Human rights advocates says Crimean political prisoner Volodymyr Balukh is in need of urgent medical assessment after being on hunger strike for a month. He started refusing food on March 19, in protest of the colony sentence of 3 years and 5 months he received for alleged ammunitions possession.
Balukh has been in solitary confinement since the start of his hunger strike and has been subject to intense pressure from the administration of the pretrial detention center in the town of Rozdolne in occupied Crimea. He only drinks water and tea.
Photo credit: Anton Naumliuk/RFE/RL
Crimean Human Rights Group says Balukh needs urgent medical examinations as his health is deteriorating by the day.
“His state of health can only be determined visually until he is examined in a medical facility, where there are all the necessary conditions. You can see that he is very thin and weak after almost a month of his hunger strike. We do not know what is going on inside his body,” said the group’s the deputy head Volodymyr Chekryhin.
Balukh’s lawyers have appealed for doctors to be allowed to see him numerous times, but the court has refused, claiming that Balukh is being held in satisfactory conditions.
Archbishop Klyment of the Simferopol and Crimean Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate has been involved with Balukh’s case as a public defender. He says that they beat Balukh and are trying to break him psychologically.
“They have started to torture Volodya for his so-called noncompliance of the regime. Every transgression is immediately treated as an administrative offense – standing at the window for more than a minute or two, for refusing to undress at the demand of those ‘prison guards.’ So they are trying to psychologically break him, to reduce him to a level where he would start eating the gruel they give him in the pretrial detention center,” Klyment says.
Archbishop Klyment says that Balukh will not give up on his hunger strike, despite the numerous attempts to preserve his health. One of these attempts came from the Ukrainian parliament. The MPs appealed to Balukh on April 10.
“Ukraine needs living heroes. Your health and life will be the best part of Ukraine’s victory,” reads the text, signed by 22 Ukrainian MPs.
Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova has appealed to her Russian counterpart Tatyana Moskalkova three times since Balukh began his hunger strike with requests for medical examinations and to verify the information regarding the pressure he is under from the detention center’s administration.
According to the human rights activists and lawyers, Volodymyr Balukh’s case has all the signs of political persecution. Balukh’s problems with the occupying authorities began after he hoisted a Ukrainian flag on the roof of his house and refused to remove it.
Photo credit: HROMADSKE
Then, on November 29, 2016, he installed a plaque outside his house in the village of Serebryanka that read “Street of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes.” On December 8, Russian security officers turned up to the village to carry out routine searches. They claim they “found” 90 bullets as well as explosive devices, which allegedly belonged to Balukh. The ammunition later turned out to be registered in Barnaul, Russia. The Kremlin-controlled court in occupied Crimea has refused to give details about the origin of the bullets.
Balukh was sentenced to three years and five months in a penal colony and fined around $164.
Balukh has been in the pretrial detention center, where force is used against him, for almost the duration of his detention. His lawyer has complained about the beatings by the head of the Rozdolnensky pretrial detention center. In response, an official from the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia issued statement stating that Balukh had assaulted the head of the detention center. The court case is still ongoing. Balukh will remain in the pretrial detention center until June 18.
/By Sofia Fedeczko