READ A SECTION: UKRAINE (BELOW) | CRIMEA
Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing human rights 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 and a prime minister chosen through a legislative majority, 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.
The most significant human rights problems in the country during the year were:
Conflict- and Occupation-related Abuses: Russian-backed separatists in Donbas engaged in abductions, torture, and unlawful detention, employed child soldiers, stifled dissent, and restricted humanitarian aid. To a lesser extent, there were also reports of some of these practices by government forces. In Crimea, Russian occupation authorities systematically targeted perceived dissidents for abuse and politically motivated prosecution.
Corruption and Official Impunity: The country suffered from impunity for corruption and deficiencies in the administration of justice. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the judicial system proved largely unable to convict perpetrators of past or current major corruption.
Insufficient Support for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine resulted in 1.7 million IDPs who faced continuing difficulties obtaining legal documents, education, pensions, and access to financial institutions and health care. During the year the government suspended all social payments for IDPs, pending verification of their presence in government-controlled territory, ostensibly to combat fraudulent payments.
Other problems reported during the year included: alleged beatings and torture of detainees and prisoners, as well as harsh conditions in government-run prisons and detention facilities; nongovernmental attacks on journalists; societal violence against women and abuse of children; societal discrimination against and harassment of ethnic and religious minorities; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; discrimination and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. There also were limitations on workers’ right to strike, and failure to enforce effectively labor laws and occupational safety and health standards for the workplace.
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 human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly perpetrated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv and riots in Odesa have not been held to account.
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 Russian-backed separatists to investigate abuse allegations.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. 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 to journalists for favorable news reports disguised as objective journalism, and slanted news coverage by media whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.
In the Donbas region, Russian-backed separatists 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 Speech and Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas not under Russian occupation or Russian-backed separatist 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, although there have been no prosecutions.
The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression towards Ukraine.
On September 15, the National Television and Radio Council issued a warning to Kherson-based radio station AKS for statements suggesting that Crimean Tatars were involved in terrorism. If a station receives a second warning, it could lose its broadcasting license.
On December 9, the Verkhovna Rada passed a bill to restrict imports of certain Russian books with “anti-Ukrainian content” that violated Ukrainian law. The books may still be legally imported below the commercial threshold of 100 copies.
Press and Media Freedoms: According to the NGO Freedom House, the press in the country was “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 generally 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 criticizing 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.
The public television broadcaster was established in 2015 and planned to be fully operational by January 2017. On November 1, the head of the public broadcaster, Zurab Alasania, resigned from his position in protest regarding a number of obstacles to establishing the channel’s operations, including the government’s diversion of the channel’s budget for other purposes. Alasania also cited complaints he had received from the government regarding investigative journalism programs on corruption produced by the broadcaster.
The practice of jeansa, or publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee, continued to be widespread. For example, according to the Institute of Mass Information press monitoring, the highest proportion of jeansa in regional media was found in print outlets in Mykolaiv Oblast, where 15 percent of all published articles were political or commercial jeansa.
Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem in the country, though attacks on journalists dropped for the second year. Human rights groups and journalists criticized government inaction in solving these crimes, giving rise to a culture of impunity.
According to the Institute of Mass Information, there were 30 reports of attacks on journalists, half as many as in 2015, and almost a 10th as many as in 2014. As in 2015, the majority of these attacks were perpetrated by private, not state, actors. There were 42 incidents of threats against and harassment of journalists, up from 36 in 2015.
The Institute of Mass Information and editors of major independent news outlets noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they said had the tacit support of the government. In one case, on May 10, the nationalist website Myrotvorets (Peacemaker), which allegedly has links to the Interior Ministry, published the names and personal information of more than 4,000 domestic and foreign journalists who had received accreditation from the Russian-backed separatist “authorities” in Donetsk and Luhansk. The website claimed that the journalists’ actions amounted to collaboration with terrorists. On May 24, Myrotvorets published the personal information of an additional 300 journalists. Some affected media professionals subsequently received death threats and were subjected to significant online harassment. While Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov spoke out in support of Myrotvorets, calling the journalists “liberal separatists,” President Poroshenko on June 3 condemned the website during his annual press conference. Police investigation of the case continued through year’s end.
There were multiple incidents of violence and harassment against the television channel INTER, which is perceived to have a pro-Russian editorial policy. According to press reports, in January protesters spray-painted “Kremlin mouthpiece” on INTER’s offices and threw rocks through its windows. On February 25, volunteer Azov Battalion fighters blocked journalists’ access to INTER’s offices after INTER broadcasters were inadvertently recorded criticizing the “heavenly hundred,” demonstrators killed during the Euromaidan protests. In June, protesters burned tires at the entrance to INTER’s offices. On August 4, Myrotvorets published hacked email correspondence purporting to show that an INTER TV journalist had coordinated the contents of an article with Russian-backed separatist leaders. On August 31, Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov publicly called on the SBU to deal with INTER, which he labeled “anti-Ukrainian.” On September 4, approximately 15 to 20 masked persons entered INTER’s offices, setting fire to the building, destroying equipment, and trapping employees in the smoke-filled building. As a result some staff members were hospitalized, including one with a spinal injury. Authorities arrested six persons at the scene; an investigation into the attack by the SBU Investigative Department continued. On November 21, five unidentified persons threw Molotov cocktails at INTER’s headquarters. Authorities opened an investigation into the incident, which continued at year’s end.
