Ukraine and the tension
BSSB.BE intellinews.com 30/10/2018
* Ukraine is sliding back into the Yanukovych-style state but I keep asking myself a question: why is being an activist in Ukraine dangerous again?
never thought I’d have to write about this topic again. Four years after EuroMaidan, activists, who have been one of the driving forces behind the revolution and reform in Ukraine, have become the target of violent attacks.
In less than one year, 55 regional activists have been beaten, attacked with knives or acid and even shot.
These 55 people come from different regions and different backgrounds. Some of them are journalists. Others are local politicians or civic activists. There are only a few features that connect the attacks, but most of them took place in South of Ukraine against people who are fighting against corruption and represent pro-Ukrainian views.
An attack on Kherson activist Kateryna Handziuk electrified the whole of Ukraine. The 33 y.o. advisor to the mayor of Kherson and acting manager of the city executive committee was doused with sulphuric acid outside her home in the summer. With 40% of her skin burnt by acid, Handziuk is still in reanimation. Recently, she recorded a video message, saying: “I know I look bad but affairs in Ukrainian police and prosecution look even worse”.
- Acid attack victim Kateryna Handziuk: “I know I look bad, but the police and prospector look worse»
- It is hard not to agree with her. At first the attack on her was classified by a local police as hooliganism and only after a fierce outcry from activists and journalists did the police have to change the classification to “brutal assassination attempt”.
- The investigation hasn’t finished yet, however, Handziuk believes that police have detained the real perpetrators. Who ordered the attack remains unknown.
Handziuk’s case enjoyed a high profile in the mass media and amongst civil activists. The Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko has directed the case to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), however, promised to keep the case under his personal supervision. In a way, Handziuk became the symbol of the growing number of attacks on activists and the insufficient reaction of law enforcement bodies.
is graffiti scrawled on walls asking: “Who ordered Katya Handziuk [attack]” all around central Kyiv. Now the resonance around this case is being used to focus more attention on the other assaults.
This attention is especially needed in Odesa, which, based on the number of assaults and very modest efforts to investigate them, is becoming the most dangerous city in Ukraine for activists.
- In the last year local activists Svitlana Pidpala, Alina Radchenko, Sergiy Sternenko, Vitaliy Ustymenko, Mykhailo Kuzakon, Hryhoriy Kozma, Andriy Vagapov, Oleg Mykhailyk, and others were attacked.
- The last one, Oleg Mykhailyk, was shot a week ago. He was declared clinically dead, but by a miracle doctors were able to resuscitate him. Although some cases happened a year ago, no perpetrators have faced justice.
- Police also failed to provide protection for activists and prevent further attacks, like in case of Sergiy Sternenko who has been attacked three times in just the last year.
The chain of attacks in Odesa make Ukrainians especially nervous. Ukrainian MP Mustafa Nayem even wrote on his Facebook page that “we are losing Odesa”. Even if his comment might seem too emotional, there are real grounds to fear for the activists working in Odesa. Back in spring 2014 Odesa and the region have seen an attempts by pro-Russian sympathisers to play out a Donbas scenario in Odesa by agitating for violent succession from the rest of the country.
Human rights advocate Oleksandra Matviychuk says there can be several explanations for the outbreak of violence in the region. Since most of victims were investigating cases of illegal construction and illegally repurposing land use, the attacks could be the personal revenge of Odesa’s mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov on the activists.
Trukhanov is believed to have close ties with the regional mafia. NABU and the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) have serious grounds to suspect him in looting state-owned property and running corrupt schemes.
But personal revenge is not the only possible explanation. The most worrying version is that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies aren’t able to provide lasting security in the region that was so vulnerable just few years ago — especially since all the victims also have a pro-Ukrainian position.
This sends a very troubling signal not only for the activist community but can also influence the general mood in the region. Luckily, it seems Kyiv has understood that. On September 25, the National Police and National Guard announced they will intensify patrols on Odesa streets to prevent further assaults.
On September 27 a protest “Silence kills” took place outside presidential administration in Kyiv. Although Poroshenko himself was in the US at the UN meeting, it didn’t stop many people from joining the demonstration.
Among those who took part in this protest were also some victims of the previous attacks. They claim that the responsibility for the outbreak of violence against activists lies also with the authorities and impotence of law enforcement system. In general, both police and prosecutor’s office have reacted to certain events only if public opinion was pressing them to do so.
As long as there is a pressure, the authorities work fast and try to show quick results. But this is the case with only a few high profile attacks. The rest that happened this year went unnoticed and with very modest investigation results.
Protesters are demanding the prompt and effective investigation of criminal cases of physical attacks on activists and a public report on the progress at every stage of the investigation. They also hope that President will finally admit there is indeed a problem and take it under his personal control.
55 attacks on activists in one year is a lot. Whether those were cases of revenge, attempts to prevent their work or a planned wave of violence, Ukrainian authorities should address those issue and not let Ukraine become a state where being an active citizen you’re your life in danger.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: intellinews.com