The DPR Human Rights Ombudsman Daria Morozova told RIA Novosti what people in Donetsk expect after the second round of presidential elections in Ukraine, about prospects for the exchange of prisoners with the Ukrainian authorities, and what she expects from the Minsk process.
– On Sunday, the second round of presidential elections will take place in Ukraine. Do you think something will change after this during the Minsk talks and the implementation of the Minsk agreements?
– I hope that after the second round of the elections, a political decision will be made by the government of Ukraine, and the exchange (of prisoners), which we have been anticipating for a year and a half, will finally take place. It only depends on the political will of Ukrainian leaders.
– Why wasn’t the exchange held during the elections, as many had hoped? After all, that would be a good publicity stunt for the current Ukrainian government.
– The Ukrainian side has not officially responded to our proposal to change “all confirmed for all confirmed”. If the Ukrainian side wanted to conduct the swap, we could have done it a long ago, as we have the formula, and the lists are ready. So, the Ukrainian side is not interested in the return and extradition of certain people from the lists.
– If Vladimir Zelensky wins, will it be easier for you to work with the Ukrainian side, to negotiate with them?
– It is very difficult to negotiate with people who have already said that they aren’t going to conduct negotiations with the parties (to the conflict). The Minsk memorandum clearly reads that the parties must negotiate with one another. There are particular parties to the conflict – Donbass and the territory of Ukraine. Accordingly, as long as the negotiators are reluctant to talk to us, there will be no peace, unfortunately.
If this issue continues to be politicized and associated with the geopolitics, our life won’t change. But I sincerely hope that our conflict will soon be resolved.
– Both candidates – Poroshenko and Zelensky – say they want to push Viktor Medvedchuk away from the Minsk talks. What do you think of it?
– We have achieved a lot with Mr. Medvedchuk. And, first of all, released persons benefited from these achievements. I would like our negotiations to be fruitful in the future.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to negotiate and have some positive results with negotiators who, in the absence of Medvedchuk, come to Minsk as official representatives (of Ukraine). Therefore, in the negotiation process, I still want to see people who can make decisions and bring results not only for their country, but also for the people who live in it.
As regards my subgroup, official representatives, like Medvedchuk and (Iryna) Gerashchenko, almost never show up at the negotiations. Newly appointed representatives come and say: we have a directive on what to tell, and we are not authorized to discuss anything else. How can you find a compromise with them?
Therefore, we wait, we call on, we insist that representatives, who will search for a compromise and negotiate, attend Minsk talks, specifically to my subgroup. The Humanitarian Subgroup should not be engaged in any political affairs, effective decisions should be made there.
Each issue on the agenda means someone’s fate. These are the exchange of POW, missing persons, the signing of a Declaration against torture, secret prisons and so on. The DPR is ready to sign the Declaration, but the Ukrainian side has been refusing to do so for a year and a half.
– How many of your supporters is Ukraine ready to release as part of the exchange?
– We do not make a start from how many people Ukraine is ready to release. We are guided by the Minsk Memorandum, paragraph 6, which reads: the “all for all” exchange or the intermediate formula “all confirmed for all confirmed”. The Ukrainian side does not want to fulfil these obligations at all.
At the moment we are requesting 98 people for exchange. But the Ukrainian side insists that they will not release persons accused of crimes irrelevant to the conflict, and of grave crimes.
Nevertheless, several months ago they offered to exchange “72 for 19”. When I began to analyze the proposed list, I saw that 13 persons have been accused of crimes irrelevant to the conflict, and 3 persons – of grave crimes. That is, the Ukrainian side is violating its own oral statements regarding categories of persons whom they will not exchange, so we can see no obstacles in fulfilling the exchange requirement of the Minsk memorandum: “all for all” or the intermediate formula “all confirmed for all confirmed”. At the moment, the Ukrainian side must release 98 people whom they officially confirmed.
– And how many people is your side ready to exchange?
