COVID-19 in closed prisons in the occupied Crimea and Donbas which is under Russia effective control

COVID-19 in closed prisons in the occupied Crimea and Donbas which is under Russia effective control. Immediate response from international organizations is required.


We, the below-signed, appeal to the international organizations and their member states to prevent the spread of coronavirus to detention facilities (prisons and pretrial detention centers) in Crimea which is temporarily occupied  by the Russian Federation, the Donbas which is under Russian effective control and in the territory of the Russian Federation itself.


Situation in the Occupied Crimea and the Russian Federation

Since March 16, 2020, the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation (FSIN) has suspended all visits to detention facilities in order to prevent the spread of the disease among the suspects, those accused and convicted, as well as employees of the penal system. 

At the same time, penitentiary administrations are unable to implement WHO recommendations against the spread of coronavirus. The health services of these institutions lack staff, medications and equipment. They are not capable of coping with common widespread diseases, let alone a global health crisis.

Moreover, detention facilities present an extremely high risk for the transmission of infectious diseases. The buildings are often poorly ventilated, and the prison authorities cannot ensure adequate sanitation and hygiene conditions, i.e. sufficient access to water to wash hands. The detainees continue to be exposed to high risks daily at work, often gatherings, showers, etc.  The prison authorities conduct personal examinations of detainees and perform searches of cells on a daily basis, entering in body-to-body contacts with inmates. Masks for the people showing symptoms of respiratory diseases, both inmates and staff, are not available.

“On March 19, when the ambulance requested in court that I should be taken to the hospital, no one ever took me there. I was just taken to a small box in the courtroom. There, I was lying on the floor until 9 pm, because there was very little room on the bench, and I wanted to lie down, as I was cold and shivering. The schedule of the court hearings is very intense, we are on our feet for 12-14 hours without water and food. I returned to my cell close to 11 pm. I went to another paramedic, but he did not give me any medication besides the antibiotics. On that day, I had a temperature of 39.3 C, and then it even rose to 39.8 C. The cough is dry, very unpleasant. The nose is stuffy. It is difficult to breathe. Three to four other people are also sick in the cell. They are also given aspirin and the same antibiotic. Today [March 23] I do not know how high my temperature is. I wrote a statement asking for a doctor to listen to my lungs. But I was taken to a videoconference to participate in a court hearing, and I was never taken to see a doctor. I do not want to complain, but this is torture. In prison, a person simply does not have the opportunity to protect themself,” comments Server Mustafayev, a prisoner of conscience, the coordinator of the Crimean Solidarity.

The situation is considerably aggravated by the overcrowding of Russian prisons and detention centers, with inmates kept in poor sanitary conditions and the transfer of prisoners from the occupied Crimea into the Russian Federation taking a long time in breach of the norms of international humanitarian law. Due to the prevalence of torture in Russian prisons, restricting the contact of prisoners with the outside world increases the risk of ill-treatment, especially during crisis situations.

Situation in the Donbas effectively controlled by the Russian Federation

The situation in the Donbas which is under the effective control by the Russian Federation, looks even worse. After 6 years of war,  even the International Committee of the Red Cross has no access to detained people. In addition to the so-called official detention centers, there exist an extensive network of secret detention facilities. One of such places was mentioned in the latest report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is called “Isolation”, and it is located in the building of a former plant in Donetsk. The conditions of detention in both “official” and secret detention facilities can be equated to torture and ill-treatment and are inappropriate even for short term detentions


“I was held in the 13th post of the Donetsk detention facility, considered one of the “best” ones when it came to the conditions for the prisoners. Cell conditions  were appalling: poor sanitation, many bugs and cockroaches, I could not even use the mattress — it was all dirty and riddled with bed bugs — so I slept on the metal bunk, under which I put a blanket sent to me from home. Part of the window was broken, so the air in the room was constantly cold. At the 10th post, which is the worst one, the situation is extremely critical: there are rats, and the sewage often overflows into the cell.here is almost no space – cells barely fit two people, darkness, no daylight, because the post is located in the basement of the detention facility”- comments Donetsk journalist Stanislav Aseev, who was released during an exchange in December 2019.


