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Politics and human rights

Nico Lange: On Authoritarian Tendencies after the first 100 Days under President Yanukovych

The following article by Nico Lange, the director of the Kyiv Office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, appeared at the beginning of June. In commenting on President Yanukovych’s first 100 days in power, the author expresses concern over threats to democracy in Ukraine  (reposted at the time here: and translated into Ukrainian on UNIAN)

The first 100 Days after Change of Power in Ukraine

Authoritarian Tendencies and Rapprochement with Russia

Within the first weeks after Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in the presidential elections, a small group close to the president and the new prime minister Mykola Azarov has swiftly taken extensive control of the country. The parliament plays only a minor role. The opposition and the free media are under pressure. Besides, the new government has addressed the country’s enormous budget deficit immediately by ratifying a deal to keep Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol in exchange for cheaper gas. Several new agreements strengthen the ties with Russia on a long-term basis.

Whether the long overdue domestic reforms will follow remains uncertain.

The new administration has swiftly taken extensive control

After Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in the Ukrainian presidential elections in February, the domestic and foreign policies of his new administration seemed rather indistinct. But now, 100 days after his taking office, it becomes evident how quickly and forcefully Yanukovych and a small circle of close confidants have changed Ukrainian domestic and foreign policy within just a few weeks.

After the presidential inauguration on February 25th, Yanukovych and the Party of Regions initially focused on the dismissal of Yulia Tymoshenko and the formation of a new majority coalition. Yulia Tymoshenko was ousted on March 3rd by a successful motion of no-confidence that was passed by a majority consisting of the Party of Regions, the Lytvyn bloc, the Communist Party and several members of other parties in the Verkhovna Rada. The formation of the new government coalition under the leadership of prime minister Mykola Azarov was based on a new law permitting individual members of parliament, rather than parties only, to join a coalition. Most Ukrainian and international experts declared this change of parliamentary rule and consequently the formation of the current governing coalition as unconstitutional and inconsistent with the basic logic of proportional representation. Contrary to the expert opinions and also contrary to a previously pronounced judgement the constitutional court of Ukraine on April 8th decided in favour of the new majority and thus formally legitimised coalition and government.

The legalisation of the governing coalition with "defectors" from other parliamentary parties has crucially changed Ukraine’s political constellation. It has resolved the long-running previous political gridlock. Under the existing constitutional order the Party of Regions would have been forced to form a coalition with the Nasha Ukraina bloc or the Tymoshenko bloc and to make compromises. Whereas the coalition with the Communists, the Lytvyn bloc and individual defectors from other parliamentary parties allows Yanukovych to impose his policy without any compromise.

The decision of the constitutional court is also characteristic of how the country’s courts, prosecution, administration and even its universities lean on Yanukovych and the Party of Regions as the assumed new "Party of Power". Within just a few weeks a noticeable backslide into the old authoritarian patterns of the Kuchma era has taken place. Courts and public authorities are clearly making decisions in accordance with the new government’s policy. The public prosecutor’s office lets itself be exploited for the discreditation of the opposition. There have been reports from several universities that the practice of giving bad marks to politically active students and of suspending them has been reintroduced.

For the past weeks president, government and majority coalition have been preoccupied with filling posts. After the formation of the cabinet, the new coalition has virtually replaced all top positions in ministries, regional administrations and other public authorities. Moreover, almost all advisory institutions and committees that had been established by president Yushchenko, such as the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration, have been simply closed down. The government likes to describe itself as a team of "pragmatic professionals". The cabinet mainly consists of important sponsors of the Party of Regions and their deputies who are now obviously expecting a return on "investment". With 29 ministerial posts the cabinet is large. The majority of its members are conservatives of Vanukovychs’s party and their allies, among them many familiar faces from the Kuchma era.

Particularly surprising was the appointment of Sergiy Tigipko, who had come third in the presidential election, as new deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs. After playing a lone hand during the presidential elections Tigipko got involved with the Party of Regions and is now considered as a candidate for the post of prime minister and possibly even as Mykola Azarov’s successor as party leader.

Another surprising development since Yanukovych’s assumption of office has been the decreasing influence of the formerly dominant group of Donetsk-based tycoon Rinat Akhmetov within the Party of Regions. The winner of the internal power struggle is the gas lobby of Dmitry Firtash, former boss of RosUkrEnergo, Serhii Lovochkin, head of the secretariat of the prime minister and Yurii Boiko, the minister of energy. On the whole, the conservative and more Russia-oriented wing of the Party of Regions has grown stronger, while the more progressive, reform-oriented and more Europe-friendly politicians under Akhmetov are kept out of important decisions.

Yanukovych disempowers the parliament

The parliament, too, has lost importance under the new political constellation. The pictures of tumult during the plenary session of April 27th with eggs flying towards the speaker and fisticuffs breaking out among members of parliament were broadcasted world-wide. The opposition’s uproar expressed mainly anger and despair. Giant Ukrainian flags were spread over the seats of the "defectants" in an effort to thwart their votes in favour of the fleet deal. The ratificaton of the fleet deal and the passing of the national budget took only eight minutes. There were no government declarations, no discussions and no debates neither about the international agreement and its extensive implications for the country’s long-term geopolitical orientation, nor about the national budget - the classic privilege of the parliament. President Yanukovych and prime minister Azarov thus have revealed the role they assign to the parliament. They have clearly shifted the country’s political balance in favour of the president and expect the Verkhovna Rada to just sign-off their politics.

Already in February the new majority in parliament suspended local elections that had been scheduled for May 30th 2010. So far no new date for the elections has been fixed. The government coalition is anxious not to provide a platform to opposition parties and particularly the numerous new parties and groups, and also to avoid losses in their own ranks. There is discussion in Kyiv now that the local elections might take place in October 2010, but only after a change of the electoral law. A combination of proportional representation and majority voting system could establish the current majority of the Party of Regions in coalition with individual defectors on local and regional levels.

The new administration exerts pressure on opposition and free media

Since the presidential elections, the Ukrainian opposition has appeared to be rather planless, divided and obiviously surprised by the pace of change. The protests against the constitutional coup regarding coalition building and against the entirely surprising fleet deal appeared to be unorganised, frayed and erratic. Apparently, the former president Yulia Tymoshenko lacks her previous power and charisma to unite the opposition behind her. The other opposition parties of Yatseniuk, Yushchenko, Kyrylenko, Hrytsenko and others remain divided and uncoordinated. In addition, the formation of a coalition on an individual basis further undermines the opposition. The number of members of parliament supporting the government coalition has risen from 226 to 238 of the 450 members.

On May 12th the public prosecutor’s office re-opened a criminal case against the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko which dated back to the Kuchma era and which had been dismissed in 2005. Moreover, a dubious American law firm was hired to conduct an audit of her government business. In this context deputy prime minister Sivkovych announced that the representatives of the "so-called opposition" would soon be locked behind bars. And even though an actual conviction of Tymoshenko is rather unlikely, the case and its rhetoric are sending a pretty clear signal to the opposition. There had been no criminal cases against political opponents in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution.

At the same time, journalists from national TV stations "1+1" and "STB" complained about censorship and manipulation. Since Yanukovych’s assumption of office the opposition has been given very little airtime on Ukrainian television. Free and independent reporting is forced back to the printed press and the internet where it cannot reach the wider parts of the average Ukrainian population. "Reporters without Borders" and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) have expressed their concern about the recent development. During the presidential election campaign Ukraine had still been a prime example of media pluralism and balanced reporting. Even political protest, which since the Orange Revolution had taken place in Kyiv almost daily, is facing restrictions. The remark of Ukraine’s interior minister Mohylov that the opposition "may meet in a free place outside Kyiv and hold its meetings" is also a statement about the concept of democracy and the cynicism of some representatives of the new government.

