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17 April, 2012  ▪  Dmytro Vovnianko,  Inna Zavhorodnya

Actions Speak Loudly

Ukraine has more and more civic movements, the activities of which are not only directed towards ensuring the awareness of society and those in power of specific problems, but also their resolution

SPONTANEOUS CIVIC MOVEMENTS

Placards: Put the beasts in a cage! Capital punishment for the monsters! The same law applies to all! If you don’t punish them, we will.

Give us the bastards

Bring back capital punishment

Photo: UNIAN

Ukrainians have demonstrated their ability to unite sporadically and protest in response to social challenges. One of the latest examples was the rally against the violent assault on Oksana Makar in Mykolayiv (read more at www.ukrainianweek.com). This was preceded by people taking to the streets to call for those in power to punish those guilty in the murder of Ihor Indylo, a student allegedly killed at a police station, and protest against the impunity of the “golden youth”. The catalysts for such public outcries are often journalists and bloggers. Lately, social networks have not only been spreading news faster than news agencies, but themselves serve as news sources. Their most effective tool is the ability to bring significant events to the attention of the public, which could have been completely missed by journalists, let alone the government and under other circumstances, would not have elicited a response. Bloggers were the ones that followed and reported on the trial of Vitaliy Zaporozhets (the 34-year old shot a local police officer. He is facing a life sentence and has massive support from the people in his home village) and those accused of blowing up Stalin’s bust in Zaporizhzhya. They also spread information about the violence of the “golden youth” and launched other informational waves with a single click of the mouse.

“ROAD CONTROL”

The civic project, run by Rostyslav Shaposhnykov, was founded three years ago to show how traffic police and other enforcement agencies violate the rights of Ukrainian drivers. The activists have been posting information and videos of violations and conflicts on its website roadcontrol.org.ua, as well as reports on journalists’ investigations, give details of the appeal process in court against the illegal actions of the police, and explain the nuances that can come up in the process of resisting the authorities. In this way, thousands of people across the country have seen examples of how they can stand up for their rights as well as the tools to do so. The activists also publish a newsletter called “Road Control”. The project faced sharp criticism and vilification on the part of the media close to the police on numerous occasions. In February 2012, the website was closed down as a result of a claim filed by Hennadiy Hetmantsev, a traffic inspector, accusing the site of the defamation of his honour, dignity and professional reputation. Four days later, pressure from the public forced the court to reverse its decision and the website was reopened. The latest incidents recorded by Road Control included a conflict with traffic police in the Zaporizhzhya Oblast, provoked by the discovery of a wad of fake administrative records held by officers. Rostyslav Shaposhnykov (photo) was severely beaten on 24 March. He quoted the attackers as saying that they had been ordered to do so.

THE KYIV BICYCLIST ASSOCIATION

Photo: Ukrinform

This NGO protects the rights of bicyclers and campaigns for the opportunity to ride bicycles safely around Kyiv. The initiative was founded in 2004 and officially registered in 2008. Activists are involved in opening and fitting out parking lots for bikes and convincing companies to set up offices with bicycle parking lots and shower rooms. Volunteers also initiate amendments to laws and supervise the process of designing and laying bicycle paths.

“I PARK LIKE AN IDIOT”

Everyone fed up with cars parked in such a way as to hinder the passage of pedestrians, trams or baby strollers, ruining the day for those who respect the law, can take part in the movement against illegal parking. Paper, scissors and glue or ready-made stickers are all they need to show their views regarding irresponsible drivers. Many of the Ukrainian activists of this worldwide movement indulge their creative streak by making their own stickers. The initiative is supported by both pedestrians and law-abiding drivers who do not allow others to occupy two parking spots with one car. Project activists call on people to take pictures of the violators’ number plates and post the photos on websites, such as blackcars.com.ua, blonde.in.ua and parklikeidiot.com.ua for everyone to see.

“DON’T BE INDIFFERENT”

The movement was launched in 2005 and has been acting as an NGO since 2006. Its goal is to turn Ukraine into a country that is proud of its culture and heritage through diverse music, literary and educational events. By eliminating fake patriotism and homo soveticus stereotypes in the interpretation of the national culture, activists promote alternative views, and call on their compatriots to switch to the Ukrainian language in everyday life and defend their language rights, particularly in the consumer segment. The movement mostly promotes Ukrainian as a “cool” rather than the conventional and obsolete “tender and beautiful” language. At the same time, volunteers distance themselves from radical rightist organizations, insisting that they combine patriotism with common sense. The movement does not support any political force, but campaigns against politicians who attack the study of the Ukrainian language and literature in schools or censor history books. “Carpathian Ukraine”, a multimedia textbook CD created by the volunteers, is to be distributed to as many as 100,000 tenth-graders during the school year as an alternative to the version of history offered by Education Minister Tabachnyk. In addition to regular volunteers, the movement’s activists and supporters include well-known writers, musicians, athletes and journalists.