On July 20, well-known journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravdaonline news outlet, was killed by a bomb in the car he was driving in downtown Kyiv (see section 1.a.).
During the year authorities detained but later released two suspects in the 2015 killing in Kyiv of Oles Buzina, who was perceived as pro-Russian. Both suspects were allegedly members of right-wing political groups. An investigation into the case remained open at year’s end.
There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists investigating government corruption. On May 24, three masked men fled in a car after beating Anatoliy Ostapenko, a journalist affiliated with the independent media outlet Hromadske Zaporizhzhya. Ostapenko was working on several investigations linking local authorities in Zaporizhzhya to corruption. An investigation into the attack continued at year’s end.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Institute for Mass Information recorded seven incidents of censorship of individual publications, down from 12 in 2015.
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 that might 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 August 29, former prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, announced he would sue the investigative journalism television program “Schemes” over its claims to have uncovered evidence of his corruption, including his ownership of luxury property registered in the names of family members.
National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat.
The government continued the practice of banning specific works by pro-Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the head of the State Film Agency, Fillip Ilienko, as of February 18, some 432 films and television shows had been banned in the country on national security grounds since August 2014. On May 31, the president signed a decree imposing visa bans on 17 Russian journalists; several dozen other journalists were sanctioned previously. The decree also lifted sanctions against 29 foreign journalists. Human rights NGOs criticized the move. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the country to “immediately rescind the decree banning Russian journalists from the country and to resist the urge to fight propaganda with censorship.”
The government continued to block Russian television channels from broadcasting in the country, based on a 2014 decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council based on the perceived dangerous influence of Russian propaganda. As of year’s end, only six Russian channels were permitted to broadcast, compared to 83 Russian channels able to broadcast in the country at the start of 2014. According to the head of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, as of November 2, the council had issued 23 warnings to Ukrainian cable providers for violating the ban on certain Russian channels.
Media professionals continued to experience pressure from SBU and the armed forces when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. On July 8, the press center of the Antiterrorist Operation (ATO) asked the SBU to suspend the accreditation of journalists representing two Ukrainian and one Russian media outlets that were reporting from Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast. The journalists had released a video considered by the ATO headquarters to violate the rules for reporting from a conflict area, since it disclosed soldiers’ faces, locations, and weaponry. After the request to remove it, the Ukrainian Hromadske journalists removed the video from their YouTube channel, but Russian journalist, Yulia Polukhina, published the material in Novaya Gazeta. After later receiving concurrence, Hromadske published an abridged version of the video approximately three weeks later. The HRMMU considered the response of the ATO headquarters to be disproportionate to the violation.
On February 24, the SBU deported Russian journalist, Mariya Stolyarova, and banned her from re-entering the country for five years. Stolyarova worked as a broadcast editor of “Podrobnosti Nedeli” (“Details of the Week”) at INTER TV. Before the deportation the SBU conducted an investigation regarding an obscene statement Stolyarova made on air during a broadcast of material related to the “heavenly hundred” protesters who were killed during the Euromaidan demonstrations. Law enforcement officers also questioned Stolyarova’s stay on territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and her alleged coordination of storylines with Russian-backed separatists.
Nongovernmental Impact: Russian-backed separatists in eastern areas of the country harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “persons living in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ know that expressing their opinion freely and publicly was not acceptable in armed group-controlled territory,” that “armed groups are directly influencing and shaping the content in local media,” and that they require favorable coverage as the cost of retaining registration to operate.
According to the HRMMU and media reports, on January 4, the “Ministry of State Security” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” detained Kyiv-based blogger and activist, Volodymyr Fomichev, and charged him with unlawful possession of weapons. On June 27, he pled guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison. Fomichev’s family insisted the conviction was baseless and the result of a forced confession. During the “hearings,” Fomichev gave his father a sweater covered with blood, raising concerns about mistreatment by “investigators.”
Actions to Expand Press Freedom: On February 4, parliament passed a law criminalizing the illegal seizure of materials collected, processed, and prepared by journalists or of technical devices they use in their professional activities. The law also introduces a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment for unlawfully denying journalists access to information, unlawfully banning them from covering particular topics, or for any other action impeding their professional activity.
Authorities did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority. Authorities did not restrict content or censor websites or other communications and internet services.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of persons in the country used the internet in 2015.
Human rights groups and journalists that were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and Crimea reported that opponents subjected their websites 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.
Users of social media, particularly Facebook and VKontakte, sometimes had their access temporarily blocked for innocuous or political posts that other users mischaracterized as “hate speech” and flagged as terms of service violations.
In its yearly Freedom on the Net report, Freedom House assessed in November that internet freedom in the country deteriorated for the second year in a row, noting that, “Ukrainian 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, Russian-backed separatist forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were several reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On November 4, the SBU announced that it had banned 140 Russian cultural figures from entering the country, as their actions or statements conflicted with the country’s interests.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides citizens with the right to freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. 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 peaceful assembly without restriction in areas of the country under government control. Most assemblies were peaceful and at times accompanied by a very large police presence to maintain order. The HRMMU noted an overall improvement in the ability of the National Police to provide security for demonstrations.
There were some reports of violence at LGBTI demonstrations during the year (see section 6.).
