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.

IX. Review of the observance of the right to free elections and right to participate in referendums in 2014



1. Summary

Elections in Ukraine in 2014 were held in difficult conditions: the AR of Crimea, Sevastopol city, part of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts had been occupied by Russian forces and illegal military formations, which resulted in the impossibility of holding elections on these territories. Accordingly, some citizens were altogether deprived of possibility to exercise their electoral rights. In some raions of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts election campaigns took place against the background of armed hostilities, in the atmosphere of violence and intimidation.

Also, we faced simulation of elections and referendums on the part of the administrations of occupied territories, during which international electoral standards and regular practices in electoral matters and referendums, principles of the supremacy of law and the legislation of Ukraine were ignored.

Throughout the rest of the territory of Ukraine for the first time in recent years, elections were held without systemic undue influence on the electoral process on the part of the authorities. Number of violations of electoral rights of the citizens decreased significantly. Their character changed. Some of the violations can be attributed to the low level of political culture of the subjects of election process, rapidity of the process of early elections and legislative gaps.

In 2014 we have witnessed the progress in solving those problems in the observance of electoral rights that have not been resolved for many years. The human rights community can put on the agenda new objectives for improving the situation with the observance of electoral rights, particularly in penal institutions.

Complete disregard for the rights of citizens to participate in referendums became disappointing tradition: in Ukraine a Law on Local Referendum has not been adopted this year again and all initiatives of citizens to organize an All-Ukrainian referendum were blocked atn the level of the Central Election Commission.

2. Introduction

In the state two national election campaigns and over four hundred local elections of different levels were held:

— Early presidential election in Ukraine on May 25, 2014;

— Early parliamentary elections in Ukraine on October 26, 2014;

— About two hundred and twenty early local elections on May 25, 2014, including Kiev, Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Sumy and other cities/towns/localities of the country, where their conduct was hampered by the previous authorities, and holding of which became possible after the Revolution;

— About two hundred early local elections of different levels during September-December 2014, including 5 elections of mayors of cities of oblast subordination, 4 elections of mayors of cities of raion subordination, 158 elections of heads of villages and urban-type settlements.

On the occupied territories illegal military formations held in 2014several so-called “referendums” and “elections”, namely:

— All-Crimean “referendum” on March 16, 2014;

— “Referendums” in support of the state independence of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics”, which were held on May 11, 2014;

— “Elections” of the “head” and “State Soviet” of “DPR” “and “elections” of the “head “and “State Soviets” of “LPR” on November 2, 2014.

In addition, on the territory of the AR of Crimea, which had been occupied by Russia, on September, 14 and December, 7 were held the elections of deputies of the “State Soviet” and deputies of representative bodies of all municipalities in the “Republic of Crimea”.

3. Review of the Implementation of the Last Year’s Public Demands
to Change the Situation with the Observance
of the Rights of Voters

It is to be recalled that in 2013 the vast majority of recommendations for improvement of the situation with the observance of citizens’ rights to free elections and to participate in referendums made by civic activists and human rights defenders was not implemented. In 2014 we see some positive changes, but many problems have remained unsolved.

Proper systemic investigation of the facts of violations during the parliamentary elections in Ukraine in 2012 has never been conducted.

The electoral legislation has not been codified. People’s representatives confined themselves only to amending the laws on certain types of elections. Often these changes were made on an on-going basis in response to problems that were arising in the course of the election process.

The Law on Local Referendum has not been adopted, which deprives citizens of the right to solve local problems through holding referendums. The Law on National Referendum has not been amended.

So far the performance standards of members of government and heads of other executive bodies for the preparation and conduct of elections have not been developed. However, interference in the election process on the part of senior government officials and other office-holders almost has not been recorded this year either.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine conducted systemic training of the law enforcement officers on the electoral law, protection of electoral rights, response to violations and others.

3.1. Presidential Elections

The 2014 presidential election was conducted transparently, fairly and democratically overall. Major problems in the organization of election process took place only in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, where the majority of electoral districts failed to create conditions for the work of election commissions and voting. In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea elections were not held at all.

The electoral legislation. The 2014 presidential election was held on the basis of a significantly amended law. From February to May 2014 the Law on Election of the President of Ukraine was amended seven times. Last changes to it were made on May 20, 2014, which was only a few days before election day. This clearly contradicts the international standards for stability of the electoral right, but the legislative amendments were necessary and were perceived with understanding by the public. Overall amended electoral legislation helped to improve legal regulation of the presidential election.

