Read A Section: Crimea
In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine of March 27, 2014; Resolution 76/179 on the Situation of Human Rights in the Temporarily Occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, Ukraine, of December 16, 2021; and Resolution 76/70 on the Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov of December 9, 2021, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In 2014 Ukraine’s parliament (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Report on Human Rights for Russia.
A local occupation authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the Republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. Russia’s September 17-19 nationwide Duma elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.
Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Federal Security Service, Federal Investigative Committee, and Office of the Prosecutor General, applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea as if it were a part of the Russian Federation. The Federal Security Service also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by Russia or Russia-led “authorities”; forced disappearances by Russia or Russia-led “authorities”; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led “authorities,” including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the occupation judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation, including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; serious acts of corruption; serious restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups or indigenous people, including Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There was one new report of occupation authorities committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to human rights groups, on May 11, Russian security forces fatally shot 51-year-old Uzbek citizen Nabi Rakhimov during a raid and search of his residence in the village of Dubki near Simferopol. Russia’s Federal Investigative Service (FSB) claimed Rakhimov was a suspected terrorist and was shot during a gun battle with officers. Lawyers of Rakhimov’s family characterized the FSB’s account as a cover-up and claimed FSB officers likely tortured Rakhimov before shooting him. Occupation authorities refused to turn Rakhimov’s body over to the family. On August 9, a Simferopol “court” rejected an appeal of Rakhimov’s widow for the body to be returned. As of September her lawyer planned to appeal the decision to the “supreme court.”
Impunity for past killings remained a serious problem. The Russian government tasked the Russian Investigative Committee with investigating whether security force killings in occupied Crimea were justifiable and whether to pursue prosecutions. The HRMMU reported the Investigative Committee failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The Office of the Prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea also investigated security force killings from its headquarters in Kyiv, but de facto restrictions on access to occupied Crimea limited its effectiveness.
There were still no reported investigations for the four Crimean Tatars found dead in 2019. Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Human rights groups reported occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.
There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. OHCHR reported that 43 individuals had gone missing since Russian forces occupied Crimea in 2014, and the fate of 11 of these individuals remained unknown. OHCHR reported occupation authorities had not prosecuted anyone in relation to the forced disappearances. NGO and press reports indicated occupation authorities were responsible for the disappearances. For example, in 2014 Revolution of Dignity activists Ivan Bondarets and Valeriy Vashchuk telephoned relatives to report police in Simferopol had detained them at a railway station for displaying a Ukrainian flag. Relatives had no communication with them since, and the whereabouts of the two men remained unknown.
According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, two Crimean Tatars reported missing during the year were found dead. Nineteen-year-old Crimean Tatar Osman Adzhyosmanov went missing on July 2; his body was found on August 8. Twenty-three-year-old Crimean Tatar Aider Dzhemalyadynov went missing on July 26 and was found dead on August 5. As of mid-September, occupation authorities were reportedly investigating the circumstances of the deaths. Occupation authorities denied international monitors, including OHCHR and the OSCE, access to Crimea, which made it impossible for monitors to investigate forced disappearances there properly.
Occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances, according to human rights groups. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report disappearances. The Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There were widespread reports that occupation authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, “The use of torture by the FSB and the Russia-led police against Ukrainian citizens became a systematic and unpunished phenomenon after Russia’s occupation of Crimea.” Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupation authorities subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example on March 10, the FSB detained freelance RFE/RL journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko in Crimea on charges of “illegal production, repair, or modifying of firearms.” After his initial arrest, OHCHR reported that Yesypenko was tortured by FSB officers for several hours to obtain a forced confession on cooperating with Ukrainian intelligence agencies. According to the HRMMU, occupation authorities reportedly denied Yesypenko access to a lawyer during his first 28 days in detention and tortured him with electric shocks, beatings, and sexual violence in order to obtain a confession.
Occupation authorities reportedly demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. For example, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group, on March 5, occupation authorities transferred Ernest Ibrahimov to the Crimean Clinical Psychiatric Hospital for forced psychiatric evaluation. Ibrahimov was one of seven Muslims arrested on February 17 and charged with having attended a mosque allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia as a “terrorist” group but is legal in Ukraine. Human right defenders viewed the authorities’ move as an attempt to break his client’s will and intimidate him.
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of September 1, approximately 16 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).
Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals whom authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.
Physical Conditions: The Crimean Human Rights Group reported inhuman conditions in official places of detention in Crimea. According to an August report by the UN secretary-general, inadequate conditions in detention centers in Crimea could amount to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.” According to the report, prisons in Crimea were overcrowded, medical assistance for prisoners was inadequate, and detainees complained of systematic beatings and humiliating strip searches by prison guards.
Overcrowding forced prisoners to sleep in shifts and to share beds. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, detainees held in the Simferopol pretrial detention center complained of poor sanitary conditions, broken toilets, and insufficient heating. Detainees diagnosed with HIV as well as with tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were kept in a single cell. On April 15, the Kharkiv Human Right Protection Group reported that Ivan Yatskin, a Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in 2019 on charges of treason, had been held in a basement cell infested with bedbugs, mold, and rats since April 9 after being transferred from a prison in Moscow to Simferopol. Yatskin’s lawyer claimed Yatskin’s cellmates repeatedly threatened to harm him and his family members. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, occupation authorities withheld medicine Yatskin needed to treat a leg ulcer and chest injury. On May 21, occupation authorities sentenced Yatskin to 11 years in prison. Human rights groups called the ruling politically motivated and considered Yatskin a political prisoner.
There were reports detainees were denied medical treatment, even for serious health conditions. According to the June UN secretary-general’s special report, detainees often had to rely on relatives to provide medicine, since the medical assistance provided at detention centers was inadequate. For example, Kostiantyn Shyrinh, a 61-year-old Ukrainian detained by occupation authorities in May 2020 on charges of espionage and suffering from cardiovascular disease, was consistently denied medical treatment by occupation authorities at the Simferopol pretrial detention facility despite numerous requests for medical assistance. During an August 12 court appearance, Shyrinh required emergency medical treatment, and an ambulance was called at the request of his lawyer. Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.
Administration: Authorities generally did not investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment. Authorities sometimes did not allow prisoners and detainees access to visitors or religious observance. According to defense lawyers, prisoners considered Russian citizens by the Russian Federation were denied Ukrainian consular visits, and some Crimean residents were transferred to prison facilities in Russia without Ukrainian passports.
Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsperson,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and did not view her as an independent actor.
Under Russian occupation authorities, the judicial system was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by occupation authorities. The HRMMU noted that lawyers defending individuals accused of extremism or terrorism risked facing harassment or similar charges themselves. For example, human rights lawyer Lilya Hemedzhi reported that on May 11, occupation authorities delivering a notice of arrest to her client threatened to take actions to have her disbarred from Russia-controlled courts. Human rights groups reported Hemedzhi faced long-standing pressure for her involvement in defending Crimean Tatar activists, including in August 2020, when a Russia-controlled court in Crimea privately ruled that Hemedzhi violated court procedures by speaking out of turn during a video conference hearing. Such rulings could place a lawyer’s standing with the bar in jeopardy.
See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.
Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.
Occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” According to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, occupation authorities conducted 32 raids between January and June; 13 were in the households of Crimean Tatars.
Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities exercised widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. Occupation authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights activists, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to express any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.
