Racial and other bias motivated violent crimes are dramatically on the rise in Ukraine. Individuals of non-European origin, immigrants and minorities are most vulnerable to violent attacks, many of which occur in broad daylight. Sizeable Jewish communities and the predominantly Muslim Crimean Tatars are among the targets of bias-motivated crimes. Several Jewish religious leaders have been violently assaulted, and attacks on property and places of worship are commonplace. The Ukrainian Roma communities have been the victims of mob violence in the past. A burgeoning movement of skinheads continues to be responsible for the most violent hate crimes.
Although monitoring efforts by civil society organizations are limited and mainly focus on the largest metropolitan areas, at least 86 attacks with a suspected bias motivation were reported by nongovernmental monitors in 2007, including 5 murders. In the first six months of 2008, there were at least 4 murders of foreigners and numerous serious attacks in which there was a suspected racist or other bias motivation. There were undoubtedly many other violent incidents that went unreported and/or undocumented. The government does not currently collect statistics or publicly report on violent hate crimes. Incidents, when they are reported, are most often registered as hooliganism rather than as bias-motivated crimes.
The government’s response to the rise in hate crimes has been insufficient and inconsistent. A small group of politicians, including President Yushchenko, has spoken out against racist and xenophobic violence. However, these statements have been undermined by the rhetoric of other key law enforcement officials whose remarks have suggested a denial of the problem.
Nonetheless, the Ukrainian authorities did take several steps in 2007: the Interior Ministry adopted an action plan on combating racism and created a special unit that deals with ethnic crimes; the State Security Service created a special unit on combating xenophobia and intolerance; and the Foreign Ministry appointed a special envoy to address racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. In April 2008, an inter-ministerial commission was created and its plan to combat xenophobia was adopted by the Committee of Ministers in August 2008.
In early 2008 there were unprecedented guilty verdicts handed down in three cases of violence in which incitement to racial and ethnic hatred were among the charges. However, these verdicts were exceptions to a pattern in which violent crimes with an apparent bias motivation are more often treated as minor offenses. Law enforcement officials lack training and experience in recognizing and recording the bias motivations behind attacks, limiting the ability of prosecutors to pursue hate crime cases in court. Many instances of violence with a suspected racial motivation go unreported, as many victims fear harassment by law enforcement officials, among other factors.
An inadequate legal framework also hinders the ability of criminal justice officials to prosecute hate crimes as such. In 2008, there were several proposed packages of amendments to the criminal legislation dealing with incitement and violent hate crimes, yet none of the introduced bills fully addressed the weaknesses in the current legislation.
Human Rights First has made a number of concrete recommendations to the Ukrainian authorities for addressing the problem of violent hate crimes in 2008, calling for the following steps to be taken:
A public commitment by law-enforcement agencies to vigorously investigate violent crimes with a suspected racial or other bias motivation.
The development of clear guidelines mandating police officers and investigators to record bias motives in the commission of a crime.
Concrete steps by law enforcement officials—including reaching out to community and other nongovernmental groups—to increase the confidence of hate crime victims to report crimes to the police.