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.

Security in Ukraine of the victims of persecution by the Russian state. A brief view of the matter

Boris Zakharov


This document is an excerpt from the analytical report “Security in Ukraine of the victims of persecution by foreign authoritarian regimes”. Due to numerous systematic violations of human rights, Ukraine cannot be considered a “safe country of origin” and “safe third country”. The Ukrainian state must take all possible measures to improve the situation and ensure human rights and guarantees of security in the area of protection of persons from the persecution by the Russian Federation, as well as other authoritarian regimes.


In the context of armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, occupation of the AR of Crimea and Sevastopol, war in the east of Ukraine and creation of quasi-state entities, so called LPR and DPR effectively controlled by the Russian Federation, the issue of the security of Ukrainian and foreign citizens who became victims of the persecution by the Russian Federation and its satellites has extremely exacerbated.

In recent years, the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin in the Russian Federation has become even more centralized and rigid. The war against Ukraine and occupation of the Crimean Peninsula are accompanied with the suppression of civil and political freedoms in Russia itself. New repressive laws were adopted, and already existing ones are also selectively applied for persecution, defamation, prosecution, imprisonment, detention, fines, and pressure on individuals and organizations criticizing the authorities. The changes to anti-terrorism laws known as “Yarovaya’s package” gave the authorities sweeping powers[1]. The persecution targeted Ukrainian citizens, as well as Russian citizens and organizations supporting the Ukrainian government or criticizing the occupation of the Crimea and military aggression of Russia in the east of Ukraine.

In some respects, Putin’s regime has signs of totalitarianism. It cannot be called the classical totalitarian regime, because a relatively open society has been preserved, but such signs as the monopoly of the state on the “truth”, substitution of concepts and false propaganda, indoctrination with the use of modern communication technologies in combination with terror against dissenters allow us to speak of a hybrid of authoritarian and totalitarian regime in the RF. In Russia, the historical revisionism of Soviet totalitarianism is underway. It manifests itself not only in the statements of politicians and in noisy holidays with the display of portraits of their “leaders”. They practice Stalin-style kidnappings, detentions, arrests, searches and torture of detainees charged with fictitious crimes.

At present, in the occupied Crimea, according to our estimates, there are 44 Ukrainian political prisoners, and another 20 are serving sentences in the territory of the RF[2]. In addition, according to the SSU, in the so-called LPR and DPR under the effective control of the RF, there are 103 hostages, both military and civilian, and 402 are considered missing[3].

According to experts of the “Memorial” Human Rights Center, in Russia, for political reasons, 228 people are being persecuted. Forty-six persons are recognized political prisoners, 97 people are victims of persecution for religious beliefs, 39 are victims of persecution with non-custodial sentences, and another 46 people are likely victims[4].

Under such conditions, many Russians, victims of persecution by the Russian authorities, are seeking refuge in Ukraine, and Ukrainians who are persecuted by the RF set their hopes on Ukraine to be protected. But is Ukraine a safe country?

In accordance with paragraph 52 of the UNHCR report “Discussion on international protection related to the development of the situation in Ukraine--Operational Update III” of September 24, 2015, the UNHCR does not consider the designation of Ukraine as a “safe country of origin” to be appropriate. The states should remove Ukraine from the “safe country of origin” lists. The UNHCR accordingly calls on governments not to apply accelerated procedures with reduced procedural safeguards (including non-suspensive appeals) to applications for international protection by Ukrainian nationals or habitual residents of Ukraine; and not to subject these persons to different reception conditions than other applicants for international protection.” [5].

Similarly, Ukraine is not considered a “safe third country”. The UNHCR in paragraph 54 of the said document states: “The UNHCR does not consider it appropriate for States to designate or maintain a designation of Ukraine as a so-called “safe third country”. The designation of a country as a “safe third country” may result in a request for international protection not being considered on its merits but declared inadmissible, or processed in an accelerated procedure with reduced procedural safeguards. ... UNHCR requests States to consider asylum applications from third country nationals who previously resided in or transited through Ukraine in fair and efficient procedures with the full range of procedural guarantees in place.”[6]

In the Annex I to the Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the EU Council

of 26 June 2013 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection (recast) the designation of a safe country of origin is formulated as follows: “A country is considered as a safe country of origin where, on the basis of the legal situation, the application of the law within a democratic system and the general political circumstances, it can be shown that there is generally and consistently no persecution as defined in Article 9 of Directive 2011/95/EU, no torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and no threat by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.

