Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There was one new report of occupation authorities committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to human rights groups, on May 11, Russian security forces fatally shot 51-year-old Uzbek citizen Nabi Rakhimov during a raid and search of his residence in the village of Dubki near Simferopol. Russia’s Federal Investigative Service (FSB) claimed Rakhimov was a suspected terrorist and was shot during a gun battle with officers. Lawyers of Rakhimov’s family characterized the FSB’s account as a cover-up and claimed FSB officers likely tortured Rakhimov before shooting him. Occupation authorities refused to turn Rakhimov’s body over to the family. On August 9, a Simferopol “court” rejected an appeal of Rakhimov’s widow for the body to be returned. As of September her lawyer planned to appeal the decision to the “supreme court.”
Impunity for past killings remained a serious problem. The Russian government tasked the Russian Investigative Committee with investigating whether security force killings in occupied Crimea were justifiable and whether to pursue prosecutions. The HRMMU reported the Investigative Committee failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The Office of the Prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea also investigated security force killings from its headquarters in Kyiv, but de facto restrictions on access to occupied Crimea limited its effectiveness.
There were still no reported investigations for the four Crimean Tatars found dead in 2019. Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.
There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. OHCHR reported that 43 individuals had gone missing since Russian forces occupied Crimea in 2014, and the fate of 11 of these individuals remained unknown. OHCHR reported occupation authorities had not prosecuted anyone in relation to the forced disappearances. NGO and press reports indicated occupation authorities were responsible for the disappearances. For example, in 2014 Revolution of Dignity activists Ivan Bondarets and Valeriy Vashchuk telephoned relatives to report police in Simferopol had detained them at a railway station for displaying a Ukrainian flag. Relatives had no communication with them since, and the whereabouts of the two men remained unknown.
According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, two Crimean Tatars reported missing during the year were found dead. Nineteen-year-old Crimean Tatar Osman Adzhyosmanov went missing on July 2; his body was found on August 8. Twenty-three-year-old Crimean Tatar Aider Dzhemalyadynov went missing on July 26 and was found dead on August 5. As of mid-September, occupation authorities were reportedly investigating the circumstances of the deaths. Occupation authorities denied international monitors, including OHCHR and the OSCE, access to Crimea, which made it impossible for monitors to investigate forced disappearances there properly.
Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances, according to human rights groups. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report disappearances. The Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There were widespread reports that occupation authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, “The use of torture by the FSB and the Russia-led police against Ukrainian citizens became a systematic and unpunished phenomenon after Russia’s occupation of Crimea.” Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupation authorities subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example on March 10, the FSB detained freelance RFE/RL journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko in Crimea on charges of “illegal production, repair, or modifying of firearms.” After his initial arrest, OHCHR reported that Yesypenko was tortured by FSB officers for several hours to obtain a forced confession on cooperating with Ukrainian intelligence agencies. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities reportedly denied Yesypenko access to a lawyer during his first 28 days in detention and tortured him with electric shocks, beatings, and sexual violence in order to obtain a confession.
Occupation authorities reportedly demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on March 5, occupation authorities transferred Ernest Ibrahimov to the Crimean Clinical Psychiatric Hospital for forced psychiatric evaluation. Ibrahimov was one of seven Muslims arrested on February 17 and charged with having attended a mosque allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a “terrorist” group but is legal in Ukraine. Human right defenders viewed the authorities’ move as an attempt to break his client’s will and intimidate him.
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of September 1, approximately 16 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).
Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals whom authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.
Physical Conditions: The Crimean Human Rights Group reported inhuman conditions in official places of detention in Crimea. According to an August report by the UN secretary-general, inadequate conditions in detention centers in Crimea could amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” According to the report, prisons in Crimea were overcrowded, medical assistance for prisoners was inadequate, and detainees complained of systematic beatings and humiliating strip searches by prison guards.
