In the first week of the new year numerous sources in Donetsk have reported the widespread practice of arbitrary detentions for holders of Ukrainian passports or of those who drive cars with Ukraine-registered license plates.
On January 7th Donetsky Telegram-channel reported the arbitrary attitude of the police in Donetsk towards holders of Ukrainian passports. They write that they have not tackled the incoming reports of people being stopped and threatened because they did not initially trust the sources. Then their own colleague got targeted. According to the publication, the incident happened on January 6th. Although the journalists were in a group, only two of the group were targeted because of their Ukrainian passports.
The police car that conducted the passport checks did not even have any identification marks. The journalists were taken to the police station, were fingerprinted and had two photos taken. There were already four other people at the police station detained under the same circumstances. According to the report, the atmosphere was initially tense but the detained journalists managed to start conversing with the policemen. The policemen are reported to have been annoyed by the “internal order they received from the Interior Minister” because “it violates rights and the Constitution”. They also told the journalists that it would last until January 8th. As a reason for such actions, they referred to some alleged plan to compile a base as “it is a minority of residents who have received the passports of the DPR”. The publication ends with the call to report similar incidents to them and stand up for their rights.
After the Peace Committee published this information in a Facebook group, we have been contacted by various sources based in Donetsk who confirm these reports.
A person who asked not to reveal their name, writes ”I read your post but I’d rather not leave comments in public. Here we are facing an incredible level of lawlessness. On January 2nd 16 of my friends were stopped in one police raid, although they have both Ukrainian and DPR license plates. I was stopped myself on January 6th although my car is registered in Russia and I have a Russian passport issued in Russia, not in Donetsk. The policemen were at first laughing at me thinking that I am one ”newly made Russian” but when they saw that my passport is issued in a different way, they apologised and let me go. Yesterday they attempted to detain my husband in the early morning when he was driving to work. They claimed he had been drinking alcohol although he was sober.”
A woman, Anna by name, tells the Finnish Peace Committee of the problems her son faced going through the checkpoints on December 28th (whose registration is in Avdeevka of the Donetsk region – a Ukraine-controlled part.) He was going to visit his mother who works in Donetsk. The personnel manning the DPR checkpoint attempted to deny him access on the grounds of him bearing Ukrainian citizenship. The young man with whom the Finnish Peace Committee communicated directly confirmed this, saying that the personnel demanded that his mother would arrive at the checkpoint to pick him up. They let him go after verifying that his mother lives and works in Donetsk.
Two people, both journalists based in Donetsk, informed us of a barman from one of the cafes in the center of Donetsk who was detained on January 6th when he was on his way home.
Andrey Lysenko, a resident of Donetsk, allowed us to use his name when giving his statement. He tells us that he was driving in the Kalininsky district of Donetsk when his car was stopped because of it’s Ukrainian license plate. Although he was together with his wife who is undergoing chemotherapy – and therefore feels very weak, Andrey was forced to drive to the police station. He tells of approximately 30 other cars which were escorted to the station. He also tells of being fingerprinted. Andrey Lysenko is an activist of a humanitarian group which helps distressed civilians surviving the conflict.
In all the cases the interviewed people tell that they were detained for up to four hours.
Our contacts in Donetsk reached out to a couple of officials from both the Information ministry and Interior ministry. These officials, under conditions of strict anonymity, confirm the problems with these police raids developing since the end of 2019. They refer to the Interior Minister Aleksey Dikiy as the one who gave the ”unofficial order” to start these raids. This practice started with lifting of the curfew hour in the territory of the self-proclaimed republic on December 31st.
On the official level there is information obtained via our Donetsk based contacts that between January 1st to 4th, the Donetsk Interior Ministry had detained more than 1200 people. The main reasons for detentions were a lack of DPR passports or of having Ukrainian IDs or Ukraine-issued car registration documents. Within Vkontakte Donetsk-related groups there are warnings of the police of Voroshilovsky district of Donetsk committing frequent violations of people’s rights as they reportedly detain people before 10pm also with Donetsk registration.
Numerous complaints about police arbitrariness and excess use of authority are also reported on social media. A woman, Oksana by name, writes, ”I walked out of a shop at 19.30pm – Police were checking the documents of a homeless man and a boy aged between 18 and 19. Both people were soon detained. I was asked which passport I held. Having heard that my passport is Ukrainian, they asked me why I don’t have the DPR passport. I explained that I am waiting for an appointment to apply for one. One of the policemen quietly told me to escape as fast as possible as the police were to arrive to collect the detained men.”
Maya Pirogova, a representative of the republic’s self-proclaimed Information Ministry, commented on January 3rd of reports on arbitrariness in her Telegram-channel. The tone of the comment by this official can be described as insulting towards people living in Donetsk. She claims that “…they were driving through Donetsk and saw an incredibly large number of cars with Ukrainian license plates”. She uses derogatory words to describe those who complain of being detained. Pirogova states, “Residents of Donetsk, suggest your own way of how to distinguish the enemies of the republic from law-abiding people?” She also tells that the lifting of the curfew was ”an experiment.” Maya Pirogova is the director of the state information policy with the Information Ministry.
Komsomolskaya Pravda in Donetsk also confirms the information on the problems people driving Ukraine-registered cars are currently facing. The article reports that it is combined with security concerns and it refers to the cars registered outside of the self-proclaimed republic.
A member of the Donetsk Public Chamber Alexander Bolotin openly criticises Aleksey Dikiy for the oral cancellation of the validity of Ukrainian passports on the basis of which the DPR citizenship is granted. Bolotin also links the current situation with the confrontation between Alexey Dikiy and Denis Pushilin.
Our contacts in Donetsk report that they expect the ‘stop and detain policy’ to end with the return of the curfew hours – which are scheduled for January 8th. They also tell that the detentions of cars and people with Ukrainian passports have been held not only in Donetsk but in other towns. They are of the firm opinion that it is necessary to draw this to the attention of international watchdogs operating in the area.