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.

Politics and human rights

Report on the human rights mission to the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group [KHPG], together with the German NGO ‘European Exchange’ and representatives of NGOs from the Russian Federation and Germany with the support of the German Foreign Ministry, carried out an international mission to monitor human rights in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts on territory which is back under Ukrainian control.


The mission involved three visits to the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts: on October 16; from Nov 16 to 18 (map - 16.11 ; 17.11 ; 18.11 ; 19.11 ) and from Dec 2 to 5 (map - 2.12 ; 3.12 ; 4.12 ; 5.12 ). The international group of observers visited the following Donetsk oblast cities: Krasny Lyman; Sviatohirsk; Sloviansk; Kramatorsk; Druzhkivka; Artemivsk; Kostiantynivka and Debaltseve; and the Luhansk oblast cities: Svatovo; Starobelsk; Popasna and Shchastya.



Vladimir Hlushchenko, KHPG, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Yury Hukov, KHPG, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Lyudmila Klochko, KHPG, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Oleg Orlov, Memorial Human Rights Centre, Moscow, RF

Yuri Petrov, Moscow, RF

Mikhail Sergeev, Moscow, RF

Wolfgang Templin, journalist, Berlin, Germany

Kristina Schubert, journalist, Berlin, Germany


The monitoring group express their gratitude to all staff of bodies of local self-government; journalists; members of NGOs and political parties; fighters and the command of battalions of the territorial defence and armed forces of Ukraine; residents of the above-mentioned cities who agreed to share their observations, impressions and information with us.

We are also grateful to the ATO [anti-terrorist operation] headquarters for their support and accompaniment for our visits.


In April 2014 protests by pro-Russian citizens in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts turned into open confrontation between the so-called ‘insurgents’ and the Ukrainian authorities. In several cities of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv oblasts administrative buildings were seized.


On April 7 acting President Oleksandr Turchynov announced the creation of an anti-crisis headquarters. On April 12 a group of armed militants headed by a Russian national Igor Strelkov [real name: Girkin] seized power in Sloviansk, a city in the Donetsk oblast. On April 15 Turchynov announced the beginning of a force phase of the anti-terrorist operation as the Ukrainian authorities’ response to the seizure by armed men of administrative buildings in the east of the country.


The basis for the imposition of an anti-terrorist operation regime was the Law on Fighting Terrorism.  ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ [the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics] have been declared terrorist organizations in Ukraine.


The aim of the visits was to investigate the situation as regards observance of personal, political and social rights on territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts which is back under the control of the Ukrainian authorities. We took a number of interviews of representatives of local self-government; journalists; military servicemen and local residents. We also examined and assessed the destruction caused by military action and were in military units.  The report also includes information received as a result of appeals from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group for consultative hope from internally displaced persons (IDP), military servicemen and residents of liberated territory over the period from April through November 2014.  There is also information received from talking with IDP in the Kharkiv oblast during that same period.

The monitoring group documented cases of rights infringements in the social sphere, with respect to unlawful detention; unlawful deprivation of liberty; unlawful seizure of people’s property and disappearances.

We consider that the Ukrainian government has not made proper effort to avoid unwarranted destruction in the course of the anti-terrorist operation, has not provided timely protection of the rights and liberties of temporarily displaced people; and has not sufficiently ensured that people are informed about threats to their rights.  The government has consistently been late in taking urgent decisions which has led to additional suffering, both physical and psychological.  Many people on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts have felt abandoned by the Ukrainian authorities and lost hope of re-establishing their customary lives.

We believe that the international community failed to adequately assess the threat to human rights at the early stages of the conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Help from international organizations came extremely late. Information about the situation in the ATO zone was often distorted.

The areas of the ATO has seen a significant level of destruction. Restoration of the infrastructure and public buildings has in the main been taken on by the state, financing this work from the budgets at all levels and non-budget (enlisted) funds. The owners of private homes damaged or totally destroyed in the course of the ATO have been left to deal with their problems and are restoring their housing alone. Small business owners and those running small family businesses are in the same situation – they are themselves restoring their devastated kiosks, shops and other structures used in running their business. 

The situation for IDP requires particular attention, and administrative provisions to ensure their rights; material assistance, as well as help in finding jobs and accommodation.






The conflict in Donbas has resulted in serious damage to housing; public buildings;  various businesses, both state-owned and private.  Infrastructure has suffered, with bridges blown up and road surfaces damaged. The level of destruction is different in various inhabited areas.  For example, among cities liberated by the Ukrainian armed forces at the beginning of July, it is Sloviansk and Artemivsk teacher training college; Debaltseve, the largest railway junction in the Donetsk oblast, on Dec 4.  The night before, at around 3 a.m. the city was subjected to a mass shelling from Grad and Smerch missiles.  Shells damaged buildings in the micro-district of Cheremushki.  Residential homes were damaged, some seriously, as were garages and the heating main. The communal services have been ascertaining the damage caused, and residents have, where they could, tried to cover the blown out windows and balcony doors with plastic protective film. There were casualties from the shelling, with at least one death – of an elderly person living in the building at 120 Kirov St reported., Valentyn Lykholit, bad treatment of prisoners was not allowed as they ‘need to be exchanged in good condition”.  He explains that prisoners are held for a long time in the battalion because Aidar is itself holding talks on exchange of prisoners with the opposing side.  Mr Lykholit does not deny that some members of the Aidar Battalion have engaged in absolutely unsavoury activities: racketeering; unlawful appropriation of other’s property; abductions.  He insists, however, that these are an absolute minority – no more than 50 people, and that the former commander of Aidar had provided protection for such activities. At the present time the leadership of the battalion is different and the majority are fighting excellently.

We were able to meet with a former Aidar fighter who spoke of one case where a captured separatist not given medical aid after being beaten by members of Aidar had died.

The deputy commander of the Luhansk -1 battalion, Valentyn Tkalych is adamant that people are not held by the Luhansk-1 battalion for more than 72 hours, but are sent to a police station as soon as possible. The battalion’s functions include ‘purging’ the area of liberation of inhabited areas and subsequent security. Detentions are usually carried where there is operational data  During the ‘purge’, they pay attention to characteristic signs that a person has recently used a weapon, or operational information. They cooperate with the SBU and police.  If the detained person is wounded or ill, he is taken to hospital.


