Helping people and gathering evidence: the KHPG in 2022
In 2022, the work of human rights defenders in Ukraine changed dramatically.
Russia launched a full-scale war to destroy the Ukrainian State and all those who protect and support it. A scorched-earth strategy was chosen to achieve this goal. Every city which refused to surrender was indiscriminately shelled and bombed from land, sea and air, and the victims, overwhelmingly, were civilians. This was the story in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Okhtyrka, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Severodonetsk, Bakhmut, Izium, Kupiansk and other towns and cities across the country. As a result, tens of thousands of civilians died or were wounded, countless buildings were destroyed, and millions were made homeless and became refugees.
Immediately human rights organizations (HROs) and civil society as a whole began to help the civilian population and the Ukrainian army. The volunteer movement in today’s Ukraine is unique. Human rights defenders, however, have their own specific tasks.
A Tribunal for Putin
From the beginning of March, the second week of the Russian invasion, we started to document the crimes committed by the invading and occupying forces.
We began gathering data for the investigation of those crimes in order to bring the men in Russia who gave and carried out such criminal orders to justice. Ukrainian NGOs banded together and formed a coalition, the “Tribunal for Putin” (or T4P) Initiative. They shared responsibility throughout Ukraine for gathering data according to a standard scheme and submitting it to a shared database. Today that resource lists over 30,500 incidents of alleged war crimes. Constantly-updated statistics are available in seven languages. The data is gathered from open-source materials and through direct contact with the victims and witnesses of these crimes and atrocities.
In addition, Ukraine’s HROs have been providing legal aid to the victims, survivors, and their families. KHPG lawyers, for example, have filed about one thousand crime reports with Ukraine’s law-enforcement agencies (police, prosecutor’s office and SBU). As a result, criminal investigations have been opened and the victims and survivors have been given “official” status as victims. 350 ongoing investigations relate to mass deaths and injuries caused by enemy shelling, air strikes, mines and firearms and by unlawful imprisonment, the kidnapping of civilians, and torture inflicted by Russia’s armed forces. The investigation of such crimes has been given priority.
In the Kharkiv Region the KHPG HAS been assisting the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) with its investigations. Applications based on these investigations are also being prepared and submitted to international jurisdictions where war crimes and crimes against humanity can be judged and punished.
Keeping the world informed
It is also important to keep the world informed about events in Ukraine. I mentioned the T4P website where all items are translated into seven languages (Ukrainian, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian).
Many articles and interviews are also posted on the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group. For instance, we publish weekly reports (in Ukrainian & English) about anti-war protests in Russia. In March, we began interviewing survivors and witnesses of war crimes perpetrated by Russia’s armed forces and started publishing them in a new section, “Voices of War”.
So far 130 interviews have appeared in Ukrainian, and almost half have also been published in Russian and English. Very soon those “Voices of War” will be read and heard in Czech, Polish, Italian, German and French as well. This brings the total to nine languages used in Europe, North America and across the world.
Psychological aid and support
No less important than legal aid is psychological assistance to the many people traumatised by recent events. The KHPG has opened a centre for psychological support in Kharkiv, and similar services will soon be provided in Kyiv and in Lviv. We intend to build a supportive approach providing those who come to us with all the help she or he needs: legal aid, psychological and other medical assistance and humanitarian aid. Such a system is already functioning in Kharkiv: lawyers and psychologists are work side by side in neighbouring rooms, and we also collaborate with hospitals, clinics and, when necessary, those carrying out forensic analysis.
Regular trips to liberated areas to gather evidence and help victims are a very fruitful part of our work. The KHPG has three teams in Kharkiv alone and almost every day they pay visits to remote areas of the Kharkiv Region.
We are planning to extend this scheme to northern and western Ukraine, to the Kyiv and Lviv Regions.
Current programmes of assistance
The KHPG currently runs five programs of humanitarian assistance, assisting civilians affected by the present war:
- Families in difficulties. Those who need to evacuate; the sick and wounded; families which have suffered casualties; large families which have lost their homes and all their belongings, and so on;
- Prisoners and detainees in occupied Ukraine. Ukraine’s prisons and detention centres have faced significant problems for a while and the war has only made them worse;
- Ukrainian households without heat or light. The “Return Heat and Light to Ukraine” program provides heating and light to the many cut off from these services;
- Families whose members have been killed or wounded. Financial assistance will be provided to 1,000 families: 180 have already received the money;
- Assistance to 2,000 families of which one or more members have been killed. The Moscow-based Memorial Society donated half its share of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize to this cause and entrusted the KHPG (a Memorial affiliate) to implement the programme. This decision was taken by board of International Memorial.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) is one of the oldest and best-known human rights organizations in Ukraine. We protect and support people in the courts and promote liberty and human rights in Ukraine. In March 2022, confronted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the KHPG co-founded the T4P War Crimes Initiative.