Below is the final report and recommendations of Finnish Peace Committee’s delegation to Ukraine in 2017. The report has been done by the delegation that visited Ukraine for two weeks in august/september 2017.
FINNISH PEACE COMMITTEE
Antero Eerola, Antti Rautiainen & Oksana Tšelyševa
UKRAINE – FOUR YEARS OF CRISIS
The deep political, military and social crisis in Ukraine has continued now for almost four years. The massive protest movement and civic unrest known as Euromaidan led to a change of power in Ukraine at the end of February 2014. The opposition came to power and the then president Viktor Janukovich and Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov fled the country.
In March 2014 Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and at the beginning of April violent clashes broke out in Eastern Ukraine in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, commonly known as Donbass. At the beginning of May 2014 in southern Ukrainian city of Odessa around 50 people died in two incidents in the centre of the city.
By autumn 2017 there had been no effective ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine reports constant violations of ceasefire by both sides of the conflict. Also the culprits responsible for violence in Euromaidan, which left more than hundred people deceased, remain mostly unpunished more than three years later. Few rank-and-file soldiers of the ministry of the interior special troops (Berkut) have been sentenced, but those who gave the orders have not been brought to justice. In Odessa, not a single person has been prosecuted so far for arson and mass murder in the house of trade unions.
The international community has promoted, endorsed and witnessed many agreements to solve different stages of crisis in Ukraine. The problem is, they haven´t been fulfilled. The war in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine has caused more than 10 000 casualties – including nearly 3 000 civilians and about 24 000 wounded. Despite the Minsk agreement and the formal ceasefire, people die in the vicinity of the line of contact on a weekly basis. Not all heavy weapons have been withdrawn from the line of contact and uncharted mine fields pose a great danger to civilians.
According to UNHCR (United Nation High Commissioner on Refugees), about 1,6 million people Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). Up to 2,5 million people have fled to Russia. Thousands of people are depended on humanitarian aid. This aid is endangered because of the ongoing conflict and constantly changing regulations by the armed groups controlling parts of Eastern Ukraine. The crisis and especially the armed conflict has led to a deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine. This has been reported by United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, sub committee of prevention of torture, United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), OSCE, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
These organizations report on torture, beating, threats of sexual violence, forced disappearance of people and forced testimonies. Usually victims of human rights violations are being accused of cooperating with the enemy on both sides. The Security Service of Ukraine has been reluctant or at least hesitant to cooperate with human rights organizations. Such organizations do not have any access to Eastern Ukraine to armed groups controlled areas of DNR and LNR or to Crimean peninsula annexed by Russian Federation. Especially Amnesty International is worried about of culture of impunity that has emerged in conflict area. Human rights organizations also report on the harassment of media and right activists. Restrictions on media freedom are often justified by countering ”Russian propaganda”. In armed group controlled areas no independent media exists. The most extreme cases are murders of well-known journalists like Pavel Sheremet and Olez Busina. In addition journalist (and an ex-activist of Euromaidan) Ruslan Kotsaba was sentenced to prison for urging Ukrainian men to refuse from arms.
There´s also been serious breaches of parliamentary democracy in Ukraine due to suspension of activities of opposition political parties. This has been sharply criticized by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. At the same time on other parts of Europe – including Finland – the Ukrainian crisis has dropped out of headlines. The attention of European media is already elsewhere. The same goes for political discussion and international political attention. The crisis in Ukraine has also initiated a bitter blame game between West and Russia without any direct connection to Ukraine.
Against this background, the Finnish Peace Committee sent a delegation of three people to Ukraine on a study visit in autumn 2017. The aim of the visit was to study the situation on human rights, press freedom, democracy, corruption, civil society and especially the humanitarian situation in conflict torn regions of Eastern Ukraine. Our delegation met with organizations and people whose voice is not usually heard in Western societies. Unfortunately we didn´t have access to areas controlled by armed groups, the so-called ”people´s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk or Crimea. In this regard, the picture of the situation in Ukraine is not complete.
The authors of this report wish to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland for financial support for our study visit. Especially we would like to thank general secretary of Finnish Peace Committee Teemu Matinpuro, who provided us with all possible help and support back home.
The delegation had the full support of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, and was in regular contact with the mission and met both with Alexander Hug, the principal deputy head of the mission and several field officers in different locations: Odessa, Popasna and Kramatorsk.
The mission faces several obstacles in its work. It operates under propaganda attacks from various media outlets on both sides of the conflict. They blame the mission for “being either pro-Russian or having a bias towards Ukraine”.
