Civilian captives and their families almost unaware of their rights – human rights defenders

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Families of civilian captives abducted by Russia, as well as citizens released from captivity, do not know enough about all the rights and guarantees provided by the state. These are the consequences of the incompletely functional law on social and legal protection of civilian hostages and their families, human rights defenders point out. 

As Executive Director of the Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR) Tetiana Katrychenko said, Russia began kidnapping and persecuting civilians in the occupied territories of Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian citizens in the territory of the Russian Federation since 2014. According to Katrychenko , citizens of Ukraine were detained for long months and years, and their families were left alone with this problem. The state had neither an effective release mechanism nor an effective family support program. 

Only a year ago, the law on social and legal protection of those deprived of their liberty as a result of armed aggression against Ukraine – prisoners of war and civilian hostages and their families – entered into force. 

The human rights activist indicated that the number of citizens detained by Russia increased after the full-scale war had started. 

Whereas there were 301 surnames on the SBU list as of February 24, 2022, now there are more than 1,300 surnames on the MIHR lists alone. In fact, there may be three to four times more people detained and abducted – we cannot specify the exact figure due to the ongoing occupation and daily detentions”, Katrychenko comments. 

Tetiana Katrychenko

In addition, according to the Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG) data, Russia holds at least 180 Ukrainian citizens imprisoned in occupied Crimea for political reasons. 

According to CHRG lawyer Bohdan Melnykovych , the law states that civilian hostages and their families are entitled to annual and one-time financial assistance, medical rehabilitation, payment of legal aid, provision of housing for temporary residence, educational benefits, etc. The workplace of a person kidnapped by Russia should also be preserved. But people can get these guarantees only after the Commission formed under the Ministry of Reintegration confirms the fact of deprivation of liberty. 

However, according to Alena Lunova , Advocacy Director of the Human Rights Center ZMINA, the provisions of the law are not fully implemented in practice. 

Although the families of captives with whom we spoke and human rights organizations perceive the law positively in general, there are several problems. In particular, many families do not understand how the Commission, which operates under the Ministry of Reintegration and establishes the fact of deprivation of liberty as a result of the war, works. After all, the Commission makes decisions behind closed doors and communicates little with people, so the families of the captives have mistrust of it ,” Lunova comments. 

Among other problems pointed out by human rights defenders: the relatives of civilian hostages actually do not know and do not use other forms of state assistance except for financial. 

Alena Lunova

Anastasia Kalinina , CrimeaSOS lawyer, also points out that public money is not enough to cover professional legal assistance. Currently, the maximum amount of compensation is UAH 53,680, although the services of lawyers who work under the occupation or defend Ukrainians in Russia cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. 

Also, according to the law, the state must provide temporary housing because the victims often leave the occupied territories. 

Often volunteers or acquaintances of affected people help with housing. But the government agencies did not answer us whether they provide such assistance comprehensively ,” Kalinina said. 

Moreover, when human rights defenders sent inquiries to various bodies that are supposed to provide assistance by law, not all of them provided clear information about the number of appeals from people, types and amounts of assistance, etc. Kalinina says: it seems that no government agency is monitoring the performance and guarantees provided by law to civilian hostages and their family members. 

Human rights defenders emphasize that the state should determine a specific body that would work with civilian hostages, monitor the effectiveness of state assistance, and inform the families of captives and those released from captivity about what rights they have. 

Human rights organizations’ analysis of how the law on the protection of the rights of civilian hostages works is here (in Ukrainian) .