Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Authorities did not always respect these rights, however. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.
In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.
Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols. According to Amnesty International, during a public demonstration on May 9 in Dnipro, several marchers were arrested for carrying Soviet symbols. On May 16, the legislature passed a law banning the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russian-led forces in the Donbas region. Several media reports indicated authorities subsequently fined individuals carrying these symbols.
The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws.
Press and Media Freedom: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.”
Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were generally owned by wealthy and influential “oligarchs,” often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and 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. According to a September 28 report by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) and Reporters without Borders, the influence of political actors on the country’s media increased during the year, with media holdings remaining nontransparent and used to support political allies of their owners.
As of December 1, IMI recorded 183 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press compared with 133 cases for the same period of 2016.
The practice of jeansa continued to be widespread. IMI’s monitoring of national print and online media for jeansa indicated that a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. According to IMI press monitoring, as of September, the highest proportion of jeansa in regional media occurred in print outlets in Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv Oblasts, where 16 percent and 15 percent of articles, respectively, were political or commercial jeansa.
Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized government inaction in solving these crimes, giving rise to a culture of impunity.
According to IMI, as of December 1, there were 27 reports of attacks on journalists, compared with 29 cases during the same period in 2016. As in 2016, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of November 1, there were 37 incidents involving threats against journalists, down from 38 during the same period in 2016. IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.
On July 14, law enforcement officials searched the Kyiv office of Vesti media, which observers alleged to have a pro-Russian bias and beneficial owners. According to the company, the search lasted 16 hours, during which time operations of its website and radio station were blocked. According to the chief military prosecutor, the search related to an embezzlement case involving former revenues and taxes minister Oleksandr Klymenko. Authorities asserted that money Klymenko allegedly stole under tax-evasion schemes was used to finance the Vesti media holding company. Journalists wrote an open letter to the president, the prime minister, and other government authorities, stating they considered the search a violation of civil liberties and press freedom, and an attempt to harass and intimidate journalists.
On June 22, Ihor Huzhva, the editor in chief of the media outlet strana.ua, widely considered to have a pro-Russian editorial slant, was arrested in Kyiv on suspicion of large-scale extortion of 270,000 hryvnia ($10,000) in exchange for refraining from publishing compromising material on a politician. A member of the parliament, Dmytro Linko, alleged that Huzhva had demanded money from him. On June 27, Huzhva was released on bail. Huzhva’s lawyers claimed the journalist was arrested because of his professional activities, because his media outlet systematically criticized high-profile state officials. An investigation continued at year’s end.
There were no developments during the year in the July 2016 killing of well-known journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).
On June 27, the investigation of the killing of Oles Busyna, who was killed in 2015 allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, was completed and referred to a court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.
There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists investigating government corruption. For example, on February 12, a car belonging to Serhiy Guz, editor in chief of the news website 5692.com and the newspaper Gorod 5692, was set on fire in Kamyanske, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The journalist linked the attack to his professional activity and critical reporting on local authorities. Police opened an investigation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: IMI recorded six incidents of censorship of individual publications. The government at times banned or restricted media content on vague grounds. For example, on April 28, the National State Films Agency prohibited showings of a documentary film about killed journalist Oles Buzina on the grounds the film’s content had “violated the law.”
Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.
A law adopted by the parliament on May 23 obligates television channels to broadcast at least 75 percent of their content in the Ukrainian language as of October 13.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists. In early September, the head of the pro-Russian civic movement Ukrainian Choice, Viktor Medvedchuk, filed a lawsuit against member of the parliament and journalist Serhiy Leshchenko for slander over a series of articles allegedly uncovering Medvedchuk’s participation in corrupt schemes in the gas market.
National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat.
