The Invasion of Ukraine
Support the Fight For Freedom in Ukraine
Democratic societies everywhere must support the Ukrainian people in their struggle for peace and freedom.
FREEDOM HOUSE PERSPECTIVE, IN BRIEF
The invasion of Ukraine is an attack on democracy: Vladimir Putin cannot tolerate Ukrainians’ aspirations to build a democracy on Russia’s borders and has launched a war of aggression to prevent this from happening.
There is no legitimate justification for this war: Vladimir Putin is lying to the Russian people and the world at-large – Ukraine poses no threat to the Russian Federation. Russia's actions represent a textbook example of what authoritarian governments are capable of doing, and underscore the importance of defending democratic freedoms around the globe.
We are watching a humanitarian crisis unfold: The military assault against Ukraine by Russian forces is exacting a heavy humanitarian toll – including a refugee crisis – that will extend well beyond both countries’ borders.
Russia and its enablers should be punished: Among the actions that should be taken – the UN General Assembly should move to suspend Russia’s veto on the UN Security Council, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka should be held accountable, economic sanctions should continue to be escalated, and assets controlled by Putin and his enablers and located in democratic regions should be seized.
WHAT IS FREEDOM HOUSE DOING TO HELP IN UKRAINE?
In the immediate aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Freedom House moved quickly to do the following:
Provide emergency assistance to human rights defenders and civil society organizations
Ensure the safety and security of journalists and media organizations so that they can continue documenting and reporting on the war and human rights violations
Aid our partners in replacing key communications equipment, including computers, phones, and tablets
Donate Now to Support Human Rights Activists and Journalists
Freedom House staff are working around the clock in Ukraine to evacuate human rights activists and journalists out of harm’s way so they can continue their important work from their new locations, as well as to improve the safety of activists and journalists who have remained in the country.
Help us support these efforts by clicking on the donate button below.
Hold the Russian Regime Accountable for War Crimes in Ukraine
A statement from Freedom House in response to the discovery of what appear to be atrocities committed by Russian troops in the Kyiv region.
Freedom House Programs in Ukraine
Prior to the Russian invasion in February 2022, Freedom House has been working with an array of partners in Ukraine to mobilize their efforts to resist censorship, advocate in support of human rights and good governance, conduct public oversight over the law-enforcement and security sector, and protect activists and journalists from persecution and violence. Freedom House provides needed support to civic advocates, including LGBT+ people, human-rights defenders, citizen journalists, and religious and ethnic minorities.
- Expanding Allies for LGBT+ Rights in Ukraine
- Strengthening Champions for Free Expression in Ukraine in a Time of Conflict
- Security Services Under Civic Oversight in Ukraine
- United to Confront Hate-Motivated Violence in Ukraine
- Monitoring Human Rights in Eastern Ukraine During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Russia's Repression of Dissent at Home
Though Russia's authoritarian reach is being felt most acutely right now in Ukraine, its government is also curtailing the freedoms of its own citizens.
According to OVD-Info, an independent human rights project reporting on political persecution in Russia, there have been 15,425* Russians detained by their government for engaging in anti-war protests and actions. (*Data as of 4/12/2022)
The most recent edition of Freedom In The World outlines how the Kremlin maintains control over opposing politicians and activists.
Freedom House Affirms Ukrainian Sovereignty and Right to Freedom; Denounces Putin’s Dangerous and Illegal Escalation
Democracies must respond forcefully to halt Russian troop deployment into Ukraine, which violates international law and puts Ukrainians’ lives at risk.
Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Accelerates Its Drive Toward Cyber Sovereignty opens in new tab
March 8, 2022
The Growing Threat of a World Run by Dictators opens in new tab
February 26, 2022
Freedom in the World: Ukraine Country Report
Ukraine is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2022, Freedom House's annual study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide. Below are the Ukraine country reports from the past two years of Freedom in the World:
The Eastern Donbas and Crimea regions each have their own unique Freedom in the World reports. Both are rated Not Free:
FREEDOM HOUSE PERSPECTIVE
Moscow’s Invasion of Ukraine Is an Attack on Democracy
The Russian regime’s invasion of Ukraine is not only an attack on a peaceful and democratic country. It is also an attack on democracy itself—on fundamental human rights and the freedom to exercise political and civil liberties. Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression threatens to obliterate global democratic norms by subjugating a country that has spent decades building and striving for a system of free self-government. It is a gross violation of international law perpetrated by an autocrat who is desperate to cling to power and impose his vision of the world through force.
This invasion is of existential importance for Ukraine and Ukrainians. Its purpose is to eliminate their democratically elected government. The freedoms Ukrainians have cherished, the democratic institutions they have built, and the reforms they have fought for since their independence in 1991 are at risk of being demolished. The costs of the invasion will be felt most acutely by Ukrainians, but its consequences are reverberating around the world.
The bombing of residential neighborhoods, nearly a million people fleeing to neighboring countries, civilians taking up arms to defend their homes—this is what a world without checks on antidemocratic behavior could look like. Autocrats are already brutally silencing dissent within and beyond their borders, building alliances to advance mutual interests, and trying to undermine faith in democratic principles. Putin’s war is a stark escalation of the grim, 16-year trend of sustained attacks on democracy documented in Freedom House’s recently published flagship report, Freedom in the World 2022.
The courage of the Ukrainian people must inspire us to take action. Now is the time to signal to Putin that nations everywhere are united against his aggression and flagrant violation of international law. Democratic societies must be willing to make sacrifices to protect one another and their common values. Shared hardship today will yield shared benefits tomorrow, including long-term peace and prosperity in a world governed by democratic principles rather than violence and repression.
Putin’s lies at home and abroad led to war
Putin has no legitimate justification for this war: Ukraine poses no threat to the Russian Federation. But he knows that the example set by Ukrainians’ pursuit of democracy stands in stark contrast to his own authoritarian grip on power. His stated aims are to “de-Nazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine—a country that has built a national identity apart from and in spite of its Soviet past; a country with a popularly elected Jewish president whose grandfather fought against the Nazis; a country that has had to stave off military attacks from Kremlin-backed separatists for eight years.
Putin has claimed that Ukraine is not a real country, that it was created by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks out of Russian lands, and that its post-Soviet independence was an accidental side-effect of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This revisionist history is a message to millions of Ukrainians that they have no right to decide for themselves who they are and what their identity means to them. It is an effort to silence, control, and even eradicate people who have been trying to build their future without seeking Putin’s permission.
Putin has also used all the tools available to him to lie to the Russian people about the nature of the war, its causes, and its progress. State-controlled media have ramped up a false narrative about genocide against the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine and flooded the airwaves with reports of Russian soldiers being met in the streets by grateful Ukrainians. Russian viewers cannot see the missiles striking Kyiv on their televisions. The government has forbidden the media from using the terms “war,” “attack,” and “invasion,” and instead insisted on the term “special military operation.” Independent news outlets like Ekho Moskvy and Dozhd have been taken off the air by state regulators, and access to Facebook and Twitter has been throttled to prevent Russians from seeing uncensored reports about Ukraine. Riot police have arrested thousands of Russians who have participated in antiwar protests around the country.
A growing disaster for the world
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has declared that “the war is a big disaster, and this disaster has a high price.” The Russian regime’s invasion has cost and will continue to cost Ukrainians dearly. Since 2014, when Russian forces first invaded Crimea and the Donbas region, more than 10,000 Ukrainians have lost their lives, and nearly 1.5 million have been displaced from their homes. The current escalation threatens to quintuple that death toll and greatly magnify the number of civilians fleeing into Ukraine’s west and the rest of Europe. The military assault is disrupting the basic services upon which Ukrainians’ lives depend, including health care, electricity, and delivery of food and fuel supplies.