Occupation authorities regularly used recorded audio of discussions regarding religion and politics, obtained through illegal wiretapping of private homes and testimonies from unidentified witnesses, as evidence in court. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on September 27, prosecutors in a hearing involving five Crimean Tatar activists charged with allegedly organizing the activities of a “terrorist” organization presented as evidence illegal wiretaps of purported conversations between the defendants and a secret witness. The five men were arrested in 2019 by occupation authorities during mass raids on Crimean Tatar homes in and around Simferopol. The prosecution’s purported “expert” witnesses claimed the recordings, which human rights groups characterized as innocuous discussions of politics and religion, were evidence of terrorist activity. The defense questioned whether the recordings had been edited. On July 6, in a separate case involving five other Crimean Tatar activists detained in the same 2019 raids on terrorism-related charges, prosecutors reportedly introduced testimony to the court from an unidentified witness. According to the accused men’s lawyers, the unidentified witness was an FSB agent who had provided similar testimony in several other cases. The lawyers claimed the court rejected their petition to reveal the identity of the witness. As of September the men were being held at a detention facility in Rostov-on-Don in Russia as the trial proceeded.
Section 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.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Occupation authorities imposed restrictions on freedom of movement.
In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state “border” at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and occupied Crimea. According to the HRMMU, the boundary and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly and individuals with limited mobility. The Ukrainian government simplified crossing the administrative boundary for children in a decree that came into force on February 9. Children younger than 16 were allowed to cross the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea both ways if accompanied by one parent. Notarized permission of the second parent was no longer required. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 could cross the administrative line both ways unaccompanied if they studied at an educational institution located in mainland Ukraine and resided or were registered in Crimea.
There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, occupation authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours.
In March 2020 Russian occupation authorities banned Ukrainian citizens from entering occupied Crimea, citing COVID-19 prevention as justification. Crimean residents traveling to mainland Ukraine were purportedly excepted from the ban if they provided proof that the purpose of their travel fell within authorized categories, which included medical treatment, education, or family visits. Occupation authorities often applied the criteria selectively. On May 18, Russian occupation authorities rescinded the ban, but human rights groups reported they continued to arbitrarily detain travelers. For example on August 5, occupation authorities detained blogger and activist Ludwika Papadopoulou, a Crimean resident, when she attempted to pass through an administrative boundary checkpoint for a planned trip to mainland Ukraine. Occupation officials reportedly informed Papadopoulou she had been charged with defamation for a 2019 social media post that criticized a Russian occupation official. Papadopoulou denied any involvement in the post. Occupation authorities placed Papadopoulou under house arrest until September 5. As of mid-September occupation authorities continued to impose travel restrictions on Papadopoulou.
Crimean residents with Russian passports seeking to re-enter Crimea were required to take a PCR test within three calendar days of their return to the peninsula and post the test results on the Unified Portal of Public Services. Occupation authorities continued to restrict entry of Ukrainian citizens who were not residents of Crimea; only certain categories of travel, such as medical treatment and family visits, were authorized for these individuals.
In other cases occupation authorities issued entry bans to Ukrainian citizens attempting to cross the administrative boundary.
Occupation authorities launched and continued to try criminal cases against numerous high-profile Crimean Tatar leaders, including Member of Parliament Mustafa Dzhemilev; Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; Nariman Dzhelyal, deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; and Aider Muzhdabayev, deputy director of ATR, the only Crimean Tatar-language television channel.
According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian law restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes penalties, including long-term entry bans, for noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possessed Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.
Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to accept Russian passports. Those who refused Russian passports could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, since Russia’s occupation, approximately 2,000 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents, and approximately 530 persons were ordered to be “deported.”
According to the HRMMU, during the period from July 1, 2000, to June 30, Russia-controlled “courts” ordered “deportation” and forcible transfer of at least 72 Ukrainian citizens whose residence rights in Crimea were not recognized.
Residents of Crimea who chose not to accept Russian passports were considered foreigners, but in some cases they could obtain a residency permit. Persons without Russian passports holding a residency permit were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or register a vehicle. Occupation authorities denied those who refused Russian passports access to “government” employment, education, and health care as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.
In some cases authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize “passports” issued by Russian occupation authorities.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
Approximately 50,000 residents of Crimea were registered as IDPs by the Ukrainian government on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Crimea SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.
Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they left because of pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Domestic violence remained a serious problem in occupied Crimea; however, occupation authorities’ restrictions on human rights organizations made it difficult to assess its prevalence.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of occupation authorities.
Women in Crimea accessed reproductive health care through services funded by the Russian occupation authorities, private insurance, and NGO programs; however, no Ukrainian or international monitors had access to Crimea, making it difficult to assess the state of reproductive health care there.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
Since the beginning of the occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.). The August UN secretary-general’s report noted, “The activities of the Mejlis remained prohibited in Crimea.”
There were reports that Russian occupation authorities openly advocated discrimination against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatar was the sole instruction language for 119 classes. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses (see section 2.b.).
Occupation authorities also restricted the use of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian flags and symbols (see section 2.a.).
Russian occupation authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties as a matter of policy.
Ethnic Ukrainians also faced discrimination by occupation authorities. Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the Crimean Resource Center, schools in Crimea no longer provided instruction in Ukrainian. In 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”
Occupation authorities did not permit churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of these churches and used court proceedings to force the OCU to leave properties it had rented for years. On August 8, occupation authorities forcibly entered an OCU church in Balky while a religious service was underway and forced the priest to end the service. Occupation authorities filed administrative charges against the priest for allegedly conducting unlawful missionary activities.
The largest OCU congregation in Crimea closed in 2019 following a ruling by occupation authorities that its cathedral located in Simferopol must be “returned to the state.” The church was shut down after repeated refusals by authorities to allow it to register.
Birth Registration: Under both Ukrainian law and laws imposed by Russian occupation authorities, either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it was difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with Ukrainian authorities. Registration in the country requires a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. The Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.
According to Jewish groups, the Jewish population in Crimea was approximately 10,000 to 15,000, with most living in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts; however, Russian occupation authorities’ restrictions on human rights groups limited their ability to properly monitor anti-Semitic acts on the peninsula.
Human rights groups and LGBTQI+ activists reported that most LGBTQI+ individuals fled Crimea after Russia’s occupation began. Those who remained lived in fear of abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert received reports of increased violence and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community in Crimea as well as the use of homophobic propaganda employed by the occupation authorities. LGBTQI+ persons reportedly were frequently subjected to beatings in public spaces and entrapped by organized groups through social networks. The council’s report noted, “This environment created an atmosphere of fear and terror for members of the community, with related adverse impacts on their mental health and well-being.”
According to the HRMMU, NGOs working on access to health care among vulnerable groups found it impossible to advocate for better access to health care for LGBTQI+ persons due to fear of retaliation by occupation authorities.
Occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTQI+ group from holding public events in Crimea. LGBTQI+ individuals faced increasing restrictions on their exercise of free expression and peaceful assembly, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).
Read A Section: Ukraine
Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russia-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russia-occupied Crimea.
Ukraine is a republic with a semipresidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president who is head of state and commander in chief and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; and a judiciary. In 2019 Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. In 2019 the country held early parliamentary elections that observers also considered free and fair.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order and oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The Security Service of Ukraine is responsible for state security broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Security Service reports directly to the president. The State Border Guard Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, while the State Migration Service, also under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, implements state policy regarding migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees by law enforcement personnel; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in the Russia-led conflict in the Donbas, including physical abuses or punishment of civilians and members of armed groups held in detention facilities; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence, or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of ethnic minority groups, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. The government took some steps to identify, prosecute, and punish officials involved in corruption.
