Joint statement February 21, 2023
Updates on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Democratic societies everywhere must support the Ukrainian people in their struggle for democracy and freedom.
Perspective on the invasion of Ukraine
The invasion of Ukraine is an attack on democracy: Vladimir Putin cannot tolerate the existence of a vibrant democracy on Russia's borders and has launched a war of aggression to destroy it. The only acceptable outcome of this war is peace through victory on Ukraine’s terms. Anything less all but guarantees further Russian aggression in the region, could discourage or undermine democratization efforts by neighboring countries for fear of escalatory coercive measures by the Kremlin, and could encourage other authoritarian rulers to undertake more brazen efforts to undermine democracy and human rights.
There is no legitimate justification for this war: Putin is lying to the Russian people and the world at-large. Ukraine poses no threat to the Russian Federation. The Russian leadership’s actions are a stark example of unbridled authoritarian ambition and underscore the importance of defending democratic freedoms around the globe.
The Russian military is increasingly targeting civilians and deliberately stoking a humanitarian crisis: After the Russian military faced battlefield defeats in northern, eastern, and southern Ukraine, Putin has shifted toward tactics of terrorism. The Russian regime is attacking residential buildings and attempting to deprive Ukrainians of electricity, water, and heat through missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure. These assaults have forced millions of Ukrainians to flee their homes and seek safety in other parts of the country or abroad.
Russian military forces are committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide in Ukraine: Since the start of the Russian military’s full-scale invasion, over 70,000 war crimes have been reported across Ukraine. UN investigators and Ukrainian and international human rights groups and journalists have documented evidence of civilian massacres, the widespread rape of women and children, the systematic deportation of Ukrainian children into Russian territory, and deliberate, indiscriminate strikes against civilians and nonmilitary assets. These are all acts of genocide as defined by the United Nations.
- Russian authorities and other individuals, entities, or governments materially supporting this illegal war should be held accountable through:
- Continued sanctions, and asset freezes or seizures that support Ukrainian reconstruction. We applaud the leadership of the US government and US lawmakers, and the European Union (EU), for undertaking these steps and urge the remaining G7 members to do the same.
- The removal of Russia’s veto power on the UN Security Council, given its flagrant violation of the UN Charter.
- The establishment of a special tribunal based on the recommendation of the UN General Assembly to prosecute the Russian political and military leadership for the crime of aggression.
- Democratic governments and international organizations should sustain and strengthen their support for Ukraine by:
- Supporting human rights defenders, journalists, and citizens engaged in the vital wartime work of monitoring and reporting on human rights violations, collecting evidence of war crimes, and providing legal, psychological, and social support to those affected by the Kremlin’s brutal invasion.
- Continuing direct budgetary support to the government of Ukraine, with appropriate oversight, to withstand the considerable economic and social shocks that the full-scale invasion has caused. Such funding is critical to keeping energy infrastructure and basic services like schools and health care facilities operational, and responding to humanitarian need.
- Providing long-term support to Ukrainians’ domestic efforts to strengthen their democracy, including civic participation in, and oversight of, state institutions. Inclusive and independent institutions will be an essential pillar of postwar recovery and reconstruction.
What is Freedom House doing to help?
From day one of the authoritarian Russian regime’s full-scale invasion, Freedom House has been in constant contact with human rights defenders and civil society organizations (CSOs) in Ukraine to ensure the safety of our partners and to recalibrate our programming in response to emerging wartime needs.
Immediately after the invasion, Freedom House moved quickly to:
- Provide emergency assistance to human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and CSOs that have suffered directly due to the invasion.
- Ensure the safety of journalists and media organizations so they can continue reporting on the war’s impact on human rights.
- Aid our partners in replacing key communications equipment, including computers, phones, and tablets.
- Launched new programming in cooperation with our partners. Among other initiatives, we are collecting evidence of the large number of civilians taken hostage by the Russian Federation, and providing legal assistance to the families of hostages.
The full-scale invasion has made Freedom House’s existing projects in Ukraine more vital than ever. Since February 24, 2022, we have been working with our partners to reorient human rights programming to respond to wartime needs. As Ukraine’s EU accession candidacy progresses, and as its people continue their brave defense of Ukrainian sovereignty against Russian military aggression, this focus on human rights and fundamental freedoms is essential for strengthening Ukraine’s democracy now and in the postwar period. Existing programs include:
- Strengthening Champions for Free Expression: As Ukraine continues to operate under nationwide martial law, journalists and media workers are faced with the challenge of continuing their professional duties amid wartime restrictions on information. Freedom House and our partners have recalibrated programming to help these groups:
- Monitor policy developments that impact free expression.
- Navigate an ever-shifting legislative landscape.
- Support the documentation of crimes committed against journalists and the destruction of cultural heritage by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.
- Security Services Under Civic Oversight: The full-scale invasion has brought the work of Ukrainian law enforcement and security services into unprecedented focus. Freedom House and partners have adjusted programming to prioritize:
- Cooperation between CSOs and Ukraine’s security services in war crimes investigation and documentation.
- Monitoring the trials of Russian perpetrators.
- Providing human rights training to law enforcement.
- Educating the public on the expanded obligations and responsibilities of law enforcement and security agencies during wartime to strengthen accountability.
- United to Confront Hate-Motivated Violence: The full-scale invasion has exacerbated the vulnerability of marginalized people in Ukraine, particularly LGBT+ and Roma individuals and religious minority communities. Freedom House and partners have reoriented programming to focus on:
- The documentation of hate-motivated war crimes
- Strengthening public awareness of the experiences of marginalized groups through extensive reporting, advocacy, and training.
Our Programs in Ukraine
Freedom House works with an array of partners 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.
- 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
- Expanding Allies for LGBT+ Rights in Ukraine
- Monitoring Human Rights in Eastern Ukraine During the Coronavirus Pandemic
2022 Freedom On The Net: Ukraine
The Russian military’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 undermined internet freedom in the country.
2022 Nations In Transit: Ukraine
A report on the state of freedom in Ukraine, written just prior to the Russian invasion.
2022 Freedom In The World: Ukraine
Assessed just before the Russian invasion, Freedom In The World noted that Ukraine was Partly Free, with a score of 61 out of 100.
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.
Recent Media Coverage
Freedom House Essays
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