Political and Civil Rights in Ukraine: 21st-27th January 2019

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



In 2018, the trends in systematic violations of political and civil rights and freedoms persisted in Ukraine. Against the background of the military conflict in the East of the country, measures to limit rights were justified by the political leadership of the state by referring to the need to combat Russian aggression and separatism within the state. In fact, this restriction was aimed primarily at the political opponents of the current government, as well as organisations and social groups that broadcast alternative views and values in relation to the current government.

According to the results of monitoring in 2018, the Uspishna Varta human rights platform recorded 197 cases of violations of political and civil rights and freedoms.

Journalists, bloggers, and individual media companies (46% of all cases), as well as public activists, human rights defenders (18%), political parties (13%), and religious organisations and communities (12%) remain the most vulnerable to violations of their rights in Ukraine. In 32% of recorded cases (62) rights were violated as a result of the activities of right-wing radical groups, such as C14, National Corpus, and Bratstvo. In 26% of cases (52), the violation of rights was caused by the actions of law enforcement bodies themselves (Security Service, Prosecutor’s Office, police).


In a number of settlements in central and Western Ukraine cases of churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) being forced to change their religious affiliation in favour of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) lobbied by President Poroshenko continue to surface.

Such “transitions” are usually accompanied by acts of aggression committed against the parishioners and clergy of the UOC by radical “activists” and the exertion of administrative pressure by local officials. In a number of villages such “meetings”, aimed at the issue of changing the affiliation of the parish, were held at the initiative of the village leader. They were attended not by a religious community, but by a territorial community, including the residents of other villages and parishioners from other religious communities (Protestant, Greek Catholic, etc.) who have nothing to do with the life of the parish.

For example, on January 20th in the village of Urvenna in the Zdolbunovsky district in the Rovno region such a village meeting took place in a local club. According to the Abbot of the local Church, parishioners refused to participate in the meeting because they are convinced that Church issues should be resolved only within the Church and its parishioners. In turn, according to the Chairman of the Zdolbunovsky district administration, the decision taken at the Urvenna village meeting was sufficient enough to transfer the community of the UOC to the OCU.

On January 25th 2019 the community of the Svyato-Pokrovsky Cathedral in the village of Kovpyta in the Chernigov region convened a meeting, during which more than 40 permanent members unanimously reaffirmed their loyalty to the canonical UOC. However, the following day, with the assistance of the Deputy Chairman of the Chernigov district council, supporters of the UOC-KP and radicals from “C14” held a village community meeting, which was attended by only 72 out of 1,400 residents. Members of the parish council, together with the Abbot of the Svyato-Pokrovsky Church of the UOC, also came to the meeting. However, the priest was not allowed to speak, and video filming was forbidden.

After such “meetings”, in some cases, UOC communities are forcibly evicted from churches, including those belonging to the UOC by right of ownership.

On January 18th supporters of the OCU announced the “transition” of the monastery church of the village of Polozhevo in the Shatsky district of the Volyn region to the OCU, capturing the temple’s premises. The temple was built on a private plot owned by the Abbot of the Svityazsky Petro-Pavlovsky monastery. The Abbot appealed to the police and the authorities, but no action was taken.

On January 22nd the Annunciation Church of the UOC in the village of Pokhovka in the Ivano-Frankovsk region was captured by “activists”. Earlier, on January 13th, a village community meeting was held in violation of the rules, then supporters of the OCU broke the locks of the temple at night and changed them, and on January 18th they held a service inside it. In addition, according to eyewitnesses of the events, representatives of the Greek Catholic community, visitors, and a small number of parishioners of the local church, some of who practically did not attend, were present at the meeting and took part in voting. The press service of the Ivano-Frankovsk diocese of the UOC reported that neither the priest nor the parishioners of the Annunciation Church are planning to “move” anywhere – they categorically disagree with the decisions taken at the village meeting.

On January 22nd supporters of the OCU tried to capture the Svyato-Pokrovsky Church belonging to the UOC community of the villages of Radoshin and Byten in the Volyn region. The village leader held a general territorial community meeting, and the day after the “vote” burglars were seen near the church – they had changed the lock on the door. UOC parishioners called the police.

