a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports indicating the government or its agents possibly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) is responsible for investigation of crimes allegedly committed by law enforcement agencies. On March 5, Denys Kireyev, a member of a Ukrainian delegation that conducted early negotiations with Russia, was allegedly killed during his arrest by the Security Service of Ukraine after it obtained a recording of Kireyev allegedly implicating himself in treason. Senior government sources have since disputed any claims of treason by Kireyev. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the circumstances of Kireyev’s death remain unclear. An SBI investigation into the killing continued as of December.
Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths resulting from torture or negligence by police or prison officers. There were no updates to proceedings opened in 2021 in cases involving the death of inmate Oleg Bereznyi, which observers assess were likely caused by abuse at the Zhytomyr Pretrial Detention Facility.
The investigation of the August 2021 death of exiled Belarusian human rights activist Vitaly Shyshou (often reported as Vitaly Shishov) continued at year’s end. Shyshou disappeared in August 2021 after leaving his Kyiv home and his body was found hanged from a tree the following day. He had been in Kyiv since fall 2020 and helped found Belarus House, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that assists Belarusians fleeing the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Belarus House representatives stated they believed Shyshou’s death was an act of transnational repression by the Belarusian State Security Committee in line with the Lukashenka regime’s crackdown and repression against civil society activists.
Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions and frequent delays despite the existence of considerable evidence and the SBI’s establishment in 2020 of a special unit to investigate malfeasance of high-ranking government and law enforcement officials. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted some progress had been made in investigating the killings during 2021 criminal proceedings but Russia’s full-scale invasion hampered further investigations during the year. There were more than 60 alleged perpetrators of Revolution of Dignity killings, most of whom had absconded and were wanted.
There were extensive civilian casualties in connection with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine (see section 1.g. and the Russia-Occupied Areas subreport).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
There have been significant numbers of missing persons in Ukraine since Russia’s initial invasion in 2014. According to the International Commission on Missing Persons, more than 15,000 individuals were missing as of November. In order to establish a single focal point for investigating missing persons, parliament in April amended the Law on Legal Status of Missing Persons and appointed Oleh Kotenko Commissioner for Missing Persons under Special Circumstances. The government next planned to launch a national registry to unify all information on missing persons.
In connection with abuses during the 2013-14 Revolution of Dignity, eight additional suspects were charged in absentia of the abduction and torture of activist Ihor Lutsenko and the abduction and killing of Yuriy Verbitsky. Public protests that began on November 21, 2013, on Independence Square in Kyiv lasted until mid-February 2014. The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union and resulted in the removal of former Ukrainian President Yanukovych from office and triggered presidential elections in 2014.
According to the HRMMU, Russia-affiliated forces were involved in 34 cases of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention of civilians in Kharkiv oblast. Seven released detainees told the HRMMU they were abused in detention, including instances of malnutrition, torture, beatings, and sexual assault.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. Under normal circumstances, courts cannot legally use confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody as evidence in court proceedings, but the institution of martial law since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion permits this. There were reports law enforcement and military officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions, usually related to collaboration with Russia (see section 1.g.).
Impunity for abuses committed by Ukrainian law enforcement and the Security Service of Ukraine remained a problem, and they were often not held accountable.
For example, on January 6, Ukrainian State Security officers came to the homes of Kazakh activists Zamanbek Tleuliyev and Yeldos Nasypbekov and threatened them with deportation. Tleuliyev said officers beat him, knocking out four of his teeth. In both instances, security officers presented no documents of imminent deportation.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented a case of a man who was abused by the Security Service of Ukraine in May. The man traveled to Zaporizhzhya Oblast in early May to file a complaint against members of Russia’s armed forces who had allegedly detained and tortured him during a previous visit. When he arrived at the local Security Service building, unknown men in masks beat, undressed, and searched him. His assailants then blindfolded him, held him in detention, and continued to beat him. He was held incommunicado until May 24, when he was accused of collaboration with Russia and remanded in custody.
Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Revolution of Dignity protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. On December 5, the Pechersky court in Kyiv convicted Berkut riot police officer Ihor Sadovnychenko of beating a protester at the building of the Presidential Administration and sentenced him to eight years in prison. The investigation and trial were held in absentia because the suspect allegedly fled to Russia in 2015.
