Mirotvorets, which compiles lists of ‘enemies of Ukraine’, has been operating with impunity for eight years
For the last eight years, a group of publicly unknown activists in Ukraine have been compiling lists of ‘enemies of the people’ with impunity. Hundreds of thousands have been declared criminals without trial.
Among them are not only Russian citizens, but also Ukrainian opposition figures and bloggers, European politicians, and US citizens. At the very least, being added to this list is a stigma that makes life difficult in Ukraine, but it can also serve as justification for imprisonment or, in some cases, even being killed. This is exactly what happened last weekend to Daria Dugina, daughter of world-famous Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, who’s name also can be found on that list.
ТNewsClick explains what is behind the Mirotvorets, or ‘Peacemaker’, website, whose creators seek to bring ‘peace’ to their country with the help of extrajudicial killings, and why the Ukrainian authorities have done nothing about this despite condemnation from the international community.
What is Mirotvorets?
The main page of the Ukrainian Mirotvorets website proclaims that the outlet represents a ‘Center for Research of Signs of Crimes against the National Security of Ukraine, Peace, Humanity, and the International Law’. It claims to have been created by a group of academics, journalists, and other specialists. However, their names are known to no one, and the outfit itself has never even been officially registered in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, this organization has been in operation for nine years, since August 2014. And although it positions itself as “independent, non-state media,” government officials still had a hand in its creation. In fact, the website emerged at the initiative of Anton Gerashchenko, a former adviser to the Ukrainian minister of internal affairs.
Mirotvorets’ activities boil down to publishing personal information on people who the site’s administrators consider a threat, in one way or another, to Ukrainian statehood.
The site’s owners urge the country’s law enforcement agencies to take note of the personal data and activities of the people it lists. However, street radicals sometimes also take heed of Mirotvorets’ lists.
And every time someone unlucky enough to have had his or her home address or other personal data revealed turns up dead, the site is updated: the name of the deceased now appears in bright flickering letters reminiscent of a Las Vegas casino, and the person’s photo is crossed out with the callous inscription: ‘liquidated’.
For example, the current Mirotvorets’ web page design displays this way the data of the Russian journalist Darya Dugina, daughter of the philosopher Aleksandr, who was brutally killed last weekend in her own car.
Despite the accusations from the Russian FSB, Ukraine denies any involvement in that murder. On Mirotvorets, however, Dugina’s death is described with a brief, dehumanizing commentary, along with a conspiracy theory: “Liquidated by the special services of fascist russia (sic) due to interspecies disagreements.”
Who gets on the Mirotvorets lists and how?
According to the site’s administrators, “the sources of information used by the Mirotvorets Center for ongoing academic research are publicly available materials that are printed and posted on social networks, web publications, private web pages, and specialized forums and blogs, as well as radio and TV broadcasts.”
However, it’s not that simple. In 2017, the site launched its IDentigraF facial recognition system, which was funded by donors from 40 countries, according to the center’s editorial board. This database contains more than 2 million images of “persons who have committed crimes against Ukraine and its citizens.”
In addition, up until 2016, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and other law enforcement agencies in the country were among Mirotvorets’ partners. One can’t help but conclude that the personal information of the people who ended up in ‘Purgatory’ – a section of the site where personal information, including addresses, phone numbers, and documents, is published – were not obtained solely from social networks and newspapers.
As of 2019, when the latest Mirotvorets report was published, the site contained data on “more than 30,000 Russian war criminals”, “more than 70,000 terrorists, militants, mercenaries, members of illegal armed formations and private armies controlled by the Russian aggressor”, “about 40,000 flagrant violators of Ukraine’s national borders”, “more than 44,000 traitors to the Motherland”, “more than 6,000 anti-Ukrainian propagandists”, etc.
In total, nearly 200,000 people have been declared ‘criminals’ over the five years.
However, these figures are far from complete since the site continues to collect personal information on a daily basis. Recently, participants in Russia’s Special Military Operation to demilitarize Ukraine, as well as Russian politicians, have been added to the list – although to an insufficient extent, according to the website’s creators, who support the official government in Kiev.
Presumption of guilt
Mirotvorets’ creators claim that the center “carries out its activities in strict accordance with the current legislation of Ukraine and international legal acts ratified by our state.” As an example, they refer to Article 17 of the Constitution of Ukraine, which obliges citizens to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
In legally justifying its activities, Mirotvorets refers to laws on information, terrorism, and privacy, as well as the ‘Convention on the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automated Processing of Personal Data’ adopted in 1981. However, the articles cited in the above-mentioned pieces of legislation have been chosen very selectively, with an emphasis on “protecting the security of the state.”
Legally speaking, the Mirotvorets’ approach is very controversial. First of all, one of the basic principles of justice is the presumption of innocence, which is reflected, in particular, in the Council of Europe’s ‘Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’.
Among the crimes for which Mirotvorets collects data are “impingement on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, being a “traitor to the Motherland”, “aiding militants and terrorists”, disseminating “war propaganda”, “inciting ethnic hatred, fascism, or anti-Semitism,” etc., which are included in the Criminal Code of Ukraine. However, only a court can find a person guilty of such acts, whereas Mirotvorets has no such authority.
Mirotvorets not only accuses people of committing ‘crimes’ but also includes more abstract offenses in its lists, such as producing “anti-Ukrainian propaganda” and “participating in anti-Ukrainian propaganda events.” The list even has a section for “agents of influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.” However, such areas are regulated by articles 9-11 of the ‘European Convention on Human Rights’, which concern freedom of expression, conscience, religion, thought, assembly, and association. The Mirotvorets center’s administrators are essentially seeking to deprive people whose opinions and beliefs do not suit them of their right to expression.