On July 4, more than 100 persons protested peacefully against the presence of military equipment in Toretsk, Donetsk Oblast. Police arrested eight men, charged them with disobeying police, interrogated them without lawyers present, and did not bring them before the court within three hours, as required by the law. SBU officers reportedly threatened and intimidated the detainees. The detainees spent the night sleeping on the floor of a small cell with only one mattress and a wooden bench. After the court hearing ordering their release, they were brought back to a police station where the head of police in the Donetsk Oblast allegedly insulted and threatened them before their release.
In the territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists, 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 the armed groups.” The HRMMU also noted that the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local authorities, often apparently organized by the armed groups, with forced public participation.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.
The HRMMU noted a pattern of harassment of Communist Party members. For example, on June 28, the apartment of a first secretary of the Kharkiv local branch of the Communist Party was searched, and she was charged with violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine and bribing state officials. On June 30, a Kharkiv court ruled to place her in pretrial detention.
According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by the Russian-backed separatists, “civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, cannot operate freely.” Residents informed the HRMMU that they were being prosecuted (or were afraid of being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by the armed groups, which appeared to have compulsory membership for certain persons, such as public sector employees.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
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.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.
The government cooperated with the Office of UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (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.
In-country Movement: The government and Russian-backed separatist forces strictly controlled the freedom of movement between government- and Russian-backed separatist controlled territories in the Donbas region. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. 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 26,000 to 32,000 individuals crossed the line daily. People formed long lines at all operating transit corridors and had to wait for up to 36 hours with no or limited access to water, medical aid, toilets, and shelter in case of shelling or extreme weather. The HRMMU’s March report noted that two elderly persons died at government checkpoints due to lack of timely medical care; its September report noted three deaths for the same reason. The HRMMU’s June report noted that, on April 27, four civilians were killed and eight injured at a crossing point near Olenivka in the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” when it was shelled while they waited in line overnight.
Movement across the line of contact was limited to four crossing points in Donetsk Oblast and one in Luhansk Oblast, which were frequently closed due to nearby fighting. The crossing point at Stanytsia Luhanska traversed a temporary wooden structure that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) believed was unsafe. People regularly reported long lines; as an example, on August 19, the SMM reported more than 700 persons waiting to cross into the country at Stanytsia Luhanska. On August 16, more than 1,000 persons were observed at the same crossing point, and medical officials claimed 21 persons were treated for heat-related illnesses.
In 2015 the SBU introduced a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups were concerned that many persons in nongovernment-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes. The order imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which ceased distribution in the territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern about 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. Russian-backed separatists continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country during the year. In April the crossing checkpoint in Stanytsia Luhanska was closed due to shelling by Russian-backed separatist forces and, as of December, it was open only for pedestrians. Russian-backed separatists have also consistently prevented civilians from crossing at the Zolote checkpoint in Luhansk oblast.
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 the 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. The three crossing points between Russian-occupied Crimea and mainland Ukraine were closed on several occasions in early August, creating long lines of individuals who were prevented from freely moving across the administrative boundary. As of August 15, the movement of vehicles and persons fully resumed but slowed due to enhanced security measures.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of November 15, there were more than 1.7 million registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and 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 surrounding the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, as well as in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in hope that 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 had not taken effective steps to do so. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.
On February 16, the Ministry of Social Policy instructed its regional offices and local departments to suspend all social payments for IDPs, pending verification of their presence in government-controlled territory, ostensibly to combat fraudulent payments. According to the HRMMU, following this decision the SBU provided regional administrations with lists of individuals whose social entitlements should be revoked pending verification. The HRMMU reviewed a list that the SBU submitted to the regional administration in Kharkiv and determined that it was developed from information in the SBU database on individuals who received permits to cross the contact line. On June 8, the government adopted amendments to resolutions on IDPs to allow for automatic termination of benefits and prescribing two to six months for reinstatement, depending on the grounds for termination. The HRMMU, the human rights ombudsperson, the Council of Europe, and other domestic and international human rights and humanitarian groups criticized these amendments.
According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure extremely broadly. The suspensions affected approximately 85 percent of IDPs residing in government-controlled areas and 97 percent of those residing in areas under the control of Russian-backed separatists, particularly the elderly and disabled whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated. In one case the HRMMU interviewed a female IDP with disabilities in Kramatorsk, who was also the single parent of a 13-year-old daughter with disabilities. She incidentally discovered that all of her other social payments had also been cut, including her disability pension.
According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a state 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 that their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported that the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for 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 accommodation. As of July 1, there were 271 such collective centers housing more than 10,000 persons. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodation, although affordable private accommodation was often in poor condition.
UN agencies expressed concern about instances of eviction of IDPs from the collective centers. On September 29, 22 elderly IDPs, including two disabled persons, were evicted from the Kuialnyk sanatorium in Odesa. A representative from the Odesa regional administration stated that the management of the sanatorium had suspended utilities on September 26 due to nonpayment of bills. While collective center accommodation was only intended as a temporary solution, many IDPs remained for extended periods.
There were reports of government officials expressing discriminatory views toward IDPs. For example, on September 23, Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov publicly attributed an increase in the crime rate to an inflow of IDPs, provoking a public outcry.
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 September 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
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. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria.
Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of who is 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 that the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.
