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Suspected of delivering life-saving helmets

09.07.14

In a truly absurd twist, Polish volunteers trying to bring bulletproof vests and helmets to Ukraine to help save Ukrainian soldiers’ lives are under investigation by a Polish prosecutor.  The problem lies in the Polish prosecutor’s strict adherence to a quirk of EU legislation which lumps helmets and bulletproof vests together with firearms.

Radio Svoboda reports that the Polish NGO Open Dialogue has been bringing bulletproof vests to Ukraine since EuroMaidan.  The helmets and vests are now for the National Guard and Ukrainian soldiers with the money for them raised from Poles and Ukrainians abroad. .

The NGO’s head, Bartoś Kramek says that they have brought 270 bulletproof vests so far.  However at the beginning they didn’t know that they needed special permission from the Polish Interior Ministry and Ministry of the Economy.  This led to the first unpleasant incident at the end of March when 42 vests were confiscated by border guards, and the case passed to the prosecutor. Gear worth 10 thousand USD is now in storage until all the circumstances have been clarified.

Kramek calls the law absurd in that it doesn’t allow for any exceptions.  The law in force throughout the EU sees no difference between a bulletproof vest, a helmet, tank, or machine gun, with all being treated as weapons.  Failure to obtain a special permit for transporting any of them could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

He is concerned that the prosecutor could penalize even the members of the Warsaw EuroMaidan who helped transport the vests and the drivers who crossed the border. And in the meantime, potentially life-saving vests are not getting to the people who need them.

Another case is also under investigation, regarding the transportation without a permit of 500 helmets and 10 vests.  

One by one

As reported, individuals have already been active in helping to bypass the idiotic law.  Each person is allowed to carry one item across the border for their personal safety.  And this they’ve done.  A month ago people from Lviv and the oblast carried 694 helmets across the Polish-Ukrainian border, with each needing to be carried separately through the pedestrian border crossing.

Over 300 people responded to a call for help circulated through social networks. They passed through the border crossing on foot and returned with the helmets, presented as their own property.The money for the helmets was donated, and Lviv businesspeople met the expenses for the coaches on which people travelled to the Medyka-Shegyni Pedestrian Border Crossing.  

Radio Svoboda reports that a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office has said that a decision on the vests and helmets should be forthcoming in a couple of days.

The situation is particularly frustrating given the generally inadequate response from EU countries.  These have acknowledged, even condemned Russia’s extremely active role in the present trouble in eastern Ukraine, yet continue to avoid imposing serious sanctions against Russia.  Since the latter has at very least allowed a steady supply of arms and ammunition to cross the Russian border and reach the Kremlin-backed militants, slavish adherence to an EU directive for quite different circumstances seems especially unhelpful. 

Halya Coynash   

see also:
Ongoing saga over bulletproof vests v. EU legislation
Lviv residents bring 700 helmets from Poland – on foot
KHPG calls for evacuation measures from ATO-affected areas