(Kiev) - One of the leaders of Kiev's protest movement has been missing since January 22, 2014. Dmitri Bulatov, 35, is the third protest activist who has disappeared in the past week. Human Rights Watch called on Ukrainian authorities to urgently undertake a thorough investigation to locate him and ensure his safety and well-being.
"We are gravely concerned about Dmitri Bulatov's life and safety," said Yulia Gorbunova, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Bulatov is one of the leaders of the protest movement and had been threatened in recent weeks. There is every reason to believe his disappearance is related to his activism."
On January 23, police arbitrarily detained another activist - a volunteer for the protest movement's medical service - took all her personal belongings, and dumped her in a forest outside Kiev, sparking concern police could also be involved in Bulatov's disappearance. On January 21, unknown assailants kidnapped and beat two other prominent protest activists, Ihor Lutsenko and Yuri Verbitsky. The assailants released Lutsenko, who is being hospitalized for his injuries. Verbitsky's body was found on January 22.
Bulatov is one of the leaders of AutoMaidan, which is part of the protest movement on Kiev's Independence Square, known as Maidan. AutoMaidan organizes convoys of motorists who organised rallies and patrolled the city to protect protesters at Independence Square and other areas from pro-government provocateurs.
A lawyer representing Bulatov's family, Dmitri Yovdi, told Human Rights Watch that the last contact Bulatov's friends and family had from him was on January 23 at around 7 p.m. local time, when he told his wife he was going to a meeting. Another friend saw him last around 2 p.m. when he was leaving home, headed toward the outskirts of Kiev. Friends and relatives tried calling him until early hours of the next morning, when his cell phone number ceased working. His car is also missing.
On January 24, police broke up a convoy of AutoMaidan activists in their cars, smashing the vehicles and detaining 12 activists on suspicion of mass rioting charges; they were all remanded to pretrial custody by a court. Bulatov was not among those detained.
One of the AutoMaidan activists who spoke with Human Rights Watch said the activists, including Bulatov, had been receiving SMS threats for weeks, including messages such as "Do you want do die?" The other activist said that in recent weeks police wanted to question Bulatov as a witness to mass rioting.
Police had summoned Bulatov twice for questioning in connection with AutoMaidan activities. In December 2013, they wanted to question him regarding clashes on December 1, when AutoMaidan organized a motorists' rally in the area where many government buildings are located. They changed their minds several days later, when an amnesty law entered into force that covered protest-related actions.
On January 14, 2014, police questioned Bulatov as a witness to a protest that had taken place on January 10 and also about the December 1, 2013 clashes. No charges were pressed against him.
In a separate incident, on January 23, 2014, police detained Oleksandra Khailak, a 22-year-old female student who had been working in the protest movement's volunteer medical service, at Kiev's train station as she was headed home. According to the coordinator of the volunteer medical service, Oleg Musiy, police asked her to show her identity documents, and when she did, her National Resistance Headquarters' medical service pass fell out.
According to Musiy, police said, "Aha, you worked on Maidan?" and called for more police. They twisted her arms behind her back, put her in a civilian car, and took her to three different police stations, where no officials wanted to book her. They also confiscated her personal belongings, including her asthma inhaler. At one point the woman had an asthma attack, prompting the police to take her to a hospital.
Musiy told Human Rights Watch police eventually drove the woman to a forest outside Kiev, and left her there. They did not return her purse, identity documents, train ticket, and money, saying "You can go look for it at police stations." After an hour of wandering in the area she was eventually able to find help.
"When police grab an activist and dump her in a forest, it adds to our fears that they might have done the same with Bulatov," Gorbunova said.