The government tries to stabilise the national budget through gas discounts and the fleet deal

Apart from swiftly securing power the new president and his government initially focused on the stabilisation of the national budget and the improvement of the country’s relations with Russia. Both topics are closely related. Due to the high budget deficit the Ukrainian government finally had its back against the wall and considered price cuts for Russian gas as the only possible solution at hand. The only offer they could make in return was the prolongation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet deployment in Crimea. While no initial costs arise from this deal for Ukraine, the strain on the national budget is relieved immediately. On April 21st Yanukovych and the Russian president Medvedev met in Kharkov (eastern Ukraine) to ratify an additional agreement about a discount on Russian gas of at least 30% and up to $100 per 1,000 cubic metres. They also agreed on a further prolongation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet deployment in Sevastopol for 25 years beyond 2017 with the option of yet another five years (beyond 2042). The national budget adopted by parliament the same day already includes the gas discounts and shows a deficit of 5.3%. This gives an idea of how deep the deficit would have been without the discounts on gas.

A range of new agreements binds Ukraine to Russia on a long-term basis

The additional gas contracts and the fleet deal marked the beginning of a whole series of agreements between Ukraine and Russia. The numerous talks between Azarov and Putin as well as Yanukovych and Medvedev over the past few weeks also focused on potential collaboration in the fields of nuclear energy and aircraft construction. Moreover, the Russian side surprisingly encouraged a full merger of the Ukrainian state-owned Naftohaz with Gazprom. These very extensive agreements are currently still under negotiation. Meanwhile, during his official visit to Kyiv on May 17th President Medvedev agreed on the demarcation of the common border, on collaboration on the satellite system GLONASS, and on educational and cultural exchange. Besides, Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart made vague statements about a European Security System, the role of the naval base in Sevastopol and about a potential settlement of the Transnistrian Conflict.

Some of the agreements, such as the demarcation of the Ukrainian-Russian border, have been long overdue. So now some hitherto persisting bilateral problems could finally be solved. However, the arrangements imply a critical imbalance. Ukraine is hoping for quick profits from its concessions in order to relieve its budget and to secure the corporate interests of those companies closely linked to the current administration. But this comes at the price of long-term political and economic ties and dependency. Russia has used the momentum to introduce further agreements and to further restrict Ukraines room for independent manoeuvre in the energy sector and other strategic areas.

Also, without parliamentary and public debate these long-term agreements run the risk of becoming the object of future election campaigns and new internal political disputes. Given the total lack of consensus building and compromise, future governments may feel obliged to question the agreements. Moreover, the current events have a serious impact on the split in Ukrainian society which is related to the rapprochement with Russia.

It remains uncertain whether the necessary reforms will follow

The declared mission of president Yanukovych and the new government coalition had been "stability and reforms". After 100 days of their administration it can be stated that at least they are consistently pursuing the stabilisation of their own power. Whether the internal changes and the reconciliaton with Russia will be actually followed by reforms remains to be seen. The government’s constellation rather suggests a conservative and administrative course. The composition of the unusually large cabinet is very heterogenous. There are three ministers alone, with different political backgrounds, who are all responsible for economic issues: deputy prime minister Kliuiev, deputy prime minister Tigipko and the minister for economic affairs Tsushko. Consequently, in the event of concrete reform plans, clashes within the government and between groups of the Party of Regions will be very likely.

The gas lobby, which now has strong control over Ukraine and the Party of Regions, is closely connected to companies that nourish on market distortion, government manipulation, monopolies and administrative resources. The distribution of hidden subsidies and government contracts is likely to remain a means of strengthening or weakening certain interest groups under prime minister Azarov. Incentives for reform have been lowered by the new gas deal. Overall, there is not much evidence suggesting that the long overdue reforms of the pension scheme, healthcare and the domestic energy market will be addressed in the near future. This becomes even more unlikely in the light of local elections planned for October. The Party of Regions still adheres to raising public expenditure, pensions and minimum wages as central part of its political agenda.

The Yanukovych-Azarov tandem represents a more authoritarian and typically post-sovjet, administrative style of politics. In Ukraine Azarov’s government has always been regarded as an interim on the way to a more reform-oriented government. However, it is very doubtful whether the adopted course can be abandoned at a later time. The balancing act between the restoration of governability on the one hand and the looming backfall into authoritarian patterns on the other hand is very hard to manage.

How to handle Ukraine?

Both the harsher rhetorics of domestic politics and the gas and naval agreements in connection with a rapprochement with Russia had been expected after the presidential elections – independent of their outcome. Yet the pace and extent of internal and external changes have come as a surprise. It appears that Yanukovych and a small group close to Firtash, Lovochkin and others are swiftly and determinedly executing a plan supposed to meet the corporate interests of the Party of Region’s main sponsors and to secure their power in Ukraine on a long-term basis. The well-organised and disciplined Party of Regions is facing a fragmented and unorganised opposition and meets with only little resistance - neither in matters of domestic nor foreign affairs.

Ukraine’s Western partners were puzzled, too, by the arrangements with Russia. None of the agreements had been discussed with or at least announced to the European partners. So far, there has been no reaction from the European Union to either the internal or the external changes in the Ukrainian course. For Ukraine the natural next step after Medvedev’s visit to Kyiv and the ratification of agreements with Russia, would be to turn towards Europe for further political and economic profits. The European Union has to decide whether it wants to engage in this "sequential", multivectoral foreign policy of Ukraine.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) remains the most important tool of influence for Ukraine’s Western partners. Due to the backlog of reforms and its ambitious promises Ukraine will continue to be dependent on international loans despite the gas discounts. Just like the previous Ukrainian cabinet the current government presumably will be speculating on the IMF’s inconsistency and will try to obtain loans without wide-ranging reforms. At the moment the IMF hesitates to continue its programmes with Ukraine, saying that so far the Ukrainian government has not revealed any serious plans for reform.

After 100 days of the new Ukrainian government the time seems right for the European Union and for Germany and its foreign policy to give up the wait-and-see policy in favour of a rather pro-active political strategy. So far, the European Union has been merely observing Ukraine’s rapid internal and external development of the first 100 days. On the one hand, the EU seems to be prepared to drop the Ukrainian democratic standards it had praised until a few months ago for the benefit of an alleged internal stabilisation; on the other hand, it looks as if others have taken the helm in the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood.

Human Rights in Ukraine

Following the elections, the new President and government inherited systemic problems in this area: large-scale and fragrant violations of the right to fair trial, to protection from torture and other forms of unlawful violence, unwarranted detention, the poverty of a considerable percentage of the population and others. The authorities during the first 100 days in power not only have not demonstrated intention to improve the situation, but have even reduced the positive processes which had been underway and new trends in violations of human rights have emerged, together with disregard for such rights.

There has been a strong attack on civil and political liberties. There were more violations of freedom of peaceful assembly during this period then from 2007-2009 put together. On 25 March the Cabinet of Ministers issued an instruction to the Kyiv City State Administration “on using comprehensive measures on organizing work with citizens and their organizations, including on preventing and stopping in future the holding of protests near the premises of the President’s Administration and the Cabinet of Ministers”. This instruction is a flagrant violation of freedom of peaceful assembly and a number of articles of the Constitution.

This was while the Minister of Internal Affairs stated that for peaceful gatherings one should allocate “some big field on the outskirts of Kyiv where nobody will disturb anybody”.  Traffic Police officers prevented people from many regions getting to Kyiv for an opposition rally on 11 May. The transport companies were warned that they could have their licences removed if they took the people to the rally. Only one nationwide TV channel, STB, reported this. In general the news on television and radio stations have again become bland and vapid, and talk more about natural and other cataclysms abroad than events in Ukraine. The reduction in freedom of expression can also be seen in the disappearance of several hard-hitting talk shows.

