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04.03.20
27.01.20

(Kyiv) – Pensioners with limited mobility due to illness, disability, or advancing age who live in nongovernment-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine face overwhelming difficulty accessing their pensions or do not get them at all, Human Rights Watch said today.

In November 2014, the Ukrainian government stopped funding government services in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed armed groups. Since then, it has required people who live in these areas to register as displaced persons and cross the contact line to government-controlled areas to receive their pensions. According to Ukraine’s ombudswoman, over 450,000 of the 1.2 million pensioners living in these areas do not receive their pensions. In December 2019, the United Nations also noted the impact of these discriminatory rules on hundreds of thousands of pensioners.

“Ukraine’s pension policies impose hardships on many older people in areas not controlled by the government,” said Yulia Gorbunova, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These policies are discriminatory, violate property rights, and simply cut off those who are physically unable to cross the line of contact from their pensions altogether.”

Parliament should approve a pending draft law that, among other reforms, would delink pension eligibility from displaced person status and make it easier to pay pension arrears to those who have been denied pension payments or have been unable to access them.

The draft law, if adopted, would end the discrimination that pensioners living in nongovernment-controlled areas have faced since 2014 but would not address other difficulties that pensioners who cannot travel due to limited mobility face in accessing their pensions. For example, under current rules, pensioners from these areas have to appear in person every three months for an identity verification procedure at the only state bank, where pensions are paid. Unlike people living elsewhere in Ukraine, people living in areas not controlled by the government and registered as internally displaced may not appoint an authorized representative to collect their pensions.

To address these issues, the government should introduce further reforms, including a remote identity verification procedure and access to online notary services, Human Rights Watch said.

The Ukrainian government also requires residents of separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions who wish to remain eligible for pensions to have a residential address in government-controlled areas and to travel to those areas at least once every 60 days. These requirements are discriminatory and create unnecessary hardship by forcing older people to regularly take an arduous and, at times dangerous, journey, Human Rights Watch said.

Between October and December 2019, Human Rights Watch interviewed several pensioners who have been unable to travel to government-controlled areas for several years due to limited mobility and have lost access to their pensions. Two of them have not received their pensions since 2014 and one whose pension is being paid out by the government cannot get to the bank in person to access it. Human Rights Watch also interviewed their family members as well as lawyers and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are advocating to restore pension rights and have interviewed many other pensioners in nongovernment-controlled areas who cannot travel at all.

While there is no data on how many pensioners unable to travel currently remain in areas not controlled by the government, Ukraine’s Pension Fund reportedly has accumulated a debt of 86 billion hryvnas (approximately US$3.5 billion) which is owed to pensioners who live in non-government controlled areas. It is not known how much is owed to pensioners who can’t travel from those areas for mobility reasons, or how much is owed to others who may have fallen out of compliance with the discriminatory eligibility requirements or whose pensions were suspended for other reasons.

The UN, as well as numerous NGOs including Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly urged the Ukrainian government to repeal these requirements. In a December 2019 report, the UN said that delinking “the payment of pensions from [internally displaced persons] registration [would] … contribute to social inclusiveness among the population affected by the conflict.”

“When it comes to pensions, older people in areas not controlled by the government who have limited mobility should be treated the same as other Ukrainian citizens,” Gorbunova said. “It is heartbreaking to imagine that some of them live in acute poverty but are not getting the pensions to which they are legally entitled.”

For additional information about the government requirements and accounts by people affected, please see below.

Impact on Especially Vulnerable Pensioners

Ukraine’s pension requirements discriminate against all pension-eligible Ukrainians who live in areas not controlled by the government, but they have an especially pernicious impact on those who cannot travel because of limited mobility due to illness, disability, or advancing age.

These include pensioners who have not been able to travel out of these areas since the armed conflict began in 2014 and have never established pension eligibility. They also include those who at some point traveled and registered as internally displaced but whose limited mobility prevented them from making subsequent trips required to maintain their pension eligibility. In some cases, their pensions have been suspended and in others, people can’t access pension payments from a bank in government-controlled Ukraine.

Pensioners living in areas not controlled by the government have to be registered as displaced to engage with Ukraine’s Pension Fund directly. If a pension is suspended for failure to comply with registration or verification requirements, filing a lawsuit is often the only way to reinstate it.

Representatives of Right to Protection, a Ukrainian group that has been a leader in strategic litigation and advocacy for the rights of pensioners in the conflict, told Human Rights Watch that in their experience, people who file such lawsuits have a strong chance of winning in domestic courts. Winning in court, however, does not guarantee the reinstatement of the pension or the payment of arrears as there is no clearly established mechanism for carrying out the judgments.

Cabinet of Ministers decrees № 335 and № 788 stipulate that all pensions and pension arrears will be paid through a “special procedure, established by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.” However, the government has not established this procedure.

In a November interview in Kyiv, Right to Protection’s legal assistance coordinator, Iuliia Tralo, told Human Rights Watch that Ukraine’s Pension Fund has relied on the lack of procedure as a loophole to avoid paying arrears, even when courts have ordered such payments. Tralo said that fewer than 10 percent of such judgments were implemented in 2019.

Pensioners Unable to Travel to Obtain Displaced Person Status

Lyubov Toporkova, 85, and her sister, Raisa Ostapova, 81, live in Vuhlehirsk, a town in eastern Ukraine that is not currently controlled by the government. Both lost their pensions because they could not obtain displaced person status.

Ostapova has been living in Vuhlehirsk since 1957. In a phone interview with Human Rights Watch in December, she said that for the past 15 years, she has been the sole caregiver for Toporkova, who cannot move from the waist down and is confined to bed. Toporkova’s immobility made it impossible for the sisters to evacuate from Vuhlehirsk in 2014 or even go to an underground bomb shelter when the city came under heavy shelling.

