I am an environmental activist and the leader of the inter-regional NGO Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus (EWNC) based in the Krasnodar Region and neighbouring Republic of Adygea in the southwestern part of Russia. I was attacked by three unidentified men wearing hooded tracksuites.
Case of Andrey Rudomakha
Andrey Rudomakha (b.16/09/1963) is an environmental activist and the leader of the inter-regional NGO Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus (EWNC) based in the Krasnodar Region and neighbouring Republic of Adygea in the South-West of Russia. For more than 20 years, EWNC activists, who work on a voluntary basis, have been protecting the unique natural environment in the North Caucasus, including relic boxwood forests, the Black Sea shores and local rivers. They also campaigned relentlessly before the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 to ensure that construction projects did not harm the environment.
Most recently, environmental activists were investigating allegations of poaching by high level officials from the Krasnodar region, and the activity of a group of officials from the Internal Policy Department of the Krasnodar region administration who had allegedly launched smear campaigns against local activists and members of the opposition parties. They were also investigating illegal deforestation and construction projects connected to high-level regional and federal officials and businessmen.
At around 11.00 pm on 28 December 2017, Andrey Rudomakha, his colleagues Victor Chirikov and Aleksandr Savelyev and journalist Vera Kholodnaya from news website Free Media were attacked by three unidentified men wearing hooded tracksuits and surgical masks that covered their faces. The activists had just returned to their office from an inspection of a protected woodland area around Krinnitsa, a village near Gellendzhik on the Black Sea coast. They discovered that trees had been cut down on four construction sites, building foundation pits had been dug out, roads laid, and on one of the sites in the woodland the activists discovered that an Orthodox church had been erected. During the inspection one of the activists, Victor Chirikov was detained by a security guard who demanded that all the photographs of the construction sites and wood felling should be deleted. The rest of the activists managed to stay unnoticed and were not detained.
From their behaviour it appears that the attackers knew when the activists were returning to their office and were waiting. The CCTV recordings showed that three men had been hanging around the house for about half an hour, and took convenient positions for an attack about 90 seconds before the activists arrived.
The activists were attacked from behind when they left their car. Andrey Rudomakha was the first one to be attacked. He was assaulted with pepper spray; then one of the attackers punched and kicked him to the ground and kicked him in the face, after which Andrey Rudomakha lost conscience. Andrey Rudomakha was so severely beaten that he ended up in hospital with a brain contusion, basal skull fracture and multiple broken facial bones, broken teeth and chemical burns to his eyes. The other activists were attacked too. Victor Chirikov was kicked in the stomach and he and Vera Kholodnaya were sprayed with pepper spray. The attack lasted for about 2 minutes. Then the assailants stole backpacks with the activists’ photography and video equipment from their car which they had just used to document the instances of unlawful deforestation and construction in the nature reserve.
Following the attack, a criminal investigation was initiated under Article 161, part 2 of the Russian Criminal Code “Robbery committed by a group of people”. However, Andrey Rudomakha and his colleagues believe that the investigation should be opened under Article 277 of the Russian Criminal Code “Attempt on the life of an official or a public activist” and must be conducted at the federal level for it to be more effective. In spite of numerous pieces of hard evidence, like the CCTV footage and fingerprints of the assailants, at the time of writing the attackers have not been found and the investigation is effectively stalled.
On 9 January 2018, Andrey Rudomakha received threats sent from an email address firstname.lastname@example.org (the email address means “death to Rudomakha” in Russian). An anonymous author wrote on a Facebook picture of Rudomakha taken after his beating “There is no place in Kuban for people who secretly worship Satan, use foreign money to demolish Russia under the pretext of protection of the environment. It is safer for you to leave…” Andrey Rudomakha’s colleague and Deputy Dimitry Shevchenko, received a similar message from the same email address. The signature on Dmitry Shevchenko’s photo stated “Rudomakha’s lapdogs – out of the country. You’d better leave, Dmitry…” At the time of writing, the investigation has failed to establish who had sent those emails.
We are calling on the Russian authorities to effectively and impartially investigate the attack against Andrey Rudomakha and his fellow activists, to investigate threats against them and bring those responsible to justice.
This is not the first time Andrey Rudomakha and his colleagues from EWNC have been subjected to attacks, threats and intimidation. On 9 September 2016, eight masked, unidentified men attacked the camp of EWNC and Greenpeace who had come to the Krasnodar region to help extinguish wild fires. The assailants, who had knives, guns and truncheons, beat up the activists, damaged cars and tents, and wrote on the gates “Get away to your Pendosia” [a slang name for the U.S.A.) As a result of the attack the head of the Greenpeace’s programme for nature reserves suffered a concussion and a broken nose. In April 2017, the Russian Ministry of the Interior suspended the investigation into this attack due to “inability to establish the perpetrators”.
In 2012, a court in Tuapse, Krasnodar Region, gave a suspended sentence to two EWNC activists, Evgeny Vitishko and Suren Gazaryan for an alleged “act of vandalism of the property” in reference to damage of and graffiti on a metal fence around an illegal construction, allegedly belonging to the then Krasnodar Region governor Aleksandr Tkachev. In 2012, Suren Gazaryan had to leave Russia, and on the eve of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi Evgeny Vitishko’s suspended sentence was exchanged for a real prison term in December 2013. Evgeny Vitishko was released in December 2015.