In an important first, UN spells out that Russia is holding 24 Ukrainian Prisoners of War
In its first quarterly report since Russia’s attack on three Ukrainian naval ships near Crimea, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has clearly stated that Russia is in breach of international humanitarian law and that the 24 Ukrainians seized on 25 November 2018 are prisoners of war. This is the first time that such an international body has spelled this out, demolishing Russia’s attempts to deny that the 24 men are POWs, and highlighting Russia’s continuing violations in trying to foist criminal charges upon the men.
Unlike the documents for all previous periods, the OHCHR Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine 16 November 2018 to 15 February 2019 begins with a section entitled International Humanitarian Law violations.
The authors explain that “on 25 November 2018, Ukrainian authorities reported an assault of the Russian Federation naval forces on three Ukrainian naval vessels near the Kerch Strait. which is the only passage between the Black Sea and the Azov Sea and lies between the Russian Federation and Russian Federation-occupied Crimea. <> The Russian Federation naval forces opened fire on the Ukrainian vessels, seized them, and captured 24 crew members (22 naval officers and two SBU officers).”
The report then notes that “by virtue of the continued occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, an international armed conflict continues to exist between the two States in Crimea and international humanitarian law continues to apply there. As such, a single hostile encounter between the armed forces or assimilated armed units of two sovereign states, as the 25 November 2018 incident, suffices to trigger the application of international humanitarian law, irrespective of the pre-existence of an armed conflict.”
While Russia is denying that the men are POWs and is seeking to prosecute them on criminal charges (for supposedly illegally crossing ‘Russian borders’), OHCHR is not having this. It “notes that based on the provisions of international humanitarian law, the 24 detained crew members could be considered as prisoners of war and protected by the Third Geneva Convention. In any case, they shall enjoy the status of a prisoner of war until a competent tribunal determines otherwise.”
This is not strictly the first such occasion. In its Resolution on “The escalation of tensions around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and threats to European security” passed on 24 January 2019, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed called on Russia to release the 24 Ukrainians and insisted that their treatment must be in accordance with the Geneva Convention which includes the Third Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.
If OHCHR was cautious in its language and left the ultimate decision about status to a “competent tribunal”, PACE was downright timid, with the reference to the Geneva Conventions almost a code message to those well-versed in international law.
For the moment, Russia is continuing to flagrantly breach international law with respect to the 22 POWs and maintaining its pretence of ‘investigating criminal charges’ against them. All 24, including the three men injured after the Russian forces opened fire, remain imprisoned, with concern about the level of medical care that the men, and in particular the three men injured, are receiving.
It was reported on 12 March that 11 of the men are to be placed in a psychiatric institution for supposed ‘mental health assessments’. There can be occasions where such psychiatric assessments are warranted, however Russia’s use of them against Ukrainian political prisoners and, now, against 24 prisoners of war are yet another shocking infringement of the men’s rights.
The 24 POWs have now been in captivity for over 100 days, and the FSB is continuing to use illegal methods to try to force the men to ‘confess’ to non-existent crimes and / or give testimony against the others.
All have remained unwavering, which does them credit, as well as their team of lawyers coordinated by Nikolai Polozov. Moscow’s efforts to present its aggression on 25 November as Ukrainian ‘provocation’, and the FSB’s standard stunt in using illegal methods to force three of the men into ‘confessing’ on camera, made the need for a serious legal term working in close coordination clear. The lawyers are closely coordinating their joint position, and are instructing the men on what to expect and how to react.
It is not guaranteed that all needed any instructions. 32-year-old Roman Mokryak, Commander of the ‘Berdyansk’, the naval vessel which came under direct fire, refused to speak with the ‘investigators’ from the outset until they released his men who had simply been carrying out his orders. Back in early December 2018, he demanded that the ‘investigators’ treat him and his men as prisoners of war.
PLEASE WRITE TO THE MEN!
Getting any letter is an important message to them – and to Moscow – that they are not forgotten.
Letters need to be in Russian, unfortunately, and will be passed by the censor, so please avoid any mention of their cases, politics, etc.
If writing in Russian is problematical, there is an example letter below which you could send, together with a picture, or similar.
The list of all the prisoners
(the names are in Russified form, which has more chance of getting past the censor)
Artemenko, Andrei Anatolyevych, 1994
Bezyazychny, Yuri Yuryevych, b. 1990
Bezpalchenko, Viktor Anatolyevych, b. 1987
Budzylo, Yuri Aleksandrovych, b. 1973
Chuliba, Sergei Romanovych, b. 1992
Drach, Andrei Leonidovych, b. 1994
Eider, Andrei Dmitrievych, b. 1999
Holovash, Bohdan Olegovych, b. 1996
Hrytsenko, Denis Vladimirovych, b. 1984
Kostishin, Vladislav Anatolyevych, b. 1994
Lisovy, Vladimir Vladimirovych, 1984
Melnychuk, Oleg Mikhailovych, 1995
Mokryak, Roman Nikolayevych, 1986
Nebylytsa. Bohdan Pavlovych, b. 1994
Oprysko, Andrei Andreyevych, b. 1971
Popov, Sergei Nikolayevych, b. 1991
Semidotsky, Yevgeny Vitalyevych, b. 1998
Shevchenko, Andrei Anatolyevych, b. 1991
Soroka, Vasily Viktorovych, b. 1991
Tereshchenko, Vladimir Anatolyevych, b. 1994
Tsybizov, Sergei Andreyevych, b. 1997
Varimez, Vladimir Konstantinovych, b. 1992
Vlasyuk, Mikhail Borisovych, b. 1984
Zinchenko, Viacheslav Anatolyevych, b. 1998
Russia, 111020 Moscow, Lefortovsky Val, No. 5. PO Box 201, SIZO-2
Then each name, as above, with their year of birth
Желаю Вам здоровья, мужества и терпения, надеюсь на скорое освобождение.
Мы о Вас помним.
[Hello, I wish you good health, courage and patience and hope that you will soon be released. You are not forgotten.