The delegation met with Alexander Hug, the principal deputy head of the OSCE Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Hug updated us on the security situation and the mandate of the OSCE SMM, elaborating on such things as the information to be included into daily reports which go public, problems the staff of the mission encounter while recording the number and type of violations of the Minsk Agreements as well as the situation of the mission to be under propaganda attack from various media outlets on both sides of the contact line, which blame the mission for “being either pro-Russian or having a bias towards Ukraine”.
The SMM permanent patrol base in Popasna is one of the most recent ones established along the conflict line. It’s one of the forward patrol bases and it was established in late spring 2017. Its priority is to monitor the contact line, which they do in 24-hour shifts, due to proximity of the line. At the time of our visit, it was staffed with people from Bulgaria, Sweden, Finland, Poland and the UK. All the staff had a background in the military, police, law or medicine. According to their assessment, ceasefire violations continue, despite the agreement.
SMM officers identified the lack of de-mining activity as one of the main problems, both for civilians and them as it is an impediment to monitoring the situation. They were aware that Finland had allocated 1,5-million euros to help demining. But, in their view, demining takes place in areas located far from the line of contact and that there is a need for developing a more comprehensive and transparent program for demining by specialized international humanitarian agencies.
It was also mentioned that the mission has recorded growing tensions among the local population. “The number of protests of local people against the Ukrainian army units stationed in settlements has increased. They have conflicts with the army over empty houses as well as houses in which people still live”.
The SMM field officers met by the delegation spoke about the level of co-ordination of their tasks envisaged by the mandate of the OSCE mission to Ukraine, as well as their work with the officers of the Joint Center for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) which includes officers from both Ukraine and the Russian Federation. JCCC is structured so that the officers of the Russian Federation army are located on Ukraine’s side of the conflict line and Ukrainian army officers on the side not controlled by the Ukrainian Government. Although the OSCE SMM has regular meetings with them, the JCCC representatives are often hesitant to assist the OSCE SMM (regardless of which side).
Some of the staff of SMM in Popasna had previous experience of observing the conflict in South Ossetia with the OSCE mandate. The work there was much easier because the OSCE mission was more respected by the both sides. In Ukrainian case, for example military checkpoints are problematic both for SMM and the civilians. According to them there should be more crossing points in the conflict line to help local population in their daily lives. For example, in the Luhansk region there is only one very busy entry-exit checkpoint at Stanytsia Luhanska.
The delegation joined the field officers in Popasna in patrolling their zone. Due to the security situation, the patrol was just to observe the humanitarian situation. The delegation visited the village administration where the SMM arranged for a meeting with the chief of the youth and school department. The following topics were discussed: the situation of the schools in the entire district and the problems caused by closure of some schools and using them to station the military, the development of relations between the OSCE SMM field mission and the local population, demining, and mine-awareness training.
The delegation also assisted SMM officers in establishing contacts between a local family and the OSCE SMM. This family had been in contact with us for a few previous days asking to meet them while we were in Popasna. They complained about five attempts by the Ukrainian military to seize their house in the village near Popasna. In this case it was difficult to persuade the family to establish direct contacts with the OSCE SMM. For them one of the major obstacles was the lack of trust of Ukrainian citizens working as interpreters for the mission, so the discussions were held in absence of the official interpreter.
The delegation stayed in constant contact with the SMM, notifying them about incidents that might be important for the OSCE SMM to follow, such as the attack on the chief of Kharkiv-based anti-corruption organization that the Kiev office of Transparency International had informed us about. There were several follow-ups to this information by the OSCE SMM in their public reports. And SMM in Odessa was informed about the observations related to the trials of the 2 May events, which the mission has been monitoring.
The OSCE mission was absolutely supportive of the tasks of the delegation. The attitude towards the OSCE SMM by the people met during delegations visit varied from “They could be a lot more efficient if their mandate was broadened” to “They serve the purposes of the key outside players like big powers (Russia, USA, EU)”. Some even blamed OSCE for being either pro-Russia or pro-Ukraine/US.
Situation with the conflict and the ceasefire
This part of the report is based on meetings with Alexander Hug and David Milliman of the OSCE, OSCE staff in Popasna, Yevgeni Kaplin of Humanitarian mission Proliska, other Proliska staff and local people in the proximity of the line of ceasefire. People from the OSCE and humanitarian organizations talked with us confidentially and in personal capacity.
The situation in the line of conflict is much more stable than during 2014-2015. The Minsk process has clearly improved the situation. So-called ”school ceasefire”, which began 25th of August, decreased the incidents further during visit. According to some reports in media, number of incidents has increased after our visit but this we may not comment from a first hand account. However, there are still casualties, including civilians. In August, shelling and drought caused devastating fires, due to which many people lost all their property.