The position of the Roma


Since the beginning of military action, the Roma have found themselves in the most difficult situation due to their absolute defencelessness and the huge number of prejudices prevalent in Ukrainian society.  In areas not controlled by the Ukrainian military, they have been and continue to be subjected to open aggression from militants of the so-called DPR and LPR. In cities like Sloviansk [Donetsk oblast], the militants have carried out real ethnic cleansing against the Roma  Under the guise of an anti-drugs operation, the insurgents have gone into Roma homes; beaten up the inhabitants, including women and children and taken away anything valuable belonging to the Roma.  During these purges, several Roma were gravely injured and killed. Furthermore, according to Roma questioned by members of the mission, all Roma were prohibited from leaving territory controlled by the militants. Roma who have tried to flee to safe regions have run up against an unfriendly attitude to them or direct violence at checkpoints, both from one and the other side.  Those who have been able to leave the military zone have encountered difficulties in receiving humanitarian aid and being settled in such cities as Kharkiv, Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv and others.  This in the first instance is due to a dismissive attitude to them from volunteers and staff of social institutions, as well as the fact that many Roma do not have documents identifying them. Many of the families of Roma who have fled are for that reason left to go hungry, to live in parks, on the street or at railway stations because they have been refused assistance.

Members of the mission particularly noted that the main help to displaced persons, including Roma, was provided in the first instance by NGOs  and members of volunteer movements in those areas, whereas state assistance was either lacking, or provided at a minimum level. This was the main reason why displaced Roma lacked basic necessities.  In most cases they could only receive them once.


Ukrainian military


The local population on territory not under the control of the Ukrainian authorities had awaited the arrival of the Ukrainian armed forces with great trepidation. The separatists had done everything to scare the population about the arrival of the ‘punitive forces’.  The residents of Krasny Lyman, the city liberated first on June 4 recounted how they had awaited with terror ‘purges’; arrests; repression from the Ukrainian armed forces. However the ‘purge’ was confined to a simple viewing of flats, without even checking documents, and the first day of Sloviansk’s liberation began with free sausages being handed out.  There were no reports later either of repression against the local population in liberated cities.

In inhabited areas freed by the Ukrainian armed forces, public order is ensured by the police and units of the National Guard – Interior Ministry units which were previously called internal forces. Some of the local population who had previously been pro-Ukrainian were openly pleased that it was not only the local police, but also units directly subordinate to Kyiv that were patrolling the streets. However a fairly significant part of the population were not happy at the presence in the city or settlement of people armed with machine guns. There are no reports of any significant conflicts, however the local press did report various misunderstandings. Nonetheless, local residents are frightened of armed people.  Several local residents are convinced that the military drink a lot of alcohol. At least they asserted that they had seen them buying a lot of vodka.

In cities that are very close to the zone of military action there are units of the Ukrainian army.  There are a fair number of people in military uniform on the streets and military technology being moved about. In Debaltseve we observed the movement of armoured carriers without insignia and number plates. Most of the local population are well-disposed to the military, but wary and they report having seen military servicemen buying large amounts of alcohol. The Debaltseve city authorities have agreed with the command of the Ukrainian units on a ban on selling military alcoholic drinks in shops.

Representatives of the local authorities told us about help that Ukrainian soldiers had provided to the inhabited areas. For example, Volodymyr Tyurin, deputy Mayor of Shchastya recounted how the Aidar Battalion had helped the city.  They shared their food, diesel fuel and assisted in organizing supplies to the city by convoying food and humanitarian aid by a road subject to shelling.

In all the cities where we were able to meet with representatives of the local self-government, we were told that mutual understanding had been established with the military and that there was mutually beneficial cooperation.

The head of the Aidar Battalion headquarters, Valentyn Lykhopit informed that the local population of the village next to where the battalion’s camp is based had initially been highly suspicious of the Aidar fighters. They assumed that their village could suffer through having such neighbours.  They were also suspicious of the fighters themselves. However later the villagers changed their opinion and have asked the battalion not to leave – “it’s more peaceful with you”.

It should be noted that Ukrainian military “protected buildings” are located outside residential areas (with one exception) in order to prevent the latter coming under shelling from the other side. This is the complete opposite of the actions of the militants who, according to residents of Sloviansk, have carried out shelling using heavy artillery directly from residential areas.


The humanitarian situation


In all inhabited areas liberated by the Ukrainian army during the period from June to July, the shops are working and there is food and essential products. Electricity, water and gas supplies, as well as sewage, are working. The area is being cleared of explosive items.  City transport, hospitals and chemists are all working.  The work of the ambulance service is provided for, and schools and kindergartens are open.

Pensions and other social payments are being allocated and salaries paid to public sector workers.

In areas within the zone of military action (Popasna; Shchastya in the Luhansk oblast and Debaltseve in the Donetsk oblast) there is disruption to electricity, water and gas supplies, as well as with ensuring heat since the communications are suffering from artillery shelling.  The local authorities are trying to restore supplies of water and heat as quickly as possible. There is a much more limited range of goods in shops and some of them are shut. Medical care is provided at the minimal level needed. Some of the schools in the Luhansk oblast have gone over to distance learning. There are disruptions also with social payments and pensions.  In Shchastya, for example, pensions and social benefits have not been paid for around 4 months. This situation arouse due to the city’s administrative subordination to the Zhovtnevy district of the Luhansk oblast which is occupied by the separatists.  Four long months were needed to transfer Shchastya to the Novoaidarsky district of the Luhansk oblast.  This indicates serious problems with taking operational decisions at the level of the oblast and the Cabinet of Ministers.

Particular attention should be given to people temporarily displaced from territory which is not controlled or only partially controlled by the Ukrainian authorities [IDP].

According to the Emergencies Service, as of Oct 18 there were 420 thousand IDP. The UN estimates that around 1 million people had been forced to leave their homes, and that this number was constantly increasing.  After the Minsk agreement, i.e. after Sept. 5 many IDP began returning to their homes as they were hoping for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.   However there was no real ceasefire, and the situation has worsened. In connection with the adoption by the Cabinet of Ministers of Resolution No. 595 on Nov 7 which stops government funding paying social benefits on territory not controlled by Ukraine, the funding of pensions and other social benefits has been stopped.  This has resulted in pensioners being unable to survive on occupation territory.  The situation is especially bad in some areas of the Luhansk oblast, and in Pyervomaisk [Luhansk oblast, the situation is close to a humanitarian catastrophe.

In October – November this year the flow of IDP increased.

