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Ukraine calls for release of nationals detained in Russia, as conflict plays out at World Cup
16 July 2018 15:38

Russian fans booed Croatia’s defender Domagoj Vida during their semi final clash against England on Wednesday.

 This was after his viral “glory to Ukraine” video as soon as Croatia beat Russia 3-4 on penalties in the quarterfinals.

 He, however, apologised, saying, “I know I made a mistake and I would like to apologize again to Russian people."

 "Our intention was not to offend anyone... I sincerely hope that this message will not be understood as anything else but an expression of gratitude to our friends in Ukraine for their support," he told Rossiya 24 state television.

 In an earlier statement by Croatia's football federation, Vida, who played for Dynamo Kyiv from 2013-18, said he did not intend for the message to be a political statement.

 The slogan has its root in Ukraine’s nationalist and anti-Russian movement in the 20th Century, and was a rallying call for the 2014 revolution in Ukraine, in which Russia annexed Crimea in the ensuing conflict.

 This incident manifests the Russia and Ukraine conflict following the annexation.

 Now, Ukraine, through its Embassy in Nairobi, says: “As of today about 60 innocent citizens of Ukraine are illegally imprisoned by the Russian Federation under fabricated and politically motivated charges.”

 “They are held hostage in inhuman conditions behind bars in Russia and temporarily occupied Crimea.” 

The embassy says the detainees are tortured and deprived of proper medical care.

Among those they say are being held in Russia is Oleh Sentsov, a filmmaker sentenced by Russia to 20 years in prison in Labitnagi. He declared a hunger strike on May 14.

Volodymyr Balukh, a political prisoner, also said he was going on a hunger strike against his sentence on May 19. He had a Ukrainian flag over his house.

Pavlo Hryb  has been behind bars since August last year.  Also in is journalist Roman Sushchenko, who was was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The embassy says the actions testify Kremlin's consistent and deliberate pressure on the members of the "Crimean Solidarity" association, composed of relatives of detained Ukrainian citizens, activists and lawyers.

On May 21, Server Mustafaiev, a coordinator of the Crimea Solidarity and Crimean Tatar activist Edem Smailov were detained over suspicion of belonging to the "Hizb ut-Tahrir" organisation, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. It describes itself as an international, pan-Islamist political organisation, with its ideology as Islam. It considers itself a non-violent political party. It has, however, been banned in at least 13 countries. British prime ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron called for its banning in 2009 and 2011.

On March 1 and June 7, Ukranian Parliament urged international organisations and international community to condemn Russia’s detention of its citizens and “to use all available political, diplomatic and sanction mechanisms towards Russia to release all Ukrainian political prisoners”.

The British Foreign Office on June 6 said it is “deeply concerned” about the welfare of four Ukrainians being held by Russia.

“Their imprisonment, and that of many more Ukrainians who have been jailed by Russia, appears politically motivated,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

I tried to seek a comment from the Russian embassy but they didn’t pick my calls.

This points to an escalating conflict, which puts the lives of the detainees, and the so many people displaced at risk, as well as regional alliances and relationships, and conflict dynamics.

The Star, Kenya, ELIUD KIBII

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