– At the moment, our party has officially confirmed 15 persons. This is for the DPR only. The Ukrainian side submitted additional requests to establish some personal data. But there was such a situation. At the beginning of the negotiation process this year, the DPR was ready to provide all the information requested by Ukraine. But I asked to give me a written answer to three questions. The first one is the response to our proposal for the exchange under the “all confirmed for all confirmed” formula. The second one is about the unilateral extradition of citizens of the Russian Federation who were in the exchange list on December 27, 2017, but later excluded from the list just before the exchange (by Ukraine) unilaterally without our agreement to do so. Therefore, we believe that this exchange has not been finished yet. Please, give me a clear answer: yes or no.
And the third position regards the categories (accused of crimes irrelevant to the conflict and accused of grave crimes – ed.) I do not understand their position: one day they agree to release such persons, the other day they refuse. Therefore, I asked them: How is Ukraine going to continue the negotiation process? Will there be a division into categories or not?
A representative (of Ukraine), Mrs. Gerashchenko, said she would give us all the answers in writing within two days. On my part, in response to a letter from Mrs. Gerashchenko, I had to provide all the information they requested on persons they were looking for in our territory. Unfortunately, almost five months have passed, but I never received the answer from Mrs. Gerashchenko.
Each Minsk talks we ask for these written positions. As soon as this happens, we will immediately provide all the information that the Ukrainian side needs. The DPR is fully prepared to answer to the last request of the Ukrainian side about the additional names in the list. We are fully prepared to provide this information about the persons whom they requested. It was our agreement witnessed by the OSCE.
– In March, the ex-Lieutenant Colonel of the SSU Vasily Prozorov gave a press conference where he spoke about a secret unlawful prison that existed in the airport of Mariupol. Does it still exist?
– I think so. As at December 27, 2017, when we had a very large exchange, it existed for sure. A lot of former prisoners of war said that they had been kept there. They went through all these atrocities.
At the moment we are looking for 254 people in Ukraine. Of these, only 98 have been officially confirmed by Ukraine. We don’t know where the remaining persons are, and whether they are alive.
Anyway, I, as an Ombudsman, wrote the appropriate letters to international organizations in order to check whether it currently exists in Ukraine. I am waiting for the response to these letters. This is all being processed by international organizations. I have a question to the international community – is there any reaction to that? And there is no reaction.
– To which organizations did you send requests?
– To the ICRC, the OSCE and the (bureau of) UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission.
– And was that on the facts revealed by Prozorov?
– Of course.
– And are your prisons open to international observers? Can the UN and the OSCE monitor the conditions of detention there?
– They are welcome. Recently, Mr. Tony Frisch, Coordinator of the Working Group visited prisoners according to the list compiled by the Ukrainian side. He had the opportunity to talk to everyone who was requested. He held confidential interviews, and he did not express any confidential recommendations (for the DPR) afterwards. He also told the media that he was completely satisfied with everything. That’s how open we are.
– How many objects did you ask Mr. Frisch to visit on the Ukrainian side?
– Mariupol, Bakhmut, Starobelsk and Kharkov. There is a detention centre, there are colonies. This is the official (data – ed.).
And we asked Mr. Frisch to talk to Yulia Posolova in Ternopil. This is a girl who was detained by representatives of the SSU. She is accused, and she has already been sentenced for the alleged attack on Colonel Kharaberyush in Mariupol, it was a much publicized case. We are very concerned about her health state and, therefore, asked Mr. Frisch to see her. But still we do not know whether he will be allowed there or not. He was allowed neither to Starobelsk, nor to Bakhmut, nor to Kharkov. Only to Mariupol, a SIZO … And he wasn’t allowed to any other facilities by the Ukrainian side.
Now I am waiting for the OSCE’s reaction to the fact that the OSCE Ambassador, Mr. Frisch, was not allowed to prisons in the territory of Ukraine, which we requested. I am interested in the OSCE’s reaction. I believe it proves that the Ukrainian side is afraid to show the detainees.
