war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Violations of human rights in the army

Ukraine, as most of post-Soviet countries, has the army, whose structure, principles of forming and service conditions are inherited from the Soviet army, with all its drawbacks and genetic deficiencies. The Ukrainian army, according to the official doctrine, must defend the state from the external aggression. From 1997 to 2000 it was reduced from 370 to 310 thousand, and by and by it prepares to pass to the contract system. The reform must be completed till 2015.

Yet, even in the reduced form, the army suffers from the same hardships and economic difficulties, as the entire society. It is impossible to understand the roots of violence in the army without analyzing all stages when the rights of mobilized youths are abused.

The violence in the army, that is criminal or administrative offences the rights of an individual, is caused by a number of abuses of human rights during the recruiting campaign and the life in the barracks. That is why we must analyze these abuses one after another.


At this stage some rights are abused which, according to our experience, later become very important. We think that the violations are due to the following reasons.

1. Economic.

Parents of the future recruits have not money to examine and treat their children in time. Medical establishments, especially in rural areas, are not duly equipped and staffed. The number of adolescent doctors is diminishing.

2. Corruption during the recruiting campaign.

We come across vice of the system not very often, since, as a rule, those who turn to us are poor. But the newspapers ‘Fakty’, ‘Vechirniy Kharkiv’ and others even gave the exact sums to be paid to free a healthy recruit from army service. And then the place of the healthy is taken by the sick.

3. Ignorance of the population of their rights.

Citizens of Ukraine are ignorant not only of the laws in this sphere, but also of their own health (especially in the rural areas).

All this causes that the sick youth are often enlisted to the army. Especially dangerous id the penetration of people with psychic deviations to the arms. They are the first, who become victims of violence or they commit violent actions themselves.

So, during 1998-2000 we dealt with 18 deserters, 9 of which were later dismissed due to psychic diseases (Kharkov Union of soldiers’ mothers insisted on the additional examination). Not-able-bodied soldiers suffer from their inability t adequately fulfil their duties, because they cannot bear the loads of a modern army. The recruiting of sick youths that contradicts Article 18 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On the total military duty and military service’ is not only a crime against the youths and the army, but also a social danger.

Drawbacks in the Law, as well as a low level of control in medical establishments, cause the growth of the irresponsibility.

As a rule, the ‘responsibility’ comes only after getting a bribe by a medic or an officer of a recruiting commission (which is difficult to prove, so it is uncovered very seldom).

We apply at this stage the method of studying the quantity of recruits by monitoring in army units. Having analyzed the results, we turn to the authorities, recruiting commissions and specialized medical establishments. We also use the method of preventive visits to recruiting commissions, talks with parents and teachers. We pass the complaints of the parents to recruiting commissions and analyze together the causes of the complaints and possible consequences.


1. Such a notorious phenomenon as dedovshchina, when old soldiers responsible for functioning and training of younger soldiers, was inherited from the Soviet army. In such units the old soldiers usurp the duties of officers. This phenomenon is born by passivity of underpaid officers and their irresponsibility for what happens in the unit.

It is in such units where the cruelest conditions are formed, where the dignity of a soldier, his personal inviolability and even his life are endangered.

2. The Law ‘On the total military duty and military service’ and other legal acts do not stipulate criminal responsibility of officers for the disorder in the unit. Even if the dedovshchina in the unit has serious consequences (a soldier committed suicide, or murder, or deserted), the responsibility is put on the direct participants of the events.

It should be noted that the Ministry of Defense always reacts to such incidents, considering the situation as a disciplinary one and dismissing the guilty officers. Yet, in most foreign countries, where the mass army still exists, the responsibility of the officers is criminal.

