Observation mission: human rights in Ukraine – the situation with anti-corruption activists in Kryvyi Rih

  • 30.05.2019
  • Author: Bartosz Kramek, Lyudmyla Voloshyna

1. Introduction

The study constitutes part of observations made in the period 16–19 March 2019 within the framework of a human rights observation mission, during meetings with representatives of Ukrainian civil society, expert circles, Ukrainian authorities and diplomats accredited in Ukraine.

The mission was a joint undertaking of three human rights NGOs: the Open Dialogue Foundation (Poland/Belgium), the Italian Federation for Human Rights (Italy) and the Centre for Civil Liberties (Ukraine). The mission was organised with the financial support of the Italian Federation for Human Rights.

Kornelia Wróblewska (Civic Coalition), member of the Polish Sejm and the Polish–Ukrainian Parliamentary Group, participated in the mission.

The mission was primarily dedicated to the problem of attacks on Ukrainian activists struggling against corruption, local oligarchic systems, dysfunctions, or law enforcement agencies that are either passive towards or support the systems, and that are generally believed not to have sufficiently reformed after the Maidan revolution of 2013/14. The problem was publicised following the attack on, and death of, Kateryna Handziuk, an activist from Kherson who was drenched in acid and died as a result of injuries on 4 November 2018.

On 3 October 2018, international organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Frontline Defenders issued a joint appeal to the Ukrainian authorities regarding the attacks on activists:

“According to our calculations, in the last nine months of 2018, more than 50 attacks were carried out. Not a single mastermind behind the attacks has been identified. The Ukrainian authorities should publicly condemn all threats against human rights defenders. Officials must immediately take decisive action to ensure that activists work in a secure environment and that they can safely exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly, and to work without a risk of attack,” the document reads.

These situations, along with the case of the Ukrainian journalist and activist Maxim Demidov, which reverberated widely in Poland, drove the organising of the observation mission by the three aforementioned organisations. The Open Dialogue Foundation has already been involved in this area of activity, as it monitored the situation around the persecution of reformers and obstruction of their work by the Ukrainian prosecutor's office, which was the subject of the Foundation's reports in 2015 and 2017 [1], [2].

This document produced by the Open Dialogue Foundation contains a summary of interviews with civic activists from Kryvyi Rih, taken during their meetings with members of the mission on 17 March 2019 in Odessa. The study contains a comprehensive report on the mission, which, apart from the situation of activists from Kryvyi Rih, includes a summary of the situation of activists from Odessa and, in general, the whole of Ukraine.

The study was supplemented with information (especially concerning the chronological order of attacks on activists and anti-corruption investigations initiated by them) provided by activists from Kryvyi Rih following the completion of the mission. The description of the facts has also been updated and complemented with important events that occurred in the period between 17 March and 20 May 2019. Additionally, articles and studies on the situation in Kryvyi Rih, reforms in Ukraine and attacks on activists (local, all-Ukrainian, Polish and foreign) were used.

The activists’ reports present similar incidents. As regards the situation in Kryvyi Rih and the situation with Maxim Demidov, they were also confirmed by Member of the Ukrainian parliament, Yehor Sobolev, whom members of the mission met on 18 March 2019.

2. Kryvyi Rih: individual cases of persecuted activists and the local situation in general

2.1. Anton Kravchenko

Anton Kravchenko (born 1990) has been a coordinator of the NGO AutoMaidan in Kryvyi Rih since 2014 and a co-founder of the organisation Kryvyi Rih Against Regime and Dictatorship. He was an activist of the Kryvyi Rih Investigation Centre fighting against corruption. He was one of the organisers of the Maidan in Kryvyi Rih in the winter of 2014. In 2014, as a volunteer, he organised support for Ukrainian forces participating in the defence of territorial integrity of the country within the framework of the so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the east of the country. As a member of the volunteer battalion, he participated in the defence of Donetsk airport in 2015.

The Kryvyi Rih Investigation Centre was founded by a group of local activists, including Anton Kravchenko, Maxim Demidov and Bohdan Ryzhak. The centre monitors public procurement and conducts investigative journalism. Its members are analysts and civic journalists. The centre was launched as an alternative to the press and television obedient to the local government. Eight activists are permanently involved in the centre’s activities.

The AutoMaidan in Kryvyi Rih gathers three hundred and eighty of the most engaged activists, who, in accordance with the rules of the organisation, remain at constant disposal and take part in protests and other types of demonstrations. They are supported by over a thousand people (supporters) occasionally involved in social media activities, and participants in protests. The Automaidan is the most recognisable and active anti-corruption initiative in the city, which originates from the movement of protesting drivers supporting pro-European, anti-government protests during the so-called Revolution of Dignity (Maidan). Recruited from among its participants, local branches of this social movement were transformed into independent initiatives to fight corruption and abuse of power in numerous cities and towns of Ukraine.