Administrative bodies of the election process operated mainly impartially and followed legislative requirements. Although there were cases of violations in their work, they didn’t occur on regular basis. These violations were caused mainly by frequent personnel rotations in the district and precinct election commissions, short term of election campaigning, participation in the elections of a large number of “technical” candidates, issues of material and technical and of financial support.

Thus, on average nationwide composition of the district election commissions (hereinafter — DECs) was changed by more than 40%. In the composition of the majority of precinct election commissions (hereinafter — PECs) percentage of personnel rotations amounted to 30–50% and more. Constant personnel rotations of DECs and PECs weakened to some extent their role in the proper organization of election process. We note that constant rotations were a problem during early parliamentary elections in October 2014 as well.

One of the problems of organization of the election was understaffing of PECs due to the fact that not all presidential candidates submitted to PECs nominations of their representatives. DECs even failed in some cases to form minimum necessary membership of PECs (12 members) within a statutory period. Parliament has solved this problem by amending the electoral law that reduced the minimum PEC membership to 9 persons. As a result, PECs of large precincts, which were formed with the minimum quantitative membership, in some cases failed to ensure proper organization of voting on May 25, 2014.

Major problems of early presidential election should include ensuring of security of voters and commission members in the area of anti-terrorist operation (ATO), the problems of material and technical and of financial support of election commissions, insufficient level of transparency in the nomination of candidates and election campaign financing. Changing of voting location without changing of election address proved to be rather complicated procedure.

In many regions the question of changing of voting location without changing of election address was solved by the officials of the State Voter Register maintenance bodies (SVR) at their sole discretion. Sometimes officials demanded submission of additional documents or additional attestation of submitted documents that became an obstacle in the implementation of voting rights.

At the stage of nomination and registration of candidates for President of Ukraine twenty three candidates out of forty-six were denied registration. The grounds for refusal included among others such formal reasons as exceeding the cutoff wordage of autobiography or election program, failure to submit certain documents in electronic form, discrepancy of size of photographs of a candidate to statutory requirements and more.

Eleven candidates who were denied registration challenged these decisions in court. All decisions of the CEC were upheld[2]. We believe that for the future it is necessary to enable possibility of correction of errors in documents.

Electoral monetary pledge for candidate registration in the amount of 2.5 million hryvnias in the opinion of observers is too high and effectively limits the possibility of realization of the right to be elected President of Ukraine.

Violations recorded by observers differed significantly from the practice of previous elections. Thus, representatives of OPORA stated in their report that during the elections in 2010–2012 the most systematic violations were abuse of administrative resources and vote bribery. In 2014 they were the disregard of campaigning rules and obstruction of the electoral process. While the first common violation appeared as a result of candidates’ abuses and didn’t have considerable influence on the election returns, the second one was directly related to confrontations in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.[3]

According to the CVU observers destruction or damage of outdoor political advertising by unidentified persons was significantly widespread. “Victims” of this activity were M. Dobkin (in most regions of the state), O. Liashko (in the south of Ukraine and in some regions of West and Centre), somewhat less — Tihipko, Poroshenko and other candidates. Billboards of these candidates were poured over with paint, sketched over, written over with obscenities.

During May 2014 the CVU registered cases of attacks on electioneerers and some candidates for President of Ukraine, damaging of campaign tents. However, such cases were isolated in nature. In general, the magnitude of violations of statutory requirements of campaigning during the 2014 presidential election was noticeably much lower than during the previous election campaigns.

Election day. In the vast majority of polling stations in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts voting was disrupted, and the election itself in these regions was accompanied by attacks of armed groups of separatists, intimidation of voters and members of commissions, hostage-taking, destruction of election documentation. The difficult situation in these regions led to the low voting turnout. For example, in the territorial election district No. 49 voted only about 19% of voters included in the voter lists in the open polling stations, in the territorial election district No. 50 — about 17% of voters, in the territorial election district No. 58 — about 16% of voters.

In other regions of the state voting and vote counting were carried out in compliance with the electoral statutory requirements. Significant violations of procedure of determination of vote returns during the presidential election weren’t registered.

3.2. Local Elections

The previous government in 2012–2013 artificially hindered holding of the early elections of mayors of some oblast centers. As a result of political confrontation the Verkhovna Rada ceased setting early elections in all populated localities altogether. Only at the end of February 2014 MPs scheduled all local elections.

The situation on the occupied territories. In connection with the occupation of the Crimea and sudden destabilization of the situation in the Far East of the country, in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and in some local communities of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts elections were not held. Sometimes these elections were canceled in a rather brutal manner by members of the illegal military formations.[4]

On October 26 situation partly repeated: early local elections in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, which were scheduled for that day, failed to be held on the part of local communities because of the armed hostilities and constant shelling.[5]

The Work of Territorial Election Commissions and Election Management.

