The deeply engrained mistrust of state institutions becomes particularly painful for families that have lost someone in the war but do not believe the state’s theory about their loss.
Take for example the case of Kovalchuk family (surname changed) from central Ukraine that mourns the loss of a man who was husband, father, and son to them. He was serving in a mechanized unit in the army but saw no combat in the war. He died of a gunshot wound to the head in his battalion’s quarters. The army’s investigation concluded that the man killed himself. The family doesn’t believe that.
Civil society organizations often act as an intermediary when it comes to straighten out strained relations between citizens and the state. During the ongoing war in Donbas they help documenting crimes committed by both warring parties. NGOs and volunteers enjoy much higher trust than the state and the media. They can, however, not take over the role of either of these two pillars of democracy. The state should be the one to investigate and punish crimes. NGOs can put pressure on the state to act, but they shouldn’t provide parallel structures to the state. Especially when people don’t trust the state’s findings about someone lost in the war, NGOs find themselves in a very awkward position.
The lack of detail in the description of the suspected suicide above is intentional. Such cases, when family members accuse state institutions of sloppy investigations or even of cover-up operations have to be dealt with carefully. Time and time again we meet people, who have lost someone during the war but do not believe the theory of death that is offered to them by the army, the police, the SBU, or the prosecutor’s office. This topic is hard to deal with for a number of reasons: Firstly, people, who mourn the death of a beloved one look for meaning in this loss. If the investigators conclude that the reasons of death were a banal accident, human error, or even suicide, this often leaves those behind bereft not only of a family member but also of trust in a meaningful connection between cause and effect. Their grief, and often their anger, are certainly understandable. NGOs can do more in helping build an inclusive commemorative culture that accommodates this grief, than paralleling the state as investigators.
Anyhow, cases, in which the family’s conclusion and the prosecutor’s conclusion diverge, are incredibly hard to verify. In cases where the circumstances of somebody’s death are open to doubt, the ones who could dispel this doubt are usually forensic experts. Such people are not only in short supply, they are also usually employed in an organ of law enforcement, the very institutions that often face mistrust. Bereaved families may express a feeling that something did not go quite right in the investigation, but often they can’t quite put their finger on what it was. Often, the real circumstances of someone’s death cannot be investigated quickly. Rumors start to spread, sometimes picked up by the media, so that indeed the reasons of death declared sometimes have to be revised, as has recently happened in the case of an infantry man from Odessa Oblast, who was killed in combat but had originally been declared dead of heart failure.
One more reason for which mistrust towards investigators is hard to discuss is that it often involves allegations that state organs themselves have broken the law. For human rights activists, who insist that war crimes must be prosecuted and perpetrators punished, allegations against investigators are always problematic. They suggest that authorities try to cover-up something but mostly lack the necessary evidence. To voice allegations without evidence would make human rights activists guilty of the crime they often accuse state organs of: to use rumor or circumstantial evidence in order to silence their opponents. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to make a solid case against the state without the long, in-depth research it takes to gather evidence that the state’s investigation was flawed. There are not many families or, for that matter NGOs, that can afford such investigations.
Suicides have been recognized as one of the armed forces’ chief problems and measures have been taken up recently. Suicides, especially when they occur in an environment full of weapons and violence, leave behind a great deal of uncertainty and doubt, as has been recently shown by the much-discussed death of celebrated fighter pilot Vladyslav Voloshyn. In his case too alternative theories of his death were investigated.
A lack of trust in the institutions involved in fighting a war is perhaps not surprising. There is a host of motives why a state would try to keep numbers of those killed in combat low. High losses not only make a war unpopular, they also make it costlier. The Ukrainian side in this war may sometimes come under suspicion of trying to avoid rent payments to the families of fallen soldiers. The other state involved in this war, Russia, not only outright denies its soldier’s involvement in the Donbas, if they get killed in combat, the state has to come up with its own theory why its soldiers die. Citizen groups representing the families of Russian soldiers have long drawn attention to the total lack of information about the circumstances of the death of Russian in Ukraine.
