On Monday, the EU-Ukraine summit will take place in Kyiv – the first for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy since he took office in May.  This summit – the 21st – is an important opportunity for the EU to reaffirm its expectations of Ukraine in terms of human rights protections. 

Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, gestures while speaking during his inauguration ceremony in Kyiv, May 20, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Since 2014, the government has been at war with armed groups in eastern Ukraine fueled and financed by Russia. Although the conflict no longer generates headlines, it continues. At least 13,000 people have been killed,  including at least 3,300 civilians. Under Zelenskiy’s predecessor, the government used the need to counter Russia’s military aggression, understandably an enormous challenge, to justify backsliding on several human rights issues. At the upcoming summit, the EU should press the Ukrainian government to break from this pattern and prevent the rights climate from deteriorating further. 

There’s an urgent need to investigate and prosecute hate-based violence and violence against civil society activists, which has proliferated in Ukraine over the past 18 months. Those under attack included people working to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, protecting the environment, and campaigning against corruption. 

Efforts to curb media freedom and physical attacks on journalists continues. The media watchdog, Institute of Mass Information, has documented at least six cases of journalists beaten or injured just in the first five months of 2019. Last month, an investigative journalist Vadym Komarov died in Kyiv from a brain injury after an attack clearly in retaliation for his journalism. The 2016 murder of Pavel Sheremet remains unresolved.  Effective investigations would send a strong message that there will be no tolerance for attacks against journalists in Ukraine.

Authorities should also do more to uphold the rights of Ukrainians who live in conflict-affected areas in eastern Ukraine, particularly older people in areas held by Russia-backed proxies. It is time for the government to end policies that discriminate against them by imposing unnecessary and unjustified hardship to get their pensions. 

Finally, there is a need for reform to ensure more transparency, respect for human rights, and accountability for Ukraine’s law enforcement and security service agencies. 

Good governance and strengthening human rights are among Ukraine’s commitments under the Association Agreement with the EU. In the spirit of these commitments, the EU should hold Ukraine’s leadership to account on its human rights obligations.