On July 2, 2014, a group of human rights activists including:
1. Oleg Orlov, Memorial Human Rights Centre, Moscow, Russia
2. Ludmila Klochko, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Kharkiv, Ukraine
4. Andriy Chernousov, Association of Independent Monitors, Kharkiv, Ukraine
5. Maria Tomak, Centre for Civil Liberties, Kyiv, Ukraine
visited the Town of Krasny Lyman in the north of the Region of Donetsk of Ukraine.
Tatiana Lokshina, senior researcher of the international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (Moscow), also joined the group.
The main purpose of the visit was to check the information about the Ukrainian National Guard soldiers allegedly shooting the wounded fighters of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, as well as about the shelling of a hospital during the military action in Krasny Lyman.
District centre of Krasny Lyman was taken over by the Ukrainian forces in early June 2014. Soon reports emerged about the shelling of a hospital on the southern outskirts of the town on June 3 with one doctor killed and several people injured. On June 4, Denis Pushilin, one of the leaders of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, said in an interview to Russia 24 TV channel that Ukrainian security forces murdered 25 wounded fighters in the Krasny Lyman hospital. He has been repeatedly quoted by many media outlets, with the number of victims sometimes reaching 150.
Eventually, in an interview President Vladimir Putin referred to the shooting of the wounded as an established fact (http://www.kremlin.ru/news/45869).
Yet, the press service of the National Guard denied this information on the same day, saying that its servicemen “have not been in the town of Krasny Lyman”. Interviewed by a joint team of human rights activists during a visit to Krasny Lyman, witnesses have not confirmed the information about the shooting of wounded fighters, meaning that today there is no evidence proving the allegations of the representatives of the self-proclaimed PRD.
There is, however, evidence confirming that the shelling of the hospital did take place. The information suggesting that the shelling was a deliberate action of the Ukrainian army is particularly alarming.
The monitoring group arrived in Krasny Lyman at around 4:00 pm on July 2 and departed the same day at around 8:00 pm.
The town looked peaceful. No significant damage to buildings and structures was found with one exception discussed below. The town’s shops are open, as well as a small market where locals sell milk and vegetables. The local residents – some with children – could be seen on the streets. A large group of young people played football on the town’s stadium.
Krasny Lyman has two hospitals: the Central Regional Hospital (CRH) and the railway hospital. There are no other institutions, where patients can be hospitalised for treatment.
We have had a chance to meet with and thoroughly interview chief physicians of both institutions with no other people present during the conversations.
The CRH is located in the northern part of the town; CRH’s chief physician Victoria Demidova said that of the hospital’s 150 beds about one hundred were occupied at the time of the conversation. The hospital had sufficient stock of medicines with the exception of insulin, since in addition to the local residents there are also refugees from Slovyansk in the town, five of them being insulin-dependent. To ensure that the town’s insulin needs are fully met the chief physician asked the City of Donetsk for assistance.
Currently, there are four men with gunshot wounds in the hospital, all in satisfactory condition. Three of them were injured in the beginning of June during the armed conflict in the town. The fourth one was wounded by a tripwire mine in the forest. Earlier there were also a man and a woman with minor injuries, but they have been discharged after the treatment was completed. Besides these people, there were no other wounded casualties admitted to the hospital during the last few months.
The CRH has not had a single lethal case from gunshot or shrapnel wounds. No ATO casualties were ever brought to the hospital’s morgue.
In early June, during armed clashes in Krasny Lyman, none of the patients was evacuated from the hospital as there was no immediate threat to it.
Over the last several months, none of the hospital staff resigned. Salaries have been paid in full with virtually no delays. HIV-AIDS patients receive ART. Blood tests continue to be taken to a laboratory in Slovyansk, although the chief physician “cannot understand how it is possible”.
Krasny Lyman has Ukraine’s oldest sickness fund, where you can quickly buy the medicines you need.
The railway hospital is located on the southern outskirts of the town. According to the media, the mortar shelling specifically targeted the railway hospital (in media reports – “military hospital”), with some publications saying that it was the place where the wounded insurgents were killed.
We saw that the territory near the railway hospital and its buildings have been hit by mortar fire: the roof of the internal medicine department was seriously damaged (direct hit), in addition to shattered windows and damaged walls in the buildings of internal medicine, surgical and other departments.
The hospital’s chief physician Leonid Nikolaevich Zagurskii permanently resides in Slovyansk. He got his family out of the city, but he drives home regularly on his own car despite the shelling. During the conversation, he explained that the hospital only served railroad employees. With the hospital’s 90 beds, it had 80 admitted patients when the shelling occurred. According to the chief physician, there were no patients wounded in action at the hospital at the time of the conversation.
Earlier, on June 3, two people with shrapnel wounds were brought to the hospital – a railroad engineer (shot in the stomach) and assistant railroad engineer (injured limbs), who were injured when they were returning home after their shift. The former died on the way to the hospital, and the latter was transported to the CRH after surgery and was eventually discharged.
On that day, no one expected any threat to the hospital because there were no armed militants inside or near it. Patients were not evacuated from their wards.
