It's difficult to watch the case of Nadiya Savchenko day after day, and feel as if you can't really do anything to solve it. Savchenko is the Ukrainian pilot arrested by the Russian authorities after entering Russia -- or abducted into Russia -- and accused of the murder of two Russian journalists, Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin. She's accused of serving as a "spotter" to guide the attacks on a checkpoint in Lugansk Region where they were embedded with a group of Russian-backed separatist fighters, and thus being complicit in the "murder."
Savchenko has inspired numerous citizens' campaigns, mainly of Ukrainians in the diaspora or inside Ukraine, for whom she is a symbol - a kind of Amelia Earhart figure.
The Russians should have long ago released her, as there seems to be no evidence in the case, or at the very least, traded her for POWs -- because essentially she is a prisoner-of-war in Russia's war on Ukraine.
Every element of this story has always struck me as contrived, or at least very much exaggerated and manipulated.
But what I never seen done in this case is really a detailed effort to try to exonerate her by looking at the actual charges of the claimed murder of journalists.
I don't know why that's not being done. It may be that the defense has a simple strategy -- the less said the better with something like this, given that you are dealing with a highly minipulative and duplicitious power -- Russia.
The strategy of the massive civic campaign probably figures the charges are fake and it's not worth taking them seriously, so they should just focus on the injustice itself.
Even so, I think there's merit in looking at these charges because they don't seem to hold up on their own. I think with some work, a solid case could be made to show how flimsy they are.
There doesn't seem to be any evidence that these journalists were murdered as distinct from being killed in a war zone where they were both poorly protected, and also had the poor judgement to hang around a checkpoint with separatists.
As people are beginning to figure out now -- and it's a lesson that I guess has to be figured out anew in every war, and was understood in Chechnya -- checkpoints are places you should never loiter at, because they are targets in war. Unfortunately, the people in the bus at the Volnovakha checkpoint had no choice, but journalists covering war zones do.
Checkpoints manned by soldiers, with armored vehicles in particular, are legitimate targets in war, and that's why if Ukrainian forces shelled this area, they are within their rights, and cannot be accused of "murder". It's ok to deliberately target a Russian-backed separatist military checkpoint on Ukrainian territory -- that shouldn't be there in the first place. That basic fact has to be understood and insisted on at every turn. Ukraine has the right to defend its territory, and the UN will back it up on this.
To make charges like a deliberate target of specific journalists at a specific checkpoint stick, you're really have to come up with a really good story. I don't see that anywhere here. There's no motivation; and the mechanics don't work, either.
To probe deeper, however, there's some key points to make. I don't have time or capacity to develop any of these leads, but I put them out in case anyone else can work on this:
1. The information available at the time of Savchenko's arrest should be gone over.
I don't know why so little is said about the "abduction to Russia" if that was really the case, or whether in fact she did enter Russia without ID as a refugee. It might well be that she did wish to seek refuge in Russia from the war. There would be nothing wrong with doing that, although of course, this would work against the heroic portrait made of her. But everyone has their own personal motivations that should be respected. She might also have been merely making a trip. Or perhaps she was even sent on a secret mission, although that seems unlikely -- she was a pilot, not an intelligence officer from everything we know.
2. The actual circumstances of the journalists' deaths should be reviewed closely.
It's here I think the most material in her defense will be available.
Igor Kornelyuk, an employee of Russian state television usually seen on Rossiya 24 broadcasts was not a seasoned war correspondent; he wasn't a trained correspondent at all. His previous positions including children's television programming in Vladivostok. He was from this area in Ukraine, but wasn't covering the war for long before this. He volunteered or was sent (that should be established) to this area because it was thought he literally "understood the language" of the separatists -- and of course, their Russian masters, as he worked for state television.
I don't know if Anton Voloshin, Kornelyuk's sound man, was experienced. This should be researched.
I first noticed Kornelyuk before he was killed and even included some of his reporting where it seemed it was factual and backed up by pictures. I noticed he wasn't like the seasoned Moscow-based LifeNews types with the demeanor of agents of influence if not actual agents; he was more of a straight-up, stand-up reporter. He would appear in a suit and tie, not a flak jacket and helmet.
I don't know if his life and the life of his sound man might have been saved if they had appropriate bullet-proof vests and strong helmets on that day, but evidently they didn't. They made the mistake that journalists sometimes make, when they didn't suit up and didn't take precautions, although they had before, when they decided to take "one last quick run" to an area they had previously reported on.
Kornelyuk was being told some whoppers. A separatist told him that "a hundred people have been stabbed" and that Ukrainian forces were supposedly going door-to-door cutting people. Nonsense. Nothing like that has ever happened in this war. There were never any 100 stabbed people anywhere. Even LifeNews couldn't fake that story. But I don't know if they went back to try to see if they could find any villagers to tell this story -- or any story that the producers in Moscow were demanding for drama. That needs to be established. Here is another broadcast 3 days before his death. All of his broadcast should be studied carefully for clues. In my view, the management was reckless in sending him into this war, and not enough precautions were taken -- indeed these deaths and several others have made the Russian Union of Journalists work harder to demand that all reporters be issued helmets and vests and required to wear them always, and now we see them doing that more.