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On January 26th 2019 supporters of the UOC-KP/OCU staged a brawl in the village of Nychegovka in the Manevitsky district in the street in order to prevent the Abbot from entering the temple. A woman was wounded with a cracked head. The police filmed what was happening on video, saying that they had no authority to intervene.

There are other cases when representatives of radical parties and organisations have prevented a religious community from holding a meeting and expressing its desire to remain in the UOC.

On January 21st aggressive-minded armed men (from the “Ukrop” party) tried to prevent a community meeting from taking place in the village of Veseloye in the Starobilsk district of the Lugansk region by exerting clear pressure and issuing threats to the Church community.

A similar incident happened on January 23rd in the village of Pisarevka in the Vinnytsia region. After the community decided to preserve their UOC confessional affiliation, the Abbot of the local church was attacked by aggressively-minded supporters of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Human rights defenders stressed that changes in the canonical affiliation of a diocese are governed by the general provisions of the Law on Freedom of Religion and the Charter of the management of the UOC. According to them, the decision to change the canonical affiliation of a parish should be made by persons who are legally part of the Parish Assembly (the clergy, the founders of the parish, as well as the laity and members of the parish who regularly take part in the liturgical life of the parish and are marked by Christian virtue). The transition must be approved by the diocesan Bishop.

The new procedure for changing ownership is applicable only from the moment that the amendments to draft law No. 4128, which has not yet been signed by the president, enter into force. After this, the decision to change subordination and to introduce the appropriate changes or additions to the Charter must be made by no less than two-thirds of the number of members of the religious community. Accordingly, all the actions aimed at violently changing the confessional affiliation of UOC churches that are now being carried out in a number of settlements by supporters of the OCU circumvent this procedure and constitute a crime.

In addition, new acts of vandalism were recorded in relation to the temples and religious buildings of the UOC. Thus, on January 22nd in the Zhytomyr region unknown persons broke the windows of the UOC chapel located along the road between the villages of Vysokaya Pech and Dubrovka. The police recorded the fact of a crime and initiated criminal proceedings. On the night of January 26th/27th “C14” activists pasted leaflets bearing offensive inscriptions on the Svyatokafedralny Sobor of the UOC in Zhytomyr, which was reported on their Telegram channel.

The exertion of administrative pressure on the UOC continues. The Ministry of Culture included the UOC in the list of religious organizations that are obliged to change their Charter within three months in connection with the operation of the law on renaming the Church (Law No. 2662-VIII). The UOC declared that the supreme bodies of ecclesiastical authority and administration are the Council, the Council of Bishops and the Holy Synod headed by the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine. Accordingly, it is not legally subject to the requirement of a law stipulating the renaming of confessions whose control center is located in the “aggressor state” (Russia).


New facts of physical aggression against journalists and media staff were recorded. Thus, on January 24th the film crew of “Stop Corruption” was attacked in Kiev. The journalists were preparing a story about the illegal export of sand. The armed men who were transporting sand trucks sprayed gas at the face of the journalist and beat him up. 9 people were taken to the police station on suspicion of attacking journalists. One person was detained on suspicion of “robbery”, but was later released under house arrest. A similar measure of restraint was also chosen for the person suspected of attacking the Kherson newspaper “Novy Den” (January 18th).

According to the data of the National Union of journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), 86 cases of physical aggression against the media were recorded in 2018, and the number of attacks on female journalists doubled (37) compared to the previous year. Since elections will be held in Ukraine in 2019, the NUJU expects an increase in the amount of bullying and physical attacks on journalists and the media.

On the 23rd and 25th of January consideration of the complaint of the journalist Kirill Vyshinsky concerning the illegality of his detention in May 2018 took place in the criminal cassation court (Supreme Court). Only at the second hearing did law enforcement bodies give Kirill Vyshinsky the chance to participate in the process via video communication from the pre-trial detention center in Kherson. The court granted the request of the defense and ordered to ensure the physical presence of the journalist at the hearing on March 20th.