“There was shooting and explosions all around us, but we could not leave the house,” Ostapova said. “And there we were, [Lyubov] lying down and me sitting at the foot of her bed, both of us shaking with fear.”

The sisters’ lawyer, Olena Prihodko, said that they both stopped getting pension payments from the Ukrainian government in August 2014, a few months after the conflict began. Prihodko also said that the sisters have been living in poverty and have no other relatives to help them.

Both sisters sued to have their pensions reinstated.

In March 2018, the Donetsk District Administrative Court, now relocated to a government-controlled city, ruled against reinstating Toporkova’s pension, Prihodko said. The court held that she should have left Vuhlehirsk and moved to government-controlled area to continue receiving her pension.

“The court decided that since she didn’t relocate when the war began, that was reason enough not to protect her rights,” said Prihodko. “A bizarre argument, considering that for years she has been physically unable to get up, let alone undergo such complicated travel.”

Ostapova won her case against Ukraine’s Pension Fund in August 2018, but the Pension Fund has not paid her the money to which she is entitled. In October 2019, Ostpapova’s lawyers filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

People wait at passport control after crossing the contact line between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops in Mayorsk, Ukraine, February 25, 2019.
People wait at passport control after crossing the contact line between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops in Mayorsk, Ukraine, February 25, 2019. Many pensioners spend hours queuing, in cold, heat, rain or snow, to cross the line because they rely on their social benefits, only accessible on the government-controlled side. © 2019 REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Pensioners Who Could Not Maintain Displaced Person Status and Comply with Bank Verification Procedures

Agafia Nikolaevna Pidobid is a 92-year-old resident of Donetsk, a major city in eastern Ukraine that is currently not under government control. In a Skype interview on October 11, 2019, Pidobid said that she crossed the line of contact early in 2016 and registered as internally displaced, but has not been able to travel again since, due to her rapidly deteriorating health. Pidobid suffers from chronic heart disease and is nearly blind. Her daughter, Tatiana Maltseva, said that in the last year, for health reasons, Pidobid has not been able to leave her house.

In March 2016, Pidobid’s pension was discontinued because she was not permanently living in Mariupol, in government-controlled territory, where she was registered. Lawyers from the Right to Protection took her case to court, which recognized that her rights have been violated and ordered the Pension Fund to reinstate Pidobid’s pension payments from February 2019 and pay her the three years of pension arrears that had accumulated since 2016.

Pidobid’s pension payments resumed, but her bank card has been blocked because she was unable to travel to a government-controlled area to undergo the physical identification procedure at the bank, which requires her personal presence every three months.

“The fact that she [Pidobid] is still getting paid although she has not been crossing is striking” said Yanina Rebenkova, Maltseva’s lawyer. “In practice, as soon as the Pension Fund finds out that a pensioner has not been crossing, they issue a decision to suspend payment, which is then communicated to the bank. Her pension has not been suspended but that makes no difference, because she cannot access the payments.”

Oleg Tarasenko, senior strategic litigation lawyer with Right to Protection, said “People like Agafia Nikolaevna may be receiving pensions but there is no mechanism in place for them to withdraw it without their presence. When she dies, her daughter can inherit the money – that is pretty much the only way for her family to access [it].”

Recent Government Actions and Rhetoric

The new draft law № 2083-d, submitted to Parliament on November 26 and scheduled for parliamentary consideration in January 2020, introduces a number of key provisions that could help improve the situation for pensioners living in nongovernment-controlled areas.

Specifically, the draft law: 1) permits the payment of pensions to be delinked from displaced person status; 2) provides that accumulated pension arrears should be paid in their entirety – current regulations limit that term to three years; 3) offers a concrete procedure for paying pension arrears; 4) simplifies verification procedures to establish pension eligibility; and 5) requires obligatory identity checks every six months, instead of every three months.

Ukrainian authorities have recently taken several important, practical steps to improve the situation for pensioners living in nongovernment-controlled territories. For example, in March, the authorities annulled expiration dates for electronic passes required to travel across the contact line. In August, an electric cart was provided to drive older people and people with disabilities across the Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint. In November, the authorities completed much-needed repairs to the destroyed bridge at this crossing point, which will reduce some of the hazards of crossing.

Several landmark court decisions also safeguarded pensioners’ rights. For example, in May 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring pensioners to register as displaced puts an improper burden on access to pensions. In December 2018, it found residency verifications for pensioners to be unlawful. In response, the Ministry of Social Policy stated that it would continue to verify displaced persons’ residences prior to granting them pensions or social benefits but that it would stop inspection visits to displaced persons’ homes.

However, resistance to easing the burden for older Ukrainians in separatist-controlled areas is reflected in the dismissive manner in which several former Ukrainian government officials have previously spoken about them, at times implying that they were disloyal to Ukraine. State officials also argued that pensioners living in these areas are also receiving social support payments from the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic.” That rhetoric was elevated in the spring of 2019 when the Russian government introduced a fast-track procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for people living in areas controlled by Russia-backed armed groups.

Whether pensioners residing in those areas receive some sort of financial support from nongovernment-controlled areas has no bearing on the Ukrainian government’s obligations to pay these citizens’ pensions, which are a form of property rights. Such support would not annul their rights vested in the state pension.

Applicable Legal Standards

The right of Ukrainian citizens to social protection, including pensions, is guaranteed by Article 46 of the constitution of Ukraine, as well as the Law on State Pension Provision and the Law on Collection of Obligatory State Pension Insurance.

Additionally, Ukraine is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and pension rights are protected property rights under Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the convention. Accordingly, any interference with pension rights must have a proper legal basis, pursue a legitimate aim, and must not be discriminatory or impose an excessive and disproportionate burden on individuals.