Both OSCE staff and humanitarian organizations are reluctant to pinpoint which side is guilty of the incidents. The purpose of the OSCE is to monitor ceasefire violations, not to investigate culpability. Often it is also not technically possible. Cameras have not been established to whole length of the line of contact. Cameras are also not able to get the whole picture – it could be, for example, that shots get fired in response to approaching hostile troops. OSCE would report only on the direction of the shots is recorded; there is no speculation of who fired them. By comparing OSCE reports with maps, it is possible to get a more comprehensive look. It seems, that in some areas of the front, first shots are fired more often from the side of the government, and in other areas, more often from the separatist territories. However, none of the people we met considered such analysis to be a priority.
Political forces on the both sides are reluctant protagonists. Obviously, the human cost is not enough to push forward the peace initiative. We were pointed out three possible reasons for continuation of the incidents:
1) The decision not to implement ceasefire
2) Tacit acceptance of the violations
3) Lack of discipline
Or a mixture of all three. OSCE staff and humanitarian organizations agreed that a solution is to move heavy weapons far enough from the line of contact. The OSCE also seeks the moving of military posts further from each other. However, a humanitarian activist also pointed out that checkpoints close to each other might have a stabilizing effect, as soldiers establish contacts in order to trade. When soldiers learn to know each other and have some common interests, they are more reluctant to shoot at each other.
Another humanitarian activist pointed out that the increase of crossings across the line of contact would both amend the humanitarian situation and be a stabilizing factor. Humanitarian activists also supported increasing OSCE observation posts and cameras along the line of contact, as they decrease tensions.
In our discussions with OSCE staff, they considered the full implementation of the Minsk treaty only way forward. They agreed that currently Minsk treaty is rather unpopular in Ukraine, but they were confident that benefits resulting from full implementation would gain more support for the treaty. One of the reasons for the unpopularity of the process is the media.
Freedom of media
This part of the report is based on meetings with Sergey Tomilenko of Ukrainian Union of Journalists, Yuri Lukyanov of Human Rights Information Centre, Igor Chayka of Independent Media Union of Ukraine, Mikola Savilev, editor in chief of the local Lvov paper Ratusha, and Maxim Butkevich, a journalist and co-founder and activist of No Border Ukraine.ts.
According to Tomilenko, there was a peak in violence against journalists during Maidan. Afterwards, violent incidents dropped but there is currently a new surge. Tomilenko considers it unfortunate, that there are no common criteria of violations of the rights of journalists. Tomilenko’s organization has defended Ruslan Kotsaba, who spent 524 days in prison for calls against military mobilization, whereas Chayka’s organization does not consider Kotsaba as a journalist. Tomilenko’s organization is also defending Vasili Muravitski, journalist from Zhitomir who is currently under arrest and charged with serious charges, including treason, for journalistic work allegedly financed from Russia. Chayka’s organization is not defending Muravitski, as he is not member of the organization. Chayka’s organization has defended its members in Chernygov and Chernovtsy, where they have been physically attacked by security of local authorities. Tomilenko considers it important to work out common standards for rights of journalists.
Besides pressure against individual journalists, whole media companies have been targeted. Our informants listed Strana.ua, Radio Vesti, and TV channel Inter as having been the target of police raids and criminal charges. There could be different reasons for these attacks. According to Chayka, the authorities did not approve of the political position of Inter, but there could be also commercial interest aimed at taking over the company. Butkevich also noted that there has been an orchestrated public campaign against Hromadske, which is considered too ”liberal” by right-wingers. Tomilenko’s organization itself has been threatened due to its stance to defend free media against pressure.
One issue on which all of the informants agreed was that journalist Pavel Sheremet’s murder has not been properly investigated. All of the informants also condemned activities of Mirotvorets-website, which published list of journalists accredited by separatist ”peoples’ republics”, as accreditation is a necessary condition for any journalistic visits to the regions.
Lukyanov used to work in Crimea before the occupation, and his organization is closely monitoring the situation of press freedom on the peninsula. The situation of media freedom in Crimea is apparently dire, as under Russian control the authorities are putting pressure on any perceived disloyalty. There are also cases of direct Russian intervention against the rights of Ukrainian journalists, such as the arrest of Roman Suschenko on his trip to Moscow. Tomilenko’s and Chayka’s organizations find it impossible to defend rights of journalists in the regions under conflict, Tomilenko’s organization has 20 members remaining in Crimea but was forced to relocate to Severodonetsk from the territories under separatist control.