 There has been a considerable reduction in political freedom overall. The Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University Father Boris Gudzyak reported that an SBU [Security Service] officer had tried to get him to sign a letter, without leaving him even a copy, in which the Rector would agree to warn students off taking part in any protests “not authorized by the authorities” Father Gudzyak did not even read the letter and made the visit public. It is, however, certain that many rectors of institutes signed such a letter. It is also known that  a separate Order from 22 April this year in district Departments of Education in Kyiv and in each secondary school,  people were appointed responsible for “providing information regarding the city authorities, enhancing the quality of information and analytical material on socio-political and highly publicized events in the city and districts, including providing swift information about what is happening in the district on a day to day basis”. The motive for the issue of this order is simple: “increasing the attention of the President’s Administration leadership to information regarding the city authorities”, and this information will be sent to the department of internal policy of the State administration. The existence of such letters from the SBU and orders demonstrate the wish to impose total control over civic life in educational institutions.

Policy on memory has changed readically. Material on the history of political repression has been removed from the websites of the President and regional administrations.  New attempts to foist a Soviet view of history, to rehabilitate Stalinism and Stalin a monument to whom was erected in Zaporizhya, elicit outrage. Only 141 Verkhovna Rada Deputies supported a draft resolution condemning the erection of the monument. While declaring the wish to unite the country, the Party of the Regions, together with their coalition partner – the Lytvyn Bloc and the Communist Party – are effectively dividing it, since nothing could be more divisive than such steps.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] is planning to introduce on railway tickets full name, date of birth, series and number of a person’s ID, this being a flagrant violation of the right to privacy and demonstrating an attitude to all Ukrainians as to potential criminals. The introduction of this “Search – Route” system will signal the transformation of Ukraine into a police state. The Minister has dissolved the Department for the Monitoring of Human Rights in the Work of the Police which was a serious preventive measure against abuse and violations of human rights. All MIA human rights projects have been stopped. Yet only a person who is blind or entirely biased could fail to see the enormous work done in the police aimed at ensuring respect for human rights in the work of the police and reform of the MIA achieved by the Department in less than 2 years. Hundreds of ordinary citizens who complained of unlawful actions by the police have received assistance from the staff of the Department. With their help significant abuses by the police have been uncovered

It was It is thanks to members of the Department that the mobile groups on monitoring observance of human rights in places of detention under the MIA began working systematically and conditions in temporary holding facilities improved.

In some regions of the country unlawful use of force by the police has been observed, as well as total failure of the police to act when unidentified individuals in plain clothes used violence against peaceful demonstrators, protesting against the illegal actions of the local authorities. This was the case in Kharkiv, for example, where the local authorities passed an unlawful decision to cut down 503 trees in the old part of the central park to build a road (primitive barbarism!. The tree felling was not authorized by the Ministry for Environmental Protection, ran counter to the General Plan of the city, the graphic part of which was unlawfully classified as “for official use only” in 2008. Nor were the public hearings required by law carried out. More trees than officially planned were, however, felled because of the use of force against the trees’ defenders.

The Verkhovna Rada is reviewing a number of draft laws which seriously violate human rights and rejecting draft laws aimed at protecting them, for example, the progressive Criminal Procedure Code. The judicial reform proposed by the President violates standards for the right to a fair trial. The preventive safeguards in the checking of draft laws by the Ministry of Justice to see that they comply with case law of the European Court of Human Rights are effectively not working.

There have been repressive measures and violence against trade union activists and human rights defenders. The Krasnodonvuhyllya company [coal mining – translator] is destroying the Independent Miners’ Union because it refused to give its consent to a worsening in pay conditions in breach of legislation. In Donetsk the head of a civic organization “Legal Defence”, Vadim Cherkass was beaten up.

Administrative pressure by the authorities has increased which can be seen by the significant increase in complaints against arbitrary behaviour by tax and other regulatory bodies.

We would note that President Yanukovych has on a number of occasions reacted to cases of human rights abuse in his speeches, asserting that “criticism from opponents is a vital component of democratic society”, that “you mustn’t save on human rights” and so forth. However one has the impression that these statements are a ritual and nobody plans to follow such recommendations. Article 3 of the Constitution which states that the affirmation and safeguarding of human rights and freedoms are the main duty of the State, seems like typical hypocrisy which nobody plans to heed.

In order to make systematic improvements in the area of human rights the authorities must place them at the centre of State policy. It is important in the first instant to strengthen human rights safeguards, pass a new Criminal Procedure Code, carry out reform of the judicial system and system of criminal justice in accordance with the concept strategies previously adopted, change the priorities of information policy, passing draft laws on access to public information, on information, on public broadcasting, on civic organizations and review legislation and practice regarding protection of public morality. The draft laws on legal aid, on peaceful assembly, on personal data protection also need to be changed, as well as the Labour Code. All of these seriously infringe human rights. There is also an urgent need for the introduction of the post of specialized Ombudsperson s on countering torture and ill-treatment, against discrimination, on freedom of information and protection of personal data, and protection of the rights of the children, as well as regional representative offices of the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

The references below are primarily about the crushing of peaceful protest in Kharkiv. More information about the issues above can be found under the sections of Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, the Right to a Fair Trial and others.


The right to life

Wall of Remembrance for Victims of Police Torture

On Friday, 25 June, on the eve of International Day against Torture, the initiative group “We understand human rights” will be erecting a Wall of Remembrance outside the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). In this way the public will honour police victims of torture. The event will begin at 11 a.m. with the laying of 200 red carnations in memory of the number of victims of torture of whom human rights groups are aware. The colour red symbolizes the blood of innocent victims of torture.
The event is aimed at informing the MIA that their actions and those of their subordinates are under public scrutiny, and that crimes committed by police officers must not remain unpunished.
Similar actions will be held outside regional departments of the MIA in Kharkiv, Luhansk, Cherkasy, Sevastopol, Chernihiv, Simferopol and others.
The action is NOT POLITICAL and is taking place with the support of the civic campaign “New Citizen” and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.
All are cordially invited to join the event, scheduled to last 40 minutes.

Protest in Kyiv over death of student in police custody

Around 200 students and others held a demonstration outside the Shevchenkivsky Police Station demanding that those responsible for the death of a fellow student be brought to justice and for an end to the use of torture by the police. Earlier media reports said that they were also calling for the dismissal of the Minister of Internal Affairs, Anatoly Mohylev. Their appeal begins with the words: “We don’t want to fall {the police had claimed that Ihor fell while drunk], we don’t want to die.

The protest was prompted by the death in police custody of Ihor Indilo, student of a Kyiv institute, who was taken from the hostel where he was living the night before his 20th birthday. He died of haemorrhaging and head injuries.

Those present placed flowers and wreaths in Ihor’s memory near the entry to the police station where he was taken that night.

Similar protests are to be held in 18 other Ukrainian cities. The organizers planned to demand that a special parliamentary committee be set up as well as public monitoring over the investigation into Ihor’s death. Protest coordinator, Yevhenia Malych says that the list of demands will be broadened since in that police station, as well as others throughout the country, they know of cases of rape, torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

Information from an earlier report on the Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service and from people who took part



The right to a fair trial

Kharkiv produces prisoners of conscience, not-so-public hearings

Two events in the last few days should have been breaking news. For the first time since 2004 Amnesty International declared two Ukrainians nationals, sentenced by a domestic court over their peaceful protest in Kharkiv, prisoners of conscience. How many arrests, you wonder, are needed before they hit the headlines?

            The other event was, admittedly, more typical. Environmentalists have long complained about carefully orchestrated “public hearings” where the public are relegated the role of extras. This time, however, the public hearings were in Kharkiv, a post-dated attempt to legitimize flagrant disregard for the law and basic rights by the authorities.  The latter first sent men with saws to wreak destruction in Kharkiv’s Gorky Park – without the necessary permission, public discussion and, incredibly, without even basic safety precautions. When the public objected, in peaceful but decisive manner, the authorities, now aided and abetted by the police, used force to crush opposition ( cf. ( ).

