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Statements and speeches

Detentions of civilians in the context of the armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine

27 June 2023

Delivered by

Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine Matilda Bogner


Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The report that we are releasing today focuses on arbitrary detention of civilians in the context of the Russian Federation’s large-scale attack on Ukraine. It covers 15 months from February 2022 to May 2023.   

The findings in our report are based on 1,136 interviews with victims, witnesses and others, 274 site visits and 70 visits to official places of detention run by Ukrainian authorities. We documented over 900 cases of arbitrary detention of civilians, including children, and elderly people. The vast majority of these cases were perpetrated by the Russian Federation.

Ukraine gave us unimpeded confidential access to official places of detention and detainees, with one exception. The Russian Federation did not grant us such access, despite our requests.

Detention by the Russian Federation

I will start with the detention of civilians by the Russian Federation.

 From the beginning of its armed attack, Russia began to detain civilians in areas that it occupied. It carried out what appeared in some cases to be security detentions, but in a manner that did not protect civilians or comply with international law. We documented 864 individual cases of arbitrary detention by the Russian Federation, many of which also amounted to enforced disappearances.

Civilians were often detained during so-called ‘filtration’ in occupied territory for their perceived support of Ukraine, their status as former Ukrainian servicepersons, or their perceived political opinion or affiliation. They included local public officials, humanitarian volunteers, members of civil society, priests and teachers.

Many civilian detainees were held incommunicado, in unofficial places of detention, often in deplorable conditions. In about a quarter of the documented cases, civilian detainees were transferred to other locations within occupied territory or deported to the Russian Federation. Often, no information was disclosed to their families for prolonged periods of time.

We documented the summary execution of 77 civilians while they were arbitrarily detained by the Russian Federation. Some of these cases were included in our report on killings published in December.

Russian armed forces, law enforcement and penitentiary authorities engaged in widespread torture and ill-treatment of civilian detainees. Most of those we interviewed said they had been tortured and ill-treated, and in some cases subjected to sexual violence. Torture was used to force victims to confess to helping Ukrainian armed forces, compel them to cooperate with the occupying authorities, or intimidate those with pro-Ukrainian views.

Detention by Ukraine

I will now turn to the detention of civilians by Ukraine.

Legislative amendments passed last year, and practices by Ukrainian security forces, resulted in an environment conducive to arbitrary detention. We documented 75 cases of arbitrary detention by Ukrainian security forces, mostly of people suspected of conflict-related offences. A significant proportion of these cases also amounted to enforced disappearance, perpetrated mainly by the Security Service of Ukraine.

Under martial law, legislative amendments have given Ukrainian authorities wider discretion to detain people in relation to national security. Given their excessive scope, the amended provisions appear to go beyond what is permissible under international law, even during a public emergency, and have facilitated arbitrary detention.

The law on collaboration, adopted in March 2022, is not in line with international law and criminalizes a wide range of conduct, including that permitted or required under International Humanitarian Law. It has led to cases of arbitrary detention.

The misuse of legislative provisions to detain civilians without a warrant, resulted in further cases of arbitrary detention.

We documented that over half of those arbitrarily detained were subjected to torture or ill-treatment by Ukrainian security forces. This happened while people were being interrogated, usually immediately after arrest.  


I will now turn to the issue of accountability.

We are not aware of any investigations by Russian authorities into arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture or ill-treatment perpetrated by its own forces in Ukraine. We are deeply concerned that the Russian Parliament approved in its first reading a draft federal law that would potentially exempt from criminal liability perpetrators of international crimes committed in occupied regions of Ukraine, if they are committed to protect “the interests of the Russian Federation”. This would violate the State’s obligation to investigate and prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of international human rights law.

The Government of Ukraine says that it launches criminal investigations into each allegation of detention of civilians by the Russian Federation.  To date, 23 people have been convicted, including 19 in absentia. We are not aware of any completed criminal investigations by Ukrainian authorities into its own security forces for such violations.


The violations described in the report affect not only the victims, but also their families and communities. Many relatives still have no information on the whereabouts and fate of their loved ones.

Our report contains recommendations to the Russian Federation and Ukraine, urging them to release anyone who is arbitrarily detained and to fully comply with provisions of international law that govern the treatment and protection of conflict-related civilian detainees. We also remind the Russian Federation that security detention of civilians may only be used as an exceptional measure, and of their obligation to facilitate regular communication between detainees and their families.  

I conclude by reiterating our request to the Russian Federation to grant United Nations human rights monitors full and unfettered access to all areas of Ukraine which it occupies.

Thank you.