Russia arrests head of Ukrainian library in Moscow

Russia arrests head of Ukrainian library in Moscow

Moscow (AFP) - Russian investigators said on Thursday they had raided the library of Ukrainian literature in Moscow and detained its 58-year-old head, with ties between the two ex-Soviet neighbours in tatters.

Investigators also raided the homes of library chief Natalya Sharina and a 75-year-old Ukrainian activist whose organisation has worked with the library, the activist told AFP.

The Investigative Committee said Sharina was charged with inciting ethnic hatred and violating human dignity by distributing books by radical nationalist Ukrainian author Dmytro Korchynsky, whose works are banned in Russia.

She faces up to five years in prison.

Officials searched the library and seized books that contained "anti-Russian propaganda," said the committee, which reports directly to President Vladimir Putin.

Sharina's deputy said the library did not stock Korchynsky's books and called the accusations against her "absolute nonsense".

"Our library does not offer publications which could incite ethnic strife," Vitaly Krikunenko said on radio.

The library provides access to "controversial" literature for historians, journalists and political scholars, he added.

On Wednesday, a dozen people including masked gunmen searched the apartment of Valery Semenenko, deputy chair of the Ukrainians of Moscow organisation, and seized books, discs and computers.

"They were looking for extremist materials," Semenenko told AFP.

He added that he did not store Korchynsky's books, calling the raids an "excuse" for Russian authorities to pile pressure on Ukrainian activists.

Korchynsky is an extreme Ukrainian nationalist who helped establish the UNA-UNSO right-wing party and later set up another radical party dubbed Bratstvo (Brotherhood).

He was involved in bloody protests that ousted Ukraine's Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Kremlin's rights council, decried the pressure on the library and said investigators should either present a warrant or issue an apology to Sharina.

"If this is some sort of 'general wave' why would they not trawl through Ukrainian restaurants?" he said on radio.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment, telling journalists: "This is not an issue from the Kremlin's agenda."

- 'Halt pressure' -

Ukraine strongly protested the raid.

"This is not the first attempt by the Kremlin to label all things Ukrainian 'Russophobic' and 'extremist,'" the Ukranian foreign ministry said late Wednesday.

It added that Russian authorities had already looked for "extremist literature" in the library in 2010 and 2011.

"We call on the Russian authorities to halt pressure on the work of the library -- a cultural centre for a thousands-strong Ukrainian community."

Semenenko said he had already been questioned for allegedly distributing extremist literature in 2010, suggesting that Moscow may be looking to revive the old case.

The library was established by the government of Moscow to promote Ukrainian literature and had more than 6,900 patrons as of July 2013.

Ties between the two ex-Soviet Slavic nations collapsed after Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea in March 2014 following the ouster of Yanukovych.

Afterwards Moscow extended support to Russian-speaking separatists in the east of Ukraine and was accused by the West and Kiev of sending in regular troops to prop up the insurgency. Russia denies the charges.

Direct flights between Ukraine and Russia ceased on Sunday in a tit-for-tat spat expected to affect hundreds of thousands of people.