As the government does not exercise control over parts of eastern Ukraine, it is within its rights to amend the process by which pensioners in areas it does not control can collect their pensions. However, the process the government has introduced treats pensioners in these areas differently than other pensioners and imposes an excessive burden that creates hardship for them and therefore falls outside the scope of permitted interferences. It is also unjustified in that it violates other rights, such as family and home life, protected under Article 8 of the European Convention.

Recommendations

Ukrainian authorities should, as a matter of urgency, resume pension payments to all pensioners, irrespective of their place of residence, and eliminate requirements for pensioners living in areas not controlled by the government to regularly travel into government-controlled areas and maintain residential addresses there. The authorities should adopt the draft law № 2083-d and carry out its main provisions, including delinking displaced person status from pension eligibility, canceling the current three-year limit for payment of pension arrears, and introduce a clear mechanism for paying the arrears.

The authorities should also take additional steps to address the current gap in regulations governing pension provision that do not accommodate pensioners with limited mobility who live in areas not controlled by the government.

These could include:

  • Amending current legislation to provide pensioners living in these areas with the option, at their request or at the request of relatives or other close persons, to use online notary services
  • Amending current legislation to allow pensioners in these areas to engage with the Pension Fund of Ukraine on pension-related issues, irrespective of their place of residence, through a representative authorized by power of attorney, notarized remotely
  • Introducing a remote identity verification procedure so that pensioners in these areas can freely access their pensions through banks in government-controlled territory either personally or via their representatives.

Please find the source of the article here.

16.08.19

Today we present the report ‘Crossing the line of contact’ for July 2019. It is based on data collected during 45 visits to the five entry-exit checkpoints (EECPs) in February 2019. More statistical data can be found on the Eastern Ukraine Checkpoint Monitoring Online Dashboard.

· Première Urgence Internationale (PUI) reported about the increase in the number of people seeking medical assistance at Marinka EECP. The number of people fainting at Stanytsia Luhanska is still alarmingly high. On July 1-3 this number was in peak, surpassing 80 persons per day.

· A free bus route for older people and people with disabilities at Stanytsia Luhanska was launched in the GCA by Luhansk Oblast administration on July 15. The share of complaints about long distance to walk at this EECP decreased by 43% (from 73% in June to 30% in July), following the launch.

· On July 21 at around 12:00 an unexploded mine was found by the SES at Maiorske EECP, causing a suspension of operation on July 21 (partially) and 22.

· Minor changes in demographics were observed in comparison to June. The share of younger respondents increased by 8% due to the vacation season (vacation was one of the three most common reasons for crossings among respondents aged 18-34 in July).

· The share of respondents who were concerned about long waiting times in July was 10% higher than in June. The sharpest increase was at Stanytsia Luhanska (9% to 56%).

The report is based on the results of a survey conducted by R2P at the five EECPs to enter the NGCA and administered on a regular basis since June 2017. The survey is a part of the monitoring of violations of rights of conflict-affected populations within the framework of the project ‘Advocacy, Protection and Legal Assistance to IDPs’ implemented by R2P, with the support of UNHCR. The purpose of the survey is to explore reasons and concerns of those traveling from the NGCA to the GCA, as well as conditions and risks associated with crossing the line of contact through EECPs. The information collected in the survey helps identify protection needs, gaps and trends, and provides an evidentiary basis for advocacy efforts.

The document can be downloaded in English and Ukrainian.

31.01.18

Ocurrió hace unos días en el Foro Mundial de Davos, donde una de las atracciones fue un robot llamado Sofía. Según cuenta la diputada de Kiev Alona Shkrum, alguien invitó al androide al ‘stand’ ucraniano y ahí le preguntaron qué se podía hacer para acabar con la corrupción en esta ex república soviética. El software del robot colapsó y se quedó ‘colgado’. El Gobierno ucraniano, atenazado por una guerra congelada en el este, un nacionalismo que ya censura libros y una deuda difícil de domar, sigue intubado al respaldo occidental, tratando de no dar ningún chispazo como el del androide Sofía. El presidente Petro Poroshenko prometió al asumir el cargo un país limpio de corrupción y en paz.

El próximo mes de febrero se cumplen tres años de unos acuerdos de Minsk que sirvieron para frenar la sangría de la guerra pero que no han desembocado en una negociación. Kiev sigue sin controlar Donetsk y Lugansk, que tampoco han recibido el estatus especial prometido.

La guerra se ha convertido en una vía de escape para el Gobierno, que culpa a Rusia de sus males y prepara mano dura en el este. Mientras, la transparencia prometida vive horas bajas con unas autoridades acusadas de boicotear las instituciones creadas para combatir la corrupción. “Poroshenko cree que Washington y Bruselas le apoyarán haga lo que haga mientras dure la guerra contra las fuerzas respaldadas por Rusia en el este”, se lamentaba hace unos días el escritor y periodista Maxim Eristavi.

Rusia, “Estado agresor”

Mientras, el Parlamento ultima la ley para la reintegración de las regiones orientales de Donetsk y Lugansk a Ucrania, en la que declara la zona de conflicto como “territorios temporalmente ocupados” por grupos armados controlados por Rusia. Tras numerosas enmiendas, el documento, declara a Rusia como “Estado agresor”, y pone en manos del Ministerio de Defensa y del Ministerio del Interior la redacción de una hoja de ruta para recuperar esos territorios hasta lograr “la ausencia completa de militares rusos”. Establece la creación de un mando conjunto para “contrarrestar la agresión rusa”, todo ello sin mencionar los acuerdos de paz firmados en Minsk y equiparando implícitamente Crimea y Donbás. “Ucrania tiene que actualizar el marco legal que regula estos territorios temporalmente ocupados, que están administrados por Rusia y son fruto de una agresión rusa”, explica a EL MUNDO, Sergiy Kyslytsya, viceministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Ucrania.