The government continued the practice of banning specific works by pro-Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the head of the State Film Agency, Phylyp Ilienko, as of mid-September, more than 500 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since August 2014. In May the president signed a decree restricting operations of 468 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were the country’s two most widely used social networks, which were based in Russia, and major Russian television channels. Human rights NGOs criticized the move, and the secretary general of the Council of Europe condemned the decision, stating, “blocking social networks, search engines, postal services, and information websites is contrary to our common understanding of freedom of expression and media [freedom].”
The government continued to block Russian television channels from broadcasting in the country, based on a 2014 decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council taken to counter the perceived dangerous influence of Russian propaganda. On January 12, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council did not renew the independent Russian television channel Dozhd because it recognized Crimea as part of Russia rather than Ukraine, in violation of Ukrainian law. Dozhd remained available by satellite and internet. As of year’s end, only four Russian channels were permitted to broadcast in the country, compared with 83 Russian channels at the start of 2014. According to the head of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, as of November 2, the council had issued 23 warnings to Ukrainian cable providers for violating the ban on certain Russian channels.
Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU and the armed forces when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, on September 14, an SBU agent appeared at the office of the Ukrainska Pravda website demanding that it remove an article highlighting the need for more modern armament for the Ukrainian army and the government’s failure to prioritize upgrading the country’s military capabilities. In the letter the SBU stated it had opened an investigation into the article’s publication, claiming that it referenced state secrets. The editorial staff then presented SBU with an official letter of complaint. The SBU thereafter called the media outlet to apologize and, on September 20, initiated an internal probe into alleged pressure on journalists.
Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists in retaliation for their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. On August 25, the SBU barred two Spanish journalists from entering the country over their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Media groups called the move “an attack on free speech.” Human Rights Watch stated, “the Ukrainian government’s practice of accusing journalists of anti-Ukraine bias, then expelling them or denying them entry, is a serious violation of its international human rights commitments.”
On August 30, the SBU in Kyiv detained Anna Kurbatova, a journalist with Russian television Channel One. Kurbatova was expelled and banned from the country for three years for allegedly engaging in anti-Ukrainian propaganda. The expulsion occurred after Kurbatova described events marking the country’s independence day as a “sad celebration” because of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and economic hardship in the country.
Nongovernmental Impact: Russia-led forces in eastern areas of the country harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “persons living in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ know that expressing their opinion freely and publicly was not acceptable in armed group-controlled territory.” The HRMMU also noted, “armed groups are directly influencing and shaping the content in local media” and that they require favorable coverage as the cost of retaining registration to operate.
The HRMMU reported that journalists entering territory controlled by armed groups of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.
On June 3, Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev (pen name Vasin) went missing in Donetsk. Unofficial sources reported the “ministry of state security” had arrested him. Aseyev had written about life in the “people’s republic” for popular Ukrainian media outlets. On July 17, civil society groups announced that local “authorities” confirmed they had arrested Aseyev and charged him with espionage.
On July 28, a court in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” sentenced blogger Eduard Nedelyaev to 14 years in prison on treason and espionage charges. Nedelyaev was known for his critical reports about life in the territory controlled by Russian-led forces; when he was arrested in November 2016, authorities cited his “extremist” views.
Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to ban major Russian-sourced news and social media sites.
On May 17, the president signed Decree 133, requiring internet providers to block access for three years to the Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, the email service Mail.ru, the search engine company Yandex, and several major Russian television channels. Some observers questioned the legality of the measure, noting that the law does not allow blocking access to sites without a court decision.
Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.
In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had deteriorated for the second year in a row. It noted in particular that “authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ activities, with many users detained, fined and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, separatist forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were several reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On April 13, representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea, now displaced to Kyiv, searched the premises of the International Center for Policy Studies (ICPS), a research and scientific institution in Kyiv. The search was allegedly to investigate the so-called Artemenko peace plan, which lawyer Andriy Artemenko had presented publicly. The plan suggested formally surrendering Crimea to the Russian Federation for a long-term lease. According to the search warrant, Ideas for Resolving the Conflict in Donbas, authored by ICPS Chairman Vasyl Filipchuk, served as the basis for the “peace plan” and search. The Coalition of Human Rights issued a public statement calling the search “a disproportionate interference of the state in the activities of the think tank and an attempt to monopolize the field of ideas and to impose state doctrine as the only one possible under the threat of prosecution of those offering other approaches.”
