Empowering survivors of torture in Ukraine
The use of torture and ill-treatment constitute systemic human rights problems in Ukraine that have been exacerbated by the ongoing armed conflict that broke out in 2014.
As at the end of 2019, more than 13,000 lives had been lost due to the conflict, including at least 3,350 civilians. In addition, hundreds of women and men have been detained, tortured, ill-treated or endured sexual violence in the eastern territory controlled by the self-proclaimed “republics” and in the territory controlled by the Government.
“Somebody had to make sure there was dignity”
In the spring of 2014, the life of Hanna Mokrousova changed forever. As an active supporter of Ukraine’s unity, she was detained by armed groups in her home town of Luhansk. When she was released, she fled to Kyiv. She saw how many people were in a similar situation, searching for help that did not exist. “Nobody knew what was next. Somebody had to make sure there was dignity. I had to do something,” recalls Hanna.
‘Blue Bird’ spreads its wings
In mid-2015, Hanna pulled together a team of like-minded people and founded an NGO called “Blue Bird” that provides victims of torture and their families with humanitarian, medical, psychological and legal assistance. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) provided essential advice, expertise and financial support. Significant funding also came from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, which has supported the organization since 2018.
“I felt their support at every step,” smiles Hanna speaking from a converted Kyiv apartment that serves as the Blue Bird office. From the onset of the armed conflict, the HRMMU interviewed victims of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment from both sides of the contact line. “We saw an urgent need for services for victims of torture and their families. Since Blue Bird’s inception, we have been referring victims and families there,” says Uladzimir Shcherbau from the HRMMU. Over the last five years, at least 3,000 people have received support from Blue Bird.
Helping families help their loved ones
Relatives or loved ones of a victim are often the first ones to look for multiple forms of assistance. Since it can take weeks, months or years for a family to reunite, Blue Bird also supports families for the entire time that their loved one is missing or deprived of their liberty.
“We help them to deal with hopelessness…not to give up and continue to fight for the release of a loved one,” says Hanna.