            The news that the Acting Mayor of Kharkiv, H. Kernes, had belatedly organized public hearings was cautiously welcomed, although with few, if any, illusions, remaining, civic society began mobilizing. A call went out throughout the country asking for concerned citizens to join Kharkiv residents in defending their right to their park and their right to be heard.  Very many people heeded the call and by early on Saturday, 19 June, there was a large crowd of people waiting to register for the public hearings on the fate of Gorky Park.

            One of the first to register, and receive his yellow ticket, was the Editor of the publication “Civic Education”. He is heard here expressing his bemusement, despite being one of the first in line, to find a crowd of people ahead of him entering the hall, all clutching their yellow tickets.  It was quite clear, since registration had only just begun, that these people had received their mandates earlier.  Most were teachers and pre-school workers from the district.  Given their reluctance to speak to the media, and clear lack of interest or knowledge of the topic of the debate, one can safely assume that they had received instructions to be there – and, of course, to vote for continuation of the park’s destruction. According to Oleh Perehon from the environmental group “Pechenihi”, there were numerous irregularities, and even the 20 people in the hall who voted against the Acting Mayor’s resolution were counted as one vote.  The very large number of people registered, but unable to get into the hall, were not allowed to vote.  It should be mentioned that Acting Mayor Kernes himself stated at the beginning that there were 2,341 people registered, but then changed his story, saying that there were conflicting accounts of the numbers.  It is apparent from the video and photos that the numbers were high, and there are good grounds for believing that the result would have been different had their voices been heard. 

            That, however, was not the point of the exercise.  Imitation was needed, and was provided by public hearings in which the public were not needed, being replaced by local teachers, probably intimidated into turning up and voting en masse. According to Deputy from the Kyiv City Council, V. Sorokin, of the 17 members of the organizing committee, only 3 were members of the initiative group, while the rest were from the Kharkiv City Council.  And the public were on the street outside …

            Oleh Perehon told the publication “Ukrainska Pravda” that it was possible to appeal against this travesty of public participation with the Prosecutor, and to prove that the majority of people had been against the authorities’ resolution.

            It is by no means guaranteed that the Prosecutor will not prove as malleable as local teachers and the police however the appeal must be lodged. It is entirely certain that Ukraine risks serious trouble over non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention on Public Participation over such overt disregard for the views of its own citizens.   It would be well for those in higher places to understand that now – the democratic gloss has already worn dangerously thin. 


Bank Association calls on President to veto Law on Personal Data Protection

The Association of Ukrainian Banks is asking President to use his power of veto over Law No. 2273 passed on 1 June this year due to its non-compliance with international standards and extremely negative consequences for the country’s economy.

“The Association of Ukrainian Banks understands the importance of this issue since in accordance with EU Directive 95/46/EU personal data can only be passed to those countries which safeguard their proper protection at the level of European standards which in the event of non-enforcement significantly restricts cooperation between Ukrainian companies and their foreign partners and places in jeopardy many commercial promising projects. However we are forced to state that Law No. 2273 passed by the Verkhovna Rada contains provisions which could render meaningless all lofty aspirations and initiatives …”  The reasons are given in detail, quoting a number of international documents, but focus on the following main issues, echoing the concerns expressed by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union which has also called for the Law to be vetoed.

The law does not comply with European standards which divide personal data into that of a general nature (name, date and place of birth, citizenship, place of residence) and sensitive personal data (information about state of health, medical history, diagnosis, etc, ethnic origin, attitude to religion, identification codes or numbers, personal symbols, signature, fingerprints, voice print, photographs, data about pay or other legal income, about bank deposits and accounts, property, tax status, credit history, information about any criminal record or other forms of criminal, administrative or disciplinary liability,  exam results, or results of professional or other tests, etc). 

The Law should prohibit the collection, retention, use and circulation of sensitive personal data without the person’s consent. Instead the prohibition applies to all personal information.

The Association points out also, again with reference to the Council of Europe Directive that there are situations where the individual is not the only person with the right to permit or prohibit access to their personal information.  There are clearly situations where information may be processed in fulfilment of a legal obligation or to protect somebody’s legitimate interests.  This is not envisaged by the new law, which does however have another questionable norm which permits the subject of the personal data to demand its destruction at any time.

“Law No. 2273 carries a serious threat to the restoration and development of Ukraine’s economy. … the practical implementation of this law will have a direct impact on the country’s economy. In view of this particular concern is aroused by norms of the law which seriously complicated and in some cases render impossible civil proceedings which in turn will have irreversibly adverse consequences for the development of Ukraine’s economy”.

They point to the provision of the law according to which processing of personal data is carried out for specific and legitimate aims defined with the consent of the person they pertain to. Given that it’s impossible to clearly predict all purposes for which a person gives consent, regarding a loan, debt, etc, this will make processing of information vital for normal functioning impossible. 

This is exacerbated, they say, by the envisaged right of the individual to present a motivated demand to change or destroy their personal data if this was unlawfully processed or is inaccurate.  Their analysis of the norms of the law lead them to conclude that the right to demand that personal data be destroyed can be made any stage after consent to process it was given, “and even where all legal requirements regarding the processing of the information have been adhered to”.

This will lead to a situation where a person or entity that lent money to somebody will not be able to uphold their legal rights because the debtor will refuse to consent to information being revealed, or will demand that it be destroyed.   This will clearly be catastrophic for the banking sector.

The appeal also notes that the Law has not taken into account negative experience of application of an analogous law in the Russian Federation.

“Various problem issues such as the lack of a purpose for processing personal data in the written agreement; lack of regulation of time frames for possible processing; the formation of information systems with personal data of persistent debtors; the passing of personal data to collecting agencies where the right of demand is waived and so forth have led to a situation where at the present time in Russia it is virtually impossible to enforce the law.”. They note that this is demonstrated in the percentage – 65% - of identified violations of personal data security. Russia is therefore forced to change the provisions of this law.

The appeal, signed by the President of the Association  O. Suhonyako, therefore calls on the President to veto the law and submit proposals for improving it.

UHHRU calls on the President to Veto the Bill on Personal Data Protection

To President Yanukovych


Dear Mr President,

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union would ask you to use your power of veto on the bill “On Personal Data Protection”, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 1 June 2010.

The adoption of a law on personal data protection is an important step in affirming respect for the individual’s private life. It is also a vital step for Ukraine in fulfilling its international obligations before the Council of Europe and European Union.

The adoption of such a law is particularly important given negotiations over the introduction of a non-visa regime between Ukraine and the EU since one of the conditions is that Ukraine introduces a system of personal data protection. The lack of such a law has also seriously hampered Ukraine’s preparation for Euro-2012 given the impossibility of working with the relevant bodies in Poland and the EU on issues involving the exchange of personal data.

It must however be noted that they do not just expect Ukraine to pass any old law on personal data protection. The law must meet quality criteria, that is, be in line with established European standards, in particular the Council of Europe Convention No. 108 for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data and additional Protocols to this, Recommendations from the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the European Parliament and Council Data Protection Directive 95/46/EU  

UHHRU is convinced that the bill “On Personal Data Protection” does not meet European standards and could significantly jeopardize freedom of speech in Ukraine. It can therefore not be considered to fulfil Ukraine’s international obligations.

The bill establishes a mechanism to protect against the retention, processing and use of personal data without the person’s consent. However there is no link with protection of the right of respect for private life, one of the elements of which is protection of personal data. Under such circumstances the provisions of the law can be applied for other purposes than protection of human rights.

In accordance with European standards, personal data is divided into data of a general nature (first name, patronymic, last name, data and place of birth, citizenship, place of residence) and sensitive personal data (information about state of health, medical history, diagnosis, etc, ethnic origin, attitude to religion, identification codes or numbers, personal symbols, signature, fingerprints, voice print, photographs, data about pay or other legal income, about bank deposits and accounts, property, tax status, credit history, information about any criminal record or other forms of criminal, administrative or disciplinary liability,  exam results, or results of professional or other tests, etc).  It should be prohibited by law to collect, retain, use and circulate sensitive personal data without the person’s consent, and not any personal information at all, as is the case in the bill passed. In our view, this definition of personal data with the differentiation needs to be added to the bill.

