Royal Borough of Greenwich, Labour