Overcrowding forced prisoners to sleep in shifts and to share beds. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, detainees held in the Simferopol pretrial detention center complained of poor sanitary conditions, broken toilets, and insufficient heating. Detainees diagnosed with HIV as well as with tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were kept in a single cell. On April 15, the Kharkiv Human Right Protection Group reported that Ivan Yatskin, a Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in 2019 on charges of treason, had been held in a basement cell infested with bedbugs, mold, and rats since April 9 after being transferred from a prison in Moscow to Simferopol. Yatskin’s lawyer claimed Yatskin’s cellmates repeatedly threatened to harm him and his family members. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, occupation authorities withheld medicine Yatskin needed to treat a leg ulcer and chest injury. On May 21, occupation authorities sentenced Yatskin to 11 years in prison. Human rights groups called the ruling politically motivated and considered Yatskin a political prisoner.
There were reports detainees were denied medical treatment, even for serious health conditions. According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, detainees often had to rely on relatives to provide medicine, since the medical assistance provided at detention centers was inadequate. For example, Kostiantyn Shyrinh, a 61-year-old Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in May 2020 on charges of espionage and suffering from cardiovascular disease, was consistently denied medical treatment by occupation authorities at the Simferopol pretrial detention facility despite numerous requests for medical assistance. During an August 12 court appearance, Shyrinh required emergency medical treatment, and an ambulance was called at the request of his lawyer. Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.
Administration: Authorities generally did not investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment. Authorities sometimes did not allow prisoners and detainees access to visitors or religious observance. According to defense lawyers, prisoners considered Russian citizens by the Russian Federation were denied Ukrainian consular visits, and some Crimean residents were transferred to prison facilities in Russia without Ukrainian passports.
Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsperson,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and did not view her as an independent actor.
Under Russian occupation authorities, the judicial system was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by occupation authorities. The HRMMU noted that lawyers defending individuals accused of extremism or terrorism risked facing harassment or similar charges themselves. For example, human rights lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi reported that on May 11, occupation authorities delivering a notice of arrest to her client threatened to take actions to have her disbarred from Russia-controlled courts. Human rights groups reported Hemedzhi faced long-standing pressure for her involvement in defending Crimean Tatar activists, including in August 2020, when a Russia-controlled court in Crimea privately ruled that Hemedzhi violated court procedures by speaking out of turn during a video conference hearing. Such rulings could place a lawyer’s standing with the bar in jeopardy.
See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.
Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.
Occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, occupation authorities conducted 32 raids between January and June; 13 were in the households of Crimean Tatars.
Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities exercised widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. Occupation authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights activists, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to express any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.
Occupation authorities regularly used recorded audio of discussions regarding religion and politics, obtained through illegal wiretapping of private homes and testimonies from unidentified witnesses, as evidence in court. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on September 27, prosecutors in a hearing involving five Crimean Tatar activists charged with allegedly organizing the activities of a “terrorist” organization presented as evidence illegal wiretaps of purported conversations between the defendants and a secret witness. The five men were arrested in 2019 by occupation authorities during mass raids on Crimean Tatar homes in and around Simferopol. The prosecution’s purported “expert” witnesses claimed the recordings, which human rights groups characterized as innocuous discussions of politics and religion, were evidence of terrorist activity. The defense questioned whether the recordings had been edited. On July 6, in a separate case involving five other Crimean Tatar activists detained in the same 2019 raids on terrorism-related charges, prosecutors reportedly introduced testimony to the court from an unidentified witness. According to the accused men’s lawyers, the unidentified witness was an FSB agent who had provided similar testimony in several other cases. The lawyers claimed the court rejected their petition to reveal the identity of the witness. As of September the men were being held at a detention facility in Rostov-on-Don in Russia as the trial proceeded.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were reports indicating that the government or its agents possibly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Bureau for Investigations (SBI) is responsible for investigation of crimes allegedly committed by law enforcement agencies.
Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers. For example, the Zhytomyr District Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal proceedings in July against medical workers of the Zhytomyr Medical Service who allegedly misclassified the cause of death of a prisoner who died at the Zhytomyr Pretrial Detention Facility on July 18. The medical workers originally reported that prisoner Oleg Bereznyi had died of acute heart failure, but a forensic expert determined that the cause of death was a blunt chest injury that produced multiple rib fractures, lung damage, and shock from being beaten. The Zhytomyr Regional Prosecutor’s Office announced in late July that it opened criminal proceedings regarding the failure of prison staff to properly supervise and protect prisoners.
Impunity for past arbitrary or unlawful killings remained a significant problem. As of early November, the investigation into the 2018 killing of public activist Kateryna Handziuk continued. In 2019 a court in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast convicted five persons who carried out the fatal 2018 acid attack against Handziuk on charges of deliberately causing grievous bodily harm resulting in death. They were sentenced to terms of three to six and one-half years in prison. Each suspect agreed to testify against those who ordered the killing. In August 2020 a Kyiv court began hearings for the head of the Kherson regional legislature, Vladyslav Manger, and a suspected accomplice, Oleksiy Levin, on charges of organizing the fatal attack on Handziuk. As of late October, both suspects were to remain in custody until December 11. Former parliamentary aide Ihor Pavlovsky was charged in 2019 with concealing Handziuk’s murder. In October 2020 as part of a plea bargain Pavlovsky testified that Manger organized the attack on Handziuk. The court gave Pavlovsky a suspended sentence of two years, releasing him in November 2020. Human rights defenders and Handziuk supporters alleged additional organizers of the crime likely remained at large and that law enforcement bodies had not investigated the crime fully.
Exiled Belarusian human rights activist Vitaly Shyshou (often reported as Vitaliy Shishov) disappeared on August 2 after leaving his Kyiv home for his morning jog, according to his girlfriend. On August 3, authorities found his body hanged from a tree in a park near his home. Shyshou had been in Kyiv since fall 2020 and helped to found Belarus House, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that assists Belarusians fleeing to Ukraine from Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s crackdown on civil society, members of the opposition, and ordinary citizens in Belarus. Belarus House representatives said they believed Shyshou’s death was an act of transnational repression by the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) in line with the Lukashenka regime’s continuing crackdown and repression against civil society activists. As of early September, an investigation into Shyshou’s death was underway.
On January 4, the National Police announced an investigation into leaked audio, believed to have been recorded in 2012, in which alleged Belarusian KGB officials discussed killing prominent Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed by a car bomb in 2016 in Ukraine. As of October no additional suspects had been identified as a result of the investigation of the leaked recordings, and trial proceedings against the three original suspects who were arrested in December 2019 were underway in a Kyiv court.
Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions and frequent delays despite the existence of considerable evidence and the establishment in 2020 of a special unit for investigating Revolution of Dignity cases by the SBI, an investigative body with the mandate to investigate malfeasance by high-ranking government officials and law enforcement authorities. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted some progress had been made in investigating the killings. As of August the SBI had identified more than 60 alleged perpetrators of Revolution of Dignity killings, most of whom absconded and were wanted. Several perpetrators were sentenced for Revolution of Dignity-related crimes during the year, although courts had not yet found any perpetrators directly responsible for any of the 55 Revolution of Dignity-related killings under investigation.
During the year the SBI served notices of suspicion to 39 individuals, filed 19 indictments against 28 persons (five judges, 15 law enforcement officers, and eight civilians), and made three arrests for Revolution of Dignity-related crimes. On April 15, for example, the SBI arrested a fourth suspect in a case involving the kidnapping and torture of two activists and the murder of one of them (see section 1.b.).
On August 5, a Kyiv court declared Viktor Shapalov, a former Berkut special police unit commander on trial for his alleged role in the killing of Revolution of Dignity protesters in 2014, wanted after he failed to appear for a hearing. On September 23, a Kyiv court sentenced Yuriy Krysin to eight years in prison for his role in the 2014 abduction and torture of journalist Vladyslav Ivanenko.