[vc_single_image alignment=”center” image=”2563″]

Las ONG están preocupadas. Ahora el mando del Ejército en la zona de conflicto tendrá derecho a restringir la entrada de personas o vehículos a los territorios ocupados, verificar la documentación de civiles y funcionarios, así como al uso de la fuerza contra “aquellos que violan la ley o intentan entrar ilegalmente en la zona de combate”Darina Tolkach es una de las coordinadoras de Derecho a Protección, una entidad que da asistencia legal a las personas desplazadas dentro de su propio país: “Desde el punto de vista práctico supone más poder para las fuerzas del orden y una limitación de derechos y de la asistencia humanitaria, algo que puede provocar una segunda oleada de refugiados, gente que prefiera moverse más allá de donde está hacia otras zonas controladas por el Gobierno”. Aunque no ve contradicción directa con los acuerdos de Minsk, cree que la nueva ley “no apunta a la integración” de territorios.

El peor año en bajas civiles

No se vislumbran salidas, pero muchos ucranianos están hartos de leer en los medios extranjeros que en su país hay una guerra ‘congelada’: “No es así, van ya 10.303 muertos y 24.778 heridos según datos de la OSCE de 2017, un año que ha sido peor en cuanto a muertes de civiles que 2016”, recuerda Katerina Zarembo, profesora de Ciencia Política de la Universidad de Kiev. Sus compatriotas desayunan casi cada día con noticias de nuevas bajas del frente. “11 soldados ucranianos han muerto y 50 han resultado heridos desde el 23 de diciembre de 2017, cuando iba a empezar el alto el fuego de Navidad”, dice el viceministro Kyslytsya.

Las autoridades ucranianas y los separatistas prorrusos iniciaron en diciembre el mayor intercambio de prisioneros de guerra desde que hace cuatro años estalló el conflicto. Ese mismo mes el departamento de EEUU aprobó que se otorguen licencias a empresas estadounidenses para vender armas letales a Ucrania. Moscú -que no reconoce su injerencia en Donbás pero que sigue poniendo y quitando líderes separatistas en las zonas rebeldes- ha expresado su preocupación porque la medida puede reavivar el conflicto. “La Historia demuestra que Moscú sólo entiende el uso de la fuerza”, responde el viceministro Kyslytsya, que cree que “la ayuda occidental envía además un mensaje al Kremlin de que cualquier intento de agresión hacia Ucrania tendrá un alto coste para Rusia”.

Cerca del frente, la vida sigue entre una mezcla de “depresión” y “tranquilidad”. “Todos parecen haber olvidado que a 70 kilómetros hay otra vida”, explica desde Kramatorsk Olga, que prefiere no revelar su identidad: “Siguen los cortes de agua y de luz, los ‘checkpoints’”. Incluso la ‘normalidad’ sigue siendo muy extraña en esta franja de Donbas, donde esperan que el nuevo régimen excepcional no suponga una traba a su participación en unas futuras elecciones, en las que Poroshenko y los que apoyan al Gobierno saben que no recibirán muchos votos de esa ‘zona gris’.

31.01.18

Für den Osten der Ukraine gilt zwar eine Waffenruhe, doch noch immer gibt es fast täglich Verletzte und Tote. Das Parlament in Kiew hat nun ein Gesetz verabschiedet, das für das Gebiet schwerwiegende Folgen haben dürfte. Denn es verhängt faktisch das Kriegsrecht über die Oblaste Donzek und Lugansk.

Von Sabine Adler

Parlamentspräsident Andrej Paruby bittet um den Knopfdruck der Abgeordneten. Drei Tage hat die Werchowna Rada fast 700 Änderungen in dem Gesetz über die Re-Integration des Donbass teilweise chaotisch debattiert, Ende vergangener Woche wurde es angenommen. Zur Freude von Präsident Petro Poroschenko, der es eingebracht hatte.

“Heute hat das ukrainische Parlament mit 280 Stimmen das Gesetz über die Re-Integration des Donbass verabschiedet.”

Bei 36 Gegenstimmen und zwei Enthaltungen. Vizeparlamentspräsidentin Oksana Syroid von der Partei Selbsthilfe, war seit langem für das Donbass-Gesetz.

“Ich habe nur eine Frage: Kann ich als Abgeordnete dorthin oder nicht? Nein! Haben wir die Gebiete deswegen abgetrennt? Nein. Aber wir müssen die Realität anerkennen, dass Russland diese Gebiete okkupiert hat – die Krim wie den Donbass.”

Ende der Kompensationszahlungen

Im sogenannten Oppositionsblock, der aus der Partei des Ex-Präsidenten Viktor Janukowitsch hervorging, hält man von dem Gesetz gar nichts, es sei ungeeignet, das okkupierte Gebiet wieder zurückzuholen. Noch viel kritischer sehen es Menschenrechtsaktivisten wie Darina Tolkatsch. Vergeblich hatten die Juristen ihrer und anderer NGO vor diesem Gesetz gewarnt. Ihre Organisation “Recht auf Schutz” hilft seit Jahren Kriegsflüchtlingen, Entschädigungsansprüche durchzusetzen. Sie befürchtet, dass jetzt niemand mehr Kompensationszahlungen bekommt.

“Im Gesetz wird allein Russland für die Kriegsschäden verantwortlich gemacht. Für die Bürger heißt das, dass sie jetzt in einem ukrainischen Gericht Klage gegen die Russische Föderation einreichen müssen. Wie das funktionieren soll, erklärt niemand.”