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.
During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. Most assemblies were peaceful and at times accompanied by a very large police presence to maintain order. The HRMMU continued to observe improvement with regard to respect for freedom of peaceful assembly “as illustrated by a decrease in judicial prohibitions of public assemblies and better policing of large public gatherings” throughout the country.
Smaller demonstrations suffered from insufficient security and protection by police, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. There were some reports of violence at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) events during the year, although police protection for such events was more consistent than in previous years. Police failed to prevent a violent attack against individuals participating in a 200-person Equality March in Zaporizhzhia on September 30 which resulted in several injuries requiring hospitalization. Police arrived later and detained several individuals.
Victory Day commemoration events on May 9 were generally peaceful, although skirmishes marred some, including in Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhia. The skirmishes resulted in bodily injuries to 32 persons and the detention of 89. Police opened 19 criminal proceedings as a result.
In the territory controlled by Russia-led forces, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies of the armed groups.” The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by the armed groups, with forced public participation.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.
Human rights groups and international organizations sharply criticized a law signed by the president on March 28 that introduces vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which have successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials.
According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by the armed groups, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.
There were claims that officials engaged in politically motivated deportations without adherence to due process. For example, on October 21, officials deported four Georgian citizens whose residence permits had been cancelled, according to the State Migration Service. Human Rights Ombudsman Valeriya Lutkovska stated the deportations occurred without the required court warrants. Some human rights groups claimed the men were hooded and beaten during the deportation process and alleged they were targeted because of their ties to opposition figure Mikhail Saakashvili.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.
In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited.
While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 36,000 individuals crossed the line daily. People formed long lines at all operating transit corridors and had to wait for up to 36 hours with no or limited access to water, medical aid, toilets, and shelter in case of shelling or extreme weather. Individuals who frequently crossed the line complained of corruption on both sides of the line of contact.
In 2015 the SBU introduced a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups were concerned that many persons in non-government-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes. The order imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which were not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. On April 14, the government amended the temporary order regulating movement of individuals across the line of contact so that crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side do not need a permit to cross.
The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern over reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.
The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between the Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Long lines and insufficient access to toilets, shelter, and potable water remained prevalent. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers continued to maintain that the government placed significant barriers to their entry to Crimea, including months-long processes to obtain required permissions, thereby complicating their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of September 15, more than 1.5 million persons were registered 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. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in hope they would be able to return home.
The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.
In its June report, the HRMMU stated that in March it received information that local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy had received lists of persons registered as IDPs who allegedly had stayed outside government-controlled territory for more than 60 days. The departments were instructed to suspend payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud. A similar verification process initiated in February 2016 created economic problems for IDPs, reportedly forcing some to return to territories controlled by Russia-led forces.
According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory, as well as most residents of areas under the control of Russia-led forces; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated.
According to research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 59 percent of surveyed IDP households relied on government support as one of their main sources of income. More than 20 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.
According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.
A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition.
NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.
In 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. UNHCR described refoulement at the border as a “largely hidden phenomenon,” because persons seeking asylum might not receive legal aid or interpretation at border crossing points or temporary holding facilities and were, therefore, unable to apply for asylum before being deported. Human rights groups noted the law offers legal protection against forcible return.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.
A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.
Employment: Authorities did not provide employment assistance, and most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Authorities provided language instruction for asylum seekers only in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa, although some local NGOs reported that the instruction was provided by NGOs. Some asylum seekers worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.
Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. Human rights groups reported that authorities did not provide social and economic support or language classes to asylum seekers or assist them. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). However, some reports indicated the government did not always provide payment.
Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside a center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked this registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.
UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods. According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1 authorities provided it to approximately 674 persons.
According to law, a person may acquire citizenship by birth, territorial origin, naturalization, restored citizenship, and adoption.
According to UNHCR, approximately 36,000 persons in the country were either stateless or at risk of statelessness in 2016. These included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons over 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and are no longer able to obtain one. According to the State Migration Service, as of September 1, there were 4,904 stateless persons residing in the country.
On July 26, the government issued a decree revoking the citizenship of opposition politician Mikhail Saakashvili, who had been granted citizenship in 2015 and who was not in Ukraine when the decree was issued. While some politicians and human rights organizations questioned the move, calling it politically motivated, the government asserted a legal basis for the decision, stating Saakashvili had knowingly made false statements in his citizenship application.
The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other types of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons have difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women but does not explicitly address spousal rape or domestic violence. The courts may use a law against “forced sex with a materially dependent person” as grounds to prosecute spousal rape. Under the law, authorities may detain a person for up to five days for offenses related to domestic violence and spousal abuse. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the PGO, 874 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, police issued approximately 41,097 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine months of the year. Punishment included fines, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited, and preventive services remained underdeveloped. Human rights groups asserted that law enforcement authorities did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses.Research showed that most authorities believed that, in domestic violence cases, familial reconciliation was more important than punishing the perpetrator or protecting the victim.
La Strada operated a national hotline for victims of violence and sexual harassment. As of June, more than 15,512 individuals had called the hotline for assistance; 95 percent of the calls concerned domestic or sexual violence while more than one-half the calls involved psychological violence. The NGO reported that expanded public awareness campaigns increased the number of requests for assistance it received each year.
According to the NGO La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to posttraumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. According to monitoring of conflict-related gender-based violence conducted by the Justice for Peace in Donbas coalition, the situation in eastern Ukraine combined with the general discriminatory policies and lack of access to judicial services in the self-styled “republics” to create an environment conducive to gross violation of women’s rights. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many claimed to have fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.
Although the law requires the government to operate a shelter in every major city, it did not do so. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of July 1, government centers provided domestic violence-related services, in the form of sociopsychological assistance, to 8,483 families with 8,529 children. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse. NGOs operated additional centers for victims of domestic violence in several regions, but women’s rights groups noted that many nongovernment shelters closed due to lack of funding.
Sexual Harassment: The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties from a fine up to three years in prison, but women’s rights groups asserted there was no effective mechanism to protect against sexual harassment. They reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators.
While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent person” to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men and are entitled to receive equal pay for equal work. In practice, women received lower salaries than men and were prohibited from working in nearly 500 occupations (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Either birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.
Registration of children born in Crimea or areas in Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russia-backed “authorities” routinely kept such paperwork if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or “authorities” in territories controlled by Russia-led forces and sometimes refused to issue birth certificates to children born in those areas.
Child Abuse: Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).
Authorities did not take effective measures at the national level to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsman for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, in particular violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative of a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. If it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest, a court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry. Romani rights groups reported that early marriages involving girls under the age of 18 were common in the Romani community.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for child rape is 10 years. Molesting a child under the age of 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child under the age of 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.
Sexual exploitation of children, however, remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem.
Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported that a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The International Organization for Migration reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography.
Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 232,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low. UNICEF estimated the conflict has affected 1.7 million children including non-IDPs who remained in conflict areas.
Children living in areas controlled by Russia-led forces did not receive nutritional and shelter assistance. Human rights groups reported that children who experienced the conflict or fled from territory controlled by Russia-led forces suffered psychological trauma.
Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. In August the government approved a national strategy for 2017-18 that was intended to transform the institutionalized childcare system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children.
Human rights groups and media 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.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
According to census data and international Jewish groups, an estimated 103,600 Jews lived in the country, constituting approximately 0.2 percent of the population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD), there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, although the number might be higher. Before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.
