Russian poet Alexander Byvshev convicted for 2015 poem about Ukraine

Thursday, April 12, 2018

On Monday, Russian poet Alexander Byvshev was convicted under Russian criminal code Article 282§1 by a court in Oryol Oblast, a region of Russia, for his 2015 seven-verse poem On Ukraine's Independence. ((ru))Russian language: ‍НА НЕЗАВИСИМОСТЬ УКРАИНЫ The prosecution said the poem "incites hatred or enmity, and denigration of human dignity". Per the ruling, Byvshev is to serve 330 hours of community service and forbidden to teach for three years.

The prosecutor pressed for Byvshev to be imprisoned for two and a half years. The poet did not plead guilty, saying he has the right to express his opinions via the poem.

Byvshev uploaded On Ukraine's Independence on Russian social network VKontakte (VK) on February 22, 2015. Before Byvshev uploaded the poem, it was published by other Ukrainian websites.

Previously, on July 13, 2015, Byvshev was sentenced to 300 hours of community service for his March 2014 poem To Ukrainian Patriots, for "inciting hatred or enmity". That poem was about the Russian military's capture of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which took place days before he published the poem. He also criticised Moscow's support for Ukrainian separatists. Since the occupation of Crimea, the clash between the Ukrainian army and separatists has resulted in a death toll of over ten thousand.

On April 4, Byvshev, speaking to Russian website Meduza, said he fulfilled the service requirement by cleaning the streets and cemetery. Byvshev was listed under "List of extremists and terrorists" in June 2015 and hence, his bank account was frozen. He also lost his teaching job. Byvshev used to teach German and French in his hometown, Kromy. Byvshev told Meduza he spent his early childhood in eastern Ukraine, from which his mother came.

On April 3, Byvshev announced via his social media profile on Facebook that a separate criminal case was commenced for other poems.

Speaking to Meduza on April 4, Byvshev said, "People [of Kromy] are afraid to shake my hand. Everyone is cowed [...] It came to the point that when I come to a printing shop and ask to scan some documents, they refuse; they are afraid to become accomplices in my 'crimes'."