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On March 10, a joint appeal was published by Ukrainian human rights activists, urging for the release of Maksym Butkevych, a prisoner of war who was unlawfully convicted by the occupiers. The activists are calling attention to the injustice of his imprisonment and are advocating for his immediate release.

The Coalition “Ukraina.Pyata Ranku” (Ukraine.Five O’Clock in the Morning), which is an association of over 30 civil society organizations with extensive experience in documenting international crimes and human rights violations in the temporarily occupied territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sevastopol, and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014, published the statement calling for the release of Maksym Butkevych.

"The coalition Ukraine.Five O'clock in the Morning asserts that these trials are intended for the Russian domestic audience and lack any legal validity based on the standards of justice. Instead, they serve as further evidence that the Russian government and its proxies in the occupied territories of Ukraine are guilty of committing war crimes against prisoners of war. These so-called "trials" of Ukrainian servicemen are conducted behind closed doors, in contravention of all possible standards of justice, and are presided over by quasi-entities that are not recognized by the international community," the statement reads. 

Among the members of the Coalition is the NGO CrimeaSOS. In a post on their website, they quote the head of the board of the organization, Oleksiy Tilnenko:

"Ukrainian human rights activist and serviceman Maksym Butkevych has become another victim of the criminal Russian regime. He, like other Ukrainians who were illegally convicted by the invaders, has the right to be treated humanely and released from captivity as soon as possible," Tilnenko said.

The statement is published on the websites of other members of the Coalition, including the website of the Zmina Human Rights Center.

"The Coalition emphasizes that violations of the right of prisoners of war to a fair trial constitute a war crime. This practice is also prohibited by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and generally accepted international standards for the investigation of criminal offenses," the statement also reads.

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, which is also a member of the Coalition, has also reacted to the verdict.

"All three 'convicts' are prisoners of war, the treatment of which is determined by the Third Geneva Convention and excludes: the use of cruel treatment or torture, which is more than obvious given the self-incrimination by each of the three convicts; "confession" to an absurd crime – Maksym Butkevych admits on camera that he "received an order to kill civilians" and "fired" at civilians from a grenade launcher (!) in Sievierodonetsk on June 4, although he was in Kyiv that day; violation of the rights of prisoners of war through detention in a pre-trial detention center – Maksym Butkevych is being kept almost all the time in the Luhansk pre-trial detention center," said Oleksandr Pavlichenko, UHHRU Executive Director.

The signatories to the statement demand that the international community "increase pressure on Russia to ensure humane treatment of prisoners of war, intensify the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide access to them and monitor their conditions of detention, and speed up the release of all persons held by Russia, both military and civilian citizens of Ukraine."

You can read the full statement here. You can sign it here.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has denounced the verdict against Maksym Butkevych, a human rights activist and soldier, along with Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers Viktor Pohozei and Vladyslav Shel, as a political retaliation against Ukrainian citizens. The Ministry has urged the international community to denounce the actions of the occupiers.

It was reported on March 10, 2023, that the self-proclaimed "courts" of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which are currently under Russian occupation, have handed down prison sentences to three Ukrainian citizens. Maksym Butkevych, a human rights activist and soldier, received a 13-year sentence, while Ukrainian Armed Forces servicemen Viktor Pohozei and Vladyslav Shel were sentenced to 8.5 and 18.5 years in prison, respectively.

The invaders accuse the Ukrainians of "the cruel treatment of civilians and the use of prohibited methods in armed conflict". The self-proclaimed "court" found Butkevych guilty of "attempted murder of two people" and "intentional damage to another's property".

Maksym Butkevych joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine in March 2022. Butkevych was taken prisoner by the invaders in the summer of 2022 near Zolote and Hirske, Luhansk region.

Prior to the full-scale invasion, Butkevych was actively involved in human rights and journalistic work. He was a coordinator and co-founder of the "No Borders" project, which aimed to assist asylum seekers and Ukrainian migrants and combat hate speech. He was also a co-founder of the ZMINA Human Rights Center and served on the board of the Ukrainian chapter of Amnesty International as well as the public council at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In addition to his human rights work, Butkevych was one of the founders of Hromadske Radio and had collaborated with the BBC and other Ukrainian TV channels as a journalist.

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