The main problem faced by the organizers of local elections was the lack or insufficiency of financial and of material and technical support. As CVU observers stated in their final report, “holding of local elections under the conditions of difficult economic situation in the state and late transfer of budget funds to relevant commissions complicated the work of election commissions and negatively affected the preparations for the elections in general.”[6]

Another problem of the electoral process was low level of preparation of members of territorial election commissions (hereinafter TEC). In some cases, the CEC was forced to cancel some illegal decisions or even to dissolve TECs, as it happened on May 15, 2014 with the decision by the Kyiv Municipal Election Commission on deregistration of Ivan Salii and Lesia Orobets[7] and on June 4, 2014 with the dissolution of the Cherkasy municipal election commission.[8]

The above-named problems led to a number of other problems, including access of voters to information about parliamentary and mayoral candidates.

Registration of candidates. Some municipal election commissions denied applicants for mayoral candidates on the basis of small or formal inconsistencies of documents. Thus, Odessa Election Commission refused to register four self-nominated candidates for the position of Mayor of Odessa on the basis of among others unsigned income declaration, submission of declaration filled in not with one’s own hand but containing printed information and more.[9] However, these incidents were not widespread.

Despite the different course of the election campaigns, some violations were typical. These were numerous cases of using “black PR”, violation of the rules of campaigning, damage of election materials of opponents, indirect bribery. In particular, numerous cases of bribery were mentioned in the statements of observers of OPORA and CVU from Kyiv, Cherkasy, Odessa and other cities.[10]

In some cities there were detected other kinds of violations according to observers’ estimates. Thus, CVU representatives in Odessa published mass-scale facts of intimidation of members of election commissions by unidentified persons.[11]

Overall, these elections were characterized by a high level of competition and the lack of systematic violations on the part of the government.

3.3. Parliamentary Elections

Amendments to the electoral law were fragmentary and served as a prompt response to arising problems. For example, on October 14, 2014 the Verkhovna Rada in response to numerous reports of indirect voter bribery and other violations that were being recorded by observers approved amendments to the Criminal Code to strengthen liability for violations of electoral rights of the citizens. The effectiveness of these provisions needs to be further studied. It is just known that as of October 23 according to official data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine there were opened 227 criminal proceedings on cases related to the elections, of which 32 cases were related to the infliction of bodily injuries on candidates, electioneerers, staff members of election headquarters.[12]

Registration of candidates. Problems detected by observers include among others unequal application of the law in the registration of parliamentary candidates. As a result, 640 persons out of more than 7000 applicants were denied registration[13]. Often the reasons were formal, such as inaccuracy of some wordings in the documents submitted to the CEC, exceeding of number of printed characters in the biographies and more. Later 49 candidates successfully challenged the CEC decisions in court and were eventually registered. But due to the delaying of the registration process, the candidates, in the opinion of CVU, were forced to campaign during less than 10 days, which put them on unequal terms with opponents.[14]

Problems of Voting of Displaced Persons and Military Personnel.

One of the challenges of the election was providing with the possibility to participate in voting to displaced persons, voters from occupied regions of Ukraine and military personnel. On October 7 CEC approved simplified procedure for changing a temporary voting location, trying to solve the problems of these groups of voters. Overall across the country the procedure of temporary change of voting location was used by about 190 thousand of voters, including almost 25 thousand militaries, 3,6 thousand voters from the Crimean peninsula[15] and about 32,8 thousand voters from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Thus, the majority of voters from among displaced persons and residents of the occupied territories did not use this voting procedure.

Also, lawmakers did not allow military personnel, who are on contract, to vote with the availability of military cards, and not passports[16]. As a result, part of military personnel, who took part in the ATO or were in the military units far from home, could not vote even in cases when their names were included in the voter list.

There were other problems. For instance, CVU observers registered, particularly in Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, the problem of not including military personnel in voter lists in the locations of military units because military commissariats were late to submit relevant information to SVR maintenance bodies.

Electoral campaign as free and competitive process. All organizations and missions which performed monitoring in the country marked reducing of influence of administrative resources, increasing of free competition in elections and progress in terms of access of citizens to information. Systematic interference of the officials in the election process was not registered. Issues of voter bribery and unfair campaigning continued to be relevant.[17]

There were registered isolated cases of violence targeted at candidates, electioneerers and their campaign events.