On August 2, a court in Kyiv authorized the SBI to proceed with its pretrial investigation of former president Victor Yanukovych in absentia. In May 2020 the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv authorized the arrest of Yanukovych, his former defense minister, and two former heads of law enforcement agencies on charges of criminal involvement in the killings of protesters in Kyiv in 2014.
The HRMMU did not note any progress in the investigation and legal proceedings in connection with the 2014 trade union building fire in Odesa that stemmed from violent clashes between pro-Russia and Ukrainian unity demonstrators. During the clashes and fire, 48 persons died. The HRMMU noted that systemic problems, such as a shortage of judges and underfunded courts as well as COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions and a lack of political will, continued to cause trial delays.
There were reports of civilian casualties in connection with Russian aggression in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
In connection with abuses during the 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv, a fourth suspect was arrested on April 15 for his suspected involvement in the abduction and torture of Revolution of Dignity activists Ihor Lutsenko and Yuriy Verbitsky and the killing of Verbitsky. On April 16, a Kyiv court convicted and sentenced Oleksandr Volkov to nine years in prison for the abduction and torture of Verbitsky and Lutsenko but acquitted him of more serious charges, which included murder. On August 8, a court in Bila Tserkva allowed two suspects who were standing trial for involvement in the same case to move from detention to house arrest. As of late October, 12 other suspects in the case remained at large.
A 2018 law to assist in locating persons who disappeared in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine calls for the creation of a commission that would establish a register of missing persons. The commission was established in July 2020. On May 19, the Cabinet of Ministers approved an action plan with the stated purpose of ensuring the commission’s effectiveness. As of mid-September, however, the commission was not fully operational, and the register had not been created. According to the Ombudsperson’s Office, as of August, 258 Ukrainians, including 67 servicemen, were considered missing in the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by Russia-led forces.
There were reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with Russia’s aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (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 confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody as evidence in court proceedings, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.
Abuse of detainees by police remained a widespread problem. For example on February 5, police in Cherkasy detained a 28-year-old man on suspicion of theft and took him to the Horodyshche district police station for further questioning. According to the SBI, during the interrogation officers struck the suspect repeatedly with a metal chair. The officers then handcuffed the suspect and continued striking his face and limbs with a plastic water bottle and the hose of a fire extinguisher. The suspect received injuries to his face, head, and back and had teeth knocked out. On February 7, the SBI reported that the two police officers involved in the incident were under investigation for torture. On August 28, Odesa police deployed more than 1,000 officers to protect the participants of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) pride parade from an estimated 300 counterprotesters, mostly from the violent radical group Tradition and Order. Shortly after the march, Tradition and Order counterprotesters attacked police, firing tear gas and dousing police with green dye. Police detained 51 individuals and reported 29 officers were injured in the clashes, mostly from tear gas exposure. Videos of the clashes posted on Telegram and YouTube showed instances of police stepping on the face of a detained counterprotester, beating an already subdued individual with a nightstick, and dragging handcuffed individuals by their arms.
Reports of law enforcement officers using torture and mistreatment to extract confessions were reported throughout the year. For example the HRMMU reported that on January 14, a group of plainclothes police officers in Zhytomyr stopped two car-theft suspects as they were walking along the side of a road and beat them. A uniformed police officer who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter reportedly pressed an unloaded pistol to the forehead of one of the suspects and pulled the trigger before striking him with the pistol and kicking him. The HRMMU reported the men were subsequently forced to confess to the car theft. The SBI opened an investigation into the incident, and on July 26, prosecutors charged four individuals, including at least one police officer, with torture, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
Impunity for abuses committed by law enforcement was a significant problem. The HRMMU reported that a pattern of lack of accountability for abuses by law enforcement persisted but noted a considerable increase since 2018 in the number of investigations and prosecutions of cases of alleged torture and abuse by law enforcement officials. The SBI and a specialized department within the Office of the Prosecutor General were responsible for investigating such allegations. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), individuals who experienced torture during pretrial detention often did not file complaints due to intimidation and lack of access to a lawyer; the KHPG also noted that prisoners often withheld complaints to prison officials due to fear of torture.
