Luhansk CVU: Donbas territory effectively annexed by Russia
Oleksiy Svyetikov, head of the Luhansk Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] recently took part in a round table on ‘Murders; disappearances; torture: human rights in war time’ and presented, what he calls the Luhansk Regional Branch’s position.
He first of all rejected the assertion by the Moscow branch of Human Rights Watch that an internal conflict is underway in Ukraine. There are numerous facts, he says, indicating that what is happening is not an internal conflict, but Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine.
There are two specific features of this war. One is that “the aggressor is really supported by a significant, if not the greater part of the population of the presently occupied territory of the Luhansk oblast”. The second is that the aggression is taking place not only through military, but also information and economic means.
Another feature in his view warrants attention and is perhaps seen for the first time in history. “Russian is finishing its undeclared war with an undeclared annexation of the seized territory”.
Evidence that this annexation has already taken place:
- the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic is living according to Moscow time;
- schools in ‘LPR’ are according to Russian, not Ukrainian, standards and programmes;
- medical institutions are in the charge of the Russian Health Ministry;
- appointments to LPR ‘authorities’ are agreed with Moscow, not Kyiv;
- law and order on LPR territory is largely maintained by Russian FSB officers.
- In the group on monitoring the ceasefire there are no representatives of LPR, but is a general from Russian military headquarters.
“Luhansk is, de facto, already Russia, not Ukraine”,
Svyetikov says that in this situation Ukraine is unable to fulfil its positive duties on protecting human rights in the part of its territory annexed by Russia. On the other hand, “Ukraine is obviously not carrying out its duty on the territory under its control.
Civilians are killed by military or members of paramilitary formations in both parts of the Luhansk oblast. There is a difference however since in the area under Ukrainian control, such killings are registered and pre-trial investigations launched, albeit ineffectively. In LPR-controlled territory the killing of civilians is most often not documented at all.
The only means Ukrainian human rights activists have is to make the use of lethal force against civilians public. Svyetikov mentions their information about 7 cases of killings of civilians while Severodonetsk was occupied.
He notes that Ukraine’s Interior Ministry does not officially record information about killings on LPR-controlled territory.
Svyetikov says that they have only seen the pro-Russian militants carry out shelling of civilian targets where there are clearly no military from the opposing side. He believes that such shelling is carried as a weapon in the information war, to push the narrative that Kyiv is carrying out ‘genocide’ in Donbas.
He notes that they first recorded such incidents on July 1 and 10 with shelling of residential areas in Severodonetsk. The last such case was the mortar shelling of a maternity home in Pervomaisk. Kyiv’s fault lies only in its failure to carry out a proper investigation into such cases.
A larger scale problem is the indiscriminate use of force on both sides, with civilian buildings destroyed as a result, and civilians killed. Svyetikov expresses regret that the government is not recording and investigating the incidents, including those where Ukrainian military were responsible.
However the deployment of artillery positions in residential areas is a feature of the pro-Russian militants, Svyetikov asserts. He says that they have frequently posted videos showing how artillery fire has been moved to residential homes in Frunze, Kirovsk and Donetsk, being taken away immediately after the shelling. Neither the Ukrainian government, nor international monitoring bodies are documenting such cases.
Abductions by military or paramilitary formations have been carried out by both sides, though to a much larger extent in the area ‘annexed by Russia’.
As far as the Ukrainian side is concerned, the situation has been gradually improving. 8 fighters from the Aidar volunteer battalion have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in such activities. Abductions in LPR are most often not because of a person’s political views, but simply to extract a ransom. One such case was the abduction of the Mayor of Antratsyt Viacheslav Salita, who had been a great supporter of the Party of the Regions, not Maidan. He had already resigned but was abducted and a ransom of half a million dollars demanded. The militants shot him in the leg to convince his relatives to pay the ransom. He was freed after 200 thousand dollars was paid. He later died in a Kharkiv hospital of his injuries.
Svyetikov adds that most stories about abductions remain unknown because relatives prefer to not broadcast the situation and pay the abductors money.
Both sides, he says, often use torture against abducted people.
There are wide-scale violations of property rights on the territory of the so-called LPR with these often initiated by the militants acting as the authorities there. In Luhansk in September there were inspections of homes with subsequent appropriation by the militants of homes whose owners had gone to other parts of Ukraine for use by others. Svyetikov says that they are aware of several such cases.
There is wide-scale appropriation of people’s vehicles, especially at LPR checkpoints, with such vehicles then sold in Russian or in Ukraine. Robbery of civilians at LPR checkpoints is also common. Virtually none of this is documented, though occasionally people succeed in getting property back by approaching the local field commander.
On LPR territory the situation is close to a humanitarian catastrophe with elderly people known to have died of starvation. The reason, Svyetikov says, is that Ukraine has suspended social aid. He adds that human rights activists are divided as to whether this is Ukraine’s fault and what it should do.
Before the war around 15 billion UAH was paid out in pensions, etc., while around 10 billion were collected. Now no money is being collected, though the need for pensions has not diminished. Ukraine is also providing LPR and DPR [Donetsk people’s republic] with gas which it buys in Russia, and electricity. Nobody is paying for these services, and Ukraine is in a pre-default state. With the militants having destroyed the system for gathering money, Ukraine is simply not in a position to fulfil its obligations.
It is noteworthy, Svyetikov writes, that it is the Kremlin that is particularly insisting that Ukraine fulfils these duties and making statements about recognizing Donbas as a part of Ukraine. He says that this is despite Russia’s effective annexation of Donbas. “Donbas pensioners are effectively a weapon in Russia’s economic aggression against Ukraine and means to bankrupt Ukraine, bring its financial system to collapse and thus achieve victory in the hybrid war.
Ukraine is also unable to pay those most in need as the banking system and system of pension management have been destroyed
“With respect to the humanitarian catastrophe, Ukraine’s government cannot at present directly influence it – there are no Ukrainian officials there, and Ukrainian laws are not working. The suggestion that we continue to pay out pensions to 50-year old LPR pensioners is not a means of overcoming the humanitarian disaster.