In some oblasts certain candidates were subjected to so-called “people’s lustration”: they were thrown into dumpsters or were subjected to other forms of humiliation. Mostly these were people connected with the previous government, including MPs, who voted on January 16 for the laws restricting democratic freedoms.

Participation of national minorities. The military aggression of Russia and the occupation of part of the territory of our country negatively affected the observance of the rights of national minorities in the parliamentary elections: it was not possible to organize voting on the territories where lives over half of the 14 million population that considers Russian their mother tongue, and on the most of the territories densely populated by Crimean Tatars.

Due to the fact that during early elections the boundaries of electoral districts were not changed, there was no exercising of amendments to the electoral law made in 2013, which were directed towards consideration of recommendations for taking into account the ethnic component during establishment of boundaries of electoral districts. As a result, in Zakarpattia oblast there were complaints from the Hungarian minority about the impossibility to elect a deputy from their community by the majority system.

Voting day and vote counting were peaceful, without major violations that could affect the election returns. International observers generally gave high marks to this stage of elections. Thus, the European Network of Election Monitoring (ENEMO) said in its statement that voting was transparent, efficient, in accordance with international standards.[18]

The DEC tabulation process was held with tension. Conflicts and confrontations of parliamentary candidates led to inhibition of the tabulation process in five electoral districts (No.No. 49, 59 (Donetsk oblast), 132 (Mykolaiv oblast), 140 (Odessa oblast), 182 (Kherson oblast).[19]

The system of consideration of electoral disputes requires improvement. Most of the complaints or allegations, according to CVU’s estimate, were not considered on formal grounds (missed deadlines, wrongly submitted complaint/suit, inaccurate form or content of complaint/suit and others). Less than half are considered on the merits. At average about 10% of complaints or suits are complied with, which is quite a low indicator.[20]

Problems of voting in penal institutions. Representatives of OPORA, having studied voting returns of prisoners, suggest widespread use of constraint, administrative resources and distortion of results of expression of free will at the polling stations located in penal institutions. In particular, in Vinnitsa, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Kirovohrad oblasts voters’ support of the ruling party (in this case “Petro Poroshenko Block”) in the penal system institutions is in several times higher than support in the region in general.[21]

4. Pseudo Elections and Pseudo Referendums

On the occupied territories of Ukraine — Crimea and part of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in 2014 were held three so-called “referendums” and “elections” that answered neither national legislation nor any international standards.

Council of Europe Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) assessed one such “referendum” held in Crimea: it is compatible neither with international standards, nor with the Constitution of Ukraine.[22] Firstly, change on the territorial integrity can be resolved only by an All-Ukrainian referendum. The Verkhovna Rada of AR of Crimea had no authority to declare holding of such a referendum. Secondly, in the course of its holding there was no adherence to the main democratic standards set by the Venice Commission Code of Good Practice on Referendums. Among the violations there were also named the massive presence of armed men and members of the military in the Crimea; very short period of referendum (only ten days); reasonable doubts about the neutrality of the local authorities, the threat of freedom of speech, manipulation of the wording of the question that was put to a referendum.

Similar estimates can be fully redirected towards other “referendums” and “elections” held on the territory of raions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that were seized by illegal armed formations and Russian military men: inconsistency with the national legislation, major violation and complete disregard for international standards.

4.1. The Situation of Referendums

The rights of citizens to holding an All-Ukrainian referendum have been ignored in Ukraine for several years running. Year of 2014 was no exception. In 2014 the CEC refused to register initiative groups on holding two All-Ukrainian referendums on popular initiative.

Thus, on June 12 the CEC in its Resolution No. 784 refused to register the initiative group on holding an All-Ukrainian referendum on popular initiative on the basis of errors in the submitted documents.[23]

On September 15 the CEC in its Resolution No. 951 refused to register the initiative group on holding another All-Ukrainian referendum on popular initiative. The reason for refusal was the absence of the CEC representative at the citizens’ meeting on initiating an All-Ukrainian referendum for the court banned the CEC to send its representative to this meeting.[24]

5. Recommendations

1. For the Verkhovna Rada to accelerate the unification of the different types of elections by adopting the Electoral Code.

2. Additionally to regulate ensuring of electoral rights of citizens of Ukraine residing on the temporarily occupied territories in order to expand practical opportunities to participate in voting.

3. To leave practice of simultaneous conduct of early elections of different levels. This will facilitate a good organization of the electoral process.