According to multiple sources, investigators and reporters found retreating Russian troops left signs of mass torture across at least five provinces (Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, and Mykolaiv) often in residential and civilian buildings. These same sources reported mass graves in Izyum (Kharkiv Oblast), and Lyman (Mykolaiv Oblast). In Bucha (Kyiv Oblast), men were abused and executed in the basement of a children’s summer camp. In Izyum, Russia’s soldiers used a kindergarten and a medical clinic to conduct abuses. Those detained relay similar accounts: some were taken from their homes, from the street, or from an outdoor market, and held for up to 14 days. Survivors said they were beaten with fists, rifle butts, metal pipes, plastic pipes, a rubber hose, and in one instance a stick with a bag of sand at the end. One was detained five times and tortured multiple times during each detention. Survivors described being subjected to electric shock, waterboarding, severe beatings, threats at gunpoint, and being forced to hold stress positions for extended periods.
In its December report, OHCHR noted 422 bodies were discovered by investigators in Bucha. The same report documented that at least 73 civilians in Bucha were killed by Russia’s armed forces; more than 100 additional killings were being investigated. Most of the victims were either summarily executed or shot while leaving their homes. According to multiple sources, Russia’s forces systematically tortured a subset of civilians and POWs prior to execution.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.
Abusive Physical Conditions: By mid-March approximately 30 penal institutions were located in areas of active conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces. In April, the Ministry of Justice announced the evacuation of prisoners from 40 facilities as well as 2,500 inmates from Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhya oblast prisons. Some institutions, such as the detention center in Chernihiv, were damaged during shelling. Overcrowding remained a problem in some pretrial detention facilities, although human rights organizations reported overcrowding at such centers decreased because of reforms in 2016 that eased detention requirements for suspects.
Monitors from the Ombudsperson’s Office, the National Preventive Mechanism, and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) reported poor conditions at a Kyiv detention center, a correctional colony in Bila Tserkva, Kyiv Oblast, and in the medical unit of Dniprovska Penitentiary 4, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, during January visits. The facilities were crowded and lacked adequate lighting, walls were damp and covered with mold, and frayed and exposed electrical wires posed a danger to the life and health of detainees. While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports juveniles and adults were held together in some pretrial detention facilities.
Physical abuse by guards was a problem. On July 7, Deputy Head of the Polytska correctional colony in Rivne Oblast, Oleksandr Muzyka, allegedly beat a prisoner with a rubber baton. Muzyka was charged with exceeding his official authority. The State Bureau for Investigations was investigating the case as of early October.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. On July 25, convicts rioted in Polytska correctional colony No. 76 in Rivne Oblast; seven prisoners suffered bodily injuries, and one was transferred to the prison medical unit. Representatives of the Ombudsperson’s Office conducted a monitoring visit and established inmates were injured by other convicts. The KHPG reported prison staff routinely allowed “duty prisoners,” a select group of prisoners appointed by staff to maintain discipline, to punish newly arrived prisoners who refused to comply with their orders. In September, KHPG monitors visited Sofiyivska correctional colony No. 45 in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. They observed duty prisoners enjoyed greater privileges and abused inmates with disabilities. Monitors recorded duty prisoners allegedly injured elderly convicts in medical units.
Most detention facilities were old and needed renovation or replacement. According to a KHPG report, conditions in many places of detention constituted inhuman or degrading treatment. The KHPG reported some cells and facilities had very poor sanitary conditions. Some detainees reported their cells were poorly ventilated and infested with insects. Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low and medium security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities. Detainees in temporary detention facilities often had to take turns sleeping due to a lack of beds, according to the KHPG.
The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the 2019 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to the Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), in some prisons, inmates had access to showers only once a week. According to the KHPG, most hygiene products, including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products, were not provided, and detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.
The United Nations and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care in prisons. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including providers of gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all medications, with an overreliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison health-care facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering and delayed diagnoses and treatment.
On June 20, KHPG monitors visited Korosten Correctional Colony No. 71 in Zhytomyr Oblast. Medical staff diagnosed an inmate with late-stage cancer, but the prison administrative staff was negligent in providing proper documentation to the Korosten city court so he could be released. The inmate later died in prison. The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-occupied areas remained harsh and life threatening (see section 1.g. and the Russia-Occupied Areas subreport).
Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints concerning conditions in custody with the Ombudsperson’s Office, human rights organizations stated prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Human rights groups reported laws and regulations did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints, and authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints. During a February visit to prison No. 45 in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, KHPG monitors received information prison authorities did not allow inmates to file complaints regarding their treatment or conditions of custody. Inmates complained prison authorities and so-called assistants from the inmate population used cruel and degrading treatment, as well as physical and sexual violence.
While officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors, prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for visits to which they were entitled by law.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, Ombudsperson’s Office, and HRMMU.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements. The OHCHR claimed the Security Service of Ukraine may have violated the due process rights of many of the more than 1,000 individuals it reportedly arrested between February 24 and May 15 on suspicion of supporting Russia’s forces. HRMMU’s update on December 2, covering the period of August 1 to October 31, documented that Ukrainian armed forces and law enforcement bodies committed 53 cases of arbitrary detention.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law authorities may detain a suspect for 72 hours before a judge must authorize continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant. In accordance with martial law introduced in February, the period of lawful detention without a warrant was extended from 72 hours to 260 hours and stayed in effect until August 25, when it reverted to 72 hours. Article 177 of the Criminal Procedure Code establishes a bail system. A court may, in lieu of detention, order house arrest; release on personal recognizance; release on the guarantee of a high official; or limit liberty (house arrest, travel ban) pending trial.
Arbitrary Arrest: The OHCHR documented that the country’s law enforcement agencies and armed forces were responsible for arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances on government-controlled territory. Seven unofficial places of detention were reported, including private apartments, basements, and abandoned buildings.
Arbitrary arrest of civilians was widespread in Russia-occupied parts of the country. According to the OHCHR, Russia and its proxies held victims incommunicado in unofficial places of detention, including warehouses and barns, without access to relatives and lawyers. Some of these individuals were later transferred to Russian territory (see section 1.g.).
Pretrial Detention: Under law, pretrial detention should generally not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones, but it often reportedly did for many individuals. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended pretrial detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions.
The KHPG noted pretrial detention often lasted two months but could be extended. When cases were delayed beyond two months, precautionary measures were usually eased, such as permitting house arrest or temporary release. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement.
The NGO Association of Ukrainian Monitors on Human Rights in Law Enforcement continued to report a widespread practice of unrecorded detention, in particular the unrecorded presence in police stations of persons “invited” for “voluntary talks” with police and noted several allegations of physical mistreatment that took place during a period of unrecorded detention. Authorities occasionally held suspects incommunicado, in some cases for several weeks.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained highly vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low, except for the High Anti-Corruption Court.
Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor General, systemic corruption among judges and prosecutors persisted. Civil society groups continued to report weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Russia’s invasion slowed down judicial proceedings, while other factors, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding and staffing, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings impeded fair trial guarantees.
Attacks on lawyers were often associated with their defense of clients in politically sensitive criminal cases. Such attacks undermined the ability of lawyers to adequately perform their duties and advocate for the rights of their clients. The Kyiv Bar Association reported in February unknown persons fired a grenade launcher at defense lawyers’ offices in Kyiv. Police were investigating the incident at year’s end.
In previous years judges, defendants, and defense lawyers reported instances of intimidation by members of violent radical groups, but according to the Zmina Human Rights Center, no cases were recorded during the year. Zmina attributed this to constraints on protests due to martial law and conscription.
Outcomes of trials sometimes appeared predetermined by government or other interference. Court-monitoring groups criticized procedural violations in investigations and trials, including improper reliance on hearsay evidence and written witness testimony. Human rights NGOs attributed these alleged violations to possible biases of the judges and political pressure from senior justice and law enforcement officials.
The constitution and criminal code provide for the right to a fair and public trial. Human rights groups noted judges and defense lawyers’ reliance on ineffective investigations and misuse of trial extensions sometimes caused undue trial delays. The National Bar Association criticized amendments to the Criminal Code pursuant to the institution of martial law in February, claiming the changes compromised the objectivity of investigations and significantly weakened the due-process rights of defendants. The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although some pointed to high conviction rates as a reason to call into question the legal presumption of innocence.
The criminal code allows investigations to be conducted in absentia, removing what human rights groups considered a key obstacle to investigating human rights abuses.