In the Russia-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk over which the Ukrainian government had no control, there were reports that Russia-led forces continued to torture detainees and carry out other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (see section 1.g.). The HRMMU noted instances of torture were likely underreported, due to the lack of confidential access to detainees of international monitors, and reports indicating large-scale abuses and torture continued to emerge (see section 1.g.). Victims of abuses committed by Russia-led forces in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) had no legal recourse to attain justice.
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 remained a problem in some pretrial detention facilities, although human rights organizations reported that overcrowding at such centers decreased because of reforms in 2016 that eased detention requirements for suspects. In August monitors from the KHPG reported that living conditions at Lviv Oblast’s Lychakivska correctional colony No. 14 were poor, as they observed mold on cell walls and ceiling and noted an unbearable stench throughout the premises. There was almost no daylight in some cells due to the small size of the windows, and the water pipes in the bathroom were broken, which caused flooding.
While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.
Physical abuse by guards was a problem. On March 18, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported that, during its most recent visit, in 2020, it received several credible allegations of physical abuse by prison staff at Colony No. 11 in Temnivka. According to the report, prisoners alleged abuse including punches, kicks, baton strikes, use of stress positions, squeezing of the testicles, and threats of rape. On March 18, the Ministry of Justice reported that a pretrial investigation of the allegations was underway.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In its March 18 report, the CPT stated that prison staff routinely allowed “duty prisoners,” a select group of prisoners appointed by staff to maintain discipline, to punish newly arrived prisoners who refused to comply with their orders. The punishment consisted of first forcing a prisoner to undress and lie on the floor in the prone position and then beating the soles of the prisoner’s feet and buttocks with a plastic pipe as other inmates held the prisoner down.
Most detention facilities were old and needed renovation or replacement. According to a June KHPG report, conditions in many places of detention constituted inhuman or degrading treatment. The KHPG reported that some cells and facilities had very poor sanitary conditions. Some detainees reported that their cells were poorly ventilated and infested with insects. 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. Detainees in temporary detention facilities often had to take turns sleeping due to a lack of beds, according to the KHPG.
The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the 2019 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, 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 the CPT, in some prisons inmates had access to showers only once a week. The UN special rapporteur stated that most hygienic products, including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products, were not provided and that 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 overreliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison health-care 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.
The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas remained harsh and life threatening. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Russia-controlled Donbas located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. There were reports of severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU continued to be denied access to detainees held by Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine, preventing it from investigating what it described as credible claims of torture and abuse in detention centers with conditions that did not meet international human rights standards.
The HRMMU continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “DPR” and “LPR,” such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, solitary confinement, and forced labor. According to Human Rights Watch, female detainees were denied appropriate medical care, including sexual and reproductive health care.
Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints concerning conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsperson, human rights organizations stated that 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, and authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints. During an April 26 visit to Colony No. 77 in Berdyansk, parliamentary monitors received reports from 21 newly arrived inmates of having been beaten with batons by members of the National Guard as they disembarked from the train that had transferred them to the prison. To investigate the reports, a prison doctor documented the injuries. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the doctor was subsequently fired. On November 8, the Ministry of Justice revoked the license of the prison. As of mid-November, the prison was renamed Colony No. 145 and operated under new leadership.
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 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, Ombudsperson’s Office, and HRMMU.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide 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 between the government and Russia-led forces on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained highly vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.
Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor General, systemic corruption among judges and prosecutors persisted. Civil society groups continued to complain of 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 staffing, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.
