IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine (BELOW) | Crimea
Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president who is head of state and commander in chief, and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; and a judiciary. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.
Following the Russian Federation’s November 25 attack on and seizure of Ukrainian ships and crewmembers in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait, the country instituted martial law for a period of 30 days in 10 oblasts bordering areas in which Russian forces are located. Martial law expired December 27 with no reports of rights having been restricted during the time.
Human rights issues included: civilian casualties, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses committed in the context of the Russia-induced and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region; abuse of detainees by law enforcement; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; censorship; blocking of websites; refoulement; the government’s increasing failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against activists, journalists, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; widespread government corruption; and worst forms of child labor.
The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly committed by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv had not been held to account.
Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in: enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; committed gender-based violence; interfered with freedom of expression, including of the press, peaceful assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.
Human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included: politically motivated disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; politically motivated imprisonment; and interference with the freedoms of expression, including of the press, and assembly and association. Crimea occupation authorities intensified violence and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea sub-report).
Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russia-led forces to investigate abuse allegations.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed possible arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths in prisons or detention centers due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). For example on September 2, a detainee who was being held alone in a cell was found dead in Lukyanivske pretrial facility in Kyiv. According to the forensic examination, the cause of death was damage to the internal organs. Police opened a murder investigation.
There were civilian casualties in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts between government and Russia-led forces (see section 1.g.).
There were reports of politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors, and in one case with the alleged involvement of a parliamentary aide. For example, on July 31, an unknown person poured concentrated sulfuric acid on public activist and advisor to the Kherson city mayor, Kateryna Handzyuk, resulting in serious chemical burns to over a third of her body. Handzyuk died of her injuries on November 4. Police at first opened a criminal investigation for “hooliganism.” They later requalified the attack as “causing severe bodily harm,” and then changed it to “attempted murder.” In August authorities arrested five suspects. In November authorities arrested a sixth individual, Ihor Pavlovsky, who at the time of the attack was an assistant to Mykola Palamarchuk, member of parliament for Bloc Petro Poroshenko. Human rights groups believed that the men arrested were credibly connected to the attack but criticized authorities for not identifying the individuals who ordered the attack. On November 6, parliament formed an interim parliamentary commission to investigate the murder of Handzyuk and attacks on other activists. Activists and media questioned the committee’s ability to impartially and effectively investigate or resolve the attacks because of the alleged political connections of some committee members.
On January 2, the body of lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska was found in a river in Kyiv Oblast with stab wounds and other signs of a violent death. Nozdrovska had criticized law enforcement and court authorities while pursuing justice for her sister, who had been hit and killed in 2015 by a car driven by an intoxicated driver, Dmytro Rossoshanskiy, who was the nephew of a powerful local judge. On January 8, authorities arrested Yuriy Rossoshanskiy, the father of Dmytro, and charged him with murdering Nozdrovska. Yuriy and Dmytro Rossoshanskiy were reported to have previously threatened Nozdrovska and her mother in retaliation for their support of the case against Dmytro. Authorities referred the case for trial on August 15. Media and civil society widely criticized a lack of transparency in the investigation and noted that many questions remain unanswered about the case, including the possibility that there were other assailants involved in the killing.
Authorities made no arrests during the year in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet. On August 2, Sheremet’s widow filed a lawsuit against the prosecutor general, alleging inaction by his office on the case. Human rights and press freedom watchdog groups expressed concern about the lack of progress in the government’s investigation, suggesting high-level obstruction or investigatory incompetence as potential reasons. Independent journalistic investigations of the killing released in May 2017 uncovered significant evidence that investigators had apparently overlooked. President Poroshenko expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of the investigation in February during a press conference.
Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted some progress in the investigation of the killings of protesters. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions despite the existence of considerable evidence. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of late November, 279 persons had been indicted and 52 had been found guilty.
The HRMMU noted there was limited progress in the investigation and legal proceedings connected to a 2014 trade union building fire in Odesa that stemmed from violent clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian unity demonstrators. During the clashes and fire, 48 persons died, including six prounity and 42 pro-Russia individuals. On May 30, an indictment against the former heads of the Odesa city police and the city public security department for “abuse of authority or office” was submitted to the Prymorsky district court in Odesa. The trial against the head of the Odesa Oblast police on charges of abuse of authority, forgery, and dereliction of duty in protecting people from danger continued. Observers noted that appeal proceedings challenging the September 2017 acquittal by the Chornomorsk court in Odesa Oblast of 19 defendants in the 2014 trade union building fire case due to lack of evidence appeared to be stalled.
There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use as evidence in court proceedings confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.
In the Donbas region, there were reports that government and progovernment forces at times committed abuses, including torture, against individuals detained on national security grounds. There were reports that Russia-led forces in the so-called “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk systematically committed numerous abuses, including torture, to maintain control or for personal financial gain. According to international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence (see section 1.g.).
Abuse of prisoners and detainees by police remained a widespread problem. In its report on the seventh periodic visit to the country, published on September 6, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern over a considerable number of recent and credible allegations from detained persons regarding excessive use of force by police and physical abuse aimed at obtaining additional information or extracting a confession.
In a report released on June 8 on his visit to the country, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (UN SRT) stated that, according to victims he had interviewed, during interrogations “police forces reportedly resorted to kicking and beating, used suffocation techniques, most notably by placing plastic bags over the head, suspension and prolonged stress position. Numerous inmates also reported having been electrocuted and, in some cases, subjected to mock executions. Several detainees showed signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and some still displayed visible marks of mistreatment and torture. Others reported having been subjected to techniques of torture specifically designed to leave no marks.” On February 26, in Odesa Oblast, two patrol police detained and allegedly beat motorist Serhiy Grazhdan, claiming that he was driving drunk. According to press reports, police threw Grazhdan to the ground, handcuffed him, and beat him until he lost consciousness. When Grazhdan’s wife attempted to intervene, police threatened her with a gun. Grazhdan was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Police opened two investigations–one into the actions of the police officers and another into allegations that Grazhdan insulted and inflicted minor injuries on one of the arresting officers.
There were reports of sexual violence being committed in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem in some pretrial detention facilities. While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were often not separated in some pretrial detention facilities, a concern emphasized in the June 8 UN SRT report.
Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example on June 8, staff of the Chernivtsi pretrial facility brutally beat detainees, one of whom was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of the local hospital as a result. According to the detainees’ relatives, staff allegedly beat detainees while they were handcuffed, and humiliated them by making them squat and crawl. The administration of the remand facility claimed they were attempting to put down a riot. The local prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation of the incident, which concluded that prison staff had not exceeded their authority.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. The CPT noted that inter-prisoner violence was a problem in all but one of the establishments it visited. For example, on August 18, staff of the Lukyanivske penitentiary facility found a 34-year-old inmate who had been beaten to death by his cellmate.
Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities. The CPT expressed concern that prisoners in pretrial detention were generally not offered any out-of-cell activities other than outdoor exercise for an hour per day in small yards.
The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the June report of the UN SRT, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to CPT, in some pretrial detention centers, detainees did not have consistent access to food and water. According to UN SRT, most hygienic products including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products were not provided and detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.
UN and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all kinds of medications with an over-reliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison healthcare facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering, and delayed diagnoses and treatment.
As of February more than 9,000 detainees were in Russia-controlled territory. On February 7, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 20 prisoners incarcerated in Russia-controlled territory were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory. Since 2015 a total of 198 inmates had been transferred to the penitentiary facilities in government-controlled areas.
The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas continued to deteriorate. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. In most cases, these places were not suitable for even short-term detention. There were reports of severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU was denied access to detainees in the Russia-controlled territory of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)” and “Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).” The lack of access to detainees raised concerns about the conditions of detention and treatment. The UN SPT was granted access to places of detention in the “DPR” and “LPR,” but this was limited to preselected sites and he was unable to conduct confidential interviews with detainees. The UN SPT indicated that these restrictions did not allow him to fulfill his mandate in this part of Ukraine. Based upon his limited observations of official detention facilities in the “DPR,” he reported that healthcare appeared to be restricted, the quality of the food was reported to be unacceptable, and ventilation and sanitation appeared very poor. The East Human Rights Group continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “LPR,” such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided personal income to the leaders of the Russia-led forces.
Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsman, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Human rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints. According to representatives of the national preventive mechanism, an organization that conducted monitoring visits of places of detention, authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints.
While officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors, prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they were entitled by law.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the UN SRT. During its May-June visit, the UN SRT also had access to a very restricted set of facilities in the “DPR” and the “LPR.”
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.
The HRMMU and other monitoring groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The SBU is responsible for state security broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Migration Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants.
Security forces generally prevented or responded to societal violence. At times, however, they used excessive force to disperse protests or, in some cases, failed to protect victims from harassment or violence. For example, on June 8, a group of violent nationalists from the National Druzhina organization–established with support from the National Corps–attacked and destroyed a Romani camp in Kyiv after its residents failed to respond to their ultimatum to leave the area within 24 hours. Police were present but made no arrests, and in a video of the attack posted on social media, police could be seen making casual conversation with the nationalists following the attack.
Civilian authorities generally had control over law enforcement agencies but rarely took action to punish abuses committed by security forces. Impunity for abuses by law enforcement agencies remained a significant problem that was frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports as well as by other human rights groups. The HRMMU noted authorities were unwilling to investigate allegations of torture and other abuses, particularly when the victims had been detained on grounds related to national security or were seen as pro-Russian.
While authorities sometimes brought charges against members of the security services, cases often remained under investigation without being brought to trial while authorities allowed alleged perpetrators to continue their work. According to an April report by the Expert Center for Human Rights, only 3 percent of criminal cases against law enforcement authorities for physical abuse of detainees were transferred to court. In addition, human rights groups criticized the lack of progress in investigations of alleged crimes in areas retaken by the government from Russia-led forces, resulting in continuing impunity for these crimes. In particular, investigations of alleged crimes committed by Russia-led forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in 2014 appeared stalled. Human rights groups believed that many local law enforcement personnel collaborated with Russia-led forces when they controlled the cities.
Under the law, members of the parliament have authority to conduct investigations and public hearings into law enforcement problems. The human rights ombudsman may also initiate investigations into abuses by security forces.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated it provides 80 hours of compulsory human rights training to security forces, focusing on the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Law enforcement training institutions also include courses on human rights, rule of law, constitutional rights, tolerance and nondiscrimination, prevention of domestic violence, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law, authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.
Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law, citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions. In its September report, the CPT expressed concern about a widespread practice of unrecorded detention, in particular, the unrecorded presence in police stations of persons “invited” for “informal talks” with police, and noted that they encountered several allegations of physical mistreatment that took place during a period of unrecorded detention. Authorities occasionally held suspects incommunicado, in some cases for several weeks.
According to the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement, detainees were not always allowed prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients.
The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement.
Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU and other human rights monitors reported a continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities. For example, according to the HRMMU, on March 12, the SBU searched the apartment of an opposition journalist in Kharkiv. SBU staff presented a search warrant but did not allow the suspect to contact a lawyer. After the SBU seized a plastic bottle with ammunition rounds which they claimed they found in the journalist’s apartment, they took him to the regional SBU department, interrogated him for 12 hours, and pressured him to cooperate with SBU. They released him later without pressing official charges.
There were multiple reports of arbitrary detention in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine. As of mid-August the HRMMU documented 28 cases in which government military or SBU personnel detained presumed members of armed groups and held them in unofficial detention facilities before their arrests were properly registered. According to the HRMMU, on June 16, armed men wearing military uniforms and masks stormed a house where a Russian citizen was staying. They blindfolded him and brought him to an unofficial detention facility located in Pokrovsk at a transportation company facility where he allegedly spent two days handcuffed to an iron bed. On June 18, SBU officers offered him two options, either to be placed in custody or “to disappear.” He was brought to a court hearing and then sent to pretrial detention.
There were reports that members of nationalist hate groups, such as C14 and National Corps, at times committed arbitrary detentions with the apparent acquiescence of law enforcement. For example according to the HRMMU, on March 14, members of C14 unlawfully detained a man in Kyiv Oblast who was suspected of being a member of an armed group in the “LPR.” After interrogating him while he was face down and handcuffed, C14 handed him over to the SBU.
Arbitrary arrest was reportedly widespread in both the “DPR” and the “LPR.” The HRMMU raised particular concern over the concept of “preventive arrest” introduced in February by Russia-led forces in the “LPR.” Under a preventive arrest, individuals may be detained for up to 30 days, with the possibility of extending detention to 60 days, based on allegations that a person was involved in crimes against the security of the “LPR.” During preventive arrests, detainees were held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and relatives.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.
Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Prosecutor General’s Office, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.
The National Bar Association reported numerous cases of intimidation and attacks against lawyers, especially those representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “pro-Russia-led forces.” For example on July 27, representatives of nationalist hate group C14 attacked lawyer Valentyn Rybin, who was representing a citizen charged with separatism at the Kyiv City Appeals Court. Police opened an investigation into the incident.
A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.
The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial, to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal.
Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.
