war crimes in Ukraine

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Former police officers accused of torturing two Kharkiv women


A criminal investigation is underway against two former Kharkiv police officers suspected of using torture during the interrogations of two women. The two men have been dismissed from their positions at the Ordzhonikidze Police Station.

Svitlana Pomilyaiko worked as a designer at a tile factory, lived a peaceful life bringing up two children until the day that l two computers vanished from her work. The security guards swore that the computers had not been taken out of the main door or passed over the fence.

The police were called in and questioned all the management and staff. According to Ludmilla Klochko, Head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group Public Advice Centre, it’s likely that other members of staff suggested that Svitlana and her colleague, Natalya, were responsible.  Perhaps they weren’t so popular, and simply to get the police off everybody’s back.

With absolutely no clues left by the actual thieves, the police could only concentrate on questioning people. They now focused on the two women.

From the police station to hospital

According to the women’s testimony, the two officers, both young enough to be their sons, took them into different officers and tried to force them to make confessions. Svitlana was kicked and had a bag put over her head. Natalya also had tweezers used to press her nipples. Svitlana could hear her friend’s screams, yet neither woman signed a “confession”. They were released, but only after both signed statements that they had no criticism against the police.

Both went straight to hospital where the doctors recorded their beatings. Svitlana was in hospital for over a month, although Natalya also suffered badly.  It was however Svitlana only who decided to lodge a formal complaint.

An internal enquiry was launched, with a search of the offices where the torture was alleged to have taken place indeed uncovering tweezers and other items, which the women claimed had been used to torture them,  Learning of this, the Head of the Kharkiv Region Police Department ordered the men dismissed without awaiting the outcome of the court case.  The men are, however, facing charges of “exceeding their duties” (not “torture”).

Svitlana and Natalya have now been recognized as victims. However Svitlana has another court case to deal with since the management of the factory dismissed her after learning that the police suspected her of the theft.  The pretext given was feeble, and Svitlana is seeking her job back and to clear her name.


Around 355 thousand people in Ukraine have experienced beatings from the law enforcement agencies. According to estimates from KHPG and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, every year some 93.5 thousand people are subjected to forms of torture by the police. According to unwritten rules, an investigator should send three cases to the court each month. As Serhiy Mishchenko, Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legal Policy points out, the problem stems from procedure which has not changed since Soviet times. Figures for “solved cases” are all important, and officers are punished for unsolved cases or for acquittals.

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