war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.


Civic Assembly of Ukraine speaks out on reforms needed to make elections mean something

The fierce political battle raging among the leaders of the country and the main political forces supporting them has degenerated into a legal free-for-all which is destroying the remnants of the country’s legal system as well as the foundations of social coexistence. Such action, whatever noble intentions they may be cloaked in, are in their very essence anti-social.

The political inadequacy, confrontational attitude and helplessness of those politicians when it comes to developing and implementing national strategies have been especially exacerbated in the face of the world economic crisis. Even this crisis has not had an impact on our ambitious and self-obsessed politicians who are waging a war of self-destruction, not balking at the destruction of the country’s very statehood.

The members of the Civic Assembly of Ukraine has since July 2007 been warning that without a change of Constitution, without establishing clear rules and frameworks for political activities shared both by members of the public and politicians, any pre-term elections cannot provide a way out of the crisis.  It is for this reason that we are proposing carrying out radical constitutional reform by implementing citizens’ constituent by the adoption of a new Constitution by a special constituent – a Constitutional Assembly.

Yet the President and parliamentary forces in their efforts to use the Constitution in their own party-political interests have undertaken inept attempts to implement constitutional reform via the so-called National Constitutional Council or inter-factional parliamentary conspiracies, closed to any impact from citizens who are the only source of constituent power in the country.

All subsequent events have proved our warnings justified, and the crisis has merely intensified.

The snap elections declared by the President in conditions where the legal system has been half ruined by politicians themselves and with a deepening of the socio-political crisis, will not be able to improve the situation if they take place under the system of closed party lists which are advantageous only to political leader-oriented, oligarchic corporations and their sponsors.

Current electoral legislation de facto deprives an absolute majority of the public of active electoral rights and significantly restricts the practical exercising of passing electoral rights. This results in the alienation of those in power from the population, disorientation and the collapse of the state mechanism, as well as the substitution of the rule of law for political, or more precisely, clan expediency and the rule of the strong, and systematic violations of human rights and civil liberties.  There is no other way of overcoming the crisis than to create real, reliable and effective mechanisms of influence of the public on the political processes and on the authorities at all levels in a legal, democratic manner.

We therefore demand from the President, the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada that before any elections, including snap parliamentary elections are held, that they see to the following as a matter of urgency:

  • Stop violating the laws and Constitution, abusing the law and legal procedures, the destruction of the judiciary, manipulations with court appointments and court bodies, and stop exerting pressure on the courts;
  • Pass a law allowing for a Constitutional Assembly as the single body of constituent power;
  • Pass new electoral laws which envisage the introduction of open regional electoral lists and preferential lists for parliamentary elections, and the majority system for elections to bodies of local self-government;

In our view the optimum solution would be to hold elections after a change to the whole system of power, while the absolute minimum which is acceptable is to hold snap parliamentary elections under a new electoral law.

The elections should lead to an improvement in the quality of those in power through renewal by members of the public.

In order to defend the principles of democracy, the law and of Ukrainian statehood, we announce the calling of an Extraordinary Civic Assembly of Ukraine. We call on all civic communities to consolidate for the sake of Ukraine. In the event that our demands are ignored, and the destruction of the principles of Ukraine’s statehood continue, we reserve the right to any action aimed at restoring citizens’ power and the principles of the rule of law, based on the principle of the sovereign power of the people.

24 October 2008

Against torture and ill-treatment

KHPG lawyer refused access to prisoners

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has issued a press release regarding obstructions put it its way when trying to investigate allegations of force used against prisoners.

On 13 October KHPG received news that force had been unlawfully applied against several prisoners in the Temnivska Penal Colony No. 100 after they were placed in a disciplinary isolation unit. Among the prisoners named were some who had previously made complaints against the actions of the colony administration, and they linked the use of force against them with these complaints.

On 14 October lawyer Arkady Bushchenko tried to see a number of the prisoners in order to check the information received. The Head of the Colony was given a letter from KHPG which asked, on the basis of Article 110 § 3 of the Criminal Procedure Code, for the lawyer to be allowed to meet with the prisoners.

However the Head of the Colony refused to allow a meeting. In a letter dated 23 October, he gave reasons for his refusal including the following: “there were no written applications from the prisoners to be given legal aid”, the people mentioned in the letter are mainly serving a disciplinary punishment in a disciplinary cells [DIZO-PCT]; “one person … is employed on the production zone of the institution, and meetings for working prisoners are allowed in non-working time”.

Arkady Bushchenko went again to the Colony on 28 October at 15.30 with a similar letter asking for a meeting with the prisoners. He was once again refused.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group expresses its concern over the fate and well-being of the prisoners mentioned in the information we received.

Over several months until 14 October, Arkady Bushchenko was able without obstruction to meet with  prisoners on the basis of Article 110 § 3 of the Criminal Procedure Code, this enabling him to check information reaching KHPG from various sources, and where necessary provide legal aid.

Given the nature of the information received, the fact that some of the prisoners named a while ago made complaints to the prosecutor’s office about the administration’s behaviour, as well as the abrupt change in the position of the management of the colony with regard to providing the lawyer with access to the prisoners, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has good grounds for assuming that the information received is in keeping with the facts, that a number of prisoners were indeed subjected to unlawful use of force and that the management is taking measures to ensure that the marks indicating ill-treatment disappear and that those responsible for the ill-treatment remain unpunished.

How Ukraine is protecting its citizens against torture

I addressed this issue two years ago in the newspaper “Holos Ukrainy” [“Voice of Ukraine”].  At that stage Ukraine had just ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture [OPCAT] which come into force on 22 June 2006.  The President had signed the ratification law and everybody was waiting for implementation of the provisions, particularly given the fact that the problem of torture, especially by the law enforcement agencies was and remains a serious problem.

Failure to meet challenges in the sphere of human rights

In 2005 the European Court of Human Rights handed down 100 judgments against Ukraine; in 2006 – 119; in 2007 – 120, whereas from 2001 to 2004 there were only 23 judgments. The numbers are rising catastrophically and are expected by experts to increase still further.

One of the likely reasons for this is the failure of State policy to meet demands with regard to human rights, including over the prohibition against torture and ill-treatment.
Perhaps specifically in order to improve the situation, Ukraine did not make use of the right which participating members have to, according to Article 24 of the Protocol, to postpone implementation of their commitments. This means that not later than one year after the Protocol comes into force, the State Party shall maintain, designate or establish one or several independent national preventive mechanisms for the prevention of torture at the domestic level. More than two years have passed since the Protocol became binding on Ukraine and what has been done?

The Protocol states that each State Party shall:

a)  set up a system and mechanisms of national control over places of deprivation of liberty, carried out by independent domestic and international bodies;

b)  create a global system for regular visits carried out by independent domestic and international bodies.

For this purpose, within the UN system, a Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture is created which acts as coordinating body. Yet in Ukraine at state level it has not been resolved where and how a body to coordinate the national preventive mechanism against torture should be created.

Discussions have been continuing for more than two years. A lot of hope was pinned on the Human Rights Ombudsperson with whom the ratification law placed responsibility for implementing the Protocol. Indeed of the present options, the most acceptable is that of creating such an institution within the Secretariat of the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

The Ombudsperson has very broad powers (including with regard to places of detention, pre-trial imprisonment and penal institutions, as well as institutions where people are made to undergo treatment, re-education, psychiatric hospitals, and so forth). The Ombudsperson is obliged to provide the Verkhovna Rada with an annual report on how human rights and civil liberties are being observed and defended in Ukraine. In fact the most recent of these was from summer 2005, and in breach of the law, none has been presented since.

Prevention mechanisms

At the same time other countries which have signed or already ratified OPCAT, are demonstrating progress in protecting their citizens from torture.  At the beginning of October 2008, at the invitation of the

OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and civic organizations, as well as the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research, representatives from the UK, Romania, Finland, Moldova, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Slovenia and Ukraine shared their experience of running national preventive mechanisms.

Bulgaria has yet to ratify the Protocol, although is preparing to do so. Since 2005 the Open Society Institute and the National Police Directorate have been carrying out a project of visits to places of deprivation of liberty by specially trained volunteers in accordance with provisions on national preventive mechanisms. Members of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, on the basis of an agreement with the Ministry of Justice, carry out independent monitoring of penal institutions. They have special passes allowing them to enter prisons accompanied by an officer, talk with people detained, and see prison documentation. They prepare annual reports with recommendations on improvements to legislation.

In Slovenia the tasks and powers involved with national preventive mechanisms are vested with the Ombudsperson, as well (which is interesting) with civic organizations registered in the country.

In Poland the Commissar for the Defence of Civil Rights is in charge of national preventive mechanisms.

In Moldova a consultative council with 11 members has been created attached to the Human Rights Centre which is headed by one of the three Ombudspersons. Ten members are elected from representatives of civic society. The Council began monitoring work in April 2008.

The list of examples can be continued.

As for Ukraine, for the present the only prototype of national preventive mechanisms and visits are the mobile groups on monitoring human rights in the work of the law enforcement agencies created within the MIA system, in cooperation with civic organizations.

Overcoming opposition

What are these visits and why is the importance of creating a system of visits stressed in international documents?  According to Article 3 of OPCAT, “Each State Party shall set up, designate or maintain at the domestic level one or several visiting bodies for the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (hereinafter referred to as the national preventive mechanism.”

Why is it so difficult to overcome opposition both within the police system and outside it to mobile groups? According to domestic legislation, access to places of deprivation of liberty and people held there is available to the Prosecutor, the Human Rights Ombudsperson and investigators. Yet they are all public officials who go there in connection with their official duties. Representatives of civic organizations, local communities and human rights groups cannot get access to closed institutions. Yet it is known that closed institutions prepare the ground for violations, brutal forms of treatment and the use of torture. To break down this situation, a system for regular independent visits of all places of deprivation of liberty, as well as those where a person is dependent on personnel (psychiatric hospitals, children’s homes, homes for the elderly, army subdivisions, etc).

The idea behind such visits is set down in the European Convention against Torture according to which international experts from the European Committee against Torture [CAT] carry out regular visits to member states. The time of such visits is announced, but the places which the experts are to visit is kept secret.  Positive European experience was taken into account when preparing the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. The system of visits was thus turned into a global mechanism of monitoring of human rights in closed institutions.

The creation of human rights mobile groups was based on the need to counter human rights abuse by police officers. At the time that these were created in Ukraine, only the UK had similar experience. In 2006-2007 such forms of public monitoring appeal in Moldova, Armenia and Romania.  The work of the mobile groups is based on the principles of lawfulness, humanity, objectivity, impartiality and non-interference in the operational and official activities of Internal Affairs bodies. The participation of civic organizations is mandatory. The conclusions contained in monitoring reports are of an advisory nature but in accordance with regulations must be taken into account by MIA bodies.

Since 2006, mobile groups have made more than 400 visits (including 85 just in August 2008) and have examined approximately 80 percent of all temporary holding facilities [ITT]. Their work has been facilitated thanks to the creation of a Department for Monitoring Observance of Human Rights by MIA bodies and the work of Human Rights Advisors to the Minister.

The following main systematic violations by police officers before a criminal investigation is formally initiated and during the administrative process were identified by the monitoring:

The use of administrative procedure (administrative detention) in order to gather evidence regarding the possible involvement by the person in criminal activities;

The use of physical force during detention, even where these measures were not absolutely necessary, according to the law;

A formal approach to explaining to suspects what their rights are, boiling down to simply signing a protocol that this explanation has been given in accordance with legislation;

Obstructing participation by a defender in the criminal and administrative processes;

Unwarranted refusals to allow applications from the defender or the suspects or accused themselves;

Infringement of the procedure enabling interested parties to become familiar with the material of the criminal file;

The lack of opportunity to engage a free defender up to the trial; even when a person is brought in, this is often of a merely formal nature;

The infringement of existing procedure for detention on suspicion of committing a crim;

The non-compliance of conditions in which those arrested are held even with domestic norms (space per person, sanitary and hygienic conditions, food, mistakes in filling in documents sometimes leading to a person “being lost”, etc.

Mobile groups

The initiative by the MIA, civic and international organizations on creating and developing mobile groups monitoring observance of human rights in the bodies and subdivisions of the MIA can be considered a positive attempt by one enforcement body to carry out monitoring and preventative work, while also formulating a model which can be used at the national level. Mobile groups do not however substitute national preventive mechanisms and do not remove the need to create the latter.

The success of the experience with mobile groups has been recognized by international organizations and the world community. They were noted during Ukraine’s reporting to the UN Human Rights Committee in May 2008 as a serious achievement.  Council of Europe Human Rights Commissar Thomas Hammerburg has supported this common initiative by the police and civic society. There are thus grounds for predicting that this activity will be extended to other law enforcement bodies responsible for places of deprivation of liberty. This would be first and foremost the State Department for the Execution of Sentences, as well as other State structures which have institutions involving certain restriction of liberty – the Ministries of Health, Defence, Employment and Social Policy, of Education and Science, etc. This is appropriate since Article 4 states that “deprivation of liberty means any form of detention or imprisonment or the placement of a person in a public or private custodial setting which that person is not permitted to leave at will by order of any judicial, administrative or other authority”

This work should be carried out bearing in mind the principles of openness, discussion, involvement of the institutions of civic society, scholars, international and non-government organizations. As recommended by the Subcommittee on Prevention of the UN Committee against Torture, “national preventive measures should be created publicly with the participation of all agents of civic society on prevention of torture and on a transparent basis”. Knowing the experience and reality in Ukraine, one can predict that it is specifically transparency and public openness which will present the greatest challenge to our government.

Kateryna Levchenko, Doctor of Law, Professor and Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs

Slightly abridged from the original at

Freedom of expression

Ministry of Positive Content

Try to imagine it: in response to the world financial crisis, the UK’s Deputy Speaker in Parliament invites all journalists to a special meeting, called to discuss the disturbing lack of positive news in their broadcasts.  Various solutions get put forward, including an interview with the Chancellor in a relaxed setting about his love of dogs.

Not entirely absurd, of course, since the crisis is partially escalating due to panic in the face of bad news from all sides. On the other hand the news is bad, add all the softeners you like, but good it is not.  The other reason for being less than amused is that such an event took place on 2 October in Ukraine. Journalists came and in all seriousness discussed the “problem” of negative news.

The roundtable, entitled “Formation on Ukraine’s television of positive information content” was organized by Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Mykola Tomenko to call on the media “to fight negative material at the legislative and moral – ethical levels”. In endeavouring to find out what I was obtusely missing, I reread two reports about the event carefully.  The Deputy Speaker presented two examples where negative news prevailed.  Without detail or comparison of the news broadcasts with those on other television channels, it is impossible to assess the newsworthiness or lack of such in those which aroused the politician’s wrath. Seemingly, however, the news was true.

When one of Ukraine’s legislators suggests fighting negative news at a legislative level, it seems desirable to know what exactly he wants to shield us from. Precisely that remains, at least to me, unclear.  It does certainly happen that there is nothing much to report and yet it looks rather odd to cancel the news for want of any. In such cases, taking stories from a crime chronicle alone is misleading the public. The purpose of showing the results of violent crimes in graphic detail should also be considered.  Unfortunately we know of certain patterns where, for example, a reported suicide can prompt others to take their own lives. It is well to keep this in mind, however, as with reports about world events, awareness of possible repercussions should make us more sensitive and responsible, not shut us up.

Having said all of this, I remain baffled as what on earth all those politicians and media were doing in the Verkhovna Rada, or more simply, why politicians want to have any say in this at all. They clearly do: the Deputy Speaker quotes the law on information, on television and radio broadcasting, on public morals, and suggests enforcing these. 

“According to the Deputy Speaker, the fashion for violence and negative content in the news on television directly violates current legislation, demoralizes society, especially the younger generation.”

With such serious albeit extremely vague accusations, some specific examples would not go amiss. There are restrictions on when certain material with violence or explicit sex can be shown, a prohibition in the Criminal Code on inciting enmity, and so forth. Yet here we are talking about the news and I am blessed if I can fathom what the politician means by “a search for mechanisms for balancing positive and negative information while definitely observing the principles of freedom of speech and media independence.”

You can just imagine the changes. ““Sorry, but we’ve had our quota of negative news today – tell us about the financial crisis, the war in Georgia, the floods, the bomb in Pakistan tomorrow.”  And as regards one’s diet of positive fare, the scope is simply vast for “jeansa”, i.e. covert advertising dressed up as “news”. It will be that much harder to fight, with editorial boards shrugging their shoulders and referring to the quotas for positive items.

If any politicians are suggesting using legislative means to protect us from negativity then, excuse me, they need to define their terms.  Most vague and worrying is the reference to “dominance of violence and negative content in television news”.  There are thus two separate focuses of criticism however what precisely the information of negative content actually contains is anyone’s guess. So something terrible is demoralizing society but what it is exactly and how the demoralization is reflected the politician does not specify.

The Head of the Expert Commission on the Protection of Public Morals is only a little more specific. While previously the Commission’s concern was with fighting pornography and violence, their tasks are now apparently much broader, being linked “with preventing denigration of national honour, individual dignity on ethnic grounds, xenophobia, attacks on places etc of national or religious importance, attempts to aggressively influence the formation of the younger generation’s worldview.”

If one reads the Law on the Protection of Public Morals, other issues are mentioned in passing, but the main focus is on violence and sex. No other area is spelled out in any detail, and it is unclear how the respected members of the Commission will be arming themselves before hurtling into battle in defence of our morals.  The mind similarly boggles as to what their report expected next year will contain.

There are undoubtedly issues with hate speech, xenophobia and sometimes calls to violence in the media. They need to be addressed after clearly and as unequivocally as possible defining the acceptable restrictions to freedom of speech. This definition should reflect the principle articulated by the European Court of Human Rights, that restrictions must be those necessary in a democratic society.

What do we have here?  News with negative content is supposedly demoralizing society.  Some cause and effect situations are clear: smoking causes cancer.  The shop assistant who sells the cigarettes to an adult is not responsible if the latter gets cancer. Here too in this fog of vague terms it is not necessarily clear that the vendor, or in this case, journalists are to blame.

The Ukrainian media could in theory demonstrate national uniqueness by boldly changing the whole understanding of “breaking news” which on those television channels concerned about protecting public morals would have to take their place in the queue on days overfilled with negative content.  Only, what for?

In fact it’s not so difficult to uncover the secret of negative content. When there is no escape from cries of treachery and plans for overthrowing the State, of this or that judge’s alleged venality, from blunt talk about the price of a deputy’s mandate, when we face a repeat of elections without choice, without clarity as to who and what the voters are voting for, the only imponderable must be who is not experiencing “demoralization”.

In a democratic society politicians have clear tasks, as do journalists and others. There are more effective means of reducing negative content in the news than abusing its bearers.

Prohibition of discrimination

When a country is ill, you hear cries of “They’re coming in hordes”

A plane lands at Boryspol Airport from Tbilisi – the capital of a country were Ukrainians are seen as a brother people and are met with Caucuses hospitality.

Yet the first passengers from the Tbilisi flight, stepping on Ukrainian soil, are within minutes swearing: “Magis deda vatire” (“may your mother weep” – Georgian). They mutter this curse at the Ukrainian border guard officials. Those Georgian nationals not met by Ukrainians prepared to guarantee that the person will live with them and will leave Ukraine at the right time, are put back on the plane and forcibly returned to their homeland.

In Ukrainian legislation there is nothing to prohibit a citizen from Georgia or any other country from entering Ukraine if he doesn’t have relatives or friends here. Maybe he just comes to admire the Dnipro River or to drink coffee in Lviv like thousands of tourists from western countries. Yet the border guard officials explain their action which should outrage any Ombudsperson by saying that their internal instructions allow them to hold “special talks” and to not allow people into the country who strike them as suspicious.

It sometimes seems like the Ukrainian enforcement bodies are deliberately pinning the image of enemy on people from the Caucuses who are quite legally in Ukraine.. If some burglar turns out to be Georgian, Armenian or Azerbaijani, you can be sure that the Public Liaison Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] will circulate that information with a headline stressing that a Ukrainian’s flat was cleaned out specifically by a Georgian, Armenian or Azerbaijani criminal.

According to the same MIA there are no organized ethnic gangs in Ukraine unlike in the USA where the most powerful criminal syndicate “Casa Nostra” is made up entirely of Italian immigrants, and its heads exclusively of Sicilians. Yet nobody in the US would think of not allowing tourists or immigrants from Sicily into the country just because their fellow country people have organized one of the world’s most notorious criminal syndicates. What is more in most states journalists are not allowed by law to mention the nationality of a criminal. They understand there that the word “criminal” is just as international as “peasant” or “worker”.

In 1993 Georgia lost a war which it was effectively waging with Russia and lost Abkhazia, 80% of the population of which was made up of ethnic Georgians. A fair number of the 300 thousand refugees from Abkhazia were scattered around the world, with a good number settling in Ukraine. There are an especially large number in the Donetsk region. These Georgian nationals can’t find official jobs in Ukraine like other foreign nationals. Ukraine at one time passed extremely strict legislation on immigrants. A business which takes on a foreign national, according to this legislation, has to provide the relevant services with documents certifying that Ukrainian citizens do not want the job. Poles, incidentally, after joining the European Union, when their workers went to Western Europe were forced to soften their restrictions with regard to Ukrainian workers. And is Ukraine really faced with the risk of unneeded workers? Aren’t there enough job ads around businesses to make it clear that they need drivers, construction workers, joiners and turners? Yet refugees from other countries who live in Ukraine don’t have the right to find work in order to earn an honest living to feed their families. After the latest events in the Caucuses the Russian-speaking East of Ukraine which has been well worked on by the Party of the Regions, the Communists and Russian television, see every Georgian as their enemy just because Georgia dared to stand up to Russia. My relative had a shop assistant shout at her that “Your Saakashvili should be hung” and refuse to serve her during the war.

In hospitable Ukraine people from the Caucuses are better off not going on to the street for no reason. Every time I have to be at a railway station (with my Ukrainian passport and face of a person from the Caucuses) the border control people invariably hassle me, in front of hundreds of people humiliatingly looking through my suitcase and studying my documents. One time when I didn’t have my passport with me, the border guard actually went to the trouble of accompanying me to my flat - to make sure that I have the right to breathe Ukrainian air.

Social and economic rights

New Ruling Class

The following is a summary of the results of a field study carried out by the Civic Committee for the Protection of Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties (Luhansk) as part of a project entitled “The New ruling class in the agrarian sector: non-law based practice as a means of accumulating capital, using the Novorozsosh District of the Luhansk region as example”. The study was carried out from 15 September 2007 to 15 May 2008 with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation.

The monitoring group investigated how the “new Nomenklatura”  - the dominant group of owners making up the new ruling class in the agrarian sector – is formed.

The information below is a selection of typical data from the monitoring. It was received through talking to residents of villages and settlements in the district, with officials from bodies of self-government, public meetings, participation in law suits and information requests to the local authorities.  The monitoring covered people living under the jurisdiction of 17 village and settlement councils. The identity of persons breaking the law is not giving to avoid difficulties for the editor.

The village of Novorozsosh

1960 inhabitants; 1286 hectares of agricultural land; 397.5 hectares – reserve and 439 hectares of reserve fund

The leaser of land plots is Joint Limited Liability Company [JLLC] “Promin”, which rents 700 land shares, as well as property shares. The size of the land plot according to the certificates is 8.08 cadastre hectares, a State act has been issued for 64,365 hectares and the enterprise uses it only for ploughed land and hay. Rent for the use of land is not paid to the co-owners. The grazing land is also at their disposal with documents having been drawn up. In conversations with the villagers it transpired that there is nowhere to take cattle from their own yards and poultry.  Everything is being used by Promin. According to two milkmaids, one with more than 40 years experience, they are frightened to even ask the leaseholders why they can’t let their own cattle graze on the land plots where a heard of Promin cows graze.

The typical situation with the property plots is that the certifications are issued, however the actual property in the general complex is used by Promin without any agreements for lease or sale and purchase. The issue is not even discussed. The property works for the founders of Promin which has effectively seized all the land which is used for the personal needs of private individuals.

The technology is valued without the knowledge or consent of the villager-co-owners. Those working there are frightened to put forward any proposals or conditions of rent for land or property plots since dismissals immediately follow. There have been a fair number of dismissals: V. Narozhny, H Chapa, V. Kolesnik. They have their own view as to the grounds for their “resignations”. Kolesnik even had to change his place of residence. According to pensioners (five are named) it is better to be silent than to make enemies of the founders, since they’re the bosses in the village and they dictate their terms.

It is typical for rural people these days to silently conform to any kind of arbitrary behaviour, even to oppression. Villager-letters are totally dependent on lessees who have changed from former communist heads of the kolkhoz to business people. Such “businesspeople” at the initial stage appropriated the villagers’ property thus depriving them of the possibility of independently working their land or creating a service-providing cooperative.

The problem of problems Is to get work, even more so a position. Things work on blood relations or close contacts. The bodies of local self-government, the village council are inevitably made up to meet the demands of the lessee boss. For example, the Head of the Novorozsosh Village Council is the wife of the founder of Promin, the secretary of the council is the daughter-in-law of the head of the district treasury, and her son works as a medical officer in the police, her sister is the deputy head of the Pension Fund, her brother works in the district department for agriculture. The village council land surveyor is the wife of the manager of the JLLC “Agroprodservis” which manages things over the territory of the council, while her daughter is the chief expert on reform of management of agriculture and food production. Even the district police officer for the council area has to be a relative or someone close to the bosses, and this is indeed the case with Officer C. being the son-in-law of Land Surveyor P.

In the Pension Fund, the prosecutor’s office, the tax office you’ll find only relatives with family ties to the founders of the LLC, using other people’s property, land almost free of charge and cheap labour. And nobody says anything.

Therefore the court rulings on the demands for their property shares by A. Kovalyova, Kh. Andrushchenko, Y. Shcherbak and S. Sarafan have not been enforced and cannot be with such an approach to appointing civil servants – the new Nomenklatura look after their own at the district level.


1237 inhabitants, of whom 550 are pensioners with 498 people working on a seasonal basis. The economic structure on the area of the village council is the Engels JLLC. As a result of the reform of the Engels Kolkhoz No. 648, its members received the right to land and property shares. The land was formerly divided into shares however certificates were not issued personally to each owner. The size of the share in conventional cadastre units was 10.89 hectares. To this day 644 people have not received their certificates of land shares, and cannot get a State act affirming their ownership rights to the land plot.  Some of them – Y. Khavarchuk, L. Dontsova, Y. Veremeyenko, I. Slatimova, A. Slatimov, H. Klimova, and A. Pabych have approached the law enforcement agencies and prosecutor’s office to defend their rights to a certificate of ownership of the land share and allocation of property.  The prosecutor’s office of the district, region and the Prosecutor General’s Office have since 2004 been engaged in correspondence with the applicants (35 people), yet have not taken any decision. The District Prosecutor “does not see any criminal elements” in the actions of the Engels JLLC who registered a State act on the land share ownership of 646 people in the name of the legal entity of the  Engels JLLC, i.e. himself. In registering this agreement, the village council presented in the name of the owners of 646 certificates statements addressed to the head of the Novorozsosh District Administration S. Chernyavsky and authority to the Engels JLLC. The shareholders only learned of this when Y. Khavarchuk approached the village council asking for documents confirming that she and her husband owned land and property shares. Y. Khavarchuk (Klimenko),  L. Dontsova, Y. Veremeyenko, I. Slatimova, A. Slatimov, H. Klimova, A.H. and A.I. Babich, H. Klimova, H. Nekruty, I. and S. Zykranev are still asserting their property rights in the Novorozsosh District Court.  The court uses any pretext to drag out the hearings into the law suits. Applications to the Prosecutor General (collective and individual) were sent to the Novorozsosh District Prosecutor’s Office which in some cases has not even reacted with a formal fob-off.  The property shares of 646 citizens have been supposedly bought off the joint owners on condition that their value is repaid over 33 years!

The boss in the village is Z, the head of the Engels JLLC. The villagers are his subordinates. He and his relatives deal with people without any labour legislation at their own discretion. Z. has several shops in Kamyanka, the drinking water in the village is run by his business, the pond also is Z’s, nobody knows on what conditions, and even children aren’t allowed to swim in it.  The village school is Z’s property, and the director is his mother-in-law, does not obey or answer to anybody and does her own thing. Children are divided up into “their own” and simply poor children. The specially equipped class and playroom are for her grandson Ivan. Other children are forbidden to go there. Poor children don’t even have the opportunity to receive food since there parents don’t work at the Engels JLLC. Z. tries to employ people from other villages so that his own people agreed to any conditions. This creates the illusion of competition for jobs. Those who come from other villages don’t stick it for long, but his own people become more submissive.  This means that bond slavery has been brought in.