The first IDP from the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts appeared in the middle of April 2014. On April 12 power in Sloviansk effectively passed to Strelkov’s [Girkin’s] armed group.  Already by April 16 the first displaced person had turned to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group with problems related to getting established. Displaced people from the Crimea and Sevastopol began leaving in the middle of March, before the official annexation of the Crimea.  However, unfortunately, Ukraine’s central authorities did not managed to swiftly take decisions regarding the status of internally displaced people. On June 19 the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on displaced people which was vetoed by the President.  The law was indeed clearly imperfect and did not defend the rights of IDP.  All issues regarding registration according to place of temporary residence; employment; accommodation; medical care and humanitarian aid were left to bodies of local self-government. These issues were dealt with in each district, city and oblast  without coordination with the central authorities. Evacuation of people from the zone of conflict, including penitentiary institutions; children’s homes and social care facilities was not organized  Issues regarding evacuation of people from the ATO zone and humanitarian aid have been dealt with by volunteers and in some places by the local self-government, sometimes with the help of volunteer battalions.

It was only on Oct 20 that parliament adopted the Law on ensuring the rights and freedoms of internally displaced persons, with this coming into force on Nov. 22. On Oct 1, 2014 the government adopted two very important resolutions defining the rules of procedure for registration of IDP (Resolution No. 509) and, finally, determining the amount of financial help for IDP (Resolution No. 505).  These resolutions oblige social services departments in districts and cities of regional subordination to register IDP and to appoint payments.  Those departments were unable to cope with the huge flow of people and in many districts and cities there were large queues of people wanting to register. The above-mentioned Resolution No. 595 forced pensioners previously living in areas not under Ukrainian control and not planning to leave their homes to go to territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities. The entry into force on Nov 22 of the Law on IDP made the work of social services departments even more difficult since they were given the function of checking whether IDP really live at the address indicated in the documents. For the IDP themselves, the law’s entry into force made it even harder to get the status they wanted since the requirement was added that they register with State Migration Service bodies.

If the law had been passed in May, and the Cabinet of Ministers’ resolutions in, say, June, then it might have been realistic to ensure timely registration and timely receipt of benefits.  This would have reduced and simplified the work of bodies of local self-government and would not have aroused complaints from IDP.

The shortage of cash in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts also needs to be mentioned. Due to difficulties with delivering cash, with attacks on postmen and money collectors and with bankomats being robbed, in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts the large majority of social payments are made using bank cards. At the same time a limit is imposed with people only able to withdraw 500 UAH [around 26 EUR) cash from their cards. Only large shops have terminals for paying for goods on a non-cash basis from bank cards. All of this leads to queues at bankomats. At the time of our visit to Debaltseve, only one bankomat was working.  This situation leads to the population being disgruntled and additionally complicates the already difficult social situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.


Who then is helping people in the ATO zone?


When asked which international organizations are providing them with assistance, all representatives of local self-government very quickly recall the Czech fund ‘People in need’  – the help with construction material is absolutely invaluable for constantly shelled cities. They are also grateful to the International Red Cross. Help for bodies of local self-government and local administrations in providing for the needs of cities and of IDEP has been given by large Ukrainian charitable funds: the Rinat Akhmetov Fund; the Serhiy Vylkul Fund. Help for the Ukrainian military was especially invaluable during the first days after liberation. Local volunteers and volunteers from other oblasts are working, as well as religious and civic organizations.




Due to the fact that the Ukrainian government did not turn to the convention bodies of the UN and Council of Europe with a warning of restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms in particular areas of the ATO zone, one can expect a large number of complaints to the European Court of Human Rights and the UN convention bodies. The government should therefore resolve the problems regarding such statements.

The Ukrainian government must take urgent measures to regulate the humanitarian situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in providing for the socially vulnerable groups in society through timely payment of pensions and benefits. 
For this an increase is needed in the social services’ possibilities for speedier registration of IDP at the place of their temporary residence.  The question of compensation for damage caused to people’s property, including their homes, needs to be resolved in the near future. Particularly since the Law on fighting terrorism envisages that: “Compensation of damages caused to members of the public by a terrorist act shall be provided from the State Budget of Ukraine in accordance with the law and with subsequent retrieval of the cost of compensation from the individuals who caused the damage according to legally established procedure.”
All necessary measures need to be taken to prevent violations by the Ukrainian enforcement bodies. All heads of enforcement structures should be made aware of the provisions of humanitarian law and responsibility for violations of Ukraine’s international obligations.  The leadership of these enforcement structures must be obliged to strictly follow implementation of Ukraine’s laws and international obligations. Proper behaviour by military formations and the police on liberated territory must be ensured. The public should not fear for their life and health, and that of their close ones. There should be effective investigation into crimes committed from April to the present time in the ATO zone. To prevent infringements of discipline, military formations need to carry out rotation of military servicemen and police officers in the ATO zone. 
The international community must ensure proper monitoring of Ukraine’s implementation of its international obligations. We look forward to active help from international organizations both in restoring things destroyed, and in reinstating good relations between people from various regions of Ukraine. 
The Russian state should stop military supplies to the territory controlled by the self-declared DPR and LPR. It should remove all Russian soldiers after which the state border between Russia and Ukraine should be re-established. Both Ukraine and Russia should immediately release all prisoners, military and civilians. 


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.

Key features

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.


The right to liberty and security

Kharkiv journalist among released hostages; hundreds remain in captivity

Immense relief for the 150 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians released by the Kremlin-backed militants is marred by ongoing concern for the minimum 534 people still in captivity, many ‘arrested’ on the basis of ‘denunciations’ like those in the worst Soviet times.

Roman Cheremsky, a Kharkiv journalist and civic activist, is reported to be among the 150 prisoners held by militants from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ on Dec 26-27.  His name is not on the official list, however Radio Svoboda was informed by his brother that Roman has been released.  While there is immense relief that he and the other members of the National Guard or volunteer divisions and civilians held prisoner are now at liberty, there are at least another 534 people still in captivity.  EuroMaidan SOS stresses that this is only the official figure and the real number of hostages from among the civilian population could be much higher.

Roman Cheremsky had been held hostage since August 15 when he was seized together with Cherkasy human rights activist Valery Makeyev and a ‘112 Ukraina’ film crew by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ militants. The members of the film crew were released on Sept 3, and Valery Makeyev on Nov 23.

There is no news as yet of Luhansk journalist and chief editor of the Internet public Polityka 2.0, Serhiy Sakadynsky, who was seized, together with his wife, Mariya Havak, on Aug 2 near Hostra Mohyla in the Luhansk oblast.  Havak was released on Oct. 1.  Their capture was linked with the militant’s seizure of their car during which the latter discovered what they considered ‘incriminating evidence’ against them.  These included a Ukrainian flag and supposedly some kind of documents proving that Sakadynsky was an ‘honorary activist of the Luhansk EuroMaidan’.  Sakadynsky was able to tell his wife that the militants had even established that their accusations were not justified, and yet the journalist was not released.

Nor have many others, meaning that the formula agreed in Minsk on Dec 24 – ‘all for all’ has not been followed.  EuroMaidan SOS points out that, in fact, it has turned into 220 (militants) for 150 Ukrainian soldiers, volunteers and other civilians.  The latter figure is reported to include 35 women.

According to official figures from the interdepartmental centre for the exchange of hostages under the SBU, there are 684 people in captivity, and almost 1600 are missing, their whereabouts unknown. This list was handed to ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ militants, yet only 152 people from the list have so far been confirmed. 

It was reported back in August that the militants were engaging in wholesale hostage taking from among the civilian population.  While many of those taken hostage back then have been released, by no means all, and the cases of disappearances, dubious ‘arrests’, often on the basis of equally questionable ‘denunciations’ have continued.

Earlier in December civic groups addressed an appeal to former hostages to contact them and, on a totally confidential basis, help them with information that could establish the whereabouts of other hostages. 

Relief for those finally released is thus tinged with real concern for the many whom the militants are still, in breach of their agreement, holding.

Halya Coynash   

The right to a fair trial

Ukraine’s ‘Spying Trial’: the Good, the Bad and the Totally Surreal

The good news is excellent, the bad – simply surreal. While the two engineers in detention for over two years on bizarre spying charges have finally been released, the professor whose book sparked off the whole ‘case’ is still charged with spying. He is accused of disclosing ’state secrets’ in a textbook where all the relevant information was taken from the Internet. 

On Dec 19, Oleksy Rud and Serhiy Chychotka were fully acquitted by a court of appeal and released from custody.  The two young engineers and founders of a business enterprise called Top Science had spent over two years imprisoned on grotesquely far-fetched spying charges.  Despite no evidence of spying, and the information supposedly sold to China being widely available on the Internet, the prosecutor had asked for 12 year sentences for both men and the first instance court sentenced them to 5 years.  While sanity was finally restored at appeal level, it should be stressed that the men were found guilty in 2014 after the momentous changes that took place in Ukraine.

Not momentous enough

To make matters worse, the charges of spying have still not been dropped against Volodymyr Chumakov, the academic whose innocuous work caused Ukraine’s aspiring spy-catchers in the SBU [Security Service] to go into overdrive. 

The case was, from the outset, disturbingly similar to the notorious spying trials in Vladimir Putin’s Russia with one of the ‘suspects’ the author of a radio electronics textbook mainly gleaned from the Internet.  It was in this work or more specifically the excerpts translated below that the SBU claimed to have found state secrets  - or questions, the answers to which WILL contain state secrets.

Two men were held in custody for almost 2 years despite the fact that the investigators never established when any alleged spying had taken place.  Nor did they provide any evidence to back their allegation that the two men’s Chinese colleague was an intelligence agent.  If they thought others would feel that just being Chinese was sufficient, they were mistaken.

The story such as it is

In 2008 former radio electronics student Oleksy Rud and Serhiy Chychotka met Hao Xichen, a Chinese national who had just graduated from a St. Petersburg institute.  Since science in Ukraine is desperately under-funded, they decided to create a firm - Top Science Ukraine – which would seek Chinese investors to support scientific initiatives in Ukraine. 

All of this was entirely legal and the facts are not disputed by the SBU.  The latter, however, insists that this was all a front for providing “intelligence” to China. 

This is where Rud’s former professor, Volodymyr Chumakov comes in – and the Internet.  The Web provided a rich source of information, mainly foreign, on railguns which Chumakov used in a textbook for students.  The prospect of funding for various projects from Chinese investors was agreed with his university which actively encouraged academic staff to seek outside financing.  A potential investor had asked for a report, and Chumakov intended to provide the book based largely on lectures to students.  That was when the SBU stepped in and prevented it being passed to the Chinese investor, claiming that Chumakov had disclosed state secrets in the book. 

There was some material on railguns which for unknown reasons was classified until 2006.  Chumakov says that he never set eyes on that material and independent experts have not found the match which the SBU claim is there.  Even if it were there, the material ceased to be classified in 2006.

There has never been any attempt to use railguns for military purposes in Ukraine and next to no research in the area at all.  Why Chinese intelligence bodies would send a spy to Ukraine under cover to extract information which is available on the Internet remains a mystery. 

According to the indictment against Chumakov, an expert assessment examined a list of 12 questions in the book and concluded that the answers to these questions “will contain a state secret”.   The entire indictment creates a surreal impression with other phrases no less startling.  The investigators constantly repeat that they were unable to establish when this or that happened, how the alleged secrets were passed on, or which intelligence services in China were involved. 

From China Hao Xichen made an official application to testify by skype in the trial of Rud and Chychotka.  This form of communication is allowed by law, and Hao Xichen’s testimony was vital in the case, yet his application was rejected.  

Chumakov’s assertion that his description of a railgun which the SBU decided was the technology for creating a secret weapon was widely available in open resources can be checked in Google and was confirmed by other academics.  Physicist Yury Lonin from the Kharkiv Physics and Technology Institute says that three physicists carried out their own assessment of the passages which the SBU deem criminal.  They agree entirely that none of the material is secret and that material on railguns has been on open access since 1986.  

In original articles on this case, we pointed to the Soviet antecedents of this case which were first resurrected under Vladimir Putin in neighbouring Russia. It is excellent that a court in Ukraine has finally rejected the grotesque charges against two young men.  The 17-month-old ‘case’ against Kharkiv professor Volodymyr Chumakov must also be laid to rest.


Where the SBU found “state secrets”

pp. 35-36

Conclusions regarding possible application of ordinary configuration railguns

1) Analysis of the results of theoretical modelling of the acceleration process of a projectile with 3 kilogram mass to the speed of 3, 000 metres per second at the railgun acceleration channel output (diagram 2.1) in erosion-free conditions showed that the electrode length exceeded 50 m. Such sizes make them unsuitable for practical use. 2) Increase in velocity given a particular barrel length can be achieved in a railgun with distributed electrodes. Analysis demonstrated that for a projectile with 2 kilogram mass to achieve a speed of 3 km/s, there need to be at least 6 rails in the accelerating system.

pp. 37-38

The experimental research was aimed at checking whether erosion-free acceleration of projectiles is possible. It was found that with initial velocity of around 10 m/s for linear density of a current under 6 kA/mm, no surface electrode erosion was observed.  This result corresponds well with theoretical calculations. Low-mass projectiles can gain this initial velocity through the formation of a gas-dynamic mixture with an electric blast of a plasma insert given the closed opening of the trunk from the breech side.  In the experimental railgun setup on diagram 2.6, with barrel length of 50 cm., a projectile with 2.5 g. mass was accelerated to 1 km/s.  Theoretically, in erosion-free conditions, such a mass could reach 2 km/s at a length of 50 cm.

