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8 July, 2013  ▪  The Ukrainian Week

Beyond Tolerance

People in a small town of Vradiyivka stand up with the demand to punish two policemen who brutally raped and beat a local female resident and tried to hush up the crime under the protection of highly-placed superiors. Meanwhile, spontaneous protests spark here and there for various reasons. Do local revolts reflect wider social sentiments?

The injustice and impunity of those in power are pushing Ukrainians towards decisive action that grows ever more frequent and consistent. The riot in the small town of Vradiyivka in Mykolayiv Oblast is merely the latest link in a chain of many spontaneous revolts against those in power. In Vradiyivka, people stood up with the demand to punish two policemen who brutally raped and beat a local female resident and tried to hush up the crime under the protection of highly-placed superiors. The police kept secret the name of one of the rapists, Captain Yevhen Dryzhak, for quite a while. He turned out to be the godson of Valentyn Parseniuk, Chief of the Mykolayiv Regional Office of the Interior Ministry. However, in addition to demands to bring the guilty people to account, the protesters recollected other numerous crimes committed by law enforcers.

The Ukrainian Week’s reporter heard many horrendous stories about people who were tortured or driven to suicide by the police, of confessions that were beaten out of them and the moral terror committed by the now detained officers, as well as other “defenders of order”. Opposition MPs, who had come to Vradiyivka, called on the victims as well as their families to report this to the Prosecutor’s Office. People who spoke of the terror were hesitant initially but then started sharing their evidence one by one. If the Prosecutor’s Office does not backpedal cases and opposition MPs supervise the process, the Vradiyivka precedent could well stir quite a few investigations against a substantial number of local policemen. Overall, the Mykolayiv police are known to have conducted 63.3% of all non-public proceedings in Ukraine, which could be evidence of profound corruption.

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Meanwhile, the government reacted to the riot; just like to other local protests, in a perfectly predictable manner (especially provided that it has never admitted its own obvious mistakes and has never surrendered its people). It tried to intimidate potential protesters, in order to discourage them to take to the streets. For example, instead of at least apologising for the actions of his subordinates, the Interior Minister announced that “the forms of protest chosen (by the people in Vradiyivka – Ed.) are unacceptable.” The Interior Ministry has initiated criminal proceedings regarding the unrest and storming of the regional police station in Vradiyivka upon charges of hooliganism, conducted by a group of people, and deliberate destruction or damage of property. On July 3, TVi, 1+1 and journalists were arrested and taken to the regional station.

In the last three years, similar riots have flared up in various regions. The murder of student Ihor Indylo while in detention at a police station in May 2010 infuriated Kyivites and led to a human rights campaign, demanding an impartial investigation of the case. In Kyiv Oblast, fellow villagers stood in defence of Vitaliy Zaporozhets, who killed a policeman who terrorized the local residents. The Mykolayiv cases of Oksana Makar and Oleksandra Popova, the victims of rape and violence from Mykolayiv, have also gained resonance thanks to the people, who pressed law enforcement agencies to act efficiently within the law, bringing the rapists to account. The latter were sentenced to a significant prison term – more than ten years. In June, in Lysychansk, Luhansk Oblast, people who had sunk into despair because of mass unemployment due to the closure of enterprises around which the town had been built, twice seized the meeting room of the city council. In Mykolayiv Oblast, villagers working at an agricultural company of opposition politician Arkadiy Kornatskiy are currently engaged in guerrilla war against raiders, who are supported by the local authority. 

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Riots repeat with new force for various reasons, and sometimes are of a new quality. In a country where the level of trust in power bodies is critically low (up to 20%, talking into account “partially trust” responses in a survey conducted by the Democratic Initiative Foundation) and less than 1% in law enforcement officers, the high degree of protest sentiments appears completely normal. It’s indicative that public anger ignites suddenly, without any thought-out organization, which sometimes leads to a wave of violence, as was the case in Vradiyivka, when local residents tried to storm the regional police station.

Sociologists feel that the degree of protests could increase. Iryna Bekeshkina, Chairperson of the Board of the Democratic Initiative Foundation, notes that according to survey data, a relatively small number of people are prepared to participate in protest actions today (25.5% of Ukrainians are willing to do so), but they can be exceptionally effective in terms of organizing one in certain circumstances: “People don’t see how their protests will change anything. This view is held by more than 50% of those surveyed. One third of those surveyed are afraid of repression. But there is a point when they stop being afraid. The loss of fear is directly proportionate to the number of people who came out to protest. When a whole village comes together, then no one is afraid any longer.”

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Today, opinion polls show that Ukrainians consider the worsening of their financial standing as the main reason which would make them take to the streets. Indeed, riots often flare up in poor areas. But poverty is hardly the main reason. There is not much in common between the cases of Vitaliy Zaporozhets, Iryna Krashkova, the victim of Vradiyivka’s policemen-rapists and raider attacks against Kornatskiy’s agricultural company. In all of these cases people had just one motivation for protest – the reinstatement of justice. This once led to the 2004 Orange Revolution when Ukrainians felt that they were fed up with blatant falsifications during the election, in other words, injustice on the part of the authorities

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