If one images the life of village residents from the point of view of social organization, then villagers are completely redundant with the exception of the 13 founders of the Engels JLLC. Everything in the village belongs to Z: the shops, the school, the kindergarten, the sauna, the clinic with treatment and diagnosis offices where villagers are only given assistance with Z’s knowledge. Z. pays the doctors. The main source of Z’s power is land which the villages effectively do not even have a legal relation to. Z supposedly settles with the villagers for the rent of the land, however this is a fiction. The villagers for Z. are an article for expenditure and therefore their rights can be taken into account only in order to reduce this expenditure.

If one of the villages tries to mention his or her rights, punishment is instantaneous. Z. issues an order to sell nothing to this creature in the shop, to refuse medical treatment, and he won’t even let them use the machine to clear out the toilet pit. Thus all civic relations in the village are based on personal dependence on Z, like in Pushkin’s Troyekurov.

The facts cited here, and these are just a part of the information we received during the monitoring, record the first, initial stage of the formation of a new ruling class in the agrarian sector of the economy. However there are important factors here such as the presence of legal regulation of land and social relations in the process of transformation of a historic scale where the very foundations of the country were changing.

As it transpired the law here was indeed an orphan.

The Presidential Decree from 3 December 1999 “On urgent measures to accelerate the reform of the agrarian sector of the economy led to a qualitative “breakthrough” in the carrying out of land reform in our country.

However straight after the passing of this Decree, it turned out that there were considerable legal obstacles to its implementation. The point was that the issue of land lease was regulated by the Law “On land lease” passed on 6 October 1998.  According to Article 3 of the Law the objects subject to lease are land plots which are owned by individuals or legal entities of Ukraine, territorial communities, villages, settlements, cities and the State. A land share is not a land plot as it transpired and cannot be leased out according to the rules set down in the law on land lease, for example, adhering to the requirements of Article 14 of the Law.

Yet the vast majority of new agricultural enterprises created as a result of the reorganization of kolkhozes concluded lease agreements specifically for land shares with the former kolkhoz members. Unfortunately the lease agreements for the land shares did not fix the condition and quality of the land or the duty of the lessee to use it properly, preserve it, and to return it when the lease expires. This is impossible in principle given such lease relations. After all the owner of the land share doesn’t and cannot know which particularly piece of land s/he is letting to the lessee and what condition it is in. accordingly the lessee does not take on any commitment to preserve the rented piece of land and return it when the lease ends. Therefore individuals letting land shares cannot defend their rights and legitimate interests which have been violated by the lessee businesses in court.

So what is the problem in the present day? It lies in the fact that although most villagers have received State acts and are the legal owners of land plots, the lessee farmer or agricultural firm just as before uses the land as an aggregate of the unallocated land plots. Therefore the legal owners of these plots effectively don’t even know where their land plots are in the field and have no possibility of exerting control over their use. This means that the right to dispose of his or her owned land has effectively been taken away from the legal owner, and there is a non-law-based form of lease which blocks the right to enjoy the land (the right to sell, give it, leave it as inheritance, mortgage it, let it, etc).

And the main thing is that the citizen owning a land plot is effectively unable to freely found and independently carry out farming or any other private business, create a cooperate or let the land to another person. There was theoretically such a possibility. However when the lessees rented not only the land shares (later the plots of land), but also the property of the former kolkhoz, they automatically became monopolists and used this opportunity to become de facto the full owner of the land and property. Thus, for example, the property they needed, they immediately simply appropriated or bought out (as a rule for a song), while the other property they sold without the consent of the villagers, ignoring their property rights. The property was thus effectively seized illegally and taken over by the lessee. Examples are provided above.

Therefore the owners of land plots found themselves in a position where they could not take back their plot of land, terminating the lease agreement, and couldn’t for example, organize a service-providing cooperative with other partners; without technology (a tractor, etc) it wasn’t needed. And the lessee used this as a weapon for extra-economic compulsion. As monopolists they can dictate their conditions of work, rent, the form of the agreement and so forth. And to those who don’t agree with the conditions, they say: “If you don’t agree take your land back”.

Thus at the present time in the villages a rather paradoxical situation has arisen where nobody properly owns the land.

After kolkhozes were reorganized into legal entities of a market type which were the successors to the kolkhozes, the latter ceased to function as legal entities and were subject to exclusion from the State register of subjects of business activities. This in turn means that the State act to the right of collective ownership of land issued to such a kolkhoz lost its legal force. The business – the successor to the kolkhoz took all the assets of the kolkhoz barring land.  This was linked with the fact that the legal entities created as a result of the reorganization of the kolkhoz (private enterprises, farms, limited liability companies) are not and cannot be, in accordance with current legislation participants in the right of collective ownership of land.  And if we recall, the reform of the kolkhozes was initiated in order to transfer agricultural goods land use from a legal regime of collective ownership into a legal regime of private ownership of land.

Yet then when villagers received State acts confirming ownership rights to land plots  the lessee’s fields did not have these plots marked out, the land today has merely a formal owner since the villagers own it but don’t use it and effectively lack the possibility of disposing of their land, while the lessees use and dispose of only the fruits of the land, but do not de jure own the land itself, although de facto this is the case.

All of this has led to degradation of production, to social disintegration and regression to more primitive social, economic and political forms and procedures for the life of the country.  We noticed, for example, such primitive (non-legal) forms as seizure of unlawfully appropriated property and land, as well as extra-economic exploitation typical of a pre-capitalist feudal form of production.

For example, everywhere in the district we see the law in effect of accumulated wealth of lessees via undercutting rent, remuneration for labour and at the same time inflating the cost of services (one occasion was recorded in the village of Zakotne where a villager receives 75 UAH for a month’s work on forest felling, while on the same wood cutter for chopping six logs which he brought with his own vehicle, over 3 hours working alone, the boss calculated the cost of this service at 360 UAH!)

The villagers give a negative assessment of the results of the agrarian reform since their standard of living has worsened considerably.

However the mass consciousness does not comprehend the hidden historical element of this process – the fact that the feudalization of socio-economic relations is “cancelling out” the law as such with the “rule of force”, habit and privileges taking its place.

Thus the process of buying up property shares took place with widespread infringements of the property rights of those holding property certificates – the right to a part of collective property:

а) in many cases the villager who are owners of property which in joint general ownership have not received an allocated plot, and their land’s transfer to the management of the new boss was formalized improperly or was not formalized at all at first);

b) owners did not as a rule receive rental payments for the exploitation of their property;

c) unwarranted (aimed at buying it up) multiple revaluing (discounting) property was carried out;

d) liquid property (cattle, cars) were sold without the owners’ consent;

e) real estate in a number of cases was not kept under responsible care or faced degradation or being stolen, or the management deliberately destroyed it. For example, a new cement factory in the village of Zakotne in the Novorozsosh district with 40 jobs was literally destroyed and cut up for metal;

е) redemption of property is, as a rule, carried out according to depreciated cost, so, for example, in the village of Makartetino in the Novorozsosh district the size of a property share was only 618 UAH.(!). this is not in adherence with the rules of procedure for redemption set down in the President’s Decree;

–  the sale of property on competitive terms is not ensured with this countering the unwarranted undercut of the value of the property;

– conditions have not been created to ensure the right to receive shares in kind, and in the free creation of property complexes for the formation of service-providing cooperatives in a competitive environment.