Authorities failed to effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators for interfering in investigations and manipulating court proceedings. Court monitoring groups reported judges sometimes admitted hearsay as evidence and allowed witnesses to submit testimony in writing rather than appear in person, although the Criminal Code does have provision to admit hearsay if a witness is absent from the country or medically not able to testify.
Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While procedures require trials to start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees in the government-controlled area of Ukraine.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the Office of the Ombudsperson and to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting domestic legal remedies.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues but had not passed any laws dealing with the restitution of private or communal property, although the latter was partly resolved through regulations and decrees. In recent years most successful cases of restitution took place because of tacit and behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of Jewish groups.
For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.
By law the Security Service may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. The Security Service and law enforcement agencies, however, sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant, which human rights groups partially attributed to the Security Service’s wide mandate to conduct both law enforcement and counterintelligence tasks. In an emergency, authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the Security Service that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. There was no implementing legislation, and authorities generally did not respect these rights. Many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.
Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps to block access to websites based on “national security concerns” (see section 2.a.).
g. Conflict-related Abuses
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February significantly raised the level of violence and scope of abuses throughout the country. Russia armed, trained, and led proxy forces it formed from those mobilized in territories under its occupation (including parts of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts and Crimea). Russia’s forces and its proxy forces throughout the conflict methodically obstructed, harassed, and intimidated international monitors, denying them access to systematically record abuses. International organizations and NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the OSCE, and the HRMMU, issued periodic reports documenting abuses committed by Russia and Ukraine during the war. (See the Russia-occupied areas section for abuses by Russia and Russia’s proxy forces committed in occupied areas.)
In July the OSCE suspended all activities in Ukraine due to the Russian Federation’s blocking of consensus in the OSCE’s Permanent Council to extend the Special Monitoring Mission, which was tasked with observing and reporting on the security situation in Ukraine. Some activities resumed by September 29, when Ukraine’s first deputy minister of foreign affairs and the OSCE’s secretary general held a letter exchange ceremony. This included the launch of a new donor-funded Support Programme for Ukraine, which provides support to both immediate challenges to civilians posed by the war as well as the long-term democratic and social resilience of Ukrainian institutions.
Russia’s full-scale invasion in February significantly increased the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine, according to the International Organization for Migration. By year’s end, there were more than five million IDPs and eight million Ukrainian refugees outside the country.
The HRMMU noted hostilities continued to affect the lives of civilians throughout the country, but particularly those residing in or near the Russia-occupied areas. Regular exchanges of fire across the line of contact exposed those residents to the constant threat of death or injury, while their property and critical infrastructure continued to be destroyed or damaged in the fighting.
On October 18, the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine concluded that an array of war crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been committed by Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine, based on its investigations of the events of Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy Oblasts in late February and March.
The commission documented patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, rape, and other sexual violence committed in areas occupied by Russia’s armed forces. Russia’s forces also detained and unlawfully deported populations to the Russian Federation, including tens of thousands of children, including at least 2,000 orphans, and many were still reported missing. Sexual violence was widespread and affected survivors of all ages. Family members, including children, were sometimes forced to witness the crimes.
Killings: As of December 11, the OHCHR recorded 17,362 civilian casualties, following Russia’s full-scale invasion; 6,755 killed and 10,607 injured. Of those killed, 4,005 were in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (see Russian-Occupied Areas section). The OHCHR estimated the actual figures were considerably higher but continued fighting constrained its documentation efforts. The OHCHR assessed most of these casualties were due to explosive weapons with wide-area effects, including heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles, and air strikes.
Abductions: In its report covering the first half of the year, the OHCHR documented 31 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention that may amount to enforced disappearances in Ukraine government-controlled territory since Russia’s invasion in February. The OHCHR notes 29 of the victims were subsequently either released or their relatives received confirmation of their official detention. Ukraine’s national police registered more than 9,000 missing-persons reports since Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
On March 23, members of Russia’s military kidnapped Olha Sukhenko, head of the Motyzhyn village council in Kyiv Oblast, along with her husband and son. Reportedly Russia’s military personnel interrogated the victims, searched their house, and stole their property. Their bodies were found 10 days later.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports Ukrainian security forces and Russia’s forces abused civilians and captured fighters, with the vast majority of abuses perpetrated by the Russian side. Observers noted the active hostilities and insecurity in conflict-affected territories compounded the situation and made it difficult to document abuses. Monitors noted they were able to conduct observations and had access to detention facilities, including for prisoners of war, on Ukrainian government-controlled territory.
