Mykola Velychkovych: "We have partly broken down the Interior Ministry system, but we still need to change the structure"
The Ukrainian Week spoke to former Deputy Interior Minister about the reform of the law enforcement, the prospects of Georgian know-how in Ukraine, and the future of volunteer battalions
U.W.: Your appointment as the Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry was quite unexpected. Why were you selected?
– I was one of the people who created the Self-Defense Forces of Maidan. I formed the Self-Defense hundreds, organized the security, and still remain the deputy head of this structure. After the Maidan events, the power lay on the ground, so the question was what to do with it. On the one hand, there were people carrying guns, a huge ministry with a function of protecting and ensuring public order, but the system was not working. On the other hand, there was the society ready to tear the law enforcement officers to pieces after the massacre. It was obvious that we needed a new team that would control the situation at the Interior Ministry and bring about change. On February 23, Andriy Parubiy called me and said: "Now the government is being formed. Avakov will be the minister, and you his deputy." I asked: "Why?" – "Because you must. Who else?". That's how I ended up there. At first we thought that the government would last only until the presidential elections, but it turned out that I held the post for nine months.
U.W.: A person without experience came to the system that was so terrifying at that time – so what did you see?
– I found out about my appointment at half past one, and at half past two we were already entering the Ministry building. You should have seen those faces. Only two days ago, they were shooting at as, the generals and the senior managers, those who still remained, because many had fled, and you could see in their eyes that they, to put it mildly, were not appreciative. But we put emotions aside and set to work. Within two weeks, we replaced 90% of the senior management. Even more.
U.W.: With whom?
– Former employees returned, the ones who were already retired, we hired some new people from the outside, and some people from within the system still remained. We had to select and promote. We took several things into account: the standpoint of the society that wanted to punish them for the mass murder; the rule of law that prohibited just shooting them down; and the controllability of the system, that had to keep functioning, catching criminals. Later on, we also had to face the problems in the Crimea and the East of Ukraine. Today everyone would agree that those were the hardest times at the MIA since Ukraine gained independence. At first, we were looked at with mistrust. But step by step, we managed to change the perception: by communications, decisions, and actions. The situation changed drastically with the outburst of the events in the East. The question now was, who is who. As simple as that: are you for Ukraine or for Russia? When the battalions were created, the guys who stood on different sides of the barricades at first kept a watchful eye on each other, but then they trained together, went together to the trenches, and everything changed. This was a rather revealing moment. We are not against the police, we are against those who committed crimes, shooting at our people. Eventually, this neutralized the situation. When activists came to the ministry with tires and "cocktails", everyone was afraid to come out. So I went out, talked, and explained. We opened a dialogue, and eventually came to an understanding.
U.W.: Why was it decided to form the National Guard and the volunteer battalions as part of the Interior Ministry?
– Because it was the first to respond. The Ministry's management not only adequately reacted to the fact that citizens wanted to defend their country, but also found the fast legal mechanism to put their energy and desires into a meaningful activity and to legally allow them to take up arms. This is very important. We have to take care of our people in order not to push them into actions that might entail criminal responsibility. When the law on the National Guard was passed, the first 500 Maidan Self-Defense members just relocated with their flags from Maidan to the practice ground. Later on, on April 14, it was decided to form the first special designation police units. There are 38 of them as of today, and they largely outnumber the former Berkut special task force.
U.W.: How many former employees have been fired in total?
– About 170,000 throughout the country. In Luhansk, Donetsk and Crimea, about 20,000. The process is still underway. We envisage the possible involvement in separatist movements of all Interior Ministry employees in the East of the country. Some cases have been investigated when intelligence personnel of the MIA and SBU passed information to or acted for the benefit of the separatists.
In parallel, we gave a chance to those who came to work to become the new police. Those who fought in the East get promoted, and some have already got the rank of a Colonel. In this way, they become police managers. The most notable example is Vadym Troyan (of Azov Battalion), who was a political prisoner in the spring, and now is Police Lieutenant Colonel and the head of police HQ in the Kyiv region. There are also other activists who have shown their worth. By the way, one of our battalion commanders is Deputy Head of Donetsk Oblast police in Mariupol. This is our new police.
U.W.: What is the general process of transforming "pigs" into law enforcement officers? Did you manage to destroy the schemes and the pyramid of kickbacks?
– Partially, we have broken down the system, but it will be possible to complete the process only when the structure is changed. We planned the transformation as soon as we came to the Ministry. But the Crimean and Eastern factors ruined our plans. There was a risk that if we fire people with guns and specific skills, they will end up on the other side. We could not let this happen, because some of Berkut and Alfa special task force members were already fighting a war against us, they fled already before February 22. Now that the system is functioning and everything is working, when there is some kind of a vision and a concept has been drafted and agreed with the activists, human rights activists, professionals, and international experts, we are ready to start the changes and we hope that Eka Zguladze will be instrumental in this respect.
U.W.: To which extent can Georgian experience come in handy? It's a small country, so it was easier for them...
– Still, this small country has more know-how than we do. Let's try and see. I think it's still for the better. An outside perspective is disillusioning. At least, they have some positive results. They have been through this all. Everyone thinks that it was all easy and smooth. No way. When they implemented their reforms, there were mass protests of former police officers in the streets. However, this is also a know-how, when you know that there may be not only positive, but also negative consequences. We have to take this into account as well. Making changes involves breaking down the old schemes, so there will be people who will be hurt.
U.W.: Today, skeptical reports on the reform at the MIA are wide-spread. Do people really believe that it will be possible to dismantle the system?
