IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine (BELOW) | Crimea
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 Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president 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. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.
Following the Russian Federation’s November 25 attack on and seizure of Ukrainian ships and crewmembers in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait, the country instituted martial law for a period of 30 days in 10 oblasts bordering areas in which Russian forces are located. Martial law expired December 27 with no reports of rights having been restricted during the time.
Human rights issues included: civilian casualties, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses committed in the context of the Russia-induced and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region; abuse of detainees by law enforcement; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; censorship; blocking of websites; refoulement; the government’s increasing failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against activists, journalists, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; widespread government corruption; and 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. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly committed by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv had not been held to account.
Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in: enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; committed gender-based violence; interfered with freedom of expression, including of the press, peaceful assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.
Human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included: politically motivated disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; politically motivated imprisonment; and interference with the freedoms of expression, including of the press, and assembly and association. Crimea occupation authorities intensified violence and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea sub-report).
Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russia-led forces to investigate abuse allegations.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
During the year, human rights groups expressed growing concern about an increasingly organized set of nationalist hate groups committing violent attacks on ethnic minorities (especially Roma), LGBTI persons, feminists, and other individuals they considered to be “un-Ukrainian” or “anti-Ukrainian.” The HRMMU noted that the failure of police and prosecutors to prevent these acts of violence, properly classify them as hate crimes, and effectively investigate and prosecute them created an environment of impunity and lack of justice for victims. A June 13 joint open letter to Ukrainian authorities from Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Frontline Defenders also expressed concerns about the spike in attacks and impunity, and noted “the inadequate response from the authorities sends a message that such acts are tolerated.”
Investigative journalists exposed several instances during the year in which the government provided grant funds to or cooperated with hate groups. On June 8, the Ministry of Youth and Sport announced that it would award C14, a nationalist hate group, 440,000 hryvnia ($17,000) to hold a youth summer camp. The ministry later justified the decision by stating that it provided the funds only for specific project activities that were not violent. Media outlets reported that C14 and other hate groups had entered into formal agreements with municipal authorities in Kyiv and other cities to form “municipal guard” patrol units to provide public security. In a December 2017 media interview, the head of C14 described cooperation with the SBU and police (see section 1.d.).
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.
On January 4, the president signed a new law, On Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence, which came into force on January 7. It introduced a new legal concept of domestic violence and called for the creation of a unified state register to monitor cases of domestic violence. Under the law, an offender is liable for compulsory community service, or a two to eight year prison term.
Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 651 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year. Police issued approximately 68,000 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine 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 that the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited. Human rights groups asserted that law enforcement often did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses, but also noted that police were starting to take the problem more seriously.
On November 5, police in Vinnytsia Oblast arrested 54-year old Petro Putsak for starving his 78-year old mother. Neighbors reported that he locked his mother in the house, deprived her of medical help and would occasionally beat her when demanding money. The woman was taken to the intensive care unit of a local hospital. Police were in the process of investigating the case.
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. 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. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse.
Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent 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 from a fine of up 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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men. Nevertheless, women experienced discrimination in employment. According to the government commissioner on gender policy, women received 30 percent lower salaries than men. In December 2017 the Ministry of Health removed 450 occupations from a list of occupations prohibited for women; 50 occupations remained on the list, however. In April the government approved the State Social Program for Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men, which aimed to ensure access of men and women to employment, achieve balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision-making, to bridge the gap in salary payments, and to adopt appropriate regulations to achieve gender mainstreaming in all policies.
In September the parliament approved the Law on Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men Serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Other Military Institutions, which provided for gender equality related to military service. The bill was aimed at ensuring gender equality and combating gender-based discrimination in the security and defense sectors, including the recognition and compensation of women’s service in combat roles and the ability for women to receive an education at military academies (see also 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 Russia-controlled areas in Donbas 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. Persons living in Crimea and parts of Russia-controlled Donbas had to turn to Ukrainian courts with birth or death documents issued by occupational authorities in order to receive Ukrainian 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 occupied by Russia and Russian-led forces faced serious difficulty in obtaining Ukrainian documents.
Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from three years to life depending on severity. The law “On Children Protection from Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation,” which amended the Criminal Code of Ukraine to criminalize sexual relations between adults and persons who have not reached the age of 16, came into force on April 18. The law calls for imprisonment of up to five years for those who engage in sexual relations with a child younger than 16.
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 for a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.
In early November a two-year old boy was taken to the intensive care unit in Kyiv. According to the police, his stepfather brutally beat him. Police began investigating the incident and the child was removed from the family pending conclusion of the investigation.
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 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 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.
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 IOM reported that 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 June 13 in Kryvyi Rih, police arrested a couple who repeatedly raped their daughter. They allegedly recorded the child’s abuse and sold videos of it over the internet. According to police, the father had abused the four-year-old child since she was two. The girl’s 30-year-old mother did nothing to stop her husband from abusing and molesting the child. The child was placed in a local rehabilitation center. An investigation was underway as of year’s end.
Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 240,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number 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. In August 2017 the government approved a national strategy for 2017-2026 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 outlets 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 6, Odesa Oblast police launched an investigation into alleged cases of child abuse in a local orphanage. The investigation began after a five-year old girl reported numerous cases of humiliation and violence from orphanage staff. The police initiated investigation.
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.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 Jews lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.
According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG), like in 2017 no cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence were recorded as of November 30. The last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurred in 2016. The NMRMG recorded approximately 11 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism as of November 30, compared with 24 incidents in 2017. According to NMRMG, the drop in violence and anti-Semitic vandalism was due to better police work and prosecution of those committing anti-Semitic acts.
Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, and other cities. On April 27-28, unidentified individuals smashed windows and scattered prayer books at the ohel (a structure built over the grave of a righteous Jew) at the grave of renowned 17th century Rabbi Shmuel Eidels in Ostroh, Rivne Oblast. Police opened an investigation. 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 Odesa chanted anti-Semitic slogans during a March of Ukrainian Order on May 3. Tetyana Soykina, head of the local chapter of the Right Sector, a far-right party, said, “We will restore order in Ukraine, Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not Jews and oligarchs,” using a pejorative term for Jews. The Ukrainian Jewish Committee condemned an April 28 march sponsored by nationalist organizations honoring the local volunteers who were in the Nazi Waffen SS during the Holocaust. The march featured Nazi symbols and salutes. On April 13, police detained two individuals who were removing gold from mass graves of Jews from the Holocaust in the town of Nemyriv in Vinnytsia Oblast.
In mid-May the Ukrainian consul in Hamburg published anti-Semitic statements in his Facebook account; on May 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs fired him for the posts. On June 25, Anatoliy Matios, the country’s chief military prosecutor, espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in a media interview, suggesting that Jews want to drown ethnic Slavs in blood and finance world conflicts. Authorities took no action against Matios for the remarks.
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.
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, health services, information, communications, transportation, and the judicial system 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.).
Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines. In February several patients of a psychiatric institution in Veselynivka, Zaporizhzhya Oblast complained of unbearable conditions and treatment by the staff who allegedly beat and verbally abused them and locked them in a closet. The director of the institution was suspended from his duties. The local prosecutor’s office opened an investigation.
In general, law enforcement took appropriate measures to punish those responsible for violence and abuses 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
Based on a law adopted in 2017, starting September 1, every child with a disability had the right to study at regular secondary schools. On September 6, parliament approved amendments to a separate law regarding access of persons with disabilities to education. It called for the creation of inclusive groups in preschool facilities, secondary and vocational schools, and colleges. According to the President’s Commissioner for the rights of children, 12,000 children with disabilities went to regular schools within the program of inclusive education.
Persons with disabilities in Russia-controlled areas in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care.
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 increased considerably 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 opened two 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.
There were numerous reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, often perpetrated by known members of violent nationalist hate groups. In some instances, police declined to intervene to stop violence. On July 18, three UN special rapporteurs released a statement calling on the government to take immediate action to stop “what amounts to a systematic persecution” of the country’s Romani minority.
For example on June 24, a group of masked men armed with batons and other weapons attacked a Romani camp on the outskirts of Lviv. A 24-year-old man died of stab wounds; four others, including a 10-year-old boy, were injured. Police detained eight individuals after the attack. They were members of the neo-Nazi group Tvereza i Zla Molod (Sober and Angry Youth). Seven of them were charged with hooliganism and one, twenty-year-old Andriy Tychko, was charged with premeditated murder. An investigation continued at year’s end. During the year there were attacks on Romani settlements in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil, Berehove, Uzhhorod, Mukacheve, and Zolotonosha.
Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment. 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 or 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 frequent violence against LGBTI persons, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. An increase in attacks was due to increasingly active nationalist hate groups (see national minorities above). The HRMMU noted that attacks against members of the LGBTI community and other minorities were rarely classified under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carried heavier penalties. Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported.
For example on June 30, about 10 unidentified young persons attacked Boris Zolotchenko, the head of the organizing committee of the Kryvbas Equality march. Witnesses called police, who refused to come to the crime scene. An investigation into a prior attack on Zolotchenko that took place in January in which five unknown men beat him was closed due to “lack of suspects.”
According to the LGBTI rights group Nash Mir, nationalist hate groups consistently tried to disrupt LGBTI events with violence or threats of violence. For example, on May 10, members of a nationalist hate group disrupted a public discussion in Kyiv on LGBTI rights in Russia. More than 20 men arrived at the venue and threatened participants with violence unless they left. The venue owner joined in the calls and told the organizers to cancel the event and vacate the premises. Police officers present on the site refused to intervene.
Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, officials sometimes failed to protect LGBTI persons. Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and violence. On August 19, an unknown person made homophobic remarks and beat transgender activist Anastasia Kristel Domani. Police opened an investigation for minor assault charges, but as of late November had made no arrests.
Transgender persons reported difficulties obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity, which resulted in discrimination in health care, education, and other areas.
According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in Russia-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Most LGBTI persons either fled or hid their sexual orientation or gender identity.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were barriers to HIV-positive individuals’ receiving medical 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.