Victims of Ukraine Violence Tell Their Stories

A new report details harrowing human-rights violations on both sides of the conflict.

A Ukrainian government soldier patrols on a road south of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on July 10.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
July 11, 2014, 10:25 a.m.

In the last four months, Ukraine has been pushed to the edge of civil war as pro-Rus­si­an sep­ar­at­ists and Ukrain­i­an au­thor­it­ies clash over ter­rit­ory. Dozens have been killed. The na­tion’s east­ern re­gion, where the con­flict is con­cen­trated, has turned in­to a ter­ri­fy­ing, law­less land, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al that was re­leased Fri­day.

The re­port in­cludes ac­counts of tor­ture, ab­duc­tions, and oth­er hu­man-rights vi­ol­a­tions against pro­test­ers, act­iv­ists, and journ­al­ists in south­east­ern Ukraine in re­cent weeks. While armed pro-Rus­si­an sep­ar­at­ist groups are car­ry­ing out the bulk of the vi­ol­ence, the re­port found evid­ence of bru­tal­ity by Kiev forces as well.

Since the con­flict began in earn­est in March, the U.N. Hu­man Rights Mon­it­or­ing Mis­sion for Ukraine has con­firmed 222 cases of ab­duc­tion, the AFP re­ports. Ukraine’s In­teri­or Min­istry says 387 people were kid­napped between April and June, in­clud­ing 39 journ­al­ists.

Here are some of the har­row­ing stor­ies of poor treat­ment or un­law­ful de­ten­tion com­piled by Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al.

Ukrain­i­an journ­al­ist Ser­hiy Lefter, who was ab­duc­ted on April 17 while re­port­ing in Slov­y­ansk and re­leased in early May:

“It was a base­ment. Three rooms. We slept on the floor, of course. Those who were there for a long time were al­lowed to sleep on a make­shift bed that we made out of some doors and some warm clothes that they gave us. And they slept on that bed. That was the biggest room. All the oth­ers — the new ones that were brought in — sat on benches and slept sort of half sit­ting. At first, I also slept like that on some sort of crates — half sit­ting, half ly­ing down. It was cold, of course. It was a base­ment, after all.”

The May 17 in­ter­rog­a­tion of two men by Oleh Ly­ashko, a mem­ber of the Ukrain­i­an par­lia­ment, cap­tured on video near Mariu­pol:

The two cap­tives, who are ini­tially blind­folded, are seen with their hands tied be­hind their backs be­ing in­ter­rog­ated by Oleh Ly­ashko, who also ap­pears to be in charge of a group of armed men. One of the cap­tives in­tro­duces him­self as Ig­or Khak­m­izy­an­ov, former min­is­ter of de­fence of the self-styled [sep­ar­at­ist group] People’s Re­pub­lic of Don­etsk. He is al­most totally na­ked, with two dis­tinct bleed­ing cuts on his body. At least eight men are seen out­side the car, wear­ing uniden­ti­fi­able black uni­forms. Four of them are wear­ing facemasks and hold­ing Kalash­nikov as­sault rifles.

Hanna, a pro-Ukrain­i­an act­iv­ist, ab­duc­ted with her boy­friend, Fedor, by armed men in Don­etsk on May 27 and held for six days:

“My face was smashed — he punched me in the face with his fist, he was try­ing to beat me every­where, I was cov­er­ing my­self with my hands”¦. I was huddled in the corner, curled up in a ball with my hands around my knees. He was angry that I was try­ing to pro­tect my­self. He went out and came back with a knife.”

“I was in shock, so I didn’t feel any pain, but you look at these cuts and you think that it’s not you. It was sick. Your own coun­try­men in­ter­rog­at­ing you with such cruelty. I was lost, I was so wor­ried, I thought it was the end”¦. I thought I might be killed”¦. At the end of the in­ter­rog­a­tion [he said,] “Pray now — I’m go­ing to kill you,” and then he slit [the back of] my neck with the knife.”

Sasha, a 19-year-old mem­ber of a Ukrain­i­an self-de­fense group in Luhansk, who was kid­napped on June 12 and re­leased after his fath­er paid a $60,000 ransom:

“They beat me with their fists, a chair, any­thing they could find. They stubbed out ci­gar­ettes on my leg and elec­tro­cuted me. It went on for so long, I couldn’t feel any­thing any­more. I just passed out.”

Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al says that some sep­ar­at­ist groups ap­pear to use host­ages as bar­gain­ing chips, ne­go­ti­at­ing their re­lease in ex­change for fel­low mil­it­ants cap­tured by Ukrain­i­an po­lice.

In a phone call Thursday, Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden urged Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Petro Poroshen­ko to es­tab­lish a mon­it­or­ing mis­sion by the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Se­cur­ity and Co­oper­a­tion in Europe, a crisis-man­age­ment or­gan­iz­a­tion, along the bor­der between Ukraine and Rus­sia.

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