Besides pressure against individuals and media companies, the media in Ukraine is also facing challenges from legal reforms. Poroshenko’s government wants to privatize all local papers published by municipal and regional authorities since the Soviet times. Under the reform, the premises of the publications would remain in their possession, but in many regions the authorities attempt to illegally expropriate property. Obviously, many of these papers will find it difficult to survive on the commercial market, and the reform risks livelihood of thousands of journalists. Chayka tries to convince regional authorities to play fair on local journalists, in terms of the upcoming reform and in general. Mikola Savilev is very concerned about the future of his journalistic work. Municipal financing has provided him with an opportunity to do independent journalism. Oligarchs control all major Ukrainian media holdings, and there is a concern that all surviving municipal papers will end up to camps of various oligarchs and must promote their interests. State TV- and radio company is facing a similar kind of reform, with a goal to transfer it to independent non-profit structure. There are concerns of financial feasibility of this endeavour.
According to ministry of social policy of Ukraine, by April this year 1,59-million people have had to leave their homestead. That includes those who fled from Crimea to the mainland. Their status is defined by the law (20.10.2014) on the rights of the displaced people and by the degree issued by the government on the status of the displaced person from the temporarily occupied territories and areas of the antiterrorist operation.
The ministry says that 1 130 594 of these displaced people have asked for monetary benefits and 1 043 430 receives benefits. Most of the displaced people have settled close to their homesteads, sometimes staying behind for their parents who they visit regularly. So of these displaced people almost half a million have settled in the Ukrainian controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, mainly in Donetsk, Luhansk housing only 45 000 of them. Only 555 people from Crimea have settled in these areas.
Since the beginning of the conflict almost 200 000 people have come to Kharkov and it’s surroundings, more than 60 000 of them from Donetsk and over 100 000 from Luhansk. And some 1 500 from Crimea. Correspondingly, more than 140 000 people from Donetsk and over 50 000 from Luhansk have come to the Kiev region. the Odessa region has received some 34 000, including about 2 000 from Crimea, and Lviv region about 6 700 (about 300 from Crimea).
The social status of these displaced people varies. In Lvov it’s said that they have blend in well with the local population, e.g. Living in own apartments instead of designated centers for internally displaced. In Kharkov, Donetsk and Luhansk regions their economic situation is worse, aid workers and organizations estimate that most are dependent economic assistance. In the Odessa region many live in former sanatoriums with little own income, but in Kiev people have managed to rent their own apartments. You have to take in account that income differences are sizeable in Ukraine, and that the pensioners and disabled need more assistance.
The delegation stayed for three days in the grey zone, close to the so-called contact line, both in Luhansk and Donetsk. We interviewed local people extensively and observed the main concerns they have:
1. Water supply and heating – there’s a need for humanitarian aid organizations to deliver coal and fire wood.
2. Ukrainian army occupies houses in the conflict zone.
3. Devastating fires have caused huge damage to large areas during August, e.g. in Novobahmutova more than ten houses had been totally ruined. In Opytnoe the fires had ruined the houses that had already been damaged by the warfare. Residents say these are caused by firebombs and ammunition. The officials don’t agree to record the fires as war damage, so people are not expecting to get any compensation from the state.
4. The war has damaged homes: in Maiorsk many five storied buildings didn’t have functioning water supplies, heating or electricity. On the outskirts of Avdievka there were people living in 9 story buildings without any amenities. In the older part of Avdievka, some 90% of the private houses are severely damaged.
5. Healthcare. Residents in Opytnoe, Popasnaya, Avdievka, Movobahmutovka and Mironovs tell that they are on prink of survival, and ”if you are old and get sick, it’s the beginning of the end”. Conflict has in many cases cut the earlier connections and service chains in healthcare: pregnant women from Popasnaya in Luhansk have to travel to Bahmut in Donetsk to give birth because the check points hinder traveling to hospitals that would be closer. And because Bahmut is in different region, the ambulances don’t come to Popasnaya, so patients have to find money for the taxi or some one to take them to the hospital. For people living close to the contact line it’s easier to get health services from ”the republics” in Donetsk, Gorlovka and Makievka. Especially if need is for more specialized care, like more difficult surgical operations or dentists services. According to the residents, in the side of the ”republics” they are not asked for their address, could be a willful policy to gain sympathy. There is lack of medication and doctors, especially specialized ones, at health centers in the conflict zone. Many healthcare professionals have escaped to safer areas.