Kryvyi Rih Against Regime and Dictatorship is a civic movement organisation that brought together local activists from a dozen or so non-governmental organisations of various types: women's rights activists, human rights defenders, environmentalists and urban activists, representing seven particular districts. The organisation was established before the outbreak of the revolution on Maidan in Kiev in 2013/2014, but, in fact, it started its activity after the murder of Serhiy Nihoyan, a participant in pro-European protests in Kiev, on 22 January 2014. The protests were held against the government of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych (whose government ended after his escape to Russia in February 2014)

The victory of Maidan did not solve the problems of the city; therefore, the organisation remains active, focusing on social and mass media protest against the city authorities and subordinate administrative structures commonly considered to be corrupt and linked to organised crime.

The local authorities in Kryvyi Rih have not been replaced for many years. Yurii Vilkul became mayor of Kryvyi Rih in 2006. The city is a large conglomerate of factories and industrial plants whose workers, during each election, are often persuaded to vote for those currently in power; they are threatened with losing their jobs in the event that they don’t comply; they are also bribed, and the elections are often accompanied by numerous breaches of election law. These problems have been repeatedly publicised in the Ukrainian press.

Yuriy Vilkul (the mayor of the city; Mer in Ukrainian) and his son Oleksandr Vilkul, a member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, a candidate in the 2019 presidential election, are considered to be the key figures in the city. They started their business and political career working for the richest citizen of Ukraine, an entrepreneur (one of the so-called oligarchs – the wealthiest people in the country, combining business and political influence) Rinat Akhmetov. After Petro Poroshenko won the presidential election in 2014, Yuriy Vilkul was forced to share his influence in the city with the local MP from Petro Poroshenko Bloc, Danylo Usov (Poroshenko Bloc is a political grouping supporting the incumbent President of Ukraine Petro Poroszenko and the strongest faction in the Ukrainian parliament).

The City Council is controlled by the grouping of the overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych, called the Opposition Block (a successor of the former pro-Russian Party of Regions). Both the mayor of the city and his son, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, are members of the grouping.

The November 2015 local government elections significantly shook the position of Yuriy Vilkul, who was threatened with losing his position as mayor to Yuriy Myloboh, the opposition candidate put forward by the civic movement Kryvyi Rih Against Regime and Dictatorship and supported by the Self Reliance party. Due to apparent electoral fraud (in one of the city districts, one hundred percent of the voters voted for Yuriy Wilkul in the last hours before the closing of the polling stations) [1], [2]  he finally won by 752 votes, although he lost in all the remaining six districts. Falsified elections led to the outbreak of mass civil society protests, which eventually resulted in the adoption of a special law by the Ukrainian Parliament on 23 December 2015, ordering the re-election of the mayor of the city, which took place on 27 March 2016. The previous elections were thus annulled.

The repeated election was once again won by Yuriy Vilkul, who has served as the city mayor since that day. The activists reported further election fraud and the practice of actually forcing factory workers to vote for him under threat of losing their jobs.

The elections, the election fraud, and protests in 2015/16 became one of the most important events in the history of the city and the activity of local activists in recent years.

The main problem faced by civic activists in Kryvyi Rih is the persecution by local investigative bodies – the police and the prosecutor's office which cooperate closely not only with local authorities, but also with the organised crime structures. The activists point out that the activities undertaken by the bodies are based on the principle of retaliation against activists for their anti-corruption investigations, media protests and rallies. On the other hand, reports and notifications of activists are most often ignored and obstructed by the authorities.

Anton Kravchenko is a member of the local verification commission involved in the process of recruiting new officers for the Patrol Police that was established in 2015, and draws attention to numerous breaches and dysfunctions resulting in such practices as persons without proper qualifications being accepted into the police force purely on account of, for example, their connections with prominent law enforcement officers and local politicians. According to information provided by Anton Kravchenko and Maxim Demidov, the brother of Danylo Usov, MP from the Presidential Petro Poroshenko Bloc, acquaintances of heads of police investigation departments, acquaintances of prosecutors and members of the City Council have been admitted to the local police.

Currently, five criminal cases are proceeding against Anton Kravchenko (he is accused, amongst others, of directing criminal threats against prosecutors, and assault on a policeman), he has also been assaulted 23 times (thus far!), which resulted in him being diagnosed with light and medium bodily harm along with temporary loss of ability to work, as well as numerous cases of damage done to the property owned by him. The activist consistently reported all attacks at the police station.

