A. The Extent of Bias-Motivated Violence
Since 2005, nongovernmental monitors in Ukraine have documented a dramatic rise in violent crimes with a suspected bias motivation. While incidents occurring in Kyiv have been most accurately documented, there is evidence that incidents of violence are taking place throughout the country, including the cities of Cherkasy, Chernivtsi, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Lutsk, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Ternopil, Vinnytsia, and Zhytomyr.
Leading nongovernmental monitors documented 86 bias-motivated attacks on persons in 2007, including 5 murders, as compared with 14 attacks, including 2 murders in 2006. 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.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have also been a reliable source of international monitoring of attacks against foreigners in which there is a suspected bias motivation. In the framework of the Diversity Initiative, a coalition of some 40 NGOs, which was created in April 2007 in response to the unprecedented increase in the number of suspected racially-motivated assaults, the UNHCR and the IOM have documented a rising number of attacks on the basis of evidence from victims, as well as information from media sources and nongovernmental organizations. According to the Diversity Initiative’s monitoring, in 2005, there were 4 reported attacks suspected to be racially-motivated; in 2006, there were 11 such attacks (including 3 murders); in 2007, there were 68 (including 9 murders); and through the first three months of 2008, the Diversity Initiative had documented some 40 violent incidents.
The numbers documented by nongovernmental organizations likely represent only a small portion of suspected hate crime incidents, and the government releases no statistics on hate crimes.
Intergovernmental and international human rights organizations have similarly taken note of the negative trend:
- In the Third Report on Ukraine, released in February 2008, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) included a special section on “racially-motivated violence,” in which it reported on “a worrying increase in racist violence by youth belonging to skinhead and neo-fascist groups.”
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has articulated similar concerns, most recently in a July 2008 article on violent hate crimes in Europe, in which he specifically highlights concerns about the situation in Ukraine.
- The United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2007 expressed “concern about incitement and acts of violence against persons, belonging to ethnic and national minorities, including acts against Roma, antisemitic attacks, and violence against persons of African and Asian origin and non-citizens,” and pointed to “persistent allegations of failure to investigate and reluctance on the part of the police and authorities to provide adequate protection to the victims or to conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations of such reports.”
- In July 2008, Amnesty International released Ukraine: Government must act to stop racial discrimination, a report that documented an alarming increase in attacks on foreigners and members of ethnic and religious minorities in Ukraine.
- Available information indicates that the perpetrators of the most serious hate crimes are coming from loosely organized groups of skinheads—young people united by extreme nationalist and racist ideology. The Interior Ministry has put the number of such skinheads at 500, although nongovernmental monitors suggest that, while this may accurately represent the strength of the core groups, the total number, including those loosely affiliated with such groups, is likely to be much higher.
B. The Victims of Intolerance and Violence
Bias-motivated violence has been largely committed against people of African and Asian origin and Jews, as well as people from the Caucasus and the Middle East. Asylum seekers, refugees, and labor migrants are among the victims, which have also included diplomats, expatriate employees of foreign companies, members of visible minorities in Ukraine, and Ukrainians who have assisted hate crime victims. Foreign students, of which there are some forty thousand, have been among the principal victims of hate crimes.
Small populations of citizens and immigrants of African origin are highly visible and particularly vulnerable targets of racism and xenophobia. Although relatively few people of African origin reside in Ukraine, the rate of violence against this group has been extraordinary. African refugees, students, visitors, and the handful of citizens and permanent residents of African origin have lived under constant threat of harassment and violence.
Apart from the arrival of foreigners of diverse backgrounds to work, study, and live in Ukraine, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have returned to the country since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Significantly, more than 250,000 Crimean Tatars have returned to their homeland following Ukrainian independence, shifting the ethnic composition of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The return of Tatars, who belong to a different ethnicity, speak a separate language, and are predominantly Muslim, has resulted in increased ethnic and religious tensions in the Crimea and contributed to an increase in bias-motivated attacks against Crimean Tatars and their property.