The report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights highlights the widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment of detained persons. Recently released detainees reported beatings, including with electric shocker, strangulation (“wet” and “dry” methods), sexual abuse, torture, the removal of body parts (nails and teeth), deprivation of water, food, sleep, or access to the toilet, imitation of execution, threat of violence or death, and threat of harm to the family.


The quality of medical care in these institutions is described in testimonies provided to the OHCHR by several “Isolation” detainees. According to them, a medical worker was present during their interrogations and torture. He revived those who had lost consciousness and pointed out how to torture in order to inflict the greatest pain but not to cause death. He also examined the detainees before torture began, asked about their illnesses, measured their blood pressure or checked their pulse, and injected them. 


Even in those facilities where the detention of people is officially confirmed (as opposed to the situation with secret detention centers), the prisoners are provided with necessary medicine and goods by their relatives. For the quarantine period, restrictions were imposed on crossing the demarcation line in the Donbas. Today, those prisoners, whose relatives live in the territory controlled by Ukraine, will not be able to receive the necessary medicine and goods.


Therefore, there are no illusions that there will be any medical assistance in case of the spread of coronavirus in prisons and detention centers of Donbas which is currently under the effective Russian control. Moreover, the question arises as to what measures will be undertaken by the Russia-controlled illegal armed formations in charge of the territory, to deter the spread of the coronavirus in prisons and detention centers, in the first place, to protect themselves from contracting the disease.


The aforementioned problems in the penitentiary institutions and detention centers in the Ukrainian territories occupied and controlled by Russia pose a real threat not only to prisoners and staff, but also to the wider population. And because, according to scientists, the pandemic can continue in waves, it can threaten the populations of other countries. 


In view of the foregoing, and taking into account the position of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of March 20, 2020, we call for the urgent reaction of the international organizations, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the OSCE, and their member states participants to:


  1. 🔹   Appeal to the Russian Federation to take immediate steps to fulfill its international obligations to protect the life and health of its detainees, both officially, such as in the Russian Federation and occupied Crimea, and unofficially, through the Kremlin-controlled illegal armed formations, such as those in Donbas which is currently under the effective Russian control, to develop the necessary plans for prevention and response to the spread of infection, in accordance with the “Statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty” in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic (ECPT, 03/20/2020), and to implement the WHO recommendations.


  1. 🔹   To urge the Russian Federation to reduce the prison population immediately (in particular, by changing the precautionary measures for house arrests for crimes of minor public danger and the immediate release of all illegally detained political prisoners), considering that the very configuration of the cells, penitentiary facilities, and detention centers does not allow for any preventive measures, such as compliance with social distance, to be carried out.


  1.  🔹  The Council of Europe bodies, including the Committee of Ministers, the Secretary-General, and the Commissioner for Human Rights, must swiftly adopt recommendations to encourage the Russian Federation with its 140 million population to take these decisive steps. The Russian Federation has a wide range of measures that can have a swift effect, from criminal policy guidance to prosecutors to emergency pardon and amnesty.


  1. 🔹   All monitoring, judicial and quasi-judicial mechanisms of international organizations respecting fundamental human rights must take exceptional measures to be able to play their full role in a pandemic. In particular, the European Court of Human Rights should strengthen its capacity to review requests for urgent measures under Rule 39, which are important to protect human life. The number of such requests is expected to increase in the near future.


  1. 🔹   International organizations, and in particular the OSCE, during the upcoming meeting of the trilateral contact group in Minsk on March, 25, should raise the issue of the immediate granting by the Russian Federation of unhindered access to the occupied Crimea and Donbas to international intergovernmental organizations, in particular, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission, the OSCE Human Rights Assessment Mission on Crimea, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, other Council of Europe convention and institutional mechanisms, etc., as well as international humanitarian organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.