A. There's actually footage of the moment of these journalists' deaths -- this should be reviewed and more should be found from this time period and location. The reason why we can say so much about the journalists' deaths -- and did -- is because this video exists. This needs to be gone over to build the case that what happened was a tragedy, not "murder."
It was reported back at the time, and The Interpreter theorized that a shell had fallen, but not exploded. It smoked, and then went off. Evidently, the journalists and their escorts went near it (I believe there's a story out there about how they saw the hull of a burnt-out truck, visible in the video, and went closer to take a picture, and the smoking shell was there --this needs checking.) But then either it did in fact blow up and send them to their doom, or its smoking attracted further fire and those shells killed them.
But the video establishes clearly that they are wandering around at a checkpoint -- staying there when they should not have been near it. And the shells go off. The sound man even dives under an amphibious armored vehicle -- and that's understandable if he wanted to take cover, but he was also diving under a legitimate target of war. That's what people need to understand: these journalists were in a war zone, in a highly-exposed position next to a legitimate target of firing, and they didn't move out of it, and they weren't protected. Here is an excerpt from The Interpreter on June 17, 2014:
The Guardian has more details of a story which we reported earlier. Now two Rossiya 24 journalists, a reporter and a sound engineer, have been killed outside Lugansk:
Sound engineer Anton Voloshin was killed at the scene - the village of Metalist [Metallist] village outside the city of Luhansk - while a reporter, Igor Kornelyuk, died in hospital during surgery. A third member of the crew survived.
This video provides some insight into what may have happened. It starts off with the cameraman filming something smoking. The smoke gets worse right before the explosion. Our best guess is that a mortar shell had already landed there but did not detonate right away. After the first explosion, several incoming shells can be heard, and there are more explosions.
A possible alternative explanation is that the first explosion, likely of whatever we see smoking at the start of the video, triggered incoming fire. As the video starts after the incident has started, it's not entirely clear.
It seems that the journalists were near what appear to be separatist APCs when the explosion occurred.
Just three days ago The Interpreter summarized a report from Igor Kornelyuk who was reporting near the front lines of the Ukrainian military anti-terror operation in and around Lugansk.
Here is the Rossiya 24 report (one of several we've been watching) on the deaths of the journalists. According to this report, the Rossiya 24 team had gone to investigate a home that was reportedly shelled. When they reached the area the separatist militants told the TV crew that it was too dangerous and that they should leave. They were on their way back to the hotel when they reached the separatist checkpoint, which was then fired upon, reportedly by the Ukrainian military.
Rossiya 24 reports that the crew were wearing clearly identifiable press markings. The cameraman is seen hiding underneath what looks like a PTS-2 amphibious APC, one of several recently captured by the separatists. We never seen the position from which the incoming shells came from, so it's not clear whether the people firing could see precisely what was happening at the checkpoint.
B. Geolocate the video.
Looking at the video, the first thing that should be done is to geolocate it which shouldn't at all be hard to do, but I can only sketch it out now:
The reason for that is to establish what was visible, where some firing positions of Ukrainians at the time might have been, and what exactly happened there.
The place is said to be Mirnoye, or Myrne in Ukrainian, in Lugansk Region. That town is here on Google Maps.
The Guardian story says "Metalist". I think that's actually incorrect. The video says "Mirnoye". "Metalist" may have been where the hospital was where they were taken. It's more than 40 kilometers from Mirnoye. In any event, this discrepancy needs research to determine the exact place.
The video has a road sign visible in it that should make it easy to locate, but it isn't quite clear. You can make out "Krasny Luch" as being ahead from the position of that sign, and possibly Mirnoye to either side or some other location with "M" -- and maybe that's "Metalist":
So it has to be an intersection with the road to Krasny Luch ahead, and two roads to the side that the separatists have turned into a checkpoint.
Looking at the other scenes in the video, it has to have a view backwards from the checkpoint, i.e. looking in the opposite direction from that sign and Krasny Luch, as follows:
So that means you have to find an overpass or at least a hill with maybe a gully by it - those striped railings indicate that the road is built up over a hill. You can see the road looking back in the other direction -- likely the road to Uspenka -- and some sign on a pole which looks like a typical gas station sign in Ukraine.
The reason I say that is that the first guess has a picture to go with it -- the only one for this location -- that seems to match the striped railings and the dip down the hill on the road to Uspenka, but there's no gas station. The second one has something that might be a gas station. As always with Google geolocations, you don't know if in the years since this picture was taken by Google, something could have been built.
So that needs work.
C. Go over every element of the video.
Each bit of the video needs careful examination -- who are the people standing by the road visible through the fence? I believe one of them is Kornelyuk.
Who was dragged from the scene by the separatist? I don't think that's Kornelyuk or the sound man, but maybe it was.