Ukrainian Jews have been the object of some of the worst government-led persecutions in history, including Tsarist pogroms, Nazi genocide, and Stalin’s antisemitic campaigns. The problem of antisemitism has remained despite massive immigration of Jews to Israel, Europe, and the Untied States following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Ukraine has seen a revival of anti-Jewish prejudice in the form of an increase of antisemitic attacks and incidents.
Moreover, the disintegration of the Soviet Union has had profound effects on the freedom of conscience in Ukraine. Although people are now free to worship the religion of their choice, the introduction of several western forms of Christianity, new to Ukraine, has resulted in some tensions with the well-established Orthodox communities. The government has done little to address the “sectarian” rhetoric used by some members of the Orthodox Church, the media, and general public against Baptist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostal, and other denominations that operate in Ukraine.
Similarly, the breakdown of the Soviet Union—during which time homosexuality was criminalized—has allowed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/transsexual people (LGBT) to be more open about their identity. However, the Ukrainian constitution does not explicitly include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation; laws concerning bias-motivated violence do not cover incidents involving bias on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Many Ukrainians remain intolerant toward LGBT persons. According to one recent poll by the Institute of Sociology, almost 35 percent of Ukrainians disagreed strongly or disagreed with the statement that “gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own life as they wish.”
The Roma, too, have been subjected to human rights abuse and personal violence. In the Third Report on Ukraine
, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), said it had continued to receive reports that police “illegally arrest and harass members of Roma communities,” and that “Roma do not receive an adequate response from the police when they are the victims of crime.” The Roma people continue being one of the most vulnerable groups affected by bias motivated crime.
There have been a number of probable bias-motivated murders among the incidents recorded by NGO monitors in 2007 and early 2008. The viciousness of the acts, the indifference of the assailants to the victims’ possessions, and the rhetoric used during the attacks suggest that these incidents were motivated by hatred. The lack of police expertise and insufficient reporting often leads to the inability to properly categorize and investigate violent hate crimes. Thus, racial motivation is often overlooked. Nevertheless, examples of murder cases, in which a racial motive is likely, include:
Special Case: The Shuliavska Market
- On June 9, 2008, a Congolese immigrant Atunga Luwila was found dead on a neighborhood street in Kyiv. Despite the fact that Luwila suffered serious head injuries and a broken neck, law enforcers declined to investigate the incident as a crime, much less a potential hate crime; instead, the police concluded Luilu’s death was accidental, resulting from his falling down after an epileptic fit. A Kyiv City Court refused to open a criminal case, disregarding requests made by Luwila’s relatives and NGOs.
- On May 29, 2008, in Kyiv, Joel Taye Olubayode, a Nigerian national was found in the Solomenskiy district of the city with numerous knife wounds. Police initially stated that the motive in the murder was unknown. The UNHCR, the IOM, and some 30 other nongovernmental organizations urged the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the murder, including the possibility that it was racially-motivated. As of the end of July 2008, police were still searching for Olubayode’s killers.
- On March 8, 2008, in Kyiv, Gbenda-Charles Victor Tator, a 39-year-old refugee from Sierra Leone, was walking with his wife near the Obolon market when he was set upon by two youths who stabbed him some ten times. He died on the spot. Four days after the incident, Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko announced that police detained a minor in connection to the murder. The youth was reportedly a member of a skinhead group. As of the end of July 2008, the investigation was still underway and no charges were yet brought. Tator’s funeral turned into a march against racism. In an act of protest over the worsening conditions for foreigners in Ukraine, friends and family of the victim as well as antiracist activists—as many as 100 people—walked in procession through the streets of Kyiv from the morgue to the cemetery.
- On January 27, 2008, in Kyiv, the body of Joseph Bunte, a 19-year old asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was found with 17 knife wounds in the head, chest, and back. In response, the UNHCR and the IOM expressed grave concern and urged the authorities to investigate the possibility that the murder was motivated by racism. The police investigation led to the arrest of two 16-year-olds, reportedly members of an informal skinhead group. The youths were charged with a premeditated murder, although hate motivation was not included as an aggravating circumstance.
- On October 14, 2007, a citizen of Bangladesh died after being severely beaten and stabbed by a group of young men in Kyiv. Police subsequently arrested four suspects—trade school students—but said nothing about the possibility of a racial motivation of the attackers, who took the victim’s belongings.