In the Russian-instigated conflict in the Donbas region, Russia-led forces reportedly engaged in unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, and torture and physical abuses or punishment. Other significant human rights issues included credible reports of: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and the press; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; serious restrictions on freedom of movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; restrictions on political participation, including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.
Significant human rights issues in Russia-occupied Crimea included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Russia or Russia-led “authorities,” including punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and transfer of prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; serious restrictions on political participation including unelected governments and elections that were not genuine, free, or fair; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups, or indigenous people, including Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons (see Crimea subreport).
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were reports indicating that the government or its agents possibly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Bureau for Investigations (SBI) is responsible for investigation of crimes allegedly committed by law enforcement agencies.
Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers. For example, the Zhytomyr District Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal proceedings in July against medical workers of the Zhytomyr Medical Service who allegedly misclassified the cause of death of a prisoner who died at the Zhytomyr Pretrial Detention Facility on July 18. The medical workers originally reported that prisoner Oleg Bereznyi had died of acute heart failure, but a forensic expert determined that the cause of death was a blunt chest injury that produced multiple rib fractures, lung damage, and shock from being beaten. The Zhytomyr Regional Prosecutor’s Office announced in late July that it opened criminal proceedings regarding the failure of prison staff to properly supervise and protect prisoners.
Impunity for past arbitrary or unlawful killings remained a significant problem. As of early November, the investigation into the 2018 killing of public activist Kateryna Handziuk continued. In 2019 a court in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast convicted five persons who carried out the fatal 2018 acid attack against Handziuk on charges of deliberately causing grievous bodily harm resulting in death. They were sentenced to terms of three to six and one-half years in prison. Each suspect agreed to testify against those who ordered the killing. In August 2020 a Kyiv court began hearings for the head of the Kherson regional legislature, Vladyslav Manger, and a suspected accomplice, Oleksiy Levin, on charges of organizing the fatal attack on Handziuk. As of late October, both suspects were to remain in custody until December 11. Former parliamentary aide Ihor Pavlovsky was charged in 2019 with concealing Handziuk’s murder. In October 2020 as part of a plea bargain Pavlovsky testified that Manger organized the attack on Handziuk. The court gave Pavlovsky a suspended sentence of two years, releasing him in November 2020. Human rights defenders and Handziuk supporters alleged additional organizers of the crime likely remained at large and that law enforcement bodies had not investigated the crime fully.
Exiled Belarusian human rights activist Vitaly Shyshou (often reported as Vitaliy Shishov) disappeared on August 2 after leaving his Kyiv home for his morning jog, according to his girlfriend. On August 3, authorities found his body hanged from a tree in a park near his home. Shyshou had been in Kyiv since fall 2020 and helped to found Belarus House, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that assists Belarusians fleeing to Ukraine from Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s crackdown on civil society, members of the opposition, and ordinary citizens in Belarus. Belarus House representatives said they believed Shyshou’s death was an act of transnational repression by the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) in line with the Lukashenka regime’s continuing crackdown and repression against civil society activists. As of early September, an investigation into Shyshou’s death was underway.
On January 4, the National Police announced an investigation into leaked audio, believed to have been recorded in 2012, in which alleged Belarusian KGB officials discussed killing prominent Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed by a car bomb in 2016 in Ukraine. As of October no additional suspects had been identified as a result of the investigation of the leaked recordings, and trial proceedings against the three original suspects who were arrested in December 2019 were underway in a Kyiv court.
Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions and frequent delays despite the existence of considerable evidence and the establishment in 2020 of a special unit for investigating Revolution of Dignity cases by the SBI, an investigative body with the mandate to investigate malfeasance by high-ranking government officials and law enforcement authorities. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted some progress had been made in investigating the killings. As of August the SBI had identified more than 60 alleged perpetrators of Revolution of Dignity killings, most of whom absconded and were wanted. Several perpetrators were sentenced for Revolution of Dignity-related crimes during the year, although courts had not yet found any perpetrators directly responsible for any of the 55 Revolution of Dignity-related killings under investigation.
During the year the SBI served notices of suspicion to 39 individuals, filed 19 indictments against 28 persons (five judges, 15 law enforcement officers, and eight civilians), and made three arrests for Revolution of Dignity-related crimes. On April 15, for example, the SBI arrested a fourth suspect in a case involving the kidnapping and torture of two activists and the murder of one of them (see section 1.b.).
On August 5, a Kyiv court declared Viktor Shapalov, a former Berkut special police unit commander on trial for his alleged role in the killing of Revolution of Dignity protesters in 2014, wanted after he failed to appear for a hearing. On September 23, a Kyiv court sentenced Yuriy Krysin to eight years in prison for his role in the 2014 abduction and torture of journalist Vladyslav Ivanenko.
On August 2, a court in Kyiv authorized the SBI to proceed with its pretrial investigation of former president Victor Yanukovych in absentia. In May 2020 the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv authorized the arrest of Yanukovych, his former defense minister, and two former heads of law enforcement agencies on charges of criminal involvement in the killings of protesters in Kyiv in 2014.
The HRMMU did not note any progress in the investigation and legal proceedings in connection with the 2014 trade union building fire in Odesa that stemmed from violent clashes between pro-Russia and Ukrainian unity demonstrators. During the clashes and fire, 48 persons died. The HRMMU noted that systemic problems, such as a shortage of judges and underfunded courts as well as COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions and a lack of political will, continued to cause trial delays.
There were reports of civilian casualties in connection with Russian aggression in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
In connection with abuses during the 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv, a fourth suspect was arrested on April 15 for his suspected involvement in the abduction and torture of Revolution of Dignity activists Ihor Lutsenko and Yuriy Verbitsky and the killing of Verbitsky. On April 16, a Kyiv court convicted and sentenced Oleksandr Volkov to nine years in prison for the abduction and torture of Verbitsky and Lutsenko but acquitted him of more serious charges, which included murder. On August 8, a court in Bila Tserkva allowed two suspects who were standing trial for involvement in the same case to move from detention to house arrest. As of late October, 12 other suspects in the case remained at large.
A 2018 law to assist in locating persons who disappeared in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine calls for the creation of a commission that would establish a register of missing persons. The commission was established in July 2020. On May 19, the Cabinet of Ministers approved an action plan with the stated purpose of ensuring the commission’s effectiveness. As of mid-September, however, the commission was not fully operational, and the register had not been created. According to the Ombudsperson’s Office, as of August, 258 Ukrainians, including 67 servicemen, were considered missing in the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by Russia-led forces.
There were reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with Russia’s aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody as evidence in court proceedings, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.