In addition, in the site’s ‘On Interaction and Cooperation with the Center’ section, there is a sample form for reporting personal information on ‘criminals’ and their relatives, which includes fields for addresses, phone numbers, photos, links to social network profiles, and their ‘crime’ (i.e., categorization as ‘militant’ or ‘terrorist’), all without trial or investigation.
The ‘criminals’ on public display, along with their wives, children, and parents, don’t even know they’re in ‘Purgatory’, let alone given a chance to defend themselves or cross-examine witnesses and confront their accusers.
A scandal in the noble family
As long as Mirotvorets was limiting itself to publishing information on Ukrainian citizens living in Crimea and Donbass, Ukrainian opposition politicians and journalists, and Russian residents and officials, the odious organization went unnoticed in the ‘civilized world’. But a scandal erupted in 2016, when Mirotvorets published information on employees of a host of media outlets, including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, AFP, Le Monde, the Guardian, Le Figaro, France 24, El Mundo, CBS News, CNN, Sky News, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, Cheska Televize, Radio France, Channel 9 Australia, the Associated Press, Japan TV, the Daily Mail, Die Welt, the Washington Post and New York Times, as well as representatives of Human Rights Watch and many other organizations, for “cooperating with a terrorist organization» (i.e., the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics).
US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau noted at the time that the US was “very concerned about the hacking of a database and publication of personal information about journalists in combat areas.”
“It is simply unacceptable for journalists to be threatened for what they say or write. Governments should do everything possible to ensure the safety of journalists. A wave of online threats against journalists worsens the situation,” said Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media.
In addition to journalists and human rights defenders, politicians have also made it into Mirotvorets’ database. The website published information on German Bundestag deputies who visited Crimea, a list that includes Evgeny Schmidt, Rainer Balzer, Gunar Lindeman, Harold Latch, Nick Vogel, Helmut Seifen, and Blakes Christian.
Ten US citizens, as well as French actor Samy Naceri, were relegated to ‘Purgatory’ for the same ‘offense’. According to the website, the Greek ‘enemies of Ukraine’ include former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, cartoonist Stathis Stavropoulos, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Pavlos Hristou, and ‘Russian Athens’ editor Pavel Onoiko. While former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also visited Crimea, he was removed from the database after expressing support for Petro Poroshenko. Top-tier politicians are also represented in Mirotvorets’ lists. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder can be found there, while Croatian President Zoran Milanovic and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have also been recently added, as has authoritative American diplomat Henry Kissinger.
Inclusion in the Mirotvorets list has been used as a justification for threats directed not only against ordinary citizens and journalists, but politicians as well. As the infamous and recently recalled Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andrey Melnyk, wrote, «an irresponsible trip of several would-be deputies can carry very, very unfortunate legal consequences for them. It is a pity that our warnings are still not taken seriously. Well, we’ll see.” In turn, Benjamin Moreau, deputy head of the UN’s human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine, stressed that the problem is moving from a purely legal to a practical one: some banks refuse to issue loans to persons included in the Mirotvorets database.
The uproar involving the murders of opposition politician Oleg Kalashnikov and journalist Olesya Buzina after their addresses were published in the Mirotvorets database is widely known. Of course, the word ‘after’ does not necessarily mean ‘due to’, but the creators of the notorious center played along. In commenting on these murders, they wrote: “Agent 404 has distinguished himself again. He has been granted a short-term leave for the successful completion of today’s combat mission.”
There have been repeated demands to shut down the website. In 2018, Germany joined the chorus of journalists and human rights activists protesting Gerhard Schroeder’s inclusion in the database. According to the Cabinet of Ministers, “the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany most definitely condemns Mirotvorets and demands that the Ukrainian government and authorities assist in its removal.”
In February of 2021, the European Parliament approved a resolution stating: “The EP regrets that the political climate in the country has deteriorated when intimidation, hate speech and political pressure are widely used for political purposes; urges the authorities to strongly condemn and ban the activities of extremist and hateful groups and websites, such as Mirotvorets, which create tension in society and misuse the personal data of hundreds of people, including journalists, politicians and members of minority groups.”
But so far, calls for the closure of Mirotvorets have, in fact, been limited to a chorus of journalists, human rights defenders, and parliamentarians, who lack the power to make legally binding decisions with respect to Ukraine. This issue is not included among the list of requirements put forth by the Council of Europe or the European Commission that Kiev must fulfil in order to implement the EU Association Agreement. Allocation of European and American assistance to Ukraine for carrying out reforms has not been made contingent on closing down Mirotvorets, nor have measures been taken to pressure the Kiev authorities to respect privacy and the presumption of innocence.
With the Western authorities turning a blind eye, the Ukrainian government has been able to ignore the activities of the scandalous site and dismiss demands from international human rights defenders by coming up with various pretenses. For example, in response to demands by the UN for it to be shut down, Dmitry Razumkov, the ex-speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, said that the Rada does not have the authority to close media outlets.
Nevertheless, when the Ukrainian authorities want to shut down certain media outlets, they do not hesitate to do so. For example, the National Security and Defense Council granted Zelensky the ability to close the 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK opposition TV channels, and subsequently First Independent and UKRLIVE, as well as an online publication called Strana, among other media outlets.
The Mirotvorets site is still up and continually updated with new data to this day.