- On June 3, 2007, in Kyiv, an Iraqi national was found dead near the Nivki metro station with multiple knife wounds. He came to Ukraine seeking asylum. On June 11, 2007, police announced that four suspects had been detained in connection with the murder.
- On March 31, 2007, a 36-year-old Bengali national Abu Bakar was assaulted in the Dnipro district of Kyiv. Bakar suffered fatal wounds to his head and stomach and died within hours of the attack. The police reportedly made an attempt to investigate the racial motives behind this crime, although charges were ultimately filed under article 121 (intentional severe bodily harm leading to death) without reference to any hate motivation.
- On March 17, 2007, Oleksandr Alaveranov, a Ukrainian citizen of Iranian descent, was stabbed six times by an unidentified young man. The witnesses said the attacker was a skinhead, and the victim identified him as a neo-Nazi. Unfortunately, Alaveranov never recovered from the injuries and passed away a month later. The police detained an individual—a known drug addict—in connection with the murder. Witnesses have maintained that the murderer was clearly a skinhead.
The Shuliavska Market has regretfully become a site of frequent violent hate crimes and other abuses in recent years. The working class Shuliavska district of Kyiv’s vibrant city center is home to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, some of whom work at the market.
Apart from the derogatory verbal abuse and occasional ultranationalist rallies, the market’s non-Slavic vendors, laborers, and customers have been subjected to severe acts of violence, including personal assaults and arson attacks. According to the Shuliavska merchants, conflicts between immigrants and skinheads have periodically occurred and have on occasion evolved into large-scale fights, similar to a brawl of thirty people that took place at the market on August 14, 2006. In another incident, on March 3, 2007, approximately 50 ultranationalists held a rally to protest the presence of African traders. The police reportedly arrested an organizer of the rally, who was charged with hooliganism.
In April 2007, the market had almost completely burnt down. The Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetskyi announced that the market would be shut down after the incident, the causes of which are still unknown. The Deputy Mayor Irena Kilchitskaya did not entertain the possibility of a malicious act, instead attributing the April incident to “ethnic quarrels between representatives of Caucasian nationalities and African countries, who are constantly engaged in scandals and hooliganism against each other.”
The most recent fatal victim of apparent bias-motivated attacks at Shuliavska was Atunga Luwila, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in June 2008. In February 2008, another Nigerian citizen required hospitalization after being stabbed by a group of skinheads. In yet another incident in the vicinity, also in February 2008, three young men confronted and harassed a group of four Africans.
An immediate measure to combat violent hate crimes in and around the Shuliavska Market is within the capacity of Ukrainian law enforcers. More and better police protection in the vicinity would increase security for those living and working in and around the market.
- On February 16, 2007, a group of Georgian citizens was attacked in Kyiv. As a result, 34-year-old Moris Yugashvili died of wounds suffered in the attack. His brother was hospitalized with serious injuries. While the police acknowledged the possibility of nationalist motivation of the attackers, charges were ultimately brought under article 121 (intentional severe bodily harm leading to death), without reference to any hate motivation.
D. Serious Assaults
Far more frequent than murders are serious physical assaults committed by both skinheads and members of the general public, which have targeted a wide range of persons. Some examples from 2007 and early 2008 include the following:
- On February 16, 2008, in Kyiv, a group of about a dozen men, all dressed in neo-Nazi attire, assaulted a Chinese and an Iranian student near the International Academy of Management, a commercial business college popular with foreign students. A 16-year-old teenager of Iranian origin was walking by and became involved in the fight as well. The skinheads knocked all three foreigners to the ground, kicking them with their army boots. The Chinese required hospitalization for head concussion injuries, while an ambulance team responding to the scene treated the two Iranians for cuts and bruises. Police moved quickly, detaining 17 attackers, but then released 12 of them. As of the end of July 2008, the other 5 remained in detention and were awaiting charges.
- On January 24, 2008, a rabbi was severely beaten on a main street in the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk. Rabbi Dov-Ber Baitman, a teacher at the Jewish educational center Shiurey Torah, was assaulted by four men who shouted antisemitic epithets.