Abuse of detainees by police remained a widespread problem. For example on February 5, police in Cherkasy detained a 28-year-old man on suspicion of theft and took him to the Horodyshche district police station for further questioning. According to the SBI, during the interrogation officers struck the suspect repeatedly with a metal chair. The officers then handcuffed the suspect and continued striking his face and limbs with a plastic water bottle and the hose of a fire extinguisher. The suspect received injuries to his face, head, and back and had teeth knocked out. On February 7, the SBI reported that the two police officers involved in the incident were under investigation for torture. On August 28, Odesa police deployed more than 1,000 officers to protect the participants of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) pride parade from an estimated 300 counterprotesters, mostly from the violent radical group Tradition and Order. Shortly after the march, Tradition and Order counterprotesters attacked police, firing tear gas and dousing police with green dye. Police detained 51 individuals and reported 29 officers were injured in the clashes, mostly from tear gas exposure. Videos of the clashes posted on Telegram and YouTube showed instances of police stepping on the face of a detained counterprotester, beating an already subdued individual with a nightstick, and dragging handcuffed individuals by their arms.
Reports of law enforcement officers using torture and mistreatment to extract confessions were reported throughout the year. For example the HRMMU reported that on January 14, a group of plainclothes police officers in Zhytomyr stopped two car-theft suspects as they were walking along the side of a road and beat them. A uniformed police officer who arrived at the scene shortly thereafter reportedly pressed an unloaded pistol to the forehead of one of the suspects and pulled the trigger before striking him with the pistol and kicking him. The HRMMU reported the men were subsequently forced to confess to the car theft. The SBI opened an investigation into the incident, and on July 26, prosecutors charged four individuals, including at least one police officer, with torture, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
Impunity for abuses committed by law enforcement was a significant problem. The HRMMU reported that a pattern of lack of accountability for abuses by law enforcement persisted but noted a considerable increase since 2018 in the number of investigations and prosecutions of cases of alleged torture and abuse by law enforcement officials. The SBI and a specialized department within the Office of the Prosecutor General were responsible for investigating such allegations. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG), individuals who experienced torture during pretrial detention often did not file complaints due to intimidation and lack of access to a lawyer; the KHPG also noted that prisoners often withheld complaints to prison officials due to fear of torture.
In the Russia-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk over which the Ukrainian government had no control, there were reports that Russia-led forces continued to torture detainees and carry out other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (see section 1.g.). The HRMMU noted instances of torture were likely underreported, due to the lack of confidential access to detainees of international monitors, and reports indicating large-scale abuses and torture continued to emerge (see section 1.g.). Victims of abuses committed by Russia-led forces in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”) had no legal recourse to attain justice.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in some pretrial detention facilities, although human rights organizations reported that overcrowding at such centers decreased because of reforms in 2016 that eased detention requirements for suspects. In August monitors from the KHPG reported that living conditions at Lviv Oblast’s Lychakivska correctional colony No. 14 were poor, as they observed mold on cell walls and ceiling and noted an unbearable stench throughout the premises. There was almost no daylight in some cells due to the small size of the windows, and the water pipes in the bathroom were broken, which caused flooding.
While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.
Physical abuse by guards was a problem. On March 18, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported that, during its most recent visit, in 2020, it received several credible allegations of physical abuse by prison staff at Colony No. 11 in Temnivka. According to the report, prisoners alleged abuse including punches, kicks, baton strikes, use of stress positions, squeezing of the testicles, and threats of rape. On March 18, the Ministry of Justice reported that a pretrial investigation of the allegations was underway.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In its March 18 report, the CPT stated that prison staff routinely allowed “duty prisoners,” a select group of prisoners appointed by staff to maintain discipline, to punish newly arrived prisoners who refused to comply with their orders. The punishment consisted of first forcing a prisoner to undress and lie on the floor in the prone position and then beating the soles of the prisoner’s feet and buttocks with a plastic pipe as other inmates held the prisoner down.
Most detention facilities were old and needed renovation or replacement. According to a June KHPG report, conditions in many places of detention constituted inhuman or degrading treatment. The KHPG reported that some cells and facilities had very poor sanitary conditions. Some detainees reported that their cells were poorly ventilated and infested with insects. Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities. Detainees in temporary detention facilities often had to take turns sleeping due to a lack of beds, according to the KHPG.
The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the 2019 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to the CPT, in some prisons inmates had access to showers only once a week. The UN special rapporteur stated that most hygienic products, including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products, were not provided and that detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.
UN and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all kinds of medications, with an overreliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison health-care facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering and delayed diagnoses and treatment.
The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas remained harsh and life threatening. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Russia-controlled Donbas located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. There were reports of severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU continued to be denied access to detainees held by Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine, preventing it from investigating what it described as credible claims of torture and abuse in detention centers with conditions that did not meet international human rights standards.
The HRMMU continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “DPR” and “LPR,” such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, solitary confinement, and forced labor. According to Human Rights Watch, female detainees were denied appropriate medical care, including sexual and reproductive health care.
Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints concerning conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsperson, human rights organizations stated that prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Human rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints, and authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints. During an April 26 visit to Colony No. 77 in Berdyansk, parliamentary monitors received reports from 21 newly arrived inmates of having been beaten with batons by members of the National Guard as they disembarked from the train that had transferred them to the prison. To investigate the reports, a prison doctor documented the injuries. According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the doctor was subsequently fired. On November 8, the Ministry of Justice revoked the license of the prison. As of mid-November, the prison was renamed Colony No. 145 and operated under new leadership.
While officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors, prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for visits to which they were entitled by law.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, Ombudsperson’s Office, and HRMMU.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.
The HRMMU and other monitoring groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained highly vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.
Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor General, systemic corruption among judges and prosecutors persisted. Civil society groups continued to complain of weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding and staffing, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.
Attacks on lawyers were often associated with their defense of clients in politically sensitive criminal cases. Such attacks undermined the ability of lawyers to adequately perform their duties and protect the rights of their clients. In one such case, on June 7, unknown assailants attacked lawyers Roman Zhyrun Girvin and Yaroslav Symovonnyk outside of Symovonnyk’s home in Ivano-Frankivsk. The assailants allegedly shoved the lawyers to the ground and kicked them repeatedly, leaving Symovonnyk with a fractured nose and facial wounds that required stitches. The lawyers claimed the attack was likely in retaliation for their professional work representing the owners of a storage facility cooperative in lawsuits against a company that was found to have illegally seized part of the cooperative’s land. Police reportedly registered the case, but as of late October, no one had been charged for the attack.
Judges, defendants, and defense lawyers sometimes faced intimidation by members of violent radical groups. For example on July 20, approximately 50 members of violent radical groups, including National Resistance and Foundation of the Future, attacked Belarusian anarchist Oleksiy Bolenkov and his supporters as Bolenkov entered the Shevchenkivskyy District Court building in Kyiv for a hearing regarding his petition to appeal the Security Service of Ukraine’s decision to deport him. Video of the incident showed the attackers, who had gathered near the court’s entrance to block Bolenkov from entering, spraying Bolenkov with an irritant, throwing eggs at him, and beating him. At least five persons, including Bolenkov, were injured in the attack. Telegram channels associated with these groups justified the actions as retaliation for Bolenkov’s participation in anarchist groups that were allegedly involved in an attack on a Ukrainian veteran of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Dmitry Verbical, although Bolenkov denied involvement in the attack. Despite pressure from violent radical groups, the court ruled in favor of Bolenkov’s July 21 appeal against deportation.
Outcomes of trials sometimes appeared predetermined by government or other interference. On February 23, a district court in Odesa sentenced anticorruption activist and blogger Serhiy Sternenko to seven years and three months in prison and confiscation of one-half of his property after convicting him on kidnapping and robbery charges. Court-monitoring groups criticized procedural violations in the investigation and trial, including improper reliance on hearsay evidence and written witness testimony. Human rights NGOs attributed these alleged violations to possible biases of the judges and political pressure from senior justice and law enforcement officials. On May 31, an Odesa Appeals Court overturned Sternenko’s robbery conviction and ruled that the statute of limitations had lapsed on a kidnapping conviction, thus precluding sentencing.
