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Crimea

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices, including the press and other media, to harassment and prosecution. Occupation authorities’ reported failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” In July 2020 occupation authorities began enforcing a law that prohibits the unauthorized dissemination of information damaging to the FSB’s reputation without the FSB’s approval. Enforcement of this law in Crimea further deprived residents of the ability to exercise freedom of expression, by preventing them from publicly criticizing and disseminating information concerning reportedly unlawful actions of FSB officers and alleged violations or abuses of human rights.

Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for speaking or posting opposition to the occupation. These unlawfully obtained recordings were often used against those who were arbitrarily arrested in closed trials.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on March 22, the Russia-controlled prosecutor’s office for the Nizhnegorsk district in Crimea formally warned Crimean Tatar Akhmadzhon Kadyrov that his recent public statements could constitute “extremism.” The written warning referenced a video posted to social media on March 7 in which Kadyrov denied that Crimean Tatars were terrorists and spoke about the suffering and injustices Crimean Tatars experienced under Russia’s occupation. The “prosecutor’s” warning claimed Kadyrov’s criticisms of Russia’s judicial proceedings and calls of support for Crimean Tatar political prisoners indicated a “negative attitude towards law enforcement and judicial officials.”

Occupation authorities continued to ban the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols as “extremist.” Human rights groups claimed violations of this law were rare during the year because of fewer residents displaying such symbols than in previous years, reportedly to avoid prosecution.

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example on June 1, the Russia-controlled “supreme court” in occupied Crimea found Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov guilty of publicly calling for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity and organizing “mass riots.” The court sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison. The charges were linked to Chubarov’s role in organizing a 2014 peaceful demonstration in front of the Crimean parliament in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, on October 25, Russian occupation authorities arrested 21 men, including two Crimean Solidarity journalists, who had gathered outside of a court in Simferopol to observe a hearing for three Crimean Tatar political prisoners. Crimean Solidarity journalists Ruslan Paralamov and Dlyaver Ibragimov, who were reporting on and filming the gathering, were charged with administrative offenses related to the violation of public order.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts. For example on July 22, occupation authorities arrested 27-year-old Crimean Tatar Abdulla Ibrahimov after conducting a search of his father’s home and the family’s store in Evpatoria. Occupation authorities reportedly filed administrative charges against Abdulla for publicly displaying the symbols of “extremist” organizations, in connection to his alleged posting of a symbol for Hizb ut-Tahrir on social media in 2013 (before Russia’s occupation of Crimea). Abdulla was released on July 25.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.

On April 20, occupation authorities fined Bekir Mamutov, the editor in chief of Crimean Tatar newspaper Qirim and member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, for his newspaper’s publishing of the 2020 UN secretary-general’s report on the human rights situation in Crimea, according to the HRMMU. Occupation authorities reportedly claimed the newspaper violated a Russian law that prohibits the press from publishing information regarding the Mejlis without noting that its activities are prohibited in Russia. Mamutov paid a fine of 4,000 rubles ($55).

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example on May 19, the FSB searched the home of Crimean Solidarity journalist Zydan Adzhykelyamov. According to Adzhykelyamov, police inspected his Quran and notes from recent trials he had covered. Police reportedly also searched the adjacent home of his parents. Adzhykelyamov claimed police asked him to sign an administrative document related to the search, but he refused to do so without a lawyer present. Adzhykelyamov claimed police conducted the search in retaliation for his reporting on the May 11 killing of Nabi Rakhimov, who was fatally shot by FSB officers during a raid of his home (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content concerning Crimea they disliked. As of August 12, occupation authorities had blocked 27 Ukrainian websites in Crimea, including the websites of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Ministry of Integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and several independent Ukrainian news outlets, among others. Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. The Crimean Human Rights Group reported that occupation authorities continued to block Ukrainian FM radio stations in northern Crimea by broadcasting their stations on the same wavelength. The signal of Ukrainian FM radio stations was heard in only eight of the area’s 19 settlements.

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

National Security: Occupation authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions.

