The Center for Civil Liberties held an event in Kyiv in support of civilians forcibly detained by Russia

On August 30, 2023, in commemoration of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Center for Civil Liberties organized an event in solidarity with civilian detainees titled “VOICES”, which took place at Mykhaylivska Square in Kyiv. 

The Center for Civil Liberties has information about more than 150 penitentiaries in Russia and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, where civilians who were abducted from their home, workplace, or on the way to the store during the occupation are arbitrarily detained. They are tortured, starved, psychologically pressured, and isolated from any sources of information. Innocent people are abused morally and physically. For the Russian Federation, the practice of forced disappearances has become one of the widespread methods of intimidating citizens in the occupied territories.

“Russia created a new type of war crimes, because the category of “civilian hostages” does not exist in international humanitarian law. Even with regard to prisoners of war, the Russian Federation violates all the rules. This status was created by international humanitarian law to protect these people. They must be guaranteed the possibility to inform their relatives about their whereabouts, be kept in normal conditions, have medical support and the opportunity to meet with the International Red Cross. All this is broken. The Russian Federation created a new category of people — civilians who were stolen from the territories, for example, from occupied territories. Journalists, volunteers, those who had experience of military service or mobilization in the Joint Forces Operation, local politicians were targeted. People who, according to the Russian Federation, are dangerous because they can organize some resistance movement around them. They were sent to prisons. Most of them have no charges and are transported from place to place with an inventory number. This is a violation of even its internal legislation, but it does not bother Russia. They are, in fact, hostages,” says Oleksandra Romantsova, executive director of the Center for Civil Liberties.

During the event, there was a meeting with relatives of civilians forcibly held by Russia as well as a performance by the Actors for Future team, in which actors showed the conditions in which hostages are held. The key message of the performance was: “If all our people do not return home, there will be no real victory.” The actors portrayed the stories of real Ukrainian civilians who had already returned from captivity in the Russian Federation. The installation of wooden pallets, which was created for the performance, symbolized the cage in which people live. The performance was accompanied by background music and a recording of prisoners’ voices. 

The voice at the beginning recited: “Things are a little different now. The sky above you has become a little safer than it is, and smiling people walk the streets again. And you see a column of enemy tanks on Mykhaylivska Square, not in front of your house. The scenery of your existence has changed. But that’s not the case for everyone. Stop for a second, close your eyes, and imagine: you are not at home, you are in enemy territory. And there is no one around who can help you. You are in captivity. You are in the hands of sadists and murderers. Now open your eyes.”

“Since 2014, Russia has been imprisoning people because it wants to, and it seems right. We are fighting against it. We speak to the whole world to prove that this should not go unpunished. This should be the first point of any negotiations with the Russian Federation, because people are the most valuable resource our country has. We support all the work of Ukraine, which has been doing everything it can to free the prisoners. But we know that we need more attention, time, mechanisms, methods, communication, and people who support us from all over the world,” says Oleksandra Romantsova.

In addition, the event featured the presentation of a brochure with 50 stories of civilian prisoners. It was created by the Center for Civil Liberties as part of the PrisonersVoice initiative.

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