According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) supported by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and VAAD, one case of suspected anti-Semitic violence was recorded in 2016, compared with one case of anti-Semitic violence in 2015 and four cases in 2014. The NMRMG identified 18 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2016, as compared with 22 in 2015 and 23 in 2014. Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, and other cities. On January 13, arsonists damaged a Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya, where there were similar attacks in 2015. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued existence of Krakivsky Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were reportedly several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial during the year.
In other manifestations of anti-Semitism during the year, nationalists in Kyiv chanted “Jews out” in German at a New Year’s Day march celebrating the birthday of Stepan Bandera. In a televised interview in March, Nadiya Savchenko, a member of the parliament, used a derogatory word to describe Jews and stated that Jews possess “80 percent of the power when they only account for 2 percent of the population.”
In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename Communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism. A new monument in Uman honors Ivan Gonta, an 18th century Cossack involved in a massacre of Jews, Poles, and Greek Catholics.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law requires the government to provide access to public venues and opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities for persons with disabilities. The law also requires employers to take into account the individual needs of employees with disabilities. The government generally did not enforce these laws.
Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).
Authorities often did not integrate students with disabilities into the general student population. Only secondary schools offered classes for students with disabilities.
Government policy favored the institutionalization of children with disabilities over placement with their families. Persons with disabilities in areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care. Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines.
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.
Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problems. NGOs dedicated to combating racism and hate crimes observed that overall xenophobic incidents declined slightly during the year.
Human rights organizations stated that the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Authorities did not open any criminal proceedings under the laws on racial, national, or religious offenses during the year. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.
Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination. Roma experienced significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment.
There were reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, including instances in which police declined to intervene to stop violence. For example, on May 18, an argument in the village of Olshany, Kharkiv Oblast, between village residents and visiting Romani individuals turned violent. Three Romani men received injuries, and one died. Regional police opened an investigation, which continued at year’s end.
There were several reports during the year that police arbitrarily detained Romani individuals, at times beating or mistreating them.
According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms.
During the year many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli, approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Because many Roma lacked documents, obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.
There was sporadic violence against LGBTI persons, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. For example, there was no investigation following events on July 9, when the speaker, organizers, and attendees of a Kyiv lecture on transgender problems were attacked by 10 masked individuals. Several lecture attendees pushed the attackers from the room, and one organizer pursued them and caught three individuals at the Khreshchatyk metro station. Police then intervened and detained the perpetrators. Lawyers and two members of parliament came to the police station where the attackers were detained, and they were soon released.
Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported, and law enforcement authorities opened only 17 cases related to such acts.
The LGBTI rights group Nash Mir stated that extortion remained a problem and that anti-LGBTI groups employed social media to entrap LGBTI persons.
Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, local officials sometimes voiced opposition to LGBTI rights and failed to protect LGBTI persons.
Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and stereotyping. In one case a municipal transportation company in Kharkiv fired a transgender woman because of her appearance.
While individuals no longer had to undergo sex reassignment surgery to change their names and genders officially and could do so with counseling and hormone therapy, regulations still prevent reassignment for married individuals and those with minor children. Transgender persons claimed to have difficulty obtaining official documents reflecting their gender.
According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-led forces was very poor. Most LGBTI persons either fled or hid their gender identity.
Overall, LGBTI groups enjoyed greater freedom to assemble than in past years. In most cases, security forces and local officials deployed adequate security forces to prevent violence and protect conferences and marches. On June 18, for example, security forces provided protection to an equality march in Kyiv. Authorities deployed more than 6,000 security personnel to protect up to 3,500 marchers, including members of parliament and the diplomatic community. Police adequately protected the equality festivals in Kyiv in May, in Dnipro in July, and a flash mob of tolerance in Zaporizhzhia in May.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were a barrier to HIV-positive individuals’ receiving counseling, testing, and treatment services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment. Injection drug users and their sexual partners were also particularly at risk of discrimination.