Activists: About 10,000 people are kept prisoners in the occupied Donbas

About 10,000 Ukrainian citizens, who had been serving a sentence pursuant to a decision of Ukrainian courts before the hostilities began, are still kept in prisons in the temporarily occupied territory of Donbas. There is neither a register of these persons nor a mechanism for their return and legalization in the government-controlled territory of Ukraine. Human rights activists propose a mechanism for resolving prisoners’ problems.

Why do human rights activists insist on returning prisoners to the government-controlled area?

Some prisoners who had been serving their sentence in the occupied Donetsk colonies were transferred to government-controlled territories, while no one seems to be engaged in returning people from the uncontrolled territory of Luhansk region. “This undermines the trust of these people and their relatives in the state, provokes dissatisfaction in those territories,” said Serhii Starenkiy, lawyer, Former Head of the State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine (2014), at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

The conditions in detention facilities on the other side of the boundary line are much worse than in the government-controlled territory, said Pavlo Lysiansky, human rights activist. In addition to staying in a combat zone and running a certain risk, prisoners do not receive wages for their work. The money is used by the so-called “LPR” and “DPR” for their own needs. Serhii Starenkiy added that the convicts are often forced to take the citizenship of so-called “republics” against their will and their sentences are re-defined according to the Russian legislation.

It is not easy to return to the government-controlled territory for those who have served a term of imprisonment. “They have documents of release issued in the name of the so-called ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ that are not recognized by the legal authorities of Ukraine. When such a person returns to Ukraine, he again will be arrested, placed in an investigative isolator or in a colony. Then he has to expect a new decision issued in the name of Ukraine. Half of them does not even make attempts to return to Ukraine because they know they will be arrested again,” Serhii Starenkiy said.

How to solve the problem

To solve the problem, it is necessary to create a register of persons serving sentences in the territory not controlled by Ukraine. “The register is an instrument that will help solve the problem of legislative and legal regulation of the return of these persons to places of imprisonment in Ukraine in an indiscriminative manner, and bring the legal component into compliance with Ukrainian legislation in the future,” noted Serhii Starenkiy.

Serhii Starenkiy also said that communication has been established with the Ministry of Justice, Prosecutor General’s Office, Ministry of Occupied Territories, National Police and SBU to solve this problem. Pavlo Lysiansky added that it is also important to involve the international organizations that have access to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.