If the bodies of killed soldiers are hard to identify, only sophisticated technologies, such as DNA analysis or forensic dentistry can help identify a body. These technologies are not intuitively understandable to non-experts, which makes it harder to accept their findings. Also, the army is often very reticent with releasing data from such analyses. They frequently contain classified information. In two of the cases documented by the “Coalition”, relatives of deceased soldiers have also reported that their inquiry for more information was met with unfriendliness and bureaucratic hurdles.
There are civil society groups that try to offer relief to those, whose close ones have disappeared, such as Black Tulip, an organization that identifies bodies and matches the results with data about disappeared soldiers. But for soldiers, who are officially declared dead, it is a very long bureaucratic procedure to change the official theory of their death. If the state’s theory and the family’s theory do not match, the family often does not only have to deal with their loss but also with the deepening of mistrust in the state they live in.
On Monday, June 3rd, Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives with its partner organizations from the Coalition “Justice for P...
A chance to explore 13 rifts of war: the exhibition “On the Rift” is now open in Kyiv
On Monday, June 3rd, Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives with its partner organizations from the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas” presented the touring exhibition on human rights violations in eastern Ukraine “Na Zlami / On the Rift” at “Zoloti Vorota” museum. The exhibition shows 13 changes in life of civilians since 2014 as a result of the war in Donbas.
Presentation and creation of the exhibition “Na Zlami / On the rift” are the results of the project “Empowering civil society for a transformation of commemorative culture”, implemented by KURVE Wustrow in collaboration with Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives and its partner organizations from the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas”.
Former victims of human rights violations during the war in the Donbas were the guests of the event as well as representatives of international and Ukrainian NGOs. Artists and journalists were also present during the presentation.
The visitor can see 13 conventional rifts that demonstrate demographic and social changes in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the destruction of family relations, and the marginalization of the local population along with the personal drama of civilians, trying to survive in new harsh conditions.
The exhibition is a collaborative project of the partner organizations of the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas”: Vostok SOS, Moloda Prosvita Prykarpattia, Human Rights Civil Research Centre, Committee for the Protection of the Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of Citizens, Crisis Media Centre “Siverskyi Donets”, and Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives.
«We have fifth year of war with Russia in our country. However, a part of Ukrainians neither want to hear about it nor see it. We want to show those, who have not experienced horrors of war, that the pain and suffering of our citizens is real. That is the primary reason why we have created “Na Zlami” and want to present it all over Ukraine», - mentioned Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, head of Eastern Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives.
Former witnesses and victims, who had become protagonists of the exhibition, spoke about the dramatic experience of change after the start of war. Many of them experienced uncertainty, the loss of social ties, and the disruption of daily life. Many of them had to survive.
«I always had the feeling like I was on the edge. When I had left my city, I did not have any money. During the first six months after departure, I had a strong feeling of hunger because I could not find a job. I did not have social connections; I did not know where to find a job. I had to work as a loader or a miller. It was a hard time», - said Evhen Shliakhtin, one of the protagonists of the exhibition, former detainee of illegal prison in Luhansk.
“Na Zlami / On the Rift” tries to convey a holistic picture of the disruption of the fabric of Ukrainian society during the war in Donbas. The exhibition stands combine excerpts from interviews of former victims or witnesses of human rights violations along with infographics and statistics.
«Na Zlami” is an attempt to lend a voice to people, who have lost their rights, their freedom, their health, their home or a person close to them to the violence in eastern Ukraine. This has led to a multilayered picture that still can only begin to explain why this war broke out and how it could be settled», - mentioned Simon Schlegel, one of the coauthors of the idea of the exhibition.
All those, who were present during a presentation, noted that “On the Rift” focuses the viewer`s attention not only on the problem of the civilian population in the past, but also on their integration into society as well as brings a new perspective on the acceptance of witnesses and victims of war in society.
On the 30th of May female survivors of the armed conflict together with the representatives of component public authorities discusse...
On the way to justice: survivors of the armed conflict shared their experience in Mariupol
On the 30th of May female survivors of the armed conflict together with the representatives of component public authorities discussed how to restore justice in the situations when people were detained, undergone violence or their other rights were violated.