In September 2018, the security guards of the Mayor of Kryvyi Rih beat Anton Kravchenko with rubber batons. As a result of the assault, the activist was accused of ‘hooliganism’.

The activist stresses that each subsequent criminal case against him carries a greater risk of incarceration and increases the maximum penalty that he faces.

In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators of the attacks have been identified, but no one has been charged, and all of them are at large.

On 13 April 2019, Anton Kravchenko was identified and beaten by three police officers. This was how the police responded to his call to help a person who had been loudly asking for help on the street. For the activist, it resulted in a broken nose and jaw, and stitches to the face. According to his AutoMaidan friends, he was beaten ‘because he is Anton Kravchenko’. The police consistently refuse to accept the report of a crime.

Anton Kravchenko is known in Kryvyi Rih as ‘troublesome’ due to, among other things, his constant and persistent interest in the work of the city authorities, his demands for public information and his interventions in the city structures in response to irregularities he has noticed.

According to the activist, apart from general activity, the direct and main cause of the attacks on himself – and his own problems with the law – is the important role he played during the protests against the rigging of local elections in 2015 and the previous report (September 2014) of the crime committed by municipal officials and members of the City Council.

The report concerned Yehor Prokopchuk, the director of the state water supply company in the city, Krivbaspromvodopostostachannya, who, according to the activists, allegedly committed numerous financial offences, including the free-of-charge transfer of water supplies (worth 2 million hryvnias per year) to the fish farm of his acquaintance, local businessman Yuriy Zakordonets. His companies not only evaded municipal payments, but also illegally emptied pollution from their own ponds into the river. According to the activist, this practice continues to this day.

Reportedly, director Prokopchuk also collaborated with a criminal group stealing water pipes supplying water to suburbs and suburban plots of land. The company he led made the maps with their layout available to criminals who knew where to dig them up. Then, through other companies, the same pipes were resold back to the water supplier.

The report was filed with the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine, which registered the case but failed to take any further action.

In the activists' report, the political shield (the so-called ‘backing’) is provided by the member of the Supreme Council of Ukraine (parliament), Danylo Usov, who is a real ‘representative’ and guardian of the interests of President Poroshenko in Kryvyi Rih. Usov is also an informal curator of the company Krivbaspromvodopostostachannya.

On 25 April 25 2019, the first instance court of the city of Kryvyi Rih (Dzerzhinsky District) found Anton Kravchenko guilty of inflicting minor bodily injury and assault on a policeman. He was sentenced to a fine of 850 hryvnia for the first act and to three years' suspended imprisonment for the second act. The judgments concerned cases in which the activist himself was beaten by police officers. On 13 May 2019, Kravchenko appealed against the court sentence, drawing attention to numerous violations of his rights, irregularities during the investigation and the fact that the sentence was based on very questionable evidence.

2.2. Ruslan Bondarenko

Ruslan Bondarenko (born 1976) has been an activist of Kryvyi Rih’s AutoMaidan and of the organisation Just position since 2014. As a volunteer, he has been involved in supporting Ukrainian forces as part of the Anti-Terrorist Operation against separatists supported by Russia in eastern Ukraine. He took part in protests against irregularities in law enforcement agencies, including the use of torture and ill-treatment against detainees and inmates. He took part in social protests against the rigging of local elections in Kryvyi Rih in 2015.

The activist links his problems with the case of his investigation of an unlawful transfer of land to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate by the City Council in 2016 and the subsequent protest against the decision.

On 12 September 2015, the activist and his wife were subjected to battery by unknown perpetrators. Ruslan Bondarenko was hospitalised as a result of the attack. Later, the perpetrators were identified, but despite the aforementioned facts, the proceedings were discontinued due to the absence of elements of crime.

On 26 April 2017, the activist received information that the criminal charges were brought against him and a bill of indictment was filed with the court. He was accused of stealing walnuts from a tree growing in front of the building where he lived and of inflicting injuries on the perpetrators who assaulted him in September 2015. The court placed him under house arrest (granting the motions of the prosecutor and police chief).

In the opinion of local activists and journalists, the case against Ruslan Bondarenko is retaliatory in nature; it is related to his civic activities.

The activist expresses concerns about his own and his family's safety.

2.3. Artem Moroka

AutoMaidan activist, former member of the local structures of Oleh Lashko’s Radical Party; in 2015, he was the head of the city structures of the party in Kryvyi Rih.

He left the party in protest against the party management’s cooperation with Yuriy Vilkul in the rigging of local elections in Kryvyi Rih in December 2017, resigning as the head of the party's local electoral staff. He reported to the media on the agreement between the Radical Party and the Opposition Bloc in Kryvyi Rih. Artem Moroka also described the actual sale of the leading place on the Radical Party's electoral list to the City Council to Aleksander Smaliy, Yuriy Vilkull's colleague with a criminal past, and a similar situation with Hennadiy Shapalov, who was put on the electoral list of the Poroshenko Bloc.