Maybe there are villagers who were eye-witnesses. It might be as in other incidents, separatists were leading civilians and the journalists out of an area of warfare.
More can be gleaned from looking at each frame of this video -- and also looking around to see if any other versions of this same scene, or similar scenes at this time, or anything about the two journalists, is available.
My recollection is that Rossiya 24 scrubbed some of this. They at first used the footage I've embedded here, but perhaps at some point they realized that didn't help make their case, as it looked like an accidental war death -- people carelessly in an exposed area who got hit -- not some deliberate attack. So they removed it. And some of the broadcasts with Igor are removed. Russian state TV does this all the time to hide their tracks, claiming "copyright issues" and getting Google to take copies down. But there's a copy still available of his previous broadcast that was pulled, and other broadcasts -- they just need to be tracked down.
One thing that's obvious of the video of these journalists' deaths -- it's an open space on a road. Where would a putative spotter have to be in order to guide in rockets or mortars to this location? It's an area with huge swathes of wide open fields in every direction. There are trees, but they aren't very dense or high. If you're going to make the case for a spotter, you have to have that spotter in cover. Where?
D. Figure out the battles of the day.
In order to figure out if Ukrainian forces were even anywhere near this area on that day, such as to have shot at this checkpoint, you would need to look up the battle information that is actually more detailed from the "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR) forces or LNR ("Lugansk People's Republic) -- there are the reports that used to be at dragon_1's blog and Military Maps and other pro-Russian sites. These can be compared to Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council maps. And verbal reports in Ukrainian and Russian press. Like this one, but Russian-language searches need to be done.
Then it might be established that the forces were too far away to see the area they were shelling. Or they could see it, on the contrary, and could aim for APCs on site which would be a legitimate thing to do.
The type of shells that hit there, the weapon used for them, and their capacity as to distance would also have to be determined.
Daniel Sanford of BBC has a good report of the "unreported battles" around Lugansk around this date, June 20th that could be looked at.
This is painstaking work and more than six months have passed but more could likely be found.
3. Savchenko should be persuaded to end her hunger strike.
This isn't likely to be a popular view, but I don't care, I have to say what I think is morally right.
I never support hunger strikers, as I think they are committing a form of violence. The Dalai Lama does not support them for Tibetans as a rule.
I've never seen a hunger strike work to achieve its goal.
I've seen dead hunger strikers. I remember vividly the death in 1986 of Soviet-era political prisoner Anatoly Marchenko who got up around the 50th day before dying in Chistopol Prison. He was the husband of Larisa Bogoraz, one of the 7 brave Soviet citizens who went out on Red Square to protest the invasion of Czechoslovakia. He himself was arrested for publishing a book in samizdat about poor prison and labor conditions.
Few realize that it was his death that Andrei Sakharov invoked when Gorbachev called him in his place of exile in Gorky, and told him to come back to Moscow to "continue his patriotic work". Sakharov told Gorbachev that his friend Marchenko died on a strike on behalf of the release of all political prisoners. This was truly the liberalization that was missing from this alleged liberal, Gorbachev. And it took Marchenko's death -- and Sakharov's raising it -- and Gorbachev's preparedness to do something -- to then get the political prisoners -- hundreds -- released. In fact, they weren't all released, but came out in dribs and drabs over the next few years until Yeltsin summarily released them after he took power.
So -- decide if you think that "worked" -- it didn't work for Marchenko, or even hundreds of prisoners, at least, not for years.
Another time I saw a Belarusian hunger striker finally get his case of political imprisonment and Belarus in general on the agenda of the UN Security Council, of all places. But that's because Amb. John Bolton got it put there at the time under "other business". That particular confluence of circumstances would likely never happen again in the history of the universe.
Hunger strikers seldom put any pressure on Russia. Russia is happy to have them die. Or they are happy to force-feed them and torture them -- and then have them die. This lesson has been proven enough times that we shouldn't be re-learning it.
Hunger strikes only put pressure on the prisoner's loved ones, his or her immediate family and friends, and of course their hundreds of supporters. They are the ones stressed out and strung out day after day as they frantically try to think up new tricks to get the same old story told -- indifferent and even accommodationist politicians in Europe or America to take up the case with cynical and nihilist Moscow.
So end it. And use the argumentation not that "the movement doesn't need weak activists" -- Timoshenko's argument to Savchenko, already a prisoner and already suffering, to "be strong". Instead, one should appeal to her sense of responsibility for her loved ones and supporters. They are being stressed to the hilt, they cannot do more, they've already achieved miracles getting the attention of the media and the European Parliament -- and now other things are needed.
Each supporter can pledge to do something for Nadiya every day on her behalf -- and clicktivism, but actually contacting an actual ambassador in real life, faxing or mailing is better than email to get noticed and registered in an embassy, and so on.
I personally am stretched too thin to do more on this myself. I have many issues and cases pressing for attention. I hope someone can follow up.