Attacks on lawyers were often associated with their defense of clients in politically sensitive criminal cases. Such attacks undermined the ability of lawyers to adequately perform their duties and protect the rights of their clients. In one such case, on June 7, unknown assailants attacked lawyers Roman Zhyrun Girvin and Yaroslav Symovonnyk outside of Symovonnyk’s home in Ivano-Frankivsk. The assailants allegedly shoved the lawyers to the ground and kicked them repeatedly, leaving Symovonnyk with a fractured nose and facial wounds that required stitches. The lawyers claimed the attack was likely in retaliation for their professional work representing the owners of a storage facility cooperative in lawsuits against a company that was found to have illegally seized part of the cooperative’s land. Police reportedly registered the case, but as of late October, no one had been charged for the attack.
Judges, defendants, and defense lawyers sometimes faced intimidation by members of violent radical groups. For example on July 20, approximately 50 members of violent radical groups, including National Resistance and Foundation of the Future, attacked Belarusian anarchist Oleksiy Bolenkov and his supporters as Bolenkov entered the Shevchenkivskyy District Court building in Kyiv for a hearing regarding his petition to appeal the Security Service of Ukraine’s decision to deport him. Video of the incident showed the attackers, who had gathered near the court’s entrance to block Bolenkov from entering, spraying Bolenkov with an irritant, throwing eggs at him, and beating him. At least five persons, including Bolenkov, were injured in the attack. Telegram channels associated with these groups justified the actions as retaliation for Bolenkov’s participation in anarchist groups that were allegedly involved in an attack on a Ukrainian veteran of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Dmitry Verbical, although Bolenkov denied involvement in the attack. Despite pressure from violent radical groups, the court ruled in favor of Bolenkov’s July 21 appeal against deportation.
Outcomes of trials sometimes appeared predetermined by government or other interference. On February 23, a district court in Odesa sentenced anticorruption activist and blogger Serhiy Sternenko to seven years and three months in prison and confiscation of one-half of his property after convicting him on kidnapping and robbery charges. Court-monitoring groups criticized procedural violations in the investigation and trial, including improper reliance on hearsay evidence and written witness testimony. Human rights NGOs attributed these alleged violations to possible biases of the judges and political pressure from senior justice and law enforcement officials. On May 31, an Odesa Appeals Court overturned Sternenko’s robbery conviction and ruled that the statute of limitations had lapsed on a kidnapping conviction, thus precluding sentencing.
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.
By law the Security Service of Ukraine may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. The Security Service and law enforcement agencies, however, sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant, which human rights groups partially attributed to the Security Service’s wide mandate to conduct both law enforcement and counterintelligence tasks. 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 Security Service that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. There was no implementing legislation, 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 reports that the government improperly sought access to information regarding journalists’ sources and investigations (see section 2.a.).
Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps to block access to websites based on “national security concerns” (see section 2.a.).
The Russian government controlled the level of violence in eastern Ukraine, intensifying it when it suited its political interests. Russia continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside forces in the “DPR” and the “LPR.” Russia-led forces throughout the conflict methodically obstructed, harassed, and intimidated international monitors, who did not have the access necessary to record systematically cease-fire violations or abuses committed by Russia-led forces.
International organizations and NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the HRMMU, issued periodic reports documenting abuses committed in the Donbas region on both sides of the line of contact. As of August the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fielded 1,314 persons supporting a special monitoring mission, which issued daily reports on the situation and conditions in most major cities.
According to the HRMMU, since the start of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, more than three million residents left areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts controlled by Russia-led forces. As of mid-September the Ministry of Social Policy had registered more than 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The HRMMU noted that hostilities continued to affect the lives of 3.4 million civilians residing in the area. Regular exchanges of fire across the line of contact exposed those residents to the constant threat of death or injury, while their property and critical infrastructure continued to be damaged in the fighting.
Killings: As of June 30, OHCHR reported that since the start of the conflict, fighting had killed at least 13,200 to 13,400 individuals, including civilians, government armed forces, and members of armed groups. The HRMMU reported that at least 3,393 of these were civilian deaths. This figure included the 298 passengers and crew on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, shot down by a missile fired from territory controlled by Russia-led forces in 2014 over the Donbas region. OHCHR recorded 84 civilian casualties (18 fatalities and 66 injuries) between January 1 and September 30.