Als Agent des Kremls abgestempelt

In der Präambel des Gesetzes wird Russland als Aggressor bezeichnet, was für die meisten Abgeordneten eine Genugtuung ist, sofern sie für das Gesetz über die Re-Integration des Donbass gestimmt haben. Wer es aber kritisiert, wird schnell als Agent des Kremls abgestempelt. Pawel Lissjanksi von der Ostukrainischen Menschenrechtsorganisation nimmt trotzdem kein Blatt vor den Mund.

“Das Gesetz ist reiner Populismus. Es ist ein Zeichen, dass der Präsidentschaftswahlkampf angefangen hat. Im kommenden Jahr ist die Wahl. Man will Punkte sammeln. Nur die Menschen in den besetzten Gebieten werden weiter keine Renten bekommen, auch nicht die ausstehenden Löhne, die ihnen die ukrainische Regierung noch aus dem Jahr 2014 zahlen müssteEs geht nicht um Re-Integration, sondern um die Ausweitung der Vollmachten der Sicherheitskräfte.”

Drei unterschiedliche Zonen in der Ukraine

Künftig gibt es drei unterschiedliche Zonen in der Ukraine: eine besetzte mit den selbstausgerufenen Volksrepubliken. Eine sichere – die freie Ukraine. Und eine Pufferzone, für die man spezielle Ausweise vom neuen Oberkommando der Streitkräfte braucht. Zu dieser Pufferzone werden die Oblaste Donezk und Lugansk werden, wo die Bevölkerung zwar nahe am okkupierten Gebiet, aber doch fast so normal wie im Rest der Ukraine lebte. Jetzt wird dort quasi Kriegsrecht herrschen, sagt die Juristin Darina Tolkatsch.

“Eine Verhängung des Kriegszustandes enthält normalerweise auch Pflichten gegenüber der Zivilbevölkerung. Hier nicht, denn es fehlt der Anspruch auf Evakuierung. Künftig dürfen die Sicherheitsorgane Zivilisten in dieser Pufferzone, im gesamten Donezker und Lugansker Gebiet, Personen mit Waffengewalt festnehmen, Durchsuchungen durchführen und Eigentum beschlagnahmen, Häuser, Wohnungen und Autos zum Beispiel. Außerdem dürfen im ganzen Land künftig Telefonate abgehört und e-mails mitgelesen werden.”

Markt in Stanzija Luganskaja

Stanzija Luganskaja ist ein winziger Ort wenige Kilometer von der Frontlinie entfernt. Hier befindet sich einer der nur fünf Übergänge an der viele hunderte Kilometer langen Grenze zwischen okkupiertem und nicht besetztem Gebiet. Die Lebensmittel auf dem Markt hier sind weit günstiger als in den Volksrepubliken, jeder schleppt, was er kann, über die Grenze. Ein Gesetz, das die Menschen aus den Separatistenrepubliken wirklich zurück in die Ukraine holen wollte, würde zuallererst hier, an den zu Dauerprovisorien verkommenen Übergängen, bessere Bedingungen schaffen, die die eigenen Bürger willkommen heißen.

Stattdessen lässt man die vor allem alten Menschen, die sich ihre Rente in der Ukraine abholen müssen, bei Wind und Wetter unter freiem Himmel warten. Nirgendwo gibt es ein Dach über dem Kopf, nirgends einen Platz, im Warmen einen Tee zu trinken. Der einzige Luxus sind ein zehn Meter langes Dach aus Folien der UN-Flüchtlingsorganisation und Zelte vom Roten Kreuz.

“Hier haben wir Leute, die schlecht zu Fuß sind, 70-80jährige, die einen Rollstuhl brauchen oder sich aufwärmen müssen. Wollen Sie einen Tee?”

Rückgang der Bürgerrechte

Irina, die ihren Nachnamen nicht nennen möchte wegen ihres Jobs in der neuen Pufferzone, befürchtet, dass es mit den Bürgerrechten nach diesem Gesetz weiter bergab gehen wird.

“Schon lange dürfen wir keine Meetings oder Demonstrationen abhalten oder auf eine andere Art unseren Protest zum Ausdruck bringen. Das wird sofort als Separatismus ausgelegt. Den Menschen ist schon jetzt das Recht auf freie Meinungsäußerung genommen, das neue Gesetz erhöht den Druck noch weiter.”

Aufruf zum internationalen Gebet (Deutschlandradio / Sabine Adler)

Darina Tolkatsch prophezeit eine neue Fluchtwelle aus der künftigen Pufferzone, deswegen hofft sie, dass es diesem Gesetz wie vielen ukrainischen ergeht: sie werden nicht umgesetzt. Theoretisch könnte Präsident Poroschenko noch sein Veto einlegen, doch er hat bereits angekündigt, zu unterschreiben.

Dass die Separatistenrepubliken nicht per Gesetz in die Ukraine zurückgeholt werden können, scheint ausgemacht, dass es trotzdem verabschiedet wurde, erklärt sich die junge Anwältin mit der Wahl:

“Es nützt vor allem dem Präsidenten, denn die faktische Ausrufung des Kriegszustandes in einigen Oblasten erlaubt der Regierung, die Wahlen nächstes Jahr abzusagen.”

06.07.17

The unfinished concrete block house outside Kyiv is home to twenty-three refugees who were evacuated from the war in Ukraine. They share one bathroom, one kitchen, one television, and sleep on bunkbeds on its second floor. Furnishings are makeshift, the house is dark, appliances are donated, and the stairs are rickety. Most are elderly, two bedridden, and one is blind.

But in the cluttered garden, Nikolai Fyodorov sits in his wheelchair and says “to me this is a fairy tale.”

That is because despite his current living conditions, he’s lucky. Some 1.8 million Ukrainians like him have fled the war and many are homeless or cannot obtain health care, schools for their children, or jobs.

