Contributor(s)Human Rights Information Centre / Ukraine without torture / Prison Insider

Physical integrity

The death penalty was abolished on 22nd of February 2000. The last execution took place on 11 March 1997.

As of August 25, 2016, the State Prison Service registers 1,555 prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment.

Life imprisonment can be applied in cases of special grave offenses. Those are described in article 115 of the Criminal Code (murder of two or more persons, murder of a hostage, murder committed as a contracted murder…). This penalty cannot be imposed on people who commit a crime under the age of 18, people over the age of 65, and pregnant women at the time of the offense or at the time of the judgment. The conditions of detention of life prisoners improved since the adoption of Law 435-VII in September 2013. They have the same visiting rights as other prisoners. They may work in their cell. Life prisoners are separated from other prisoners. They may be reinstated among them after serving 20 years.

Life prisoners are locked up 23 hours a day. They are not allowed to talk to each other or to other prisoners. They are under constant video surveillance in their cell, and are handcuffed when leaving it.

Presidential pardon can be granted to a life prisoner after at least 20 years served in prison. To date, President Poroshenko has not granted it since taking office.

In November 2015, the President vetoed a bill to give the possibility of commuting a life sentence to 25 years imprisonment, taking into account the years already spent in detention. He argued that the introduction of parole would put an end to the right of pardon for these individuals.

Due to the reportedly poor conditions of detention, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union compares the life sentence to a slow death penalty.

The case of Vladimir Petukhov illustrates the difficulties related to the life sentence. He was arrested in June 2001 and sentenced in December 2004 to life imprisonment in colony 13. Mr Petukhoy contracted tuberculosis because of the poor conditions of his detention. He was beaten by prison staff when asked to see a doctor. He wanted a new trial because his confession was allegedly obtained under duress. The release of life sentenced prisoners is complicated from a legal standpoint. The European Court of Human Rights seized the case of Mr Petukhov in 2016.

During the first three months of 2017, 144 prisoners died against 112 during the same period in 2016.

Violence between detainees has been reported. A prisoner at the Shepetivka Correctional Center died on June 6, 2016 of a traumatic brain injury caused by a fellow inmate.

Yevhen Zakharov, a representative of the Coalition Against Torture, reports, on 19 April 2017, that the proportion of suicides in prison is 66 per 100,000 prisoners. It is three times that of the country, which amounts to 22 per 100,000.

Number of deaths


Torture and ill-treatment is prohibited under Article 28 of the Constitution. However, the definition of torture in the Ukrainian law does not comply with international standards. It is defined as a voluntary act aimed at causing severe physical or mental suffering through violent actions. The words “violent act” restricts its scope: preventing a prisoner from eating is, for example, considered as an act of torture according to international standards but not by Ukrainian law.

The police are attached to the Attorney General’s office. This office is in charge of investigating the allegations of torture. Due to this lack of independence, investigations are rare.

In a joint report, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch denounced the ill-treatment and use of torture in secret prisons run by the Secret Service (SBU) in July 2016.

Inmates occasionally face a lack of confidentiality in filing complaints about abuses. Prison staff censor and discourage complaints and penalise and mistreat prisoners who fill out forms.

The allegations of ill-treatment reported by the prisoners emanate mainly from colonies 25 and 100. A European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) delegation visited them both from the 9th to 16th of September 2014 and again from the 21st to 30th November 2016. Another visit is planned in 2017. The prison staffs use violence to maintain order. Detainees testified that they were victims of beatings, rape, the use of straitjackets and strangulation of the abdomen with a rope to the point of defecating.

The prison staff of colony 113 (Kyzhopil Correctional Center) systematically violated the prisoners’ rights in 2016. Allegations of illegal acts committed by the prison administration are reported: beatings, forced and unpaid labour, and lack of medical care. These conditions of detention prompted one of the detainees to attempt suicide.

There is no lasting improvement in the conditions of detention, which do not comply with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Measures have nevertheless been taken. The CPT reports in 2014 an improvement in the conditions of detention in Colonies 81 and 89 with a decrease in the number of complaints of ill-treatment or torture. The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture notes in 2016 an improvement in the conditions of detention, especially in the reduction of overcrowding in pre trial detention centres. He also notes the increasing use of alternative measures to pre-trial detention.

In spite of these improvements, the armed conflict between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces is causing abuse on both sides. The SBU is regularly accused of ill-treating people detained in its secret detention centres.

“When I was detained at the Odessa Detention Center, I thought it was not possible for a human being to live in such bad conditions. When I was taken to the SBU in Kharkiv, I thought: Odessa is a good place to live. In Kharkiv, we could not talk or complain to anyone. There was no law or order. We did not know if we would survive every night “- former prisoner detained incommunicado at the premises of the SBU in Kharkiv, statement collected between 16 November 2016 and 15 February 2017 by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

The authorities carry on detaining individuals arbitrarily for charges related to the conflict between the pro government and pro-Russian forces. However, the number of arbitrary detentions has decreased compared to 2014 and 2015. The people concerned are detained for several hours, or even days, without being officially arrested or charged. They are not able to contact a lawyer. During this period, detainees are subjected to physical and psychological pain, sometimes tantamount to torture or ill-treatment[^détention secrète].

In 2016, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International denounced the existence of secret prisons managed by the secret services (SBU) in Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, Izyum and Mariupol[^you don’t exist]. The prisoner exchanges between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists seem to be largely responsible for these arbitrary and secret detentions. Out of the 18 cases studied in the report, half were the subject of an exchange of prisoners between the two camps. Secret detentions last between 6 weeks and 15 months.

The anti-terrorist operations framework has had consequences on the conditions of detention. People arrested in this context testified before the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) that they were detained incommunicado in military premises for several days (up to 10) before being transferred to the SBU premises[^incommunicado].

Mykola Vakaruk was arrested at his home in December 2014 because of his political views against the Kiev government. He was abused during interrogation. When threatened that he would see this treatment applied to his wife, he agreed to confess to questions asked of him. He was then transferred to a secret prison in Kharkiv. He fell ill because of poor detention conditions and underwent an ablation of the kidney. He was then hospitalized under a false name. Following the report released by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, he and twelve other secretly detained prisoners, were released by the SBU. Mykola Vakaruk was held secretly for 590 days.

Kostantin Beskorovaynyi, a communist municipal councillor in northern Donetsk, spent 15 months in the same secret prison in Kharkiv. He was arrested in November 2014, tortured, and then forced to confess. He was not allowed to contact a lawyer or to communicate with the outside until his release in February 2016.

[^détention secrète]: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine 16 November 2016 to 15 February 2017”, 2017. [^you don’t exist]: Amnesty International et Human Rights Watch, “You don’t exist”, 2016. [^incommunicado]: European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “Report to the Ukrainian Government on the visit to Ukraine carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 9 to 16 September 2014”, 29 April 2015.