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How can we release captives of the separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions?

Two years has passed after the second Minsk Agreements, while Ukrainian captives are not yet released. On Tuesday, February 14th at 13:30 at the Ukrainian crisis media center, the press conference “The Release of Captives of the Minsk Agreements: Why is it important to determine the status of captives and to change the format of negotiations?” took place. At the press conference, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has suggested a number of measures to enhance this process.

Nadiya Volkova, a lawyer of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and representative of prisoners of war and captives in the European Court, believes that it is necessary first to clarify the status of prisoners and change the format of negotiations.

‘The main problem of the Minsk Agreements is the combination of political and humanitarian issues in one process. This leads to the fact that humanitarian issues (such as the release of captives) are used for political purposes,’ says Nadiya Volkova.

Nadiya Volkova
Nadiya Volkova

According to the lawyer, the second problem is the lack of a certain status of people detained in the territory of the separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This leads to the situation when politics manipulate the fate of the captured. Therefore, all of them should be given the status of prisoners of war or captives in order to apply the Geneva Convention. This will protect them from torture and inhuman treatment.

It is much more difficult to accuse a person with the status of a prisoner of war in participating in a terrorist organization or treason, because it needs unequivocal evidence.

‘Unfortunately, Ukraine’s police still have outdated consciousness that is obvious from the case of Colonel Ivan Beziazykov, Chief of the 8th Army Corps,’ says Nadiya Volkova.

We recall that Ivan Beziazykov had been released from captivity in July 2016. In December 2016, he was arrested on charges of collaboration with a terrorist organization (later another article – “treason” was added, because of his refusal to cooperate with the investigation and admit his guilt), while he was in captivity. According to lawyers of Beziazykov, the charges were based on the very weak evidence base. In the case-file, there was no direct evidence of his guilt, but the Security Service of Ukraine and the PGU had already counted him a traitor, so he faces a threat of life imprisonment.

Vitalii Tytych, the defender of the former captive Colonel Ivan Beziazykov, said that his client, following the existing legal framework, was a captive.

Vitalii Tytych
Vitalii Tytych

‘He has the highest rank among such persons held in the separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. I believe that the criminal proceedings was initiated against him because of the lack of any legal status and legitimate representation of the events that are now taking place with all the captives in eastern Ukraine,’ says the lawyer.

Today 110 captives are in the territory of Ukraine, which is captured by pro-Russian militants. Their status is not legally defined and not enshrined in any document. Such situations compel the relatives of other former and current “captives” to worry about the fate of relatives because there is no guarantee that the similar situation will not happen after their release.

Victoria Pantiushenko
Victoria Pantiushenko

Victoria Pantiushenko, the wife of Bohdan Pantiushenko, an army armor officer, held in captivity by militants since January 2015, says that now the fate of her husband depends on politics.

‘Unfortunately, the Minsk Agreements are extremely inefficient. After contact group meetings, we know about their results from the Internet, nobody says anything to us,’ she said.

Given this, the coalition of UHHRU, Media Initiative for Human Rights and Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group proposes a new format of negotiations, which will provide a mechanism of control and responsibility for the arbitrary behavior or violations of obligations. Nadia Volkova believes that, first of all, we have to separate the issue of occupied Crimea and armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and to ensure the application of transitional justice mechanisms and interference by unauthorized persons in the negotiation process. In early March, the coalition will present a new format of negotiations.

Text and photo by Oleh Shynkarenko

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