6. The destruction of roads, as well as the presence of mines and army check points make the humanitarian situation worse. Still, civilians cross the contact line through the main crossing points regularly and frequently.
7. Corruption is still a problem. Local administration doesn’t function, the officials seldom visit the areas, so the residents in the conflict zone feel that they’ve been abandoned by the government. For example in Popasnaya people complained that the children’s group which was sent to Slovenia for rehabilitation was used by officials to send their own children on vacation.
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
MANY DEALS – BUT LITTLE IMPLEMENTATION
Many valid agreements have been put place to solve crisis in Ukraine. The first was signed already on February 21, 2014 by then president Viktor Janukovich and leaders of three opposition parties, mainly Klichko, Yatsenuk and Tyagnibok. It was endorsed by foreign ministers Germany and Poland as well by Eric Fournier, the chief of the Continental Europe department at the French Foreign Affairs Ministry. Russia’s representative Vladimir Lukin refused to sign the agreement, though. The aim of the agreement was to end violence in Kiev which started in November 2013, to enable peaceful transition of power via “national trust interim government”, to organize preliminary presidential elections and the return of the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine.
The agreement was meant to stop the bloodshed that erupted in Kiev’s Maidan on February 18, which claimed lives of around 100 people. The signatories of the Agreement from the side of the forces in opposition to Yanukovich took over the responsibility to withdraw armed groups under their command and disarm there. It didn’t happen. When force agents under Yanukovych withdrew from the center of Kiev, the supporters of Maidan seized buildings of the Supreme Rada, the President’s administration, the government and the Foreign Ministry. It occurred during the night of February 22, immediately after the agreement had been signed.
On 5th September 2014 representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the so-called Donetsk People´s Republic and so-called the Lugansk People´s Republic as well as Heidi Tagliavini on behalf of the OSCE signed the Minsk Protocol in the capital of Belarus to halt the war in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine. This was done under the auspices of the OSCE, but by by January 2015 it had collapsed.
A new package of measures called Minsk II was signed on 12th February 2015. this was intended to revive the Protocol of 5th September 2014. That peace plan was put forth by the French president and German Chancellor after negotiations with Presidents Poroshenko and Putin and also as a response to the US proposals to provide the Ukrainian government with armament to which Merkel strongly objected.
• The first priority in Ukraine is to end violence in Eastern Ukraine and establish a sustainable and full ceasefire. The ongoing violence is the main factor that hampers all reforms, the chances of improving the human rights situation and the fight against corruption in Ukraine.
• Throughout the crisis the main problem has been that agreements have not been implemented in full, both in their military or political aspects.
• All possible diplomatic channels must be used to pressure all parties to end hostilities by underlining the suffering of the civil population and deteriorating human rights situation because of the conflict.
• All parties must be urged to fulfill their commitments in ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry and de-mining
• All parties to the hostilities must be reminded to commitments strictly to obey international humanitarian and human rights legislation, in order to ensure the protection of civilians.
• To encourage all parties of hostilities to ensure safe and unobstructed access for repair and construction teams to civilian infrastructure.
• Ceasefire observers of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should be able to patrol also during night in the vicinity of the contact line.
• The government of Ukraine should fully comply with the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe concerning law on so-called de-communization.
• National process of reconciliation should be launched.
• Cutting economic connections (i.e. cutting paying of pensions) to areas controlled by armed groups should be revisited.
• The civilian population must be protected on both sides of the armed conflict. International humanitarian agencies should develop a broader strategy to try to prevent a major humanitarian disaster. They should establish closer cooperation with local groups assisting civilians on both sides of the conflict line. The parties to the conflict should open access to civilians to all humanitarian agencies that can deliver aid to civilians.
• Ukrainian government, Russian government in the Crimea and armed groups controlling areas which proclaim themselves as DNR and LNR must commit themselves to protection of journalists regardless of the view of their journalism. Journalists and media outlets should be more responsible with regard to the policy to cover the conflict switching to journalism of facts from journalism of opinions or even preconceptions.
• Civil societies and state actors of both Ukraine, Russia and Europe regardless of their “preferences”, “likes and dislikes” in the conflict picture must use all possible diplomatic channels in order to promote the implementation of the Minsk II agreement and respect of human rights as the conflict in Ukraine is a major threat to the peace in Europe.
• Violence in Euromaidan between November 2013 and February 2014, in Odessa on 2nd May 2014, and in Mariupol on May 9th, 2014, must be thoroughly investigated impartially and efficiently. Legal processes should be depoliticized. If needed, international community should provide assistance on investigating the incidents.