September 13, Coordinator from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, Ambassador Toni Frisch briefed on the results of his visit to places of detention in occupied Donbas. Quite unexpectedly, the event turned into a real duel between him and the first vice-speaker Iryna Gerashchenko. At the moment when Frisch expressed his gratitude to the representatives of the self-proclaimed republics for organizing the visit in accordance with international standards, Gerashchenko laughed outrageously. In turn, Frisch said that "he came to the briefing not to praise Ukraine because of the presence of Mrs. Gerashchenko and criticize the other side due to their absence."
Sparks flew, emotions ran high
The sharp contradictions, due to which a joint briefing by the Coordinator from the OSCE Toni Frisch and the Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, the representative of Ukraine in the humanitarian subgroup of the Tripartite Contact Group for the settlement of the situation in Donbas, Iryna Gerashchenko (close associate of President Petro Poroshenko) resembled a duel. Frisch briefed literally half an hour before his departure to the airport to leave Ukraine. The day before, he refused the offer of journalists of 112 Ukraine TV channel to accompany him on a trip to the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions (ORDLO), and also refused to give an exclusive interview.
Gerashchenko’s participation in the briefing, which was covered by almost all the leading Ukrainian TV channels, was not reported on the eve. This became known only when the OSCE representative and vice-speaker appeared together.
Iryna Gerashchenko first started talking. She said that the Ukrainian side has been insisting on the need to visit Ukrainians kept in places of deprivation of liberty in the so-called “Donetsk/Luhansk People’s Republics” since May. "On the eve of the visit, we agreed on a list of military and civilians, meetings with whom are priorities for the Ukrainian side. Of course, we are fighting for everyone. We asked Mr. Frisch first to meet with the military, who are kept after Debaltsevo, Ilovaisk, and those about whom we do not have any information," said the vice-speaker.
In the middle of her speech, the OSCE coordinator unsuccessfully tried to start his speech but he failed. Taking a short pause in Gerashchenko's speech, Frisch said irritably: "I want to tell what I saw with my own eyes and what I actually heard. As the coordinator of the working group on humanitarian issues, I always take a neutral and absolutely independent position. I came to this briefing not to praise Ukraine because of the fact that Iryna Gerashchenko is present here and criticize the other side because they are not here. "
In the same vein, he continued: "Mrs. Gerashchenko (this is how the parties addressed to each other during the entire briefing – ‘Mrs. Gerashchenko’ and ‘Mr. Frisch’ – Ed.) has already summarized some of the results of my trip, but it was my trip, and I planned this trip on my own will and at my own peril and risk, and not because the Ukrainian government insistently asked me to do this. I am probably the only coordinator of the working groups in Minsk, who has been visiting occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2015 twice or at least once a year. I decide when the trip should take place and where exactly I go."
In the next half an hour, during which there was a briefing, there were several more tough skirmishes and irreconcilable contradictions between the representative of the OSCE and the representative of the Ukrainian politics.
Answering the question of 112.ua about the prospects for the exchange of Ukrainian hostages and about the possible obstruction of the process by "the other side," Frisch said that "it is easy to accuse the other side." "And I understand that the journalists of the other side say the same about you. You know, and it is a fact that all parties, all participants of the Minsk process must make a decision, and I very much hope that all parties will have the desire to make this step as soon as possible," Frisch said.
Here Gerashchenko decidedly entered into the conversation: "There is a constant discussion in Minsk about who are the parties to the process. In the presence of the respected OSCE coordinator and journalists who are even afraid to say whether Russia is there (before that Iryna Gerashchenko advised journalist 112.ua "not to be shy" to use the word "Russia" instead of "the other side" - Ed.), I want to say that the Russian Federation is party to the Minsk process. As well as Donetsk/Luhansk People’s Republics."
The working group on humanitarian issues "involves two representatives from Russia, two from Ukraine, one woman from Donetsk People’s Republic and one from Luhansk People’s Republic," Frisch added in a conciliatory tone.
At some point, the OSCE coordinator made a gesture either to cool Mrs. Gerashchenko out or as an attempt to becalm her emotions. However, if this was an attempt to act on the vice speaker reassuringly, it was failed.
At the end of the briefing Iryna Gerashchenko again began to voice her theses, and again Frisch, using a pause, sharply wedged himself in with the words: "Let me summarize what I saw!" The OSCE Coordinator reiterated that he has always held a neutral position. "I would like to thank all the parties involved who provided support (Frisch meant ORDLO, - Ed.)," he added.
Without waiting for the translation into Ukrainian, Gerashchenko let out huge, totally unrestrained laugh.
Prisons in Ukraine and in ORDLO do not differ
Toni Frisch said that on the eve of his visit to the occupied territories he met with 17 inmates in penitentiary institutions in Ukraine. In particular, he visited places of detention in Kharkiv, Bakhmut, and Starobilsk. In the occupied territories, Frisch has visited 15 Ukrainian prisoners in Luhansk and Donetsk. Five of them serve time for criminal offenses committed before the war. The coordinator met with six Ukrainian soldiers who were captured by the separatists, as well as with the Ukrainian journalist and blogger Stanislav Aseyev (Vasin). Frisch noted that he had the opportunity for continued dialogue with the journalist, and the conversation was frank. At the same time, he refused to disclose his details.