  1. 🔹   France and Germany as members of the Normandy Format, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom as signatories to the Budapest Memorandum, should urge the Russian Federation to use its effective control over parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to comply with the provisions of the Minsk agreements on the immediate release of persons whose freedom is restricted due to direct involvement in the armed conflict, as well as political prisoners in the occupied Crimea and the Russian Federation.


We also urge the Ukrainian authorities to implement all the recommendations set out in the appeal of European NGOs to prevent epidemic of the COVID-19 in detention facilities, according to Ukraine’s international obligations to protect life and health of persons who are under its effective control.


Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) 

Regional Center for Human Rights (Ukraine)

Ukrainian Institute for Human Rights (Ukraine)

Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People (Ukraine)

The Institute of Mass Information (Ukraine)

Detector Media (Ukraine)

The Eastern Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives (Ukraine)

Luhansk Regional Human Rights CenterAlternative (Ukraine)

Human Rights House in Chernihiv (Ukraine)

Ukrainian Legal Aid Foundation (Ukraine)

Ukrainian Center for the Prevention of Torture (Ukraine)

Donbas SOS (Ukraine)

Union of Relatives of Kremlin’s Political Prisoners (Ukraine)

Crimean Tatar Resource Center (Ukraine)

Political Science Association (Ukraine)

Territory of Success (Ukraine)

Kryvyi Rih City Human Rights Society (Ukraine)

Association of Ukrainian Monitors on Human Rights Conduct in Law Enforcement (Ukraine)

The Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy (Ukraine)

Congress of Ethnic Communities of Ukraine (Ukraine)

Kharkiv Institute for Social Research (Ukraine)

All-Ukrainian civic movement of mothers and relatives of participants of ATO “Bereginya” (Ukraine)

Charity Foundation Stabilization Support Services (Ukraine)

Vinnitsa NGO of Social Development of Vulnerable Youth “Sprout” (Ukraine)

All-Ukrainian Youth Organization “The Foundation of Regional Initiatives” (Ukraine)

Youth Organization “STAN” (Ukraine)

Anti-Corruption Action Center (Ukraine)

Institute for Religious Freedom (Ukraine)

Ternopil Human Rights Group (Ukraine) 

IAC Civic Space (Ukraine)

Institute for Black Sea Strategic Studies (Ukraine)

Human Rights Initiative (Ukraine)

Theatre for Change (Ukraine)

Human Rights Platform (Ukraine)

Center Eidos (Ukraine)

Liberation Movement Research Center (Ukraine)

NGO All-Ukrainian Democratic Forum (Ukraine)

International Federation for Human Rights (France)

Citizens’ Watch (Russia)

Open Dialogue Foundation (Belgium)

Norwegian Helsinki Committee (Norway)

Human Rights Movement Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyzstan)

Internews Ukraine (Ukraine)

UkraineWorld (Ukraine)

NGO Ukraine Without Torture (Ukraine)

All-Ukrainian Active Community Initiative (Ukraine)

Institute Respublica (Ukraine)

International Federation for Human Rights (France)

Macedonian Helsinki Committee (North Macedonia)

The Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan)

Memorial-Germany (Germany)

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria)

Assemblée Européenne des Citoyens, France

German-Russian Exchange (Germany)

Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania)

New Europe Center (Ukraine)

Netherlands Helsinki Committee (Netherlands)

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor (Armenia)

Public Association “Dignity  (Kazakhstan)

Human Rights Matter (Germany)

Minority Rights Group Europe (Hungary)

Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (Italy)

International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)

Helsinki Committee of Armenia (Armenia)

Austrian Helsinki Association (Austria)

Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (Kazakhstan)

Promo-LEX Association (Moldova)

Public foundation “Golos svobody” (Kyrgyzstan) 

Helsinki committee for human rights in Serbia (Serbia)

