Ukraine: Grave human rights violations in territories under recent Russian control

Geneva-Brussels, March 16, 2022 – As the Russian Federation extends its control of Ukrainian territories a systematic policy of grave human rights violations is unfolding. At least six cases of enforced disappearances and four extrajudicial killings of civilians have been documented in the recently occupied regions of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv and Luhansk. These patterns are similar to those already documented in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine since 2014, where torture, kidnappings and executions have become the norm under Russian occupation.

As the Russian army secures control over some territories in Ukraine, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and its Ukrainian partners have documented at least six cases of enforced disappearances and incommunicado arbitrary detention, as well as at least four extrajudicial executions of journalists, human rights defenders and representatives of local authorities in March 2022 alone. This very worrying trend indicates that the Russian forces may be as negligent of human rights in the occupation of these territories as they were during the conflict, when the army shelled civilians and humanitarian corridors.

Grave human rights violations targeting human rights defenders, journalists and activists

On March 12, 2022, Oleg Baturin, a Ukrainian journalist working for the Novy Den newspaper and member of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), was allegedly abducted by Russian soldiers in the Kherson region. At about 4 pm, Oleg Baturin received a call from an acquaintance who proposed to meet him at a bus station located near the journalist’s house, in the town of Kakhovka. Oleg Baturin left his phone and documents at home, and promised to be back in 20 minutes. The journalist’s whereabouts have remained unknown since then. On the same day, at around 4:50 pm, Russian soldiers were seen by locals near the Kakhovka bus station, where Oleg Baturin was supposed to meet his acquaintance.

On the same day, a pro-Ukrainian activist and journalist Serhiy Tsyhipa disappeared in the neighbouring town of Nova Kakhovka, in the 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. Serhiy Tsyhipa has not been in touch since then, and his family has no official information about his whereabouts. His daughter found out that he was being held in detention in Kherson in order to prevent him from spreading unwanted information about the war in the region. Before his enforced disappearance he covered the news of the occupied town.

On March 11, 2022, at 3 pm, the Russian military abducted Ivan Fedorov, the Mayor of Melitopol town, by breaking into the town hall. According to the Mayor’s Office of Melitopol, the Russian military pulled a black plastic bag over Fedorov’s head, forced him out of his office, put him in a car and drove him away in an unknown direction. This version seemed to be corroborated by a video from security cameras. On March 14, 2022, the Ukrainian authorities reported that Ivan Fedorov was detained in the occupied town of Luhansk and was charged with “terrorism”. It should be noted that, shortly before his arrest, Ivan Fedorov refused to issue a statement legitimizing the Russian invasion. On March 16, 2022, the Office of the President of Ukraine reported that Ivan Fedorov was released in exchange for 9 captured Russian soldiers.

On March 12, 2022, Olga Haisumova, Head of the NGO "Melitopol Conscious Society" and one of organizers of a pro-Ukrainian protest in occupied Melitopol, was kidnapped by Russian soldiers straight from the protest rally in Melitopol . Her whereabouts have remained unknown since then. NGO "Melitopol Conscious Society" conducted charitable collections of food and financial support for the Ukrainian army, and coordinated civil actions in support of the sovereignty of Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian media reports, rallies against the Russian invasion have been met with violence. Russian troops tried to disperse protesters by shooting in the air. One participant to a pro-Ukrainian rally in Kherson was wounded in the leg by a rubber bullet.

Grave human rights violations targeting Ukrainian political representatives

Ukrainian media report that on the morning of March 13, 2022, the Head of the Melitopol District Council Serhiy Pryima was detained by eight Russian military men who broke into his apartment to conduct a raid. During the raid, the military confiscated all his documents and mobile devices, and demanded his passwords. After the raid, the Russian military took Serhiy Pryyma away in an unknown direction. His whereabouts have remained unknown since then.

On March 13, 2022, the Head of the Zaporizhzhia Regional State Administration announced that the Russian military had kidnapped Yevhen Matveyev, the Mayor of the Dniprorudne town in the Zaporizhzhia Region. On March 14, 2022, Ukrainian authorities reported that his whereabouts remained unknown.

Member of Parliament Dmytro Lubinets informed Ukrainian human rights organisations about the detention by the Russian military of more than 20 pro-Ukrainian activists in the city of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region. Their names are unknown and this information could not be verified upon publication of this note.

Cases of extrajudicial executions of local politicians and civil activists have also been confirmed in the Kyiv and Luhansk regions.

The local self-government body of the Gostomel village, in the Kyiv region, reported that on March 7, 2022, Yuriy Prylypko, the Head of this local self-government, was shot dead by the Russian military along with two volunteers Ruslan Karpenko and Ivan Zorya, while they were delivering food and medicine to local residents.

On March 13, 2022, the Head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration reported that the Russian military had killed pro-Ukrainian activist Oleksandr Kononov, who was shot dead in his wheelchair in his home near Severodonetsk city, Luhansk region.

Conclusions and recommendations

The above-mentioned attacks seem to demonstrate that in the territories under Russian military control, two groups of civilians are particularly targeted: 1) local authorities or opinion leaders who openly oppose collaboration with the occupiers, and 2) pro-Ukrainian activists and humanitarian volunteers who provide assistance to the civilian population.

The OMCT recalls that similar attacks have been documented in Russian-occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine since 2014.

More wide-scale persecution of civilian population is to be feared in the territories fallen under Russian control, in the form of attacks, enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial executions.

We call on the international community to urge the authorities of the Russian Federation to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release all the above-mentioned persons;
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances their physical integrity and psychological well-being as well as that of all civilians, including human rights defenders, pro-Ukrainian activists, journalists and representatives of local self-government bodies in Ukrainian territories under Russian control;
  3. Ensure international monitoring and humanitarian work in Ukraine without any hindrance or reprisals.

We further call on the international community to provide support to Ukrainian non-governmental organisations in all forms relevant in the present-day situation of armed conflict.