The HRMMU noted significant numbers of civilians continued to reside in villages and towns close to the contact line and that both government and Russia-led forces were present in areas where civilians resided. According to media reports, on August 11, an elderly man in Novoselivka in the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast was killed in his home by shrapnel from a 122-mm artillery round fired by Russia-led forces. Media also reported that on February 23, an elderly man in Khutir Vilnyy in the government-controlled part of Luhansk Oblast was fatally wounded when an antitank projectile launched by Russia-led forces exploded in his yard. Ukrainian military personnel administered first aid and transported him to a hospital, where he died shortly after arrival. OHCHR reported the presence of military personnel and objects within or near populated areas on both sides of the line of contact.
The HRMMU also regularly noted concerns regarding the dangers to civilians from land mines, booby traps, and unexploded ordnance. According to the NGO Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, 7,000 square miles of both government-controlled territory and territory controlled by Russia-led forces in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts needed humanitarian demining. According to the HRMMU, 11 civilians were killed and 38 injured by mines and explosive ordnance from January through September 30. Civilian casualties due to mines and explosive ordnance accounted for 60 percent of total civilian casualties during the year. Most cases took place in the areas controlled by Russia-led forces, where humanitarian access was limited.
According to the OSCE, on April 2, a five-year-old boy was killed by shrapnel from an explosion that occurred nearby while he was outside his grandmother’s home in Oleksandrivske in the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast. The OSCE investigated the scene but was unable to determine what type of ordnance caused the explosion.
According to human rights groups, more than 1,000 bodies in government-controlled cemeteries and morgues, both military and civilian, remained unidentified, mostly from 2014.
Abductions: As of August more than 800 missing persons were registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Ukrainian Red Cross as unaccounted for, approximately one-half of whom were civilians. According to the ICRC, approximately 1,800 applications requesting searches for missing relatives were submitted since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
There were reports of abductions or attempted abductions by Russia-led forces. According to the HRMMU, as of July there had been no new cases of forced disappearances committed by Ukrainian security services since 2016, although impunity for past disappearances persisted, and the Security Service continued to detain individuals near the contact line arbitrarily for short periods of time.
According to the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Russia-led forces held 296 Ukrainian hostages in the Donbas region as of mid-October. Human rights groups reported that Russia-led forces routinely kidnapped persons for political purposes, to settle vendettas, or for ransom. The HRMMU repeatedly expressed concern regarding “preventive detention” or “administrative arrest” procedures used in the “LPR” and “DPR” since 2018, which it assessed amounted to incommunicado detention and “may constitute enforced disappearance” (see section 1.d.).
In one example on May 14, representatives of the “ministry of state security” of the “DPR” carried out an “administrative arrest” of Oksana Parshina, a woman who was 10 weeks pregnant, on suspicion of espionage. According to Human Rights Watch, Parshina fled Donetsk in 2014 after shelling destroyed her house and returned in May to visit her sister. As of early September, Parshina remained in a temporary detention facility, and “authorities” denied her sister’s requests to visit her. As of April 30, the HRMMU estimated 200 to 300 individuals had died since 2014 while detained by Russia-led forces.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Both government and Russia-led forces reportedly abused civilians and members of armed groups in detention facilities, but human rights organizations consistently cited Russia-led forces for large-scale and repeated abuses and torture. Abuses reportedly committed by Russia-led forces included beatings, physical and psychological torture, mock executions, sexual violence, deprivation of food and water, refusal of medical care, and forced labor. Observers noted that an atmosphere of impunity and absence of rule of law compounded the situation.
In government-controlled territory, the HRMMU continued to receive allegations that the Security Service detained and abused individuals in both official and unofficial places of detention to obtain information and pressure suspects to confess or cooperate. The HRMMU did not report any cases of conflict-related torture in government-controlled territory, but it suspected such cases were underreported because victims often remained in detention or were afraid to report abuse due to fear of retaliation or lack of trust in the justice system. Based on interviews with nine detainees early in the year, the HRMMU reported on May 31 that detainees continued to report having been beaten and being detained in unofficial places of detention. The HRMMU noted, however, that allegations of torture or mistreatment had lessened since 2016.