The public discussion “What does “restoration of justice” mean for women and girls affected by the armed conflict” was initiated by an NGO “Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives” with the support of the Special Representative of the Ukrainian government on gender policy Kateryna Levchenko
«There are many specific problems related to women only, but they are not discussed in the society. Today we see here almost all the sides that should be included into the process of justice restoration. How this justice should look like? Should it mean reparations or compensations, just punishment of the perpetrators and the degrees of punishment? That’s why we’ve initiated such event”
He suggested to work in small groups where both the women and the law enforcement officers discussed “what is justice” and “what are the impediments to restore justice”. After these discussions the participants shared their thoughts in order to decide together about the mechanisms of justice restoration.
“Such discussions help us to hear those in need and translate the language of the documents into the language of regulator acts that are very pertinent”,
Kateryna Levchenko commented on the ideas of the participants.
A major part of the event was dedicated to the discussion of gender-based violence. Hanna Yanova, the Center’s researcher, who worked on the report “War without Rules: Gender-Based Violence in the Context of the Armed Conﬂict in Eastern Ukraine”, pointed out:
“The conflict contributed to many various human rights violations. These are shelling, enforced disappearances, murder and torture. There are different responsible persons and the crimes are very specific, but there is one thing that is common—people want to restore justice. They want to achieve compensation of court’s decision, find those guilty, or the body of the disappeared person”.
Kateryna Levchenko said it was important that the representatives of law enforcement agencies and the OSCE observers took place in this discussion. She also said that judges are currently being trained to hear cases related to violence, committed during the armed conflict. She added that they will take into account the issue of social and other kinds of aid.
Among the participants of the event, there were women who survived violence, were held in detention, as well as relatives of the deceased and people who lost their house or it got damaged as a result of shelling. The female participants either live in the government-controlled territory in the east of Ukraine or are IDPs. All of them shared their views on the restoration of justice.
“I wish that none of women survived what I had been through, because for the past several years I’ve been trying to support others, to set an example that it’s important to tell about your problem”
said a former detainee Iryna Dovhan.
“If your relative had been killed and you got money for that, it wouldn’t bring him back. There should be material compensation, but does it restore justice?”
asked one of the survivors.
Each of the small groups worked on the issues of material compensation, social benefit programs, as well as social and medical aid. Kateryna Levchenko received the results of the discussions to pass them on for regulation at the legislative level.
The event was held with the support of Swedish Institute and the Department of State of the USA.
The 39th ECCHRD meeting, hosted by OSCE/ODIHR took place in Warsaw on 17 and 18 May 2018. European Co-ordination Committee on Human ...
Hanna Yanova: "Documentation is not the end, it's only a beginning"
The 39th ECCHRD meeting, hosted by OSCE/ODIHR took place in Warsaw on 17 and 18 May 2018. European Co-ordination Committee on Human Rights Documentation (ECCHRD) is an open network of Europe-based organisations and institutions producing human rights information. More precisely, it is an annual meeting of librarians, documentation and communication workers and similar staff that work with these organisations. Hanna Yanova, researcher at Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives, who represented the Coalition of NGOs “Justice for Peace in Donbas”, participated in the event this year.
‒ Hanna, was there anything that the Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas” could learn from the organizations who participated in the event?
–In this regards, the Coalition has excelled also because we not only document information on human rights violations but also use it in different ways. To carry out reports for national and international advocacy, for creative projects such as documentaries and graphic novel. This is a brand new way to present the collected information. As it turns out, we have many ways to deliver information to broad audience compared to others.
– So the Ukrainian organizations are sort of synthesizing the ways to use information on human rights violations?
– Yes. In the Coalition, we collect, process and use information further. It’s a full cycle unlimited by solely the collection of information. And documentation itself is not the end but rather the beginning of the process of litigation submission to international committees. Several organizations do so, they submit information to the UN committees. But as for the participants of the event, they were mainly interested in the creative aspects which the Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives focuses on. It’s a documentary about the transformation of Luhansk regional administration into a place of illegal detention, and a graphic novel “The crossroads: nine stories about war and violence”. Others don’t do such things. I think that such ways only enlarge the circle of people to deliver this information to, and it’s always positive.