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, in 2019 occupation authorities arrested Ukrainian citizen Oleh Prykhodko on charges of terrorism and possession of explosives after they purportedly found explosives in his garage, which human rights defenders maintained were planted there. Human rights groups claimed the charges were retaliation for Prykhodko’s displaying of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags on his car, for which he was fined in 2019. On March 3, a Russian court sentenced the 62-year-old Prykhoko to five years’ imprisonment in a maximum-security penal colony.

Russia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports the government or its agents committed, or attempted to commit, arbitrary or unlawful killings.  Impunity was a significant problem in investigating whether security force killings were justifiable (see section 1.e.).

Officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) poisoned opposition activist and anticorruption campaigner Aleksey Navalny in August 2020 with a form of Novichok, a nerve agent that was also used in the 2018 attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergey Skripal in the United Kingdom.  In December 2020 investigations published by the independent outlets Bellingcat and The Insider identified eight FSB officers suspected to have been involved in Navalny’s poisoning based on telephone records and travel data as well as an inadvertent confession by one of the FSB officials.  On June 11, Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation published the results of an investigation that alleged the doctors who treated Navalny at a hospital in Omsk falsified his original medical records to hide evidence of his poisoning.  At year’s end Russian Federation representatives continued to reject requests to open an investigation into the circumstances of Navalny’s poisoning and repeated denials that he had been poisoned by a nerve agent.

In an investigation published on January 27, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel implicated several of the same FSB officials in the deaths of at least two other Russian activists between 2014 and 2019:  Timur Kuashev, a journalist critical of Russia’s invasion of Crimea who died in 2014, and Ruslan Magomedragimov, an activist for the Lezgin ethnic minority group who died in 2015.  According to reporting at the time, both died of apparent poisoning, although neither death was investigated by authorities as suspicious.  In another joint investigation, Bellingcat, The Insider, and Der Spiegel reported on February 12 that some of the same FSB officials had followed opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza immediately preceding his poisoning with an unknown substance in two assassination attempts in 2015 and 2017.  On June 10, Bellingcat and The Insider reported that the same FSB officers were also implicated in the 2019 poisoning and near death of writer, journalist, and Russian government critic Dmitriy Bykov.

Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media outlets continued to publish reports indicating that, from December 2018 to January 2019, local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya renewed a campaign of violence against individuals perceived to be members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.  In February the news outlet Novaya Gazeta published information corroborating previous reports that Chechen security officials extrajudicially executed 27 residents of the Republic of Chechnya in 2017.  As part of its investigation into the abuses, Novaya Gazeta interviewed former Chechen police sergeant Suleyman Gezmakhmayev, who testified that his police regiment, the Akhmat Kadyrov Police Patrol Service Regiment, carried out mass arrests and some of the extrajudicial killings of the 27 residents between December 2016 and January 2017.  Media reported that Chechen police officers subsequently sought to force Gezmakhmayev to recant his testimony by putting pressure on relatives who remained in Chechnya.  On March 15, presidential press secretary Dmitriy Peskov told reporters that the government was aware of Novaya Gazeta’s investigations into the extrajudicial executions in Chechnya but did not have the prerogative to investigate.  Media outlets reported that the former head of the regiment, Aslan Iraskhanov, was appointed head of Chechnya’s police at the end of March.  According to human rights organizations, as of December authorities had failed to open investigations into the allegations or reports of extrajudicial killings and mass torture of LGBTQI+ persons in Chechnya and continued to deny there were any LGBTQI+ persons in the republic.

There were multiple reports that, in some prison colonies, authorities systematically tortured inmates (see section 1.c.), in some cases resulting in death or suicide.  According to media reports, on February 27, a prisoner, Adygzhy Aymyr-ool, was found dead at the Irkutsk Penal Colony No. 25 (IK-25) prison with signs of torture on his body.  Relatives of Aymyr-ool told media that he had previously complained of beatings and poor detention conditions.  The Federal Penitentiary System Office of the Irkutsk Region told media it would investigate the cause of his death but denied reports detailing signs of a violent death.  On October 5, the human rights group Gulagu.net announced it had obtained more than 1,000 leaked videos showing Russian prison officials torturing and sexually abusing inmates or forcing inmates to subject other inmates to such abuse in the Saratov region and elsewhere.