A number of experimental studies in laboratory conditions have been carried out on propulsion of projectiles in a rail accelerator with a long acceleration channel. The functional layout of the experimental stand can be found at diagram 2.7a.

Diagram 2.7  - Structural layout and general appearance of a railgun  (the images can be seen here:  (p. 38)

The following elements can be seen:  1- accelerated projectile; 2 – armature (plasma piston); 3 – accelerator electrodes; 4 – dielectric inlay isolating the rail contacts; 5 – dielectric filler; 6 – external shell (casing) safeguarding the stability of the system;  7 – electricity supply to the accelerator.

p. 54

Theoretical modelling was carried out of the acceleration of a projectile with 3 kg mass, taking friction and head resistance into account [formulae (2.6), (2.8), (2.10), (2.12)].  The acceleration length chosen corresponds to L = 15 m. projectile velocity at barrel channel output v  3000 m/s.  Solution of the task shows that to ensure the chosen characteristics, the projectile needs preliminary acceleration with an initial velocity of no less than v 0 = 400 m/s; distance between the electrodes of no less than d = 150 mm.  The section of the channel for d = 150 mm is in the form of a square; linear induction constitutes L=6·10-7 gega newtons per metre.  The strength of the current in the main circuit is equal to I =360 kA, the strength of the forcing current is around I Ф = 3, 6 МА,  the time for the acceleration of the projectile is approximately 8.5 ms. The co-efficient for the transformation of electrical energy in the railgun into kinetic energy of the propelled projectile of 35%.  Consistency of linear inductiveness is ensured through the profile of the electrodes, the cut of which changes along the barrel according to a particular law (diagram 2.4.c)

p. 62


Analysis shows that the main directions in studying systems for electro-dynamic acceleration of masses will include modelling a process for acceleration of masses in order to determine the optimum conditions for acceleration and to coordinate the work of the energy accumulator and load.  Studies are being carried out of the optimum constructions for accelerating systems, form and materials of the accelerated projectiles.

The results of theoretical and experimental research and achievements in creating rail electro-dynamic mass accelerators demonstrate that with a given barrel length for accelerating projectiles of a given mass to supersonic speed, the most promising type of accelerators are the following systems:

1) magnetoplasmic railgun developed according to a multi-rail setup with no less than 6 rails.  In this kind of system the condition of erosion resistance is ensured, as well as the possibility of reaching a speed of around 3000 m/s at acceleration channel length of up to 15 m.

2.  magnetoplasmic railgun with the forcing of a magnetic field according to this or that setup.  The conditions for erosion resistance and the requirements for system durability are provided for. Optimization of temperature conditions and heat stability of the system is ensured through the profiling of the accelerator rails in accordance with the given law and through the formation of the relevant time dependence of the current impulse.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

As if Maidan had never happened: Kharkiv court bans peaceful protest

The Kharkiv City Council has yet again applied to the court for a ban on a protest action in the centre of the city, and a Kharkiv court has once again obliged.  The reason given was one commonly used for the nearly wholesale bans on demonstrations during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency.  The Council claimed that “local self-government bodies do not have the opportunity to ensure the unobstructed holding of the said mass event, nor public order and the rights and freedoms of other people during it”.

The court supposedly considered “the evidence gathered for difficulties in preventing conflict and objective difficulties in safeguarding public order”.  It concluded that “there is a real threat to public health, protection of national security and public order making it necessary to restrict the gathering”. 

‘Restrict’ in this case in fact means ‘ban’. 

The Historical-Social Christian Civic Movement procession which the local authorities and Judge O. Titov from the Kharkiv District Administrative Court deemed to endanger public order and national security was to have been under the banner: “Against the lawlessness of the state authorities in the housing and communal, as well as the social, spheres in the country.” Its organizer Oleh Novikov had predicted up to 100 people would take part.

How the protest could annoy the local authorities is quite clear, unlike how it could seriously jeopardize national security or why the police were unable to guarantee that the procession would not run into conflict.

Under Yanukovych, local authorities very often applied for court bans and the courts seldom refused to oblige. In June 2013, for example, the same District Administrative Court in Kyiv under presiding judge Volodymyr Keleberda banned any peaceful protests outside the President’s Administration until the end of the year. 

That ruling stated that having analysed information from the Kyiv Police the court believed it possible that the holding of an indefinite hunger strike could disrupt the interests of national security and public order; obstruct free access by members of the public and staff to an adjoining state institution. It asserted that it could disrupt the normal flow of traffic on the part of the road near where the pickets were taking place and “the rights and freedoms of residents of adjacent buildings.”

All of that was about the planned protest by the mother of a disabled child hoping to alert the President’s attention to violations by his subordinates of people’s constitutional rights.

Court bans were already widespread, and effectively became the norm during EuroMaidan.  So too did the heavy-handed measures by Berkut riot police against protesters.  In Kharkiv the authorities had long fought attempts by citizens to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful protest.   Such attempts were always endorsed by the courts, with both applicants and court generally claiming danger to public order, national security or ‘the rights of others’.

A tradition that the authorities and court are showing no sign of wishing to consign to the past.

Halya Coynash

The right to health care

Strasbourg Court finds against Ukraine over lack of medical care for prisoner

In a case supported by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group’s Strategic Litigation Fund, the European Court of Human Rights has unanimously found that Ukraine violated an inmate’s rights through the substandard conditions in which he was held and lack of proper medical care, as well as through his initially unregistered detention.  

Dmytro Kushnir was represented in Strasbourg by Lyudmila Mnushkina, a Kyiv lawyer.  Kushnir who was born in 1963 was summoned to the police station on July 3, 2009, over the theft of a mobile phone.  Kushnir was at the time at liberty pending another set of criminal proceedings against him and was immediately arrested on his arrival at the police station.  He alleged that he was given no explanation and was subjected to a severe beating by the police. He was held in the police station overnight and questioned the next day as a suspect in the robbery. He was later remanded in custody. 

In August 2009 the prosecuting authorities claimed a lack of evidence and refused to institute criminal proceedings into Kushnir’s allegations of ill-treatment when arrested.  He was eventually convicted in March 2012 and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. In October 2012 he was released from detention on the ground of his poor health.