Russia-led forces terminated Ukrainian court system functions on territories under their control in 2014. The so-called “DPR” and “LPR” did not have an independent judiciary, and the right to a fair trial was systematically restricted. The HRMMU reported that in many cases individuals were not provided with any judicial review of their detention, and were detained indefinitely without any charges or trial. In cases of suspected espionage or when individuals were suspected of having links to the Ukrainian government, closed-door trials by military tribunals were held. There were nearly no opportunities to appeal the verdicts of these tribunals. According to the HRMMU, “accounts by conflict-related detainees suggest that their degree of culpability in the imputed ‘crime’ was already considered established at the time of their ‘arrest,’ amounting to a presumption of guilt. Subsequent ‘investigations’ and ‘trials’ seemed to serve merely to create a veneer of legality to the ‘prosecution’ of individuals believed to be associated with Ukrainian military or security forces.” The HRMMU reported that de facto authorities generally impede private lawyers from accessing clients and that court-appointed defense lawyers generally made no efforts to provide an effective defense, and participated in efforts to coerce guilty pleas.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of a small number of individuals that some human rights groups considered to be political prisoners.
As of October the trial of Zhytomyr journalist Vasyl Muravytsky, was ongoing. Muravytsky was charged with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements deemed pro-Russian. He could face up to 15 years of prison. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for his release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.
On February 20, the Dolyna court returned an indictment against Ruslan Kotsaba, a blogger from Ivano-Frankivsk, to the prosecutor’s office for lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. Kotsaba was not incarcerated at the time and had been released in 2016 following his 2015 arrest on charges of impeding the work of the armed forces by calling on Ukrainians to ignore the draft. During the period of his arrest, human rights groups had deemed him a political prisoner.
According to the SBU, Russia-led forces kept an estimated 113 hostages in Donbas.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsman at any time and to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal remedies.
The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration but has not passed any laws dealing with the restitution of private or communal property, although the latter has been dealt with partly through regulations and decrees. In recent years most successful cases of restitution have taken place as a result of tacit and behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Jewish groups.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.
By law, the SBU may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. The SBU and law enforcement agencies, however, sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant. In an emergency authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the SBU that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. There was no implementing legislation, and authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.
There were some reports that the government had accessed private communications and monitored private movements without appropriate legal authority. For example on April 26, a judge of the Uzhhorod city court complained of illegal surveillance. Representatives of the National Guard who were entrusted with guarding the court premises had allegedly installed a listening device in his office. Police opened an investigation into the complaint.
There were reports that the government improperly sought access to information about journalists’ sources and investigations (see section 2.a.).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Authorities did not always respect these rights, however. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media outlets whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.
In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.
Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, several persons were detained in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, Melitopol, and Odesa for carrying banned Soviet symbols.
The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws.
Press and Media Freedom: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were owned by wealthy and influential oligarchs, often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies.
As of October 1, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) recorded 140 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press during the year, compared with 152 cases over the same period in 2017.
Jeansa–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–continued to be widespread. IMI’s monitoring of national print and online media for jeansa indicated that a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. According to IMI press monitoring, during the month of September, the country’s internet media contained the highest level of jeansa observed in the previous five years, a level twice as high as the same period in 2017, with 52 percent of journalists reporting that their outlet regularly published jeansa.
Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes as giving rise to a growing culture of impunity.
According to IMI, as of September 1, there had been 22 reports of attacks on journalists during the year, compared with 19 cases during the same period in 2017. As in 2017, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 24 incidents involving threats against journalists, as compared with 22 during the same period in 2017. IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.
On September 8, two men, one of them identified as Volodymyr Voychenko, a member of the Novoodesa district council in Mykolaiv Oblast, attacked and beat the editor in chief of the local Mykolaiv newspaper My City, Mykola Popov. According to Popov, Voychenko and an accomplice approached him at a restaurant to complain about his writing and then beat him. The journalist linked the attack to his critical publications about local authorities. Police opened an investigation into both Popov and his attackers, who had filed a complaint claiming that Popov had attacked them.
There were also reports that police beat journalists covering demonstrations (see section 2.b).
There were reports of police using violence and intimidation against journalists. For example in February 21, several female journalists seeking to attend the treason trial of former president Yanukovych reported that police officers forced them to undress and undergo invasive security checks in order to be granted entry to a courtroom where Poroshenko was testifying via video link. Specifically, the female journalists were asked to remove all clothing above the waist so that police could confirm that they did not have political slogans written on their bodies. Police later indicated that they had been looking for members of the protest group Femen, who often conducted partially nude protests. The presidential administration subsequently apologized for the intrusive checks, but the National Police spokesperson defended the police actions as “necessary.”
There were reports of attacks on the offices of independent media outlets, generally by unidentified assailants. For example, on February 23, an unknown assailant burned the offices of the investigative news website Chetverta Vlada (fourth Power) in Rivne. Police opened an investigation into the attack. Five days prior, unknown persons had robbed the offices hosting the website’s server and seized key equipment, which incapacitated the site. Two perpetrators were identified and police issued a wanted notice.
There were reports that government officials sought to pressure journalists through the judicial system. On August 27, Pechersk District Court in Kyiv granted the Prosecutor General’s Office access to 17 months of text messages, calls, and locations from the cell phone of journalist Natalia Sedletska, who was the editor in chief of the anticorruption investigative television program Schemes. The court’s decision was made in the context of a case against Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) for allegedly disclosing state secrets to journalists in which Sedletska and a number of other journalists were called as witnesses. Sedletska had previously refused to provide information to the Prosecutor General’s Office voluntarily on the grounds her communications with confidential sources are protected under the law. Human rights defenders considered the court’s decision a violation of press freedom and an attempt to harass and intimidate Sedletska. On September 18, an appeals court ruled to restrict the original request to geolocation data from around the offices of the NABU in Kyiv, but upheld the original timeframe. On September 18, the ECHR ordered the government to ensure that authorities do not access any data from Sedletska’s cell phone. According to press reports, Sedletska was one of at least three journalists whose communications data was subject to court rulings that it should be provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office.
There were no developments during the year in the 2016 killing of well-known Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).
In June 2017 authorities completed the investigation of the 2015 killing of Oles Buzyna, allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, and referred the case to court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human Rights organizations frequently criticized the government for taking an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, and other content (see sections on National Security and Internet Freedom).
The State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books that were seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence, spreading propaganda of violence, inciting interethnic, racial, religious hostility, promoting terrorist attacks, or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of July the list contained 180 books. In January, Derzhkomteleradio banned the Russian-language translation of Stalingrad, an award-winning book by British historian Anthony Beever. Authorities held that the book’s allegation that Ukrainian militias during World War II carried out an execution of 90 Jewish orphans in Bila Tserkva constituted “propaganda” encroaching on the country’s sovereignty and security.
Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists.
For example, on June 13, Ukroboronprom (an association of state-run companies producing defense articles) filed a lawsuit against Publishing House Media DK, the media group that owns Novoye Vremya. Novoye Vremya had published articles on corruption connected to state purchases of defense articles from Ukroboronprom. The lawsuit called for the protection of Ukroboronprom’s honor and dignity and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on corruption schemes. The case had not yet been heard in court by year’s end.
National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russian lines, in the context of the ongoing conventional conflict in the Donbas, as well as the ongoing Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns.
The government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September more than 660 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. In response to Russia’s continued barrage of cyberattacks and disinformation as part of its efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the government maintained its May 2017 ban on the operations of 468 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were the country’s two most widely used social networks, which were based in Russia, and major Russian television channels.
There were reports that the government used noncompliance with these content bans to pressure outlets it perceived as having a pro-Russian editorial policy. For example, on January 25, the television channel INTER, which some observers perceived to have a pro-Russian bias, received notice from the SBU that it would be subjected to additional “inspections” on the grounds the channel had aired films that were banned because they starred pro-Russian actors that posed a “threat to national security.”
On October 4, parliament approved a resolution to impose sanctions on television channels 112 Ukraine and NewsOne due to their alleged pro-Russian activities and beneficial owners. The resolution called for blocking of assets, suspension of licenses, a ban on the use of radio frequencies, and a termination of the provisions of telecommunication services and usage of general telecommunications networks. As of December sanctions had not yet come into force.
On September 18, the Lviv Oblast council banned all Russian-language books, films, and songs, in order to combat “hybrid warfare” by Russia. The Zhytomyr and Ternopil Oblast Councils mirrored this measure on October 25 and November 6 respectively. Observers expressed doubts that this type of ban could be enforced.
Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU, the military, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, the editor in chief of the weekly magazine Novoye Vremya reported threats to the magazine’s editorial board by the chair of the parliamentary committee on national security and former head of the Ukroboronprom Serhiy Pashynsky, and the deputy chair of the National Security and Defense Council Oleg Hladkovsky. The magazine reported that the two officials were the main beneficiaries of corruption schemes connected to state purchases of defense articles. On April 12, attorneys for the two members of parliament visited the magazine’s office and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on national security grounds. The magazine refused to do so.
There were reports that the government used national security grounds to arrest and prosecute journalists it believed had a pro-Russian editorial bias. On May 15, the SBU searched RIA Novosti Ukraine’s office. Editor in Chief Kirill Vyshinskiy was arrested and charged with high treason. According to the SBU, in the spring of 2014, Vyshinskiy went to Crimea, where he allegedly took part in a propaganda campaign supporting the peninsula’s purported annexation by Russia, for which the SBU alleged he was given an award by the Russian government. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, and the OSCE representative on freedom of the media expressed concern at the time of his arrest. Pretrial investigation continued as of late September.
Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists on national security grounds. On July 10, border guards barred John Warren Graeme Broderip, a UK national and the host of the Russian channel NTV, from entering the country and imposed a three-year entry ban on him for violating the rules of entering occupied Crimea in 2015.
Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that nationalist hate groups committed attacks on journalists. For example according to IMI, on July 19, members of nationalist hate group C14 in Kyiv attacked a journalist covering a trial of C14 members who had been charged with attacking a Romani camp.
Russia-led forces in the east harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “the space for freedom of opinion and expression remained highly restricted.” The HRMMU documented the case of two men detained and charged with espionage for their pro-Ukrainian positions expressed in social media. The HRMMU also noted that “local media currently operated mainly as a tool for promoting those in control.” According to CyberLab Ukraine, the authorities in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” blocked more than 50 Ukrainian news outlets.
The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.
On August 22, the Russian state-run television channel Rossiya 24 broadcast an “interview” with Stanislav Aseyev, in which he falsely confessed to spying for Ukraine. “DPR authorities” arrested Aseyev in June (see section 1.g.).
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 53 percent of the population used Internet in 2017. Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to block access to websites.
On May 14, the president endorsed new sanctions approved by the National Security and Defense Council that, among other things, obliged Ukrainian internet providers to block 192 sites, in addition to those previously blocked.
Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.
In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had deteriorated for the second year in a row. It noted in particular that “authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ activities, with many users detained, fined, and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, Russia-led forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”
There were reports that the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. According to the media monitoring group Detector Media, in 2017 authorities opened criminal investigations into 40 users or administrators of social media platforms for posting content that “undermined the constitutional order” of the country or otherwise threatened national security, 37 of which were referred to court. For example, according to Freedom House, in February the SBU searched the home of a Chernihiv resident for allegedly posting anti-Ukrainian content on Russian social media platforms. Authorities seized his computer and telephone, and later charged him for “undermining the constitutional order.” According to the SBU, the man shared content on several groups and pages with more than 20,000 followers.
On November 28, representatives of at least four Ukrainian human rights, media, and anticorruption organizations were notified by Google that their private and corporate Google accounts were attacked by offenders likely backed by the Russian government. Ukrainian users received similar messages throughout 2015-2016. Independent analysis indicated that a hacker group named Fancy Bear associated with the Russian Government was behind the attacks.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russian musicians, actors, and other cultural figures that it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.
During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. There were reports, however, that police at times used excessive force when dispersing protests. For example, on March 3, police destroyed a protest tent camp that had been set up near the parliament in October 2017. Police allegedly beat protesters and used tear gas against journalists. Nineteen persons sustained injuries (10 had head injuries and nine other types of physical injuries), including journalists from Radio Liberty, Hromadske TV, and the Insider news outlet. The journalists reported deliberate attacks by police despite the fact that they had clearly identified themselves as members of the press. According to the chief of the Kyiv police, investigators and police were lawfully investigating criminal acts in connection with protester attempts to seize the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv in December 2017 and clashes at the parliament on February 27. Police initiated two criminal investigations on possible use of excessive force by officers and interference by police in the work of journalists who were attempting to record the event. The investigation continued as of December.
While the main 2018 Pride March in Kyiv was protected by thousands of police, police at times did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of nationalist hate groups. On March 8, members of right-wing groups attacked participants in public events in Uzhhorod, Lviv, and Kyiv aimed at raising awareness of women’s rights and gender-based and domestic violence. Police launched investigations of the incidents. Police briefly detained attackers but no charges were filed.
In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies” of Russia-led forces. The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces, with forced public participation.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.