There were reports that the government or its proxies committed, or attempted to commit, extrajudicial killings of its opponents in other countries.  On February 19, Ukraine filed a complaint against the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for its role in the “political assassinations of opponents.”  Ukraine claimed that “operations to target the alleged opponents of the Russian state are carried out in Russia and on the territory of other states, including the member states of the Council of Europe, outside the situation of armed conflict.”  On December 15, a German court sentenced a Russian citizen, Vadim Krasikov, to life in prison for killing a former Chechen rebel commander of Georgian nationality, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in a Berlin park in 2019.  Prosecutors claimed that Krasikov traveled to Germany under an alias and belonged to a special unit of the FSB.  The presiding judge concluded that “the central government of the Russian Federation was the author of this crime.”

The country continued to engage in armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, where human rights organizations attributed thousands of civilian deaths, widespread displacement of persons, and other abuses to Russia-led forces.  Russian occupation authorities in Crimea also committed widespread abuses (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Ukraine).

Since 2015 the country’s armed forces conducted military operations, including airstrikes, in the conflict in Syria.  According to human rights organizations, the country’s forces took actions, such as bombing urban areas, that intentionally targeted civilian infrastructure (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria).

Since 2017 the country provided the Central African Republic Army unarmed military advisors under the auspices of parameters established by the UN Security Council sanctions regime.  According to a report presented by the UN Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic to the UN Security Council Committee on May 20, the Russian advisors actively participated in, and often led, combat operations on the ground and participated in abuses against civilians, including cases of excessive use of force, harsh interrogation tactics, numerous killings of civilians, and looting of homes on a large scale (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the Central African Republic).

The news website Caucasian Knot reported that violent confrontations with security forces resulted in at least 19 deaths in the North Caucasus during the first half of the year.  Chechnya was the most affected region, with five law enforcement officers injured and six suspected armed insurgents killed.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but in some cases authorities restricted these rights.

In-country Movement:  Although the law gives citizens the right to choose their place of residence, adult citizens must carry government-issued internal passports while traveling domestically and must register with local authorities after arriving at a different location.  To have their files transferred, persons with official refugee or asylum status must notify the Ministry of Internal Affairs in advance of relocating to a district other than the one that originally granted them status.  Authorities often refused to provide government services to individuals without internal passports or proper registration, and many regional governments continued to restrict this right through residential registration rules.

Authorities imposed in-country travel restrictions on individuals facing prosecution for political purposes.

Foreign Travel:  The law provides for freedom to travel abroad, but the government restricted this right for certain groups.  The law stipulates that a person who violates a court decision does not have a right to leave the country.  A court may also prohibit a person from leaving the country for failure to satisfy debts; if the individual is suspected, accused, or convicted of a crime; or if the individual had access to classified material.  The law allows for the temporary restriction of the right to leave the country for citizens with outstanding debts.

The government restricted the foreign travel of millions of its employees, prescribing which countries they are and are not allowed to visit.  The restriction applies to employees of agencies including the Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Federal Prison Service, Federal Drug Control Service, Federal Bailiff Service, General Administration for Migration Issues, and Ministry of Emergency Situations.  On July 7, media outlets reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed a decree stating that prior to traveling abroad, his deputies and ministers must obtain his written permission.  The travel restriction would also apply to lower-ranking officials, such as heads of agencies, who must obtain permission from their supervisors before travel.

Citizenship:  There were reports that the government revoked citizenship on an arbitrary or discriminatory basis.  For example, in April 2020 the Internal Affairs Ministry stripped the citizenship of Feliks Makhammadiyev and Konstantin Bazhenov, two members of Jehovah’s Witnesses convicted of “extremism” on the basis of their religious beliefs.  Makhammadiyev was left stateless as a result.  In January authorities deported Makhammadiyev to Uzbekistan.  Media outlets reported that authorities revoked the residency permits of several foreign nationals who had participated in the January and February protests in support of Aleksey Navalny and the people of Belarus, including individuals married to Russian citizens.

In another example, on October 26, authorities deported Tajikistan-born Bakhtiyor Usmonov, separating him from his wife and children.  Usmonov’s deportation followed his successful case in the ECHR against the Russian state, which annulled his citizenship and held him in a detention center for foreign citizens for two years.  The ECHR ordered the Russian government to restore Usmonov’s citizenship and to pay him compensation in the amount of 11,000 euros ($12,700).