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.
By law the Security Service of Ukraine may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. The Security Service and law enforcement agencies, however, sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant, which human rights groups partially attributed to the Security Service’s wide mandate to conduct both law enforcement and counterintelligence tasks. In an emergency, authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the Security Service that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. There was no implementing legislation, authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.
There were reports that the government improperly sought access to information regarding journalists’ sources and investigations (see section 2.a.).
Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps to block access to websites based on “national security concerns” (see section 2.a.).
g. Conflict-related Abuses
The Russian government controlled the level of violence in eastern Ukraine, intensifying it when it suited its political interests. Russia continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside forces in the “DPR” and the “LPR.” Russia-led forces throughout the conflict methodically obstructed, harassed, and intimidated international monitors, who did not have the access necessary to record systematically cease-fire violations or abuses committed by Russia-led forces.
International organizations and NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the HRMMU, issued periodic reports documenting abuses committed in the Donbas region on both sides of the line of contact. As of August the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fielded 1,314 persons supporting a special monitoring mission, which issued daily reports on the situation and conditions in most major cities.
According to the HRMMU, since the start of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, more than three million residents left areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts controlled by Russia-led forces. As of mid-September the Ministry of Social Policy had registered more than 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The HRMMU noted that hostilities continued to affect the lives of 3.4 million civilians residing in the area. Regular exchanges of fire across the line of contact exposed those residents to the constant threat of death or injury, while their property and critical infrastructure continued to be damaged in the fighting.
Killings: As of June 30, OHCHR reported that since the start of the conflict, fighting had killed at least 13,200 to 13,400 individuals, including civilians, government armed forces, and members of armed groups. The HRMMU reported that at least 3,393 of these were civilian deaths. This figure included the 298 passengers and crew on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, shot down by a missile fired from territory controlled by Russia-led forces in 2014 over the Donbas region. OHCHR recorded 84 civilian casualties (18 fatalities and 66 injuries) between January 1 and September 30.
The HRMMU noted significant numbers of civilians continued to reside in villages and towns close to the contact line and that both government and Russia-led forces were present in areas where civilians resided. According to media reports, on August 11, an elderly man in Novoselivka in the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast was killed in his home by shrapnel from a 122-mm artillery round fired by Russia-led forces. Media also reported that on February 23, an elderly man in Khutir Vilnyy in the government-controlled part of Luhansk Oblast was fatally wounded when an antitank projectile launched by Russia-led forces exploded in his yard. Ukrainian military personnel administered first aid and transported him to a hospital, where he died shortly after arrival. OHCHR reported the presence of military personnel and objects within or near populated areas on both sides of the line of contact.
The HRMMU also regularly noted concerns regarding the dangers to civilians from land mines, booby traps, and unexploded ordnance. According to the NGO Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, 7,000 square miles of both government-controlled territory and territory controlled by Russia-led forces in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts needed humanitarian demining. According to the HRMMU, 11 civilians were killed and 38 injured by mines and explosive ordnance from January through September 30. Civilian casualties due to mines and explosive ordnance accounted for 60 percent of total civilian casualties during the year. Most cases took place in the areas controlled by Russia-led forces, where humanitarian access was limited.
According to the OSCE, on April 2, a five-year-old boy was killed by shrapnel from an explosion that occurred nearby while he was outside his grandmother’s home in Oleksandrivske in the Russia-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast. The OSCE investigated the scene but was unable to determine what type of ordnance caused the explosion.
According to human rights groups, more than 1,000 bodies in government-controlled cemeteries and morgues, both military and civilian, remained unidentified, mostly from 2014.
Abductions: As of August more than 800 missing persons were registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Ukrainian Red Cross as unaccounted for, approximately one-half of whom were civilians. According to the ICRC, approximately 1,800 applications requesting searches for missing relatives were submitted since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
There were reports of abductions or attempted abductions by Russia-led forces. According to the HRMMU, as of July there had been no new cases of forced disappearances committed by Ukrainian security services since 2016, although impunity for past disappearances persisted, and the Security Service continued to detain individuals near the contact line arbitrarily for short periods of time.
According to the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Russia-led forces held 296 Ukrainian hostages in the Donbas region as of mid-October. Human rights groups reported that Russia-led forces routinely kidnapped persons for political purposes, to settle vendettas, or for ransom. The HRMMU repeatedly expressed concern regarding “preventive detention” or “administrative arrest” procedures used in the “LPR” and “DPR” since 2018, which it assessed amounted to incommunicado detention and “may constitute enforced disappearance” (see section 1.d.).
In one example on May 14, representatives of the “ministry of state security” of the “DPR” carried out an “administrative arrest” of Oksana Parshina, a woman who was 10 weeks pregnant, on suspicion of espionage. According to Human Rights Watch, Parshina fled Donetsk in 2014 after shelling destroyed her house and returned in May to visit her sister. As of early September, Parshina remained in a temporary detention facility, and “authorities” denied her sister’s requests to visit her. As of April 30, the HRMMU estimated 200 to 300 individuals had died since 2014 while detained by Russia-led forces.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Both government and Russia-led forces reportedly abused civilians and members of armed groups in detention facilities, but human rights organizations consistently cited Russia-led forces for large-scale and repeated abuses and torture. Abuses reportedly committed by Russia-led forces included beatings, physical and psychological torture, mock executions, sexual violence, deprivation of food and water, refusal of medical care, and forced labor. Observers noted that an atmosphere of impunity and absence of rule of law compounded the situation.
In government-controlled territory, the HRMMU continued to receive allegations that the Security Service detained and abused individuals in both official and unofficial places of detention to obtain information and pressure suspects to confess or cooperate. The HRMMU did not report any cases of conflict-related torture in government-controlled territory, but it suspected such cases were underreported because victims often remained in detention or were afraid to report abuse due to fear of retaliation or lack of trust in the justice system. Based on interviews with nine detainees early in the year, the HRMMU reported on May 31 that detainees continued to report having been beaten and being detained in unofficial places of detention. The HRMMU noted, however, that allegations of torture or mistreatment had lessened since 2016.
According to the HRMMU, the lack of effective investigation into previously documented cases of torture and physical abuse remained a concern.
There were reports that Russia-led forces committed numerous abuses, including torture, in the territories under their control. According to international organizations and NGOs, abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence. The HRMMU reported that, of the 532 cases of conflict-related detentions by Russia-led forces in the self-proclaimed “republics” from 2014 to April 30, at least 280 of the individuals were tortured or otherwise abused, including in some cases with sexual violence.
According to a July 5 Human Rights Watch report, Russia-led forces allegedly detained Olha Mozolevska in 2017 and took her to the Izolatsiya detention facility, where she was beaten, including being hit in the face, smashed against the wall, and tortured to force her to confess to espionage. She was reportedly not allowed to call her family during her first six months under incommunicado detention. She was transferred to another detention facility in May. International organizations, including the HRMMU, were refused access to places of deprivation of liberty in territory controlled by Russia-led forces and were therefore not able to assess fully conditions in the facilities.
