After Ukrainian residents began to flee to Poland in large numbers as a result of the Russian invasion, individual refugees have already begun to be interrogated by the police and Homeland Security. Our services joined in the search for evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. However, some interrogations took place without the presence of interpreters and psychologists.
In early March, Justice Minister and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro told the pro-government website wpolityce.pl that he had spoken with the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, who asked Poland to help gather evidence of war crimes committed in Ukraine.
Ziobro agreed to this, and on March 8, the National Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement saying that such an investigation is already underway. The PK also appeals to refugees who may have witnessed war crimes to come forward to the relevant authorities to testify.
The Prosecutor’s Office further informs that testimonies can also be submitted via a hotline operated in Ukrainian by the police (+48 664 974 934).
Despite the launching of the hotline in the KP, in parallel, the activities of the services began, which in the circles of social workers helping refugees aroused controversy.
ABW at refugee hotels. “People were extremely scared”.
A few days ago, two ABW agents showed up at two hotels near Rybnik in Silesia that have taken in about 140 refugees, mostly women with children.
They demanded the data of people accommodated in the hotel from the receptionist and said they wanted to talk about war crimes in Ukraine, because such an investigation is conducted by the prosecutor’s office,” an activist of the All-Poland Women’s Strike in Rybnik, who coordinates a campaign to help refugees, told Onet. – The director of the hotel got involved and declared that he would not give out any data without a warrant because he had no grounds to do so. The result of the visit was that the refugees were terrified for many hours and were afraid to leave the hotel,” says the activist.
There was a similar situation in Świętochłowice, but there the agents entered a private house and also wanted to interrogate refugees about war crimes,” she says. – The refugees there ran away after the visit, they were simply so scared,” says the activist.
She points out that the actions of the services are completely incomprehensible to her. – These people are generally afraid of the services, and what is more, they have experienced the trauma of war. I cannot imagine who and what this is supposed to serve,” she points out.
I understand that governmental bodies, including the Internal Security Agency and the prosecutor’s office, want to collect data on war crimes, but this is not how it should look. First of all, such a visit should take place in the company of a psychologist, this is fundamental. Secondly, there should be an interpreter. After the trauma of the war, Ukrainians are simply afraid of any services. Even foresters were afraid when they brought parcels. They are even a little afraid of us, because they are afraid of everything – he adds.
ABW agents also appeared in a guesthouse near Kielce and in a resort in Walbrzych, where there are a dozen women with children – about which in social media informed the vice president of the city Sylwia Bielawska.
“Such a situation in @WalbrzychMM: ABW came to the place where we take care of UA mothers and children to question them, because they collect evidence of war crimes. The result? Panic, crying children, etc. Do you guys think @pisorgpl?” – Vice President Bielawska wrote on Twitter
Uniformed police officers in a private apartment with refugees. They were checking passport numbers
A similar situation occurred near Katowice. Both the ABW agents and uniformed policemen came to two private apartments where refugees were accommodated. – ABW agents came to my family, who had taken in refugees. Everyone found out they were agents only after a neighbor of my family asked them to identify themselves,” Ewa Machura, from the Regional Security Office in Katowice, told us.
On Wednesday, uniformed policemen came to the apartment of my mother who had taken in four refugees. As it turned out, they wanted to check the passport numbers of the people my mother had taken in. – Mom had warned the people she was taking in that the police would show up, but even so, it was certainly not a necessary or pleasant experience for them. Let me be clear, the women were shocked that someone was checking on them,” says Machura.
What do the ABW and the prosecutor’s office have to say about it? “We are carrying out actions”.
On Tuesday, we sent questions to the ABW and the National Prosecutor’s Office regarding the activities of both agents and police in hotels or private apartments where refugees were accommodated. We wanted to know how many attempts at interrogation took place, whether any of them resulted in taking testimony, and whether the ABW agents or police officers were accompanied by a psychologist and translator during these activities.
Here is the answer we received:
“We kindly inform you that the activities of the ABW are undertaken within the framework of the investigation of war crimes in Ukraine. The announcement in this case was issued by the National Prosecutor’s Office” – we were informed by the Department of National Security of the Prime Minister’s Office.
We also sent questions about the actions of the ABW agents and the role of the National Prosecutor’s Office to this institution. The Prosecutor’s Office replied that its activities “focus mainly on gathering evidence within the framework of the investigation initiated by the Mazovian Regional Department of the State Prosecutor’s Office concerning the aggression war launched by Russia against Ukraine. The investigation was initiated at the request of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine for Poland to get involved in documenting the criminal actions of the Russian aggressor” – The press department of the PK writes us.
He goes on to emphasize that “in the case there are ongoing hearings of witnesses and securing of records documenting the acts of war crimes. – If it is not possible for a witness to appear in person, prosecutors or officers carrying out activities in the investigation carry out questioning in a place convenient for the refugee, including in centers or other places where witnesses reside. Pursuant to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, every interrogation, if a witness does not speak Polish, is carried out with the assistance of an interpreter, the PK argues.
Only persons whose psycho-physical condition allows it and only if they give their consent are questioned. The participation of an expert psychologist is also ensured – informs the prosecutor’s office.
Former ROP, Prof. Bodnar: giving testimony is not crucial for war refugees
The fact that Polish prosecutors have taken it upon themselves to help Ukraine document war crimes in Ukraine is a good thing. The principle of universal jurisdiction allows such proceedings to be conducted,” Prof. Adam Bodnar, former Ombudsman, tells Onet. – However, in such a situation one should act with extreme delicacy and sensitivity. It is first and foremost about the safety of witnesses, war refugees from Ukraine,” he points out.
It is obvious that refugees from war-stricken Ukraine can be witnesses in the proceedings that are conducted by the National Prosecutor’s Office regarding the aggression war in Ukraine,” legal adviser Agata Bzdyń, who specializes in human rights and is a former lawyer at the Chancellery of the European Court of Human Rights, tells Onet.
This means that all the rights and obligations that a witness has apply to them. They have to answer the questions of the prosecution and they cannot conceal the truth, because they may be held criminally responsible for doing so. But I think you could have held back. The more so because if one was a witness to a war crime, then in such an extreme situation the memory of what one saw can work very differently. It is not as with common crimes that one remembers the event best immediately after experiencing it. On the contrary,” the lawyer explains. – It may be that a traumatized person blocks out certain memories simply to avoid going mad. This can happen to war victims, this can happen to rape victims… This is how our brain works – says the counselor.