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 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
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 outlets 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 as well as the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russia-led forces in the Donbas region. During the May 9 celebration of World War II Victory Day, several persons were detained in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, Melitopol, and Odesa for carrying banned Soviet 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 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.
As of October 1, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) recorded 140 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press during the year, compared with 152 cases over the same period in 2017.
Jeansa–the practice of planting one-sided or favorable news coverage paid for by politicians or oligarchs–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, during the month of September, the country’s internet media contained the highest level of jeansa observed in the previous five years, a level twice as high as the same period in 2017, with 52 percent of journalists reporting that their outlet regularly published jeansa.
Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized what they saw as government inaction in solving the crimes as giving rise to a growing culture of impunity.
According to IMI, as of September 1, there had been 22 reports of attacks on journalists during the year, compared with 19 cases during the same period in 2017. As in 2017, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of September 1, there were 24 incidents involving threats against journalists, as compared with 22 during the same period in 2017. 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 September 8, two men, one of them identified as Volodymyr Voychenko, a member of the Novoodesa district council in Mykolaiv Oblast, attacked and beat the editor in chief of the local Mykolaiv newspaper My City, Mykola Popov. According to Popov, Voychenko and an accomplice approached him at a restaurant to complain about his writing and then beat him. The journalist linked the attack to his critical publications about local authorities. Police opened an investigation into both Popov and his attackers, who had filed a complaint claiming that Popov had attacked them.
There were also reports that police beat journalists covering demonstrations (see section 2.b).
There were reports of police using violence and intimidation against journalists. For example in February 21, several female journalists seeking to attend the treason trial of former president Yanukovych reported that police officers forced them to undress and undergo invasive security checks in order to be granted entry to a courtroom where Poroshenko was testifying via video link. Specifically, the female journalists were asked to remove all clothing above the waist so that police could confirm that they did not have political slogans written on their bodies. Police later indicated that they had been looking for members of the protest group Femen, who often conducted partially nude protests. The presidential administration subsequently apologized for the intrusive checks, but the National Police spokesperson defended the police actions as “necessary.”
There were reports of attacks on the offices of independent media outlets, generally by unidentified assailants. For example, on February 23, an unknown assailant burned the offices of the investigative news website Chetverta Vlada (fourth Power) in Rivne. Police opened an investigation into the attack. Five days prior, unknown persons had robbed the offices hosting the website’s server and seized key equipment, which incapacitated the site. Two perpetrators were identified and police issued a wanted notice.
There were reports that government officials sought to pressure journalists through the judicial system. On August 27, Pechersk District Court in Kyiv granted the Prosecutor General’s Office access to 17 months of text messages, calls, and locations from the cell phone of journalist Natalia Sedletska, who was the editor in chief of the anticorruption investigative television program Schemes. The court’s decision was made in the context of a case against Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) for allegedly disclosing state secrets to journalists in which Sedletska and a number of other journalists were called as witnesses. Sedletska had previously refused to provide information to the Prosecutor General’s Office voluntarily on the grounds her communications with confidential sources are protected under the law. Human rights defenders considered the court’s decision a violation of press freedom and an attempt to harass and intimidate Sedletska. On September 18, an appeals court ruled to restrict the original request to geolocation data from around the offices of the NABU in Kyiv, but upheld the original timeframe. On September 18, the ECHR ordered the government to ensure that authorities do not access any data from Sedletska’s cell phone. According to press reports, Sedletska was one of at least three journalists whose communications data was subject to court rulings that it should be provided to the Prosecutor General’s Office.
There were no developments during the year in the 2016 killing of well-known Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).
In June 2017 authorities completed the investigation of the 2015 killing of Oles Buzyna, allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, and referred the case to court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human Rights organizations frequently criticized the government for taking an overly broad approach to banning books, television shows, and other content (see sections on National Security and Internet Freedom).
The State Committee on Television and Radio Broadcasting (Derzhkomteleradio) maintained a list of banned books that were seen to be aimed at undermining the country’s independence, spreading propaganda of violence, inciting interethnic, racial, religious hostility, promoting terrorist attacks, or encroaching on human rights and freedoms. As of July the list contained 180 books. In January, Derzhkomteleradio banned the Russian-language translation of Stalingrad, an award-winning book by British historian Anthony Beever. Authorities held that the book’s allegation that Ukrainian militias during World War II carried out an execution of 90 Jewish orphans in Bila Tserkva constituted “propaganda” encroaching on the country’s sovereignty and security.
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.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists.
For example, on June 13, Ukroboronprom (an association of state-run companies producing defense articles) filed a lawsuit against Publishing House Media DK, the media group that owns Novoye Vremya. Novoye Vremya had published articles on corruption connected to state purchases of defense articles from Ukroboronprom. The lawsuit called for the protection of Ukroboronprom’s honor and dignity and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on corruption schemes. The case had not yet been heard in court by year’s end.
National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat, particularly those emanating from Russia and promoting pro-Russian lines, in the context of the ongoing conventional conflict in the Donbas, as well as the ongoing Russian disinformation and cyber campaigns.
