This publication summarizes findings from 6 workshops organised across Ukraine in 2018 and 2019 together with Freedom House. We worked and discussed the state-of-the-art civil society activism in Ukraine with more than 30 Ukrainian organisations which makes approximately 100 civil society leaders.
Civil society in Ukraine has suffered from repression in the last years (‘shrinking space’), challenges that are similar to those in Poland, Moldova, Hungary and elsewhere. Several international organisations found that Ukrainian civil society has to spend increasing resources in defending itself rather than fulfilling their mandate to support democratic institutions in the country.
Legislative and judicial pressures, discrediting campaigns, fake human rights activities by extremist movements and physical violence against human rights activists are among the main forms of harassment and repression faced by Ukrainian civil society. The use of violence is perhaps the most serious threat, with more than 50 attacks against civic activists in 2018, including the murders of Irina Nozdrovska, Mykola Bychko and Kateryna Gandziuk, the attempted murder of Oleg Mikhailyk, and a knife attack against Vitaliy Ustymenko.
Since 2017, civil society has also faced several restrictive laws including the introduction of electronic declarations of income for anti-corruption activists and draft laws on so-called foreign agents. In addition, criminal cases were launched against individual activists. At the same time, activists are discredited in the media, while extremist movements claim to be human rights defenders (despite having themselves committed many human rights violations) and actively promote their views among the general population, especially among young people.
Ukrainian civil society is working to counter these threats through communication, physical and information security training programs and international human rights defenders meetings.
However, to effectively counter these threats, civil society needs to be strengthened in the following areas:
- More effective public communications that explain the problems that civil society are facing.
- Media openness and coverage of the problems and achievements of the civil society in Ukraine.
- Monitoring of attacks against civil society members, which will provide evidence of the scale of the problem, give an opportunity to help victims and serve as an additional public argument for fighting impunity.
- Exchange their experiences with human rights defenders from other countries who are facing the same type of problems. This will help to counter these actions and determine common work standards.