Ukraine has been accused of allowing other states to abduct and repatriate their own nationals who have sought refugee status in the former Soviet republic, in contravention of international rights governing refugees.
The latest case involved an anti-Putin activist, Leonid Razvozzhayev, who said he was seized by masked men on the streets of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, and whisked across the border to Russia. He initially admitted plotting an uprising across Russia but later denied it, saying he had made the statement under pressure.
“They were torturing me for two days, [they] kidnapped me from Ukraine,” Razvozzhayev yelled to his friends, who filmed him leaving a court in Moscow in October.
It was suspected that Russian FSB (security service) officers had masterminded the snatch. A Ukrainian police spokesman, Volodymyr Polishchuk, appeared to confirm this, saying: “It is most likely that security or law enforcement officials of foreign countries acted there. You can come to this conclusion if you watch the video that was on Russian television the next day, in which [Razvozzhayev] is escorted by Russian FSB officials,” he said.
However, Russian and Ukrainian law enforcement bodies have refused to open a criminal investigation into the alleged kidnapping, saying that Razvozzhayev deliberately crossed the border. His lawyers deny this. Razvozzhayev remains in detention in Russia.
“The situation is clearly unsatisfying, with many questions unanswered,” said Oldrich Andrysek, the UN high commissioner for refugees regional representative, adding that the UNHCR had asked the Russian authorities to let it meet Razvozzhayev to clarify the situation. “With the two dramatically different accounts of what happened, it stands to reason that there is a need to ascertain what really happened,” he added.
The case is reminiscent of that of Dirar Abu Sisi, a Palestinian engineer who was seeking a residency permit in Ukraine in 2011.
In February Abu Sisi was travelling by train from Kharkiv to Kiev when two men entered his compartment, took his passport and asked him to go with them, according to Andriy Makarenko, another passenger.
Days later, Abu Sisi turned up in an Israeli prison, charged with belonging to Hamas. He is still in jail.
His family and lawyer claim the operation was conducted by the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, with Ukrainian assistance.
“Ukraine and its secret services were definitely involved in arrest of Dirar Abu Sisi and his transportation to Israel,” his lawyer, Tal Linoy, said.
Like Razvozzhayev, Abu Sisi admitted guilt, but later retracted it, claiming that his confession had been made under pressure. Both Ukrainian and Israeli officials refused to comment on how the Palestinian had arrived in Israel.
Maksym Bukkevych, a human rights campaigner for Ukraine with the No Borders initiative, recalled a similar story about an event in late 2009 relating to an Uzbek citizen, Hamidullo Turgunov, who had sought refugee status in Ukraine.
Turgunov disappeared from the country and reportedly resurfaced two weeks later in jail in Uzbekistan. The UN refugee agency requested information from Ukraine about him but “has not received a satisfactory explanation”, according to Andrysek.
In a statement on Razvozzhayev’s abduction, Amnesty International accused Ukraine of ignoring human rights law.
“Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns that Ukraine does not respect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers,” said Heather McGill, an Amnesty researcher on Europe and central Asia.
“We have also raised concerns about the seeming willingness of the Ukrainian authorities to allow abductions by other states, such as in the cases of Dirar Abu Sisi and Hamidullo Turgunov,” she added.
So concerned is Amnesty about Ukraine’s record on asylum that earlier this year it prevented a Syrian asylum seeker from being returned from Britain to Ukraine because of the risk he would end up in Syria.