On June 3 around 3:30 pm, a 10-minute mortar attack on the hospital began. 9 shells exploded: one hit the roof of the internal medicine department, and the rest exploded near the walls of the hospital buildings. The hospital’s surgeon Vasiliy Ivanovich Shistka, 62 years old, was killed by a fragment of the shell that exploded near the surgical department. When the shelling began, he was finishing a scheduled operation: he left the operating room to be lethally hit in his head by a fragment of the last shell. The severely wounded doctor received first aid at the railroad hospital, but nobody could operate since Shistka was the only surgeon. The next day, Shistka was taken to the Central Clinical Hospital in Kharkiv, where he was operated on, but died two weeks later.
None of the patients was injured by the shelling. Leonid Nikolaevich Zagurskii strenuously denies that any shooting of his hospital’s patients ever took place.
The chief physician strongly believes that the shelling of the hospital was conducted intentionally. He told us that the day after the shelling, a group of Ukrainian troops came to the hospital on an armoured vehicle. The leader of the group, dressed in the uniform of Berkut, a special police unit disbanded in February 2014, told Zagurskii that they had to conduct a “purge” of the hospital, refusing to show any documents. When asked by the chief physician why the hospital was shelled earlier, the man replied that the railroad hospital was marked as “the insurgents’ hospital” on his map, which was shown to the doctor. According to the doctor, the soldiers created a “corridor” for the wounded and evacuated them from the hospital’s territory. During the “purge” of the hospital, armed men followed the doctor and examined all the wards and premises. Despite the chief physician’s choice of the word, the soldiers did not do anything that could be described as a “purge” based on what the doctor told us: the armed men were not interested in clinical records or identification documents, they didn’t asked anybody to leave the wards and nobody was arrested. After inspecting all the buildings and finding nothing suspicious, the armed men left.
Five days later, another group of the Ukrainian military visited the hospital and thoroughly inspected all the premises. The chief physician filed a complaint to the city commander, and “visits” of the hospital by armed men stopped.
Later Leonid Nikolaevich Zagurskii went to the prosecutor’s office and explained all the known circumstances of the shelling of the hospital, with a pre-trial investigation started soon thereafter. The railroad prosecutor’s office was made directly responsible for the investigation. There are no results so far, but the chief physician was notified that his application was entered in the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations.
Commenting on the shelling, the chief physician – who, as it turned out during the conversation, participates in local politics (in particular, he was a representative of the ex-president Viktor Yanukovych in election commissions during elections) – mentioned the possibility of some “special tip-off”. He did not elaborate, but he stressed several times that he was determined “to find those who fired”.
The chief physician said that despite the damage to the buildings, the hospital was up and running, with all departments fully operational and patients receiving two meals a day (soon they hope to go back to a three-meals-a-day schedule). Salaries to the hospital staff are paid on time. As for medicines, the hospital cannot receive them under the scheme that worked prior to the ATO. The company supplying the medicines does not fulfil the terms of the contract on the delivery of medications directly to the customer: a senior nurse has to go to Seversk to pick up the medicines, because the supplier refuses to go beyond that point. The repair of the roof is yet to start.
After speaking with the chief physician of the railroad hospital, we inspected the nearby residential areas. No traces of mortar attacks have been found. Only the walls of the buildings adjacent to the hospital territory had some shrapnel damage. This further proves the surmise that the shelling of the hospital was intentional.
We demand a thorough investigation into this tragic incident. During the investigation, special attention should be paid to the facts pointing to the intentional nature of the shelling. Nothing can justify the deliberate shelling of a hospital from which no one was shooting.
We also met with the head of the district administration Konstantin Mateychenko. The building of the district administration is in satisfactory condition and operational, protected by the Artemovsk battalion of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is responsible for maintaining law and order in Krasny Lyman. This battalion was formed two months ago of the volunteers who are now employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Remaining the Artemovsk battalion commander, Mateychenko was appointed head of the district administration. He says this is a forced temporary measure, and once the crisis is resolved, the administration head will be a civilian. Currently he is collaborating efficiently with members of the district administration.
According to Mateychenko, social benefits in Krasny Lyman are paid in full, including salaries to public sector employees. The town’s ATMs are in working order. Previously, the money for paying the social benefits were sent from Slovyansk, and today they are received either from Kharkov or directly from Kiev. The local government bodies are working. People can officially report damage to their homes during the antiterrorist operation. Accounts of the necessary repair are made for future compensation payments.
The prosecutor’s office is working normally, although about 40% of police employees have resigned. Mateychenko says that none of the police officers and civilians in Krasny Lyman has been arrested or detained in connection with their activities during the period when the town was under control of supporters of the self-proclaimed PRD. Still, a number of local residents, who actively supported the PRD, left the town and formed militant groups which continue to operate in the forests surrounding the town. According to Mateychenko, these people will be brought to justice.
The police of the Krasny Lyman district has been reinforced by integrated police units from the Kharkov region and has been protecting public order in the normal mode. Mateychenko also said that all the police officers, who had been in the police force before the capture of Krasny Lyman, have been interviewed and continue to be employed. During our visit, two young men approached the officer who accompanied us and asked him how they could join the Artemovsk battalion. According to Mateychenko’s assistant, there are many people wishing to join the volunteer battalion. Mateychenko also noted that the battalion is fully supplied with special equipment, weapons and protective gear (body armour). The information that we obtained in Krasny Lyman from other sources confirms Mateychenko’s statement that none of the local residents was detained or arrested after the Ukrainian government established control over the town.
Members of the Joint Working Group of Ukrainian and Russian human rights organisations would like to thank all those who assisted in the successful visit of the Group to Krasny Lyman.