In making this assessment, account shall be taken, inter alia, of the extent to which protection is provided against persecution or mistreatment by:

(a) relevant laws and regulations of the country and the manner in which they are applied;

(b) observance of the rights and freedoms laid down in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and/or the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and/or the United Nations Convention against Torture, in particular the rights from which derogation cannot be made under Article 15(2) of the said European Convention;

(c) respect for the non-refoulement principle in accordance with the Geneva Convention;

(d) provision for a system of effective remedies against violations of those rights and freedoms»[7].

Unfortunately, in our opinion, Ukraine does not meet the criteria of the EU as a safe country of origin. Although Ukrainian legislation generally complies with international standards in this area, the enforcement practice remains far from such standards. The annual report of the human rights organizations Human Rights in Ukraine-2016 contains data on murders, enforced disappearances, indiscriminate violence during a conflict with the RF, the use of torture and ill-treatment, etc.[8]

Article 3 of the Constitution of Ukraine (CU) recognizes life and health, honor and dignity, inviolability and security as the highest social value, and according to article 25 CU “A citizen of Ukraine shall not be deprived of citizenship and of the right to change citizenship. A citizen of Ukraine shall not be expelled from Ukraine or surrendered to another state. Ukraine guarantees care and protection to its citizens who are beyond its borders. »[9] Despite these constitutional guarantees, Ukraine is not able to effectively protect its citizens from persecution by the Russian authorities. This also applies to Russian asylum-seekers who are persecuted by the RF. The asylum system in Ukraine demonstrates a whole range of systemic human rights violations that are analyzed in detail in the full version of the report:

  1. Abduction and illegal extradition to the country of origin;
  2. Refusal to submit an application for asylum in Ukraine and misuse of the application procedure;
  3. Passing of confidential information to the authorities of the country of origin;
  4. Groundless refusal to grant asylum;
  5. Violation of the challenge procedure;
  6. Failure to comply with court decisions and multiple appeals against court decisions by the SMSU;
  7. Violation of the right to liberty and personal immunity in extradition cases due to the choiceless temporary arrest, practice of re-arrest, illegal extension of the period of extradition arrest;
  8. Torture and ill-treatment.

The full version of the report also contains a description of specific cases of violations of the rights of asylum seekers, which are persecuted by the RF.

In recent years, we have many cases of murders, violent disappearances in Ukraine and kidnappings from the territory of Ukraine, as well as torture of persons persecuted by the RF. See examples later in the text.

Killings of people on the territory of Ukraine, which are persecuted by the RF

On the territory of Ukraine, without regard for the occupied territories and the area of ​​hostilities, a number of crimes were committed, which, in the opinion of the investigation, might be ordered from the RF.

Thus, on June 1, 2017, an attempt was commissioned on the life of Adam Osmayev and Amina Okuyev. Osmayev was injured, and Okuyeva wounded the attacker. He was presented with a suspition. People’s deputy, member of the MIA Board Antin Herashchenko called the attacker “an agent of Russian special services”. According to Herashchenko, the man was legalized in Ukraine in February 2016 under the name of Olexandr Dakar[10]. Okuyeva believed that the killer is an agent of the Main Intelligence Directorate or FSS of the RF[11]. But on October 30, during the second assassination attempt, Amina Okuyeva was killed, and Adam Osmayev was wounded. She died near the Village of Hlevakha, Kyiv Oblast; the unknown persons delivered fire from the bushes aiming at the car of Okuyeva and Osmayev[12].

Denis Voronenkov, an ex-deputy of the Russia State Duma, who received Ukrainian citizenship, was shot dead in the downtown Kyiv on March 23, 2017. Voronenkov’s guard returned fire and wounded the attacker. The murderer died in the hospital. He was the native of Pavlohrad Pavlo Parshov, who previously served in the National Guard, but was sacked for non-fulfillment of the terms of the contract. Antin Herashchenko called him “Russian subversive” as according to Ukrainian law enforcers, before attacking Voronenkov, Pavlo Parshov visited Russia. Voronenkov was considered one of the main witnesses of “Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the role of Yanukovych regarding the intervention of Russian troops into Ukraine”[13].

