We can’t stand this any longer! The Revolution of Dignity aimed at other goals than those things we have to observe now. Not for this, the Heavenly Hundred had died at the Maidan, and Ukrainian warriors are giving their lives in the East of our country. It looks like the bloody war goes on at the home front. Over the past year, more than forty activists had suffered at the hands of attackers. Activists, who preferred not to remain silent, but tried to expose the arbitrariness and corruption.
“They should be punished for that!”
On Thursday evening, September 27, hundreds of non-indifferent gathered in the center of the capital, near the Presidential Administration, in order to say it out loud, in a full voice – unacceptable things are happening in the country. The action began at 18:00 and lasted until 3:00 on the 28th. Not for nothing the main slogan of the peaceful action of solidarity “Night on Bankova” is the expression “Silence Kills”. It was chanted by the participants, it was on posters, it was painted on the asphalt. And after nightfall, these words were transferred by a laser to the walls of the building on the Instytutska street; the names of the victims-activists were also there.
Actually, most of the participants of the action were standing on the Instytutska street, which is perpendicular to Bankova, as the space around the presidential residence was blocked by law enforcers. The police and the National Guard had also partially blocked the automobile movement on the part of the Instytutska street. In the evening new protesters were checked by metal detectors while they were approaching the gathering. I came in advance, so I avoided this procedure.
The participants of the meeting made an open statement about the assault on activists and political figures. Among the other things, civil society representatives drew attention to the fact that the state of freedom of speech, the freedom of peaceful gatherings, the security of civil and political activists is rapidly getting worse. The country is falling again into those days of active citizens’ persecution and the inaction of the state, that is, the state that was customary for the Kuchma and Yanukovych regimes.
This shameful process has been intensified in recent months. Law enforcers, as a rule, demonstrate indifference and passivity, and they begin to “do at least something”, only under the pressure of the public. Why is it happening? Does it indicate that the Maidan winds down, its ideals are in the state of a decay?
“In fact, it’s too early to talk about winding down of the Maidan,” MP Mustafa Nayyem assured Opinion. “ Many more activists, journalists, and public figures have appeared after the Revolution of Dignity. And the instincts of authorities and those people who in state bodies’ offices, remained the same. That is, an aggressive reaction to any manifestations of civil society and any activity is the result of a sharp increase in the number of such assaults. They should be punished for such instincts, brutally.”
Whom, where and for what?
Statistics are disappointing: since the beginning of last year, 55 assaults have been made on representatives of the third sector (according to the other estimates, at least one hundred cases); over the past year there were more than 40 of them. The most high-profile ones have happened in the south – in Kherson and Odesa.
Thereby, three assaults on the Odessa civic activist Serhiy Sternenko occurred just over several months (February 7, May 1 and 24, this year). The whole country found out about the last event at the end of the spring, when Serhiy had ended the life of one of the attackers. Customers have not yet been found. On June 5, the leader of the AutoMaidan movement Vitaliy Ustymenko (Renowned activist Vitaliy Ustimenko has been attacked in Odesa: victim stayed alive) was stabbed in Odessa. Customers have not been found. Both Serhiy and Vitaliy were given the floor on the corner of Bankova and Instytutska streets immediately after the lists of all the victims was read.
In less than two weeks after the attack on Ustimenko, in Kherson, two unknowns attacked a journalist and activist Serhiy Nikitenko (Anti-Ukrainian rematch: in Kherson journalist Serhiy Nikitenko was beaten up by unknown people). Criminals’ identity is not established. On July 31, in the same city, Kateryna Handziuk, an advisor to the mayor and public activist, was attacked with acid (Assault on the activist Kateryna Handziuk: network community divided). The victim got to resuscitation ward. It seems that the real performers have been found, which was said on Opinion (Assassination attempt against Handziuk: who is suspected and what is known about the crime?), however, the question about customers remains open. Kateryna’s appeal from the hospital ward was presented on the big screen to those who had gathered.
And recently, on September 22, Oleh Mykhailyk, the head of Odesa branch of the People’s Strength Party, received a gunshot wound. He was hospitalized in a difficult condition, now Oleh’s recovering. An activist’s assassination attempt happened near the Central Directorate of the National Police of Ukraine in the Odesa region. ( A shot in Ukrainian Odesa: who is Oleh Mykhailyk and what’s going on in the South? )
And this is not a complete list of crimes when someone was trying to cripple or end the lives of social activists. Unfortunately, there have been fatalities also. At the beginning of summer in the village of Eskhar in the Kharkiv region, a local 23-year-old activist Mykola Bychok was found hanged in the woodland. In this case, as in most other assaults, customers of the crime were not found. The police didn’t establish the identity of a murder’s customer in Berdyansk when the gangsters deprived a public activist and ATO veteran Vitaliy Oleshko (code name “Sarmat”) of his life. However, four suspects were detained in custody for committing this crime. Those brave boys (Bychko and Oleshko) have been mentioned repeatedly during a peaceful rally.
Demands are urgent
Therefore, the situation that we have now, can bear no delay. The authorities should respond to numerous flagrant outbursts of violence against public activists. However, the political scientist Valeriy Dymov, who hadf visited the rally, is convinced that the ice will melt gradually, and law enforcement will report precisely because of the protests and manifestations.