"We asked all the parties - the Ukrainian government, as well as the ORDLO representatives - to provide lists of people we could possibly visit," Frisch claimed.
"In Luhansk, Mr. Frisch was shown not those people, whom we asked to visit," Iryna Gerashchenko said. This was another reason for their “duel.”
The OSCE representative abruptly interrupted the vice-speaker with the words: "Let me summarize what I saw, as I already pointed out, there were reasons that we could not visit all people."
After the briefing, Gerashchenko clarified that the Ukrainian side asked Frisch to visit the Ukrainian military in the prisons of Luhansk, who "are kept in complete isolation for two years, and we have every reason to think that they are terribly tortured."
Frisch, responding to a journalist's question, said that he "cannot confirm that some Ukrainian POWs in the ORDLO are kept in complete isolation." "Indeed, we were not able to see everyone who was on the list but I would not like to give additional explanations," the OSCE coordinator added.
Toni Frisch did not go into detail about the conditions of detention of Ukrainian prisoners in the prisons of ORDLO. According to him, "the conditions in places of deprivation of liberty on both sides of the line of demarcation are very similar." "You know perfectly well that five years ago there was the same legal framework and even the same leaders, whose competence included places of detention," said the OSCE coordinator. He noted that places for the maintenance of persons in respect of which a pre-trial investigation is being conducted are different in the controlled and uncontrolled territories. Apparently, he meant remand centers.
Speaking about the condition of the premises, Frisch noted that "in Vinnytsia, the premises (prisons) were built in the 19th century, and it is not easy to maintain it at the level that many (journalists) would like to."
The OSCE Coordinator noted that with the assistance of the ORDLO representatives, his visit was organized "in accordance with international standards." "I have been given the opportunity to have confidential, private conversations, without the presence of external parties, only in the presence of an interpreter. There is a very big difference with previous trips, and it is a very important step forward, for which we are grateful to the ORDO. This was the first time we were given the opportunity to have confidential conversations in ORDO, in accordance with international standards. I probably will now open the secret to everyone who thinks and who reports that the conditions in the territories under the control of the government in the places of deprivation of liberty are fantastic, and on the other side are just a shoebox of a room. Believe me, this is not true," Frisch said.
The OSCE representative stressed that people (with whom he met in places of detention) had the opportunity to speak freely and were quite open during the conversations.
At the same time, Toni Frisch did not deny that five of the convicted (for criminal offenses) had informed him that they would like to serve their sentences in prisons on the controlled territory. Of course, perhaps, these people would like to be closer to their relatives, to be able to receive food support from them. But it is also impossible to deny the fact that, perhaps, everything is not as rosy in the ORDLO prisons as it was allowed to see the OSCE coordinator.
According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, since the beginning of the anti-terrorist operation (now - the Joint Forces Operation) 186 prisoners have been transferred from prisons in the uncontrolled area to the controlled one, and 12 people have been transferred from the prisons of Crimea. In total, 10 transfers were made from DPR jails and one from occupied Crimea.
As of today, there are 5 prisons in occupied Crimea, 14 of 20 institutions are in the occupied territory of Donetsk region, 15 of 16 are in the Luhansk region. As of November 1, 2014, there were 3295 people in the correctional facilities of occupied Crimea, 9511 people in the institutions of Donetsk region, and 6426 in Luhansk. The exact number of the remaining Ukrainian prisoners convicted of criminal offenses before the war is unknown, Frisch specified. Accordingly, there is no idea how many people want to return to the controlled territories.
There is no information about the exact number of Ukrainians detained during the war, in particular, during the fighting, after the events in Debaltsevo, Ilovaysk. "The figures are constantly changing, every week, they are dynamic," Frisch noted.
Everyone wants to be brought back home
The OSCE Coordinator said that all prisoners without exception, both in the institutions in the controlled territories and in the ORDLO institutions, have voiced one wish. "We asked what their needs were, and they were very frank, in a private conversation, they said only one thing: they want to be released, they want an exchange as soon as possible. This applies to all men and women, wherever they are – in Donetsk/Luhansk republics or in the territories under the control of the government."
As is known, the prisoners’ exchange processes have been frozen for several months. The views of Gerashchenko and Frisch are very different on the reasons behind the situation. The Vice Speaker said that "the second wave of liberation, unfortunately, is blocked, and not because of Ukraine’s fault." Frisch insisted that if the parties in Minsk were able to agree, the exchange processes could be activated "even tomorrow." "You know, and it is a fact that all parties, all participants of the Minsk process must make a decision and I very much hope that all parties will have the desire to make this step as soon as possible," said the OSCE coordinator.
However, in addition to all the burning challenges, the briefing by the OSCE representative has put one more. So, it is hard not to wonder: did journalists become witnesses of personal differences on fundamental issues between Mr. Frisch and Mrs. Gerashchenko, or is the situation much more serious and it is a question of the divergence of the views of the OSCE and the Ukrainian government?
Read the original text at 112.ua.
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