Ukraine

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

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.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, but authorities did not always respect these rights. The government banned, blocked, or sanctioned media outlets and individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated or biased news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media outlets whose owners had pro-Russia political views, close ties to the government, or business or political interests to protect. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters also led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and physical assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Expression: With few exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal.

The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the St. George’s ribbon, a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region and Russian irredentism. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, police opened 17 criminal proceedings and filed 22 administrative offense citations against individuals in Odesa, Zakarpattya, Lviv, Zaporizhzhya, and Luhansk Oblasts for carrying banned communist and Nazi symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws (see subsections on Censorship and National Security).

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.” Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views, but the government took some actions that restricted media and freedom of expression.

On February 2, President Zelenskyy signed a decree imposing sanctions on Taras Kozak, a member of parliament from the Opposition Platform-For Life party, and eight companies, including three media outlets owned by Kozak (ZIK, 112, and NewsOne) that were forced to close on February 2, in accordance with the presidential decree citing national security grounds due to their affiliation with pro-Russia parliamentarian Viktor Medvedchuk. Further, the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) requested YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter remove the channels’ content from their platforms. Medvedchuk has been under international sanctions since 2014 for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and these sanctions remained in effect. Reactions of civil society organizations to media sanctions varied. Some local journalists and media organizations claimed the sanctions legitimately addressed concerns regarding the threat of terrorist financing. The HRMMU criticized the decision, noting it was not taken by an impartial authority and lacked proper justification and proportion.

On August 21, President Zelenskyy approved an NSDC decision to sanction several individuals, businesses, and media entities on what authorities deemed national security grounds for “spreading pro-Russian propaganda.” To carry out the decision, the Security Service of Ukraine ordered Ukrainian internet providers to block access to sanctioned news outlets, including, among other sites widely considered to have a pro-Russia editorial slant, Strana.ua, Sharij.net, Vedomosti, and Moskovsky Komsomolets. As of late October, access to these news sites for users in Ukraine was only possible with a virtual private network (VPN). Individuals sanctioned included bloggers and politicians Anatoliy and Olga Shariy in response to their running a video blog and website that authorities considered too “pro-Russian.” The OSCE media freedom representative expressed concerns regarding the decision’s effect on the country’s media freedom climate, noting, “Any sanctions on media should be subject to careful scrutiny, accompanied by effective procedural safeguards to prevent undue interference.”

Privately owned media, particularly television channels, the most successful of which were owned by influential oligarchs, often provided readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners and providing favorable coverage of their allies and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies. Editorial independence was particularly limited in media controlled by individuals and oligarchs supportive of or linked to the Russian government and Russian intelligence agencies.

There were reports of continuing financial and political pressure on the National Public Broadcasting Company, created to provide an independent publicly funded alternative to oligarch-controlled television channels. Local media outlets claimed that senior representatives from the Office of the President and other government bodies lobbied the broadcaster’s supervisory board to support favored candidates for key leadership positions at the broadcaster. Despite this reported pressure, the selection process remained transparent and unbiased.

Jeansa, the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs, continued to be widespread. Monitoring by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) of national print and online media for jeansa indicated a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. Only seven of the 18 most-visited information sites did not contain jeansa, according to an IMI monitoring study conducted in April. The study found that the publishing of jeansa increased by 39 percent in the second quarter of the year.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists blamed what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes for the emergence of a culture of impunity. Government authorities sometimes participated in and condoned attacks on journalists.

According to the IMI, as of September 1, there had been 12 reports of attacks on journalists, compared with 14 cases during the same period in 2020. As in 2020, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated most of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 11 incidents involving threats against journalists, compared with 13 during the same period in 2020. The IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists by government officials. For example on February 1, Cherkasy City Council official Stanislav Kolomiyets and an accomplice allegedly forced entry into the editorial office of independent broadcaster Antena TV and attacked journalist Valeriy Vorotnyk. According to Vorotnyk, the attackers punched and kicked him in the head, causing him to lose consciousness, and destroyed one of his cameras. Vorotnyk said he believed the attack was in retaliation for his dispute with Kolomiyets over the use of Antena’s copyrighted logo on social media. Police charged the attackers with attacking a journalist, and in May the prosecutor’s office submitted an indictment to the court. As of early September, the trial had not begun, and Kolomiyets retained his city council position.

