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“Komentarii” asked the experts whether the girls could be prosecuted for dancing near the graves and what exactly they had violated from a legal point of view

Last week, Kyiv residents were outraged by the actions of two sisters who staged a dance at the Lesnoye Cemetery near the graves of fallen soldiers. The police responded to the incident and have already opened a criminal investigation.

“Comments” asked the experts whether the girls could actually be prosecuted for dancing near the graves and what exactly they had violated from a legal point of view. We would like to emphasise that we do not evaluate this act from a moral point of view, but only understand the legal aspects of this incident.


Recall that the video of the girls dancing near the graves appeared online on Thursday, 24 August. A few hours later, the police found the “heroines” from the video and brought them to the Dnipro Police Department. They were identified, photographed, and criminal proceedings were opened under Part 2 of Article 297 (Desecration of a grave) and the relevant data was entered into the Unified Register. They face restriction of liberty or imprisonment for a term of 3 to 5 years.

The defendants explained that they were dancing near the grave of their father, who died in the battles near Izium. According to them, they knew their father’s attitude to the culture of burial, so they did not see anything wrong with their actions, but later reassessed them and apologised.

What is “Desecration of a grave” in the law?

First of all, we need to understand what desecration of a grave means in the Criminal Code of Ukraine, since the girls are charged under Article 297.

Part 2 of this article refers to “desecration or destruction of a mass grave or the grave of the Unknown Soldier, a monument erected in memory of those who fought against Nazism during World War II – Soviet soldiers-liberators, members of the partisan movement, underground fighters, victims of Nazi persecution, internationalist soldiers and peacekeepers, as well as persons who defended the independence sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and took direct part in the anti-terrorist operation, in the implementation of measures to ensure national security and defence, repulsion and deterrence of armed aggression of the Russian Federation or another state recognised by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine as the aggressor, participants of the Revolution of Dignity, fighters for the independence of Ukraine in the 20th century.”

Can girls be held accountable?

In a comment to our publication, Svyatoslav Sviatiuk, attorney-at-law and managing partner of Stellar Partners, explained that despite the lack of a clear definition of “desecration of a grave”, the police have the right to open criminal proceedings if they find circumstances that may indicate a criminal offence has been committed. However, this does not mean that the perpetrators will be found guilty and punished for their actions.

– The mere fact that a pre-trial investigation has been initiated in no way indicates the guilt of the persons against whom the investigation has been initiated or the fact of a criminal offence,” said Sviatoslav.

In his opinion, the situation with the dancing at the cemetery is quite controversial, as the legislation does not clearly define the exhaustive qualifying signs of actions that characterise the objective side of the crime.

Aside from the dancing, the video posted online does not show any actions, calls or expressions that directly relate to the buried servicemen, their graves or the circumstances of their deaths.

Svyatyuk also considers the qualification of the proceedings under Part 2 of Article 297 questionable, as the type of behaviour of the girls is not characterised by signs of desecration of the grave.

– First of all, the object of this crime is an encroachment on the moral component, generally accepted moral principles of society, respect for the dead and their burial places. Therefore, of course, these persons had to be aware of the appropriateness of their behaviour, given the place and time,” the lawyer explained.

According to Sviatoslav, it is possible that in the course of the investigation, a part or even an article under which the girls will be prosecuted will change. For example, investigators may change the article to “Hooliganism” (Article 296 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

Sviatiuk is confident that the police will be seeing more and more cases like this now, as society has been under martial law for a long time, and many people are losing their relatives and friends because of the war.

– So, the state apparatus will try to compensate as much as possible for the justified public demand for justice, respect for the honour of those who paid the highest price,” Sviatiuk said in a comment to our editorial board.

Alexey Bebel, a lawyer and deputy head of the Alibi Law Firm, believes that dancing in a cemetery or near a grave site should be considered in the context of desecration of graves, as it can be seen as a demonstration of contempt for gravesites. However, this is only his subjective opinion, as this concept is not clearly defined in the law.

– “It is another matter to prove it during the pre-trial investigation and, most importantly, in court,” said Oleksiy. “In view of this, we can conclude that in order to bring the girls to criminal responsibility for dancing in the cemetery, investigators will have to prove in court that these actions can indeed be regarded as desecration of the grave. It will be quite difficult to do so under the law due to the lack of clear definitions.

Questions before the detention and publication of the photo

The police detained the girls in Kyiv on the day their dancing video was posted online. They were immediately brought to the police station, after which a post with photos of the defendants was published.

It is worth noting that the photos of the girls were published before the notification of suspicion in this case.

The faces of the “heroines” were blurred and it is not possible to identify them from these pictures, so the law was not violated, even though the girls were not yet officially suspects.

However, Oleksiy Bebel sees a problem in the constant publication of photos of detainees, places of searches and seized property. He believes this is an unreasonable attitude on the part of both the police and other state bodies.

– The publication of such pictures has turned into not just a cheap PR exercise, but has become a real disaster. When a witness is searched, they publish it in the media, shout that they have found money and valuables, as if they have found something illegal, and then, looking down, return it by court order. But they do not publish the photos,” the lawyer said.

According to him, this is due to the loss of professionalism and impunity, as there is no one to ask about the appropriateness of these actions after acquittal in court.

With regard to the situation with the publication of the girls’ photos, the lawyer said that the sisters may try to demand compensation for this. If they are served with a notice of suspicion, they should file a complaint with the prosecutor’s office and the investigating judge, and if they are not served with a notice of suspicion, they should file a complaint with the district court after the proceedings are closed.

However, given the fact that it is difficult to identify them from the photographs, it will be difficult to obtain compensation even if they are found not guilty.

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