Responsibility for Prisoners as a Matter of Prestige of the State and the President

It’s about time for Ukraine, on the model of NATO countries, to create Interdepartmental Group regarding Imprisonment issue affiliated with the President Administration
Why does nobody really like to take American soldiers as prisoners? Because the whole world knows for sure: a whole naval fleet may appear at the nearest shores because of one soldier. That’s like a polite hint: you should better set our soldier free. Also no one likes to imprison Israelis, In this case the army or fleet will not arrive, but щтсу under cloud of night prisoners will just disappear, and only dead bodies of the guards will be found in the morning. And afterwards the sight missile shots will mop up the enemy’s command centers. Europeans are not as rough (if not to take into consideration Légion étrangère), but they also solve the soldiers imprisonment problem briefly and effectively. And tortures are certainly out of question, because nobody take risks (nonetheless there are no such offenders beyond morality and intelligence, as Russian ones, in the world anymore).
Ukrainian soldiers are kept are prisoners for years. They are held In the colonies and “basements”, being hungry, frozen, naked; with cut-off arms and legs, scratched eyes, pared skin; being tortured by local amateurs and Kremlin professionals – who most notably enjoy to electrocute prisoners on the genital organs. Is it possible to do something about it, to change the situation somehow? ФUkrainian Women’s Guard specialists and NATO experts consolidate the following: that’s quite possible to organize successful efforts on the Ukrainian prisoners liberation even without significant financial resources. Advanced expertise and effective algorithms for NATO countries should be used.
On Thursday 21st of September, Ukraine proposed the most compromise position on the release of our prisoners of war: in order to return 88 out of 144 of our fighters, whose imprisonment is officially recognized by “L/DNR” terrorist organizations, we are ready to release 313 (four times as much as in the previous version) of war criminals and terrorists, who are declared as “theirs” by “L/DNR”.
That was a third day of an indefinite strike action  provided by wives, sisters, mothers of captive soldiers under the walls of the Verkhovna Rada with demands to renew and intensify efforts to set all Ukrainian prisoners, not only their relatives, free. Here are some texts from relatives picket signs:

Volunteer Alexei Kirichenko stays in the foe captivity for more than three years. Officially registered in the lists of prisoners; known to be in the Makeevka colony. Still not admitted as a combatant.

Famous Special Forces soldier Sergei Glondar is captive for more than two years. “There is no contact with him, “says his sister Lyudmila Glondar, “only letters that come once for two-three months. The last letter came a month ago through the Red Cross.”
Mykola Gerasimenko, a driver of Ukrainian Military  Forces, is  in captivity 2 years and 7 months. Officially registered in the list of prisoners, is also in the Makeevka colony number 97. He was captured at Debaltsevo’s military expedition.
These are just three of the 347 captives, which are reported by volunteers and volunteer structures. Therefore the 144 prisoners that are discussed today in the negotiations are officially confirmed by the both sides.
“We will pitch a tent under the Parliament,” said Lyudmila Glondar, “we will remind our people of us about us every single day: we are waiting, our tortured fighters are waiting”.
Over the past year, Ukraine has not achieved the release of ANY captives –  no one never strive for it, in fact.
The last released Ukrainians were Vladimir Zhemchugov (special forces soldier, more than 30 special operations in RUW; the one that returned without hands and without eyes, but today German physicians restored the functions of one eye; spent almost a year in captivity) and Yuri Suprun (was a member of the UN mission, was suspected in espionage by the militants, has spent 5 months in captivity). They were released in mid-September 2016.
Since the beginning of the action conducted by POW’s female relatives representatives of humanitarian sub-unit of Minsk Contact Group tasked with POW return (namely V. Medvedchuk and I Herashchenko) got somewhat more active. Yet this does not necessarily means that real efforts to release anyone from captivity are made let alone actually achieving such release. Still making claims against Iryna Herashchenko, for instance, would be pointless. She may make every effort possible but without legal status assigned to the group she has nothing to rely on.
As of today Ukraine lacks legal mechanism of POW exchange as well as detailed procedures and competent officials and state bodies.
Characteristically, official reaction to the protests staged in April 2017 by mothers and wives of POWs tortured in Makiivka jail was delivered by Parliament Speaker Andrii Parubiy. Yet no real actions were undertaken this far due to the above mentioned lack pf legal mechanisms. A special task force was created to respond to the matter. Yet one of the obvious problems is that there were not professional POW recovery negotiators among its members (which is a specific trade requiring long and multi-faceted training; It would be reasonable to expect that Ukraine can use NATO experience in this field – Alliance has such training programs from very early stages of existence). In fact Ukraine lacks an algorithm for state governance structures actions in such situations – none knows who should be included into the process and whom they should obey.
Yet ever more active cooperation with NATO allows re-visiting this issue.
Ukraine has no alternative to defining civilized legal status of POWs themselves and the actions aimed at their liberation (including exchange) and rehabilitation.
As of today everything got so messed up because of “too late too little” and inconsistent decisions on part of Parliament, Cabinet of Ministers and Administration of President as well as because of hasten force-majeure actions that trying to organize it all or decide about “more or less legitimate actions” makes no  practical sense.
 Head of Ukrainian Women’s Guard, lawyer Olena Biletska:
Article 4 of 1949 Third Geneva Convention on POW treatment defines POW as a person who got into captivity by opposing force and belongs to:

  • Enlisted military personnel of a conflict side as well as militia members and volunteer unit members which are parts of this side’s forces;
  • Members of other militia forces and volunteer units particularly those who belong to organized resistance movements associated with one of the conflict sides ” acting on their territory or outside its’ borders even if this territory is occupied in case these militia forces or volunteer units meet following criteria:
  1. a) they are commanded by a person who is responsible for subordinates’ actions;
  2. b) they have permanent identification sign well recognizable from a distance ;
  3. c) they bear arms openly;
  4. d) they conduct operations in accordance with laws and customs of war.

Therefore norms of International Humanitarian Law permit using the term “prisoner of war” in respect to Ukrainian Armed Force servicemen and law enforcement organizations who take part in Anty-terrorist Operation as well as to volunteers and foreigners who got into captivity.
Article 2 of Third Geneva Convention prescribes that this Convention should be used in all cases of declared war or any other military conflict which may appear between two or more High Signing Parties even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them;
Part 2 of Article 2 of Third Geneve Convention recognizes that this Convention should be used in all cases of partial or full occupation of the territory of one of the High Sighting Parties even if such occupation meets no armed resistance.
Therefore the Convention is relevant for every military conflict even the one not legally proclaimed. This is precisely the situation which takes place on Ukrainian soil.
Besides that recognition of the validity of Convention in Donbas will give Ukraine another trump card. It would now be possible to hold Russia responsible for improper treatment of POWs Therefore Russia as a part of conflict and not the mythical out-of-legal field “DNR” and “LNR” will be obliged to respect rights of POWs.
Recognition of Russian as responsible for adhering to Geneva Convention norms will permit former POWs who had their rights violated to go to court and European Court of Human Rights trying to file a complaint against Russia and receive proper compensation for damages done. It is pity but at the moment these people are only able to sue Ukraine which failed to uphold their right for freedom in accordance with Article 5 of European convention on Human Rights.
Therefore it all depends not even on the recognition of the war as such – because we all understand it will be a difficult process considering the composition of Ukrainian Parliament. It will depend directly on making the decision which will make Russia responsible for adhering to the Geneva Convention and creation of appropriate structure. Please note – UN recognized Russia not only a side of the conflict but a state occupying Ukrainian territory. Therefore formally UN already sees legal reasons for Russia to be held responsible for POWs fate and their release. In Ukraine such decision must be made by cross-departmental group on POW issues. NATO can provide technical description of the structure, principles of functioning and organization of such group and main tasks and jurisdiction which it will have.
Military expert Olexandr Biletskyi, head of “Ukrainian Military Guard”:
Similar groups exist in many countries including those which are not involved in military conflicts directly or indirectly. Considering present level of activity on part of international terror groups and presence of de-facto terrorist states (Afghanistan as Taliban State, Northern Korea) and open borders of those countries which experience active or “semi-frozen” conflict (Syria, Pakistan) – citizens of any country can become POW under different circumstances including being combatants on one of the conflict sides.
Usually it is cross-departmental group of relatively complex structure which is in some way linked to the highest power authority (President or Prime – minister) In Ukraine the best option would be to form such group as part of the Administration of President.   
This group structure should at least include:

  • Monitoring unit – intended for monitoring war crimes and cases of PTSD among the former POWs and their relatives., for questioning (in accordance with international law requirements) of all released POWs (civil and military) in order to obtain information including formal recording of human rights violations and violation of other international norms which will be used as proof of war crimes and basis for further investigation ;
  • training unit – maintaining basic one –day Escape and Evasion. Level A training; psychological training intended to prepare military personnel for possible capture, spreading the knowledge about the internationally recognized rules of conduct in relation to POWs – every soldier in NATO armies gets this training as part of basic drill in order not only to help survive captivity but to reduce the consequences of PTSD after liberation. For high rank military personnel. Pilots, servicemen of Main Intelligence Directorate and Special Forces operators as well as SBU personnel and people who have access to state secrets – compulsory Escape and Evasion. Level B, C, D trainings;
  • legal unit – intended, among other things for gathering and organizing the information and evidence on war crimes perpetrated by Russia starting the 2014 (genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes) and general documentation of  these crimes for future court cases and preparation of prosecution acts which after the consultations with Ukrainian government  will be forwarded to International Criminal Court as well as formulating recommendations concerning the ratification of Statute of Rome by Ukraine in order to facilitate interaction with International Criminal Court for crimes of Russia;
  • coordination unit – maintaining contacts with country’s top leadership and heads of ministries, harmonization and signing of documents which require signature of certain official, coordination of country’s leadership activities with the activities of the group;
  • international – because nearly in every case cooperation with NATO, UN, EU and EC structures (International Court in particular) is necessary;
  • tactical – development of practical recommendations for special services concerning matters of POWs;
  • negotiation group (at least one) with specially trained members for direct contacts with terrorists and aggressor state (Russia) representatives;

As of now all these highly – specialized and complex function are carried out by one person – Iryna Herashenko. Presence of controversial person of V. Medvedchuk (who is in fact a distant non – bloodline relative of Vladimir Putin) among the group members makes prospect of Ukrainian POWs only worse.
Due to the lack of professionals Ukraine was not able to adopt a so – called Captivity Protocol despite fighting a war for nearly 4 years.
This is supposed to be clearly defined selection of instructions and definitions, list of responsible authorities and chain of command.

  • What must be done if our combatant was taken prisoner (as of today it often means removal of all decorations and de-ranking a person to “limit the value” which is absurd and demotivated military)?
  • What is action Protocol when Russian solider or “LNR/DNR “terrorist was taken prisoner?
  • What is the standard “silence time” for our military personnel after which he/she can tell enemy some information (in Canada this equals 5 hours)
  • What the standard protocol is for liberated?

42th month of Ukrainian – Russian war is nearly over. 347 defenders of Ukrainian sovereignty are kept as POW (it is likely not all of them are alive – terrorists are not interested in preserving their lives). Wives, sisters and mothers of these soldiers started a continued action – they do not require anyone to step down neither anyone to be punished.
These women’s’ requirement is logical and clearly in line with interests of Ukrainian State in general: to set up, at last, a civilized and legitimate process of POW liberation. To form an inter-service Group on POW as part of Administration of President of Ukraine.
NATO as a whole and separate member states are ready to provide methodological and technical assistance at any moment.
Ukraine is relatively important player on international scene. Therefore prolonged existence of “grey zone” in such an important field as POW liberation is causing direct negative impact on country’s international image as well as disorients our allies.
This situation should be improving immediately – the authority of Ukraine and country President as well as country’s sovereignty heroic defenders should not be damaged by lack of civilized attitude towards own prisoners of war.

Ukrainian Women’s Guard
[email protected]