According to the HRMMU, the lack of effective investigation into previously documented cases of torture and physical abuse remained a concern.
There were reports that Russia-led forces committed numerous abuses, including torture, in the territories under their control. According to international organizations and NGOs, abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence. The HRMMU reported that, of the 532 cases of conflict-related detentions by Russia-led forces in the self-proclaimed “republics” from 2014 to April 30, at least 280 of the individuals were tortured or otherwise abused, including in some cases with sexual violence.
According to a July 5 Human Rights Watch report, Russia-led forces allegedly detained Olha Mozolevska in 2017 and took her to the Izolatsiya detention facility, where she was beaten, including being hit in the face, smashed against the wall, and tortured to force her to confess to espionage. She was reportedly not allowed to call her family during her first six months under incommunicado detention. She was transferred to another detention facility in May. International organizations, including the HRMMU, were refused access to places of deprivation of liberty in territory controlled by Russia-led forces and were therefore not able to assess fully conditions in the facilities.
In a July report, the HRMMU noted it had documented 35 cases of sexual and gender-based violence committed by government authorities against individuals detained in relation to the conflict since 2014 but had not documented any cases occurring after 2017. The HRMMU noted Russia-led forces continued to commit sexual and gender-based abuses, and most cases occurred in the context of detention. In these cases both men and women were subjected to sexual violence. Beatings and electric shock in the genital area, rape, threats of rape, forced nudity, and threats of rape against family members were used as methods of torture and mistreatment to punish, humiliate, or extract confessions. The HRMMU noted that women were vulnerable to sexual abuse at checkpoints along the line of contact between Ukrainian and Russia-led forces.
There were reports that in territory controlled by Russia-led forces, conditions in detention centers were harsh and life threatening (see section 1.c.). In areas controlled by Russia-led forces, the Justice for Peace in Donbas Coalition indicated that sexual violence was more prevalent in “unofficial” detention facilities, where in some cases women and men were not separated. The HRMMU reported that based on the percentage of cases in which detainees reported being sexually abused, the total number of victims of sexual violence while under detention by Russia-led forces could be between 170 and 200. The reported forms of abuse included rape, threats of rape, threats of castration, intentional damage to genitalia, threats of sexual violence against family members, sexual harassment, forced nudity, coercion to watch sexual violence against others, forced prostitution, and humiliation.
Russia-led forces continued to employ land mines without fencing, signs, or other measures to prevent civilian casualties (see subsection on Killings, above). Risks were particularly acute for persons living in towns and settlements near the line of contact as well as for the approximately 50,000 persons who crossed it monthly on average.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: On June 7, a Dutch court in The Hague started hearing evidence regarding the criminal case connected to the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in the Donbas region. In 2019 the Netherlands’ chief public prosecutor announced the results of the activities of the Joint Investigation Group, and the Prosecutor General’s Office subsequently issued indictments against three former Russian intelligence officers and one Ukrainian national. In 2018 the investigation concluded that the surface-to-air missile system used to shoot down the airliner over Ukraine, killing all 298 persons on board, came from the Russian military.
Russia-led forces in Donetsk Oblast restricted international humanitarian organizations’ aid delivery to civilian populations inside Russia-controlled territory. As a result, prices for basic groceries were reportedly beyond the means of many persons remaining in Russia-controlled territory. Human rights groups also reported severe shortages of medicine, coal, and medical supplies in Russia-controlled territory. Russia-led forces continued to receive convoys of Russian “humanitarian aid,” which Ukrainian government officials believed contained weapons and supplies for Russia-led forces.
The HRMMU reported the presence of military personnel and objects within or near populated areas on both sides of the line of contact.