Russian authorities keep Ukrainian civilian detainees incommunicado for months
Brussels-Geneva-Kyiv, 27 June 2022 – The Russian military detains and transfers Ukrainian civilians to detention centres in Russia, keeping them completely incommunicado for months, the World Organisation Against Torture said today.
“I made a lot of efforts to find my brother, who was abducted by the Russian military in the Kyiv region while he was trying to warn neighbours about shelling”, said Anna Shtuvbeina, speaking of her brother Vasyl Volokhin. “Now I know where he is, from unofficial sources. Despite this, I cannot send him a letter and find out about his state of health through a lawyer. I do not understand how to release him. We asked for help everywhere. But Russia just does not confirm his detention.’
The OMCT and its partners in Ukraine have verified and documented 30 cases of Ukrainian civilians abducted or detained by the Russian military between February and April 2022. Over one third – 11 people – were transferred to prison facilities in the Bryansk and Kursk regions of Russia and occupied Crimea. Some people were transferred to Russia via Belarus. Civilians are held in pre-trial detention centres, penal colonies, and other places of detention. The grounds for detention are unknown and a number of cases qualify as arbitrary detention.
Russian State bodies, including administrations of places of detention, refuse to confirm that victims are being held and do not allow any communication with relatives, even when the families find out through unofficial channels that their loved one is being held in that particular place. Lawyers who work on these cases are denied the right to meet with their clients to provide legal assistance, and experience pressure from the Russian authorities. Independent members of Public Oversight Commissions are also not allowed to visit the places of detention where civilian detainees from Ukraine are held. The result is that civilian detainees are kept completely incommunicado for weeks and months.
Families receive information about the detainees from news broadcasts on Russian State TV channels and from prisoners of war (PoWs) released during exchanges. To date, relatives of these 29 victims have not received any official information about the exact whereabouts of their loved ones, despite contacting both Ukrainian and Russian State bodies.
The cases described below illustrate this trend:
On March 12, 2022, journalist Serhiy Tsyhipa disappeared in the town of Nova Kakhovka, Kherson region. Serhiy Tsyhipa left home with his dog at 10 am. The dog was later found tied up near the building of the town Executive committee. Mr Tsyhipa has not been in touch since then. Before his enforced disappearance, he covered the news of his occupied town. On April 23, the Russian media published a video with Mr Tsyhipa, in which he says that he has been in Russia for several weeks. His family believes this video may have been recorded under pressure, as Mr Tsyhipa uttered Russian propaganda messages that are inconsistent with his beliefs and professional commitments. The relatives submitted a statement to Ukrainian law enforcement authorities and appealed to the office of the Ukrainian Ombudsperson and the Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, which compiles lists of prisoners of war and missing persons in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Despite these efforts, Serhiy Tsyhipa's family has no information on his whereabouts or place of detention, nor do they have any communication with him.
On March 5, 2022, Vasyl Volokhin, a humanitarian aid volunteer, was abducted in the village of Dymer, Kyiv region. In early April, a Ukrainian soldier who had been released as a result of an exchange of PoWs informed Mr Volokhin's family that he had been held with Vasyl in a place of detention in the Bryansk region of Russia. Later, the family found out from another credible source that Mr Volokhin was being held in penal colony №2 in Bryansk, Russia. The administration of the penal colony denies that he is there. The family applied to the National Police of Ukraine, the Ukrainian prosecutor's office and the Ukrainian Ombudsperson's office. They also sent written appeals to the Russian Ombudsperson's office twice but did not receive any information.
On February 26, 2022, Bogdan Shcherba, Ramiz Musaev, and Roman Kissel, who lived in Lub’yanka village, Kyiv region, were abducted by the Russian military during an attempt to evacuate a relative from a village under shelling. On March 12, their relatives saw a news broadcast with Bogdan Shcherba and Ramiz Musaev on Russian State TV. On April 25, their families were told by a former prisoner of war who had been recently released that Bogdan Shcherba, Ramiz Musaev, and Roman Kissel were held in penal colony №11 in the Kursk region, Russia. In early March, relatives appealed to the Security Service of Ukraine, the Joint Center for the Search and Release of Prisoners of War, which operates under the Armed Forces of Ukraine (the Center is involved in the exchange of military and civilian people), the Ukrainian Ombudsperson, the Office of the President of Ukraine, and the ICRC. At the end of April, the ICRC confirmed to the relatives that Bogdan Shcherba, Ramiz Musaev, and Roman Kissel were in Russia, without providing the name of the place of detention or information about their wellbeing. The relatives were not given the opportunity to contact the detainees.
Though neither international humanitarian law nor international human rights law prohibits the detention of civilians in armed conflict as long as it is based on legal grounds, both legal frameworks provide for the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, as well as for legal and procedural guarantees, including access to lawyers and regular review of the legality of detention.
We call on the governments of the Russian Federation and Ukraine to:
- Publish the lists of civilians who have been detained in the context of the armed conflict and provide information about their whereabouts and status of health to their families.
We urge the governments of the Russian Federation to:
- Allow free communication between civilian detainees and their families;
- Guarantee freedom from torture and ill-treatment;
- Enforce basic legal guarantees such as access to proper medical care, access to a lawyer of their choice and the right to correspond with relatives;
- Provide a legal review of all detentions and release any civilians who are arbitrarily detained.
This crisis update is published based on information collected and verified in cooperation with the Human Rights Centre ZMINA (Kyiv, Ukraine), the Centre for Civil Liberties (Kyiv, Ukraine), the Media Initiative for Human Rights (Kyiv, Ukraine), the Information Resource Centre “Legal Space” (Kherson, Ukraine), the Crimean Human Rights Group (Kyiv, Ukraine).
The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the largest global NGO group actively standing up to torture and protecting human rights defenders worldwide. It has more than 200 members in 90 countries. Its international Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
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