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland) 

Center for Participation and Development (Georgia) 

Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit (Germany)

Italian Federation for human rights (Italy)

Society in Support of Ukraine (Latvia)

Association for Solidarity, Mutual Assistance, and Culture “Good Heart” (Portugal)

The Association of Ukrainians in the Republic of Ireland “AURI” (Ireland)

Ukrainian Cultural Association of Malaysia (Malaysia)

Volunteer Hundred in Brescia (Italy)

The Ukrainian-Slovak Initiative (Slovakia)

The Ukrainian Women Organization in Sweden (Sweden)

London Euromaidan (Великобританія)

United Help Ukraine (the United States)

AG Ukraine – Chemnitz – Europa e.V. (Germany)

The Union of Ukrainian Culture and Solidarity (Turkey)

The Ukrainian-Austrian Cultural and Educational Center in Vienna (Austria)

Ukrainians in Mongolia (Mongolia)

The Information Portal “Irish House” (Ireland)

Central Association of Ukrainians in Germany (Germany)

Ukrainian Community in the Philippines(the Philippines) 

The Global Movement of the Ukrainian Patriots in Munich (Germany)

Fairness Corps (Ukraine)

All-Spanish NGO “Ukrainian Patriotic Association WILL,” Madrid (Spain)

Ukrainian League Taragony “Панна, Дівочі посиденьки” (Spain)

Civil Initiative “Euromaidan-Warsaw” (Poland)

Institute for Religious Freedom (Ukraine)

International Association of Ukrainians EuroMaidan/ Mezinárodní Asociace Ukrajinců EuroMajdan z.s. (Czech Republic)

Saint Olha Association  (Australia)

Ukrainian Free Kozaks of Australia (Australia)

Israeli Friends of Ukraine (Israel)

Community of Ukrainians, Vilnius (Lithuania)

Community of Ukrainians,  Guadalajara (Mexico)

Community of Ukrainians in Finland (Finland)

Young Ukraine Association, Madrid (Spain)

Bureau of Social and Political Developments (Ukraine)

Ukraine Needs You (Ukraine);

Stronger Together (Ukraine);

Liberal-Democratic League of Ukraine (Ukraine)

Defender, Nosivka, Chernihivs’ka oblast (Ukraine)

Legal Development Network (Ukraine)

Natural Rights Ukraine (Ukraine)

Center for International Security and Euro-Atlantic Integration (Ukraine)

Development foundation (Ukraine)

Non-Governmental Centre “Women’s Perspectives”(Ukraine)

Institute of Political Education (Ukraine)

Ukrainian Institute for the Future (Україна) 

Luhansk Regional Human Rights Women’s Organization “Chaika” (Ukraine)

Platform for Social Humanitarian Initiatives and Innovation “Single Coordination Center” (Ukraine)

NGO Docudays (Ukraine)

Charity Organization “Charity and Health” (Ukraine)

NGO Group of Influence (Ukraine)

Center for Economic and Legal Analytics (Ukraine)

NGO Creative Center Dagaz (Ukraine)

Media Initiative for Human Rights (Ukraine)

Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (Ukraine)

PCO  “Foundation for defence of Ukraine” (Ukraine)

Social Action Center (Ukraine) 

“Sich” Human Rights Protection Group (Ukraine)

DEJURE Foundation (Ukraine)

Vostok-SOS (Ukraine)

NGO “Right to Protection” (Ukraine)

NGO “Female veteran movement” (Ukraine)

November 30 Group (Ukraine)

NGO “Women’s Rights League” Harmony of Equals” (Ukraine)

NGO St. Clement’s Center (Ukraine)

NGO Spirit and Letter (Ukraine)

NGO Alliance of Ukrainian Unity (Ukraine)

Charitable Organization “Right of a Human” (Ukraine)

Сenter for democracy and rule of law (Ukraine)

NGO “Forpost” (Ukraine)

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