Media professionals asserted that they continued to experience pressure from the Security Service, the military, police, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues. For example on July 2, several officers of the Dnipro “Municipal Guard,” a subdivision of Dnipro City Council’s Department of Public Order, attacked two cameramen and a reporter who were filming the removal of advertisements from billboards in Dnipro’s city center. Ihor Hutnik, a cameraman for local television station OTV, and Serhiy Fayzulin, a cameraman for D1 local news, alleged a group of men, including Municipal Guard officers, suddenly began shouting at them to stop filming; the attackers punched and kicked the cameramen and smashed a camera. The two victims were hospitalized with serious head injuries. On July 3, police announced five suspects, including three Municipal Guard officers, had been arrested on charges of hooliganism and violence against a journalist. As of early September, the investigation was underway.

There were reports of attacks on journalists by nongovernment actors. On the night of February 1, journalist Olha Ferrar’s car was vandalized in Rivne with a brick that shattered the car’s side window. Ferrar said she believed she was targeted in retaliation for her journalistic activities and social media posts, particularly her coverage of the Rivne Oblast Council. Police classified the incident as “hooliganism” and opened an investigation. As of early September, the investigation continued.

On February 4, Nash TV journalist Oleksiy Palchunov was assaulted while reporting on a protest organized by violent radical groups against Nash TV, which the protesters accused of spreading pro-Russia propaganda. According to the Kyiv City Prosecutor’s Office, the assailant grabbed Palchunov’s microphone to disrupt the journalist’s video recording and punched Palchunov twice in the face. The police investigated the incident, and on July 29, the case was transferred to the court.

There were allegations the government prosecuted journalists in retaliation for their work (see section 1.e.).

Journalists reported receiving threats in connection with their reporting. For example, Volodymyr Yakymiv, editor of the online news site Berezh.info, claimed Ternopil Oblast Council deputy Oleh Valov threatened physical violence against him in an April 7 telephone conversation in response to his professional journalistic activities. Valov reportedly downplayed the incident as an emotional outburst in response to what he said were false accusations against his wife that were published on Yakymiv’s site. Police opened an investigation into the threats in April. As of late October, the case remained under investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights organizations frequently criticized the government for what they viewed as an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, websites, and other content perceived by authorities to counter national security interests (see subsections on National Security and Internet Freedom, below).

There were instances in which the government practiced censorship, restricted content, and penalized individuals and media outlets for reportedly having pro-Russia views and disseminating Russian disinformation through imposing financial sanctions, banning websites, and blocking television channels. The government banned and penalized additional media outlets and television channels throughout the year and worked to prevent certain media outlets from advertising on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media, and National Security subsections).

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose their media owners or political allies to criticism or might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government offices and public figures 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.

National Security: In the context of the continuing Russia-led armed conflict in the Donbas region and Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns, authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russia lines or disinformation. Authorities also sanctioned media figures and outlets, as well as banned websites, and prevented advertising of media outlets and websites whose messages were deemed to be counter to national security interests (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media and Censorship and Content Restrictions subsections above).

Citing the continuing armed conflict with Russian-led forces, the government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russia journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September approximately 815 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. The government maintained a ban on the operations of 1,848 legal entities, approximately 840 companies and 4,046 persons who allegedly posed a threat to the country’s national security. Targets of the ban included companies and persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” The Ministry of Culture maintained a list of 204 cultural figures whose professional activities were banned for allegedly posing a “threat to the national security of Ukraine.” The government maintained a ban on VKontakte and Odnoklasniki, two widely used social networks based in Russia, major Russian television stations, and smaller Russian stations that operated independently of state control.

The National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence; promoting violence; inciting interethnic, racial, or religious hostility; promoting terrorist attacks; or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of August the list contained 264 titles.