Refoulement: The government 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. UNHCR described refoulement at the border as a “largely hidden phenomenon,” as persons seeking asylum may not receive legal aid or interpretation at border crossing points or temporary holding facilities and were, therefore, unable to apply for asylum before being deported. Human rights groups noted the law offers legal protection against forcible return.
Employment: Authorities did not provide employment assistance, and most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Authorities provided language instruction for asylum seekers only in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa. Some attempted to work 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. Human rights groups reported that authorities did not provide social and economic support to asylum seekers or assist them. Authorities did not provide language courses or social assistance. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10).
Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 320 persons and could accommodate approximately 20 percent of asylum applicants. Asylum seekers living outside a center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked this 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.
UNHCR noted an improvement in the quantity and quality of food provided in the migrant custody centers as well as a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods. 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. As of November 1, seven unaccompanied migrant children were registered, five of whom expressed a desire to apply for refugee status. 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.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; authorities provided it to approximately 618 persons during the year.
According to law, a person may acquire citizenship by birth, territorial origin, naturalization, restored citizenship, and adoption.
According to UNHCR, there were 35,179 persons in the country under its statelessness mandate as of mid-2015. According to the State Migration Service, at the end of the year there were 5,343 stateless persons residing in the country.
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 types of documentation to verify their identity.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape but does not explicitly address spousal rape. The courts may use a law against “forced sex with a materially dependent person” as grounds to prosecute spousal rape. Under the law authorities can detain a person for up to five days for offenses related to domestic violence and spousal abuse.
Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant but underreported problems. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, through September there were 355 registered reports of rape or attempted rape of which authorities brought 47 to court.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, 922 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year, and 833 cases were brought to court. Advocacy groups asserted the percentage of women subjected to physical violence or psychological abuse at home remained high. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited, and preventive services remained underfunded and underdeveloped. Additionally, human rights groups stated that law enforcement authorities did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses.
According to the Kyiv-based international women’s rights center, La Strada, Russian aggression in the Donbas region led to a dramatic surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to post-traumatic 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 because they feared sexual abuse. There were no special social services available to women IDPs. According to the Ministry for Social Policy, police issued approximately 38,000 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during a six-month period. According to the ministry, approximately 65,000 persons were under police monitoring in connection with domestic violence. Punishment included fines, administrative arrest, and community service.
La Strada operated a national hotline for victims of violence and sexual harassment. Through September more than 24,000 individuals called the hotline for assistance, and 35 percent of the calls related to domestic or sexual violence. According to La Strada, more than 49 percent of calls related to psychological violence. The NGO reported that expanded public awareness campaigns increased the number of requests for assistance it received each year.
Although the law requires the government to operate a shelter in every major city, it did not do so, in part due to lack of municipal funding. During the year officials identified 19 centers for social and psychological help and nine centers for psychological and legal help for women who suffered from domestic violence.
According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of July 1, government centers provided domestic violence-related services, in the form of sociopsychological assistance, to 423 families with children and 3,934 individuals. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse. NGOs operated additional centers for victims of domestic violence in several regions, but women’s rights groups noted that many nongovernment shelters closed due to lack of funding.
According to women’s advocacy groups, municipal and privately funded shelters were not always accessible. Shelters were frequently full, and resources were limited. Some shelters did not function throughout the year, and administrative restrictions prevented women and families from accessing services. For example, some shelters would only accept children of certain ages, while others did not admit women not registered as local residents. Government centers offered only limited legal, psychological, and economic assistance to survivors of domestic violence. Each center could accommodate approximately 30 women and children, which was often inadequate.
Sexual Harassment: The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination, but women’s rights groups asserted there was no effective mechanism to protect against sexual harassment. They 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. Women’s groups also cited a persistent culture of sexism and harassment.
While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent person” to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws, and are entitled to receive equal pay for equal work. In practice women received lower salaries than men (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Either birthplace or parentage determines 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.
Registration of children born in Crimea or areas in the east controlled by Russian-backed separatists remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russian-backed separatist “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. Additionally, authorities do not recognize documents issued by Russian-occupied Crimean or Russian-backed separatist entities and sometimes refused to issue birth certificates to children born in those areas.
Child Abuse: As of September 30, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported 4,817 crimes against children. Human rights groups noted that authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underfunded and 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. Parliament’s ombudsman for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived violence or witnessed violence, in particular violence committed by their parents. According to the law parents were legal representatives of children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative of a child during the investigation of a case of parental violence.
The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Human Rights includes a representative for children’s rights, nondiscrimination, and gender equality. As of August 31, the office had received 552 complaints regarding children’s rights.
A major consequence of Russian aggression in the Donbas was its effect on children. In January the law On Protection of Childhood was amended to include a provision supporting children affected by the armed conflict. In August the Ukrainian Institute of Extremism Research reported that fighting killed 166 children since the conflict started in 2014. According to UNICEF the conflict has affected 1.7 million children, including approximately 230,000 forced from their homes. Children living in areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists did not receive nutritional and shelter assistance. Human rights groups reported that children who experienced the conflict or fled from territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists suffered psychological trauma. UNICEF reported that 200,000 children in the Donbas needed psychological rehabilitation, and approximately 580,000 urgently needed aid.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. If it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest, a court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry. Romani rights groups reported 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 children under the age of 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child under the age of 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs recorded 274 sexual crimes against children during the year. 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 International Organization for Migration reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. Courts may limit access to websites that disseminate child pornography and impose financial penalties and prison sentences on those operating the websites.
