MOSCOW (Reuters) - The shaken employees of a Moscow library specializing in Ukrainian literature accused Russian investigators on Friday of planting banned extremist books on their shelves to create a pretext to raid the library and detain their director.
Armed, masked police swooped on Moscow’s Library of Ukrainian Literature on Wednesday, carting off about 200 books before detaining its 58-year-old director, Natalya Sharina, on suspicion of distributing anti-Russian literature.
Investigators confiscated “extremist” writings by Dmytro Korchinskiy, a banned Ukrainian nationalist author, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Kiev, which accuses Moscow of waging war on its territory on behalf of pro-Russian separatists in a conflict that has killed thousands of people, said the raid showed that the Kremlin had effectively outlawed expressing Ukrainian identity.
A Kremlin spokesman declined to comment on the case.
Sharina, the library’s director, is now being investigated to see if she is guilty of inciting ethnic hatred and of “denigrating human dignity”. She faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
But her employees say she and the library are being framed.
Tatyana Muntyan, one employee, said she had personally seen investigators plant banned books in the library on Wednesday.
“They brought books with them which were included on the list of extremist literature,” Muntyan told Reuters.
“I saw it. The books they brought did not have our stamp inside them. They planted these books,” she said, pointing to a book trolley piled with Ukrainian-language books.
The office of Russia’s Investigative Committee did not respond to a written request and follow-up phone calls from Reuters to comment on Muntyan’s allegation.
Vitaly Krikunenko, another library employee, made the same assertion in an interview with Meduza, an online news site.
Both Muntyan and Krikunenko were due to be interviewed by investigators on Friday about the case against their boss.
Valery Semenenko, a prominent Ukrainian activist, said he had also been detained on Wednesday by armed police in connection with the library raid and questioned before being let go.
He said the library was in a difficult position because it relied on money from the Moscow government to operate.
“I don’t know what will happen to it,” Semenenko told Reuters. “But it should stay as it leaves hope that relations can be restored between the Russian and Ukrainian people.”
Additional reporting by Alexander Winning and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt