In Kyiv, under the Presidential Administration, mothers of captured and missing Ukrainians in the occupied territories of Donbas, annexed Crimea and Russia lay on the asphalt in protest against the government’s inaction. In their hands, they held photos of their sons. The other day the action “Freedom to Ukrainian prisoners” took place here, which aimed to draw attention to the problem of return and search of prisoners in Donbas, Crimea, and Russia (photo).

This is a desperate attempt to draw attention to the fact that the Law on the Status of Missing Persons has not been working for two years, the search has not been conducted and termination of the working group at the President’s Office. The social protection of prisoners and their families in Ukraine raises no fewer questions.

More than six years have passed since the beginning of the occupation of part of the Donbas territories and the annexation of Crimea. During this time, more than 3,000 Ukrainians have been captured by militants, having been abused, humiliated, tortured, forced labor, maimed and executed.

Hundreds more Ukrainians remain in captivity in the occupied territories of Donbas, annexed Crimea and Russia. And we are talking not only about the military but also about civilian hostages who were taken prisoner for their civic position or for political reasons.

Yulia Polekhina, a lawyer with the SICH Human Rights Group, believes that effective state support and social protection programs have not been established for prisoners and their families during the ATO / JFO, and that the existing system of assistance to prisoners has a number of gaps.

“During the captivity of servicemen, payments in the amount of salary and all allowances are maintained. However, civilian hostages who suffered for their pro-Ukrainian position do not have such a guarantee and are forced to prove justice in court,” the lawyer commented.

A striking example is the story of a former prisoner from Donetsk, Valentyna Buchok, who, with the help of human rights activists, managed to get her average salary back in almost a year.

An employee of an energy company, who was collecting meter readings in the occupied territories, fell into the hands of militants during a work shift. The reason for the accusations of espionage were photos on the phone. During interrogations, the woman did not hide her pro-Ukrainian position, for which she survived beatings and torture. A puppet court sentenced 52-year-old Valentyna to 17 years in prison, of which she spent almost a year in captivity.

In the Supreme Court Olga Politova seeks a refund salary for the time of her captivity, wich doctor spent more than two years in captivity by DNR militants.

A 65-year-old resident of Donetsk was caught at an enemy checkpoint on her way home. Both Valentyna and Olga are among the few former hostages who have decided on lengthy trials to restore justice.

Discrimination against prisoners

One of the obvious social guarantees for former prisoners of war, civilian hostages and political prisoners is a one-time cash payment of UAH 100,000, which they receive immediately after release. However, this guarantee only applies to those released after December 2017, what human rights activists see as discrimination against prisoners released earlier.

It turns out that the state protects some prisoners and not others. It is often necessary to “circumvent” this norm in the courts. And even such, at first glance, a significant amount of 100 thousand UAH, can not compensate for the loss of housing and all property in the occupied territory, because most prisoners after release have to start life from scratch,” – explains lawyer Julia Polekhina.

What else did the authorities envisage for the former prisoners? The right to professional legal assistance and rehabilitation, to psychological rehabilitation and recovery of lost documents. However, the state deprived the attention of family members of prisoners. Relatives of the military are entitled to a monthly payment (salary of a prisoner) when their relative is in captivity. However, such a social guarantee is not provided for civilian hostages.

Relatives can also count on reimbursement of transportation costs for visiting relatives in captivity and legal assistance. However, much-needed psychological assistance and social support are not provided for them. This assistance is provided only by public organizations. There is no rehabilitation program in Ukraine for former prisoners, especially those who have been tortured and ill-treated.

Unfortunately, in the seventh year of the war, the Law on Social Protection of Prisoners of War, Political Prisoners, and Civilian Hostages was never adopted. In turn, relatives of prisoners and missing persons complain about the lack of feedback from the Office of the President. And their endless attempts to establish communication and resume the work of the working group are ignored.

We demand a constructive dialogue from the authorities

“Fight – win”. As a result, the “lying down” protest of the mothers of the prisoners ended with the relatives being informed about the resumption of the working group at the President’s Office. The first meeting will take place tomorrow, June 16. We hope that this is the beginning of constructive dialogue and that women will no longer have to hold such actions.

We will remind, the All-Ukrainian Union of mothers and relatives of participants of anti-terrorist operation “Berehynya” puts forward a number of requirements to the power:

  • Resume the work of the working group at the Office of the President, which took care of prisoners (including without fixed whereabouts) and missing persons, political prisoners, and civilian hostages.
  • Start the work of the standing committee on the search for missing persons under the Cabinet of Ministers.
  • Urgent creation of a single register of missing persons, creation of search teams together with the international mission of the Red Cross.
  • Adoption of a bill on social protection of prisoners of war, political prisoners, and civilian hostages, which has not yet been adopted and has been in the President’s Office for legal examination for more than six months.

Olga Volynska

Natalia Tolub

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