Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem in some pretrial detention facilities, although human rights organizations reported that overcrowding at such centers decreased as a result of reforms in 2016 that eased detention requirements for suspects. Monitors from the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner on Human Rights (Ombudsperson) reported that cells in one of the Kharkiv detention facility’s buildings measured less than 11 square feet, which allowed prisoners only enough room to stand. According to monitors, even short-term detention there could be regarded as mistreatment.
While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were often not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.
Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example, according to media reports, five staff members of the Vinnytsya Prison were charged with torture and one staff member with “violence against a prisoner in places of imprisonment” in February for severely beating an inmate. The inmate ultimately died after receiving additional blows by another inmate (see section 1.a.). In another instance, two prisoners from the Kropyvnytskyi pretrial detention center sustained bodily injuries after allegedly being beaten by the facility’s staff. In May the Kirovohrad Oblast Prosecutor’s Office initiated criminal proceedings investigating “abuse of power” of the detention center’s staff.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. For example, media outlets reported in February that Odesa pretrial detention facility staff illegally allowed two detainees into another detainee’s cell. The two transferred detainees allegedly attacked the other detainee, inflicting grave bodily injuries. The facility staff then transferred the attack victim to a solitary confinement cell, where he died from his injuries. An investigation was underway as of October.
Most detention facilities were old and needed renovation or replacement. According to the country’s seventh periodic report for the UN Convention against Torture, some cells and facilities had very poor sanitary conditions. Some detainees reported that their cells were poorly ventilated and infested with insects. In Zhovti Vody, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group reported remand prison cell walls were covered with mold and the damp air made breathing difficult. Cells were infested with fleas and cockroaches, and inmates often only had access to unboiled tap water that contained worms. Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.
The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the January 2019 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), in some pretrial detention centers, detainees did not have consistent access to food and water. According to the UN special rapporteur, most hygienic products including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products were not provided, and detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.
UN and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all kinds of medications with an overreliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison health-care facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering and delayed diagnoses and treatment.
The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas continued to deteriorate. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the “LPR” and “DPR” located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. There were reports of severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU was denied access to detainees held by Russia-led forces in the “DPR” and the “LPR.” The lack of access to detainees raised concerns about the conditions of detention and treatment.
The Eastern Human Rights Group continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “LPR,” such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided personal income to the leaders of the Russia-led forces.
Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsperson, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Human rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints. According to representatives of the national preventive mechanism, an organization that conducted monitoring visits to places of detention, authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints.
While officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors, prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they were entitled by law.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, the Ombudsperson’s Office, and the HRMMU.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.
The HRMMU and other monitoring groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained highly vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.
Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor General, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding and staffing, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.
The International Commission of Jurists emphasized in an April report that attacks on lawyers were often associated with their defense of clients in politically sensitive criminal cases. The commission concluded such attacks undermined the ability of lawyers to adequately perform their duties and protect the rights of their clients. In one such case, on March 27, police officers used force and inflicted bodily injuries on lawyer Mykola Ponomariov in Brovary in Kyiv Oblast. Police beat and handcuffed Ponomariov when he refused a request to provide false testimony as a witness in a case involving one of his father’s employees. As of November, the State Bureau for Investigations was investigating the case.
The HRMMU expressed concern about intimidation of judges, defendants, and defense lawyers by members of violent radical groups. For example, on October 16, a car belonging to legal aid lawyer Oleksandr Kovrak was set on fire in Odesa. Kovrak claims that the culprits opened the gate to the private area where the car was parked, broke the cars’ windows, and threw a fire accelerant into the car. He suspects the attack might be retaliation for the legal aid work that he provides voluntarily in support of rural residents seeking advice on property rights. Police opened an investigation.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There was one individual whom some human rights groups considered to be subjected to politically motivated detention, but during the year the detainee, Zhytomyr journalist Vasyl Muravytskyy, was released on his own recognizance while his case continued. Muravytskyy was charged in 2017 with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements deemed pro-Russian for which he could face up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for his release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.
According to the State Bureau for Investigations, as of mid-August, Russia-led forces kept an estimated 235 hostages in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).