Such differentiation later explains varying levels of protection of personal data. For example, it is not necessary to receive permission to collect and circulate data of a general nature but sensitive information needs a high degree of protection. The bill in question establishes the same level of protection for any personal data.  As a result this would mean that any personal data, even a person’s first and last name, could only be circulated with the written consent of the individual.

Furthermore, the bill does not contain the possibility of circulating personal data which is of public importance this being a significant restriction on freedom of speech.

The bill does not contain the concept of public figure where, as we know from European Court of Human Rights case law, there is more scope for permissible intrusion in a person’s private life. This means that it is possible to collect and circulate information of a personal nature about such people without their consent if it is of public importance. From a blanket ban on the circulation of personal data, the bill makes an exception only for people standing for or in positions of electoral office or first category civil servants (Article 5 § 4 of the bill) which is considerably narrower than the concept of “public figure”.

This means that the circulation of personal data of other people can be considered an infringement of this law and result in civil or criminal liability. For example, without written consent it is prohibited, according to the bill, to even mention all officials of bodies of local self-government, many officials of State bodies of power, politicians, actors, writers, singers and other public figures. Such requirements are a manifestly disproportionate restriction on freedom of speech will impede the development of publishing, advertising, cripple the postal service, etc.

If the bill comes into effect, its provisions could destroy historical and other sciences in Ukraine. For example, in accordance with Article 6 § 9, “the use of personal data for historical, statistical and scientific persons can be undertaken only in depersonalized form”.  That means that one should remove from history textbooks or other academic works any personal data, including a person’s name!

The bill allows law enforcement agencies to collect and process information about racial or ethnic origin, religious beliefs. This practice, according to Council of Europe Recommendations is a demonstration of discrimination and should be prohibited.

The bill also fails to meet international standards in that it does not impose independent control over the gathering, processing and use of personal data. The function of registering personal data bases and exercising control is given to the Authorized State body on personal data protection. This will clearly be the Ministry of Justice. Yet this body does not have the guarantees of independence demanded by the Additional Protocol to Council of Europe Convention No. 108.  Nor do the status and powers of this body with regard to providing mandatory instructions to any legal subjects should there be a violation of the law on personal data protection meet these requirements. It is difficult to imagine this body issuing mandatory instructions to the President, Cabinet of Ministers, courts, parliament or prosecutor. Yet without independent control personal data protection will remain ineffective and will not meet international standards.

The bill also contains certain discrepancies. For example, registration of personal data bases is carried out in de facto manner through notification (Article 9 § 2), yet an authority can refuse registration (Article 8 § 5), this contradicting the very de factor principle, and turning it into a registration one.

One is also startled by the need to inform the authority “about each change of information needed for registration of the relevant base” which, among other things, includes information about all users of such a base.

The bill also contains many terms not set down in legislation making it more difficult to apply the law, for example, “civic organizations of a worldview focus”, “worldview convictions”, etc.

In view of the above, we would ask you to veto the bill On Personal Data Protection and return it to parliament for refining.


Yours sincerely,

Volodymyr Yavorsky

UHHRU Executive Director

Freedom of expression

Big Brother Order for educational institutions revoked

In an Order issued on 14 June 2010, the Deputy Head of the Kyiv City State Administration and Head of the Department of Education and Science revoked an extraordinary Order from 22 April 2010, published here a few days ago. That Order ( assigned people in each educational institution responsible for “providing information regarding the city authorities, enhancing the quality of information and analytical material on socio-political and highly publicized events in the city and districts”. This was supposedly aimed at “increasing the attention of the President’s Administration leadership to information regarding the city authorities”, and this information was to be sent to the department of internal policy of the State administration The Order issued on 14 June mentions that the previous Order was passed by teachers to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, and states that in order to prevent breach of citizens constitutional rights to freedom of speech, information, freedom of assembly and freedom of convictions, the previous Order is revoked as having been issued with violation of Ukrainian legislation. It also orders that a letter be written to the Head of the Sviatoshynsk District Administration stressing that it is inadmissible for civil servants to interpret the law as they see fit, and suggesting that disciplinary measures be taken with regard to the relevant officials “whose actions led to adverse publicity in Ukraine and undermine the authority of the city authorities”.

On responsible for providing information

In implementation of an instruction from the Mayor of Kyiv dated 02.04.2010 No. 3034 on increasing the attention of the President’s Administration leadership to information regarding the city authorities, enhancing the quality of information and analytical material on socio-political and highly publicized events in the city and districts, including providing swift information about what is happening in the district on a day to day basis –

I order:

That methodologist of the Theoretical-Methodological Centre [TMC] Oleh Valentynovych Byelinsky be made responsible for providing information about the Department of Education;

That TMC Methodologist O.V. Byelinsky provide the department of internal policy with information and analytical material by email or fax by 11 a.m. on the day after carrying out measures.

That the First Deputy Head of the District Department of Education Y.T. Borushevska inform the heads of educational institutions of this Order.

That the heads of educational institutions:

Issue an Order for the educational institution appointing a person responsible for providing information;

Provide the Department of Education by 10 a.m. on the day after measures are carried out with information and analytical material on carrying out educational and cultural measures in educational institutions, as well as consultation meetings attended by the head of the institutions, and meetings with representatives of labour collectives, civic associations, etc.

First Deputy Head of the District Department of Education Y.T. Borushevska shall be responsible for monitoring implementation of the Order.

Head of the Department of Education

Big Brother and appointing those responsible for providing information

Order No.114 from the Department of Education of the Sviatoshynsk District Administration in Kyiv is difficult to read without Orwell’s “1984” going through ones mind.  The Order from 22 April this year of the 22.04.2010 “On assigning those responsible for providing information” establishes people in each educational institution responsible for “providing information regarding the city authorities, enhancing the quality of information and analytical material on socio-political and highly publicized events in the city and districts”. The motive for the issue of this order is simple: “increasing the attention of the President’s Administration leadership to information regarding the city authorities”, and this information will be sent to the department of internal policy of the State administration

It is difficult to understand what information is expected to interest the President’s Administration, and even harder to understand what relation the President’s Administration has to education workers. And what exactly is to be achieved by education workers being obliged to inform on every step or utterance by colleagues, students or their parents?

It is entirely unclear how such a thing could be possible in a democratic country.

Yet from the Order it is clear that there are to be no hiccups in the provision of information, and that this is no recommendation but an order.

One has the impression that the authorities are convinced of the acceptability of a model of State governance under which the State has the right to be fully present in all spheres of public life. We would note that such a regime is totalitarian. Therefore such a step even at local level can be considered an attempt against the constitutional system of Ukraine and against the rule of law proclaimed by the Constitution, as well as of the rights of individual citizens. This includes the right to freely express their views without fear of punishment if they criticize government policy.

 Department of Education of the

Sviatoshynsk District Administration

in Kyiv

No. 114 from 22.04.2010

 On assigning those responsible for providing information

             In implementation of an instruction from the Mayor of Kyiv dated 02.04.2010 No. 3034 on increasing the attention of the President’s Administration leadership to information regarding the city authorities, enhancing the quality of information and analytical material on socio-political and highly publicized events in the city and districts, including providing swift information about what is happening in the district on a day to day basis –

I order:

That methodologist of the Theoretical-Methodological Centre [TMC] Oleh Valentynovych Byelinsky be made responsible for providing information about the Department of Education;

That TMC Methodologist O.V. Byelinsky provide the department of internal policy with information and analytical material by email or fax by 11 a.m. on the day after carrying out measures.

That the First Deputy Head of the District Department of Education Y.T. Borushevska inform the heads of educational institutions of this Order.

