A report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council criticizes Ukraine’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and warns that the Russian-backed conflict in eastern Ukraine threatens efforts to curb the pandemic.
The report, which assesses the impact of COVID-19 on human rights in Ukraine, covers the period from February 20 to December 6. Issued Friday, it finds measures taken by Ukrainian authorities to slow the spread of COVID-19 are inadequate and failing to protect public health. It says the measures also are worsening the hardships faced by people living in the conflict-affected areas in eastern Ukraine.
Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris said restrictions on freedom of movement across the contact line, which separates Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels, were making it difficult for people to access health care, pensions and other social protections.
Brands Kehris said women and older people, who made up most of the civilians crossing the contact line prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, "were particularly affected. At present, restrictions on movement across the contact line imposed by armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ are having a disproportionally negative impact.”
Brands Kehris said the situation with people in overcrowded detention facilities was at particular risk during the pandemic. She called for the early release of older people with underlying health conditions. She noted that conditions were especially dire for people incarcerated in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine and in the Russian occupied Crimean Peninsula.
Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine's first deputy minister for foreign affairs, said the U.N. report showed that COVID-19 was being used to amplify the terrible consequences of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“The pandemic provided Moscow with another opportunity to tighten the grip over the human rights in the occupied territories," Dzhaparova said. "Residents of Crimea, especially the indigenous people, Crimean Tatars, continue facing searches, arrests and imprisonment. The pretrial detention centers in Crimea are overcrowded. Political prisoners are deprived of proper medical assistance, even despite evident COVID-19 symptoms.”
For its part, Russia dismissed all criticism against it and expressed serious concerns about what it called the massive violations of human rights in Ukraine in relation to the pandemic. It accused the Ukrainian government of neglecting the problems of the elderly and disabled, and of failing to address what it described as the horrid conditions of detention.