Publication of POW lists: side risks and new opportunities

23:50, 11 January 2017
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Speaking about the situation with the publication of POW and MIA lists, we should remember the year of 2014, when the conflict in Donbas was just erupting. Back then, the center for POW release "Officer Corps", who delegated Volodymyr Ruban as its representative, was regularly publishing and updating the lists of people who were held in enemy captivity. This way we could see the general overview on how many people are in captivity and who this people are. Moreover, this information was more or less verified. They open lists allowed families of captured Ukrainians to check the data available of supplement the lists with more info. A stable and regular contact was set up. But today everything is different.

First of all, the latest publication of POW lists gives a perfect opportunity for all kinds of shady characters to try to cash in on someone else's troubles. Fraudsters could contact the families, who are desperate to have their loved ones returned, and demand money for alleged information on or the release of their captured relatives. It has already been the case in 2014, when many people would pay all the money they’d saved up to anyone who phoned them saying they had some confirmed information on their relatives.

Quite questionable is the relevance of the latest lists. After I first read them, I saw the name of at least one person who had already been killed, according to the official, confirmed information

But now the situation is particularly threatening to the families of missing persons. If we look at the list of 122, submitted by the Ukrainian side, we can see that among them there is a large number of people listed as MIA.

As for me, this is the greatest risk arising following the publication of the POW lists.

One should also note that the relevance of the latest lists is quite questionable. After I first read them, I saw the name of at least one person who had already been killed, according to the official, confirmed information: the body was recovered and buried, and I personally spoke with his widow. Therefore, all information contained in these lists should be updated so that we understand how relevant they actually are.

In addition, the publication of these lists is means spreading personal data. It is clear that this is another problematic issue.

Judging by the reactions we see in the news and social media, it seems that people are more afraid of disruption of Minsk talks than of possibility to have our POWs released

I should repeat that some clear parallels are evident with the situation back in 2014. But the data provided in 2014 were much more comprehensive than the data we see now.

Criticism over the release of POW lists was related primarily to the impact of this step on the Minsk talks and negotiations on humanitarian issues within that process, including the release of prisoners. It should be noted that from the moment the prisoner swap was put within the Minsk talks and removed from the total competence of the Security Service of Ukraine, no one, in fact, has seen any kind of POW or MIA lists. In any case, since that moment, all exchanges were fairly complex endeavors and were not as frequent as before.

However, judging by the reactions we see in the news and social media, it seems that people are more afraid of disruption of Minsk talks than disruption of a possibility to have our POWs released.

As for me, the Minsk process is ineffective at the moment. Therefore, the very fact of the publication of the POW lists could give some impetus to the process of prisoners’ release. And in particular, the lists concerning people whom the self-proclaimed republics demand to release. Now we see who exactly made it to these swap lists, approved by the "leaders" of "LPR" and "DPR". For example, the lists include two former Berkut police special force unit servicemen, who are now tried in Ukrainian courts. That is, having these lists published, we should try to realize whether the people offered for a swap can be released at all.

As for the exchange formula offered by Nadiia Savchenko, which has not seen much support in "LPR" and "DPR", it should be noted that this is not the issue for Savchenko to decide. It’s the state that must deal with what kind of concessions it is ready to go for in the issue of the release of its captured citizens. That should be a relevant government decision, not the decision of some particular person, even if she acts, guided by good intentions. A unified official position must be worked out, and this position must be evident everywhere: in politics and in negotiations at all levels. Nadiia Savchenko is not entitled to decide whether to carry out POW exchange in such format or not. This should be a state position, state principles, and state strategy.

Alina Pavliuk is a lawyer at the Center for Strategic Affairs of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

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