On Tuesday 12 November 2023 in Rome, at Spazio Europa, the preview screening of the documentary “INVISIBLE” was held on the case of Ukrainian civilian prisoners in Russia and in the temporarily occupied territories. Today, around 7,000 Ukrainian civilians are illegally detained by the occupiers, usually in unbearable conditions, without access to medical care, with shortages of drinking water and hygiene products, subjected to sexual and psychological abuse or tortured during interrogations, without the protection of independent lawyers. International organizations are not authorized to monitor such places of detention: therefore civilian prisoners continue to remain invisible to the world. The documentary “INVISIBLE” (made by HR Production and the human rights association “SICH” with the support of the Deutsche Welle Akademie and the EU) consists of three stories – about a civic activist from Kherson, a volunteer from Mariupol and a 14-year-old Ukrainian boy from the Kherson region who were captured by the Russians. They survived starvation, beatings, forced labor and electric torture; after being released, they decided to do everything they could to bring the perpetrators to justice. Public awareness combined with international support is extremely important to help civilian prisoners become visible.
The screening of the documentary was preceded by a discussion organized by FIDU, together with the Embassy of Ukraine in Italy and the human rights association SICH. Here are some key messages from the interventions:

Alessandra Marino, Head of the press office of the Representation in Italy of the European Commission, opened the event by welcoming all for coming to the initiative and mentioning the mission of the EU to support peace and human rights. She indicated the importance to shed light on what is happening in Ukraine, including among else making visible the issue of civil Ukrainian prisoners. 

Antonio Stango, President of the Italian Federation for Human Rights highlighted the role of the European Union to support Ukraine resisting the war started by the Russian Federation in 2014, its illegal annexations, and the large scale-invasion since February 2022. He said that, while the citizens of the EU will vote for the European Parliament next year, the vast majority of the Ukrainian population showed clearly as in a vote to be in favor of joining the EU with the Euromaidan events ten years before, and have been since confirming their choice while striving for their freedom and for the freedom of the whole Europe. Stango concluded his speech by emphasizing the need of implementing the international justice and stating that a crucial element in order to contrast the hybrid war is the fight against disinformation. 

Olha Volynska, journalist, director of Development of Human Rights Protection Group “SICH”, noted that it is difficult to know the exact number of civil Ukrainians who have been illegally abducted and detained by the occupying forces, because the Russian Federation keep them invisible knowing that this is an international crime. Today thousands of Ukrainian civilians are illegally held in Russian captivity, experiencing both physical and phycological torture and ill-treatment. “SICH” has been documenting Russian war crimes since 2016 and provides free legal assistance to victims and family of those who have been captured. Volynska emphasized that civilians are kidnapped on the sole reasoning of being Ukrainians and any manifestation of the Ukrainian position is a deadly crime for the occupiers. The victims are different people: men and women, including also minors and elders. They are typically accused of “international terrorism”, “espionage” and “obstructing the special operation” – as the Russian government calls the war. The victims have no access to legal and medical assistance. As a director and scriptwriter of the documentary “Invisible”, Olha said that it aims to raise awareness on the Russian war crimes and to make the invisible civilians become visible, while a legal mechanism to support them should be activated.

Vitalia Serebrianska, a lawyer at Human Rights Protection Group “SICH” based in Dnipro, illustrated her work, aimed at helping casualties of the Russian war against Ukraine such as civilians illegally held by Russia, prisoners of war and relatives of the victims. Civilians are frequently held captive on Russian soil, in inhumane conditions. Serebrianska emphasized the importance of raising awareness about this situation, hoping that the pressure of the international community would facilitate the release of the prisoners. In her opinion, it’s necessary to demand from Russia the lists of civilians it holds in captivity and that they be handed over to Ukraine, the UN or a third intermediary country that will facilitate their return to Ukraine. Also, access should be provided to monitor the places of detention where Ukrainians are held in the occupied territories and in Russian Federation. And, of course, everyone involved in the illegal abductions, detentions, and torture should be held accountable.

Eleonora Mongelli, Vice President of FIDU, addressed the importance of making the available mechanisms of international justice effective and enforceable in order to help Ukraine address the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russian Federation. We need to shed light on the situation in the occupied territories to ensure justice for the victims and hold the responsible accountable, support the ICC and work towards releasing civilians in captivity. Mongelli mentioned the Council of Europe Summit held in Reykjavik in May, and the decision to create a register of damage for Ukraine as first step towards an international compensation mechanism for victims of the Russian aggression. The Register, she added, is an important milestone on the road to justice and reparations for Ukraine and for Ukrainians and refers particularly to actions perpetrated against civilians, infrastructure, historical and cultural heritage, and damage to the environment. The register is only the first step towards the establishment of a comprehensive compensation mechanism to ensure that Russia pays full reparations to Ukraine in accordance with international law. She also highlighted the importance of creating an international tribunal to address the crime of aggression, with a comprehensive approach that needs support and cooperation by all democratic countries.

Oles Horodetskyy dealt with the problem of the diasporas, bringing to light the condition of hundreds of people, who have relatives in Ukraine and are unaware of their location or their state of health. He said that the Russian Federation is violating all the norms of the Geneva Convention and is furthermore taking advantage of this situation to gain leverage. Therefore, Horodetskyy reiterated the crucial role of information in this war.