All of this is non-law-based forms of extra-economic coercion, over exploitation of labour and villagers’ property. However it should be noted that such an important condition – a legal vacuum in land relations places the lessee in the position of predator who is also not concerned about the fertility of the soil but simply squeezes the last ounce of benefit from it. In the pursuit of profit each year whole areas are sown with sunflowers without any consideration for agrotechnology.

In summing up, one can say that the violations of property rights are an extremely painful blow to people, depriving them of prospects in life and irreversibly affecting their social behaviour. The scale of the violations of property rights of a large social group of villagers over the last decade will possibly have results which cannot at present be predicted leading to social tension.


Description of the status group which exerts dominant economic and political influence in the district

For the dominant group problem No. 1 at present is to achieve full legitimization of their power and wealth. For this, two tasks need to be resolved, one being political – legal, the other – economic – legal.  The first is how, with the help of “elections” according to party lists to extend for as long as possible these new “Middle Ages”. The second is how in a system of production and appropriation of wealth to overcome the contradictions between de jure and de facto as quickly as possible. The problem lies in the following.

The dominant group does not yet formally have the right to full property rights on the land which it is presently working: it only uses the land plots rented from the villagers. Other powers to dispose of it and own it supposedly remain with the villager owners. For the moment and supposedly!  Therefore the economic and political power of this group in the district is formally restricted, however not in actual fact. In fact all power is ensured through a fait accompli. It is precisely in the gap between de jure and de factor that the “line of exclusion” exists in which non-law-based practice with regard to gaining power and income is cultivated.  This basically means that economic relations are to a large extent of a criminal nature, and therefore all efforts by the dominant group are aimed at monopolizing their influence, in the first instance, in the sphere of power – property relations. The fusing of power and property arises precisely from this source. And it is these “Siamese twins” which are the main brakes on the road to democratic order in the country.

 Seizure of land and property: “Stationery bandits”

There are around ten biggest lessees in the district. In order to understand the mechanism for creating capital used by these “new Ukrainians” in the rural backwaters, the monitoring group studied the lease relations in all villages of the district. Some typical examples are given above of how property is obtained and used – the source of income. It is interesting to draw a parallel between the formation of princes’ property and power during the time of classic feudalism and the formation of property and power of contemporary “princes”.

In the far off days of Kyivan Rus the first stage in the formation of princes’ power, beginning with the Ruriks, was seizure of land and property. Then this was done with the help of a militarized force which received from the prince first “payment”, and later their own part of the captured land – on condition of unfailing service. No service – no land. The highest owner of all the seized land remained the prince who (in the term used in modern sociology – M. Olson) was a stationery bandit. After forcible seizure of land, he aspired to a settled long-term regulating of economic life.

The actual boss of the Novorozsosh district is according to the rule of force fully entitled to aspire to the role of district “prince” (stationery bandit), the First Person. He effectively has absolute power in the district.  In Kuchma’s day he enjoyed the protection of high-ranking officials. This “protection” was a form of administrative rent, deriving from the land rent.  The economic power of the First Person was based on the fact that as well as informal possession of land, he effectively controls all of the district’s resources, including credit and financial resources, influencing their distribution and use. He also controls the key positions of the district (both State and economic), including those of the enforcement bodies. He enables those who serve him unfailingly (like the military force) and gives short shrift to those who try to act independently.

Criminal mechanisms for ensuring economic power in the district

Businessman M. Lyapyukhin recounts how he was crushed by the First Person. He rents over 2,000 hectares of land and refused to pay a tithe to the First Person. The reprisals were swift. The First Person sent a bandit to him who forced him, on threat of violence against his family, into signing over, with forged documents a mill to his person. A quote from the recording:

“They squeezed me, there was simply nowhere for me to turn. I was least of all afraid for myself. I warned them that I’d take at least one of them with me. But well, when they started on my daughter, saying don’t forget that you have a daughter, one and the other, I had no way out. I was scared for them. I have two, and I was simply worried about my children. I consciously took on that fraud, there was no other option. One daughter goes to school, with three kilometres to the centre. Any car can stop, and what does it take to thrust a child into the car. They throw an adult in”.

To seize Lyapyukhin’s property the police were also used. Here is a telling example:

“They got my tractor K-701 off me. At Trembachevo.  I had taken land there. 1,800  hectares, I began farming it. And that day I had just filled up the tractor so as to begin ploughing in Dontsivka the next day. In the evening, the district police office S. came and said that he had let down the front tyre on my tractor that day. I asked why? He said so that I couldn’t go anywhere. I said that I’m going to plough tomorrow, and he – just wait, you have to live to see tomorrow, and went off. Well fine, I thought, what will you do to me, I’ll pump up the tyre.  In the morning I arrive and when I’d got ready for work, some guys from Trembachevo come up and say: Petrovych, your tractor’s gone. They say that the cops came and took my tractor away. I run over there and see that the tractor’s not there. Turn back and write a statement to the Prosecutor Savchenko against those police officers.

I arrive at the prosecutor’s office and give the statement to the secretary. She waves both hands, no, go to the prosecutor. So the prosecutor comes in, I go up to him. “What’s your problem?”. I say that the police took my tractor. He says: I know nothing, go to the head of administration. I say: take my statement, he says not and goes into his office. I go after him and pull at the door handle. There’s even a small fight, and I want to get into the office. But he still didn’t let me in, he locked the door from inside and didn’t let me in. And he didn’t take the statement. I stood there, what could I do? Later I came to the prosecutor again, asked him to take the statement. He again fobbed me off. And another time. Three times and he never did take it.”

Political mechanism for ensuring power in the district

The mechanism is simply and unfailing. Two settlement and fifteen village councils are totally under the control of the First Person and dependent on him. The dependence, like in the times of the feudal princes has the nature of personal dependence of the head of the council on the First Person since the “elections” for the heads of councils were merely carrying out the choice of this person. If this mechanism of “elections” fails (and it does happen), the head elected by the community doesn’t stay in his post for long.

However it is specifically this personal dependence which constitutes the system of hierarchical relations between the ruling class and its subordinates which in its turn is determined by a system of rent relations in releasing income from the exploitation of land property and employment.

The hierarchical system on the scale of the district exists in the form of a spread out “Nomenklatura tree” on the branches of which are “their own people” placed in key posts and ranging according to their level of access to the trough. The trough is the property of the top owner. In the Novorozsosh district, these people are placed in the police force, the prosecutor’s office, the administrative apparatus, in banks, the treasury and village councils.

It is through the councils that the land fund is used, with the main interest at present being with “extra” land registered as “grazing land”, “reserve land”, unclaimed shares which have fallen to the councils’ jurisdiction and others. Or these are lands not accounted for at all. It is these lands which are handed out by the “leadership” to their vassals – “for their services”.

Rent in overt and covert form. The law enforcement bodies in the service of the new class

As we know from history textbooks, feudal rent existed in the form of labour worked (corvee) or tithes (in money or produce). The advantage of this or that form depended on the development of goods and money market relations.

In our times feudal rent are retained with the prefix “quasi”. A case was recorded, for example, of quasi-corvee when there was a relative of the First Person in the farm. During the peak time of sowing and gathering the harvest, at the instructions of the First Person brigades of workers from other farms who are in vassal-like dependence on him are sent to the relative in this farm.  However there are also other cases, in various farms hundreds of hectares of land are cultivated for “important people” – workers of the district and regional administrations, the deputies of councils, various heads from the police, prosecutor’s office, court and the new Nomenklatura which exchanges the land rent for “loyal” service to the new class of owners.  These lands are worked by “new bond slaves” from different farms. The managers of these farms exchange such corvee for the privilege of engaging in business and receiving their part of the rent in the form of farm profit, while the “bond slaves” in their turn exchange the privilege of work into their part of the rent in the form of wages.