He manage to visit six requested people in Mariupol. Then, he came to our territory and visited 11 people here. Plus, more people in the territory of the LPR.
– There were rumors in the Republic that your side requested Vladimir Ruban for exchange …
– Yes, absolutely. This was done a few weeks or months after his arrest. I will explain why. The released ex-prisoners of war (DPR), who were once released by Mr. Ruban, turned to me. With a sense of big gratitude to him, because he really did these trips, took them out of the battalions, unlawful prisons, and then brought to our territory. And many people treat him really well. Many (former) prisoners started calling and saying: let’s somehow help this person, because he once helped us.
But here is a question to the other side: to those soldiers who were released (from detention in the DPR) thanks to Mr. Ruban. Why is it so that only our territory and our guys are engaged in it? After all, many Ukrainian soldiers owe him their freedom. Nevertheless, no one could stand up for him …
Based on the requests, calls, applications from our former POWs, I requested that he would be added to the exchange list, with the permission of the leadership of the Republic. And there is no other background or connection that the Ukrainian side then saw. Just normal human relationships. That is it.
But the Ukrainian side saw some other background in that – it means, they said, that he is guilty, he has links with the DPR. I repeat once again: no, we were only guided by moral principles and a normal attitude.
– What will Ruban do in the DPR, if he is exchanged?
– I think that Mr. Ruban is not going to stay in our territory. I know he is innocent. I suppose, he will stay there (in Kiev), trying to prove his innocence, because he is a man of honor, and he cannot just to leave his criminal case as it is.
– Recently, he and Nadezhda Savchenko were released from custody. Is it a preparation for the exchange?
– Of course, I am sincerely glad about it. The exchange and procedural actions that took place in the courtroom are two different things. I do not see how they might be connected. Nevertheless, I was very glad to hear that.
I can explain my good attitude to Mr. Ruban. This was at the time when the SSU began to deal with the exchange process. Mr. Ruban gave me his word as an officer many times – he never broke his promises. Unfortunately, the officers of the Security Service of Ukraine, who now occupy certain positions, also gave the word as officers, but repeatedly broke their promises.
– You not only transfer prisoners of war to the Ukrainian side, but also common-law prisoners who are serving sentences in the territory of the DPR. How is this process carried out?
– On November 15, 2015, the Head of the Republic signed a Decree on the transfer of pre-conflict convicts. It entered into force in 2016, and in February we held the transfer of convicts, who expressed a desire to continue serving their sentences in the territory of Ukraine, for the first time. This is a category (of persons) who had been convicted before the conflict and who have registration in other regions. As a rule, they have no opportunity to have short-term and long-term visits (with relatives). Many have elderly parents, small children whom they cannot see. Not every mother would travel to the war zone with a child, so have humane attitude and voluntarily transfer convicts to the territory of Ukraine if they wish.
An agreement was concluded between the Ombudsmen of the DPR and of Ukraine. At the moment, the DPR has transferred about 200 people to the territory of Ukraine.
We have almost prepared the other group of 42 or 47 people – I can’t say the exact figure, because the numbers change from time to time – for transfer to the territory of Ukraine.
Now there are about 300 people pending the transfer. The Ukrainian side gave us a list of 463 people who wish to continue serving their sentence in the territory of Ukraine. Having analyzed this list, we found that 11 people have never made such statements. In addition, many of them have already been released – they have already served their sentences. In fact, there are about 300 people there – 182 from the list of Ukraine and 111 persons who appealed to DPR authorities and to me with a request to transfer them to the territory of Ukraine.
– Do you transfer prisoners with registration in other areas of the Donetsk region, controlled by Ukraine, and not by the DPR?
– If their relatives live there and the convicts have grounds to be transferred, then yes, of course.
– Does Ukraine carry out the same transfer of convicts, who come from the Donetsk region?
– No, the Ukrainian side refused. We also have such people who had been convicted before the conflict and want to serve their sentences in the territory of the DPR, but the Ukrainian side is not going to do such a gesture of goodwill. We are doing that unilaterally.