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On January 21st the Shevchenkovsky court of Zaporozhye held a court hearing concerning the case of the journalist Pavel Volkov, who spent more than a year in jail on charges of encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The hearing was held in the presence of people in camouflage, who at first totalled 5 persons. They introduced themselves as servicemen of the ATO, and one of them said that they were the deputy head of the organisation “C14”. Those who came to the hearing behaved aggressively and called all those who were present, including lawyers, “separs”, “vata”, “kolorads”, and “traitors”. At the end of the hearing the “activists” left the courthouse and waited at the entrance for the accused, his relatives, and lawyers. But the police prevented the provocation and ensured the safety of the participants in the process. All hearings previously scheduled for January and February were cancelled. The next hearing will be held on February 26th 2019.

On January 21st the Dolinsky district court of the Ivano-Frankovsk region returned to the prosecutor the indictment concerning the case of the journalist Ruslan Kotsaba, who is accused of state treason and disrupting mobilisation according to Part 1 of Article 111 and Part 1 of Article 114-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. The court established a significant number of violations committed by the pre-trial investigation body, namely the lack of accurate formulations concerning the commission of a criminal offense.

The Security Service of Ukraine continues its practice of detaining social network users for posting allegedly “anti-Ukrainian propaganda”. As before, the names of the detainees are not published, and the SBU limits itself to publishing a video with a blurred face and the alleged recognition of the “agitator” of committing a crime.

Thus, on January 22nd the SBU stated that it had established the identity of a Russian journalist in Sumy who allegedly administered anti-Ukrainian Internet communities and populated them with content. According to the Security Service, since 2015 the Russian journalist “has been a part of a foreign anti-Ukrainian center and populated anti-Ukrainian Internet communities with information commissioned by the special services of the Russian Federation.”

On January 24th the SBU used the same wording to describe the detention of an inhabitant of Kiev. Field investigators claim that the man’s actions helped the Russian special services to interfere with the electoral processes in Ukraine through social networks.

As a reminder, according to the human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta”, more than 400 users of social networks were persecuted because of their posts on the Internet. They were charged under political articles – state treason and calls to overthrow the constitutional system and encroachment on territorial integrity, which entail punishment in the form of up to 15 years in prison. This is why most detainees agree to reach a deal with the investigation and plead guilty in exchange for a suspended sentence.


The “Uspishna Varta” human rights platform was registered with the Central Election Commission (CEC) as an official observer during the 2019 presidential elections. All the information collected by us will be included in our reports and published on our website.

According to the results of observation between January 21st-27th, the following results were recorded.

Managing the election process. Currently, the CEC as a whole works effectively and complies with all deadlines established by law. The process of registering candidates takes place in accordance with legislative requirements. As of January 25th, the Commission has registered 20 candidates for the post of President of Ukraine. Registration was denied to 9 candidates due to significant errors in the submitted documents or failure to pay the deposit.

Voter registration. The preliminary list of voters in the presidential election on March 31st includes 35,625,855,000 people, but this number is not final and will change several times. This is the data of the State Voter Register from December 31st 2018.

Conditions for the implementation of campaigning. In the framework of the presidential electoral campaign in March 2019, observers record the following violations as a part of the campaign of candidates:

The distribution of the campaign materials of the registered presidential candidates without the initial data demanded by the law (circulation, the client, the organization that carried out printing). The distribution of such materials (billboards, leaflets) was recorded by the following candidates: A. Sadovoy, A. Shevchenko, Yu. Boyko, S. Kaplin, E. Murayev, Yu. Tymoshenko, A. Gritsenko, V. Skotsyk, O. Bogomolets.

Hidden campaigning (meetings between deputies from parties whose candidates are running for office and employees of public institutions, holding charity events, etc.).