4. To establish an effective system of monitoring of shadow expenses in the electoral process.

5. For the increase of the CEC independence level to include in its composition also civic experts on electoral rights.

6. To take into account the demands of national minorities in order to ensure their representation in the Rada.

7. The procedure for training of candidates for the election commissions should be determined by law.

8. To set limits on the recall of members of election commissions by subjects of nomination and clearly state in the law grounds for recall.

9. Size of the electoral monetary pledge at the presidential election in Ukraine should be reduced.

10. The number of commission members appointed on each level must meet the actual needs of the management of election process, and not be determined by unpredictable number of submissions received from candidates.

11. Consideration should be given to possibility of eliminating of the requirement for a minimum period of residence abroad for candidates.

12. To adopt a Law on Local Referendum.

13. To amend the Law on All-Ukrainian Referendum following public demands and recommendations of international organizations.

14. For the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine to establish long-term programs of capacity building of law enforcement officers in electoral matters.

15. To conduct proper systemic investigation into violations during the parliamentary elections in Ukraine in 2012 and during the elections in 2014.

16. For the CEC together with interested organizations to analyze level of fitness of PEC premises for voters with special needs, and take (together with local authorities) measures aimed at addressing the identified problems.

17. To start a public debate on the situation of “non-free” voting in penal institutions.

[1] Review is prepared by Dementiy Bely on the basis of reports of observers of All-Ukrainian NGO CVU, OPORA, ENEMO, OSCE Mission and according to the reports by members of UHHRU.

[2] Final Report of Mission of Observing the Early Presidential Elections in Ukraine conducted by OSCE/ODIHR — P. 18

[3] FINAL REPORT on Results of Civic Observation Conducted by OPORA during 2014 Early Presidential Election in Ukraine Source:

[4] See in particular the following reports: The Militants Seazed Rovenky City Electoral Commission // TVi May 20, 2014 http: //, Luhansk Separatists “Banned” Elections and Appealed to the UN to Recognize the “Republic” — // Tyzhden.UA — May 19, 2014 —, In Antratsyt Mayoral Elections will not be Held // “Today in Alchevsk” — May 20, 2014, Elections are not Held in Antratsyt, Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk//Donbass News — May 25, 2014

[5] Kyhtenko: Elections in Donbass Passed without Incidents// Dialog — October 27, 2014 —

[6] Conclusions Based on the Results of Observation Conducted by All-Ukrainian NGO CVU of the Election Campaign of Local Elections to Take Place on May 25, 2014 Source:

[7] CEC Resolution of May 15, 2014 No. 594 On the Repeal of Regulations of Kyiv Municipal Election Commission of May 13, 2014 No. 2372 and No. 2373 Source:

[8] CEC Resolution of June 4, 2014 No. 768 “On Some Issues of Cherkasy Municipal Election Commission of Cherkasy oblast”

[9] Report of OPORA Based on the Results of Observation of Early Elections of Mayor of Odessa (May 2014) Source:

[10] See reports of All-Ukrainian NGO CVU and OPORA following below listed links:

[11] Report of a Long-term Observation of Early Local Elections to Take Place on May 25, 2014 Conducted by All-Ukrainian NGO CVU from April 23 to May 19, 2014 Source:

[12] The Interim Report Based on the Results of Observation Conducted by OPORA of 2014 Early Parliamentary Elections in Ukraine (October) Source: vymy-vyboramy-narodnyh-deputativ-ukrajiny-2014-roku-zhovten

[13] Statement of Preliminary Findings and Results. Early Parliamentary Elections in Ukraine on October 26, 2014 — International Observation Mission Composed of Representatives of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Kyiv, October 27, 2014 — P. 9 (hereinafter — Statement of Preliminary Findings and Results of the OSCE).

[14] Report No. 3 Based on the Results of Long-term Observation Conducted by All-Ukrainian NGO CVU. As of from 4 to October 23, 2014

[15] The total number of voters registered on the Crimean peninsula as of 21 October was amounted to 1,799,918 persons.

[16] CVU: Part of the Military Personnel will not Be Able to Vote — the official site of All-Ukrainian NGO CVU. Address:

[17] The Interim Report Based on the Results of Observation Conducted by OPORA of 2014 Early Parliamentary Elections in Ukraine (October) Source:

[18] The Elections to the Parliament were Transparent, Generally in Compliance with International Standards — ENEMO — Interfax — Ukraine, October 2, 2014 Source of information:

[19] Conflicts and problems in single-member districts as of October 31

[20] Report on Monitoring the Consideration of Electoral Disputes Prepared as Part of the Project with Support of the Council of Europe. Source:

[21] Evhen Vasylenko Voting Returns in Penal Institutions. OPORA official site. Source:

[22] Findings can be seen here:



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