Ukraine’s Justice Ministry Dismisses Role in Donbas Prisoners Release
7 November, 2016

 Several thousand prisoners in eastern Ukraine who began serving their sentences before April 2014 now find themselves trapped in jails controlled by combined Russian military and separatist forces. Many have already served their full term behind bars.

✅  Researchers cited in a recent Russian-language human rights report documented cases of prisoners working more than 12 hours a day and being threatened with beatings, torture, and even death.

✅  Serhiy Petukhov: Ukraine’s Justice Ministry has no role securing the release of the prisoners ‘they were illegally detained by illegal authorities’. Instead, all cooperation is done through Ukraine’s ombudsperson.

✅  Serhiy Petukhov: ‘The primary responsibility of protecting human rights lies within the occupying power. The European Court of Human Rights already recognizes Russia is already responsible for Transnistria but virtue of its overall control. Our situation (in Ukraine) is similar to Transnistria

Ukraine's Ministry of Justice will have no role in securing the release of prisoners in occupied Donbas because they have been 'illegally detained by illegal authorities'. That's according to Serhiy Petukhov, Ukraine's Deputy Justice Minister on European Integration.

Mr. Petukhov said it is the responsibility of international organizations to secure the transferral or release of hundreds of prisoners serving time in areas not under Ukrainian government or military control. Dozens of prisons and detention centers in both Luhansk and Donetsk region are under the control of the Moscow-backed separatist forces.

More than 5,000 prisoners in the occupied Luhansk region are physically forced to carry out unpaid, often back-breaking manual labor, according to a recent Russian-language human rights report.

Activists estimate over 1,000 prisoners serving time for non-violent crimes in the region were supposed to be released under an amnesty issued by Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko in 2014.

Unfortunately, the activists will have little, if no help from the Ukrainian government to secure the release of hundreds of those prisoners. Instead, the Deputy Justice Minister for European Integration says this task is down to 'the international community and Russia, as a party, which is directly involved'.

"The legal standards imply that the state has to do what is within its power to make sure that human rights are not violated. But the primary responsibility to protect human rights lies within the occupying power. And the European Court of Human Rights already recognized that Russia is responsible for what happens in Transnistria. And our situation is similar to that of Transnistria. "Serhiy Petukhov said during an interview with Hromadske International.

Alexander Efreshin is one prisoner who contacted the BBC in an attempt to generate awareness of the conditions inside one detention center in Donbas. His sister Irina told Hromadske that this was a desperate attempt, made by an even more desperate man.

Watch our full interview with Irina Efreshina here:

"He told me that he will not be able to last in these conditions for three more years."

Irina says the Ukrainian government is ignoring many of the prisoners' relatives, adding some feel seeking help from the state has become more difficult since the penitentiary service was dismantled this year as part of the reform process. She says her appeals to the Justice Ministry have brought no results. And that's not likely to change anytime soon.