Child Soldiers: There were reports that Russian-backed separatists used child soldiers in the conflict in the east of the country (see section 1.g.).
Displaced Children: According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 235,700 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low, as children who fled without their parents cannot register as IDPs unless another relative officially files for custody, which can be a lengthy process. The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
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. During the year some 100,000 orphans and other children deprived of parental care lived and studied in various types of boarding schools. Approximately 90 percent of such children ended in the schools because of their parents’ poverty, their inability to raise children, or the child’s developmental disorders.
In recent years the government implemented policies to address the abandonment of children and their reintegration with their biological families. Consequently, the number of children deprived of parental care decreased. Human rights groups and media reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Children institutionalized in state-run orphanages were at times vulnerable to trafficking. 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.
Observers noted the judicial system lacked the expertise to work effectively with minors, and the legal process for juveniles emphasized punishment over rehabilitation. Supportive social services were often lacking, and children in custody or under supervision faced bureaucratic and social barriers to reintegration. Authorities viewed imprisonment as a form of supervision and punishment rather than correction and education.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.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 may be higher. Before Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas. Jewish groups estimated between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.
Jewish community leaders reported that societal anti-Semitism was low, and authorities took steps to address problems of anti-Semitism when they arose. Institutional anti-Semitism was rare, and VAAD stated that attacks were isolated and carried out by individuals rather than organized groups. VAAD claimed that negative attitudes towards Jews and Judaism continued to be low, although some individuals espoused anti-Semitic beliefs. VAAD believed that some attacks were provocations meant to discredit the government. In September the Jewish pilgrimage to the Uman burial site of Rabbi Nachman took place without significant incidents. On December 21, however, unknown individuals vandalized the site with a pig’s head and blood. Authorities opened an investigation into the incident and immediately condemned it.
In July authorities named a street in Kyiv after former Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) leader, Stepan Bandera. In response according to press reports, more than 20 Ukrainian Jewish groups published a statement condemning, as a form of Holocaust denial, the naming of streets for leaders of the OUN and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA),. Some international scholars also objected. At the same time, authorities also named a street in Kyiv in honor of Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish writer who had died in Auschwitz.
According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) supported by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and VAAD, one case of suspected anti-Semitic violence was recorded during the year, compared to one case of anti-Semitic violence in 2015, four such cases in 2014, and four in 2013. The NMRMG identified 18 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism during the year, as compared to 22 in 2015 and 23 in 2014. Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv and other cities. On January 13, arsonists damaged a Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya, following similar attacks in 2015. On March 4, unknown persons set fire to a wreath left by the Israeli minister of justice at the Babyn Yar memorial. On April 15, vandals defaced a monument to the Holocaust in Cherkasy. In May, on Israel’s national memorial day for the Holocaust, an unknown group of persons burned an Israeli flag at the Babyn Yar memorial. There were reportedly several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the memorial during the year.
Senior government officials and politicians from various political parties continued efforts to combat anti-Semitism by speaking out against extremism and social intolerance and criticizing anti-Semitic acts. On September 29, the government held a commemoration ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre, during which 33,771 Jews were killed in two days during the Nazi German occupation.
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 in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, and the provision of other state services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.
The law requires the government to provide access to public venues 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. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, approximately 25 percent of persons with disabilities were employed.
Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, restricting the ability of such persons to participate in society. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).
There were reports of societal discrimination against persons with disabilities in places of public accommodation. For example, February media reports described how a young man in Lviv, who used a wheelchair, had been repeatedly denied membership in a fitness club since 2014. The club’s management gave several reasons for its refusal, including that his wheelchair could spread disease in the facility and that the man’s disability could scare off other patrons.
Inclusive education remained problematic. Authorities often did not integrate students with disabilities into the general student population. Only secondary schools offered classes for students with disabilities. State employment centers lacked resources to place students with disabilities in appropriate jobs.
NGOs noted the government was unable to provide outpatient care to persons with disabilities, thus putting the main burden on their families and forcing them to place children and sometimes adults with disabilities in state institutions.
Government policy favored institutionalization of children with disabilities over placement with their families. The state cared for more than 70,000 of the country’s estimated 150,000 children with disabilities, but lacked the legal framework and funds to deinstitutionalize them. Programs to provide for the basic needs of children with disabilities and inpatient and outpatient therapy programs were underfunded and understaffed. The inadequate number of educational and training programs for children with disabilities left many isolated and limited their professional opportunities in adulthood. Persons with disabilities in areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care.
Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines. According to the Ukrainian Psychiatric Association, insufficient funding, patients’ lack of access to legal counsel, and poor enforcement of legal protections deprived patients with disabilities of their right to adequate medical care.
Government monitors observed incidents of involuntary seclusion and application of physical restraints to persons with mental disabilities at psychiatric and neuropsychiatric institutions of the Ministry of Social Policy. Health-care authorities placed patients in isolated and unequipped premises or even metal cages, where authorities held them for long periods without proper access to sanitation.
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 work at their companies.
On September 7, parliament adopted legislation to harmonize the country’s law with international standards with respect to the rights of persons with disabilities.
Mistreatment 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 declined slightly during the year.
