Russia’s Manipulation of Ukrainian war prisoners’ relatives
More than a year has passed since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine started. During this period, thousands of Ukrainians who defended their country have been captured by the Russian army.
The issue of the exchange of prisoners of war is acute and important for society, and at the same time, it requires delicate communication: both because of the difficulty of negotiations with the Russian side and because Russia is trying to manipulate the relatives of prisoners of war and sow discord in Ukrainian society.
Thus, the Russian side has repeatedly jeopardized the exchanges: the lists could be changed at the last minute, and some prisoners were not brought to the exchange site, arguing that they had allegedly refused. Ukraine, in turn, asked to talk to prisoners of war to verify this information. And not just to talk but to do so in the presence of their relatives.
Why is Russia doing this? With such and other similar statements, the Russian army is trying to manipulate society, to push it to actions that could destabilize the country during the war. Another example is the distribution of lists of Ukrainian war prisoners whom we allegedly do not want to return. This is also done to incite the relatives of the prisoners. There was even a case when the Russian side claimed that the wives of Ukrainian prisoners were asking not to return them home. Isn’t that absurd?
We would like to emphasize that Ukraine does not give up any Ukrainian prisoners – even during the last exchange, defenders who were on the lists of people we allegedly do not want to take back, returned.
The purpose of Russia’s information terror and intimidation
However, the Russian army is constantly finding ways to use information terror and intimidation. Sometimes relatives are manipulated to encourage them to travel to the territory of the Russian Federation to meet with the war prisoners. We must understand that the relatives of a prisoner in the Russian Federation become a tool for blackmailing the defenders themselves and conducting information operations against Ukraine.
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It is usual for Russia to exert psychological pressure to obtain information and personal data of defenders and their families. At the same time, this can harm the defenders, as well as Ukraine as a whole. Why does Russia need this information? To conduct reconnaissance and to learn about the composition and location of units and rear units.
Another danger is drawing media attention to specific prisoners, disseminating their personal data and making them public. This complicates the process of returning soldiers home. In this case, Russians can raise the “price” for the release of the defender, or even disrupt the process of returning war prisoners.
And about interviews of those released from captivity. By disseminating excessive specificity in public statements about rights violations, such as torture and detention conditions, Russia can assess the effectiveness of their influence based on the memories of those released from captivity. Such detailed publicly disseminated information may harm war prisoners who are still in captivity.
The last prisoner exchange and its implementation
We will tell you details about the prisoner exchange that took place a week before Easter, on April 10. However, the work on its implementation lasted for a month! The exchange was postponed several times.
To implement it, the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War tried many variations. For example, it offered the Russian Federation, during the holy month of Ramadan for all Muslims, to exchange Muslims “all for all” on both sides. However, the Russian side did not agree. In turn, Ukraine did hand over 5 captured Muslims to Russia during the last exchange on April 16.
And even earlier, they voluntarily repatriated 5 severely wounded prisoners of war and 1 woman to Russia in accordance with international humanitarian law. At the same time, Ukraine expects Russia to reciprocate – it is holding many seriously wounded Ukrainians, both civilians and military, who need immediate medical care.
Rehabilitation process for Ukrainian defenders
For example, almost half of those released during the last exchange had severe injuries, illnesses, and were tortured. 86% of those who returned from Russian captivity directly reported physical torture. They are currently undergoing rehabilitation, and further steps are being determined depending on their condition. It is clear that during this period, Ukrainian military is restoring documents and bank cards.
As for rehabilitation: first, the defenders undergo a medical examination to determine their state of health. Then they receive the necessary treatment and psychological recovery. In addition, specialists work with the families of those who returned home, if necessary.
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Those released from captivity are also interviewed to establish the facts of war crimes committed by Russian troops or the location of other Ukrainian prisoners.
However, the very fact that Ukrainians return from captivity powerless, with traces of torture and abuse indicates that Russians have violated international law. After all, according to the Geneva Conventions, any unlawful act or omission on the part of the detaining state that causes death or seriously endangers the health of a prisoner of war is prohibited and considered a violation of the convention.
Adherence to Geneva Conventions
Ukraine, for its part, adheres to the Geneva Conventions. Representatives of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and foreign journalists have repeatedly visited the camps where we hold prisoners of war. The same cannot be said about the treatment and access to Ukrainians in camps, prisons and torture chambers of the Russian Federation, as well as the conditions of their detention.
Recently, employees of the Commissioner’s Office for Human Rights made a monitoring visit to the camp of Russian prisoners of war. In this camp, prisoners of war have the right to communicate with their relatives through periodic (alternate) phone calls and also have the right to work.
Food is provided according to the general military food schedule. Medical care for prisoners of war is at a high level. The medical unit has a dental office, a fluoroscopy machine and an ultrasound machine. In their free time, prisoners of war can watch the news or play football on the camp’s territory.
Interestingly, that the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has released a report that contains information on the negative aspects of holding Russian military personnel in captivity. At the same time, we have met with the Head of the Mission, Matilda Bogner, and the UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, Denise Brown, on several occasions. And they have never raised the issue of the treatment of Russian prisoners of war. In addition, we would like to hear the indisputable facts and arguments on which the Mission’s conclusions regarding alleged violations by the Ukrainian side are based.
Ukraine adheres to the Geneva Conventions and international law. And we have to put pressure on the international community to ensure that Russia also adheres to the Geneva Conventions and treats prisoners of war with dignity.
The role of the Ombudsman’s Office in Ukraine
Currently, finding and providing mechanisms to protect the rights of military personnel and prisoners of war is one of the main tasks of the Ombudsman’s Office. Today, many relatives are asking for the establishment of a military ombudsman in Ukraine, but this task is currently being performed by the Office of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights. It is currently inappropriate for the state to create new institutions and positions, as this will save the necessary funds in difficult economic times.
The Ombudsman’s Office is the main institution that deals with the rights of military personnel, and we not only monitor but also perform a controlling function. Our institution has representatives from different areas, and, for example, the Representative of the Ombudsman in the system of security and defense agencies, Oleksandr Kononenko, can be called a military ombudsman.
The Office also regularly hosts meetings where representatives of various government agencies (Ministry of Defense, Armed Forces, Security Service, Main Directorate of Intelligence, National Police, Ministry of Internal Affairs, National Information Bureau, etc.) work out ways to cooperate to help the families of defenders.
In addition, we provide information on social benefits to military personnel and those released from Russian captivity and restore their rights and the rights of their families.
Undoubtedly, Ukraine is doing everything on its part to ensure that everyone returns home. Currently, 2,235 Ukrainians who were held in Russian captivity returned home. The authorities continue to work together to ensure that every Ukrainian soldier returns home.
Originally posted by Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets on LB. ua. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website
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