The regional Security Service of Ukraine headquarters, the command center for Kremlin-backed insurgents before they fled Sloviansk on June 5, was also known as a prison where hostages were kept and beaten. Seized documents, however, show that the SBU building may also have served as the the place for secret trials and orders to execute at least three prisoners.
The separatist military commander, Igor Strelkov, a citizen of Moscow whose real name is Igor Girkin and who claims to have worked for Russia's Federal Security Service until March 2013, had his headquarters in this building.
During this time, Strelkov handed down the death sentences under a Stalin-era law, seized documents show. The Kyiv Post was not able to reach Strelkov for comment. Several requests for interview with him have gone unanswered.
The documents were part of the scorched, stinking debris left by the separatists. Rebels set fire to the building in an attempt to destroy evidence, but they were not successful in covering their tracks before Ukrainian forces liberated Sloviansk and sent the insurgents on the retreat to the provincial capital of Donetsk.
The documents show death sentences were issued by a “military-field tribunal” comprised of a motley group of Kremlin-backed insurgents with nicknames like "Nose" and "Baloo." The convicted were three men ordered to be executed "by firing squad."
One of the men sentenced was Alexei Pichko, a 30-year-old convict and Sloviansk native who had been released from prison in March after serving four years for armed robbery.
Late one afternoon in June, after a few drinks with friends and amid heavy fighting that forced tens of thousands of people to abandon their homes, Pichko broke into a neighbor's house at 17 Sadovaya Street to “see what could be stolen from there,” according to the report, dated June 17, and recovered from the SBU building. Inside he found two shirts and a pair of pants, which he took with him when he jumped out of a back window.
A neighbor recently pointed out the window, now boarded-up, saying eyewitnesses saw him leap out of it that day. Some gave handwritten testimony when visited by Strelkov's subordinates, who carried guns, and asked to do so. Seven witnesses in all wrote down there accounts, which were uncovered along with the sentence condemning Pichko to death.
The documents show a short interrogation from the prosecutor, Yuri Vladimirovich, nicknamed "Lawyer,” before deliberation, at which time Vyacheslav "Baloo" Anatolevich suggested he be sent to dig trenches on the front lines. However, Viktor Yuriyevich, or "Nose," the chairman, demanded Pichko's execution by firing squad.
“By order of the military-field tribunal of the [Donetsk People’s Republic] militia on 17.06.2014,” the order in his case reads, “I hereby proclaim that Aleksey Borisovich Pichko, resident of the city of Sloviansk, is sentenced for looting to an exceptional measure of punishment — execution by firing squad — on the basis of the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR 'on martial law' from June 22nd, 1941.”
“The sentence has been carried out.”
It is signed in blue ink by Strelkov and made official with a stamp of the "Donetsk People's Militia."
“I warn all fighters and commanders of the DPR militia, and also residents of Sloviansk and the Sloviansk area, that any grievous crime committed in the zone of military activity will continue to be punished ruthlessly and decisively. The command of the DPR militia will not allow unchecked criminality,” Strelkov wrote. “Punishments for crimes will be unavoidable, regardless of the status and service of the criminal.”
The documents above outline the case against Alexei Pichko and show that the Russian rebel commander leading the separatist militias, Igor Strelkov, signed off on the decision to execute the 31-year-old Sloviansk man.
Donetsk People’s Republic officials with whom the Kyiv Post spoke on July 10 could not confirm Pichko's death, but one rebel soldier from Sloviansk, who asked that he not be named for fear of reprisals, said he believed "it had been done."
Moreover, on a visit to Pichko's rural neighborhood on July 10, several neighbors told the Kyiv Post one of Pichko’s friends, Valentin, told them that he saw the rebels execute him with a machine gun the same day the sentence was handed down. Valentin could not be reached to confirm his story.
Standing outside her gate on July 10, Maria Vasylovich Pichko, the man's mother, said she had kept up hope that her son would turn up alive, even though she had not seen or heard from him for nearly a month, and the talk of the town was that he had been killed. When the Kyiv Post and two other reporters broke her the news of the decree, she burst into tears.
“They shot him for two shirts,” she said as she wept. She said that her son’s friend, Valentin, had told her “everything would be fine.”
Maria Vasylovich Pichko, standing outside her gate on July 10.
Alexei Pichko's confession
Besides Pichko’s case, documents show two other trials by “military-field tribunal,” including those of Dmitry “Bolgar” Slavov and Nikolai “Luka” Lukyanov. They were convicted under the same Stalin-era law for kidnapping a local man and detaining him in the SBU's basement without obtaining permission from Strelkov. There case had been previously reported, but without signed documents to prove they had been sentenced to death.
The document above is an order by the "military-field tribunal" to execute Dmitry “Bolgar” Slavov and Nikolai “Luka” Lukyanov.
In a fourth case, a man was accused of shining a flashlight during a gun battle between rebel fighters and Ukrainian forces near Karachun Hill, giving away the rebel's positions. Fortunately for him, he was acquitted. Speaking by phone from a Donetsk hospital, he admitted that he had been interrogated by Strelkov's tribunal and set free after being exonerated.
Pichko wasn't so lucky. In his hand-written testimony and swift three-day trial, Pichko confessed to committing the crime alone and asked to be sent to the front lines instead of being executed. “I want to die as someone who was of use to the DNR,” he wrote. “I also have a pregnant wife, Rydkovskaya Inna Vladimirovna… I want to see her and nurse children and be a useful member of society.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.