Human rights groups and international organizations continued to criticize sharply a law signed by the president in March 2017 that introduced vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and a revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which had successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials. Heads and members of the boards of anticorruption NGOs had to submit their asset declarations by April 1. Observers continued to express concern that these asset declarations have the potential to endanger the staff of NGOs working on human rights and anticorruption, particularly if they work on issues related to Russian-occupied Crimea or areas of the Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces.
Human rights organizations reported a growing number of unsolved attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed created a climate of impunity. A September 26 joint statement by several dozen Ukrainian civic organizations stated that there had been more than 50 such attacks in the previous 12 months and accused the government of failing to investigate these crimes properly.
There were reports of incidents in which observers alleged that the government targeted activists for prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, several major human rights groups expressed concern about the government’s prosecution of Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the anticorruption NGO AntAC, which they alleged was selective and politically motivated. On January 15, authorities charged Shabunin with allegedly inflicting bodily harm on a journalist, a charge that carries a heavier penalty than the crime of inflicting intentional moderate bodily harm with which he had previously been charged in 2017. Both charges stemmed from an incident in June 2017 in which Shabunin allegedly punched Vsevolod Filimonenko, a supposed journalist who had reportedly harassed one of Shabunin’s colleagues. Human rights groups noted that video footage of the events suggested that Filimonenko may have been sent by the country’s security services to provoke a conflict with Shabunin and that the resources and vigor the government applied to prosecuting Shabunin far exceeded their usual approach to prosecuting attacks on journalists, including attacks where the resultant injuries were much more grave.
According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.
In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited.
While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 39,000 individuals crossed the line daily. The HRMMU reported that individuals crossing the contact line, predominantly the elderly and people with medical issues, had to spend several hours standing in line. According to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Luhansk Oblast, up to 100 persons experienced health incidents each day at the Stanytsia-Luhanska checkpoint between May and August.
The government used a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups expressed concern that many persons in Russia-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes and that the pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which were not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. As of April 2017, crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side did not need a permit to cross.
The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern over reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.
The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Long lines and insufficient access to toilets, shelter, and potable water remained prevalent. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers continued to maintain that the government placed significant barriers to their entry to Crimea, including lengthy processes to obtain required permissions, thereby complicating their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September more than 1.5 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home.
The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law, IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. On October 10, the president signed a law providing for the priority provision of social housing for IDPs with disabilities. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.
Housing, employment, and payment of social benefits and pensions remained the greatest concerns among IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process.
According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory, as well as most residents of Russia-controlled areas; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated. On September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the verification requirement did not constitute lawful grounds for termination of pension payments.
According to research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 59 percent of surveyed IDP households relied on government support as one of their main sources of income. More than 15 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.
IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.
According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.
A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition.
NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.
In 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government often did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For example on September 12, the Prosecutor General’s Office authorized the extradition of a Russian citizen, Timur Tumgoyev, to the Russian Federation, which subsequently prosecuted him on terrorism charges. According to press reports, Tumgoyev had been in the country since 2016, had apparently fought in a progovernment battalion in the Donbas, and had requested asylum. The UN Human Rights Committee had previously called on the country’s authorities to halt Tumgoyev’s extradition pending consideration of his assertion that he would face torture if forcibly returned. On September 19, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into whether there had been criminal negligence on the part of the state agencies involved in Tumgoyev’s extradition. On October 6, the Russian press reported that Tumgoyev had been severely beaten in detention in Russia.
There were also allegations that officials deported some individuals to countries where they were at risk of imprisonment without providing an opportunity for them to apply for asylum. For example on July 12, the SBU in Mykolaiv detained Turkish opposition journalist Yusuf Inan, who had a permanent residence permit in Ukraine. On July 13, a Mykolaiv court ruled to extradite him to Turkey, where he was wanted on charges of being a member of the Gulen movement. According to press reports, authorities immediately transported Inan to Turkey, denying him the ability to appeal the court decision or apply for asylum.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. As of July 1, only seven persons had received refugee status since the start of the year. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.
Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.
A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.
Employment: Most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Some asylum seekers worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.
Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). Some reports, however, indicated the government did not always provide payment.
Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.
According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1, authorities had provided complementary protection to 37 persons during the year, bringing the overall total to 739.
UNHCR estimated there were 35,463 stateless persons in the country at year’s end. Persons who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons over 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and were no longer able to obtain one.
The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption. Authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
On June 26, the president signed the Law on the High Anticorruption Court (HACC); on August 2, he signed an amendment to the law that clarified the HACC appeals processes. Observers noted that the HACC’s creation completed the country’s system of bodies to fight high-level corruption. Its success will depend on the integrity of the selection procedures for its judges as well as on the effectiveness and independence of the other two previously created anticorruption agencies, the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) and the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor (SAP). The process for selecting HACC judges began in August. In November anticorruption watchdogs expressed concern about apparent limitations on the work of an international expert panel that the law mandates participate in the HACC judge selection process to ensure the integrity of candidates.
The new independent anticorruption bodies faced political pressure that undermined public trust, raised concern about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption, and threatened the viability of the institutions. Anticorruption watchdogs noted that several appointments to NABU’s audit board during the year were seen as personally loyal to the president and posing a threat to NABU’s independence. Observers alleged that the release of leaked conversations by the head of SAP in early 2018 indicated he had engaged in witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He refused to resign, was not disciplined by the Prosecutor General or prosecutorial body, and allegedly proceeded to undermine NABU investigations, weakening efforts to hold high-ranking officials to account.
Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.
On February 13, NABU arrested Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov and three city council deputies, who were charged with embezzlement and causing financial damage to the state. He was released on bail on February 15. According to NABU, Trukhanov and his associates profited from a fraud scheme in which the Odesa city government bought a building from a fictitious private company for 185 million hryvnias ($6.9 million) in 2016. That company, allegedly beneficially owned by Trukhanov and associates, had allegedly bought the building just months earlier from the Odesa city government for just 11.5 million hryvnias ($430,000) at an auction and had made millions of dollars in illicit profit from the resale. A court began reviewing the case on November 14.
Financial Disclosure: The law mandates the filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials, and a special review process allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration. By law, the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) is responsible for reviewing financial declarations, monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials, and checking party finances. Observers increasingly questioned, however, whether the NAPC had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function, noting that in practice NABU had proven to be more effective for oversight of declarations, even though this was not its core mandate. In July, Transparency International Ukraine noted that the NAPC had fully reviewed only 300 declarations out of 2.5 million that had been submitted and had identified multiple serious holes in its verification procedures. On September 25, the NAPC launched “automated” verification of declarations, which would purportedly allow easier identification of declarations at “high risk’ of fraud. Observers noted serious flaws in this automated procedure and doubted it would result in improved verification. Observers noted that the NAPC’s December announcement that it would open criminal cases regarding party financing against the lead opposition party Batkivshchyna and several minor parties after years of general inactivity raised concerns that it might be used for political purposes ahead of the 2019 election cycle.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. During the year burdensome new reporting requirements on NGOs working on anticorruption matters came into effect. The requirements were adopted in 2017 in apparent retaliation for the NGOs’ activities (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
Authorities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as legislative commissioner on human rights. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office frequently collaborated with NGOs through civic advisory councils on various projects for monitoring human rights practices in prisons and other government institutions.