In a July report, the HRMMU noted it had documented 35 cases of sexual and gender-based violence committed by government authorities against individuals detained in relation to the conflict since 2014 but had not documented any cases occurring after 2017. The HRMMU noted Russia-led forces continued to commit sexual and gender-based abuses, and most cases occurred in the context of detention. In these cases both men and women were subjected to sexual violence. Beatings and electric shock in the genital area, rape, threats of rape, forced nudity, and threats of rape against family members were used as methods of torture and mistreatment to punish, humiliate, or extract confessions. The HRMMU noted that women were vulnerable to sexual abuse at checkpoints along the line of contact between Ukrainian and Russia-led forces.
There were reports that in territory controlled by Russia-led forces, conditions in detention centers were harsh and life threatening (see section 1.c.). In areas controlled by Russia-led forces, the Justice for Peace in Donbas Coalition indicated that sexual violence was more prevalent in “unofficial” detention facilities, where in some cases women and men were not separated. The HRMMU reported that based on the percentage of cases in which detainees reported being sexually abused, the total number of victims of sexual violence while under detention by Russia-led forces could be between 170 and 200. The reported forms of abuse included rape, threats of rape, threats of castration, intentional damage to genitalia, threats of sexual violence against family members, sexual harassment, forced nudity, coercion to watch sexual violence against others, forced prostitution, and humiliation.
Russia-led forces continued to employ land mines without fencing, signs, or other measures to prevent civilian casualties (see subsection on Killings, above). Risks were particularly acute for persons living in towns and settlements near the line of contact as well as for the approximately 50,000 persons who crossed it monthly on average.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: On June 7, a Dutch court in The Hague started hearing evidence regarding the criminal case connected to the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in the Donbas region. In 2019 the Netherlands’ chief public prosecutor announced the results of the activities of the Joint Investigation Group, and the Prosecutor General’s Office subsequently issued indictments against three former Russian intelligence officers and one Ukrainian national. In 2018 the investigation concluded that the surface-to-air missile system used to shoot down the airliner over Ukraine, killing all 298 persons on board, came from the Russian military.
Russia-led forces in Donetsk Oblast restricted international humanitarian organizations’ aid delivery to civilian populations inside Russia-controlled territory. As a result, prices for basic groceries were reportedly beyond the means of many persons remaining in Russia-controlled territory. Human rights groups also reported severe shortages of medicine, coal, and medical supplies in Russia-controlled territory. Russia-led forces continued to receive convoys of Russian “humanitarian aid,” which Ukrainian government officials believed contained weapons and supplies for Russia-led forces.
The HRMMU reported the presence of military personnel and objects within or near populated areas on both sides of the line of contact.
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.
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.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.
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).
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September, more than 1.46 million persons were registered as 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 adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts, and Kyiv. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home. On October 28, President Zelenskyy approved the Strategy on IDP Integration and Durable Solutions until 2024. The strategy outlined the government’s policies and protections for IDPs, which included full access to administrative, social, and other services.
The government granted social entitlements only to persons who had registered as IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits to IDPs pending verification of their physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process. Ukrainians residing in the “DPR” and “LPR” could not access their pensions there. As a result they had to periodically visit the government-controlled part of the country, where they “verified” their status to receive pension payments. In September the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Resolution #999, allowing pensioners to undergo annual physical verification to access their pensions remotely; IDPs are still required to present themselves every 60 days to keep their IDP certificate valid. One-half of all officially registered IDPs lived in areas controlled by Russia-led forces; the United Nations estimated that 734,000 IDPs lived in government-controlled areas. According to the HRMMU, as part of its COVID-19 prevention measures, the government suspended the burdensome requirement that IDPs undergo identification checks every second month to receive social benefits. The HRMMU noted the suspension was temporary and did not reflect a policy change.
According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources.
NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining medical care and necessary documents. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. Lack of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water.
Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, 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.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system for providing protection to refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient, however, due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. According to the State Migration Service, the number of refugees and asylum seekers had decreased. The country was a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, Syria, and Tajikistan.
Many Belarusian nationals either were forcibly exiled by Belarusian authorities or voluntarily fled to Ukraine seeking refuge from the Lukashenka regime’s violent crackdown on civil society in Belarus following election-related mass protests surrounding the fraudulent presidential election there in August 2020. In October 2020 President Zelenskyy signed a decree that relaxed requirements for certain categories of Belarusian citizens seeking residence. The decree directed the Cabinet of Ministers to extend the time allotted for temporary stays for Belarusian citizen entrepreneurs and information technology specialists from 90 to 180 days as well as to simplify procedures for obtaining a residence permit. Some human rights groups claimed the low number of Belarusian asylum cases relative to the number of Belarusians seeking refuge in Ukraine was due in part to inefficiencies in Ukraine’s asylum system, specifically the inability to lawfully work while in asylum procedures.
In in August and September, authorities facilitated the evacuation of hundreds of Afghans to Ukraine through flights from Kabul. Arrivals had access to asylum procedures or short-term humanitarian visas. They were initially accommodated in closed migration facilities for COVID-19 screening and were offered access to a COVID-19 vaccine. UNHCR provided counseling, and those who registered for asylum with the government were eligible for additional humanitarian assistance.
Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.
A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted that while the government allocated sufficient funding for interpretation, there was a shortage of interpreters trained in some of the languages required by asylum seekers.
Refoulement: There were reports the government deported individuals to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. In December 2020 the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine reportedly detained Turkish citizens Salih Fidan and Samet Gure in the town of Rava-Ruska, alleging that they were attempting to illegally cross the Ukraine-Poland border. According to Fidan, authorities forced them to sign a statement accepting their guilt in exchange for a guarantee of being returned to Erbil, Iraq, and transferred them to Kyiv Boryspil Airport. On January 5, Ukrainian authorities reportedly forced Gure and Fidan to board a flight to Istanbul. On January 6, Turkish media reported Gure and Fidan were detained upon arrival in Turkey and were being processed by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Human rights activists condemned the deportations of Fidan and Gure as a violation of international nonrefoulement principles, noting they were unlikely to receive a fair trial and could face torture in Turkey due to their involvement in the opposition Gulen Movement in Turkey, which the Turkish government banned and deemed a “terrorist” organization.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods.
Employment: The law provided refugees access to employment, but bureaucratic administrative obstacles and lack of employer awareness regarding refugee employment rights contributed to some working 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.
Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421 persons, which the government temporarily increased to accommodate Afghan refugees. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly imposed a substantial fine because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.
According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of August 31, authorities had provided complementary protection to 38 persons.
UNHCR estimated there were more than 35,000 stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in the country. Persons who were either stateless, at risk of statelessness, or with undetermined nationality included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, as well as nationals of the former USSR who resided in Ukraine in 1991 but never obtained an endorsement in their Soviet passport indicating they were citizens of Ukraine.
The law requires those without a passport endorsement to establish their identity through a court procedure, proving their residence in Ukraine in 1991, which could be costly and cumbersome, thereby discouraging some applicants. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.
In June 2020 parliament adopted a law establishing statelessness determination procedures to clearly define the terms “stateless person,” “child separated from the family,” and “legal representatives” of stateless persons. The law allows stateless persons to stay in the country and obtain a residence permit and stateless identity card, which facilitates foreign travel. The law also allocates free legal aid for applicants for the statelessness determination. As of August 20, 404 persons had initiated determination procedures.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits domestic violence and rape, including spousal rape, of women and men. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems. The law prohibits domestic violence, which is punishable by fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service.