- On January 11, 2008, in Kyiv, some ten assailants attacked Marcus Faison, an African-American basketball player, while screaming racist epithets (“Blacks—get out of Ukraine!”). According to the victim, he ran toward a police car for help, but the officers drove off, after which the skinheads continued beating Faison. He required stitches for multiple lacerations in the arm.
- On January 10, 2008, in Kyiv, over a dozen young men attacked Charles Asante-Yeboa, a citizen of Ghana and the president of the country’s African Center. Charles was on his way home from a visit with a man from Nigeria who had been a victim of a violent attack a few days earlier. While waiting at a bus stop near the Shuliavska metro station in the early evening, Charles was attacked from behind by a group of young men. One of the attackers first hit him with a metal bar in the back of the head, as others—up to 15 persons—joined in kicking and beating the victim with a variety of objects. Asente-Yeboa was also stabbed in several places, including one deep wound in the back of his head. He heard his attackers say “let’s slit his throat” and “no, let’s cut his head in two.” The attackers eventually fled when a car approached. He was taken to the hospital in serious condition. As of August 2008, no charges have been brought against the perpetrators in this case.
- On January 10, 2008, in Lviv, in a pizzeria located on the ground floor of a building that houses foreign students, a young man attacked a patron with dark skin, beating him in the head with a wooden chair. According to students, similar racist attacks in the vicinity of the university are a frequent occurrence.
- On November 3, 2007, in Dnipropetrovsk, a group of youths attacked two Asian students, one of whom required an emergency kidney operation as a result. Police detained four teenage suspects on November 20 and charged them with armed robbery and “group hooliganism.”
- On October 14, 2007, in Kyiv, unknown assailants attacked three women from China, students at the Kyiv University of Technology and Design. The women were stabbed and required hospitalization. Three suspects were detained, as police initially qualified the attack as an act of hooliganism. The incident attracted the attention of the Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine, who met with a police delegation to discuss the investigation.
- On September 29, 2007, a group of men attacked a rabbi and two yeshiva students in Cherkasy. Rabbi Yosef Rafaelov came with the students from Israel to join the local community in celebrating the Sukkot holiday. On Saturday evening, they were attacked near the synagogue by a group of men who beat them and kicked them repeatedly.
- On September 28, 2007, the Chief Rabbi of Sevastopol, Rabbi Binyamin Wolf, was on his way to Friday prayers when he was surrounded by four thugs who taunted him with antisemitic slurs and broke his nose. Shortly thereafter, police detained two suspects.
- On September 27, 2007, four youths attacked Mendel Lichshtein, an Israeli citizen, near a synagogue in Zhytomyr. Lichshtein fought off the youths before they were able to harm him. A few months earlier, in July, Rabbi Shlomo Vilgen was accosted by a mob of around 20 people shouting antisemitic slogans near the synagogue.
- Also in Zhytomyr, on August 6, 2007, two young skinheads attacked Nochum Tamarin, director of the local branch of the Federation of Jewish Communities, and his wife Brocha. The youths hit their victims several times in the face, and right before fleeing punched Brocha Tamarin one last time as she lay on the ground.
- In August, one of Ukraine’s chief rabbis, Rabbi Ariel Chaikin, issued an open letter to Ukrainian officials decrying the fact that Jews “feel that they are in danger” in Zhytomyr. “They are constantly threatened, they are insulted on the street, and people throw things at them,” wrote Chaikin. He further charged that “officials in Zhytomyr either don’t have the desire to or are incapable of preserving security and inter-ethnic and inter-religious peace in the city.” The rabbi said the police who now patrol the area near the synagogue “are unable to seriously resist antisemitic gangs” and that the state security agency refuses to investigate the incidents or the antisemitic and xenophobic gangs in Zhytomyr.
- On July 21, 2007, in Odessa, a group of youths seriously injured a citizen of Kuwait. The attackers, who numbered about ten, had shaven heads, according to a witness. They broke bottles on the victim’s head. The Kuwaiti was hospitalized.
- On July 4, 2007, Yevgeni Tretyakov was assaulted in his native village of Ostrozhany, Cherkasy Oblast. The victim has been previously harassed because of his sexual orientation. However, this was the first instance of a violent attack on Tretyakov.