The Ombudsman’s Office collaborated with leading domestic human rights groups and acted as an advocate on behalf of Crimean Tatars, IDPs, Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and prison inmates.
On March 15, the parliament appointed Lyudmila Denisova parliamentary commissioner for human rights. The office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson cooperated with NGOs on various projects to monitor human rights practices in various institutions, including detention facilities, orphanages and boarding schools for children, and geriatric institutions. Denisova took a proactive stance advocating on behalf of political prisoners held by Russia, Crimean Tatars, Roma, IDPs, and persons with disabilities.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
During the year, human rights groups expressed growing concern about an increasingly organized set of nationalist hate groups committing violent attacks on ethnic minorities (especially Roma), LGBTI persons, feminists, and other individuals they considered to be “un-Ukrainian” or “anti-Ukrainian.” The HRMMU noted that the failure of police and prosecutors to prevent these acts of violence, properly classify them as hate crimes, and effectively investigate and prosecute them created an environment of impunity and lack of justice for victims. A June 13 joint open letter to Ukrainian authorities from Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Frontline Defenders also expressed concerns about the spike in attacks and impunity, and noted “the inadequate response from the authorities sends a message that such acts are tolerated.”
Investigative journalists exposed several instances during the year in which the government provided grant funds to or cooperated with hate groups. On June 8, the Ministry of Youth and Sport announced that it would award C14, a nationalist hate group, 440,000 hryvnia ($17,000) to hold a youth summer camp. The ministry later justified the decision by stating that it provided the funds only for specific project activities that were not violent. Media outlets reported that C14 and other hate groups had entered into formal agreements with municipal authorities in Kyiv and other cities to form “municipal guard” patrol units to provide public security. In a December 2017 media interview, the head of C14 described cooperation with the SBU and police (see section 1.d.).
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.
On January 4, the president signed a new law, On Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence, which came into force on January 7. It introduced a new legal concept of domestic violence and called for the creation of a unified state register to monitor cases of domestic violence. Under the law, an offender is liable for compulsory community service, or a two to eight year prison term.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 651 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year. Police issued approximately 68,000 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine months of the year. Punishment included fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted that the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited. Human rights groups asserted that law enforcement often did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses, but also noted that police were starting to take the problem more seriously.
On November 5, police in Vinnytsia Oblast arrested 54-year old Petro Putsak for starving his 78-year old mother. Neighbors reported that he locked his mother in the house, deprived her of medical help and would occasionally beat her when demanding money. The woman was taken to the intensive care unit of a local hospital. Police were in the process of investigating the case.
According to the NGO La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to posttraumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many claimed to have fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.
Although the law requires the government to operate a shelter in every major city, it did not do so. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse.
Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent person” to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate. The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties from a fine of up to three years in prison. Women’s rights groups reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men. Nevertheless, women experienced discrimination in employment. According to the government commissioner on gender policy, women received 30 percent lower salaries than men. In December 2017 the Ministry of Health removed 450 occupations from a list of occupations prohibited for women; 50 occupations remained on the list, however. In April the government approved the State Social Program for Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men, which aimed to ensure access of men and women to employment, achieve balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision-making, to bridge the gap in salary payments, and to adopt appropriate regulations to achieve gender mainstreaming in all policies.
In September the parliament approved the Law on Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men Serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Other Military Institutions, which provided for gender equality related to military service. The bill was aimed at ensuring gender equality and combating gender-based discrimination in the security and defense sectors, including the recognition and compensation of women’s service in combat roles and the ability for women to receive an education at military academies (see also section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Either birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.
Registration of children born in Crimea or Russia-controlled areas in Donbas remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russia-backed “authorities” routinely kept such paperwork if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or “authorities” in territories controlled by Russia-led forces. Persons living in Crimea and parts of Russia-controlled Donbas had to turn to Ukrainian courts with birth or death documents issued by occupational authorities in order to receive Ukrainian documents. The courts were obliged to make rulings in 24 hours; these decisions were then carried out by the registry office. Due to the lack of judges in local courts, Ukrainians living in regions occupied by Russia and Russian-led forces faced serious difficulty in obtaining Ukrainian documents.
Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from three years to life depending on severity. The law “On Children Protection from Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation,” which amended the Criminal Code of Ukraine to criminalize sexual relations between adults and persons who have not reached the age of 16, came into force on April 18. The law calls for imprisonment of up to five years for those who engage in sexual relations with a child younger than 16.
Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).
Authorities did not take effective measures at the national level to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsman for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, in particular violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative for a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.
In early November a two-year old boy was taken to the intensive care unit in Kyiv. According to the police, his stepfather brutally beat him. Police began investigating the incident and the child was removed from the family pending conclusion of the investigation.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. A court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry if it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest. Romani rights groups reported that early marriages involving girls under the age of 18 were common in the Romani community.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for child rape is 10 years. Molesting a child younger than 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child younger than 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.
Sexual exploitation of children, however, remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem.
Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported that a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The IOM reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking, including for commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. For example on June 13 in Kryvyi Rih, police arrested a couple who repeatedly raped their daughter. They allegedly recorded the child’s abuse and sold videos of it over the internet. According to police, the father had abused the four-year-old child since she was two. The girl’s 30-year-old mother did nothing to stop her husband from abusing and molesting the child. The child was placed in a local rehabilitation center. An investigation was underway as of year’s end.
Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 240,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low.
Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. In August 2017 the government approved a national strategy for 2017-2026 intended to transform the institutionalized childcare system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children.
Human rights groups and media outlets reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.
On August 6, Odesa Oblast police launched an investigation into alleged cases of child abuse in a local orphanage. The investigation began after a five-year old girl reported numerous cases of humiliation and violence from orphanage staff. The police initiated investigation.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
According to census data and international Jewish groups, an estimated 103,600 Jews lived in the country, constituting approximately 0.2 percent of the population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD), there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, although the number might be higher. Before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.
