People wait at passport control after crossing the contact line between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops in Mayorsk, Ukraine, February 25, 2019. Many pensioners spend hours queuing, in cold, heat, rain or snow, to cross the line because they rely on their social benefits, only accessible on the government-controlled side.

© 2019 REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

(Berlin)The winner of Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election will face a number of major human rights problems, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a question and answer document about human rights issues. 

Ukraine will vote on March 31, 2019 in its second presidential election since 2014, when conflict broke out between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed armed groups in the country’s east. The Q&A flags current human rights concerns in the country, from hate crimes against minority groups to the difficulties and discrimination faced by those displaced from eastern Ukraine.

“The winner of Ukraine’s presidential election should be prepared to address a wide range of human rights issues,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “Addressing these issues is essential for assuring Ukraine’s future as a rights-respecting country.”

Freedom of expression is under pressure, with physical assaults on journalists, and some foreign journalists who have criticized Ukraine have been banned from the country. An activist died of wounds from an acid attack in November 2018, and attacks on activists fighting corruption and other problems are growing. Hate crimes are on the rise, and attacks by far-right nationalists on women’s rights groups, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) demonstrations, and Roma communities are not being effectively investigated.

People living near the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine face threats to their health and safety. Many older people need to cross the line of contact between areas under the control of Russia-backed armed groups and the rest of the country to access social services and collect their pensions. But they are forced to endure long waits with limited sanitary and medical facilities, few wheelchairs, and no shelter to protect them from extreme heat or cold.