Some media freedom groups claimed the government used formal pretexts to silence outlets for being “pro-Russia” and for being critical of its national security policy (see Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media, above). On February 12, Derzhkomteleradio announced an unscheduled inspection of pro-Russia television station Nash TV, claiming Nash TV guest Olena Bondarenko’s remarks during a January show regarding Ukrainian service members and the conflict in the Donbas might have amounted to “incitement of national enmity” in violation of national security laws. During the following several months, Derzhkomteleradio imposed a series of fines on Nash TV for these and other remarks that allegedly violated national security laws. On August 19, Derzhkomteleradio announced it would seek revocation of Nash TV’s broadcasting license, citing multiple instances of “incitement of national enmity,” including the use on the channel of “Ukrainophobic vocabulary.” On September 16, Derzhkomteleradio filed a lawsuit with the Kyiv District Administrative Court to revoke Nash TV’s broadcasting license.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports radical groups attacked journalists. For example on July 21, members of the violent radical group National Resistance reportedly attacked Oleksandr Kuzhelnyy, a photographer for Kyiv-based Bukvy media, outside the Shevchenkivskyy District Court building in Kyiv. At the time of the attack, Kuzhelnyy was covering the court’s deliberations regarding a request from the government of Belarus to deport Belarusian activist Oleksiy Bolenkov (see section 1.e.). According to Bukvy media, a representative of National Resistance, whose members had gathered there to express support for Bolenkov’s deportation, punched Kuzhelnyy in the face. In a video recording of the incident, law enforcement officials standing next to the victim at the time of the attack failed to react. Police subsequently opened a “hooliganism” investigation into the incident, but as of mid-September no arrests had been made. Andriy Biletskyy, leader of National Corps, which organized the protest, condemned the attackers and apologized to Kuzhelnyy; the two men were photographed shaking hands at their meeting.

The ability to exercise freedom of expression reportedly remained extremely limited in territory controlled by Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine. Based on HRMMU media monitoring, critical independent media on the territory controlled by Russia-led forces was nonexistent. According to a media freedom watchdog, authorities in the “LPR” continued to block dozens of Ukrainian news outlets.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering Russia-controlled territory of the “DPR” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” regarding their daily activities, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the line of contact.

Internet Freedom

There were instances in which the government censored online content. 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.”

On August 21, President Zelenskyy approved an NSDC decision to sanction several individuals and legal entities deemed to be “pro-Russia propagandists” (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media, above). In addition to requiring Ukrainian internet service providers to block several Ukrainian news sites, the decision also ordered the blocking of social media pages of sanctioned individuals, which included Anatoliy Shariy, editor of the sharij.net news platform, and Ihor Huzhva, editor in chief of media outlet strana.ua (see Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media, above). The decision also ordered the blocking of 12 Russian news sites; the order did not define a time limit for the sanctions of several of the sites. Ukrainian internet providers continued to block websites in accordance with government orders from prior years based on national security concerns. As of mid-August, 685 sites were blocked in the country on such grounds. According to monitoring by Digital Security Lab Ukraine, internet service provider compliance with the government’s orders to block sites varied widely.

Free speech advocates expressed concern that courts continued to block access to websites on grounds other than national security. Freedom House reported thousands of websites, including some self-described news sites, were blocked for alleged involvement in cybercrime, fraud, and other illegal activities. For example on February 18, a Kyiv court ruled to block access to 12 websites, including media platforms Apostrophe, Glavkom, and Holos, on the grounds they allegedly published false information regarding plaintiff Pavlo Barbul, the former director of the state-owned defense technology enterprise SpetsTekhnoExport. Representatives of the publications claimed the court’s decision was retribution for their reporting on allegations of misuse of funds by SpetsTekhnoExport during Barbul’s 2014-18 tenure. On April 28, the court reversed the ruling and unblocked access to the websites. Barbul was charged with large-scale embezzlement in 2019; as of late October, his trial was underway in court.