That the heads of educational institutions:

Issue an Order for the educational institution appointing a person responsible for providing information;

Provide the Department of Education by 10 a.m. on the day after measures are carried out with information and analytical material on carrying out educational and cultural measures in educational institutions, as well as consultation meetings attended by the head of the institutions, and meetings with representatives of labour collectives, civic associations, etc.

First Deputy Head of the District Department of Education Y.T. Borushevska shall be responsible for monitoring implementation of the Order.

Head of the Department of Education


TVi accuse Head of SBU of abusing his official position and demand an investigation

Journalists from the television channel TVi are demanding the creation of an independent parliamentary commission to investigate alleged abuse of his official position by Valery Khoroshkovsky.  The latter is Head of Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] and member of the High Council of Justice, while also having very strong connections with the Inter Media holding company. They are also demanding public control over the formation of the National Television and Broadcasting Council to prevent the appointment of lobbyists of clan interests.

Their statement begins by fully endorsing that made by journalists from Channel 5 the day before the Kyiv District Administrative Court allowed an application from the Inter Media holding group and stripped them of the frequencies awarded in a tender on 27 January.

Both statements suggest that the Head of the SBU is trying to destroy independent media.  In response to the Channel 5 allegations, Mr Khoroshkovsky demanded proof of the allegations.  This TVi says they are offering.

“As is known from the media, Valery Khoroshkovsky is the owner of the Inter Media Group, and his wife heads this Group. He is already the Head of the SBU and a member of the High Council of Justice which influences the fate of each judge. That is a direct and undisguised conflict of interests.

The SBU, headed by Khoroshkovsky, has unlawfully interfered in the work of the independent regulatory body – the National Television and Broadcasting Council, demanding that the Council provide documents on the tender.

These documents then appeared in court and were presented by companies of the Inter Media Group. The companies themselves did not approach the Broadcasting Council. “

“We assert that Valery Khoroshkovsky has a clear conflict of interests which is leading him to use his official position in the interests of one media group which is trying to monopolize the market in an unlawful way, and misleading the court.”

The statement notes that the tender stipulated that television organizations may apply who aim to create the technical conditions for equality of competition. They state that according to a letter from the Anti-Monopoly Committee, the receiving of licences by large media holdings such as the Inter Media Group could change the situation on the market and adversely affect competition. “The Anti-Monopoly Committee recommended taking its information into account during the tender to avoid monopolization.”

It points out that the Inter Group was, nonetheless, allocated 20 frequencies which Khoroshkovsky said that it had rejected. TVi states that a representative of the Group in court on 2 June, asked whether they had rejected the frequencies, said that the Broadcasting Council had not accepted this and that after the court case, the Council would decide. The statement suggests that Khoroshkovsky was not honest.

It notes various procedural infringements which it believes shows that the court was not impartial.

Panels of judges must be made up according to automatic rotation, whereas the judges in this case were chosen “by hand!”  Such a judge should himself ask to be removed from the case which did not happen.

They list a number of other infringements involving the parties’ being informed and present during proceedings and others.

They demand the creation of an independent parliamentary commission to investigate abuse of his official position by Valery Khoroshkovsky, Head of the SBU and member of the High Council of Justice for his own business interests. They ask that he be suspended while the investigation is underway from both posts.

They also seek public control over the formation of the National Television and Broadcasting Council to prevent the appointment of lobbyists of clan interests

They demand an end to the use of the judicial system in order to destroy the independent media in Ukraine.

They hope for the support of Ukrainian society and the journalist community in protecting the country from flagrant pressure from oligarchs in public posts.  The appeal was signed by 26 journalists.

Access to information

No Democracy without Information

Democracy is not only about honest elections, but also the rule of law and open information. It is precisely these three values that form the pillars of modern democracy. Those feeling disillusioned with democracy would do well to understand that the last two of these values have not been achieved in Ukraine.

Free circulation and exchange of information in different spheres of life fulfil many functions in a democratic society.

Without objective information you can’t make a correct informed choice at the elections, and the media cannot effectively use their controlling function over the authorities.

Without information it’s impossible to assess the work of the current government, deputies or simply evaluate many public processes. Free circulation of information is a prerequisite of democracy and development of society which takes decisions on the basis of information received.

Most bad decisions can be explained by the lack of accurate and full information. It is for this reason that totalitarian regimes as a first priority close off access to information or use various means to distort it.

It is now therefore that adoption is vital of the law “On access to public information” which is ready to be passed in its second reading in parliament.

A large number of public conflicts in Ukraine arise from lack of information or when information comes too late. At the same time a lot of negative processes continue because the public are unaware of them.

To this day information about decisions taken by the authorities remains classified and concealed behind various concocted stamps restricting access. Most decisions stipulating pay or other material provisions for officials, the use of many forms of State property, privatisation, requisition of property remain unknown to the public.

These documents on closed access include dozens which violate human rights and fundamental freedoms.

For a democratic government it is advantageous to make information open, removing and forestalling public conflict. The Ukrainian authorities instead always try to conceal all “inconvenient” decisions which could elicit a huge number of questions under stamps like “For official information only”, or even without any stamps at all,

The following are just a few examples.

The majority of general plans of cities remain classified which generates dozens of conflict situation. Very exact maps of the country are also classified. Ukraine and Belarus are the two countries in Europe that keep small-scale maps secret. As a result you can’t work in Ukraine without a reasonable quality GPS navigator. The official Nokia site has a warning that they cannot guarantee normal navigation since they are not provided with accurate maps. Total absurdity in the modern world! Many public conflicts over land development revolves around the simple issue of who actually owns the land. Why in 20 years of independence has a register of owners of land sites which could resolve hundreds of such conflicts not been created?  Why aren’t all decisions about handing over land sites not made public?

There is no register at all for many types of property which on the one hand fails to protect this property, generating possibilities for raider seizures and fraud, on the other means that it remains unknown who owns what.

In Kharkiv over the last month there has been conflict over construction work in the old city park and the felling of century-old trees. This was accompanied by serious mass protest, confrontations, detentions and other elements of conflict. At the core of the conflict was the lack of information.

The authorities have still not shown any permits for the construction work. It is of course possible that there are none, however then that is a direct road to the police.

The idea of the construction was not new, yet the public learned of it only when they began felling the trees and not at the planning stage. There was no public consultation.  Nobody has explained why it’s necessary and for what, and whether it’s necessary at all. Very vague explanations were given only after the work had begun. It was not entirely clear what exactly is supposed to be built and why there.

Clearly, if the public had learned about it earlier, their actions could have been less radical since it is much easier to stop construction at the very outset.

The following are some other examples showing how everything depends on access to full and accurate information.

It is open knowledge that certain food items contain harmful substances. The State Food Standards Committee carries out tests checking for such harmful elements. “Ukrainska Pravda” has been publishing these tests, which has not been very pleasant for some producers. Yet when the journalists began approaching producers, the latter refused to provide information. They said that they should be sent a registered letter with an information request, and then they would answer only after a month. So for an additional month people are forced to be “poisoned” because the information is not forthcoming.

The scandal is not abating over the killing of a student in the Shevchenkivsky District Police Station in Kyiv. They normally try to hush up such cases. This time they didn’t succeed.

Yet if you ask the police how many people have died in district police stations in the last year, they won’t tell you. They don’t have the information or it’s not made available. What is there to say when even relatives of people who’ve died in police custody are often not given the opportunity to read all the material of the investigation?

The Ministry of Internal Affairs circulates convenient figures which give little real idea of the real situation.

You can hear, for example, some virtual figures for the “solving of crimes” which say nothing. They are virtual in that they do not coincide with the number of convictions, i.e. the police report solving a case and the court says that the crime has not been solved, yet that is not put in the statistics.

In fact the crime is not solved, but the report looks good. Lack of openness by the law enforcement agencies restricts public discussion on the effectiveness of police activities and accordingly puts off to the future urgently needed reform of law enforcement bodies.