If we look more closely at how food and money tithes are extracted in the Novorozsosh district, it corresponds more to the contemporary level of market relations.

The food product quasi-tithe everywhere in the farms of the district has the form of products (grain) appropriated and in kind which are arbitrarily extracted from the rent which the lesser pays in kind to the villagers – the quasi-landowner. When, for example, in the village of Tanusivka villagers for the rent of 10 hectares of their land receive from the lessee 150 kilograms of maize and 3 litres of oil for the year, then in this case one can assume that the products in kind calculated from the rent in favour of the lessee has a considerable size of concealed food quasi-tithe.

The monitoring group found that over recent years there is an ever growing tendency to move towards monetary forms of rent. Here the covert money tithe is expressed in the appropriation of a part of the rent through an unwarranted over-valuing of the price, for example, the grain from the new harvest (in the case of accounts settled with the villagers) in comparison with the market value of grain. Thus, for example, this year in the villages of Trembachevo, Novobila, Pavlenkovo, Mozhnyakivka villagers accounts were settled with villages for forage wheat at 1 UAH for a kilogram whereas the present market price for quality wheat is 0.7 to 0.8 UAH.

Quasi-tithe in monetary form can also be a “princes’” taxations of businesses in the form of dues, a certain amount brought “to the office”.

Concealed, masked tithes exist today also in the form of appropriation via artificially reduced value of the actual land or an undervaluing of the percentage of the rent of the value of the land plot. This is how the property which is “redeemed” from the villagers (property shares) is made several times smaller.

The monitoring group detected a money quasi-tithe in masked form in the village of Zakotne – via “intercepting” subsidies which should have been paid to those providing milk from farms with this falling into the hands of “boyar” P.  Another way was through underestimating the price of the milk when receiving it from villagers, concealing this via over-simplified calculations for milk with using any special calculating books. No written agreements were drawn up from the outset with the villagers for providing milk with the conditions for calculation set down, and the settling de facto for the milk provided was not registered properly. Agreements were only established in 2006 when some of the villagers began demanding this.

Such is the appalling social reality of today’s villages in the Novorozsosh district. This reality is not unfortunately taken into account in the provisions of the Government’s Programme for the Development of the Villages. There is nothing there about the lack of law and adherence to law, about rule on the basis of rent relations of a feudal nature, about the vassal-like dependence of the courts, prosecutor’s office, police and SBU [Security Service] on the new class of owners, or about the slave-like dependence of villagers on this  class. It would seem that those in power in Kyiv know nothing about this, and do not want to know.

Nor has consideration been taken of the reverse side of the process of creating a new class of agrarian owners, of its methods for becoming rich – the impoverishing and social passivity of the villagers whose right to their land plots is purely nominal. The pauperization and social degradation of the villages is the most noticeable result of the decade-long “reform” of the agrarian sector of the country.  The village household, this thousand-year-old oasis of national life is presently dying. It is dying in a zone of exclusion from the law and State. It is dying quietly, like one’s own animal, suffocating in a social wasteland of lawlessness, unemployment and total drunkenness.

The most terrible thing is the rapid expansion of drunkenness among women who are keeping up with men. This was not seen just ten years ago.

The loss of productive force in the Ukrainian village means the destruction of the foundation of national life and the undermining of the basis of the State structure. This is because the age-old social genetic code of village is irrevocably changing and being destroyed.  The committed and mass-scale work of the peasants always ensured that the overall income of the village outweighed its expenses and outgoings. At present it is expenses and outgoings which are dominant, with these unfortunately not taken into consideration by official statistics which only record bourgeois well-being of the new ruling class.

* * *


 Karl Marx at one stage wrote that in the age of feudalism land rent is the single dominating and conditional form of additional value or additional production. Furthermore the direct producer provides land rent to the owner of this condition of work which in this stage encompasses everything, that is the landowner. This happens because it is the land which counters it as what is held in others; hands, the condition of work which is separate from it and represented by the landowner.

Thus the most developed stage of feudal relations becomes reality only when from a social point of view the land on which the producer is directly working is in his consciousness separated from him. Furthermore this separation is represented by the landowner. In other words, in the eyes of the direct producer the land is already identified with the feudal owner, i.e. has become a condition of work which is separated with regard to himself.

Here, drawing a historical parallel it is worth noting that in the Novorozsosh district the rent relations have been turned around: it is not the landowner who symbolizes the separation of the land from the worker as condition of his work, but the lessee who has concentrated in his hands the land plots of many villager-owners de facto usurping the rights of the landowners. The actual owner – the lessee – counters the legal owner – the villager with his land plot as his exploiter extracting land rent through appropriating a considerable part of it.

This system for extracting rent (income for the landowner) in the system of classical feudalism can be set out in the following formula:

R = P – e, where:

R is the rent extracted from the total surplus production for the feudal landowner;

P is the total surplus production received from the land;

E  is the part of the rent which the lessee receives in the form of expenditure on simple reproduction of the invested capital and labour.

In our times of collapse of the kolkhoz system, with the formation of a “new ruling class” the land rent in the modern Ukrainian village follows a new formula for distribution:

R = P – c + Rc, where

R is the rent which the villager owner of a land plot has at his disposal under a rent agreement;

P is the total surplus production received from the land;

– c + Rc are the parts of the rent which the lessee receives in ownership in which c is the part of the lessee’s rent paid in compensation for invested capital and labour

And Rc is the pure rent income of the lessee.

Thus, whereas the classic feudal landowner received rent income which amounted to the total income from the land with the exception (if he so decided) of a part of the lessee which covered only the pure reproduction of expended capital, our quasi-feudal, being the formal lessee of the land plots has effectively usurped the right of ownership to the land plots and has personally taken all the income to be at his disposal.  It is already not the legal owner (the villager), but he himself (the actual owner) who decides which part of the rent to pay to the villager – owner. It is natural that his decision in this case is dictated by the desire to maximize his pure rent income as his own wealth. The size of the rent is here the indicator of the level of exploitation of the villager – owner by the lessee.  It is a paradox that the Rurik princes never dreamed of!  The monopolist maximizing of this amount which of course the lessee seeks inevitably transforms the exploitation of the villagers, workers and the land into over exploitation. We spoke of the forms of such exploitation above.

This turnaround in rent relations, as a result of which the modern lessee effectively becomes a quasi-feudal landowner, has become possible due to the lack of clear division of land plots held by the villager – owners, with the separation (effective removal) of these land plots for the benefit of the lessee. The villagers in this case have basically lost control over their land and have become quasi- or pretend owners who are dependent on the will of the lessee.

This paradoxical situation dictates the agenda for the new working class in turning modern rent into ownership by buying up land plots. In the absence of firm State policy in the sphere of agrarian reform and an effective legal system such transformation is already taking place through covert seizures of land and property, covert accumulating together of land by means, and this is most shocking, of forced impoverishment and pauperization of the main mass of villagers in the system of quasi-feudal rent relations. And all this is logical since they will be able to buy up land plots for a song from poor villagers.

