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Vradiyivka: Rule of Force rather than Rule of Law

Yevhen Zakharov

Events in Vradiyivka, the district centre of the Mykolaiv oblast with a population of 8 thousand have stirred up the entire country.

At midnight on 26 June two officers of the local police station – Lieutenant Dmytro Polishchuk and Capitan Yevhen Dryzhak – dragged a 29-year-old woman, Iryna Krashkova, who was returning from a discotheque, into a taxi, took her to a forest where they raped and savagely beat her, leaving her unconscious. They may have tried to kill her in order to conceal their crime. She was lucky however, came to, and when her attackers returned, they did not find her.

The woman got herself with enormous difficulty to the hospital, after several operations survived and named her attackers. On 30 June Polishchuk and the taxi driver Rizunenko were were arrested, but Dryzhak asserted that he had been on night duty in the police station at the time.

On 1 July hundreds of residents of the town arrived at the police station, angered by the fact that the swine was at large. Somebody noticed Dryzhak in the window and those outside began demanding his arrest. The number of people grew; they were not allowed in to the police station.

The police used teargas, after which during the night the angered Vradiyivka residents smashed all cars in front of the police station, stormed and seized the station. The police officers hid in the basement, and used guns.  There were at least 10 shots with two Vradiyika residents receiving gunshot wounds.

On 2 July Dryzhak was arrested which slightly quietened people, and on 3 July both attackers were remanded in SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] on a court order. The District Prosecutor, Head of the Regional Police and the head of the police station have been dismissed. An Interior Ministry commission is working in Vradiyivka, while at the same time a criminal investigation has been opened on charges of hooliganism and deliberate damage to property. Although in my view the actions of the Vradiyivka residents can in no way be classified as hooliganism.

These events raise a number of important questions:

Have their already been two similar cases with women?

According to Vradiyivka residents and Mykolaiv human rights workers there have already been two similar cases with women in Vradiyivka,

In 2011 Alina Porkul, a 15-year-old young girl, was also raped, beaten to death and drowned.  That crime has never been solved. 14 men were accused of the crime. 11 of them under torture confessed; three died and one committed suicide. Nobody has answered for these crimes. In winter 2012 the body was found of another woman who had been raped, and also beaten to death. That crime has also not been solved.

Vradiyivka residents recount a number of stories of murders, torture and ill-treatment by police officers. They have been asked to write statements about all such cases, however most don’t dear. Meanwhile police officers from the police station are in large numbers resigning.

Why did the people revolt?

There are, most regrettably, many similar cases, while such a reaction – seizure and storming of a police station are probably the first in all the years of independence. The small town where everybody has known each other for a long time was highly outraged by the flagrant injustice, and wish by the management of the police station to prevent Capitan Dryzhak facing liability for what was committed.  Particularly since Vradiyivka residents really hated Dryzhak for his cruelty, brutality and boorish behaviour. The godson of the head of the Regional Police felt impunity, however for such a crime he definitely needed to be punished, yet they were letting him get off! Nobody believed that it would be possible to get a fair investigation and trial.

The certainty of the unfairness of state bodies has aroused and will arouse protests. It was this, among other things, that the phenomenon of the Orange Revolution was about – it was impossible to tolerate the lies, humiliating contempt and disregard for obvious facts. This is a totally natural reaction to injustice which people are certain of, and in such cases you can always expect such a vehement reaction.  When the law doesn’t work, violence replaces it.

Will there be punishments for the storming of the police station?

There have already been a number of cases of physical resistance to excesses by the police. The whole country knows the story of Vitaly Zaporozhets from the village of Semypolky in the Kyiv oblast who in a state of uncontrolled emotion killed Major Mykola Symonenko who had personally beaten Vitaly and terrorized the entire village. Villagers stood up for him, yet Vitaly was sentenced to 14 years, with the court not taking the Major’s behaviour into account. However the court did acquit tractor driver Mykhailo Zhydenko from the village of Prosyane in the Kharkiv oblast who killed one of two police officers who arrived in his courtyard, beat him and demanded money.

The wish of the Interior Ministry management and Prosecutor’s Office to punish the residents of Vradiyivka for storming the police station is in the same way, in my opinion, clearly unjust. Obviously the destruction at the police station cannot be welcomed, however it should be recognized that the police through their inadequate actions and threats led people to a stage of extreme emotion. When, in the field of law enforcement instead of lawful actions, one observes total disregard for the law, it is impossible to agree with a purely formal application of the law.

Are such police needed?

A survey in 2012 regarding assessment of police activities (15 thousand respondents from all regions of Ukraine) carried out by the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research pointed to significant lack of openness by the police for the local community: over 50% of those asked know nothing about their district police officer; 75% - about the head of the police station.

Less than two thirds of the victims of crimes approach the police with 65% of these dissatisfied with how the police dealt with their case. 38.2% of crime victims did not turn to the police. Only a fourth of those surveyed described the work of the police as effective; 51.3% said that it was ineffective while 23.5% were undecided.

While the police continues to work for statistical records, it will resort to unlawful actions: falsify criminal cases; demand money; resort to violence; and see this as part of ordinary routine work. Impunity in these actions will generate a sense that all is allowed them and lead to such terrible stories as the Vradiyivka rape. The Police need to undergo reform as part of the reform of the entire system of criminal justice, yet even without reform  the system for assessment of police work needs first and foremost to be changed, so that this assessment is not from statistical figures for fighting this or that crime, but the assessment of the activities of the police by local communities.


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