Human rights groups reported police often failed to effectively enforce these laws. Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. In the first six months of the year, police received 103,000 domestic violence complaints. Intimate partner violence was common. The HRMMU reported the implementation of quarantine measures surrounding COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, approximately 3,300 cases of domestic violence were investigated during the first eight months of the year. Police issued approximately 59,350 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first eight months of the year. Punishment included fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited.
According to the NGO La Strada, COVID-19 lockdown measures made it difficult for victims of domestic violence to receive help. Survivors faced increased difficulty in accessing domestic violence shelters due to the requirement to obtain a hospital certificate declaring they were not infected with COVID-19 before the shelters would provide social services.
According to press reports, on July 20, a man with a police record of domestic violence killed his former wife and adult daughter with an axe in their apartment in Lutsk. Police arrived at the scene shortly after receiving a call from neighbors and detained the man. The suspect, Vasyl Pylypyuk, allegedly confessed to the murders to his neighbors and faced charges with punishments ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Police opened an investigation and placed Pylypyuk in pretrial detention. Media outlets reported on August 11 that Pylypyuk died in pretrial detention after being beaten by a fellow inmate. Police reportedly opened an investigation into his death.
According to La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country in recent years. 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 said they fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.
As of late September, the government operated 40 shelters for survivors of domestic violence and 19 centers for social and psychological aid as well as 21 crisis rooms across the country for survivors of domestic violence and child abuse.
Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits coercing a person to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate. The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties ranging from a fine to three years in prison. Women’s rights groups reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators. On January 1, police registered a criminal investigation into Ukrainian Armed Forces lieutenant colonel Olha Derkach’s allegation that she was sexually harassed by her immediate supervisor, Chernhiv regional military commissioner Oleksandr Kryvoruchko, over a period of several years, beginning in 2016. Derkach claims Kryvoruchko’s unwelcome advances included instances of sexual groping. She claimed that when she rejected his advances, Kryvoruchko criticized her as incompetent in front of other officers. Kryvoruchko resigned from his position in February but denied the allegations and attempted to sue Derkach for defamation. On October 2, a court in Chernihiv dismissed Kryvoruchko’s lawsuit. As of mid-November, according to media reports, national police were still investigating Derkach’s allegations.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Romani women sometimes faced barriers in managing their reproductive health, including segregation in maternity wards and other forms of discrimination. Government policy does not bar access to contraception.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, and emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. Human rights groups said, however, that these services were sometimes unreliable and often did not reach Romani communities.
According to UN Women, health-care providers sometimes refused to provide adequate reproductive health services for LGBTQI+ women due to anti-LGBTQI+ views or lack of expertise. A 2020 UN Population Fund survey found that 81 percent of married or in-union women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported making their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights, including deciding on their own health care, deciding on the use of contraception, and consenting to sex.
Discrimination: While the law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men, women experienced discrimination in employment. According to the Ministry of Economy, men earned on average 18 percent more than women. The Ministry of Health maintained a list of 50 occupations that remain prohibited for women. Women experienced discrimination in pay and in access to retirement and pension benefits.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The constitution prohibits any restriction of rights based on race, skin color, religious beliefs, language, and other characteristics, while the law criminalizes intentional acts provoking hatred and hostility based on nationality, religion, or race. The law also provides for designating racial, national, or religious enmity as aggravating circumstances to criminal offenses. Laws that protect members of racial or ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination were not effectively enforced. Human rights groups reported that police often failed to properly apply these laws when investigating attacks on members of minority groups.
Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problematic. According to September data from the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, three xenophobic attacks occurred in the first eight months of the year. Human rights organizations stated the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.
In January a provision of a 2019 law promoting the use of the Ukrainian language went into effect, requiring shops and retails establishments to engage customers in Ukrainian unless the customers requested service in another language.
The most frequent reports of societal violence against national, racial, and ethnic minorities were against Roma. On October 17, approximately 50 to 100 individuals (including members of violent radical groups) gathered in front of the homes of Romani families in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin to protest the stabbing of a military veteran two days prior by two minor Romani boys. The crowd shouted anti-Roma slurs and threatened violence against the Romani community as collective punishment for the attack. The crowd also shot fireworks at a Romani family’s house, broke the entrance gate, and spray-painted “get out” on the fence around the house. Local police characterized the incident as a protest of civic activists. As of late October, no charges had been filed against any of the participants.
Human rights activists remained concerned regarding the lack of accountability in cases of attacks on Roma and the government’s failure to address societal violence and harassment against them.
Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment. According to Council of Europe experts, 60 percent of Roma were unemployed, 40 percent had no documents, and only 1 percent had a university degree. According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms. Officials also expressed anti-Roma sentiments and encouraged discrimination.
In a June 9 interview with a local radio station, Rivne city mayor Oleksandr Tretyak claimed that, in response to complaints from local citizens regarding high levels of crime committed by Romani individuals, he had recently confronted a group of Roma on the street and demanded that they leave the city within several hours. Tretyak claimed the individuals refused to leave, noting there was no transportation available. Tretyak noted in the interview, “I can see things coming to a point when we will take radical steps. We will pack them all in a bus and move them out to Transkarpattya, their home region.” Tretyak apologized on June 10, noting that illegal actions should be punished “regardless of ethnic origin.”
The enforcement of pandemic-related measures exacerbated governmental and societal discrimination against Roma. According to Chirikli, many Romani individuals with informal and seasonal employment lost their livelihoods during the series of lockdowns, which ended in May. Many of these individuals lacked personal identification documents and therefore had difficulty accessing medical care, social services, pensions, and formal employment.
Many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli, approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Many Romani IDPs lacked documents, and obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.
The ombudsperson for human rights cooperated with NGOs to draft policies and legislation to protect members of racial and ethnic minorities from discrimination. The ombudsperson also advocated for accountability for cases of violence against members of racial and ethnic minorities.
On July 1, parliament passed legislation guaranteeing legal protections for “the indigenous people of Ukraine,” which included Crimean Tatars, Karaites, and Krymchaks. Crimean Tatars continued to experience serious governmental and societal violence and discrimination in Russia-occupied Crimea (see Crimea subreport).
Birth Registration: Birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.
Registration of children born in Crimea or Russia-controlled areas in the Donbas region remained difficult. Authorities required hospital documents to register births. Russian occupation authorities or Russia-led forces routinely kept such documents if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or in territories controlled by Russia-led forces. Persons living in Crimea and parts of the Donbas had to present documents obtained in Russia-controlled territory to Ukrainian courts to receive Ukrainian government-issued documents. The courts were obliged to make rulings in 24 hours; these decisions were then carried out by the registry office. Due to the lack of judges in local courts, Ukrainians living in regions under Russian control faced serious difficulty in obtaining Ukrainian documents.
Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from three years to life, depending on severity. The law criminalizes sexual relations between adults and persons younger than 16; violations are punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. The criminal code qualifies sexual relations with a person younger than 14 as rape.
Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children.
Authorities did not take effective measures to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsperson for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, particularly violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative for a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.