The OHCHR documented a case involving three members of the Russian military who approached a house in Kyiv Oblast in March and questioned a woman regarding her husband. When she said he had died, one of the soldiers ordered her to undress, threatening that if she did not comply, the situation would “get worse.” He forced her naked outside, poking his rifle at her and then resting it between her legs and buttocks. He ordered her to turn around while two other servicemen watched and laughed. He then pushed her into the house, knocked her down on the sofa with the rifle, and raped her twice.
OHCHR monitors expressed concerns regarding Ukraine’s recurring human rights and international humanitarian law violations in trials against members of Russia’s armed forces and affiliated armed groups. The OHCHR documented 27 cases of unjust detention, disappearance, torture, ill-treatment of defendants and suspects in order to compel them to testify, procedural violations for house searches or arrests, and lack of access to legal counsel during the initial period of detention and interrogation. The organization documented violations of the right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or confess one’s guilt, and the right to prepare a defense. The OHCHR reported Ukrainian prosecutors and investigators offered defendants the choice of either confessing in court, and thereby possibly being released during an exchange of prisoners, or serving long prison terms.
Prior to July, there was no procedure to offer a defendant to be exchanged, and even after the procedure was formally established, there was no guarantee a particular defendant would be included in any exchange. Those defendants who committed a grave crime were afforded an opportunity to evade standing trial and any punishment in return for a confession, depriving victims of justice and the ability to seek compensation.
The OHCHR noted defendants from Russia-affiliated armed groups captured after February 24 were sentenced to prison terms of 11 to 15 years on charges of violating territorial integrity, state treason, membership in a terrorist organization, membership in unlawful armed formations, and unlawful possession of firearms. The OHCHR noted the prosecution for state treason of persons serving in Russia-affiliated armed groups was inconsistent with the principle of combatant immunity and jeopardized eventual accountability for proceedings of those individuals.
As of July 31, the OHCHR conducted confidential interviews with 142 prisoners of war in seven facilities run by the Ukrainian government with full and unimpeded access. As of the same date, despite requests, the OHCHR had no access to prisoners of war interned by the Russian Federation and affiliated armed groups.
The OSCE reported in April there were allegations that Russia’s forces used Ukrainian civilians to protect themselves from Ukrainian resistance. According to a BBC interview with survivors, on March 14 Russia’s soldiers in Obukhovychi in Kyiv Oblast rounded up civilians to use them as human shields. Approximately 150 civilians, including elderly persons and children, were removed from their hiding places at gunpoint and taken by Russia’s forces to a school where they were detained for 24 hours, reportedly to be used as human shields.
As of October 31, the OHCHR documented summary executions and attacks on individual civilians by Russia’s armed forces in 102 villages and towns of the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy Oblasts between February 24 and April 6 in situations not linked to active fighting.
Russia’s armed forces routinely bombarded civilian areas, leading to the deaths of 441 civilians. For example, some of the heaviest casualties were reported during Russia’s seizure of Bucha, from February to April. As of October 31, the OHCHR documented Russia’s armed forces killed 73 civilians in Bucha and was in the process of corroborating an additional 105 alleged killings. According to the OHCHR, most of the victims were either summarily executed or shot while leaving their homes to gather supplies or seek safety.
According to multiple sources, including the OHCHR, survivors in liberated territories also recounted torture and other physical abuse at the hands of Russia’s forces. Advancing Ukrainian forces found indications of torture chambers (in Pisky-Radkivski and Bucha) and mass graves (Izyum) where excavated bodies bore visible marks of torture – bound hands, knife wounds, and broken limbs. Liberating forces in Irpin (Kyiv Oblast) discovered 290 civilian bodies left behind after Russia’s forces retreated in March. There were eyewitness reports of Russia’s service members forcing adults and children to witness Russia’s forces gang rape family members. Russia’s forces evicted residents from their homes and forced them to live in basements and sheds without access to food, water, or heat, and residents were unable to bury the bodies of slain family members.
