KRUK REPORT: Nadia Savchenko, Ukraine’s fallen hero

KRUK REPORT: Nadia Savchenko, Ukraine’s fallen hero
Ukrainian MP Nadia Savchenko has been arrested, accused of plotting a coup
By Kateryna Kruk in Kyiv March 23, 2018

“Actus hominis, non dignitas iudicetur.” The acts of man, not dignity, are judged.

I still very well remember how my heart was squeezing looking at Nadiya Savchenko in a Russian prison.  I remember how proudly we shared Nadiya photos and quotes in court. Today I found and read again the article I wrote about Savchenko's release from the prison and return to Ukraine.

She had been serving as a pilot for the Ukrainian army and captured by rebels in eastern Ukraine before being sent to Moscow to stand trial on charges of murdering two Russian journalists.

This all was just two years ago but it feels like ages away. Today Nadiya Savchenko, a Hero of Ukraine, one of the most recognizable icons of newest Ukraine history, was stripped of MP's immunity and arrested. In that two years the one-time symbol of patriotism turned into an organizer of the potential terrorist attack on the state, aiming at destroying the Ukrainian leadership and overthrowing the government.

Even for those who are following Ukrainian events closely, this sounds absurd and shocking. Definitely, there will be people left radicalized and angry with Savchenko's arrest, but the predominant feeling I see among my friends and social media reactions is: "How did we get here?"

Let's start from the very beginning. On March 8 Ukrainian border guards detained Volodymyr Ruban, a man known for his ties with Viktor Medvedchuk, the eminence grise of the Kuchma-era and a personal friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Ruban has also taken part in many prisoner swaps. However, this time he was detained with the vehicle full of weapons, armour, including mines and mortars. Apparently, Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and General Prosecutor’s Office (PGO) have been followed him for a long time, suspecting he was planning some terrorist attacks.

Ruban and his allies planned to shell central Kyiv and government quarter with mortars, as well as homes of the key political figures in Ukraine. In the days that followed, the SBU and PGO conducted more than 25 searches in different Ukrainian cities and detained many suspects. However, there was one key suspect that couldn't be detained so easily. It was Nadiya Savchenko, a Hero of Ukraine and a member of the Ukrainian parliament, who has parliamentary immunity from arrest.

When Yuri Lutsenko, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, announced what Savchenko planned to do the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada reacted sarcastically. That shouldn't come as a surprise given how little support Ukrainian security bodies have.

Just consider this statement: "Savchenko planned to use a mortar in the Verkhovna Rada, to bring down with a crash a (15 tonnes) chandelier and shoot those who resist." This sounds insane and ridiculous until Savchenko confirmed it. "Why wouldn't I want that? Everyone in the country thinks the same".

The atmosphere was tense even before Lutsenko presented a 20-min video showing Savchenko in conversation with two officers and confirming she was indeed planning an overthrow of the government. It was an extract from almost 72 hours of evidence collected by Security Service. 

In the video Nadiya Savchenko:

  • discusses plans to overthrow Ukrainian government and exterminate president Poroshenko, head of National Council on Security and Defence Oleksandr Tyrchynov, and minister of interior affairs Arsen Avakov;
  • mentions many times that she stays in close contact with the leader of the break away so-called Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Zakharchenko and coordinates with him;
  • says that Ukrainian political leadership must be exterminated, including attacks on homes to make rest of the establishment leave the country; and
  • cooperates with Ruban who tried to illegally bring into Ukraine weapons that are produced in Russia.

When given a chance to defend herself in front of the parliament, Savchenko didn't deny what she said in the video, but promised there are others in the parliament who might continue her work, and that Ukrainian authorities, "must bear responsibility for starting the war in this hall four years ago." Just like this one, many other statements Savchenko made simply sounded delusional. There is a strong feeling that she really believes that she is doing the right thing and has absolutely no understanding of what a coup means in a country already in a state of war. Moreover, she repeated some insane statements that Ukrainian authorities are responsible for the war and it is their fault that people don't want to reunite the divided Ukraine.

It sounds unbelievable from someone who volunteered to fight for the country's territorial integrity and was jailed and sentenced in Russia for that. As one MP said, he was ready to vote to strip Savchenko of her parliamentary immunity but after watching the video and listening to the Prosecutor General's report he will be voting for Savchenko's arrest too. That position quite accurately describes what many Ukrainians thought that day.

Savchenko's case has several implications:

  • even further disillusion with heroes/idols/public figures and patriots;
  • possible small shake for Tymoshenko as she was the one who brought Savchenko to the parliament and made her an MP by giving the first place on the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party list. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point Tymoshenko will also be called to testify and the entire case would be used to cast some shadow on current leader who is currently the front runner for the 2019 presidential elections;
  • a little popularity boost for security services and PGO after their recent shameful searches of big Ukrainian companies; and
  • an ambiguous situation for the supporters of radical actions: clearly, the ideas of a governmental overthrow and coup were discussed on all central media last few days making these radical statements part of the public discourse. However, the SBU operation itself and decisiveness of the steps to stop perpetrators might scare others off from trying.

Together with a friend of mine, we rent a flat not far from the government quarter; she works in one of the ministries. Today after dinner we were watching the PGO video and discussing what if the attack really happened? Would we have survived? This is not the most pleasant dinner conversation but it is a sobering reminder of how fragile our peace and stability are. And how many others would like to see it gone or are ready to assist it?