22.03.2010 | Oleksandr Stepanenko

Land shenanigans in the Ternopil region


Chilling cases involving public officials fleecing a village community came to light during an outreach visit by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] Ternopil Advice Centre in the village of Mali Chornokintsi in the Ternopil oblast (Chortkiv rajon).

The villagers gathered in the premises of the Village Council were stunned by news of two official instructions which transferred 62.5 hectares of agricultural land from the reserve fund on the territory under the Council’s jurisdiction into the private ownership of 34 unknown individuals. Not one of these 34 people lives even in the broader area, yet each is to receive free of charge property rights over 1.7 to 2 hectares of fertile land!

It transpires that the Head of the Chorkiv Rajon Administration Taras Kapusta during recent months has signed two instructions “on allocating land plots as the property of citizens to carry out personal farming activities beyond the boundaries of an inhabited point on the territory of the Mali Chornokintsi Village Council”. The land in question had always belonged to farmers. In 1939 it was confiscated for use as a collective farm and after this was dissolved and shares allocated, the land was included in the reserve fund.

The legal grounds for privatizing the land can, the rajon officials claim, be found in Item 12 of the Transitional Provisions of the Land Code. According to this Item, the local authorities have power with regard to delineating State-owned or municipal property to distribute land outside inhabited areas.

Nobody of course discussed or agreed this bold privatization with the village community and bodies of local self-government. They were simply presented with a fait accompli.

What perhaps most outrages the villagers is that none of them, not even those who worked for 30 or 40 years on the collective farm received a land plot of 2 hectares. The average land share allocated in Mali Chornokintsi was a mere 0.67 hectares.  People are asking what those unidentified people have done for the State or village to deserve from Mr Kapusta & Co. such a generous present. What will the village community, the local budget, or the State receive as a result of the privatization of 62 hectares of chornozem [fertile soil]?  And if neither the village, nor the State made a profit over this deal, then who has become richer on it?

The villagers gave a good deal of testimony regarding machinations with shares and the privatization of land in many other villages of the rajon. Some of the land disputes between villagers and the Rajon Administration are being examined at the level of the Supreme Administrative Court. This is while the Raion Administration has virtually not begun the demarcation process of municipal or State-owned land, drawing up urban construction documentation, plans for environmental networks, water reserves, etc.

It would seem that the rajon officials see their powers in the area of land policy only as concerning privatization according to questionable deals. Obviously not bypassing themselves or their close ones.

Is it not time to stop this lawlessness?

The Ternopil UHHRU Advice Centre is ready to provide free consultation to residents of Mali Chornokintsi to defend their socio-economic rights.

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