Ukrainian citizens have been disappearing for four years now, and associations like Media Initiative for Human Rights, a Ukrainian NGO, accuses Russia of human rights abuses and illegal detention. The crimes are not being properly investigated according to the prisoners’ families and their human rights not respected.
Ihor Kotelyanets, brother of a political prisoner, says that he went through four days of torture: they were stretching all his joints out, hung him up and tortured him, even on his testicles. He was then put out in a field in front of a camera where he had to admit that he was a traitor.
“On the fourth day, President Putin said in the Russian press they had captured a terrorist that was planning to act in some sites of occupied Crimea and that Ukraine is a dangerous state that should be dealt with.”
The political persecution began with the 2014 annexation of Crimea, when – according to Russian media – they arrested the first group of Ukrainians to protect Crimean citizens from the Ukrainian terrorists. Even if Crimea is now part of the Russian state, the Ukrainians keep disappearing.
It is impossible to determine the exact number of Ukrainian prisoners in Russia. Many of them are taken by force and some even by deceit. IhorHryb says that his son was captured after “a girl from Russia wanted to meet him in a city on the Russian side.” He says that the girl later admitted that she was forced to do it by the Russian authorities.
Mr Hryb’s son needs special medical treatment, which Russia refused to give even after he appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. He says “this is the case for all the Ukrainian prisoners. None of them gets medical care, so all of them become ill as a result of torture or due to terrible sanitary conditions.”
Media Initiative for Human Rights and many other activists are fighting what they call “a violation of human rights.” They are trying to find a solution to identify all the Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and get them back home.
Robert Seely, MP for the Isle of Wight, says “There’s been room for prisoners’ swaps and this is something we should be going for because there are a number of Russian citizens that have committed horrendous crimes in Ukraine. The President of Ukraine has been discussing this with the President of Russia, according to reports in the summer.”
Maria Tomak, the coordinator at Media Initiative for Human Rights, is less optimistic. She believes that prisoners’ swaps are the only solution to repatriate Ukrainian political prisoners, but that at the same time it is not effective. “Russia doesn’t want these people back. Russian diplomatic institutions in Ukraine visit only a few prisoners, the rest of the prisoners are not interesting for Russia.” The prisoners’ families are waiting for their sons, brothers and fathers to get back home.
Ihor Kotelyanets wants international support to put pressure on Russia and to make sure that all these crimes and all the Ukrainian prisoners in Russia are properly investigated.