On September 8, 2017, in the downtown Kyiv, near the Bessarabian market, the car of Timur Makhauri was blown up, in which his acquaintance was with her child. Makhauri died, the woman suffered heavy bodily injuries, and the child received slight injuries. The killed man was a citizen of Georgia, volunteer of the Chechen International Peacekeeping Battalion named after Dzhokhar Dudayev. According to Makhauri’s friend, he was “a personal enemy of Kadyrov,” they continuously undertook attempts on his life, and the murder has a “Russian trace”. The investigation deals with various versions of the crime: Russian trace, terrorist act, criminal, personal revenge, etc.[14]

Belarusian journalist Pavlo Sheremet, who had been working in Ukraine for several years, was blown up in a car a mine mine in downtown Kyiv on July 20, 2016. Later, video from surveillance cameras was uploaded to the Internet; it showed several people mining the journalist’s car on the night before the explosion[15]. In May, the journalists of the “Investigation.Info” released a film-investigation, which argued that Igor Ustymenko, former SBU security officer, allegedly stayed near the Sheremet’s house on the night before the assassination[16]. In addition, the author of the journalistic investigation Dmytro Gnap said that the SBU employees confiscated the server with video from surveillance cameras in one of the stores near the Sheremet’s house, and returned it empty[17]. Despite the strong statements made by the top state officials about the need for a quick and effective investigation into the murder and granting him the status of priority, the investigation has still not found the killers of Pavlo Sheremet or instigators of the crime.

Two Ukrainian officers were also murdered: chief of the special reserve department of the Main Directorate of Military Intelligence Maxym Shapoval and SBU Colonel Oleksandr Kharaberiush. On June 27, 2017, Shapoval’s car was blown up in Kyiv. The subordinates of Shapoval carried out operations in the zone of ATO and in uncontrolled areas of the Donbas. The main versions include Russian trace and revenge for successful operations in the uncontrolled territory of the in the separate regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts[18]. The Haraberiush’s car was blown up on March 31, 2017 in the residential quarter of Mariupol. The SBU announced solving of the crime. According to the SBU, the murder suspect was an officer of the “center of special operations under the auspices of the” MGB of the DPR”. According to the Head of the SBU, the “center” is coordinated and funded by the special services of the RF; it is headed by Vasyl Yevdokimov with the alias of “Lenin”[19].

Ivan Mamchur, who had served in the special units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donbas and was an internal security major, was shot dead on September 16, 2016 in the corridor of the house where he lived in Rivne. Subsequently, one of the murder suspects was detained while attempting to enter Russia. Attorney General Yuriy Lutsenko said that the detainee, a resident of Mariupol, said that he had murdered Ivan Mamchur at the request of the bodies of the FSB of Russia[20].

The only positive example of the work of the SBU murder prevention is the detention of two malefactors, who, according to the SBU, intended to attach an explosive device to the Anton Heraschenko’s car and activate it with the help of a mobile phone[21]. The SBU completed the pre-trial investigation into an attempt on the life of People’s Deputy Anton Herashchenko in connection with his public and state activities. As the investigation has established, an attempt was organized by one of the active members of the terrorist organization “LPR” to carry out the order of the General Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The suspect is hiding from the investigation in the RF and in the temporarily occupied territories[22].

Violent disappearances, abductions and luring out of the territory of Ukraine of persons, who are persecuted by the RF

Abduction of the oppositionists by special services of the RF from the territory of Ukraine was practiced also before the EuroMaidan. So, on October 20, 2012, Leonid Razvazzhaev was abducted near the UNHCR office. The Head Office of the MIA of Ukraine in Kyiv said that no applications concerning the disappearance of this person were received. His involvement in the carriage of Rosvazzhaev in Russia denied the SBGSU. However, there is a reasonable suspicion that the Ukrainian secret services have helped to abduct him[23].