According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG), like in 2017 no cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence were recorded as of November 30. The last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurred in 2016. The NMRMG recorded approximately 11 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism as of November 30, compared with 24 incidents in 2017. According to NMRMG, the drop in violence and anti-Semitic vandalism was due to better police work and prosecution of those committing anti-Semitic acts.
Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, and other cities. On April 27-28, unidentified individuals smashed windows and scattered prayer books at the ohel (a structure built over the grave of a righteous Jew) at the grave of renowned 17th century Rabbi Shmuel Eidels in Ostroh, Rivne Oblast. Police opened an investigation. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued existence of Krakivsky Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were reportedly several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial during the year.
In other manifestations of anti-Semitism during the year, nationalists in Odesa chanted anti-Semitic slogans during a March of Ukrainian Order on May 3. Tetyana Soykina, head of the local chapter of the Right Sector, a far-right party, said, “We will restore order in Ukraine, Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not Jews and oligarchs,” using a pejorative term for Jews. The Ukrainian Jewish Committee condemned an April 28 march sponsored by nationalist organizations honoring the local volunteers who were in the Nazi Waffen SS during the Holocaust. The march featured Nazi symbols and salutes. On April 13, police detained two individuals who were removing gold from mass graves of Jews from the Holocaust in the town of Nemyriv in Vinnytsia Oblast.
In mid-May the Ukrainian consul in Hamburg published anti-Semitic statements in his Facebook account; on May 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs fired him for the posts. On June 25, Anatoliy Matios, the country’s chief military prosecutor, espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in a media interview, suggesting that Jews want to drown ethnic Slavs in blood and finance world conflicts. Authorities took no action against Matios for the remarks.
In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename Communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law requires the government to provide access to public venues, health services, information, communications, transportation, and the judicial system and opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities for persons with disabilities. The law also requires employers to take into account the individual needs of employees with disabilities. The government generally did not enforce these laws.
Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).
Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines. In February several patients of a psychiatric institution in Veselynivka, Zaporizhzhya Oblast complained of unbearable conditions and treatment by the staff who allegedly beat and verbally abused them and locked them in a closet. The director of the institution was suspended from his duties. The local prosecutor’s office opened an investigation.
In general, law enforcement took appropriate measures to punish those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.
By law, employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually perform work at their companies
Based on a law adopted in 2017, starting September 1, every child with a disability had the right to study at regular secondary schools. On September 6, parliament approved amendments to a separate law regarding access of persons with disabilities to education. It called for the creation of inclusive groups in preschool facilities, secondary and vocational schools, and colleges. According to the President’s Commissioner for the rights of children, 12,000 children with disabilities went to regular schools within the program of inclusive education.
Persons with disabilities in Russia-controlled areas in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care.
Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problems. NGOs dedicated to combating racism and hate crimes observed that overall xenophobic incidents increased considerably during the year.
Human rights organizations stated that the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Authorities opened two criminal proceedings under the laws on racial, national, or religious offenses during the year. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.
There were numerous reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, often perpetrated by known members of violent nationalist hate groups. In some instances, police declined to intervene to stop violence. On July 18, three UN special rapporteurs released a statement calling on the government to take immediate action to stop “what amounts to a systematic persecution” of the country’s Romani minority.
For example on June 24, a group of masked men armed with batons and other weapons attacked a Romani camp on the outskirts of Lviv. A 24-year-old man died of stab wounds; four others, including a 10-year-old boy, were injured. Police detained eight individuals after the attack. They were members of the neo-Nazi group Tvereza i Zla Molod (Sober and Angry Youth). Seven of them were charged with hooliganism and one, twenty-year-old Andriy Tychko, was charged with premeditated murder. An investigation continued at year’s end. During the year there were attacks on Romani settlements in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil, Berehove, Uzhhorod, Mukacheve, and Zolotonosha.
Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment. According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms.
During the year many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Because many Roma lacked documents, obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.
There was frequent violence against LGBTI persons, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. An increase in attacks was due to increasingly active nationalist hate groups (see national minorities above). The HRMMU noted that attacks against members of the LGBTI community and other minorities were rarely classified under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carried heavier penalties. Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported.
For example on June 30, about 10 unidentified young persons attacked Boris Zolotchenko, the head of the organizing committee of the Kryvbas Equality march. Witnesses called police, who refused to come to the crime scene. An investigation into a prior attack on Zolotchenko that took place in January in which five unknown men beat him was closed due to “lack of suspects.”
According to the LGBTI rights group Nash Mir, nationalist hate groups consistently tried to disrupt LGBTI events with violence or threats of violence. For example, on May 10, members of a nationalist hate group disrupted a public discussion in Kyiv on LGBTI rights in Russia. More than 20 men arrived at the venue and threatened participants with violence unless they left. The venue owner joined in the calls and told the organizers to cancel the event and vacate the premises. Police officers present on the site refused to intervene.
Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, officials sometimes failed to protect LGBTI persons. Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and violence. On August 19, an unknown person made homophobic remarks and beat transgender activist Anastasia Kristel Domani. Police opened an investigation for minor assault charges, but as of late November had made no arrests.
Transgender persons reported difficulties obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity, which resulted in discrimination in health care, education, and other areas.
According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in Russia-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Most LGBTI persons either fled or hid their sexual orientation or gender identity.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were barriers to HIV-positive individuals’ receiving medical services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. There are no laws or legal mechanisms to prevent antiunion discrimination, although the labor code requires employers to provide justification for layoffs and firings, and union activity is not an acceptable justification. Legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, although observers describe court enforcement as arbitrary and unpredictable, with damages too low to create incentives for compliance on the part of employers.
The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A number of laws that apply to worker organizations are excessively complex and contradictory. For example the status of trade unions under two laws provides they are considered legal entities only after state registration. Under another law, however, a trade union is considered a legal entity upon adoption of its statute. The inherent conflict between these laws creates obstacles for workers seeking to form trade unions. Unions also reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, including the payment of notary fees and requirements to visit as many as 10 different offices. Moreover, independent unions have reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including atypical and irregular requests for documentation and membership information.
The legal procedure to initiate a strike is complex and severely hinders strike action, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires consideration, conciliation, and labor arbitration allowing involved parties to draw out the process for months. Only after completion of this process can workers vote to strike, a decision that courts may still block. The right to strike is further restricted by the requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called. The government is allowed to deny workers the right to strike on national security grounds or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Office of the Prosecutor General, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public service sector.
Legal hurdles made it difficult for independent unions that were not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. The legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively or consistently. Trade unions expressed concern that the labor inspectorate lacked funding, technical capacity, and sufficient professional staffing to conduct independent inspections effectively (see section 7.e.).