3. A real mechanism for protection the rights of servicemen does not exist. According to the Articles of War, a soldier has the right to turn with a complaint only to his direct commander. But if the commander himself entrusted old soldiers to keep the discipline in such a way, than the complaint will be senseless. Soldiers’ complaints to the garrison prosecutor’s office also are fruitless, since the prosecutor’s office defends the officers of their garrison and not the rights of servicemen. This results in the system, when cases of suicide are considered by civil prosecutor’s offices, which are biased; the witnesses among soldiers are either not interrogated or intimidated. The prosecutors do all they can in order to shield officers. As a rule, a suicide is not ended in opening the case according to Article 99 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (‘driving to suicide’), although all the materials of the case confirm that. Sometimes the conclusions of regional prosecutors are amazing. We have come across to the case, when a young man with two bullet wounds in the forehead was considered to have committed a suicide. Another astonishing case happened with to privates, who agreed to have met with the third one in some place; when the third one came, he found his friends hanged. The prosecutor concluded that the two soldiers committed suicide.

The results of forensic expertise are rather variable and usually they change for closing the case in the most innocent way.

Kharkov Union of soldiers’ mothers knows a lot of cases when nobody did nothing in order to establish the truth.

The situation with deserting is not less obscure. Recently the Main military prosecutor’s office of Ukraine, having confessed that some servicemen deserted their units because of ‘unbearable conditions’ (dedovshchina, diseases, etc.) appealed to the deserters to give themselves up and come to prosecutor’s offices. If the causes of their escape are considered mitigating, they will be pardoned.

Not all regional prosecutor’s offices executed the order of the Main prosecutor’s office. We have come across cases when regional prosecutors demanded bribes (Lviv) or did not close the cases (Kharkov, the Crimea). All this was done although it was obvious that the soldiers escaped from their units either because of dedovshchina or because of the diseases that were not treated or because they were unwilling to be dragged to some criminal activities by officers or older servicemen.

All these cases illustrate well that a serviceman does not know real mechanisms of protecting his rights, if any exist. Not a single amendment to the Law ‘On the total military duty and military service’ promotes the creation of such mechanisms.

It should be noted that servicemen are often used at works not connected with their service. This phenomenon is so common that it does seem strange either to officers or soldiers. The public is also very cool about this. There are many few complaints about coercive work, as a rule they are mentioned in connection with other complaints, by we learn that such works are quite usual from soldiers in hospitals or from demobilized soldiers.


Usually that is a defected law that causes violations of personal rights. The Ukrainian Law ‘On the alternative service’ may be an example. First of all, this law does not mention pacifists, those, who refuse to take arms not because of religious, but of political motives. Article 65 of the Constitution is vague and requires additional interpretation. Besides, the Law includes the opportunity of the direct violation over believers, since Article 8 of this law envisages that a person, who executes the alternative service inadequately, may be sent to the army upon the decision of the recruiting committee.

We have developed methodical materials for the servicemen and their parents about how to behave in the above-listed cases. As to the question of suicides, we have never manages to start a criminal case about ‘driving to a suicide’, which testifies that the article is impractical.

Recently Kharkov Union of soldiers’ mothers compiled instructions for servicemen containing concrete advice about the protection of their rights. We questioned parents of demobilized servicemen and the servicemen, who turned to our organization for help. We are sure that, even having such incomplete laws, a soldier can protect himself, of he knows his rights, if his parents and public organizations help him. On the contrary a youth, who does not know his rights, who does not have assistance from his parents and who does not know where to turn outside his military unit, will have great difficulties in protecting himself.

We suggested amending the laws in such a way that an independent juridical consultations were created at oblast executive committees – hotlines, which could be used free of charged by any serviceman. Unfortunately, these amendments were not introduced.

To sum up, violence in the army is mainly due to the following factors:

Defects of the operating laws on the army.

Insufficient public control over the human rights protection in the army (although it should be noted that the Ukrainian army is perhaps the only enforcing structure that willingly cooperates with public organizations).

Absence of the mechanism of protecting servicemen’s rights, since the existing system of regional military prosecutor’s office and martial courts do not guarantee the protection; absence of professional legal counselors in military units.

Recruiting to the army of badly examined by medics or not examined at all youths, who later appear to be psychically of physically sick.

Low level of the common and legal education among recruits.

Low level of interest in the results of their work among underpaid officers.

Absence of administrative or criminal responsibility of medical and recruiting commissions and officers for results of their work.

Kharkov Union of soldiers’ mothers
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