Pressure and Offensive on Social Protests
The Centre for Society Research has issued its monitoring report for 10 to 16 December. During that period it recorded an increase in the number of protests and, at the same time, in the number of repressive measures taken against them. If in the previous week there had been 40 protests, the number had now leapt to 72. In 24, or one third of the cases, the protests met with some form of repressive measures. This is the highest figure over the last three months.
On 13 December outside the Kyiv Court of Appeal a rally of opposition parties took place in support of Yulia Tymoshenko. Their attempt to set up a stage resulted in scuffles with the Berkut riot police present. The next day there was another scuffle when supporters of Tymoshenko tried to push their way through to the court.
In Kyiv on 10 December members of the Coalition of Participants in the Orange Revolution, the Black Committee and Brotherhood tried to set up a tent on the platform of the metro station Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square, the metro station leads out onto it – translator]. They were expressing protest at rigged elections in Russia and restrictions on peaceful assembly in Ukraine. There was a scuffle between protesters and the police, with one of the demonstrators being detained.
On 12 December the Zhovtnevy District Court in Zaporizhya passed sentence on activists from the Tryzub nationalist organization over the beheading last December of a bust to Stalin on the property of the Zaporizhya Communist Party. As reported, the young men received 2 and 3 year suspended sentences and were also ordered to pay the Communist Party around 10 thousand UAH. A court order had banned the rightwing Svoboda Party from holding a picket, however Svoboda activists, as well as Communist Party supporters gathered outside the court. A fight broke out and participants were detained.
Aside from those situation-linked repressive measures against ideological and political protests, the authorities also applied systematic repression against socio-economic protests. The protests by Chernobyl clean-up workers and Afghanistan War veterans reached their peak in the second half of November and during the first 10 days of December, began petering out. Partial concessions and repressive measures by the State removed the tent camps in Donetsk, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and other cities. The hunger strikes ended and there seemed nothing to stop the local authorities from putting up New Year trees. The tradition with these trees was most often used to justify court bans and the use of enforcement measures against protesters.
On 11 December in the evening the Chernobyl clean-up workers in Donetsk officially announced that they were ending their protest. Members of the municipal services and police used force to dismantle the last tent remaining from the tent camp. There were several people in the tent at the time who refused to leave it (as reported, by no means all the protesters supported the decision to end the protest - translator). The law enforcement officers ignored this, as well as the fact that the tent was officially registered as a public reception office by an MP. Trees were erected at the place where the protests had stood, outside the Pension Fund building, the next day.
Meanwhile in Lviv where the tent camp remained until 15 December, the Chernobyl clean-up workers complained of pressure and intimidation by the law enforcement bodies and unidentified individuals. The latter turned up at the protesters’ homes and threatened to deprive them of their disability group status. There was also increased police pressure outside the tent camp itself.
On 14 December in Kharkiv the police dispersed a rally of Chernobyl clean-up workers who arrived at the Regional State Administration to mark the special Day in memory of those who took part in the clean up operation after the Chernobyl Disaster. The court order banning the protest was handed to the protesters just a couple of minutes before it was due to begin.
That same day in Kyiv there were scuffles between the organizers of a protest by Chernobyl clean-up workers outside the Cabinet of Ministers and Berkut riot police officers. The situation became more fraught after the demonstrators tried to set up a stage with sound equipment which the Berkut officers tried to confiscate, resulting in a fight.
On 15 December in Donetsk the police prevented representatives of an MP from erecting a tent for receiving Chernobyl clean-up workers. [This method has long been used by MPs to flout court orders banning peaceful protests – translator]. The police explained their actions by citing a ban from the City Executive Committee against any tents.
In Kharkiv on 16 December the police appeared at the flat of the leader of the Kharkiv City Committee of Veterans of Chernobyl, Vladimir Proskurin and took him by force for questioning. Another activist was detained at the Chernobyl Union of Ukraine conference outside Kyiv that same day and brought back for questioning.
The alleged grounds for the questioning were suspicions that their papers identifying them as former Chernobyl clean-up workers are forged. Both men were questioned until late in the evening on Friday and then again on Saturday. Both had charges laid, however these were withdrawn on Monday.
The men are convinced that they were detained to stop them taking part in the above-mentioned conference which was due to elect Yury Andreyev whom many of the protesters see as having sold out the movement (see Chernobyl’s Ongoing Victims).
The measures by the State authorities against former Chernobyl clean-up workers over the last week can only be described as pressure and offensive. One has the impression that after the termination of mass-scale and long-lasting protests, the regime has decided to crush those disgruntled, show their sphere of influence and “put them in their place”. So that others don’t think to follow their example, and come out onto the streets to uphold their rights. Fortunately the former Chernobyl clean-up workers have set another example, showing how, through protest, they can force the government to make concessions.