After EuroMaidan and with the onset of RF aggression against Ukraine, violent disappearances, abductions and luring of people from the territory of Ukraine becoming an element of the hybrid war. Oleksandr Kostenko, resident of the Crimea, former militia officer, took part in the EuroMaidan. According to his lawyer Dmytro Sotnykov, after EuroMaydan, he was kidnapped by unknowns and, by some channels, without any documentation, was taken to the city of Bryansk, Russia. There, Kostenko managed to escape from the kidnappers. Without risking crossing the state border, he reached the Crimea. On February 5, 2015, he was kidnapped from his own house in Simferopol by the unknown persons and taken out in a minibus without identifying marks. An unauthorized search was conducted in the house. On February 6, after torture, Kostenko was “found” in the FSB in a grave condition, with a broken arm and dislocation of the forearm. Kostenko was tortured by former Crimean SBU and now FSB officers Tyschenin and Shambazov[24]. Kostenko was convicted because, while in Kyiv, he participated in “the riots aimed at overthrowing the constitutional order” and “threw a stone into a militia officer guided by ideological hatred for the officers of the internal affairs” (p. “b” p. 2 article 115 of the CC of the RF). It should be noted that in the RF there is no jurisdiction to try the offenses committed in the territory of another state, as well as for illegal storage of weapons and their main components (Part 1 of Article 222 of the CC of the RF)[25].

Father of Oleksandr Kostenko--Fedir Kostenko--is a missing person. On March 1, 2015, he went to Kyiv for a press conference. Being informed about the second search, he decided to return home. On the way back, probably on March 2, Fedir Kostenko disappeared. It was originally reported that Fedir Kostenko managed to enter the territory of the Crimea, but later this information was not confirmed. The Crimean investigating authorities refused to institute criminal proceedings. The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine stated that he had not crossed the administrative border. Obviously, he was abducted on the territory uncontrolled by Ukraine. In Ukraine, a criminal case was filed under Article 115 of the CC (deliberate murder)[26].

Eskander Ibraimov, inhabitant of Simferopol, shortly after the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, moved to the mainland of Ukraine. According to his wife, he left Vinnytsia for Moscow to meet his future business partner, a Russian from Kabardino-Balkaria, Rustam Mann. For the last time Ibraimov phoned his wife on the night of June 20, 2014. Since then, she has no news from him, and his whereabouts is unknown. The appeals to state institutions of Ukraine and Russia did not provide information sufficient for Ibraimov’s searches. From the criminal case filed by the FSB against the fugitive from Russia, Ingush Ruslan Meyriyev, it is known that Rustam Mann was questioned as a witness, and subsequently as a suspect two months before the scheduled meeting with Ibrahimov. Therefore, there are serious reasons to suppose that, at the time of the disappearance of Ibraimov and Mann, who stopped answering phone calls on June 20, 2014, Mann was controlled by the FSB and was used to lure Ibraimov out of Ukraine. Apparently, the disappearance of Ibraimov is violent and involves Russian special services[27].

Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpiuk were lured out into the territory of Russia and subsequently accused of the so-called “Chechen case”--in the creation of a gang and murders of Russian servicemen during Chechen events twenty years ago. According to Yuriy Tandyt, Head of the Coordination Center for the release of hostages, Mykola Karpiuk left for Russia on March 17, 2014 “at the invitation of one of the generals of Russian special services for negotiations, in fact with a white flag.”[28] According to the mother of Stanislav Klykh, he was lured out to Russia through his girlfriend Victoria, under the pretext of her pregnancy[29]. Both Klykh and Karpiuk underwent terrible tortures, which made Klykh mentally ill. From the persons under investigation, they wrested evidence against A. Yatsenyuk, D. Yarosh, and Tiahnybok brothers. There are grounds to consider this case organized in order to discredit the new leadership of Ukraine. In the indictment, the name of Prime Minister of Ukraine Yatseniuk is mentioned 228 times. In May 2016, the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic sentenced Klykh and Karpiuk to 20 and 22.5 years of a strict regime colony, respectively[30].

Pavlo Hryb, 19-year-old Ukrainian blogger, was abducted by Russian special services on the territory of Belarus on August 24, 2017. He was transferred to the RF under compulsion, where he was charged with incitement to blow up a school, which allegedly revealed in his communication with an online girlfriend. By blackmail the FSB officers forced her to play the role of a lure in a transborder special operation aimed at persuading Hryb to arrive in Belarus with subsequent abduction. Pavlo’s life is endangered as he lives with a disability associated with malfunction of the cardiovascular system. They do not give Pavlo necessary medications and Ukrainian doctors are denied access to him[31].