The law criminalizes deliberate actions to incite hatred or discrimination based on nationality, race, or religion, including insulting the national honor or dignity of citizens in connection with their religious and political beliefs, race, or skin color. The law imposes increased penalties for hate crimes; premeditated killing on grounds of racial, ethnic, or religious hatred carries a 10- to 15-year prison sentence. Penalties for other hate crimes include fines of 3,400 to 8,500 hryvnias ($126 to $315) or imprisonment for up to five years.
Human rights organizations stated that the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made application of the law difficult. Authorities did not prosecute any of the criminal proceedings under the laws on racial, national, or religious offenses. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, authorities registered 58 criminal investigations involving racial, national, or religious hatred during the first nine months of the year. Of these cases 13 were closed and 15 were forwarded to court. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), reported as of October 31, 10 documented cases of violence against racial or ethnic minorities that involved 17 victims. Victims of the attacks were from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Jordan, Nigeria, and Syria, as well as citizens of Tajik, Jewish, and Muslim descent. Most of the incidents occurred in Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa. There were cases of vandalism, including arson, targeting Jewish and Romani property in the Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkasy, and Zakarpattya Oblasts and in Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, and Mykolaev.
On January 4, the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv sentenced a participant in a racist attack at a Dynamo Kyiv football match to two years in prison. Investigations into other persons involved remained open.
Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination. Romani rights groups estimated the Romani population at between 200,000 and 400,000. Official census data placed the number at 47,600. The discrepancy in population estimates was due in part to a lack of legal documentation for many Roma. According to experts there were more than 100 Romani NGOs, but most lacked capacity to act as effective advocates or service providers for the Romani community. Romani settlements were mainly located in the Zakarpattya, Poltava, Cherkasy, Volyn, Dnipropetrovsk, and Odesa Oblasts. Roma experienced significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment due in part to discriminatory attitudes against them.
There were reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, including cases in which police declined to intervene to stop the violence. On August 27, police failed to stop a mob from attacking a Romani settlement near Loshchynivka, Odesa Oblast, and watched while the mob vandalized Romani homes and set at least one on fire. The mob formed in reaction to the news that police arrested a man of Romani heritage in connection with the killing and rape of a local nine-year-old girl. In subsequent days local authorities announced a plan to evict Roma from their homes forcibly but cancelled the plans after the majority of recently arrived Roma fled of their own accord. Odesa’s regional governor, Mikhail Saakashvili, appeared to condone the evictions, stating, “I fully share the outrage of the residents of Loshchynivka…there is massive drug-dealing in which the antisocial elements that live there are engaged. We should have fundamentally dealt with this problem earlier–and now it’s simply obligatory.”
There were several reports during the year that police arbitrarily detained Romani individuals, at times beating or mistreating them.
While the government in 2013 adopted a seven-year action plan to implement a strategy for protecting and integrating Roma into society, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) reported that it had not led to significant improvements for Roma. The ERRC monitored the plan in collaboration with the International Renaissance Foundation. According to human rights groups, the government did not allocate funds for the plan’s implementation.
According to parliament’s ombudsman for human rights, 24 percent of Roma have never had any schooling, and only 1 percent of the Romani population had a university degree. Approximately 31 percent of Romani children did not attend school. According to the ERRC, more than 60 percent of Roma were unemployed, creating a vicious cycle leading to social exclusion and marginalization. According to the ombudsman, securing employment was the main problem for the Romani minority. Approximately 49 percent of Roma named it as their most significant challenge.
According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chiricli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing passports 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 Russian-backed separatists and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chiricli approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP community. 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 and gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas. LGBTI groups, along with international and domestic human rights organizations, criticized the lack of such language in the National Human Rights Strategy, although the action plan for implementation included provisions for incorporating LGBTI rights.
There was sporadic violence against LGBTI persons. For example, on February 28, hooligans assaulted two persons in Odesa after calling them a derogatory slur. While homophobic threats from right-wing nationalist groups continued, their presence at festivals and marches was often limited to several dozen counterprotesters. Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, local officials sometimes voiced opposition to LGBTI rights and failed to protect LGBTI persons.
Overall, LGBTI groups enjoyed greater freedom to assemble than in past years. In most cases security forces and local officials deployed adequate security forces to prevent violence and protect conferences and marches. For example, security forces provided protection to an equality march in Kyiv on June 6 and a pride march in Odesa on August 11. In the case of the equality march, authorities deployed more than 6,000 security personnel, protecting more than 2,000 marchers including members of parliament. Police also adequately protected the equality festivals in Kyiv in May, in Dnipro in July, and in Zaporizhzhya in September. During an equality festival in Kyiv, right-wing groups telephoned a bomb threat. Instead of cancelling the event, security forces cleared the building, allowing the event to continue.
One notable exception was the Lviv equality festival on March 19. Hotels and conference spaces refused to honor reservations made by the festival, allegedly under pressure from city officials, who then banned all public gatherings. After the festival relocated to another hotel, security officials allowed right-wing radicals to threaten participants. After a bomb threat cancelled the conference, security forces evacuated participants on buses and took no action to prevent attacks from radicals, who threw rocks and firecrackers. Security forces failed to take action against right-wing groups that “went on safari,” seeking persons suspected of being LGBTI for attack throughout the next day. According to civil society groups, assailants injured five persons after the festival.