Kushnir’s application concerned the period of his detention in SIZO.  He alleged violation of Article 3 of the Convention in connection with inadequate conditions of detention and medical care for an inmate suffering from HIV and tuberculosis, as well as of Article 5 § 1 concerning his arrest on 3 July 2009 and detention until 4 July 2009.  There were other allegations which the Court dismissed as too vague.

He had a number of serious health problems, such as HIV, as well as a history of tuberculosis and viral hepatitis, which he had told the authorities at the very beginning of his detention.  The Court notes that his condition warranted special medical attention.

The Court found that the failure to administer antiretroviral therapy was reasonable as the authorities had undertaken sufficient measures to determine the severity of his immunodeficiency by means of a regular CD4 cell count. 

It did not find the medical treatment provided with respect to his tuberculosis adequate and notes that it has seen evidence of poor medical assistance and protection against tuberculosis in Ukrainian detention facilities in a number of cases against Ukraine.   

While Kushnir had contracted tuberculosis prior to the period of his detention under examination, he did suffer a recurrence of the disease while in custody. The Court was not convinced that his diagnoses were made in a correct and timely manner. The Court thus observes that initially the applicant had focal tuberculosis of the right lung only. Subsequently, he was found to have recovered from it. Later on, his left lung was found to have been affected too. Further on, the diagnosis again referred only to the right-lung post-tuberculosis changes. Then the applicant was found to be in good health. However, just a few months later he was diagnosed with infiltrative tuberculosis of the left lung. Finally, he was found to have suffered a recurrence of tuberculosis in both lungs.  The Court also noted that although tuberculosis specialists examined the applicant on many occasions and prescribed treatment, there was no evidence that the treatment was in fact followed through. Nor was there any evidence that the applicant had been provided with the special diet that was needed to improve his health. It also appears that on at least four occasions the recommendation of the radiologist that the applicant be examined by a tuberculosis specialist remained unheeded

The Court also noted that, although the Ukrainian authorities admitted that the information in the applicant’s medical file about the treatment received for pneumonia triggered by tuberculosis was inaccurate, they failed to provide any factual details as to what treatment he had actually received (see paragraph 66 above).

The Court therefore found that Kushnir had not received adequate medical treatment for tuberculosis during his detention in the SIZO and that there had accordingly been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention.  It found violation of the same Article over the physical conditions in the Kyiv SIZO, and a a violation of Article 5 § 1 of the Convention on account of the applicant’s arrest on 3 July 2009 and detention until 4 July 2009.  Kushnir was arrested soon after 7 p.m. on July 3, and interrogated, but his arrest was only registered at 2 a.m. on July with this being a serious infringement of Article 5 since an unregistered detention totally negates the critically important guarantees enshrined in that Article. 

Law enforcement agencies

European-style Police Force: Strategy for Reform

At the end of October a fairly exceptional event passed unnoticed in Ukraine – for the first time in the last 18 years the government adopted a package of proposals for reforming the Interior Ministry. However the most significant in this situation was the adoption of a Police Reform Development Strategy written by human rights activists as a basic programme document.

Yet a month passed before the document became available to the public.  The reason for this was the virtually instantaneous reaction of the old-regime police lobby multiplied by the conservatism of the bureaucratic government mechanism.

During this period Cabinet of Ministers officials have several times tried, under the guise of ‘editorial corrections’, to remove the most decisive and progressive measures from the text of the Strategy.  These jeopardize the archaic forms of work of the police, the repressive mechanisms for interaction with the public, the corruption-linked well-being of a huge army of colonels and generals.

Fortunately, thanks to the joint work of a reform team made up of the Minister and human rights consultants, and the personal support of Arsen Avakov [the Interior Minister], the Strategy in slightly mangled form, but still alive, appeared on the government’s website, albeit hidden from the official page and from the public eye.

Can we say that this document is capable of launching long-awaited reform in the police force?  As the authors, we can not only assert, but also prove that this is the case since it was from the outset constructed in such a way that it is in no way linked to the number and names of the units which are usually so favoured by reforms of ‘the police wave’.

Instead it concentrates all its reformist activity on observance of fundamental principles of a contemporary European police force.

Among these are the principles of depoliticization; rule of law and decentralization; demilitarization; transparency and accountability to the public.  Everything planned and drawn up with respect to reform of the police must comply with these principles.

This ideology proved qualitatively new and inconvenient for the majority of its predecessors who had seen the sense of reform solely in the quantitative expansion of the Interior Ministry without any significant changes in the qualitative serving of the needs of the public with respect to safety and protection from crime.

There are a number of fundamentally new ideas in the Strategy.  First and foremost, this is the building of the Interior Ministry as a civilian and open ‘Home Office’ which coordinates the work of its services which have the status of central executive bodies.

The services are seen as so independent that they have their own budget and independent staffing policy.  The Minister, as a civilian, will not have the right to directly run any of these services or interfere in their activities, except in exceptional circumstances.

The national police according to this model will not take a leading or dominant position. The autonomy of law enforcement units also envisages a qualitatively new formation – the municipal police, as well as the introduction of some alternative models depending on the specific features of a given region.

The civilian nature of the ministry will be accompanied by a rejection of military attributes, the system of pseudo-military ranks such as ‘police general-colonel’ and removal of all military units from the makeup of the Interior Ministry.

The National Guard and border service will not be an exception – they will also be stripped of their military status, having turned into militarized formations.

Ukrainians may also be interested in new innovations of the Strategy which directly guarantee the inviolability of their rights in dealing with the police, as well as effective control over the lawfulness of police action.

We see it as entirely natural that the public should always be involved in investigations, for example, of ill-treatment by the police.

It is no less natural that losses incurred through the unprofessional or wrongful actions of law enforcement officials must be compensated not only by the culprits, but at the expense of the public funding for the body where the offending police officers did their service.

This is how such natural points are set out in the Strategy with that having aroused unconcealed indignation not only from the ‘old guard’ in the Interior Ministry, but also among the prosecutor corps. The latter, incidentally, are very frightened that analogous reforms will reach prosecutor’s offices which are the least transparent, and most secretive of any forms of control.

The idea of public control as equal to the State’s control is in general a constant theme of the Strategy. It is seen everywhere – in public participation in the selection commissions for the leading posts in the Interior Ministry; in the presence of members of the public when candidates are taking exams for the service; as a separate direction of Interior Ministry policy called ‘community policing’ – activities aimed at the needs of members of the public as a mechanism for assessing the activities of the Interior Ministry as a whole.

Of course the rights of Interior Ministry personnel are not left out of the picture. The Strategy envisages a system of change in the social and financial provisions for law enforcement bodies; transparency of staffing procedure; gender equality during the course of a person’s career; and making it impossible for unscrupulous bosses to manipulate the behaviour of their subordinates.

