The monitoring visit to the liberated territories of Luhansk region

During the occupation, the scale of the abduction and torture of people in the north of Luhansk region was similar to the situation in Slovyansk. This conclusion was made by the mobile monitoring group of the Center for Civil Liberties that visited Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, and Rubizhne in December last year.

This visit was in line with the Center's work on documenting human rights violations in eastern Ukraine. The monitoring group was to study the situation of human rights violations during April-July 2014, which roughly corresponds to the period of occupation of the region by illegal armed groups (IAGs). The object of monitoring was fundamental rights, namely the rights to life and freedom from torture, guaranteed by international and national laws. The group investigated cases of kidnapping, holding hostages, torturing, and extrajudicial executions.
During their visit, monitors communicated with victims and witnesses of human rights violations, their relatives, local human rights activists and journalists, as well as newly appointed representatives of local authorities and the police. The purpose of these communications was to create a generalized idea of the extent, nature, causes, and consequences of the occupation of the region by the IAGs in terms of violations of human rights. In addition, monitors set the goal to learn about the progress of the investigation of such cases by local law enforcement agencies. The researchers also tried to visit places of holding hostages, but in most cases it was not possible because the police were investigating these areas.
"In an effort to establish a total control over the so-called self-proclaimed republics, Russia demonstrated true 'methods' of terrorist groups. It demonstrated selectively. The cynicism of the situation is that some criminals, who kidnap and torture civilians, now are judging and annihilating – according to how 'Batman' was killed – other criminals, who kidnap and torture civilians. A reference to complaints of torture evidence in "Prosecutor General's Office of Luhansk People's Republic" has nothing to do with the reason for annihilating Oleksandr Byednov. Actually, regardless of the sphere of influence of a paramilitary commander, torture, extrajudicial executions, and taking hostages is a common established practice in the 'Luhansk People's Republic'/'Donetsk People's Republic'," noted Oleksandra MATVIYCHUK, Coordinator of Euromaidan SOS, Chairperson of the Board of the Center for Civil Liberties.
The feature of northern Luhansk region is that since the Soviet era it has had considerable industrial power, which has become almost extinct in recent decades. Often, the industrial plants are used in the scheme of holding hostages. Also, the very economic structure of the region, established on the ruins of this industrial region (and its consequences as the total destruction of infrastructure, high unemployment, and considerable social depression), contributed to the success of the militants and possibility of the scenario of destabilizing the situation in the region. One of the features of the region is the absence of the unanimous undisputed leader. It resulted in chaotic activities of illegal armed groups, which, however, do not prevent them from working for a common goal and using identical methods.
"Going to the north of Lugansk region, we set the primary goal to understand the actual extent of abduction and torture of people on the territories of Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, and Rubizhne, what groups were operating in those cities, what methods they used to hold hostages. I assure you that the scope is impressive and their methods are not less terrible than methods of their colleagues from 'Donetsk People's Republic'," said Mariya TOMAK, a member of the monitoring team and one of the authors of the report. "In this context, I do not fully understand why even liberal Russian media is so surprised with public confessions of 'torture chambers staff' of 'Luhansk People's Republic' of using hammers and plastic pipes when interrogating people. Unfortunately, this is not an exhaustive list of tools of 'inquiry,' there are much worse cases. They are included in our report. Indeed, this report covers the period of occupation, which was over for the north of Luhansk in the summer. But let's think about those characters who were engaged in systematic abduction and torture of civilians (including Mozhovyi with his 'Prizrak'), were not neutralized, but just moved to the east and, apparently, continue their 'activities'."
After reviewing the situation with the investigation of the abduction and torture cases, monitors concluded that law enforcement efforts are not sufficient. Unfortunately, this factor among others ensures that victims and witnesses of human rights violations are less likely to cooperate even with monitors because they do not trust state representatives and anyone in general, fearing the return of 'Luhansk People's Republic' and physical violence.
"We document all violations of human rights in order to help both Ukrainian and international communities understand the real situation in eastern Ukraine. But the main goal of our work is to make our authorities to protect human rights throughout Ukraine. For this purpose it is of critical importance to provide an objective investigation of all episodes of human rights violations that have been documented (although the real number is much higher) in the liberated areas. However, as we found out, the current status of the investigation of such cases indicates either deliberate sabotage or low qualifications of 'investigator' or, as they say, the lack of political will – determining the task as low priority by leadership leads to insufficient resources to ensure its implementation. Of course, there is a possibility that all these factors affect the situation at the same time. But, in any case, the situation of inefficient investigations must be solved," commented Oleksandra ROMANTSOVA, Head of mobile groups of the Center for Civil Liberties.
As a result of the monitoring visit, a number of requests were sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Security Service of Ukraine to investigate crimes committed during the occupation of the cities. Currently, we are awaiting a response.
To view the report, please follow the link below
Activity of the monitoring groups is held in the frames of the "Democratization, human rights and civil society development" project, implemented by UNDP Ukraine and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark during 2013-2016.