If the horrors of war transform into an occupation of Ukraine by Russian forces, the Kremlin will seek to deprive Ukrainians of their political and civil liberties. It will subject them to the same sort of oppression that characterizes Russia’s autocratic system, in which critical voices in the media and civil society have been forcibly silenced, the rule of law is absent, and engaging in political opposition can have lethal consequences. There is every reason to believe that a Moscow-backed regime in Ukraine would retaliate against Ukrainians who have been working to advance democracy and human rights. Even if the fighting stopped, their lives would be in danger. For proof we have only to consider the experience of journalists, activists, Crimean Tatars, and members of other ethnic and religious minorities in Russian-occupied Crimea since 2014.
There is every reason to believe that a Moscow-backed regime in Ukraine would retaliate against Ukrainians who have been working to advance democracy and human rights.
The world must understand that it is not only Ukraine’s future that is at risk, though Ukrainians are bearing the brunt of this violent attack. If Putin succeeds, internationally recognized norms of self-determination will be shattered, and all countries living in the shadow of former empires could find themselves one day deemed illegitimate and a historical accident. Other autocrats will be emboldened to take what they perceive as theirs, and peace and freedom will be imperiled globally.
What can be done
In announcing sanctions against the Russian regime, US president Joseph Biden promised that “freedom will prevail” in this contest between democracy and autocracy, sovereignty and subjugation. We must now work to make that pledge a reality in Ukraine and around the world.
It is essential that all democracies stand united against the invasion and in solidarity with Ukraine, act swiftly to impose real costs on Putin’s regime, work together to bolster the fundamental post–World War II prohibition against wars of conquest, and protect those in Ukraine and the broader region who are seeking to advance democracy and human rights.
In the short-term:
- The UN General Assembly should follow up on its overwhelming condemnation of Moscow’s actions by immediately exploring options for the suspension of Russia’s veto on the UN Security Council.
- Multilateral actions should be taken to increase accountability for Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has already surrendered the freedom of his own country to Moscow in exchange for personal power, and is now supporting the Kremlin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
- There should be a continued, multilateral escalation of sanctions, particularly targeted sanctions on Putin and his enablers—including the list developed by Aleksey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, which features 35 individuals who the group believes are primarily responsible for looting the Russian state and abusing human rights in Russia. Further sanctions should also be imposed on Russian state-owned and oligarch-owned companies.
- Any assets controlled by Putin and his enablers and located in democracies should be seized, including real estate, yachts, and other luxury goods.
- Democratic nations should work together to assist and protect human rights defenders at risk, including through relocation and the welcoming of refugees, and to support those who choose to remain in their home countries.
In the longer term:
- Democratic nations should be prepared to stand with other countries that autocrats have in their crosshairs.
- Now is the moment for serious structural reforms to the international banking system to address the corruption and kleptocracy that have allowed Putin and other autocrats to remain in power and exert influence abroad. Democratic nations have often enabled or even been complicit in these abuses of the system, and we are seeing the effects today. The flaws in democracies’ financial networks will continue to endanger lives until they are remedied.
- Specifically, democracies should work together to tackle the problem of offshore tax havens and close legal loopholes that allow autocrats and their cronies to launder assets in democracies by hiding behind shell companies.
- Because autocrats like Putin and China’s Xi Jinping are able to draw on enormous domestic resources, democracies must also work multilaterally to pressure and constrain them in other ways, limiting their ability to fund both domestic repression and foreign aggression.
- International companies should not seek to operate in countries where they know they will be forced to violate international human rights principles or where their investments would enrich and enable governments committing human rights abuses. Where companies do operate, they should conduct periodic assessments to fully understand how their products and actions might affect rights like freedom of expression and freedom from economic exploitation.
Yana Gorokhovskaia, Mike Smeltzer, and Annie Boyajian contributed to this perspective.