– The reform has several components: a system of relationships, a system of training, and a system of rewards. If a police officer in Kyiv, even with the current 20 percent premium, earns a salary of 2,100-2,200 hryvnya, it’s a direct path to corruption. Because people with such salary can hardly support their families, and these are people who are prohibited by law from engaging in anything other than teaching, creative or medical practice, these are people wearing badges and uniforms, often risking their lives and not dealing with the cream of the society. The system can only be changed holistically: operation, selection, training, procurement...
U.W.: Does the Ministry itself show a desire to change?
– It does. Young employees would come and say: "We are leaving, we are sick of the regional managers, nothing has changed, we don't want to work like this, and this is not what we were taught". That is, we have some young field officers and experienced employees with the right set of mind and the right principles. "What was this all for, if it all comes back to the same system?.." Of course, people involved in the old schemes will resist. But the young people act differently. If you serve honestly, you can enjoy social mobility and make a career.
U.W.: The blueprint for the reform envisages delegating the power to local communities. Can this prove to be dangerous, taking into account the experience of forming the army on an area basis?
– We are talking about the decentralization principle, according to which some law enforcement functions and public order aspects are to be transferred to the local police, which would have dual subordination: to a local government body and to the police HQ. HR tasks are set from below, whereas the control is exercised from above. This issue is now under discussion. The situation in Ukraine is such that there are no hard and fast answers to these questions. For instance, how do we deal with Donetsk and Luhansk regions? The question of financing is not an easy one either. If any powers are to be transferred to local communities, they should be able to exercise them. Large cities will manage, but what about small towns?
Besides, the reform provides for numerous significant changes and for the elimination of certain structures, such as transport and veterinary police. Today, an experiment is underway in Khmelnytsky region: Police Patrol and Inspection Service was merged with Traffic Police, and American consultants are helping with the adaptation. We are analyzing. We don't want to make change for the sake of change. The transformation should take us to a better level. If you want to break down the system, would you be so kind as to propose a better one? Destroying for the sake of destruction is a waste of time.
U.W.: What will become of the volunteer units?
– They are seen as a contingent to be included in the future system of rapid response task forces. Whoever wants to continue military service, will be given a chance to do so. The more so that they have serious motivation and are not afraid of performing risky tasks, such as detaining dangerous criminals. On the contrary, a significant part of the old Interior Minister employees after Maidan are not morally ready for radical action when it comes to risking their lives. If a police officer is not capable of doing that, the question arises whether he should serve.
U.W.: How does it feel working alongside those who have actually brought the country to war?
– We had a discussion as to what to do. There were hotheads who said: "Don't let them in, we'll beat them up", and so on. No problem, it takes just five seconds to do it: in the room, in the toilet, or on the sidelines... But will it help? We have a parliamentary majority, the government is controlled by the coalition, and if we did something like that, it would have been a sign of weakness. Strong people act differently. Make an appeal to the prosecutor: why legal action has not been taken? If proceedings have already been instituted, then appeal to the Parliament, and we will deprive the person of the parliamentary immunity. If we proceed like this, it will be the best mechanism and a guarantee for the future. Well, we've seen [MP] Nestor Shufrych beaten up and thrown into a trashcan, so what? Nothing. Some steam was let off, and a good picture was made. But what about the result? It's the result that matters for us.
U.W.: Is there really a will to punish anyone? It seems that neither the Prosecutor-General’s Office, nor any other power structures are much concerned about that.
– Those who have been through Maidan and at the trenches in the East will fight it out. We have created an interfactional association "Maidan Self-Defense", which includes MPs from various factions who served in Self-Defense and were involved in all these changes: commanders of Maidan hundreds and the men from different units and battalions. The association is headed by Andriy Parubiy. It already has 16 MPs, and some people are still thinking. We have identified five issues to which we will give special attention: denunciation of Minsk agreements, because they do not work, cooperation with the EU and NATO, а real lustration, defending the interests of those fighting in the ATO, and а just punishment of those involved in the shooting of the Heavenly Hundred. We are talking about the people who actually stood on the barricades and buried their friends, for them it is a question of principle. Oliynyk and Kalyetnyk are already on the wanted list. And there is a number of other fellows with regard to whom we will bring up the issue of why they have not been detained. For example, Bakulin of Naftogaz. The court released him on a 10 million hryvnya bail, even though the Interior Ministry proposed to set it at 1.5 billion. Now he’s an MP, so what can you do about him?! We need a request from the prosecutor's office, after which we can deprive him of immunity so that they can have him.
U.W.: How much has the Parliament changed? Are there still attempts to bribe or motivate MPs?
– It is impossible. The Parliament has 235 new people who have never been MPs before. A lot of people came from the front, many came from Maidan. That would be a bit odd for us. I think, should there be such proposals, those who made them would have to regret it. The transparency of the decision making process is a guarantee of serving a full term. Because there's really a lot of people for whom this is a question of principle.
Mykola Velychkovych is Member of Parliament from Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Narodniy Front (People’s Front). Born in 1972 in Lviv, he got a degree in history from the Ivan Franko University in Lviv, then from the Lviv Physical Education University . In 1995-1997, Mr. Velychkovych served at the Department for Social Services and Protection of the Lviv City Council. In 1999-2014, he trained students at the fencing and boxing department of the Lviv Physical Education University. He is currently President of the Hopak Federation (hopak is traditional Ukrainian martial art – Ed.). During the Maidan, Mr. Velychkovych was deputy commander of the Maidan Self-Defense Forces. In March 2014, he was appointed Deputy Interior Minister.
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