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27 February, 2012  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

Mayhem in Donetsk: Food Quality Check Ends in a Fight

Real as opposed to “puppet” civic activism is something neither dishonest entrepreneurs, nor the government want, which is why the efforts of activists are often quashed

Ukraine Without Slaves, a regional non-governmental initiative in Donetsk, has launched a movement to protect consumers in Donbas. Clearly, real rather than controlled NGOs are something neither dishonest entrepreneurs, nor the government want. For this reason, activists often face attempts to quash their efforts. The Ukrainian Week found out what it takes to become an activist in Donetsk. Together with local NGO members, our reporters went to find violations and low-quality products in shopping malls. They soon learned that such a mission is quite dangerous. It can result in a beating and the taking away of personal belongings, especially when dealing with people who are ready to go way beyond legal limits.

THOSE WHO CARE 

Stanislav Fedorchuk, a Ukraine Without Slaves activist, meets us at the railway station and immediately takes us to the rest of the “think-tank”, including journalists Pavlo Kolesnyk and Vlad Bespalov, and lawyer Dmytro Korobko. We are just in time: these successful people of different ages and professions, are drawing up a list of stores they are going to visit to check the quality of goods and services. The activists do not look provocative at all, but unlike millions of their countrymen, who express their dissatisfaction at home around the kitchen table, they embody it in their actions.

For more than six months now, this improvised public initiative has been causing turmoil in local supermarkets, shopping malls and parking lots. Needless to say, they face resistance in the form of beatings, being sworn at and sued based on concocted accusations. For example, the Astor supermarket chain lost its case against Dmytro Korobko, accusing the lawyer of tearing price tags off the fish while checking its quality.
“We faced some tough reaction from Decor Donbass and Sokol, two shopping malls in Donetsk, during our latest raids there,” said Pavlo Kolesnyk. We immediately decide to go there to find out whether they really beat people for a using a camera in their stores.

GET OUT OF THE STORE 

We started with the Velyka Kyshenia (Big Pocket – trans.) supermarket on the first floor of Decor Donbass. The activists’ well-trained eyes only take minutes to detect expired yoghurts, food stored in open trays and other violations. But, the security guards are very polite, so are the administrators who come out to meet us later. They go as far as to show us their documents and promise to take care of the faults we found. We give them the expired goods and go to Decor Donbass itself on the next floor. No problems here either: the security guards watch us but make no effort to interfere.

Inspired with this fortuitous beginning, we move on to 45, Leninski Prospect, where the Sokol shopping mall is located. A few days ago, six women checking the quality of products sold in the supermarket, were treated very badly. There has been no response from the police to two claims of the beatings they were subjected to. Dmytro Korobko jokes: “We have to call the police before even going inside. Given the previous incident, the security must be well armed here”. We all treated this as a joke, only to discover later, that this was far from being the case.

We see just one security guard as we enter. Activists come up to the dairy section and see butter that has a weird color. As soon as Andriy Lomakin, The Ukrainian Week’s photographer, tries to take a picture of it, a young man approached and rudely asked why we were doing this. “We are citizens of Ukraine and Ukrainian laws allow us to take photographs on the sales floor,” Pavlo Kolesnyk replies. The following dialogue ensues (recorded from Pavlo’s blog – ed.):

Young Man (Mr. X): Get out of the store!

Pavlo: Who are you?

Mr. Х.: I’m the administrator of this store.

Pavlo: Why do you want us to leave the store?

Mr. Х.:Because you are taking photos.

Pavlo: But this is allowed by law (Pavlo attempts to move the discussion out of the conflict zone).

Mr. Х.: Which law does that? Did you ask in the Admin. Office?

Pavlo: Article 50 of the Constitution of Ukraine...

Did you get permission from the Admin. Office to take pictures here or not? Mr. X insists.

Stanislav Fedorchuk tries to intervene in the conversation, but the so-called administrator without a relevant name tag, nervously calls out security, “Security! Here!” We are almost instantly surrounded by six or seven security guards.

NO VIDEO RECORDING

As they shout “Get them out of here,” the security pushes us out, grabs our camera and cell phones, and openly beats us up. They drag us past check-outs where many people wait in line and indifferently push us forward so that we don’t interfere with their “shopping”. One security guard smashes Pavlo’s face with a well-trained blow and throws him out onto the street, where he leans over him and shouts hysterically “Now you know, b…tch? Video recording is forbidden!”. Another one hits Andriy Lomakin, the photographer, on the back of his head. Andriy falls down the stairs and faints. I was the next one to be shoved out of the supermarket. Stanislav Fedorchuk is knocked to the floor and kicked in the head for an extended period.  

Meanwhile, Pavlo Kolesnyk tries to get to his feet but is immediately beaten again and ordered to give up his cell phone. The guards continue beating him for another 100-150 meters while one reaches into his pocket, trying to grab the phone. The journalist only saves it thanks to the strap wrapped around his wrist. Shouting “Help, they’re killing us!” has absolutely no effect, neither on the “security guards”, whose faces show bloodlust and awareness of impunity, nor on passersby hunching over and rushing to do their business, as if they are not witnessing a group robbery and beating. I finally manage to drag Pavlo to the closest drugstore.

Later, efforts were made to call out the police – who finally arrive 30 minutes later. After long explanations of what happened, the district police officer at the Lenin District Police Department in Donetsk, says that there is no way he can believe that the security guards beat us up for no apparent reason. Two ambulances took the activists to the hospital. Stanislav Fedorchuk was hospitalized one day after the beating, suffering from concussion and head trauma. Andriy Lomakin and Pavlo Kolesnyk were also diagnosed with concussions, with the latter also having a broken nose and head injury.

Donetsk Mayor Oleksandr Lukianchenko said the incident was “shameful for the city” and that he would take it under his personal control. Sokol might even beclosed down. Indeed, at the time of publication, the shopping mall was closed, yet it is now open. Criminal cases were initiated under two articles including Art. 171 and 125.2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine regarding interference into professional journalist activity and trivial injury. The majority of Donetsk City Council consisting of the Party of Regions' members refused to put the issue of license withdrawal from the shopping mall on the agenda. There is no guarantee that the mayhem-makers will be held liable.


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