In Ukrainian government-controlled territory, the HRMMU continued to receive allegations the Security Service of Ukraine detained and abused individuals in both official and unofficial places of detention to obtain information and pressure suspects to confess or cooperate. The HRMMU reported 34 cases of government law enforcement bodies allegedly torturing and abusing detainees who were suspected of collaborating with Russia’s forces or causing their disappearance. Ukrainian law enforcement bodies denied allegations of torture or brutal interrogations of detainees in liberated areas; they stated they were conducting stabilization measures to determine whether populations collaborated with Russia. Ukrainian law enforcement insist they extend due process to those whom they are screening in full compliance with applicable international human rights obligations and commitments. On October 5, former Deputy Chief of the Ukrainian State Security Service Viktor Yahun discussed the release of the Director of Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant Ihor Murashov. Yahun explained it was normal procedure for Ukrainian counterintelligence to screen and polygraph high-ranking officials with top level security clearances whom Russia had detained.
According to the HRMMU, the lack of effective investigation into previously documented cases of torture and other physical abuse by Ukrainian officials remained a concern.
During the year, the HRMMU received credible allegations of conflict-related sexual violence against civilians in areas of Kharkiv and Kherson regions over which Ukraine regained control in September, as well as areas currently occupied by the Russian Federation. Since February 24, the HRMMU has documented 86 cases of conflict-related sexual violence against women, men, and girls, including rape, gang rape, forced nudity and forced public stripping, sexual torture, and sexual abuse. The cases occurred in different regions of Ukraine and in a penitentiary facility in the Russian Federation. Russia’s armed forces or law enforcement perpetrated the vast majority of the violations. In 53 cases, sexual violence was used as part of torture and ill-treatment in the context of detention.
In Ukrainian government-controlled territory, the OHCHR documented the pervasive use of extrajudicial punishment of individuals believed to have looted, stolen, or otherwise exploited the chaotic security situation following Russia’s invasion. In most cases, civilians carried out the extrajudicial punishments, which included tying individuals to trees or electricity poles in public areas, stripping them, and sometimes beating them. Public officials in some regions encouraged the extrajudicial punishments, and some National Police officers and members of the Territorial Defense Forces reportedly took part in the abuse.
On March 4, police in Novovolynsk in Volyn Oblast arrested a man for trespassing and attempted robbery at a private residence. Upon his release from police custody, local residents reportedly tied him to a pole and repeatedly struck his buttocks. The man later died while left tied to the pole in cold temperatures. Police reportedly interrogated witnesses, but no charges were brought.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: On October 10, Ukrainian authorities reported Russia launched missiles into Kyiv and other cities, destroying civilian infrastructure. The culture minister stated the missiles damaged several buildings at Shevchenko University as well as two foreign diplomatic missions.
The Ministry of Reintegration reported that Russia’s forces forcibly transported an estimated tens of thousands of children from Ukraine to Russia, with differing degrees of consent or knowledge from their legal guardians. The exact number of children involved was unknown and estimates widely vary. On December 14, Ombudsperson Dmytro Lubinets stated that Ukraine reported more than 12,000 Ukrainian children were in Russia, of which approximately 8,600 were forcibly deported. A report by Yale’s Conflict Observatory identified at least 6,000 children forcibly relocated by Russia. According to the human rights NGO Coalition Ukraine 5 A M, Russia has potentially deported as many as 260,000 to 700,000 Ukrainian children, although it is unclear how much of this population were moved through filtration operations or separated from their families.
According to the NGO Zmina, in some cases parents of the affected children initially gave permission for their children to be evacuated to so-called summer camps, ostensibly for their safety. Other deportations included children with disabilities or those living in institutions, orphanages, or other areas of fighting. Some children were then put up for adoption to Russian parents. Others were not able to leave camps once enrolled. Most camps involved an element of re-education and indoctrination into Russian language, culture, and history.
In one example, Yevhen Mezhevyi from Mariupol was separated from his three minor children at a checkpoint as they fled the besieged city. Mezhevji said authorities initially detained him on suspicion of possible military connections. When freed, he discovered his children had been sent to Moscow. Mezhevyi traveled through Russia for two days before finally reaching his children. Mezhevyi’s nine-year-old daughter said she and her siblings were spoiled with gifts and were pressured to choose whether to go to an orphanage or stay with a foster family in Russia.
The Ministry of Reintegration stated Russia and Russia-led proxy forces sometimes refused to return the children to their parents when Ukrainian forces liberated formerly Russia-controlled territories.