According to press reports, on July 23, police in Kryvyy Rih received a telephone call from a seven-year-old boy who reported that his stepfather had beaten him and chained him to the radiator in his bedroom. Officers responding to the call removed the chain from the boy’s ankle and transported him to a hospital. Police detained the boy’s stepfather, who claimed he had been trying to keep the boy from running away while he was at work. The child told police his stepfather routinely beat and verbally abused him. The stepfather faced up to five years in prison on charges of unlawful imprisonment and intentional bodily injury.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. A court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry if it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest. Romani rights groups reported early marriages involving girls younger than 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 commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for rape of a minor is eight years. Molesting a child younger than 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child younger than 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16. On February 18, parliament passed a law making the deliberate use, production, sale, or distribution of child pornography punishable by imprisonment for up to three years.
Sexual exploitation of children remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem. In early March law enforcement officers in Vinnytsya Oblast arrested a woman who was suspected of producing and selling pornographic photographs of her five-year-old son on the internet. She was charged with producing and distributing child pornography. The investigation was underway as of mid-September.
Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The International Organization for Migration reported children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking, including for commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. For example on April 3, police in Chernivtsi detained two men for allegedly molesting girls younger than age 16. The two men, ages 66 and 74, reportedly filmed themselves sexually abusing minors in their apartment and distributed the pornographic material to a private group on the internet. According to police, the men targeted girls from disadvantaged families. As of mid-September police had identified four girls, ages 11 to 14, who were allegedly sexually abused by the men but continued to search for other victims. The men faced up to five years in prison.
Displaced Children: Most IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 240,000 children as IDPs, a figure human rights groups believed was low.
Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. A government strategy for 2017-26 calls for the transformation of the institutionalized child-care system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children. As of early in the year, the government’s progress implementing the strategy was slow, with the number of children in orphanages dropping from 106,000 to 100,000 over four years.
Human rights groups and media reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care. On August 20, the human rights ombudsperson reported the results of a monitoring visit to a state-run institution in the Darnytskyy district of Kyiv that provides medical and social services for children between the ages of four and 18. The monitoring group identified multiple violations of living standards, including cramped bedrooms, inadequate arrangements for privacy in bathrooms, lack of hygiene products, and a cockroach infestation.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to census data and international Jewish groups, the Jewish population was approximately 105,000, constituting approximately 0.25 percent of the total population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities, there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, including President Zelenskyy. Estimates of the Jewish population in Crimea and the Donbas region were not available, although before the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to the Jewish association, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish persons lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.
On September 22, parliament passed a law defining the concept of anti-Semitism and establishing punishment for crimes motivated by anti-Semitism. The law also establishes punishment for making false or stereotypical statements regarding persons of Jewish origin, producing or disseminating materials containing anti-Semitic statements or content, and denying the facts of the persecution and mass killing of Jews during the Holocaust.
According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, two cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence were recorded as of late October. The group recorded approximately four cases of anti-Semitic vandalism as of September 1, compared with seven incidents during the same period in 2020.
On October 7, a man broke into the house of a Hasidic family in Uman and attacked the homeowner in front of his wife and children. The attacker reportedly struck the man several times in his face and body while shouting anti-Semitic insults. Police responded to the scene, and the attacker was taken to a hospital due to his level of intoxication. In late October the United Jewish Community of Ukraine called on police to investigate the case.
Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Rivne, Kherson, Mariupol, Vinnytsya, Uman, Bogdanivka, Kremenchuk, and other cities. According to press reports, on February 9, a newly erected memorial honoring the 16,000 Jews killed by Nazis in the Proskuriv (Khmelnytskyi) ghetto in 1941 and 1942 was vandalized. Media outlets reported two swastikas were spray painted with a stencil onto the stone wall just below the memorial’s commemorative plaque. As of mid-September police had not identified any suspects in the case. In Lviv, Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding construction on a historic Jewish cemetery, which is also a UNESCO protected site. The Ministry of Culture agreed the site should be protected but appeared unable to protect the cemetery as the local Lviv government refused to enforce the ministry’s stop-work order. In Uman, Jewish organizations complained of construction at the grave of Rabbi Nachman.
In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments. Some were renamed in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with disabilities were unable to access public venues, health services, information, communications, transportation, the judicial system, or opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities on an equal basis with others. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, but the government generally did not enforce these laws.
Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Patients in psychiatric institutions remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated and unsafe methods and treatments. On June 9, a monitoring group from the human rights ombudsperson’s office identified violations at the Panyutyn psychoneurological boarding school in Kharkiv Oblast. The monitors observed 20 residents confined to the facility’s gated exercise yard, which lacked toilets; residents needing to relieve themselves reportedly had to use a bucket and lacked privacy. The monitors also reported poor living conditions and low quality of food provided for the residents.
Law enforcement agencies generally took appropriate measures to punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.
By law employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually perform work at their companies.
The law provides every child with a disability the right to study at mainstream secondary schools (which usually include primary, middle, and high school-level education) as well as for the creation of inclusive groups in preschool facilities, secondary and vocational schools, and colleges. According to the Ministry of Education and Science, more than 25,000 children with disabilities attended mainstream schools within the program of inclusive education in the 2020-21 academic year.
Persons with disabilities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine suffered from a lack of appropriate care and education.
Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were barriers to HIV-positive individuals receiving medical services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV or AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV or AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV or AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment.
There was societal violence against LGBTQI+ persons often perpetrated by members of violent radical groups, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. The LGBTQI+ rights organization Nash Mir noted that criminal proceedings for attacks against members of the LGBTQI+ community were rarely classified under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carry heavier penalties. For example, according to a victim’s account published by Nash Mir, on July 2, a police officer beat a gay man in the man’s home in Kyiv while shouting antihomosexual insults at him. The officer had reportedly arrived at the house after being called by the victim’s landlord, who had been engaged in a verbal argument with the victim. The victim filed a complaint with the Dniprovskyy District Police Department in Kyiv, and police reportedly opened an investigation into the attack on July 14 but closed it on August 17 without bringing any charges. According to Nash Mir, police reopened the case upon an appeal from the victim’s lawyer. As of late October, the investigation remained open.
Law enforcement at times condoned or perpetrated violence against members of the LGBTQI+ community. For example, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, police officers in Toretsk violently detained a man shortly after he entered his apartment building on May 3. According to the victim, police struck him on the head without any warning and then held him on the floor with his hands fastened behind his back and the knee of an officer pressed to his head, causing him to lose consciousness at one point. When the man stated that he was a representative of the LGBTQI+ community, the officers reportedly mocked him and continued the abuse. Officers reportedly filed an administrative charge against the victim for resisting arrest, claiming they had stopped him to search his backpack for drugs. According to his lawyers, the victim was hospitalized for one month because of his injuries and was later forced to move away from Toretsk due to threats from police. In June the victim’s lawyers appealed to the SBI to investigate the victim’s allegations.
Public figures sometimes made comments condoning violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On March 18, a former member of the Kyiv City Council, Ruslan Andriyko, posted the comment, “Burn in the oven!” in the comments section of a news article regarding violence against LGBTQI+ teenagers.
According to Nash Mir, violent radical groups consistently tried to disrupt LGBTQI+ events with violence or threats of violence (see examples in section 2.b.).
The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is no law, however, against discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.
Transgender persons reported difficulties obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity, which resulted in discrimination in health care, education, and other areas.
A UN report noted that Russia-led forces’ regular use of identity checks in the “DPR” and “LPR” and at the line of contact put transgender persons at constant risk of arbitrary arrest, detention, and connected abuses, due to the lack of identity documents matching their gender identity.