“UKRAINE WITHOUT SERFS”

Journalist and blogger Pavlo Kolesnyk founded the civic initiative in summer 2011 in Donetsk. The activists campaign against the violation of their rights in everyday life, including the sale of expired food in stores, the ban on taking photos in stores, the illegal collection of fees at parking lots and many others. In January, the NGO protected the right of Donetsk football fans to take the state flag of Ukraine to Ukrainian league matches. The project has no leaders - each person is responsible for his/her own actions. Anyone can post reports on how they protect their rights at bezholopov.com. The initiative is provoking resistance from store owners; there have been many cases of its representatives being sued. In January 2012, activists and journalists from The Ukrainian Week were beaten up by the guards of “Sokol”, a supermarket in Donetsk, as they visited stores to find expired food. After the raids, which included the photo and video recording of violations, the administrations of most stores removed expired products from their shelves. Some allowed volunteers to take photos in their stores under pressure from the public.

“SAVE OLD KYIV”

Photo: Andriy Lomakin

The initiative was founded in September 2007 in response to the Interior Ministry’s attempt to build a skyscraper on the territory of the “Ancient Kyiv” National Historical and Architectural Park next to Peizazhna Aleya (Landscape Lane). Journalist Ihor Lutsenko is the leader of the initiative. Activists subsequently extended their efforts to other illegal construction projects, which are ruining the city landscape and Kyiv’s historical center. The group succeeded in preventing the implementation of plans for the construction of a skyscraper on Peizazhna Aleya and a hotel on Prorizna Street . Notably, the hotel builders were forced to fill up the foundation ditch they had already dug. At the same time, its representatives stay away from “profitable” campaigns where some entities organize protests to blackmail developers and demand apartments or cash from them. The group also campaigns to help regular Kyivites to prevent illegal construction on the land surrounding their buildings. For instance, it helped Svitlana Tolstushko and her initiative to prevent the construction of a 14-story building on the playground at 77, Lukianivska St. “Save Old Kyiv’s” latest campaigns include rallies against construction at Peizazhna Aleya and in the Feodora Pushyna and Yanvarsky parks.

THE JOINT INITIATIVE OF KYIV CAR OWNERS

District City Council! Where are our rights to parking lots?

Photo: UNIAN

Set up in December 2009, the group includes initiatives by car owners to protect parking lots and jointly-owned garages. They emerged in 2007 to protect available parking lots, under risk from being taken over by developers as a result of their unclear legal status. Their fears were well-founded. In late 2007 and early 2008, a slew of raider takeovers overwhelmed the city. As a result, by 2010, only nine of 49 parking lots remained on the books of Kyiv City Association of Car Owners, which administers Kyiv’s parking lots. This prompted car owners to act. In December 2009, they elected a new administration, chaired by Volodymyr Virovtsev, to replace the old one. Some time later, Mr. Virovtsev survived an assassination attempt, while virtually all activists received threats and one had his car fired at by unidentified persons. Currently, the initiative’s members are struggling against both developers and the intent of the Kyiv City State Administration to get all the parking lots in town under its control.

“PECHENIGY”, THE KHARKIV ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION GROUP

Photo: UNIAN

The initiative became known through its protests against the felling of trees in Kharkiv’s Gorky Park, which was permitted by Kharkiv authorities. This was allegedly done to build a road for Euro 2012. The felling brigades refused to provide the environmentalists with any documents authorizing such construction. The activists who did not allow them to cut down the trees were attacked by persons unknown. The incidents resulted in the beating of several dozens of concerned volunteers while police looked on indifferently. Appeals to the public and open letters to the president had zero impact. The initiative failed to stop the felling, but drew the attention of many people in Ukraine and abroad. The group is also campaigning against felling at the local forest park, in the safety zone along Moskovsky Prospect, Gagarina Prospect and so on.

THE “SVOBODA”[1] HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER

Entrepreneur Viktor Kotenko founded the center in Zhytomyr in 2004 to investigate criminal cases, closed by police for no apparent reason and the violation of rights by the authorities. Mr. Kotenko was encouraged to set up the initiative when he faced demands of bribes and kickbacks from authorities. A newsletter and the center were created on a wave of protests against corrupt officials. Many people affected by the illegal actions of officials and police seek advice at the center. It sends out relevant materials to the national media, the Prosecutor General and SBU (security service of Ukraine) Headquarters. Svoboda activists were the ones who informed the public about Anna Kovalchuk’s son, who was tortured to death by the police. Investigators stubbornly refused to work on the case in Ukraine, which is why volunteers rallied in front of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the UN Building. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Ms. Kovalchuk. According to the Center, nearly 30% of the cases it has undertaken have been completed. Currently, the Center is focused on new incidents of the torture and abusive treatment of citizens by the police.

 

 

 



[1] Freedom 


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