Nash Mir LGBT Human Rights Center reported 215 instances in which persons allegedly violated the rights of LGBTI persons in the country between January and September, including 133 instances of threats and 79 instances of violence, many related to attacks in and around the Lviv equality festival. Nash Mir stated that while the number of incidents increased, there were no reports of murder or grievous harm done to LGBTI persons in the first half of the year. Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported, however; and law enforcement authorities only opened 17 cases related to such acts. Nash Mir stated that extortion remained a problem and anti-LGBTI groups employed social media to entrap LGBTI persons.
Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and stereotyping in media. Medical policies towards transgendered persons improved somewhat, as, individuals no longer had to undergo sex reassignment surgery to change their names and genders officially and could do so with counseling and hormone therapy. This procedure was approved by the Ministry of Health and registered with the Ministry of Justice during the year. Regulations still prevent reassignment for married individuals and those with minor children. Transgender persons claimed to have difficulty obtaining official documents reflecting their gender.
According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in Russian-occupied Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russian-backed separatists was very poor. Most LGBTI persons either fled or have hidden their gender identity. According to a report published by the Center for Civil Liberties and Memorial’s Antidiscrimination Center in Saint Petersburg, violence and intimidation against LGBTI persons in territories controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts was widespread and encouraged by Russian and Russian-backed authorities. According to the report, the Occupy Pedophilia movement was active and tolerated by local and Russian authorities. The group used social media to identify LGBTI persons and then abused them physically and verbally. According to the report, a foreign victim was beaten and forced to perform degrading acts. The report also claimed that Russian-backed separatists forced suspected LGBTI persons to dig trenches for military fortifications if ransoms were not paid.
There was overall improvement during the year in social attitudes towards homosexuality and a decline in homophobic rhetoric from churches and leading political figures, and increasing numbers of Verkhovna Rada members voiced support for LGBTI rights. Seven Verkhovna Rada members participated in the June equality march in Kyiv.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
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. They were subjected to neglect and isolated from other children. The most at-risk adolescents faced higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDs as well as additional barriers to accessing information and services for its prevention and treatment. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination and, at times, lacked access to treatment.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law also provides for the right of 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 described 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. Unions reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, entailing the payment of multiple fees and requiring visits to as many as 10 different offices. Efforts to reform legal entity registration complicated registration specifically for trade unions. Independent unions reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including nonstandard requests for documentation and membership information.
The legal procedure to initiate a strike was overly complex and effectively prohibited strike action in practice, contributing to increasing numbers of informal industrial actions. By law industrial disputes should follow procedures of consideration, conciliation, and labor arbitration that parties can draw out for months. Only after the exhaustion of this process are workers able to vote to strike, which courts may still block. The right to strike is also 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. Poorly defined legal grounds for striking allowed the government the possibility to deny the right to strike due to national security or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. Additionally, the law prohibits strikes by overly broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Prosecutor General’s Office, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public service sector.
In 2014 the European Court of Human Rights adjudicated restrictions in the transportation sector, declaring restrictions on strikes in the sector illegal. The decision required the government to amend legislation in conformity with the ruling, but, as of December, it had not done so. Transportation-sector workers could also refer to the Law on Transport, which regulates the strikes in the transport sector and allows strikes in case of nonfulfillment of administrative duties by employer.
Legal hurdles also made it difficult for independent unions, those 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. These legal hurdles, set in place by outdated laws and an obsolete labor code, further entrenched the FPU and hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to act effectively when representing their members. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively or consistently. On the regulatory side, inspectors were limited in number and funding (also see section 7.e.). Throughout the year the labor inspection service continued to be functionally suspended due to an incomplete reorganization.
Observers disputed 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 a decade.
Statutory worker-management commissions were not always effective. Management at times dominated the commissions. There were cases where workers who renounced membership in an FPU-affiliated union and joined an independent union faced loss of pay, undesirable work assignments, and dismissal.
Several pieces of legislation passed during the year weakened protection of freedom of association, including the aforementioned law complicating trade union registration and a law complicating the tax status of trade unions.
Independent union representatives continued to be subjected to violence and intimidation. In January the deputy head of the Kryvyi Rih, Dnipropetrovsk chapter of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU), Elena Maslova, was beaten on her way home from work. NPGU president, Mykhaylo Volinets, claimed the attack was in response to Maslova’s union activities. The union reported that authorities have not identified any perpetrators and did not investigate the attack.
In February the president of the Novovolinsk chapter of the NPGU, Anatoliy Muhomedzhanov, was beaten in the office of the mine’s director. The trade union alleged that multiple witnesses saw who beat him, but police did not pursue the incident.
Arrears and corruption issues exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests. In August the NPGU leader in Selidovo and Novogrodifka, Victor Trifonov, set himself on fire during a sit-in in the Kyiv building of the Ministry of Energy and Coal of Ukraine. In response government officials accused trade union members of siding with separatists in the east of the country.
In September the president of the Free Health-care Workers Union, Oleg Panasenko, reported that unknown persons destroyed a union protest camp at the entrance of the Ministry of Health, while police were present and failed to intervene.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations ranged from three to 15 years imprisonment and were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to provide for enforcement. In the first nine months of the year, the IOM assisted 777 victims of trafficking in the country: 312 women and 465 men. Approximately 93 percent of the victims had been subjected to labor exploitation.