Nikolai left Krasnogorovka, a village near Donetsk, because of constant shelling.

“My son, wife, and three little kids went to Russia, but I had nothing there,” he said. “I stayed until I had to leave. I have not heard from them since.”

He was taken in by Oleg Gorbachev who ran a shelter for the homeless, drug addicts, the elderly, and other vulnerable groups in Luhansk. When the conflict broke out in April 2014, his facility was plundered by a pro-Russian militia.

“I decided to evacuate people, although the thirty-hour route to Kyiv seemed unachievable,” said Gorbachev. He drove his family, found premises, and began ferrying people from the Donbas.

“The scale of the problem is bigger than one can imagine,” said Oleg. “Their stories are terrible. Each one was cheated or deprived illegally of their homes and belongings. Sometimes relatives refused to help them. But now they have new hope, friends, are not lonely, and are without fear.”

The place survives from donations, help from a Protestant church, volunteers, and a village doctor who donates time. Only twelve of the twenty-three get government pensions of $17 a month, and they donate 70 percent toward the cost of food.

Fortunately, an NGO called CrimeaSOS raised enough money through crowdfunding to replace Oleg’s van recently. “I hope we can crowdfund enough to buy the house and put in an elevator,” he said. “It would cost 500,000 hyrvnia to buy (roughly $19,000).”

Volunteers do major tasks and nursing, and the healthier residents share chores and the cooking. “If they do chores, they feel better about their situation,” said Gorbachev.

He raises donations, grocery shops, manages the volunteers, and helps them get documents so they can obtain pensions, medicines, and healthcare.

“Some of the residents make camouflage nets in the backyard for ambulances going to the front and do this in return for food,” said Olena Vynogradova, a legal analyst with a Ukrainian Charitable Foundation “Right to Protection” who took me to the hostel.

She said the burden on Ukraine is substantial and its “refugee” population is the size of Turkey’s or Jordan’s. Then there are those left in the warzone.

“Tens of thousands more are in danger all the time who live in the ‘Non-Government Controlled Areas,’” she said. “Old people or disabled people are stuck there without doctors, police protection, postal service, water, electricity, heat, and are shelled constantly.” She said Ukrainian officials are not allowed in and only three NGOs can go in.

The region is lawless and besides human rights abuses there are “children being sold,” “sex trafficking,” and “organ trading,” she said.

Tiny Nina Simyonkina lives here and uses a cane. She also feels very “lucky” to be here. Her son in Kyiv doesn’t take care of her and she lost her apartment in Luhansk while visiting friends in Russia when the invasion took place.

“Burglars moved in, then my neighbors went to court and took the apartment, claiming it was abandoned,” she said. “I came back and was homeless. I got into a hostel but was frightened by the Russian separatists who came in demanding that we swear allegiance.”

Another evacuee, Viktor, washes dishes in the backyard sun. He lived months in the basement of his village home because of constant shelling. He is deaf and 78 years old.

“He likes doing the dishes,” says Oleg beaming.

Another man, sprightly and fit, is weeding the garden while another digs a large ditch where they will refrigerate food in the winter.

Alexei Karpushyn is a middle-aged resident who said he was “nearly dead” due to medical problems when rescued by Oleg. He now works alongside him.

“We had normal lives and lost everything in a second,” he said.

The invasion was planned for some time and then “marginal people” were hired to be militias.

“I think the Russians will leave eventually, but they will steal everything before they do,” Karpushyn said.

The youngest resident is a mere 16 years old. Oleg took care of him and his single mother for several years until she recently died. He attends a nearby college.

“He’s a good boy. We look after him, and make sure he does not make bad friends,” said Karpushyn. “He wants to be a chef. Now he can be, and that will make us all very happy.”

Diane Francis is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Editor at Large with the National Post in Canada, a Distinguished Professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, and author of ten books.

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14.06.17

Retired and elderly people in the non-government-controlled Donbas region have lost their pensions as a result of registration requirements.

Every two months, Mykola Ivanovych* sets out to cross the Siverskiy Donets River, relying on others to help him cross a damaged bridge in his wheelchair and collect his government pension. The river marks the dividing line between his family home in non-government-controlled Luhansk and government-controlled Stanytsia Luhanska.


Mykola Ivanovych, who worked as a bus driver for 54 years, must present himself at the state-run bank in Stanytsia Luhanska, which checks his identity to allow him to receive his monthly payment of USD$53.

Inside the bank, he waits patiently while his wife joins the queue to carry out the verification process.

Mykola Ivanovych, who is his 70s, suffered two strokes after his son was killed by an artillery shell in 2014 – the first year of the Ukraine conflict, which has cost nearly 10,000 lives.

“Pensions are an acquired right of all citizens and should not be connected to their IDP registration.”

For hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled people in the conflict-torn Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the state pension is their only means of support. However, some 160,000 retired people lost this income after the government limited access to state pensions for residents of the area outside its control in December 2014.

Further restrictive measures introduced last year led to an additional 400,000 people losing access to their pensions.

Currently, people living in non-government controlled areas are required to register as internally displaced persons with the Ukrainian authorities in order to continue to access their rightful pension benefits.

“Payment of pensions should be resumed to all retired people, regardless of their place of residence, whether they are registered as IDPs (internally displaced persons) or reside at their homes,” said Pablo Mateu, UNHCR representative in Ukraine. “Pensions are an acquired right of all citizens and should not be connected to their IDP registration and the fact of displacement.”

Olena Grekova, head of the Severodonetsk-based office of Right to Protection, a UNHCR partner NGO that helps internally displaced persons in Ukraine, said many bedridden people had received no pension payments since the start of the conflict because they were unable to travel to government offices for identification.

“This is my pension, which I earned. Why do I have to feel like a second-rate person?”

