Sanctions needed to free Ukrainian captives in Russia

Analysis & Opinion

Sanctions and high-profile negotiators are the most effective tools for the release of Ukrainians held hostage by the Kremlin. These are the findings of a study by media and legal experts from the Ukrainian Media Initiative for Human Rights.

Currently, 102 Ukrainians are held hostage in the occupied territories of the Donbas. The experts say that two things are crucial for their release. First, the hostage exchange lists should be publicly available to make their names politically resonant. And second — hostage release should be separate from political negotiations.

Olga Reshetylova, Coordinator at Media Initiative for Human Rights

The relatives of the prisoners and hostages, as well as human rights activists have long asked to separate the humanitarian issue of people’s release from political issues discussed in the Minsk process. You cannot put issues like elections in the Donbas and ceasefire on the same scales with people’s lives.

Another 64 Ukrainian citizens are imprisoned by the Kremlin in Russia and the annexed Crimea. It’s harder to release them under international law, because Russia states that these Crimeans are Russian citizens and should be therefore be tried under Russian law.

Anton Naumliuk, Russian Journalist Working in Crimea

Ukraine’s hands are tied in relation to communicating and interacting for the release of it’s prisoners of war in Russia and Crimea. Perhaps the most effective, and the only way that can be used here — is pressure through the international community, primarily through santions. And sanctions work, no matter what they say in Russia. The Russian authorities simply cannot ignore them.

One important factor for the prisoners’ release — is using the right historical moment. Just before the Sochi Olympics, Russia released many political prisoners to improve the image of the Russian President. Such possibilities should be used, the experts believe.

Polina Brodik, Expert at Media Initiative for Human Rights

We know that now we have two big events in Russia. The elections will be held in May — it’s quite soon, and, most likely, it won’t be possible to take advantage of this opportunity. But there will also be a Football World Cup, that will be held in several cities of Russia in the summer of 2018. And this opportunity can be seized.

In the four years of the conflict, over 3 thousand Ukrainian hostages were released from the Donbas. Only 5 Ukrainians were released from Russia and the occupied Crimea. Many more have been imprisoned since then.

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