Placing the campaign materials of the current President Poroshenko (before his nomination) in the premises of government and communal institutions. Such cases were recorded in Vinnytsia, Rovno, and Zaporozhye. According to the law on presidential elections, it is prohibited to use the premises of state and local authorities for electoral campaigning (part 20 of article 64) and placing campaign materials and political advertising inside them (part 21 of article 64)

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In addition, in the Odessa region the activity of the “Mobile Polyclinic”, which provides free medical examinations and patient consultations under the auspices of President Poroshenko, was documented. In the villages of the Lvov region residents are invited to discuss the development plan of villages on the initiative of the President. Such activities bear signs of indirect campaigning for Petro Poroshenko as a potential presidential candidate.

In a number of regions of Ukraine (Sumy, Odessa, Lugansk) the carrying out of a so-called “Sociological survey” regarding the willingness to vote for the current president Poroshenko was recorded. Formally, it is conducted not by the party headquarters of the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko”, but by the public organisation “Institute for the Development and Promotion of Democracy” (established in December 2018). As journalists previously found out, employees of budgetary institutions are involved in conducting such a survey on a fee basis. According to the election law (part 6 of article 64), the conclusion of paid agreements for electoral campaigning with voters at the expense of the election fund is prohibited. In this case, hidden campaign activities are actually carried out under the guise of sociological research and outside the framework of the expenses of the electoral fund.

In a number of regions (Kherson, Dnepr, Cherkassy, etc.) the damaging of the campaign materials (billboards) of a number of presidential candidates was recorded. In some cases, representatives of the right-wing radical group “C14” reported about damaging the billboards of opposition candidates (Vilkul, Murayev) on their social network pages. Such actions may fall under part 2 of article 157 of the Criminal Code – impeding the activities of the electoral process.

Observers. As of January 25th, the CEC granted permission to 88 public organizations (full list here) to have their official observers present at the elections. The registration of observers from foreign states and international organizations has also begun. On January 25th the CEC registered official observers from the Federal Republic of Germany.

At the same time, human rights activists are concerned about the provision of observer status to right-wing paramilitary groups (“National Druzhina”, “Governmental Initiative of Yarosh”). The participation of these groups, which had previously repeatedly participated in acts of aggression against dissidents in Ukraine, can lead to candidates and voters being intimidated, as well as to forced behaviour at polling stations on election day.


The human rights activists of “Uspishna Varta” found out that during 2015-2018 a number of Ukrainian courts accepted evidence from the Mirotvorets Internet resource as an evidence base, ignoring the concept of admissibility of evidence and in violation of Article 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees everybody the right to a fair trial. The legal team of “Uspishna Varta” discovered 101 court decisions on criminal proceedings where the justification section contains materials from the scandalous “Mirotvorets” resource as an evidence base. The lack of a unified practice of the Supreme Court entails impunity regarding the use of data from the “Mirotvorets” Internet resource as evidence in decisions made by national courts. A detailed list of such decisions and the courts that made them can be found here.

On January 21st the Starobilsk district court of the Lugansk region for the 15th time extended the measure of restraint in the form of detention imposed on the Ukrainian politician Aleksandr Efremov for another 2 months.

As a reminder, the case of the former Chairman of the Lugansk regional state administration has been considered in court for more than two years. The politician is accused of treason, encroaching on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, creating a terrorist organisation, and capturing state buildings. On December 5th the lawyers of Aleksandr Efremov said that they would send both the case of the politician and information about the refusal to hospitalise him to the European Court of Human Rights.

On January 25th another hearing concerning the case of the Major General of the SBU Aleksandr Shchegolev took place in the Shevchenkovsky court of Kiev. The court examined 45 pages of written evidence in the first volume, which describes the plan of action on February 18th 2014. However, there was no mention of the Major General. In total, the proceedings contain 108 volumes of case materials. At the next hearing, which is scheduled for February 1st, the court plans to continue studying the materials. Recall that General Aleksandr Shchegolev has been in jail for more than 3 years. He is charged with illegally obstructing peaceful assemblies, rallies, and demonstrations and abusing his power during the events of February 2014. In total, 136 victims are involved in the case of the General, less than a half of who have been questioned in 3 years.

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