Worker rights advocates continued to note concerns for the independence of unions from government or employer control. Independent trade unions alleged that the country’s largest trade union confederation, the FPU, enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. Authorities further denied unions not affiliated with the FPU a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the FPU from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than two decades.
Independent union representatives continued to be the subjects of violence and intimidation, and reported that local law enforcement officials frequently ignored or facilitated violations of their rights. Worker advocates reported an increase in retaliation against trade union members involved in anticorruption activities at their workplaces.
In April unidentified assailants assaulted a doctor, who was also a trade union activist and whistleblower, in Kyiv. The assault was the second in a series of attacks that followed the doctor’s official and public statements regarding widespread corruption in the healthcare sector.
Trade unions also reported unidentified assailants assaulted a railway inspector who was a union activist in Kryvyi Rih in April. The Independent Railworker’s Union reported that it believed the attack was related to anticorruption activity by the local union chapter.
The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to provide for enforcement.
During the year the IOM responded to numerous instances of compulsory labor, to include pornography, criminal activity, labor exploitation, begging, and sexual and other forms of exploitation. There were also reports of trafficking of women, men, and children for labor in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, services, the lumber industry, nursing, and street begging. Annual reports on government action to prevent the use of forced labor in public procurement indicated that the government has not taken action to investigate its own supply chains for evidence of modern slavery. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
According to the IOM, identified victims of trafficking received comprehensive reintegration assistance, including legal aid, medical care, psychological counseling, financial support, vocational training, and other types of assistance based on individual needs.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The minimum age for most employment is 16, but children who are 14 may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent. While the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, it does not always provide inspectors sufficient authority to conduct inspections.
From January to August, the State Service on Labor conducted 2,614 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The inspections identified 72 organizations engaged in child labor activities. Of these, 24 were in the service sector, seven in the industrial sector, six in the agricultural sector, and 35 in other areas. The inspections uncovered 40 cases of undeclared labor, one child working in hazardous conditions, and six minors receiving undeclared wages. Increased child labor in amber mining was a growing problem, according to reports by international labor groups.
The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments. Child labor in illegal mining of coal and amber in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces grew during the year. The government established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. The exceptionally low number of worksite inspections conducted at the national level, however, impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.
Penalties for violations of the child labor laws ranged from small fines for illegitimate employment to prison sentences for sexual exploitation of a child; as in previous years, some observers believed these punishments were insufficient to deter violations.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social, and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.
The government did not always enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties include a fine of up to 50 tax-free minimum incomes, correctional labor for a term of up to two years, restraint of liberty for up to five years, and restriction on engaging in certain activities for a period of up to three years. When accompanied by violence, employment discrimination violations are punishable by correctional labor for a term of up to two years or imprisonment for a term of up to five years if such actions were committed by an organized group of persons or if they caused death or other grave consequences.
Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the State Statistics Office, men earned on average 26 percent more than women. The gap was not caused by direct discrimination in the setting of wages, but by horizontal and vertical stratification of the labor market: Women were more likely to work in lower-paid sectors of the economy and in lower positions. Women held fewer elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels (40 percent).
The country’s annual budget establishes a government-mandated national minimum wage. The minimum wage increased to 3,723 hryvnias per month ($133) during the year from 3,200 hryvnias per month ($125) in 2017. The monthly minimum wage is above the poverty income level, which stood at 1,777 hryvnias ($65.80) in July and will rise to 1,853 hryvnias ($66.20) on December 1. Some shadow employees received wages below the established minimum.
The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and local trade union organization on overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.
The law requires employers to provide workplace safety standards. Employers must meet occupational safety and health standards but at times ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. According to one NGO, employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.
Wage arrears continued to be a major problem during the year. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises, blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country rose during the year through September 1 to 3.6 billion hryvnias ($97.6 million). The majority of wage arrears occurred in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that arrears in the coal sector had reached almost 930 million hryvnias ($33.2 million) in September. Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.
The government did not always effectively enforce labor law. In 2017 the government adopted a new procedure for state control and supervision of labor law compliance that introduces new forms and rules for oversight of labor law compliance, extends the powers of labor inspectors, amends the procedure for imposing fines for violation of labor law requirements, and introduces specific forms for exercise of control by labor inspectors, namely, inspection visits and remote inspections.
Labor inspectors may assess compliance based on leads or other information regarding possible unreported employment from public sources. This includes information the service learns concerning potential violations from other state agencies. For example, when tax authorities discover a disparity between a company’s workforce and its production volumes as compared to average data for the industry, they may refer the case to labor authorities who will determine compliance with labor laws.
While performing inspection visits to check potential unreported employment, labor inspectors may enter any workplace without prior notice at any hour of day or night. The law also allows labor inspectors to hold an employer liable for certain types of violations (e.g., unreported employment), empowering them to issue an order to cease the restricted activity. Labor inspectors may also visit an employer in order to monitor labor law compliance and inform the company and its employees about labor rights and best practices.
The law provides procedures for imposing fines for violation of labor and employment laws. Municipal authorities may impose fines for labor law violations. In addition, the authority imposing a fine need not be affiliated with Labor Service. For example, a report from an onsite tax audit that reveals labor law violations may result in a fine.
In September the Cabinet of Ministers approved regulation #649, increasing regulatory oversight to monitor and counter “shadow” employment in the informal economy, the widespread practice of paying for labor without an existing employment contract. The regulation compels the State Labor Service, the State Fiscal Service, the State Pension Fund, and the National Police to review their internal regulations to introduce stricter control measures to combat shadow employment. Agencies are also required to conduct public awareness campaigns to inform employers of the new procedures.
Penalties for violations workplace safety standards ranged from 510 to 1,700 hryvnias ($19 to $63), which were insufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate was responsible for enforcing labor laws. Inspectors were limited in number, funding, and authority to enforce existing regulations. The absence of a coordination mechanism with other government bodies was also significant. Penalties established for undeclared work, wage arrears, and work-hour violations included fines of 50 to 100 tax-free minimum incomes that could reach 111,690 hryvnias ($4,000). Additional penalties included limitations on the right to occupy positions of responsibility or to engage in some activities for three to five years, correctional labor for up to two years, or arrest for up to six months if the actions committed affected a minor or a pregnant woman.
Labor inspections occurred at a company’s request or upon the formal request of the investigator in the framework of criminal proceedings against a company.
Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Operational safety problems and health complaints were common. Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job. Over the first eight months of the year, authorities reported 2,725 individual injuries, including 254 fatalities; 474 injuries to coal miners, including 14 fatalities; 333 injuries in the agro-industrial sector, including 39 fatalities; and 225 injuries in engineering, including 14 fatalities.
Despite Russian aggression close to industrial areas in the government-controlled areas of the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.
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