A lot of information is made secret according to Soviet standards which have long clashed with modern conditions of global information exchange.

The history of the last century is kept secret with thousands of archival documents, instead of being studied by researchers, lying in the archives of the Security Service or other bodies. Public discussion of other past is artificially hampered by the authorities.

You can give hundreds of other examples from entirely different spheres of life, the economy, culture, sport, science and others. Everywhere the main question will be where is accurate and swiftly obtained information.

The global information society has existed for many years, and it is our country that remains an island with its own internal and external gates. These gates not only restrict the development of our democracy but hamper the country’s general development, with it being out of the general world information flow.

It is for this reason that we need to reform the system of access to public information and the first step in this direction will be to pass the appropriate draft law which is completely ready for parliament’s adoption.

Volodymyr Yavorsky,, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Open Appeal over the lawless actions of the Kharkiv authorities and Police

To the Council of Europe, Human Rights Commissioner,

Thomas Hammerberg

Dear Mr Hammerberg,

We would like to bring to your attention highly disturbing actions by the Kharkiv authorities and police in connection with the controversial felling of century-old trees in Kharkiv’s central Gorky Park. The local authorities not only acted in breach of the law and ignored public opinion, but also used unlawful measures, including physical force, against peaceful protesters. Particularly worrying was the way in which the police abetted the use of force by unidentified strong men gangs as well as repressive measures against the victims of violence.

No public discussion was held and there is still no openness regarding the actual building plans. The local authorities claim that it is all for Euro-2012, yet the Ministry for Environmental Protection revoked agreement of a plan for the construction of a “hotel complex and apartments, and for a vehicle road”. Instead of openness and dialogue, the local authorities have resorted to violence together with misinformation, defamatory invectives against the park’s defenders and, it would seem, attempts to bribe them.

 The decision to fell 503 trees in Gorky Park in order to build a road and hotel facilities on park territory was adopted by the Kharkiv City Executive Committee on 19 May 2010.  Men were sent to carry out the work the very next day. During those first days, no safety precautions were taken and the area was not cordoned off. It is a miracle that the trees did not fall on passers-by. 

These are only some of the many flagrant breaches of legislation. The Governor of the Kharkiv Region M. Dobkin, and Acting Mayor of Kharkiv, H. Kernes, both claimed publicly on a number of occasions that the work was in accordance with the General Plan for the city, approved back in 2004, that all relevant permits had been obtained, and that there had been public hearings as required by law and the Aarhus Convention. Yet the Ministry for Environmental Protection confirmed on 1 June that the permits were not in place, and that the Ministry had no information of any public hearings having been held (

Even more disturbing is the reaction of the Kharkiv authorities to lawful protest by city residents against the illegal destruction of their park. The entirely peaceful protest began on 20 May. When it transpired that the workmen could produce only a copy of the decision taken the day before the activists called the police.  On that occasion the police still responded correctly to the lack of permits and suspended the felling work.

Most regrettably this was to be the last time that the police carried out their duty to protect citizens from lawlessness and violence. During the confrontation, police officers either stood aside, failing to protect people from attack, or themselves used force against peaceful activists.  They also only detained defenders of the park, and not their assailants.

At 4 a.m. on 25 May around 100 police officers escorted workmen into the park and encircled the area.  Activists who tried to protect the trees with their bodies were dragged away and beaten by police officers. This can all be viewed at:

 On the morning of 28 May, around 50 men of athletic build with badges saying “municipal security” entered the Park where police were already present. They formed chains and began brutally moving away the tree defenders, beating up some of them. They could provide no identification, nor has anybody heard of a “municipal security” department.

Despite the fact that a group of thugs without proper identification had fallen upon peaceful protesters, the police at first looked on, and when they did react, detained the protesters.  12 were charged with disobeying police orders which is patently absurd. The activists asked the police to protect them against the assailants..

Following publication of the Ministry for Environmental Protection’s clear indication that the felling was unlawful, and that the planned works were NOT in the General Plan for the city, the Kharkiv authorities might have been expected to back down. Instead in the early hours of 2 June, some 50 men in black turned up at the site, together with workmen and police. While the police looked on and did nothing, the men in black turned on those attempting to protect the trees. Several protesters were injured. Despite the fact that it was the activists who were set upon, that they committed no offences and certainly did not show resistance to the police, the latter yet again detained only them. The culmination of the lawlessness can be seen here, One of the workmen saws through a tree which falls straight onto one where one of the protesters is holding vigil.

The unlawful destruction has ended, with far more trees felled then stated originally. Civic organizations have lodged complaints over police behaviour and plan to appeal court rulings.

The Kharkiv authorities through their actions demonstrated total contempt for the interests and even the very safety of members of the public as well as for legislation.

The police carried out unlawful instructions, not only failing to protect citizens but actually violating their constitutional rights.

There has also been no adequate response from the top management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Cabinet of Ministers or the President, although the level of overt lawlessness and the attack of the authorities and police on members of the public raises doubts regarding any commitment to democracy or human rights.

The scale of the violations, as well as the lack of proper response from those in power, compels us to seek your help in drawing the attention of the authorities to the need in the first instance:

1.      to carry out an investigation into all stages of the confrontation and the actions of the local authorities. The commission should include representatives of leading human rights and environmental organizations, with the organizations choosing representatives, not the authorities;

2.      on the results of the investigation to hold to answer those guilty of unlawful action or failure to act, including those who issued unlawful instructions;

3.      pending conclusion of the investigation to suspend any further work on the territory in dispute;

4.      to not obstruct peaceful gatherings aimed at expressing the attitude of members of the public to the actions of the authorities.

 It is vital that we demonstrate to the authorities and police that contempt for the law and human rights have no justification in a democratic country and that such actions will not go unpunished. Your support and attention to this situation can help achieve this.


Thank you.


Ukrainian Helsinki Human RightsUnion

Kharkiv Human Rights Group

Environmental Organization “MAMA-86", Hanna Holubovska-Onisimova, President

Foundation of Regional Initiatives

The Environmental Group “Pechenihy”, Kharkiv,  Serhiy Shaparenko

National Ecological Centre of Ukraine [NECU]

Konotop Zeleny Svit [Green World]

Bureau of Environmental Investigations, Dmytro Skrylnykov, Lawyer and Head of the Bureau

Human Rights Centre “Postup” [Progress], Luhansk

Helsinki Initiative – XXI, Oleksandr Stepanenko

Public Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, Luhansk, Mykola Kozyrev

Kharkiv Regional CO Dobra Volya [Good Will]

Information Centre of the Environmental Organization Zeleny Svit [Green World], Serhiy Fedorynchyk

Centre for Civic Advocacy

Youth Initiative KOLO, Pavlo Horak

Pylyp Orlyk Institute of Democracy

Kryvy Rih City Association of the All-Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko Society “Prosvita”, Mykola Korobko

Vsesvit [Universe], Kharkiv

Mykolaiv regional association DANA

Territory of Success, Inna Dudnik

City Youth CO Ecoclub, Rivne

Civic Organization “M’ART” [Youth Alternative], Chernihiv

Mykolaiv Centre for Monitoring Human Rights

Youth Human Rights Centre, Olha Vesnyanka

Adaptation Men’s Centre, Ternopil

Expert Club, Nikolai Feldman

“Svoboda” [Freedom] Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, Andriy Dydenko

Office of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung in Ukraine, Kiril Savin

Poltava regional branch of the Civic Organization [CO] Power of the Law

Centre of Civic Liberties, Oleksandra Matviychuk

Konotop Society of Consumers and Taxpayers “Hidnist” [“Dignity”]

Kharkiv Regional Foundations “Civic Alternative”

