Ukrainian Ombudswoman Seeks Medical Care For Hunger-Striking Prisoner In Crimea

Volodymyr Balukh, a pro-Kyiv activist jailed by the Russia-imposed authorities in Crimea, has been on hunger strike for 43 days and his health is reportedly in decline.

Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy chairman of Crimean Tatars' Mejlis self-governing body, told RFE/RL on April 30 that Balukh has been on hunger strike since March 19.

Lyudmyla Denysova, the human rights ombudswoman for Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, said on April 30 that Balukh needed an urgent medical examination and that his health was deteriorating with each passing day.

She said a court of the Russia-imposed authorities in Crimea had denied a request by Balukh's lawyers that he be afforded medical care.

Balukh was sentenced in January to three years and seven months in a penal colony where convicts live close to an industrial facility or a farm where they work, after being convicted on a weapons-and-explosives possession charge.

Balukh's initial sentence to the same prison term in August was annulled by an appeals court and returned for additional investigation.

Balukh insists the case against him was politically motivated.

In March, a new case was launched against Balukh after a warden in a local detention center in Crimea claimed that Balukh attacked him. Balukh denies the charge, saying the warden attacked him.

One Of Dozens

Balukh is one of dozens of Crimeans prosecuted by Russia in what rights groups say has been a persistent campaign to silence dissent since Moscow annexed the Ukrainian region in March 2014.

He was arrested in December 2016, after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said explosives and 90 bullets were found in the attic of his home.

The search was conducted shortly after Balukh planted a Ukrainian flag in his yard and affixed a sign to his house that read Heavenly Hundred Street, 18.

"Heavenly Hundred" is a term Ukrainians use for the dozens of people killed when security forces fired on protesters in Kyiv in February 2014, shortly before Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power.

After Yanukovych's ouster, Russia seized Crimea by sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by Ukraine, the United States, and nearly 100 other countries.

The Russian takeover badly damaged Moscow's relations with Kyiv and the West and resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the European Union, the United States, and several other countries.

Rights groups say Crimea residents who opposed Russia's takeover have faced discrimination and abuse at the hands of the Moscow-imposed authorities.

In March 2017, the European Parliament called on Moscow to free more than 30 Ukrainian citizens who were in prison or under other conditions of restricted freedom in Russia, Crimea, and parts of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.