Ukrainian in New York City Seeks Asylum As War Resister, Conscientious Objector

By Я ТАК ДУМАЮ – Руслан Коцаба, January 22, 2023

Prisoner of conscience and pacifist Ruslan Kotsaba speaks about his status in the USA.

Text of video: Hi, my name is Ruslan Kotsaba and this is my story. I am a Ukrainian war resister in New York City, and am seeking asylum in the United States–not just for me, but for all Ukrainian war resisters. I left Ukraine after being put on trial and imprisoned for producing a YouTube video calling on Ukrainian men to refuse to fight in the civil war in Eastern Ukraine. This was before the Russian invasion–this was when the Ukrainian government was forcing men like me to fight and kill fellow countrymen who wanted to separate from Ukraine. In the video, I said I would rather go to prison than deliberately kill my compatriots in Eastern Ukraine. Prosecutors wanted to imprison me for 13 years. The court eventually acquitted me of treason in 2016. Still, I was locked up in prison for over a year because of my pacifism. Today, the situation has only gotten worse–After the Russian invasion, Ukraine declared martial law. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are required by law to enlist in the military–those who refuse face 3-5 years in prison. This is wrong. War is wrong. I ask for asylum and I ask you to send the White House emails on my behalf. I also ask the Biden administration to stop arming Ukraine for endless war. We need diplomacy and we need it now. Thank you to CODEPINK for encouraging me to share my story and thank you to all war resisters. Peace.

Background from Marcy Winograd of CODEPINK:

Ruslan was granted refugee status in New York, but for some reason still hasn’t received a social security number or other documents necessary for gainful employment.

Here is an article about Ruslan, who was persecuted in Ukraine for refusing to fight his compatriots in Eastern Ukraine during the civil war preceding the Russian invasion. After posting a YouTube video in 2015 to express his anti-war stance and call for a boycott of military operations in the Donbas, the government of Ukraine ordered him arrested, charged with treason and obstruction of the military, and put on trial.  After sixteen months in pre-trial detention, the court sentenced Ruslan to 3.5 years in prison, a sentence and conviction that was overturned on appeal. Later, a government prosecutor ordered the case reopened and Ruslan tried again. Shortly before the Russian invasion, however, the widely-publicized case against Ruslan was suspended. For a more detailed account of Ruslan’s persecution, scroll to the end of this email.

Please support Ruslan’s efforts to seek asylum and a social security number so he may work again. Ruslan is a journalist and photographer.

In January 2015, Ruslan Kotsaba published on the YouTube platform a video message to the President of Ukraine entitled “Internet action “I refuse to mobilize”, in which he spoke out against participation in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and called people to renounce military service out of conscience. The video had a wide public response. Ruslan Kotsaba was invited to give interviews and participate in TV programs by Ukrainian and foreign media, including Russian TV channels.

Shortly thereafter, officers of the Security Service of Ukraine searched Kotsaba’s home and arrested him. He was charged with crimes under part 1 of Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (high treason) and part 1 of Article 114-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (obstruction of the legal activities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations).

During the investigation and trial, Kotsaba spent 524 days in prison. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. The charges brought against him were based mainly on rumors, speculation and political slogans documented as testimonies of witnesses unknown to him. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Ruslan kotsaba to 13 years in prison with confiscation of property, a clearly disproportionate punishment. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine mentions the Kotsaba trial in its 2015 and 2016 reports.

In May 2016, the Ivano-Frankivsk city court passed a guilty sentence. In July 2016, the Ivano-Frankivsk Region Court of Appeal fully acquitted Kotsaba and released him in the courtroom. However, in June 2017, the High Specialized Court of Ukraine overturned the acquittal and sent the case back for retrial. The session of this court took place under pressure from the right-wing radicals from the “C14” organization, who demanded to put him in jail and attacked Kotsaba and his friends outside the courthouse. Radio Liberty reported about this conflict outside a courthouse in Kyiv under the headline “The Kotsaba Case: Will Activists Start Shooting?”, calling aggressive right-wing radicals “activists”.

Due to the lack of judges, pressure on the court and self-recusation of judges in different courts, the consideration of Kotsaba’s case was postponed many times. Since the trial has been dragging on for the sixth year, all reasonable terms for the consideration of the case have been violated and continue to be violated. This is due to the fact that, when canceling the acquittal for procedural reasons, the High Specialized Court of Ukraine pointed out the need to study all the evidence presented by the prosecution, including the so-called evidence that the courts of first and appellate instance considered inappropriate or inadmissible. Because of this, the current trial in the Kolomyisky City District Court of the Ivano-Frankivsk Region has been dragging on for two and a half years, during which time only 15 out of 58 prosecution witnesses have been questioned. Most of the witnesses do not appear in court on summons, even after the court’s decision on forced admission, and it is known that they are random people, not even local residents, who testified under pressure.

Right-wing radical organizations openly put pressure on the court, regularly make posts on social networks undermining the authority of justice, containing insults and slander against Kotsaba and calls for violent actions. During almost every court session, an aggressive crowd surrounds the court. Due to the attacks on Kotsaba, his lawyer and his mother on 22nd January and the 25th June attack in which his eye was injured, the court allowed him to participate remotely for security reasons.

One Response

  1. Thank you for your story Ruslan. I have long suspected that Russia is not the only party to the proxy war in Ukraine that is forcing its citizens to participate against their will.

    Conscientious objection is a human right. I respect an stand up for everyone who wishes to exercise that right.

    I have written to the White House and requested that your asylum request be fully and immediately granted.

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