In 2014, the Law “On Sanctions” was adopted in Ukraine, which was supposed to become a mechanism for protecting Ukraine from the actions of foreign states, their individuals and legal entities, as well as persons engaged in terrorist activities, against whom, for obvious reasons, conventional mechanisms could not be applied Ukrainian judicial system and determining the guilt of a person.
Until 2020, the mechanisms of this law were used against persons fighting with weapons in their hands against Ukraine, Russian legal entities and individuals, persons operating in the Crimea and separate areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. That is, those to whom the judicial and law enforcement agencies of Ukraine really could not apply their jurisdiction.
But, under President Volodymyr Zelensky, the enforcement of this law has changed. Sanctions have become a mechanism for political repression.
In relation to citizens of Ukraine who do not hide from its justice and are under its jurisdiction, the normal and only legal and possible mechanism is the accusation of committing a crime, proving this fact in an adversarial trial and punishment by a court decision. Classifying citizens of Ukraine and Ukrainian legal entities as “sanctioned” violates the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, the principle of legal certainty and other components of the rule of law and Ukraine’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Despite this, even before the start of active hostilities, the authorities began to use a new, hitherto unprecedented mechanism for combating the media — blocking them through the application of the mechanism of sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) against their owners and editors.
Thus, on February 2, 2021, by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council to impose sanctions, signed as a presidential decree, three opposition TV channels were closed: 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK. In total, during Zelensky’s presidency, in the period before the start of active hostilities, seven national television channels were closed by decisions controlled by the president of the National Commission on Television and the National Security and Defense Council: KRT, 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, ZIK, First Independent, UkrLive and Our».
On August 20, 2021, the popular opposition websites Strana.UA and Shariy.net were blocked, and sanctions were imposed against Strana.UA editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva and blogger Anatoly Shariy.
On February 4, 2022, YouTube video hosting, after an appeal from the Ukrainian authorities, blocked the UkrLive and First Independent channels, which were subject to sanctions in Ukraine, from which independent channels broadcast.
As already mentioned, under Ukrainian law, the imposition of sanctions against Ukrainian citizens is directly impossible, indirectly it is possible only in the case of terrorist activities. What terrorist activities were carried out by closed media and their journalists? As further lawsuits initiated by closed media outlets showed, there was no evidence of terrorist activity by these media outlets.
All the «guilt» of the banned TV channels and websites consisted only in the fact that they were in opposition to the government and gave the floor to its political opponents. Their activities were stopped absolutely illegally, without court decisions, as provided by the laws.
Sanctions were also imposed against deputies, politicians and their relatives: in February 2021, the head of the Opposition Platform for Life, Viktor Medvedchuk, his wife Oksana Marchenko, in August 2021, Andrei Derkach.
On June 18, 2021, the National Security and Defense Council imposed sanctions against Ukrainian businessmen Pavel Fuks and Dmitry Firtash and their companies.
As part of his press conference on November 26, 2021, President Zelensky refused to recognize the citizens of Ukraine under the sanctions he imposed as people: “Do you call them people? There are representatives of people, not all representatives of people are people. There are individuals. I think so. I’m not talking about everyone. Yes, this is my personal opinion. Because if I’m wrong, then there would be no law enforcement agencies, and all people would live in peace. He stated that the Security Council used to be a passive body, but today it is a “powerful body”. According to Zelensky, sanctions were imposed, for example, against those who «violated the rules at the border.» Although there are no such grounds in the law on sanctions (sanctions can only be applied to those citizens of Ukraine who are involved in terrorism, and not in smuggling or something else). He also directly admitted that sanctions are introduced without court decisions, where the guilt of people would be proven. Because, they say, the courts are long.
With the outbreak of the war, the sanctions mechanisms were activated again.
In particular, this absolutely non-legal mechanism of arbitrariness of power began to be applied against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
On December 1, 2022, by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council «On certain aspects of the activities of religious organizations in Ukraine and the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)», put into effect by the Decree of the President of Ukraine of December 1, 2022, sanctions were imposed against the hierarchs of the UOC: Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed), viceroy of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra; Metropolitan Lazar of Simferopol and Crimea (Shvets); Metropolitan of Izyum and Kupyansky Elisha; Bishop of Romensky and Burinsky Joseph; Bishop of Koktebel Agathon (Opanasenko); Metropolitan Platon (Udovenko), administrator of the diocese of Feodosia; Bishop Kalinnik of Bakhchisarai, vicar of the Simferopol diocese; Bishop of Dzhankoy and Razdolsky Alexy, administrator of the Dzhankoy diocese; Archbishop of Rovenkovsky and Sverdlovsk Arkady, administrator of the Rovenkovsky diocese and Vadim Novinsky, deacon of the UOC, former people’s deputy.