The Myrotvorets (peacemaker) database, which reportedly maintained close ties to the country’s security services, published the personal data of journalists and public figures who had been critical of the country’s security services or had made other statements the site considered unpatriotic. For instance on February 5, the website published personally identifiable information of Nataliya Lavrenyuk, the wife of Opposition Platform-For Life lawmaker Taras Kozak. Myrotvorets claimed Lavrenyuk’s alleged financial dealings in Russia and alleged use of a Russian passport for travel to Russia-occupied Crimea constituted “conscious acts against the national security of Ukraine” and called on law enforcement agencies to investigate her. (The vast majority of the international community did not recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea.) On February 19, President Zelenskyy signed a decree sanctioning eight individuals, including Lavrenyuk, for “financing of terrorism.” Lavrenyuk was not convicted of the charge by any court.

There were reports of cyberattacks on journalists who reported on corruption. For example, former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist Elena Dub claimed Russia-backed bots on April 12 carried out a spam attack on her social networks and mobile devices, which included a barrage of threatening messages. She claimed the attack was likely retaliation for her reporting for RFE/RL’s Crimea Realities program from 2015 to 2020.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russia’s aggressive actions in the Donbas region and its occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers as well as coordinated campaigns of trolling and harassment on social media. In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in September, Freedom House concluded that the country’s internet freedom environment improved, citing fewer cases of users being imprisoned for online speech.

There were reports the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. For example on March 25, the Chernihiv District Court filed administrative charges against a woman from Kolomyya for allegedly spreading false information. According to the court, the woman falsely claimed in a Facebook post that a COVID-19 vaccine had not passed all required safety tests. On April 28, a judge ruled to drop the charge on grounds of triviality. In a separate case, on October 7, a district court in Zakarpattya Oblast found a man guilty of spreading false rumors concerning the pandemic on social media and fined him 225 hryvnia ($9).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some instances in which the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russia musicians, actors, and other cultural figures it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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.

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the line of contact remained arduous.

On January 5, the government adopted a measure allowing individuals crossing into government-controlled territory at checkpoints and at the Administrative Boundary Line with Crimea to satisfy its COVID-19-related entry requirements by taking a free rapid indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) test instead of undergoing a 14-day quarantine. On July 22, President Zelenskyy signed into law a bill temporarily freezing administrative penalties against Ukrainians living in Russia-controlled areas who travel through Russia to access government-controlled areas of Ukraine. The HRMMU noted this law would help reduce the hardships caused by Russia-led forces’ restrictions on crossing the line of contact. As of mid-September, despite all seven entry and exit checkpoints being open for routine civilian crossings on the government-controlled side of the line of contact, only two were operational due to restrictions imposed by Russia-led forces. Russia-led forces limited crossings at the Novotroytske checkpoint to two days per week and turned many away who attempted to cross into government-controlled territory; those allowed to cross continued to be required to sign a document indicating they would not return until the COVID-19 pandemic had subsided. Authorities in the “LPR” required individuals seeking entry to provide proof of residency. Public passenger transportation there remained prohibited; private transportation was available at high prices and was generally unaffordable for most persons crossing. Human rights monitors observed arbitrary and inconsistent enforcement of entry and exit requirements at government-controlled checkpoints.

According to the HRMMU, the number of monthly line-of-contact crossings, most of which occurred in Luhansk Oblast, remained considerably lower than pre-COVID levels. For example, the HRMMU recorded 80,588 crossings in July, compared with more than one million crossings in July 2019. As a result, thousands were separated from their families and lost access to quality health care, pensions, social protection, and employment. Women and elderly persons, who comprised most of those crossing before the COVID-19 lockdown, were particularly affected. The government required those seeking to cross into government-controlled territory to obtain a pass. The pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, especially for those seeking to receive pensions and government benefits not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces.

According to the HRMMU, since June 2020 civilians seeking entry to territory controlled by Russia-led forces in the “DPR” had to have permission from the “Operational Headquarters to Combat COVID-19” and have a residence registered in the “DPR.” To enter government-controlled territory from the “DPR,” civilians had to be registered in the government-controlled territory.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russia-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons to cross either on foot or by private vehicle. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers reported that the government made efforts to ease requirements for entering Crimea, improving previously lengthy processes to obtain required permissions that hindered their ability to document and address abuses taking place there. Russian occupation authorities imposed restrictions on Ukrainian citizens traveling from mainland Ukraine to Crimea (see Crimea subreport).

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