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Ukraine

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Last updated on 25.07.2019 at 13:58

Ukraine - Overview

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is having a significant impact on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, particularly for those people in the conflict zone.

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Journalist killed, as activists protest against corruption in government

Journalist killed, as activists protest against corruption in government

journalist Cherkasy journalist Vadym Komarov attacked and severely injured by unknown attacker, activists protest against increasing corruption scanadals in the defence department, as CSOs caution the new president against crossing red lines.

Expression

Journalist dies after brutal attack

On 4th May 2019, investigative journalist Vadym Komarov was brutally beaten up and severely injured by an unknown attacker in Cherkasy, Ukraine. After the attack, passers-by found him in a critical condition in the street and called an ambulance which rushed him to hospital. Komarov underwent surgery on the same day and remained in a coma. The next day, on 5th May 2019, the police classified the attack as a "murder attempt". A few weeks after the attack on the 20th June 2019, Komarov died as a result of injuries sustained in the brutal attack.

In a statement, the Union of Journalists of Ukraine commented on Komarov’s murder and the events surrounding the attack. In a statement, they said:

Vadym was inconvenient for many local politicians. He highlighted topics of corruption in Cherkasy, covered other notorious themes. A new name has just been added to the sad list under that of journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was blatantly killed in the center of Kyiv three years ago.

Through his work as an investigative journalist, Komarov had exposed a number of issues related embezzlement of budget funds corruption in Cherkasy City Council in his articles. In 2016, Komarov had survived yet another murder attempt.

Presidential security blocks journalists from questioning president

According to the UA portal, an online news outlet, during the IForum event where newly inaugurated President Volodymyr Zelensky was invited to speak, the president’s security team denied journalist Yuri Smirnov, a special correspondent of LІGA.net, the opportunity to ask questions to the president. The guards who were hostile to the media representatives – elbowed Smirnov three times in the stomach and trampled on his feet. Smirnov had tried to ask Zelensky a question regarding the professional competence of his friend, Ivan Bakanov, whom the president appointed to the post of deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) on 22nd May 2019. 

Peaceful Assembly

Far-right activists protest against corruption

In late February 2019, during the electoral campaign for the presidential election, Ukrainian investigative journalists Bihus.info published their findings which revealed several corruption schemes in the country's defence department. According to the report, high-ranking defence officials committed acts of corruption including embezzling large sums of money intended for the army. These reports sparked protests in Kiev as protesters demanded action against key figures close to outgoing President Petro Poroshenko who were implicated according to the report. On 9th March 2019, police and far-right demonstrators clashed in the Ukrainian capital, when several hundred people gathered outside the presidential administration building in Kyiv to call for the arrest of those implicated. A video of the protest shows the police lobbing teargas to disperse the protesters.

Association

Ukrainian civil society caution newly elected president against crossing red lines

On 23rd May 2019, several Ukrainian civil society organisations issued a statement marking the red lines that the newly elected president of the country should not cross. The statement followed the president's top-level appointment of his business partner and friend, Ivan Bakanov, to the post of deputy head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). The CSOs also criticised the president’s close interactions with representatives from the former president’s regime, terming this as going against the principles of lustration. This term is best described as excluding public office civil servants from power after a change in regime.

The statement which contained clear references to security, economic and foreign policy priorities among others, also highlighted some key human rights issues, such as attempts to interfere with public broadcasting and ignoring dialogue with civil society as red lines which should not be crossed.

The “EU Project for Civil Society Development in Ukraine” provides courses for Ukrainian CSOs

The EU Neighbours East web page published on its website, online courses which are available for CSOs in Ukraine. The courses are intended to assist CSOs to develop visual and brand identities. The page also announced that two more courses – one on building communication campaigns and the other on the fundamentals of copy writing – would soon be available on the project’s website.

Association in Ukraine

The process to register and form an organisation is easy, and the legal framework for civil society is mostly open and supportive.

The process to register and form an organisation is easy, and the legal framework for civil society is mostly open and supportive. The government does not have wide power to deregister an organisation and there are no documented cases of illegal or arbitrary dissolutions of organisations. However, since 2015, CSOs are required to open bank accounts only in state banks, which could open the door to state interference. In the areas controlled by armed groups, human rights organisations have been targeted and forced to leave, while the remaining CSOs carry out primarily humanitarian work.

Peaceful Assembly in Ukraine

The constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and requires organisers to give the authorities advance notice of any demonstrations.

The constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and requires organisers to give the authorities advance notice of any demonstrations. During the 2014 ‘Euromaidan’ protests, many protestors were arbitrarily arrested and the police used deadly force to disperse protestors, resulting in hundreds killed. As a consequence the government also passed legislation to criminalise the demonstrations. No one has been held to accountfor the killing of protestors and other human rights violations during this period.Recently, the government has been more tolerant of demonstrations, but the police have still failed to protect protestors from clashes. Despite police protection during a recent Pride march, right-wing activists attacked the march resulting in 10 injured participants. Freedom of peaceful assembly continues to be significantly violated in the territories controlled by armed groups.

Expression in Ukraine

The media landscape has improved since the end of the Yanukovych administration in 2014. Journalists face violence and intimidation, and the government’s intolerance of pro-Russian or pro-separatist views has increased.

The media landscape has improved since the end of the Yanukovych administration in 2014. Journalists face violence and intimidation, and the government’s intolerance of pro-Russian or pro-separatist views has increased. Journalist Oles Buzina, well known for his pro-Russian views, was shot dead by two masked gunmen in front of his house on 16 April. The Interior Ministry banned the broadcast of 14 Russian channels, and the authorities have also detained pro-Russian journalists and barred many others from entering the country. The new law on public broadcasting aims to address the concentration of ownership of private outlets in a small group of businesspeople, as a way of increasing media plurality. Libel was decriminalised in 2001, although civil suits are still used against journalists. No websites are permanently blocked in Ukraine, but some Ukrainian news websites in non-government controlled areas have been blocked. Social media users tagged as ‘separatists’ or ‘extremists’ have been targeted with harassment and intimidation. Journalist Ruslan Kotsaba was arrested on charges of treason after he posted a YouTube video calling on viewers to boycott military mobilisation in Ukraine. Media workers operating in the territories controlled by the armed groups face hostility, extreme intimidation and physical violence, as well as widespread self-censorship.