Even in the case of staff reductions the right will be given to receive another profession at the state’s expense.

However most publicity has perhaps been elicited by the plans for radical restructuring of the Interior Ministry and future police since this envisages the disappearance of a whole range of services: the traffic police; the transport and veterinary police; units for fighting organized and economic crime; unlawful trafficking in drugs and the security guard.

It is envisaged that the majority of functions and the personnel of those services will be moved under the jurisdiction of other ministries. This will make it possible to optimise the structure of the police and gradually achieve a situation where up to 70% of the police are in the two most immediately relevant services for the public: patrol and local police officers.

The many sceptics do not fail to notice the provisions on introducing a system of video surveillance on the roads; new information platforms and electronic work with documentation; qualitatively new procedure for selecting members of staff.

We can understand this scepticism since any changes require material resources. However we are confident that these resources will definitely appear in Ukraine when donors see a clear and realistic plan for reform.

The process of implementing reform is, indeed, fairly controversial however this is not only or not mainly because of a lack of finance. Perhaps central to all problematic areas is the question of whether the state and society are ready to implement real reform.

After all it is clear that reform of the Interior Ministry can be successful not in itself but as a component part of changes to the entire criminal justice system.

For example, the Interior Ministry’s work in organizing a new system of functioning at the present time seems exceptionally difficult. Yet in comparison with such tasks as arise in the building of a new system of relations between the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor’s office and judiciary, the issues around internal functioning already seem a completely day-to-day matter.

In order to create a single platform for preparing and discussing all legal decisions regarding reform, and not only with respect to criminal justice.  We believe it necessary to reinstate the National Commission on the Strengthening of Democracy and Affirmation of Rule of Law under the President,   with this headed by the Justice Minister.

The experience of the commission’s work in 2005-2015 was undoubtedly positive.

Do we have public willingness to work for a long period on reform despite all the problems? This question is no less burning than recognition of the lack of resources since we are observing the uncontrolled wish by a part of society to gain everything and right away.

Yet those who demand immediate results do not pay any heed to such minor issues and continue to demand swift change while at the same time avoiding systemic and difficult work in this sphere.

At the present time we have at least three milieu active in the sphere of police reform. That is first and foremost national NGOs; then secondly, international and donor organizations, among whom a leading role is played by the EU’s Consultative Mission.  In the third case a leading role was played by the EU Consultative Mission, and, finally, the public sector with the National Reform Council; the profile committees of the Verkhovna Rada and scientific institutions.

All of these milieu unfortunately cooperate with each other in a fragmentary fashion and with varying degrees of activity which as a result provides only isolated examples of successful interaction.

The expert potential of the Expert Council and Interior Ministry united, for example, with the public receiving a package of Interior Ministry reforms. Specialists from the EU Consultative Mission offered their experience to law enforcement officers – the Interior Ministry received quite well-formulated proposals for grant organizations.

Obviously both creative and fairly routine activities lie ahead – creating and carrying out a working plan on implementation of the Strategy; the formation and functioning of working groups on the main thematic directions of reform; organizing effective cooperation between expert milieu, introduction of effective procedure for internal management.

However we not only do not fear this work, but would invite all those wishing to join it in order to be able to say with pride after a certain amount of time that “we really did it!”.

Yevhen Zakharov, Director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and chair of the Expert Council under the Interior Ministry on reform of the Interior Ministry and human rights.

Oleg Martynenko, is the Director of the Centre of Law Enforcement Activities Research (CLEAR) and a Doctor of Law

Penal institutions

How amendments to the Penal Code are (not) working

Oleksandr Bukalov from Donetsk Memorial reports that amendments to the Penal Code which allowed life prisoners to have long visits are still encountering resistance from the Penitentiary Service.  The amendments were passed by the Verkhovna Rada in April 2014 after long discussion of the need for amendments.  The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture [CPT] had recommended back in 2000 that Ukraine improve conditions for life prisoners.

The amendments were however resisted by the State Penitentiary Service and even though the long visits have now been permitted, the Penitentiary Service has been insistent in calling for the new amendment to be deferred. 

Thus far 169 or 10% of the total number of life prisoners have already received long visits, however there has not been one from the Zamkova Corrective Colony No. 58; the Kyiv and Odessa SIZO [pre-trial detention centres which, despite the name, also hold life prisoners].  The Penitentiary Service claims that this is for want of applications from the prisoners, however there are reports that some prisoners have been refused permission to have a long visit  because of the lack of place to hold them.  Bukalov notes that the law does not envisage refusals on such grounds and that the administration of such institutions is effectively in breach of the law.  There are also reports that bribes have been demanded and taken from prisoners for such visits.

The amendments also granted prisoners the right to organize their pension if they became entitled to this while serving their sentences.  This had been prohibited up till May 2014 despite the ban on discrimination.  From May to October 2014 the Penitentiary Service reports, 170 prisoners had availed themselves of this right. Of these 95 have already had pensions awarded, 63 are still waiting, and 12 prisoners’ applications have been turned down by the Pension Fund.

Bukalov stresses the need for a thorough analysis of why these amendments are being obstructed. In the case of visits for life prisoners, it is vital that prisoners are informed of their right to such visits and that any prison staff caught demanding or taking bribes for a visit are dismissed.  According to CPT standards, the responsibility for ill-treatment lies not only with the immediate perpetrator, but also on all those who are obliged to know about this and do nothing to stop it. 

We remember

In Memory: Father Gleb Yakunin

Gleb Yakunin, priest, defender of freedom of conscience and other human rights,  former Soviet dissident and political prisoner, has died in Moscow.  He was 80.  

Gleb Yakunin was born on March 4 1934 in Moscow.  After initially studying biology, he became a Christian under the influence of Father Alexander Men, and began the Moscow Seminary, but was expelled before he completed the course.  He became a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1962, but was to be a dissident voice in this Church, and after researching and revealing the degree of KGB infiltration of the Church, was first defrocked, and then excommunicated.  His research found, among other things, considerable evidence that the present Patriach Kyrill and his predecessor, Alexei, were KGB operatives.  

On Dec 30, 1976 he founded the Christian Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Believers in the USSR.   Gleb Yakunin was arrested on Nov 1 1979 and sentenced to 5 years harsh regime labour camp for so-called ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’. 

He was released with the last Soviet political prisoners under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 and reinstated as a priest.   He was elected to parliament in 1990 and played an active part in adoption of a law on freedom of conscience, and ensuring the reinstatement of many monasteries and churches closed in the Soviet regime.  His work on a commission investigating and revealing the cooperation between certain leaders of the Moscow Patriarchate and the KGB led to him being defrocked in 1993.  He was accepted as priest in the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, then later was instrumental in the creation of the Apostolic Orthodox Church. 

