‘Political Prisoners. Memorial’: Ukrainian citizen Maksym Butkevych is a political prisoner

5 February 2024

Maksym Butkevych, a human rights defender who volunteered to join the Ukrainian military and was then captured by Russian forces, was sentenced to 13 years in a strict regime penal colony on fabricated charges of war crimes

Source: Political Prisoners. Memorial

The human rights project ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ in accordance with international standards, considers Ukrainian citizen Maksym Butkevych a political prisoner. He has been convicted on charges of ill-treatment of civilians, attempted murder and willful damage to property for allegedly shooting at an apartment building. His criminal prosecution violates the right to fair trial and also the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

We demand Maksym Butkevych’s immediate release and the quashing of his conviction.

Who is Maksym Butkevych and what were the charges against him?

Maksym Butkevych is a Ukrainian human rights activist. In the early 2000s he worked as a journalist before taking up work in the area of human rights. Butkevych worked at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, taught at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and conducted training for journalists on the protection of human rights and the inadmissibility of using hate speech.

Butkevych is founder of the human rights organisation Without Borders, which combats xenophobia and racism in Ukraine and provides assistance to migrants and refugees. He also worked as coordinator of the Resource Centre for Assistance to IDPs.

After the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Butkevych volunteered to serve in the Ukrainian armed forces. In June 2022, he was captured by Russian forces during fighting in Luhansk region.

Investigative bodies in the Luhansk People’s Republic [LPR – an area of Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast currently unlawfully occupied by Russia] instituted a criminal case against Butkevych on charges of ‘willful destruction of property’ (Article 167, Part 2, of the Russian Criminal Code), cruel treatment of civilians and prisoners of war (Article 356, Part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code) and attempted murder (Article 30, Part 3, in conjunction with Article 105, Part 2 [a, f], of the Russian Criminal Code). According to the prosecution, on 4 June 2022 Butkevych fired an anti-tank grenade launcher at the entrance to a residential building in Severodonetsk, injuring three people.

Butkevych’s legal representative has pointed out that the unit in which Butkevych served left for the front only in mid-June and was never in Severodonetsk.

On 10 March 2023, Butkevych was sentenced to 13 years in a strict regime penal colony.

Why do we consider Butkevych a political prisoner?

Despite the fact that Butkevych could not have been in Severodonetsk on 4 June, under torture he confessed to the charges on condition that his name be added to the list of prisoners of war to be exchanged. This is in direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which affirms that the accused must be guaranteed the right ‘not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.’ The prosecution has no evidence of Butkevych’s involvement in the alleged firing of grenades except for his confession.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly held that a confession is inadmissible evidence if obtained under conditions of inadequate representation of the accused, ill-treatment of the accused or disregard by the court of the insufficiency of other evidence. Butkevych’s case bears witness to all these violations.

Moreover, according to the Geneva Convention, the court of the unrecognised LPR does not constitute a judicial body with the right to try prisoners of war on criminal charges.

We consider that the criminal case against Butkevych was fabricated for propaganda purposes to portray the Ukrainian military as the enemy and in an attempt to justify the documented war crimes committed by the Russian army.

A detailed description of the case of Maksym Butkevych and the position of the Human Rights Project are available on our website.

Recognition of an individual as a political prisoner does not imply the project, ‘Political Prisoners. Memorial,’ agrees with, or approves, their views, statements, or actions.

How can you help?

You can write to Maksym Butkevych at the following address:

In Russian: 294562, ЛНР, г. о. Красный луч, г. Вахрушево, ул. Мира, д. 20, ФКУ ИК-2 УФСИН по ЛНР, Буткевичу Максиму Александровичу, 1977 г. р.

English translation: Maksym Oleksandrovych Butkevych (born 1977), Penal Colony No. 2, Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for Luhansk People’s Republic, 20 Mir Street, Vakhrushevo, Krasny Luch,* Luhansk People’s Republic, 294562.

*In 2016, the Ukrainian authorities renamed Krasny Luch as Khrustalny; the LPR continues to use the name Krasny Luch.

Please note that letters in languages other than Russian are highly unlikely to reach the recipient.

You can donate to support all political prisoners via our website. 

Translated by Rights in Russia