Promote Ukraine publishes the conclusions of the report “Activism 2021: a monitoring report on the persecution of activists and human rights defenders in the government-controlled territory of Ukraine.” It was prepared by the ZMINA Human Rights Centre in the framework of the project “Increasing the role and protection of human rights defenders in Ukraine” in partnership with the Dutch Helsinki Committee with the support of the European Union.
There have been 88 cases of harassment of activists and human rights defenders in Ukraine since the beginning of the year. Activists were most often persecuted in Kyiv (37 cases) and the Odesa Region (10 cases). The Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Luhansk regions also became the leading regions: seven cases of pressure were recorded there.
Researchers at the ZMINA Centre for Human Rights provide such data for the first nine months of 2021 (January-September). They note that the number of cases of pressure on activists has increased compared to the same period last year when 77 incidents were recorded.
Anastasiia Moskvychova, a researcher at the ZMINA Human Rights Centre, said that activists were most often pressured to destroy or damage their property (22 incidents), threats (20), and physical attacks on them (16).
Some cases showed signs of discrediting campaigns, and in one of them a fictional story was specially published in a specialised publication to create an informational drive.
Two more cases have signs of illegal juristic prosecution, and one has signs of illegal detention or search, obstruction of activity of a public organisation, and violation of privacy.
Most incidents involved attempts to intimidate activists (10): about sending funeral paraphernalia, putting up posters with photos of activists in the city in order to put psychological pressure on them. At the same time, most of the cases were related to the activities of ultra-right telegram channels, as anonymous or right-wing radicals connected with media platforms.
Unfortunately, no examples of effective investigations into threats against activists have been identified so far.
What was happening?
One of the most brutal cases happened during the summer in Dnipro, when activist Nataliia Eshonkulova was attacked on the porch of her house. The activist was hit on the head; as a result, she lost consciousness. According to her, one of the attackers had a knife. They damaged several of Nataliia’s teeth and broke her nose. She had a concussion, as well as bruises and grazes on her face.
Eshonkulova links the attack to her public activities: she opposes the raider capture of business and property as part of an initiative group. “My husband suffered from the raider’s capture, and I realised that it is impossible to fight alone, because the courts, the police, and the prosecutor’s office are too corrupt. That’s why we joined forces with other people who, like us, suffered from gangs in Dnipro. The bandits did not like such consolidation, so they decided to ‘close the mouths’ of the organiser,” Eshonkulova said.
Dnipropetrovsk Region police described the attack on the activist as attempted murder and later detained two men, whom the victim identified, on suspicion of involvement in the attack. The pre-trial investigation is underway; details of the investigation are not disclosed to the activist. She is convinced that this is done deliberately so that customers are not prosecuted.
Oleksandr Vizersky, the activist from Kyiv, was also physically assaulted. In August this year, Vizersky, along with other activists, held an indefinite protest against the demolition of the Barban estate. At the same time, a group of unknown individuals in dark jackets with hoods and medical masks on their faces attacked the activists.
According to Vizersky, they began to scatter the benches on which the protesters were sitting, and tried to push them away. The activist’s clothes were torn, and he was punched several times in the face, neck, and torso when he tried to prevent another activist’s phone from being taken, as that individual was trying to call the police.
The protesters wrote a statement to the police, but the criminal proceedings were never opened.
“When you see developers in Kyiv destroying, erasing entire streets, and building “anthills” in these places, you understand that if nothing is done or resisted, Kyiv may lose its historic face,” Vizersky said. He adds that in most cases the police do nothing, but react only when there is information resonance.