There is a strategically important question of whether the size of pure profit from rent coming in the form of what the lessee has accumulated will become part of an extension of the reproduction of his capital in the absence of a free land market. Otherwise is it possible today without a free land market to move from feudal rent to capitalist, with all the results of a civilization nation following therewith, for the entire country?

It should be noted in this respect that at one stage a large group of leading American economists (including 4 Nobel laureates) turned to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. They strongly urged that in reforming the planned economy and moving towards the market as foundation for private property to avoid the fatal mistakes made by western countries, urging that the State kept natural rent in its possession.

It didn’t work for Gorbachev and Yeltsin didn’t have such a problem. The Ukrainian experience in this sense has merely repeated Russia’s. Just as our billionaires repeat the experience of the storybook fortunes amassed by Russian billionaires, the same experience is with natural rent. It is the experience of making a shadow economy, the impoverishment and dying out of a large mass of the population.

Thus, the project found a reality which as far as we know has not been represented either in scholarly studies or in the public awareness. This reality can be described as follows:

1. In the Novorozsosh district  the dominant form of surplus production is land rent of a quasi-feudal nature;

2.  The cases of rent relations studied make it possible to identify variations of appropriation of land rent, seizure of property, quasi-corvee, production and money rent (quasi-tithe).

3. These rent relations do not exist in pure form as in classic feudalism, but are twisted both by the objective structure of land property relations at the modern phase of development of the agrarian sector, and by subjective factors (nobody these days will present themselves as a feudal lord, and still less will they estimate the source of their income in terms of “corvee” and “tithes”. We can therefore speak of quasi-feudal relations as a means of accumulating capital.

4. The new ruling class is formed under conditions of non-law-based practice of appropriation of land rent and impoverishment of the villagers.

Can one extrapolate these sociological facts to a much wider framework of the agrarian sector of the country? It would seem that the answer is yes.

The participants in the Project have four suggestions for the authorities of Ukraine:

1.  It is vital for the State, independently of the local authorities, to urgently carry out a check and full inventory of the land fund of the district, region and country in order to stop the parasitical use of land and violation of villagers’ property rights.

2. A review is needed of the ideology for reform of the agrarian sector, and it is necessary to find forms of the modern cooperative movement in the villages to involve villages on a large scale, involving those who have not lost their ability to think clearly through alcohol in motivated and productive work.

3.  The strategy for development of the country, especially the agrarian sector, will not be implemented until a legal system is established in which the fundamental postulates of freedom, formal equality and justice are universal principles.

4. In drawing up a strategy for development of the country it would be worth thinking about whether we may not be making a “fatal mistake” by directing natural (land) rent not into the State or local budgets, but into the pockets of the new rich.  Historical evidence shows that almost nobody has succeeded in rectifying fatal mistakes.

Legal assistance to victims of natural disasters not in the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s scope?

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Advice Centre in Ternopil is run with the assistance of two local civic organizations: the Environmental and Humanitarian Organization “Zeleny svit” [“Green World”] and “Helsinki Initiative – XXI”.

The catastrophic floods at the end of July 2008 wrought devastation to six regions of Western Ukraine.  In August representatives of the above-mentioned groups visited populated areas especially hard-hit in the Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk regions. As a result of their findings, various appeals were sent to the authorities and law enforcement bodies.

A letter was also sent to the Human Rights Ombudsperson asking her to send her own appeal to the Government in defence of the victims’ constitutional rights.  According to Article 50 of the Constitution, “Everyone has the right to an environment that is safe for life and health, and to compensation for damages inflicted through the violation of this right”. .In the cases over which we approached the Ombudsperson, the infringements were truly substantial.  One involved the death of a person during the flooding, two others – total loss of privatized plots of land.  Difficult to imagine, yet the land was totally swept away by the waters.

The problem is that the procedure for compensation in such cases has not yet been set down in acts from the President and Cabinet of Ministers, and therefore the victims and their representatives are now fruitlessly traipsing around the local authorities.

Our request of the Ombudsperson was modest: to ask the Cabinet of Ministers to adopt supplements and explanations to already existing normative acts which would regulate these issues. In order to finally get people placed on the register of victims of the disaster or so that their families could receive compensation.

In the last few days we received a response from the Ombudsperson’s Secretariat, signed by the Head Consultant V. Radko. The “response” is, unfortunately a mix of bureaucratic clichés and classic examples of legal concepts being twisted in order to refuse to send appeals to the Government.

The question arises of why the Secretariat of the Ombudsperson with its large staff cannot at least re-address an appeal from human rights defenders to the authorized State body. Is this just an unfortunate misunderstanding, or is it a primitive case of “revenge” against the Helsinki Union for well-deserved  criticism of Ms Karpachova who by no means always fulfils her duties?  Yet how are the victims of floods involved? Or does Ms Karpachova have a gut aversion to all “West Ukrainians” with their problems?

We are presently assuming that this is just a regrettable mistake by the Secretariat, but will obviously not be accepting such a rejection.

Oleksandr Stepanenko, Coordinator of the UHHRU Advice Centre  (very slightly adapted)

Victims of political repression

30 October 2007 – remembering Soviet and today’s political prisoners

On 30 October 2007 – the Day of Soviet Political Prisoners – please stop for a moment or two.

There are many reasons.  One is that in this seventieth anniversary of the Terror of 1937, we surely need a moment’s silent remembrance. 

Anna Akhmatova’s words “I would like to name them all …” have haunted more than one generation.  We name our own relatives, the famous, the notorious … And yet there were millions, and here and now it would be unseemly to name just one or two. 

Spare a moment then in memory of all the victims.

The Day of Soviet Political Prisoners was more however.  It was first commemorated on 30 October 1974 by prisoners in the Soviet political labour camps.  Hunger strikes were held in the Mordovan and Perm political labour camps, as well as in the Vladimir Prison.  On the same day, a press conference was given in Andrei Sakharov’s flat by the Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR.  News had been smuggled out of the camps about the planned actions to affirm the honour, dignity and rights of all political prisoners.  From then on this day was marked by protest actions until the last Soviet political prisoners were released, not long before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A letter which Yevhen Sverstyuk, himself a former political prisoner, quotes, says it much better than we can:

“You deserve to be honoured for you stood up for our dignity, and in that you  were successful.”

There were very many people, many unfortunately no longer with us, who sacrificed a great deal.  As human beings they gained immeasurably and they gave us an example we are all too often cravenly loath to appreciate, let alone follow. 

Once again it would be inappropriate to name some and not others.  For all those then, our deepest respect.

There is one last reason.  Here and now in 2007, the situation in Ukraine has thankfully improved, however in many of the former Soviet republics there are a number of political prisoners.

The pretexts and cosmetic appearances in some countries have changed, the bitter reality, however, has not.  Mikhail Trepashkin, Igor Sutyagin and Valentin Danilov are just three of a greater number of political prisoners in Russia.  In Belarus there are many more, some of whom like the opposition politician Alexander Kozulin are serving long sentences for their opposition to Lukashenko’s dictatorship.

Here we are not reeling off a whole list because the number can seem overwhelming, whereas each individual needs our support, our clear and unrelenting protest. 

In the 1970s and 1980s during the Days of Soviet Political Prisoners there were protest actions in many countries aimed at pushing the Soviet authorities to release both specific prisoners and all imprisoned for their convictions.

While any person remains imprisoned in the countries of the former Soviet Union, this day should be not merely a day of remembrance, but one of active protest. 

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2008, #10