Khmelnytsky Regional CO Centre of Legal Defence

“Maidan” Alliance, Ludmila Yamshchykova

Environmental Journal “Living Ukraine”, Yaroslav Movchan

CO Donetsk Environmental Movement

Ukrainian Association of Women Bar Lawyers, Natalya Shcherbata

Kherson Regional CO RIGHT TO LIFE

Environmental-Cultural Family CO ETNOS

Regional Charitable Fund Resonance, Lviv, Olena Hrabovska

Institute of Contemporary Issues, Ukraine (Kyiv), Tetyana Metelyova, President

Karlivsk District Branch of the CO Hromada [Community], Anatoly Dokukin

Netishynsk City Society for Consumer Rights ContrAct, V. Boiko

Environmental-Cultural Centre Bakhmat, Volodymyr Berezin

Chernihiv Civic Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, Viktor Tarasov

Odessa Regional Roma Congress

Kharkiv Regional Youth CO SVITLO, Mariya Savina

Daryna Halatchenko, "МАМА-86"

City Youth CO Ecoclub, Rivne, Andriy Martynyuk, Head of the Board

International Youth Organizaiton AIESEC, Olha Petruk

Children’s Environmental Organization Legion of the Earth, Lviv

Institute of Legal Research and Strategies

Website “Nature of Ukraine”, Kateryna Borysenko

Association of Environmental Organizations “Zeleny Svit”, Zhytomyr region, Oleksiy Semenyv

Zhytomyr City CO Teachers for Democracy and Justice

Kharkiv Regional Trade Union of Businesspeople, Valery Relin

Myroslav Marynovych, Vice Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv

Ihor Sirenko, NECU

Oleksiy Vasylyuk, Deputy Head of NECU

Kateryna Levchenko

Dr. Leonid Ponomarenko, School of Physics & Astronomy, Manchester University,UK

 Krzysztof Sledzinski, Architect

Serhiy Yarovy, student, Kharkiv

Vitaly Rohachov, programmer, Bliznyuky, Kharkiv Region

Lyubomyr Krupnytsky, journalist

Pavlo Slavynsky, Kyiv

Fion Gunn, Artist, UK

Bohdana Stelmakh

Volodymyr Kryzhanovsky, engineeer, Donetsk

Anna Lysakova, Kharkiv

Democratic Alliance, Vasyl Hatsko, Head

Kharkiv Regional Branch of the CO Democratic Alliance

Olha Zdir, Kyiv

Ksenya Habenko, student, Hlukhiv

Ludmila Slominska, Institute of Geography, Academy of Sciences, Kyiv

Olena Shostkov, Kharkiv 

Ivan Terefenko

Dmitry Bohdanys, student, Kharkiv 

Maria Furnik, Kharkiv 

Civic Information and Analysis Centre for Youth

Newspaper “Promin Prosvity”, Kryvy Rih, Serhiy Zinchenko, Editor

Oleh Listopad, journalist, Kyiv

Antonina Nikishyna, Kyiv

Viktor Tkachenko, Head of the Sviatoshynsk regional branch of Zeleny Svit

Ruslan Tarantula, lawyer and human rights activist, Lviv

Kharkiv CO Ecoland, Olena Noda, Head

Tatyana Shlyakhova, student, Kharkiv 

Angelina Rusanova, biologist, Kharkiv 

Edward Klochko, Head of the Board of Zeleny Svit, Sicheslav

Volodymyr Shyshkin, Head of the Self-Defence Committee, village Stara Zburyivka

Varvara Ilnytska, employee of the National Nature Park Homilshansk Forests

Volodymyr Andreichenko, Head of the Khmelnytsky Regional Branch of Podillya, the Ukrainian Environmental Union “Saving from Chernobyl”

Sergiy Pylypets, software developer, Prague,Czech Republic

Halyna Kucherenko, Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional CO People’s Control

Yekateryna Tokovets, school student, Hlukhiv

Halyna Protsiv, Environmental Club “Krai”, Berezhany, Ternopil region

M. Vitko, Zeleny Svit, Marhanets

Katya Lachina

Oksana Nesterenko, lawyer

Vladimir Aleksandrovych, Krokhmal

Mykola Vepruk, student, Kharkiv 

The Drobotko Family (five members)

Ihor Polshchykov

Vadim Honcharuk, environmentalist, Vinnytsa

Kateryna Shtamburh, Kharkiv  

Yury Babinin, Head of the Civic Watch, Nikopol

Yevhen Roman, “Planeta”

Viktor Marunyak, Village Head of Stara Zburyivka

Olena Feshovets ,  UCU, Lviv

Mykola Moros, Toronto ,Canada

 Bohdan Slabyj

 Ludmila Ostryakova, Kyiv

Lyubov Shaida, “Svoboda” [Freedom] Centre for the Defence of Human Rights

Ludmila Tyutyun, designer, Kyiv

Ihor Kyslyak

CO Kyiv Residents Unite

Svitlana Korzun, City CO Khors, Zaporizhya

Mykhailo Podhainy, member of the organizing committee for National Parks under the Kherson Regional Administration

Oleksandra Klusenko, programmer, Kyiv

Iryna Romanchuk, Head of the Children’s Environmental Organization “Malva”, Vinnytsa region

CO Clean Wave, Deputy Head of the Board, Antonina Yerysheva

Artur Denysenko, NECU

Yury Dzyadyk, Cybernetics Centre, Academy of Sciences

 Arkady Ivanov, MGU, Moscow, Russia 

Illia Korniiko, programmer, Kyiv

Victor Klymko

Olexiy Logvinov

Dr. Serge Utevsky, Department of Zoology and Animal Ecology. Kharkiv National University

 Gyulnar Nazarova, Head of the Chernivtsi Regional CO Human Rights

The CO Ukrainian Youth Cathedral

Yevhen Shapovalov, Donetsk Regional Oleksiy Tykhy Society

Ruslan Kavatsyuk, Editor of the section Events, journal “Krayina” [“Country”]

Dmytro Nikiforov, student, Kharkiv 

Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, East Ukrainian Centre for Civic Initiatives

Tetyana Chetverkova, expert on classifying equipment for nuclear power stations

Angelika Komarova

Oleh Andros

Kristin Afara

 Kostiantyn Sokolinskyi, Kharkiv

This appeal can be endorsed by writing to [email protected]

The list of signatories is being updated for the moment only in the Ukrainian – English version here: 



Environmental rights

Today it’s a Tree. Tomorrow – You! Support Kharkiv defenders of their rights and yours

People throughout Ukraine are called on to show solidarity on 19 June and come to Kharkiv in order to help Kharkiv residents defend their Gorky Park.

Public Hearings have (belatedly) been scheduled for 10.00 on Saturday to determine the fate of what has not yet been destroyed in the park.  As reported, the authorities went ahead without any permits or justification, and, abetted by the police, used force against peaceful demonstrators.

Whether Kharkiv residents are able to now uphold their rights depends on all of us. Solidarity must demonstrate that the authorities are not omnipotent and that civic society must be heard.

The organizers invite people to join in, with registration at 9 a.m (at Chernyshevsky St, 55).

The hearings will be attended by the authorities and active members of the public, and this will be followed by a resolution.

Given certain experience of such occasions, active participation – and scrutiny – by the concerned public is vital. 

After the hearings, those showing solidarity and support are invited to take part in a living symbol of support – the planting of a flower bed in Gorky Park.

Local artists, musicians and others will be taking part. “This defenceless island of flowers will symbolize not only Ukrainians’ wish to live in green, environmentally clean, cities, but will also be a gesture of opposition to the lawlessness of the local authorities.

These events in Gorky Park will begin at 12.30.

The chronicle of lawlessness can be followed here: and at:

Our appeal to the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner is available in English here:  The list of those organizations and concerned individuals who have endorsed it is at the moment only on the Ukrainian version here:  (Please sign it by writing to [email protected]

It is vital that the authorities know that lawlessness will not go unnoticed or unpunished.  Please help by coming on Saturday if you can, or informing others of what is happening!

Thank you!

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2010, #06