The beginning of the year in the self-proclaimed republics was marked by a series of high-profile arrests of civilians. Among them there were pro-Ukrainian activists, volunteers and persons whose activities are seemingly unrelated to the active social position.
Residents of the self-proclaimed republics reported that detention was usually carried out by people in mufti or in the uniform of "the Ministry of State Security of the DPR". They come to the suspect’s home, conduct searches and seize documents of identity, money, "find" confirmation of extremist activity. Then they arrest for the period of thirty days for the so-called "investigation". There were recorded cases of arrest of persons crossing the demarcation line during the verification of passport with an electronic database system installed at the checkpoints of the DPR and LPR.
Aleksander Gorbatko, coordinator of the Donbass-SOS, spoke about the situation with the arrest on thw uncontrolled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and what to do if you or your family member were arrested or kidnapped.
What is the situation with kidnapping on the uncontrolled territory today?
- There were frequent reports on missing people on the uncontrolled territory during the last two and a half months. It is important to note that these reports were not as structured as they had been before. If then people resorted to the public organizations hot lines, called Ukrainian Security Service and reported on the kidnapping, there are not many of such reports today.
"Law enforcement agencies" of the self-proclaimed republics have the figure of thirty days. Relatives of the detainees say that after checks and in thirty days, according to the decision of Donetsk or Luhansk "prosecutor", the person will be either released or charged. It is known that people are released after the expiration of this period or even earlier. But there are opposite cases when people are not released at all.
And what kind of people are"detained", what are the reasons for "arrest"?
- We can not understand what the reason are, what the grounds are, all our assumptions are based solely on guesses. The wave of arrests that began in late December, early January, is very strange. Some of the detained civilians are people who are directly involved in social activities, volunteers. But a small part of them is, of course, individuals who support Ukraine and conduct clandestine or open pro-Ukrainian activities. Dissent people are also detained because you become dangerous to authorities of the self-proclaimed republics.
How is the process of detention carried out?
- If you are detained at home, it means you have been shopped. It often happens that these people are neighbors or relatives. Someone with whom you communicated, someone with whom you had an argument. And then they got denunciation on you and came to you.
The second option is when you're detained at the checkpoints of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR while crossing the demarcation line. There are now installed electronic database systems: computers, which check if your passport details are on the list of wanted persons. We don’t know what the grounds for such detentions are. We also don’t know where they get that information. But nevertheless.
They can also detain you and check your stuff: browse your phone, pad, check some other things and contents of your bags. And if there are suspicious things - such as photos with flags of Ukraine, pictures of cities that are controlled by Ukraine (Kiev, Kharkov, Dnepr), it may also serve as a ground for you to be detained. It is also an option that you can be detained just because you sat next to someone who had some sort of forbidden literature, forbidden things in the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR.
How should you behave when you are detained?
- First of all, do not panic. Keep reserved. And if you've already got "to the basement" and they decided to interrogate you, I recommend not to lie, to tell the truth. Do not avoid things which, from your point of view, can harm you now. They will get truth by any means. Brute force will be used against you and you’ll tell everything. The sooner you tell the truth, the less brute force will be applied to you. They can detain you for a few hours or for an indefinite period of time. There are people who have been already in captivity for more than a year.
What can you recommend to relatives?
- Firstly, don’t be hysterical and start calling everyone. I offer to sit down, take a piece of paper and develop a plan of action. The first thing that should be in the action plan is some kind of operational work. You should collect all the information on the fact of detention, kidnapping. That is who detained, how many men there were. It is very important if they were in the uniform with chevrons. They will help to determine the place where your relative was taken.
You should also resort to international organizations. There are offices of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) in Donetsk and Luhansk – that’s the first place you should resort to. Don’t strain at reporting to the police of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR. File a statement, call and ask the commandant's office. Most of the people are detained by the self-proclaimed MSS. It is tight with information there, but no one will forbid you to call and ask whether such detention has taken place. Plus, of course, you need to file a statement and submit to both the police and MSS.
I would recommend the next step not to men but to women (mother, sister, wife, girlfriend) to go to those establishements, ask to hand over the detainee some news, warm clothes and food. This will let people understand that he/she is remembered about and you know where he/she is. It will also provide an opportunity to establish contact with people who can talk directly to the detainees, convey some information and find out about the state of health.
One of the important points is also reporting on the kidnapping, taking into captivity to the enforcement structures of Ukraine. It is the police and Security Service of Ukraine. Why is it needed? So that it will be stated in Minsk that there is such a person - a citizen of Ukraine and he/she is kidnapped. And if it's an activist, a public figure, it will be one of the pressure elements for the person to be released. Tripartite negotiations between the OSCE, Ukraine and Russia are held in Minsk. So, you should also refer to the OSCE office in Donetsk and Luhansk. This can be done in a written form or by telephone. They receive calls, they react. They can even come to the relatives and take a written testimony.
With regards to the Security Service of Ukraine and the police, you need to file a statement. It must be done in advance. After that I recommend to send a relative or friend to the territory controlled by Ukraine to register the statement in the nearest department. Then a criminal case will be immediately opened in the single register of kidnapping.
The problem is that the information about kidnapping and arrests does not reach Ukraine. It does not reach the Ukrainian Security Service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. No statements. When there are no statements, correspondingly, there are no cases. It has been always like that in our bureaucratic country and it will remain the same in the near future.
What is the root of the problem?
- The fact that a person is not on the list of exchange. When there are negotiations in Minsk, they say here is such a number of military and such a number of civilians. Today the figure is 55 people. Three of them are volunteers, two journalists and fifty ordinary civilians, it is unknown what they were detained for and what they are charged with.
If a person is on the uncontrolled territory, how can he/she file a statement?
- If a relative is on the uncontrolled territory, he/she may hand over the statement through friends, he/she can call the hotline of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or the Security Service. But the easiest way is to call friends, acquaintances, relatives, even strangers, who are ready to help, so that they file the statement. It does not matter who files the statement. The main thing is that the fact is recorded.
If the situation has been resolved successfully and the person has been released, then there is need to work out the situation qualitatively how to bring him/her to the controlled territory, if he/she wants to. It often happens that during the arrest identification documents are seized. You need to take some actions in order to cross the line of demarcation. Firstly, resort to the International Committee of the Red Cross, so that they can help with evacuation. Secondly, contact the Security Service of Ukraine. Report that person has been released and he/she is ready to cross the boundary line. Such action will help to pass through the checkpoints. There you may have to go through the identification procedure. But often representatives of the police meet such evacuation. The identification procedure is carried out in the department and information on what happened to a person in captivity is clarified.
How many people disappeared during last two months?
- Information was extremely controversial during last two months. By I counted more than 20 people, no one can give the exact number. But the saddest thing is that they are not known about on the controlled territory, the security forces don’t know.
Why don’t relatives file statements? Most likely, this is due to the fact that they do not believe in any outcome of such actions. I have not heard that the self-proclaimed authorities did not allow family members to resort to the SSU.
Can we say that the fact of submitting the statement to the SSU is the guarantee that the arrested is alive?
- No, but the statement will be one of the pressure elements in Minsk to ensure that the person is released. No one, no international organization and no state structure on the territory of Ukraine can be guarantee that the person is released.
Maksim Prikhodko, OstroV