Russia’s seizure of Crimea began on February 20, 2014. It became the first precedent of the annexation of the territory in Europe since the Second World war. However, the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict is not the first such conflict that Russia has been part of since 1945. In particular, the European Court of Human Rights has held in its judgments that Russia exercises effective control over the territory of Transdniestria.

As for Ukraine, before 2014, the country had not had any experience with armed conflicts on its territory, nor had it faced large-scale abductions and unlawful detentions of people in non-government controlled areas, massive use of violence against these people and the need to negotiate their release. But with the start of the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict in Donbas, these problems became everyday reality for Ukrainian society.

According to the research done by the Media Initiative for Human Rights NGO (hereinafter MIHR), today at least 130 Ukrainian citizens – including military servicemen captured during armed clashes and civilians – are unlawfully detained in the non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions (this document will focus on eastern Ukraine, since the situation in occupied Crimea is substantially different and requires a separate discussion). Having fallen into the hands of pro-Russian armed groups (hereinafter illegal armed groups, or IAGs), both categories of detainees are routinely subjected to torture and ill-treatment, held in inhuman conditions and refused essential medical assistance, while representatives of international human rights missions are not allowed to visit them.

These people’s plight has been the focus of the Tripartite Contact Group’s negotiations in Minsk. However, this negotiation platform can hardly be described as effective: the most recent large-scale release of people unlawfully held in Donbas occurred 18 months ago, in December 2017. Since then, the process of prisoner release, by and large, has been suspended. While the official Ukrainian side claims having made every effort to secure prisoner release, evidence from human rights groups suggests that many essential steps which depend on the Ukrainian authorities – such as the adoption of required legislation, offering support to families of unlawfully detained persons, designing and implementing rehabilitation programs, adopting a clear-cut policy for government agencies to guide their response and launching a broad international awareness campaign – have not been taken.

In addition to providing an overview of the situation with unlawful detentions in Donbas, this document offers a series of recommendations on what can be done to alleviate the detainees’ plight in the current situation.

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