In June 2015, Ukraine joined the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and must abide by all its norms. Article 2 of this Convention provides that “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.” [32]. Under international law, the enforced disappearance is a crime, and under certain circumstances, even a crime against humanity. The p. 2, article 1 of the Convention reads: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.”[33] In Ukrainian legislation, an unlawful deprivation of liberty or abduction of a person is a serious criminal offense (article 146 of the CCU)[34]. Instead, we we are compelled to note that the SSU has been conducting enforced disappearing for a long time now[35]. In particular, we know about three cases of abduction by SBU officers and the illegal extradition to RF of persons who wished to apply or applied for refugee status in Ukraine.

Aminat Babayeva was detained on September 9, 2016, by border guards at the border crossing point at the Kharkiv Airport, although there were no legitimate grounds for detention. She was deported from Turkey due to the fact that her former husband was suspected of participating in military operations in Syria on the IDIL side. Babayeva maintained that she had not seen her ex-husband for two years. In Istanbul, she taught children Arabic and the Koran. Her friends turned to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group (KHRG) with a request for legal assistance, but in violation of the law the KHPG lawyer was not allowed to see Babaeva. The SBU officers, who arrived at the airport, urged Babayeva to agree to return to Russia, then to Belarus. After intervention of the MIA leaders Babayeva was admitted to the country. She put up at a hotel and on Monday, September 12, she applied to the Kharkiv Regional Department of the Migration Service for asylum, from where the unknowns abducted her, forced her to get in the car and drove her away. One of the abductors was identified by Aminat as a security officer named Arthur who talked with her at the airport. Arthur took away her tablet and did not return it. Babayeva was brought to the Goptivka border crossing with Russia and handed over to Russian border guards. Her belongings remained at the hotel. The SSU website informed that, in connection with suspicion of terrorism, Babaeva was subject to forced return and she voluntarily crossed the border of Ukraine with the RF[36].

In April 2017, the representatives of the Ukrainian competent authorities, probably SBGS or SSU, illegally transferred to Russia Ahmed Isakov resident of Buynaksk, Dagestan. He was deported from Turkey to Kharkiv. After he left Russia, Isakov lived for some time in Ukraine. Subsequently, he went to Turkey, where, according to unconfirmed information, he lived on a false passport of a citizen of Ukraine. Immediately upon arrival at the Kharkiv airport, the fake Ukrainian passport was found and Isakov was detained. He was denied to write an application for asylum and, without proper legal procedures, he was forcibly sent to Russia without the possibility of appealing against this decision. In Russia, he was taken into custody, and a case was registered against him for illegal storage of weapons[37].

In 2016, a criminal case was initiated against Vladimir Yegorov, member of the Yabloko party for calls for extremist activity for his post in the social network “Vkontakte” (Part 2 of Article 280 of the CC of the RF), in which he strongly spoke about President of Russia Vladimir Putin. On June 13, 2017, Egorov crossed the border with Ukraine on the internal passport of the RF and wrote an application for asylum at the checkpoint Senkivka. The SMS in Chernihiv issued documents and certificate of a person seeking asylum in Ukraine. On July 5, 2017, the officers of the SSU abducted him from the place of temporary work, brought him home for his belongings and took him to a neutral strip near the Senkivka checkpoint. Egorov was banned from entering Ukraine for three years. After this, following the request of the Public TV, the SSU officially answered that it did not take a decision on forced return or refoulement and entry ban[38]. Egorov entered Belarus, where he disappeared on July 27, and was subsequently found in a temporary isolator in his native town of Toropets of the Tver Oblast, Russia. As it turned out, he was detained by the Belarusian KGB, charged with petty hooliganism and after 3 days he was taken to the RF[39]. The Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Egorov as a political prisoner[40]. After the pre-trial investigation the case was sent to trial and Egorov was released from custody on November 16, 2017.

Summing up the above we have to state that due to numerous systematic violations of human rights, Ukraine cannot be considered a “safe country of origin” and “safe third country”. The Ukrainian state must take all possible measures to improve the situation and ensure human rights and guarantees of security in the sphere of protection of persons from the persecution by Russian Federation, as well as other authoritarian regimes.

The research was carried out under the KHPG project "Reform of the Asylum System in Ukraine", supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs



























[27] This material is based upon the written request by Escander Ibraimov’s wife Mariana Kudinova to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.










[37] According to Radio Freedom journalist Anvar Derkach, who monitors violations of human rights of Muslims in Ukraine.




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