Some have lost their payments because of mistakes. Tetiana Kovalenko, 83, had to leave the city of Donetsk after her house was bombed. Since 2015, she has lived in government-controlled Myrnograd and is registered as an internally displaced person.

Kovalenko, a former mine worker, stopped receiving her pension of USD$73 per month in April after the social security service decided that she lives in non-government-controlled territory.

Another woman, Olga Burkalo, 38, who has suffered from a severe form of diabetes since the age of 11, has up to 10 injections of insulin daily and needs her pension of USD$50 per month to pay for her treatment.

Social security inspectors visited her in December and March to check if she lives at her address in government-controlled Selidove. In February, she underwent an identification process at a bank.

However, in April she stopped receiving her pension. She was mistakenly suspected of living in non-government controlled territory when, in fact, she had not been there for more than a year.

Burkalo, who trained as a biology teacher, is now too weak to work.

“I used to work, I paid taxes,” she said. “This is my pension, which I earned. Why do I have to feel like a second-rate person?”

* Surname withheld for protection reasons

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21.06.16

Galina Dzhikayeva, an internally displaced person, from Simferopol, Ukraine, performs at her theater in Kyiv. In her most controversial play, “Militiaman,” she plays a pro-Russian man from Donetsk who captured, tortured, and killed Ukrainian soldiers. Through discussions with the public she tries to understand what motivates him, and aims to find an approach that will help people like him reintegrate when the war ends.

Two years ago this past April, the words “internal displacement” first appeared in the Ukrainian media. The term was brought by UN agencies that, along with local nongovernmental organizations, worked on a legal framework to regulate the phenomenon, which was completely new to Ukraine. Before then, journalists, volunteers, and even government officials called those who were fleeing occupied Crimea or hostile areas in eastern Ukraine “refugees” or “migrants.” Ukraine now has 1.7 million internally displaced persons.

Today, three IDPs in Ukraine share their memories of how they left their homes, how the past two years have changed their lives, and what needs to be done to reintegrate IDPs.

Galina Dzhikayeva, Simferopol

“I did not want to leave, but they left me no choice,” sighs Galina Dzhikayeva, a former director of the Karman art center in Simferopol. When Russian soldiers lacking insignias first appeared on the streets of Sevastopol, she began organizing pro-Ukrainian meetings. Later, she collected food and medication for Ukrainian sailors, and assisted the first international journalists covering the events.

“In case my worst fears came true and war began, I organized first aid courses in our theatre,” says Dzhikayeva. “They accused me of terrorist activities as a part of the ‘Oleg Sentsov terrorist group.’” Sentsov is the Simferopol filmmaker who was jailed by the FSB on suspicion of plotting terrorist acts in Crimea.

Members of the battalions invited Dzhikayeva to an “informal conversation,” the kind that was once routine for the Soviet-era intelligence service. “The conversation lasted three hours. They used tough psychological pressure; they wanted me to testify against Sentsov and other activists. I said and I signed nothing, because any word I said would have been used against us.”

Dzhikayeva left Crimea a few days later. “All the way to Odesa I thought I would cry and kiss Ukrainian soil when I saw our flags, but I did not. Only when my mother sent me some of my things from Crimea did I finally understand what happened and started to cry.”

Dzhikayeva’s parents could not move to the mainland because her father is confined to bed. Galina herself has not registered as an internally displaced person, nor has she applied for social assistance. “I have my hands and I have my brain, so I will earn money,” she says. She also has a theatre, and that gives her hope and strength.

In her most controversial play, “Militiaman,” she plays a pro-Russian man from Donetsk who captured, tortured, and killed Ukrainian soldiers. Through discussions with the public she tries to understand what motivates him, and aims to find an approach that will help people like him reintegrate when the war ends.

The theater is located in an old building in the historic part of Kyiv. “When we played in December, the walls were covered with ice. Still, we were sold out—the audience sat fully dressed under electric heaters,” Dzhikayeva smiles. The theater does not bring money. To survive, she works as a managing editor at a local TV channel. But she says she is lucky because she has enormous support, and inspiration from her art.

“For two years, I’ve felt like I’m living in a horror movie, waiting for it to end,” says Iryna Stepanova. Before the occupation, she worked as an engineer at a local plant and regularly went to church. She and her family belonged to a Protestant community that pro-Russian militia targeted, considering them sectarians.

Combatants converted her church into an armory and a firing point. “My children went to school twenty meters away from the armed barricade. I feared the worst—a repetition of the Beslan tragedy, when terrorists entered a school and shot kids. So my children stopped going to school.”

In early May 2014, Stepanova’s church organized an evacuation for women in the Protestant community with children. “There were about twenty of us,” she recalls. “When we were about to leave, some women came to stop us. They yelled at us and rocked the bus. The route to Dnipropetrovsk [about 231 km] took us twenty hours. When I finally saw Ukrainian flags, we started crying.”

From Dnipropetrovsk, Stepanova moved to a small town near Kyiv where she settled in a hostel. She was part of one of the first waves of IDPs fleeing occupied areas. Back then, prejudices against IDPs had not yet formed. She cries recalling how generous everyone was. “Once a local pastor came to our hostel,” she says. “He asked if we had children and pregnant women. We did. The next day at 6:00 am, the pastor brought us fresh milk and cheese; he did so every day for two months.”

Stepanova began going to local volunteer organizations, NGOs, and regional administrations and councils to meet people and offer her help. Soon, members of the Ukrainian parliament, ministers, and representatives of international media became her friends. “Some MPs truly surprised me by showing their human faces—many times they would come to IDP settlements with trucks loaded with food, medication, and other essentials,” and they came without journalists.

She returned to destroyed Slovyansk immediately after its liberation. She became involved in volunteer activities and the social life of her town. “Once I was asked to accompany the Swedish Ambassador to Ukraine to basements where pro-Russian militia had kept prisoners. The ambassador’s brother was one of the International Committee of the Red Cross team who had been kidnapped and kept there for several days. It was horrible; the walls were scribbled with blood of prisoners.”

In July 2014, the All-Ukrainian Charitable Foundation “The Right to Protection,” a Ukrainian NGO, invited Stepanova to join a project assisting internally displaced people, where she remains today. She fears that someday she might be forced to leave home again, as the front line slowly moves toward Slovyansk.

Oleg Gorbachev is one of the founders of a hospice for elderly people; it helped homeless people, older Ukrainians, drug addicts, and other vulnerable groups. When the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, the hospice was at the epicenter of the hostilities, and pro-Russian militia began plundering it. It was the only home for its patients, some of whom were bedridden. “I decided to evacuate people, although the thirty hour route to Kyiv seemed unachievable,” says Gorbachev.

But he made it. He managed to evacuate twenty pensioners from Artyomovsk and the so-called “gray zone”—towns along the front line governed by neither the pro-Russian militia nor the Ukrainian army. “I even transported a deceased grandfather from the hospice who died right before the evacuation.” Gorbachev did not have any means of transportation except an old, Soviet-era Volga automobile. He drove the deceased patient, who sat in the backseat of the Volga, to the government-controlled area to bury him respectfully.

Gorbachev is an IDP himself. He and his family left the home where they had happily lived before the war. Still, he does not have time to despair; he has to take care of the twenty pensioners he evacuated.

Today they live in a small town near Kyiv, while he actively seeks a new site for the hospice. “We are short on money,” he says. “Of course, I do fundraising. Every day I have a number of meetings, calls, I send hundreds of emails, but I have the impression that the government does not know what to do with us.”

Conclusion

Most IDPs are not like Galina Dzhikayeva, Iryna Stepanova, and Oleg Gorbachev, and most need care. Many IDPs in Ukraine, especially those living in remote areas, feel helpless as the war drags on. Over the last two years, IDPs have learned that they can rely on volunteers, local and international NGOs, and the media. Many feel abandoned by the government because it has been reluctant to help them and does not communicate well. Some IDPs are still unaware of their rights. Good communication might motivate IDPs to take responsibility for their lives by looking for new jobs or taking courses to learn a new skill.

NGOs are busy providing legal work and social assistance, but the government has put unnecessary obstacles in their way, from making it difficult for relief organization to enter areas that aren’t controlled by the government to dragging its feet on official legislation to narrowing the rights provided by the law on IDPs to introducing cumbersome bureaucratic procedures. Ideally, the government should accept nongovernmental actors as full partners and communicate its policies more clearly. Minister of Social Policy Andriy Reva recently noted that 350,000 IDPs don’t receive pensions and more than 15,000 do not receive social payments all due to “inconsistencies in legislation.” It’s time to finally get on top of these problems. Ukraine’s most vulnerable people deserve nothing less.

Kateryna Moroz is an alumna of the University of Miami School of Law and a Fulbright scholar.

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03.06.16

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Following the establishment of the new Ministry of Ukraine on Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons, the Project “Strengthening the Human Rights Protection of Internally Displaced Persons” organized a High-Level Visit in Strasbourg on internal displacement in Ukraine. The visit took place on 24-25 May at the headquarters of the Council of Europe, with the aim of promoting constructive discussion on ongoing challenges and strategic vision for the national response to internal displacement. The discussions focused on the ways in which the Council of Europe and relevant stakeholders can support Ukraine.

Fostering Council of Europe cooperation with the newly established Ministry and other key national and regional partners is a key element.

The Ukrainian delegation consisted of the newly appointed Minister of Ukraine on Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons, Mr. Vadym Chernysh, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ms. Iryna Gerashchenko, and the Chair of the Parliament Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Interethnic Relations, Mr. Hryhoriy Nemyria. Among the members of the delegation were also the Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Valeriya Lutkovska, Members of Parliament, Ms. Iryna Lutsenko, Ms. Nataliia Veselova, and Mr. Sergyi Taruta, Mr. Andrii Kravchenko, Deputy Head of the Anti-Terrorist Centre, Security Service of Ukraine, Mr. Maksym Kononenko, Deputy to the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe, Mr. Andriy Baziv, First Secretary of the Department of International Organisations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Zhanna Lukianenko, Representative on Internally Displaced Persons of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Yuri Buznitskiy, Chief Adviser of the Secretariat of the Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Relations, Ms. Olga Lishyk, Deputy Head of the Luhansk Regional State Administration, Mr. Igor Stokoz, Deputy Head of the Donetsk Regional State Administration, Mr. Vitalii Lytvin, Adviser of the Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration, and Ms. Olena Vynogradova, Legal Expert, NGO Right to Protection.

During the intensive two-day program, the delegation exchanged views with the Deputy Secretary General, Ms. Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, during which the Deputy Secretary General underscored the Council of Europe’s commitment to helping Ukraine to improve the human rights situation of internally displaced persons. In the meeting with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Nils Mužnieks followed up with the participants regarding issues raised during his preceding visits to Ukraine. The delegation also met with the Director for Human Rights, Mr. Christos Giakoumopoulos, the newly appointed Special Adviser of the Secretary General on Ukraine, Mr. Régis Brillat, the Director of Programmes, Ms. Verena Taylor, and representatives of the European Court of Human Rights, profile Committees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as the Department on Anti-Discrimination, and Department on Equality and Human Dignity.

All participants to the meetings highlighted their commitment to improving the human rights of internally displaced persons through coopeation with a view to achieving the main objectives of the project, in particular strengthening the national legislative framework on internally displaced persons and its successful implementation in practice.

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