There were reports of trafficking of women, men, and children for labor. Traffickers subjected some foreign nationals to forced labor in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, domestic work, the lumber industry, nursing, and street begging. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.) The government made minor efforts to prevent or eliminate forced labor, citing a lack of budgetary resources.
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 law sets 16 as the minimum age for most employment. Children who are 15 years of age may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent, leaving the issue open to interpretation by employers and opening the system to abuse. The law allows children to do some forms of “nonhazardous” work beginning at 14 as part of an apprenticeship in the context of vocational training.
The government did not effectively enforce the law due to a lack of resources within the Ministry of Social Policy and a continued moratorium on surprise labor inspections for much of the year. Penalties for violations ranged from small fines for illegitimate employment or other labor law violations to prison sentences for sexual exploitation of a child or involvement of a child in illicit activities or pornography; they were insufficient to deter violations. The penalty for forcing children to beg is imprisonment for up to three years.
The most frequent violations of child labor laws related to work in hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain work records, and delayed salary payments.
As of September 20, the territorial bodies of the State Service on Labor had conducted 2,547 inspections in which they examined compliance with child labor laws. The inspections found 112 instances of the use of child labor and 105 violations of the law. The businesses inspected included 17 agricultural enterprises, 24 trade companies, 35 service providers, and 36 companies in other sectors. The inspections uncovered 252 working minors, of whom 56 were 14 to 15 years old and 196 were 16 to 18 years old.
There were reports of child soldiers among the Russian-backed separatist forces in the east of the country (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers).
The labor code prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on 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 effectively enforce the law, and discrimination in employment and occupation 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 or restraint of liberty for a term up to five years, with or without the deprivation of the right to occupy certain positions or engage in certain activities for a term up to three years. Such actions accompanied by violence, are punishable by correctional labor for a term of up to two years, imprisonment for a term of up to five years, or imprisonment for a term of two to five years, if such actions were committed by an organized group of persons or if they caused death or other grave consequences.
Industries dominated by female workers had the lowest relative wages. Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, men earned on average 29.5 percent more than women. Domestic and international observers noted that women held few elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels. Additionally, the law limits women’s employment opportunities and prohibits women from engaging in more than 500 occupations, including bulldozer operator and bus driver.
The monthly minimum wage was 1,378 hryvnias ($51) from January 1 through April 30; it rose to 1,450 hryvnias ($54) on May 1 and to 1,600 hryvnias ($59) on December 1. As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage for private-sector workers is to increase to 3,200 hryvnias ($119) according to the 2017 draft budget. The hourly minimum wage was 8.29 hryvnias ($0.31) from January through April and rose to 8.69 hryvnias ($0.32) on May 1 and to 9.29 hryvnias $.034) on December 1. Some workers in the informal sector received wages below the established minimum. The poverty income level rose during the year from 1,330 hryvnias ($49) per month to 1,399 hryvnias ($52) during the year.
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 the respective local trade union organization on all overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.
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, often blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft.
In July the NPGU reported that arrears in the coal sector reached almost 496 million hryvnias ($18.4 million). Arrears and corruption issues exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.
Total wage arrears in the country rose during the year to 1.9 billion hryvnias ($70 million) as of September 1. More than half of the debt was in the Luhansk (23.2 percent), Donetsk, (19.6 percent), and Kharkiv (10.1 percent) regions.
The law requires employers to provide safe workplaces. While the law and associated regulations contain occupational safety and health standards, employers frequently ignored them due to the lack of enforcement mechanisms and the government’s failure to hold employers accountable for unsafe conditions. 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.
Penalties for violations 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 and funding. By 2014, the latest date for which such data were available, the number of inspectors had dropped to 457 from 616, in large part due to a 70 percent funding cut that year.
The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards in all sectors, including the informal economy. Penalties for violations included fines of 50 to 100 tax-free minimum incomes, 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. It is impossible to determine whether these penalties were enough to deter violations as with little to no inspection regime, coupled with a largely nonfunctioning reporting mechanism, it was difficult for the government to detect violations. The government has had a moratorium in place on surprise inspections since 2014, with the goal of cutting the number of required inspections and certifications, deregulating the economy, and preventing corruption. The moratorium constrained the government’s ability to enforce labor laws effectively. During this period authorities required the State Labor Service and its predecessor, the State Labor Inspectorate, to pursue a lengthy interagency process to obtain permission from the Cabinet of Ministers to conduct an inspection. Labor inspections could also occur at a company’s request or upon the formal request of the investigator in the framework of criminal proceedings against a company.
Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job. Wage arrears, nonpayment of overtime, operational safety problems, and health complaints were common in the mining industry.
Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced very serious safety and health problems. Through September there were 144 incidents resulting in mining injuries, including 17 fatalities, or approximately 8 percent fewer injuries but 54 percent more fatalities than in the same period in 2015. During the same period, authorities reported 635 individual injuries to coal miners, or almost 17 percent above the same period in 2015. Also through September there were 3,168 occupational injuries for all employment types (including 298 fatalities), which was 0.5 percent (11 percent) above the same period in 2015. Workers faced unsafe situations in areas outside government control in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
Despite Russian aggression close to industrial areas in the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate through December. Fighting resulted in physical damage to mines and plants through loss of power, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and reportedly intentional flooding of mines by combined Russian-separatist forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. Additionally, loss of electrical power threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.