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2 August, 2013  ▪  Valeria Burlakova

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Why civil activists in Ukraine face a new wave of repression

In the last few weeks, there has been a significant increase in attacks on civil activists and relevant criminal cases. All of this has the appearance of single-minded repression, the purpose of which, obviously, is to intimidate them as well as those who would potentially wish to stand up for their rights or join the ranks of an organized protest movement. Several weeks ago, criminal proceedings were initiated against Kostiantyn Latsyba and his brother Maksym, activists of the Democratic Alliance organization, which has picketed Mezhyhiria. They have been accused of larceny. Investigators claimed that the brothers’ car, which had been seen near the Yanukovych residents on several occasions, was allegedly seen on the site of two crimes and therefore served as grounds for the initiation of a criminal case. At the same time, according to the brothers, the police did not even comply with legislative procedures. “We did not receive any summons. Investigators phone us, demanding that we come by for a ‘chat’”. Maksym told The Ukrainian Week that “Investigators from various regions tell one and the same story of robberies, as if they had learned it by heart.”

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Towards the end of May, Svoboda and UDAR conducted a peaceful subotnyk (voluntary work on days off) at the Victory Park in Brovary. Its purpose was to dismantle a fence in an area, which, according to information they had received, was allegedly designated for privatization by entities connected to Azarov’s masseur, but after a series of protests, the city council was forced to postpone the attempt to force this decision through. However, immediately after said protests, three of its most active participants — Oleh Shevchuk, Ruslan Tkachenko and Mykola Smirnov — were specifically charged with “shouting discordant slogans, against what they saw as the illegal actions of the police” and “damaging part of the fence” and as a preventative measure, based on a decision of the court, these men who had never been prosecuted in the past, have jobs, good records and small children, spent nearly a month under house arrest. As a result, they all lost their jobs. This serious punishment (their lawyers feel that in this situation fines would be sufficient reimbursement for the damaged fence) will merely confirm that the authorities attempt to intimidate activists.

On July 21, Oleh Bohdanov, an activist of the Dorozhniy Kontrol (Road Control) organization, the purpose of which is to fight against violations by road police, was severely beaten. The victim was diagnosed with internal head injuries, concussion, a broken nose and jaw. Literally a couple of hours after the attack on Oleh Bohdanov, another activist of the movement, Fedir Dobritsa, was beaten in Mariupol.

On the eve of the visit to Ukraine of Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, Viktor Sviatskiy, an ideologist of the Femen women’s movement, was brutally beaten. Hanna Hutsol, one of its leaders, was then beaten, as was a photographer, who happened to be with Femen at that time. They blame this on special service employees who, according to them, have long shadowed the movement’s members, and beat them to hamper Femen’s protest against Kirill’s visit.

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On July 25, on the eve of the visit of Yanukovych and Putin to Sevastopol, people dressed in civilian clothes beat Oleksandr Kirnos of the local Svoboda branch, before taking him to the local police station. The young man was denied access to lawyers and family members for almost two days. It later appeared that the police had “found” a gun he allegedly had. Law enforcement officers had already visited the young man prior to this detention, demanding that he stopped drawing “a person who looks like the president” with a stain on his forehead on the walls of the city. Volodymyr Nykonenko from Sumy was sentenced to a year in prison for the drawing of such an image earlier.

Of course, law enforcement officers and the SBU (Security Service) reject accusations of the beating of activists. There is also no evidence of the involvement of highly placed law enforcement officials in the May attacks against participants in civil protests. At that time, “athletes” beat up the head of the Solomianskiy District Svoboda youth organization, Volodymyr Nazarenko, non-party activist Yevhen Matsko and Yevhen, the brother of Svoboda member Volodymyr  Karas. “Did you have enough protests?” attackers asked the latter.

Psychological pressure and intimidation of activists’ family members is taking place, with the latter being dismissed from work. Bohdan Tytskiy, a Black Committee activist from Kyiv, stated that during the night, unknown persons used his mobile phone to send a message to his mother, saying: “Don’t hold anything against me and don’t blame anyone for my death. I have serious problems.” Toma Shevchuk, a young artist who protected Hostynny Dvir in Kyiv from destruction and participated in a protest against police self-will, came across a similar situation. On the evening of July 25 the girl’s mother was phoned from an undetermined telephone by unknown persons, saying that heavy decorations had fallen on her daughter at work. They recommended for her to go to the hospital to say her final farewells to her daughter.

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In Druzhkivka in Donetsk Oblast, pressure was put on a leader and two activists, participating in the organization of a meeting to protest the increase of utility tariffs. The former was threatened with a criminal case for physical violence against the local authorities, one activist was dismissed from work and attempts are being made to fine the other, with no explanation given regarding the violation for which she is being fined.

Information on different methods of intimidation against activists comes largely from Kyiv and south-eastern oblasts. 

The increase in the number of reported repressions and the widening of their geography could signal that representatives of local authorities and law enforcement agencies have received orders to control protest movements. However, the experience of rebellious populated areas (Semypolky in Kyiv Oblast, where a local tyrannical police officer was killed, Vradiyivka in Mykolayiv Oblast, etc.) shows that counting on force to quash protest dispositions without resolving the reasons that have caused them, merely increases the overall tension between the government and society, thus preparing the ground for a wider-scale social explosion, should relevant grounds emerge.


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