Sanctions include: blocking assets, restricting trade operations, prohibiting the lease of state property, limiting, partial or complete cessation of the transit of resources, flights and transportation through the territory of Ukraine, preventing the withdrawal of capital from Ukraine, etc. Sanctions are imposed for a period of 5 years.
Once again, sanctions were imposed against the hierarchs of the UOC on December 11, 2022 by decree No. 863 of V. Zelensky on the implementation of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council «On the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)» against the bishops and other representatives of the UOC. Sanctions include: blocking assets, restricting trade operations, prohibiting the lease of state property, limiting, partial or complete cessation of the transit of resources, flights and transportation through the territory of Ukraine, preventing the withdrawal of capital from Ukraine, etc. Sanctions are imposed for a period of 5 years.
Once again, sanctions were imposed against the hierarchs of the UOC on December 11, 2022 by decree No. 863 of V. Zelensky on the implementation of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council «On the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)» against the bishops and other representatives of the UOC. According to the text, the sanctions are imposed against: the Administration of the UOC, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary; Head of the DECR of the UOC, Metropolitan Meletiy of Chernivtsi and Bukovina; Metropolitan Luka of Zaporozhye and Melitopol; Metropolitan of Luhansk and Alchevsk Panteleimon; Archbishop of Constantine Paisios; Archimandrite John, rector of the Melitopol Savva Monastery; Archimandrite Alexy, Rector of the Dormition Cathedral in Kherson.
On January 15, 2023, sanctions were imposed against Ukrainian journalist Diana Panchenko, who came to Donetsk to cover the events of the war.
In March 2023, Zelensky introduced another group of sanctions, which covered a whole group of Ukrainian legal entities that run the betting business, including a number with a Ukrainian gambling license, and the most famous of them is Parimatch. At the same time, the reasons for such sanctions against her are not clear, despite the fact that VBET UKRAINE LLC (Vbet operator), which is also engaged in bookmaking, associated with the head of the presidential office Yermak, did not fall under the sanctions. As Ukrainian journalists note, it is most likely a banal redistribution of the gambling market.
As part of the sanctions mechanisms, the Ukrainian authorities are also running all kinds of corruption schemes. So, in June 2022, in an English court in the case of lifting sanctions against the Russian oligarch R. Abramovich, a letter was presented from the head of the pro-presidential party in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the head of the Ukrainian negotiating group, David Arakhamia, about the oligarch’s help in saving Ukrainians, in order to cancel through the courts sanctions against him. «Thanks to the assistance of Mr. Abramovich, the delegations reached agreements on organizing humanitarian corridors through which they were able to save more than 400,000 people.
In addition, his efforts to exchange prisoners of war helped to free several hundred people from captivity. Abramovich continues to be deeply involved in the negotiation process, as well as in organizing humanitarian aid.» In the letter, Arakhamia emphasizes that he generally assesses Abramovich’s role as «positive.»
According to telegram channels, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Danilov earns money directly from solving the problems of sanctions against Ukrainian companies. Thus, in March 2023, the sub-sanctioned betting company Parimatch is trying to negotiate with the functionaries of the President’s office on exclusion from the list of sanctions. To do this, launched an information campaign, which should demonstrate the error. At the same time, Parimatch offered officials $5 million for resolving the issue, the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Danilov, who asked twice as much, is dealing with this case. So far, the PR campaign from Parimatch has not been successful, and their statements that they provided assistance to the Ukrainian army and participated in social programs to help Ukrainians look weak.
The imposition of sanctions against citizens of Ukraine and legal entities that do not conduct terrorist activities is illegal under the very Law of Ukraine on Sanctions of 2014, where they are not directly mentioned at all: «2. Sanctions may be applied by Ukraine against a foreign state, a foreign legal entity, a legal entity controlled by a foreign legal entity or a non-resident individual, foreigners, stateless persons, as well as entities engaged in terrorist activities” (Article 1).
In this regard, many citizens of Ukraine who fell under the sanctions of Ukraine filed a lawsuit to challenge the application of such a measure to them. Chairman of the Administrative Court of Cassation within the Supreme Court Mykhailo Smokovich asked Oleg Ilnitsky, a member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Supreme Court, Associate Professor of the Department of Administrative and Financial Law of Lviv University, for clarification on the legality of applying sanctions. In the opinion provided in response in November 2021, it was noted that sanctions against Ukrainian citizens can only be applied if they take part in terrorist activities. And, what is extremely important, if there is already a court verdict on terrorist activity that has entered into legal force. There were no such decisions on any of the sanctioned citizens and legal entities.
Thus, sanctions measures have become an illegal mechanism for extrajudicial reprisals by the authorities against citizens and structures that they dislike.
All collected materials on this topic will be transferred to international human rights organizations, as well as published in the world press.
International Help Center for Ukrainians