“Today we can already hear that the ”Sarmat” case is closed,” Mr. Dymov said to Opinion. “That is, it’s said that even if only for such rallies the reports are made, these actions are still needed. For if they had not happened, then they (law enforcement officers) would probably make no reports. It’s clear that a non-reformed law-enforcement system is a part of the revanchism that we are currently witnessing.”
Representatives of civil society have put forward several requirements to the authorities: to get a clear public position of the top governmental officials of the state, hold an extraordinary meeting of the National Security and Defense Council in connection with the increase in the intensity of assaults on activists; promptly and effectively investigate criminal proceedings on the assaults, with reports for the public at each stage; The General Prosecutor, the head of the SBU, the Minister of Internal Affairs and the President should meet with regional representatives of the public sector and establish communication, to reveal their stance; to create in the Verkhovna Rada Temporary Investigation Commission on attacks on activists in 2017-2018 with the mandatory representation of parity participation in its work of civil society’s representatives; the Minister of Internal Affairs should immediately publicly report from the parliamentary rostrum on the state of investigation of cases and bring this issue to the agenda of the next plenary meeting.
In the case of neglecting these requirements, civil society representatives reserve the right to protect their own safety with all means available. More than fifty local NGOs, more than a dozen political parties and many individual signatories put forward this appeal.
Not to divide into our guys and the others
It’s worth mentioning that the young representatives of “Natsionalni Druzhyny” in spotted camouflage (top) and jogging pants with sneakers (bottom) were among the first who came. Some attendees noted that these guys were brought here to perform the publicity stunt for this semi-militaristic group. Indeed, they are often accused of beating activists and members of Roma communities. However, participation in the rally was not limited by any criteria. In addition to activists from civic organizations, there were representatives of political parties, whose participants have also recently suffered from attacks.
However, Maria Tomak, coordinator of the Media Initiative for Human Rights, stressed for Opinion that the list from the published statement was somewhat shortened because it doesn’t mention the activists who were victims of violence from the right-wing organizations:
“As I understand, there were discussions when they were making this list: whom to add, and whom not. For example, there are no activists who have recently been stabbed, I mean anarchists. We must talk about everyone who has been attacked because of his activities or his views. Since the representatives of the right-wing organizations are among the signatories to this statement, they don’t need the investigation of the cases where they are the initiators of assaults. Of course, we don’t support this.
Human rights lawyers are working on a complete list and, accordingly, requesting an investigation of all cases, not just those associated with radical activists or right-wing groups. This approach involves supporting the idea of the rule of law.”
Attorney General is offended
A few hours before the rally on Bankova, the prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, transferred a part of the blame for the committed to activists (They had it coming: Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko blamed activists for hatred to power), after attending a meeting of the National Security and Defense Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine: “The blame in this situation lies not only with criminals and poor-quality work of law-enforcement bodies but also with the atmosphere of total hatred of authorities, which is spread by some civic activists.” At the same time, the head of the GPU urged activists to cooperate with the authorities.
“The Attorney General said that it was activists’ own fault because they don’t like the authorities. But, excuse me, you shouldn’t steal, lie and do absolutely lawless things,” said MP Viktor Chumak. You can love the authorities only for the fact that it executes laws, that it is open and transparent. And we have a feudal system. Law enforcement bodies are a part of that system, they are bounded with politicians through “esprit de corps”. All of them are united, like a squid. And there’s no sense talking about their passivity. Without a political order, they will do nothing.”
“He (Yuriy Lutsenko – author’s note) said that the activists create an atmosphere of hatred around authorities, and I would say that the authorities create an atmosphere of impunity in the country,” said journalist Denys Kazanskyi. “And because of this, no high-rank corrupt official, a representative of the Yanukovych regime, or a modern corruptor, have never been imprisoned.”
Is there a possibility of a new Maidan?
How can it end? Does the silence of the government mean that a new Maidan may happen in the country?
“This rally is just a little warning,” Victor Chumak is convinced. “Do you remember the beginning of the Maidan? Everything can happen.”
However Valeriy Dymov does not associate such protests with Maidan, although he warns against the negative consequences in the future: “If the state doesn’t punish the perpetrators, then this monopoly right can be scattered between groups, forces and even the people who will use it. Maybe even irresponsibly.”
“I wouldn’t like to repeat the revolutionary events, but I think that without this, the elections will take place, and the authorities will receive the result it deserves,” Denys Kazanskyi assured. “As for the result, it will be negative.”
Interesting detail. Among the participants of the rally on the Bankova street, there were employees in the uniform with an inscription “Police of dialogue” on the back. They didn’t prohibit to write on asphalt, but they were carefully examining the writings. Obviously, they were monitoring the absence of insulting inscriptions for authorities in the Kyiv downtown. However, such inscriptions are unlikely to appear if a genuine dialogue will go on in the society, rather than brutal punishment of those who are dissatisfied with arbitrariness will be performed. Indeed, a constructive dialogue is needed between the authorities and active citizens. And this is one of the protesters’ demands.
By Viktor Tsvilikhovsky
Photo by Ivan Pecheny