Human rights organizations and activists demand freedom for Maksym Butkevych

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On March 10, 2023, the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation announced that Ukrainian human rights defender and serviceman Maksym Butkevych, who had been captured by the Russian forces in the Luhansk region past summer, was sentenced by so-called “Supreme Court of the Luhansk People’s Republic” to 13 years in prison. He was tried together with two other Ukrainian prisoners, Viktor Pokhozhey and Vladyslav Shel, who were sentenced to 8.5 and 18.5 years. We believe that the case against Butkevych was fabricated and that his confession was forced.

Maksym Butkevych is a Ukrainian human rights defender and journalist. He is co-founder of the “Bez Kordoniv” (“No Borders”) project, an organization created to support asylum seekers in Ukraine and IDPs. He is a life-long anti-racist and a committed fighter against hate speech in all forms. He is also one of the founding members of ZMINA Human Rights Center and Hromadske public radio. As a journalist, Butkevych worked for a number of Ukrainian as well as international media outlets. He joined the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in March 2022 and was captured in June of the same year in the vicinity of Zolote and Girske villages on the territory of the Russia-occupied Luhansk region.

According to Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, the so-called “Supreme Court of the Luhansk People’s Republic” found Butkevych guilty of the ill treatment of civilians, of using banned methods of warfare, of causing intentional damage to another person’s property, and attempting to commit murder by firing at a residential building with a grenade launcher in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region on June 4, 2022. Except for the staged confession that was recorded and circulated by Russian media, no other evidence has been disclosed. Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, the unit “Berlingo,” to which Butkevych belonged, had neither been deployed nor participated in hostilities in the territory of Severodonetsk.

Until today, no information about the charges brought against Butkevych has been made public. Butkevych was not provided with a lawyer and was not given a chance to have a fair trial. The conditions of his detention and the other circumstances of his captivity were not properly monitored by international organizations, in particular because Russia refuses to allow independent observers to visit the detention centers it creates in the Russia-occupied territories.

Almost immediately after Butkevych was taken prisoner, a number of Russian propagandist media published manifestly false and slanderous information about him: they ascribed to him statements which he had never made and views, which are opposite to the ones that he held and professed publicly. All of this is evidence that Russians were actively fabricating his case, painting Butkevych as a violent person capable of committing war crimes since the very beginning of his captivity.

We condemn Russia’s practice of using prisoners of war as tools of propaganda and demand freedom for Maksym Butkevych, other Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilian hostages.

We also demand that the Russian Federation allows international observers to visit prisoners of war and civilian hostages to monitor the conditions of their detention and prevent human rights violations.

We call on the President of Ukraine, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to persist in exerting pressure on the Russian Federation and demand the immediate release of all citizens who are illegally held prisoners by the occupation regime.

We call on the international community to intensify sanctions against Russia for its violations of the international humanitarian law and of the human rights.

Sign this appeal

Signatory organizations:

Human Rights Centre ZMINA

Project “Without Borders”

Hromadske radio

Kharkiv Regional Foundation “Public Alternative”

Educational  Human Rights House Chernihiv

Association “Sich” – France

Media Initiative for Human Rights

Ukrainian Crisis Media Center

NGO “Women in Media”

Crimean Human Rights Group

Free Belarus Center

Eurasian Harm Reduction Association

Anti-authoritarian volunteer network “Solidarity Collectives”

Public organization “Insite”

NGO “Ukrainian Branch of the International PEN Club”

NGO Internews-Ukraine

Ukrainian Guild of Directors

Vostok SOS Charitable Fund

Cedos Analytical Center

Vinnytsia NGO “Information and Educational Center “VIS”

“Feminist Lodge” initiative

European Civic Forum

Odesa regional organization VGO Committee of Voters of Ukraine

Edition “Intent”

Human rights initiative

Center for Democratic Principles

“Occupy Kyiv Cinemas” initiative


NGO League for the Protection of Women’s Rights “Harmony of Equals”

NGO “Interregional Center for LGBT Studies Donbas-SociProject”

Solidarus e.V.

IBF “Alliance of Public Health”

NGO “Virus Off”

NGO “Incubator of Democratic Initiatives”

NGO “Real Stories Production”

NGO “Institute of the Republic”

VI “Active Community”

VMGO “Foundation of Regional Initiatives”

Initiative group “By the way, Bureau of Communications”

LGBT Human Rights Center “Our World”

NGO “Social Action Center”

NGO “Social movement”

Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (Vaad) of Ukraine

Congress of National Communities of Ukraine

NGO Kyiv Educational Center “Space of Tolerance”

NGO “Ukrainian Feminist Network for Freedom and Democracy”

NGO “FemSolution”

NGO “Center “Women’s Perspectives”

NGO “Cultural Agency Ɐ”

NGO Resource Center of the All-Ukrainian Association of People with Drug Addiction “VOLNA-Donbas”

ReSew sewing cooperative

NGO “Human Rights Vector”

“People in Need”

Institute of Mass Information (IMI)

East European Development Institute

Human Rights House Foundation

NGO “Stan”

BF “Homeward”

NGO “Center for Sociology of Law and Criminology”

NGO “Freefilmers”

Swedish initiative for Democracy and Human Rights Östgruppen

Association of Ukrainian monitors of compliance with human rights in law enforcement agencies