He was a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and one of the few over whom the regime had no ultimate power.  His voice always sounded out in defence of those suffering harassment or persecution.

Вечная память  - Everlasting Remembrance

In Memoriam: Stefaniya Shabatura

Stefaniya Shabatura, artist, former member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and political prisoner has died after a long illness.  She was 76. 

Stefaniya Shabatura was born on November 5, 1938 in the Ternopil region and was very small when her father was killed in the War.  She graduated from two art institutes in the 1960s, specializing in creative embroidery. 

She was also an active member of the Lviv Klub tvorchoyi molodi, or Club for Creative Young People and took part in circulating samizdat literature. 

She was arrested during the second wave of arrests – the ‘pogrom’ of the Ukrainian intelligentsia which began on January 12, 1972.  She was charged under the standard Article 62 part 1 of the Criminal Code – ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’ and sentenced to 5 years harsh regime labour camp and three years exile.  The charges were linked to her circulating the poetry of Vasyl Stus and Mykola Kholodny, as well as the article ‘Amid the snow’ [Sered Snihiv] by Valentin Moroz.

She served her sentence in the women’s camp No. ZhKh-385/3 in a Mordovian labour camp at Barashevo. There she took an active part in protest actions and hunger strikes, demanding political prisoner status and an amnesty for all prisoners of conscience.  She was punished for this by being thrown into the punishment solitary confinement or PKT [prison-type cells], and calculated that in all she had spent 115 days in solitary confinement and a year and a half in PKT.

She was not allowed to paint which led to the women political prisoners declaring a hunger strike in protest. It was only in 1974 that an officer of the Lviv KGB brought a painter’s case and paints, pencils, brushes and paper, after which the camp administration made no more attempts to stop her.

At the end of 1975 Shabatura was taken to Lviv for “re-education”. On 10 December, Human Rights Day, as in previous years, she declared a hunger strike in protest at violations of human rights in the USSR. Despite intense pressure from an officer of the Lviv KGB, Shabatura did not abandon her strike, and was warned that she would ‘live to regret it’.

Immediately following her return to the camp, directly at the guard point, Shabatura was officially informed that 150 of her paintings, taken away before her departure, had been burned either as “abstract works” or where the camp was depicted.  In protest at this in February 1976 she refused to work. She was initially thrown into the solitary confinement cell, then in April she was put in a prison-type cell for six months.  The head of the camp cynically told her: “We don’t shoot people anymore, but we still have other ways of making sure that you don’t leave this camp alive”.  Shabatura declared a hunger strike which lasted 12 days. A wave of protest swept through the Mordovian political labour camps over the wanton destruction of her work, and that of others.

In February 1979 a group of political prisoners and those in exile, including Shabatura, declared their support – and membership - of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group whose founding members were almost all in labour camp. 

At the end of the 1980s Shabatura became actively involved in the national and political revival in Ukraine. She was an active member of the Lviv chapter of Memorial and of the Narodny Rukh Ukrainy [The Popular Movement of Ukraine] (Rukh), and took part in the struggle to re-establish the position of the persecuted Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC).

Stefaniya Shabatura died on December 17, 2014 in Lviv where she had lived for many years.

In Memory: Yevhen Sverstyuk 1928 – 2014

We mourn together with family and friends the passing of Yevhen Sverstyuk, Ukrainian writer, thinker and civic figure, a man who spent years in the Soviet labour camps for his commitment to truth and to Ukraine and who became a moral beacon for very many in Ukraine and beyond. 

Yevhen Sverstyuk had been suffering for some time from a serious illness, and died on Monday, Dec 1 in a Kyiv clinic, a few days before what would have been his 86th birthday.

He had followed all the events over the last few years, and in a recent Radio Svoboda interview spoke of the “huge social test of strength” that Ukraine was going through. “Both the struggle with the authoritarian regime and the victory of the Maidan revolution are imbued with the long familiar historical set up of foreign intervention. All of this is logical and one of the classic turns of history which is a test for perhaps all peoples in our Europe.  All of that together makes for an incredibly responsible test of the freedom and independence of Ukrainians which needs to be passed through with dignity. “

He was one of the members of the First December Initiative, a group formed of highly respected Ukrainian intellectuals including former political prisoners and former Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Lyubomir Husar.  The group was formed during the regime of Viktor Yanukovych and on a number of occasions issued statements regarding the highly contentious ‘language law’, clearly rigged elections and others.

Yevhen Sverstyuk was one of the Shistdesyatnyky [the 60s group], members of the intelligentsia whose cultural and political activities provided a vital form of moral opposition to the Soviet regime during the 1960s.  Many, including Sverstyuk, paid for their independent thinking with periods in the Soviet labour camps. 

Sverstyuk was the author of several crucial Samizdat texts  and his public speeches, for example, at an evening in memory of the poet Vasyl Symonenko were major events. 

One of the Samizdat works, written together with Ivan Svitlychny and others, was entitled “On the trial of Pogruzhalsky” about an arson attack on the Kyiv Central Scientific Library in May 1964 which destroyed a large number of Ukrainian studies works and archival material. The author believed that the fire was part of a policy to destroy Ukrainian heritage.  It appears that Pogruzhalsky, the man convicted of the crime, was in fact working for the KGB.

He took part in literary evenings, meetings and prohibited gatherings, such as at the Monument to Taras Shevchenko and in September 1966 in memory of the Jews massacred at Babyn Yar which the Soviet regime preferred to ignore.

He was arrested on Jan 14 1972 and convicted of something termed ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’ to 7 years labour camp [the maximum term] and 5 years exile.  The charges were over articles, in particular “Sobor u rystovanni” [Cathedral under scaffolding], as well as public addresses to teachers in 1965 where he had criticized ideological stereotypes and the system of lies in the work of schools. 

He served his sentence in the Perm political labour camps.  He continued from labour camp to defend victims of political repression, signing various appeals and letters in support of particular individuals.

He was later the President of the Ukrainian PEN Club and Editor of a Christian newspaper ‘Nasha Vira’ [Our Faith]. 

Speaking to Radio Svoboda, former dissident and psychiatrist Semyon Gluzman, said: “The fact is that in Ukraine there are very many professional patriots.  Different sorts – conscious, mercantile, various.  But there was also Sverstyuk.  And now we no longer have him.  This is a tragedy for the country”.

A truly great loss.

Вічна пам’ять    Eternal memory



[Halya Coynash]

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #12