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UN report details ‘climate of fear’ in occupied areas of Ukraine, as the Russian Federation moves to cement control

20 March 2024

HRMMU team at the site of the tragedy in the village of Groza, where a missile strike killed at least 52 civilians. 7.10.2023 ©OHCHR

GENEVA (20 March 2024) – The Russian Federation has created a stifling climate of fear in occupied areas of Ukraine, committing widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in an effort to consolidate its control over the population living there, according to a UN Human Rights Office report issued today.

The report, based on more than 2,300 interviews with victims and witnesses, details the measures taken by the Russian Federation to impose Russian language, citizenship, laws, court system, and education curricula on the occupied areas, while at the same time suppressing expressions of Ukrainian culture and identity, and dismantling Ukraine’s governance and administrative systems in these regions.

“The actions of the Russian Federation have ruptured the social fabric of communities and left individuals isolated, with profound and long-lasting consequences for Ukrainian society as a whole,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

Although the Russian Federation began its occupation of Ukrainian territory in Crimea in 2014, the report focuses on the situation in the territory of Ukraine that fell under Russian occupation following the full-scale armed attack launched by the Russian Federation on 24 February 2022. From the onset, Russian armed forces, acting with generalised impunity, committed widespread violations, including arbitrary detention of civilians, often accompanied by torture and ill-treatment, in some cases amounting to enforced disappearances. While Russian armed forces initially targeted individuals perceived as posing a security threat, over time a wider net was cast broadly to include any person perceived to oppose the occupation.

Russian forces also used force to quash peaceful protests, restricted free expression, imposed strict controls on residents’ movements, and pillaged homes and businesses.

The occupying authorities shut down Ukrainian internet and mobile networks, TV and radio channels, with traffic re-routed through Russian networks, which allowed control over information accessible online and prevented the population from freely receiving information from independent news sources, families or friends. People were encouraged to inform on one another, leaving them afraid even of their own friends and neighbours.

The report notes that certain actions of the Russian Federation suppressing expressions of Ukrainian identity, have impacted children in particular. The Russian Federation replaced the Ukrainian curriculum with the Russian curriculum in many schools and introduced textbooks with narratives seeking to justify the armed attack on Ukraine. It has also enlisted children into youth groups to inculcate Russian expression of patriotism.

People in occupied territory have been pressured and coerced to take Russian passports. Those who refused were singled out by the occupying authorities, experienced harsher restrictions on their freedom of movement, and were progressively denied employment in the public sector, as well as access to healthcare and social security benefits.

The report also details the situation in areas recaptured by Ukrainian forcers in late 2022, including Mykolaiv and parts of Kharkiv and Kherson regions, to which the UN Human Rights Office has subsequently had access.

“The invasion, occupation and subsequent recapture by Ukraine of these areas left behind damaged homes and infrastructure, land contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), pillaged resources, a collapsed local economy and a traumatized, mistrustful community," the report says.”

It notes that the Government of Ukraine has faced the challenge of rebuilding and restoring services in these areas. It has also had to contend with legacies of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the occupation, including through a wide range of war crime investigations.

The report expresses concern that an overly broad and imprecise provision of the Criminal Code of Ukraine has led to people being prosecuted under charges of collaboration with the occupying authorities for actions that can be lawfully compelled by the occupying authorities under international humanitarian law, such as work to ensure essential services. Other prosecutions have been undertaken against persons who cooperated with occupying authorities under serious coercion or duress.

“Such prosecutions have tragically led to some people being victimised twice – first under the Russian occupation and then again when they are prosecuted for collaboration. This risk of potentially facing prosecution has sown fear among those who lived, or still live, under occupation and reinforces divisions,” the High Commissioner warned, urging Ukraine to revise its approach to such prosecutions.

The High Commissioner once again called on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its armed attack against Ukraine and withdraw to internationally recognised borders, in line with the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly and with international law.-.

“Given the scale and depth of the violations suffered by those under occupation, a comprehensive approach to accountability that includes both criminal justice and wider measures promoting truth, and reparation, and which contributes to non-recurrence is needed. The international community should support Ukraine in all these aspects,” Türk said.

To read the report, click here: https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/country-reports/human-rights-situation-during-russian-occupation-territory-ukraine-and

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva
Jeremy Laurence - +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected] 
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

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