The government continued the practice of banning specific works by Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the State Film Agency, as of mid-September more than 660 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since 2014. In response to Russia’s continued barrage of cyberattacks and disinformation as part of its efforts to destabilize Ukraine, the government maintained its May 2017 ban on the 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.
There were reports that the government used noncompliance with these content bans to pressure outlets it perceived as having a pro-Russian editorial policy. For example, on January 25, the television channel INTER, which some observers perceived to have a pro-Russian bias, received notice from the SBU that it would be subjected to additional “inspections” on the grounds the channel had aired films that were banned because they starred pro-Russian actors that posed a “threat to national security.”
On October 4, parliament approved a resolution to impose sanctions on television channels 112 Ukraine and NewsOne due to their alleged pro-Russian activities and beneficial owners. The resolution called for blocking of assets, suspension of licenses, a ban on the use of radio frequencies, and a termination of the provisions of telecommunication services and usage of general telecommunications networks. As of December sanctions had not yet come into force.
On September 18, the Lviv Oblast council banned all Russian-language books, films, and songs, in order to combat “hybrid warfare” by Russia. The Zhytomyr and Ternopil Oblast Councils mirrored this measure on October 25 and November 6 respectively. Observers expressed doubts that this type of ban could be enforced.
Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU, the military, and other officials when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, the editor in chief of the weekly magazine Novoye Vremya reported threats to the magazine’s editorial board by the chair of the parliamentary committee on national security and former head of the Ukroboronprom Serhiy Pashynsky, and the deputy chair of the National Security and Defense Council Oleg Hladkovsky. The magazine reported that the two officials were the main beneficiaries of corruption schemes connected to state purchases of defense articles. On April 12, attorneys for the two members of parliament visited the magazine’s office and demanded that Novoye Vremya publish a retraction of the story on national security grounds. The magazine refused to do so.
There were reports that the government used national security grounds to arrest and prosecute journalists it believed had a pro-Russian editorial bias. On May 15, the SBU searched RIA Novosti Ukraine’s office. Editor in Chief Kirill Vyshinskiy was arrested and charged with high treason. According to the SBU, in the spring of 2014, Vyshinskiy went to Crimea, where he allegedly took part in a propaganda campaign supporting the peninsula’s purported annexation by Russia, for which the SBU alleged he was given an award by the Russian government. The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, and the OSCE representative on freedom of the media expressed concern at the time of his arrest. Pretrial investigation continued as of late September.
Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists on national security grounds. On July 10, border guards barred John Warren Graeme Broderip, a UK national and the host of the Russian channel NTV, from entering the country and imposed a three-year entry ban on him for violating the rules of entering occupied Crimea in 2015.
Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that nationalist hate groups committed attacks on journalists. For example according to IMI, on July 19, members of nationalist hate group C14 in Kyiv attacked a journalist covering a trial of C14 members who had been charged with attacking a Romani camp.
Russia-led forces in the east harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “the space for freedom of opinion and expression remained highly restricted.” The HRMMU documented the case of two men detained and charged with espionage for their pro-Ukrainian positions expressed in social media. The HRMMU also noted that “local media currently operated mainly as a tool for promoting those in control.” According to CyberLab Ukraine, the authorities in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” blocked more than 50 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” 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 August 22, the Russian state-run television channel Rossiya 24 broadcast an “interview” with Stanislav Aseyev, in which he falsely confessed to spying for Ukraine. “DPR authorities” arrested Aseyev in June (see section 1.g.).
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 53 percent of the population used Internet in 2017. Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to block access to websites.
On May 14, the president endorsed new sanctions approved by the National Security and Defense Council that, among other things, obliged Ukrainian internet providers to block 192 sites, in addition to those previously blocked.
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, Russia-led forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”
There were reports that the government prosecuted individuals for their posts on social media. According to the media monitoring group Detector Media, in 2017 authorities opened criminal investigations into 40 users or administrators of social media platforms for posting content that “undermined the constitutional order” of the country or otherwise threatened national security, 37 of which were referred to court. For example, according to Freedom House, in February the SBU searched the home of a Chernihiv resident for allegedly posting anti-Ukrainian content on Russian social media platforms. Authorities seized his computer and telephone, and later charged him for “undermining the constitutional order.” According to the SBU, the man shared content on several groups and pages with more than 20,000 followers.
On November 28, representatives of at least four Ukrainian human rights, media, and anticorruption organizations were notified by Google that their private and corporate Google accounts were attacked by offenders likely backed by the Russian government. Ukrainian users received similar messages throughout 2015-2016. Independent analysis indicated that a hacker group named Fancy Bear associated with the Russian Government was behind the attacks.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The government maintained a list of Russian or pro-Russian musicians, actors, and other cultural figures that it prohibited from entering the country on national security grounds.
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. There were reports, however, that police at times used excessive force when dispersing protests. For example, on March 3, police destroyed a protest tent camp that had been set up near the parliament in October 2017. Police allegedly beat protesters and used tear gas against journalists. Nineteen persons sustained injuries (10 had head injuries and nine other types of physical injuries), including journalists from Radio Liberty, Hromadske TV, and the Insider news outlet. The journalists reported deliberate attacks by police despite the fact that they had clearly identified themselves as members of the press. According to the chief of the Kyiv police, investigators and police were lawfully investigating criminal acts in connection with protester attempts to seize the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv in December 2017 and clashes at the parliament on February 27. Police initiated two criminal investigations on possible use of excessive force by officers and interference by police in the work of journalists who were attempting to record the event. The investigation continued as of December.
While the main 2018 Pride March in Kyiv was protected by thousands of police, police at times did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of nationalist hate groups. On March 8, members of right-wing groups attacked participants in public events in Uzhhorod, Lviv, and Kyiv aimed at raising awareness of women’s rights and gender-based and domestic violence. Police launched investigations of the incidents. Police briefly detained attackers but no charges were filed.
In Russia-controlled territory, 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 Russia-led forces. The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces, 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 continued to criticize sharply a law signed by the president in March 2017 that introduced 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 a revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which had successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials. Heads and members of the boards of anticorruption NGOs had to submit their asset declarations by April 1. Observers continued to express concern that these asset declarations have the potential to endanger the staff of NGOs working on human rights and anticorruption, particularly if they work on issues related to Russian-occupied Crimea or areas of the Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces.
Human rights organizations reported a growing number of unsolved attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed created a climate of impunity. A September 26 joint statement by several dozen Ukrainian civic organizations stated that there had been more than 50 such attacks in the previous 12 months and accused the government of failing to investigate these crimes properly.
There were reports of incidents in which observers alleged that the government targeted activists for prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, several major human rights groups expressed concern about the government’s prosecution of Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the anticorruption NGO AntAC, which they alleged was selective and politically motivated. On January 15, authorities charged Shabunin with allegedly inflicting bodily harm on a journalist, a charge that carries a heavier penalty than the crime of inflicting intentional moderate bodily harm with which he had previously been charged in 2017. Both charges stemmed from an incident in June 2017 in which Shabunin allegedly punched Vsevolod Filimonenko, a supposed journalist who had reportedly harassed one of Shabunin’s colleagues. Human rights groups noted that video footage of the events suggested that Filimonenko may have been sent by the country’s security services to provoke a conflict with Shabunin and that the resources and vigor the government applied to prosecuting Shabunin far exceeded their usual approach to prosecuting attacks on journalists, including attacks where the resultant injuries were much more grave.
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 Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.
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 39,000 individuals crossed the line daily. The HRMMU reported that individuals crossing the contact line, predominantly the elderly and people with medical issues, had to spend several hours standing in line. According to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Luhansk Oblast, up to 100 persons experienced health incidents each day at the Stanytsia-Luhanska checkpoint between May and August.
The government used a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups expressed concern that many persons in Russia-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes and that the pass system 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. As of April 2017, crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side did 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 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 lengthy 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 late September more than 1.5 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and the 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 Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the 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. On October 10, the president signed a law providing for the priority provision of social housing for IDPs with disabilities. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.
Housing, employment, and payment of social benefits and pensions remained the greatest concerns among IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process.
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 Russia-controlled areas; 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. On September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the verification requirement did not constitute lawful grounds for termination of pension payments.
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 15 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.
IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.
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 often 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. For example on September 12, the Prosecutor General’s Office authorized the extradition of a Russian citizen, Timur Tumgoyev, to the Russian Federation, which subsequently prosecuted him on terrorism charges. According to press reports, Tumgoyev had been in the country since 2016, had apparently fought in a progovernment battalion in the Donbas, and had requested asylum. The UN Human Rights Committee had previously called on the country’s authorities to halt Tumgoyev’s extradition pending consideration of his assertion that he would face torture if forcibly returned. On September 19, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into whether there had been criminal negligence on the part of the state agencies involved in Tumgoyev’s extradition. On October 6, the Russian press reported that Tumgoyev had been severely beaten in detention in Russia.
There were also allegations that officials deported some individuals to countries where they were at risk of imprisonment without providing an opportunity for them to apply for asylum. For example on July 12, the SBU in Mykolaiv detained Turkish opposition journalist Yusuf Inan, who had a permanent residence permit in Ukraine. On July 13, a Mykolaiv court ruled to extradite him to Turkey, where he was wanted on charges of being a member of the Gulen movement. According to press reports, authorities immediately transported Inan to Turkey, denying him the ability to appeal the court decision or apply for asylum.
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. As of July 1, only seven persons had received refugee status since the start of the year. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.
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: Most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. 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. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). Some reports, however, indicated the government did not always provide payment.
Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked 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.
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 also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1, authorities had provided complementary protection to 37 persons during the year, bringing the overall total to 739.
UNHCR estimated there were 35,463 stateless persons in the country at year’s end. Persons who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness 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 were no longer able to obtain one.
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 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.