On 28 December 2015, Artem Moroka was kidnapped by unidentified perpetrators armed with firearms and taken by car to a nearby forest. The struggle that took place on the spot resulted in injuries to him and two attackers; still, the activist managed to escape. The kidnapping is connected with revenge by two persons whose criminal past he described; namely: A. Smaliy (currently, a member of the City Council) and G. Shapalov (currently, the mayor of the Kryvyi Rih’s Metallurgical District), both linked to organised crime.

The activist did not report the assault in the police, fearing revenge from the kidnappers and the true masterminds, with whom the officers may have been cooperating. Afraid of facing a criminal case related to his own defence (he suspected that he might be accused of the assault or even attempted murder of the attackers), he hid in his friend's flat for ten days. In the end, no criminal charges were brought against him.

In the activist’s opinion, the patrol police in the city in fact provide private security for city officials, and particularly for the mayor and members of the City Council, and take part in the persecution, including attacks on activists. In the case of reports of attacks on social activists, the police intervene with a deliberate delay; officers often come to the scene only two hours after a crime has been reported.

In early 2018, the regional police brought 14 corruption charges against Mr Smaliy.

2.4. Iryna Turovska

Iryna Turowska (born 1964), entrepreneur, civil society activist since 2010; since 2015, she has been a member of the Regional Council in Dnipro (the capital and largest city of the Dnipro region, which also includes Kryvyi Rih, the second-largest city and industrial centre of the region). In 2013/14, during the Revolution of Dignity, she was one of the organisers and leaders of Maidan in Kryvyi Rih. She is a member of the conservative-liberal party of the Self Reliance party led by the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi.

She is involved in the protection of civil rights, and promotes administrative transparency in Kryvyi Rih. She participated in numerous protests against the decisions of local government officials and politicians in the city organised, in particular, by Kryvyi Rih’s Automaidan.

During the Maidan, on 19 February 2014, unidentified perpetrators committed arson on the activist's car parts shop ‘Autostop’ in Kryvyi Rih. A year later, on 13 February, 2015, she was assaulted by unknown perpetrators and severely beaten [1], [2], [3], [4]. The investigation into this case turned up empty – the perpetrators were not found (despite the fact that she reported the registration plate numbers of the cars used by the arsonists). During this period (February 2015), city activists (including AutoMaidan members) blocked the City Council's meeting room for two weeks, demanding that the mayor change the human resources policy in the city's administration and its subordinate municipal structures (due to widespread nepotism and corruption).

Iryna Turovska pointed to the manner in which police officers carried out questioning regarding the attack on her; when talking to her neighbours and other potential witnesses, they did not try to obtain information about the facts (the circumstances of the attack), but instead, they discredited the victim herself. One of the police officers publicly stated that all the commotion is the fault of the activist herself, who is thus ‘trying to promote herself’.

The activist perceives the arson of the shop and the assault on her as revenge from the city authorities and law enforcement agencies in Kryvyi Rih. The activities of Iryna Turovska and the problems she encounters were presented in the Social Microphone (Громадський Мiкрофон) programme. In the programme, she described the corruption practices of the city authorities; the attack described above took place two days later.

2.5. Maxim Demidov

Maxim Demidov is a Ukrainian journalist, AutoMaidan activist in Kryvyi Rih, collaborator with the Kryvyi Rih Investigation Centre, soldier of the 40th Volunteer Battalion "Kriv-Bas" participating in the defence of territorial integrity of Ukraine in 2014–2015 in Donbas, and participant in the battle of Ilovaisk and the defence of the airport in Donetsk. He took part in anti-government protests on Maidan and against the rigging of local elections in Kryvyi Rih in 2015.

Since 2010, he has been a journalist for the local newspaper Kryvyi Rih - The Evening Edition, describing corruption scandals, embezzlement of public property, and the impunity of representatives of municipal authorities and local law enforcement agencies involved in them.

His journalistic investigations focused on the deputy head of the regional prosecutor's office, Oleksiy Kryvenko, as the value of his assets exceeded many-fold his official income.

On 26 November 2011, unidentified perpetrators assaulted the activist near his house. In spite of the medically confirmed injuries, the police refused to initiate an investigation.

On 21 November 2013, he was kidnapped and subjected to torture: he was beaten and subjected to a mock execution; as a result, M. Demidov was seriously injured. The activist identified the kidnappers – Prosecutor Kryvenko, famous criminal Valeriy Moskalchenko and businessman (owner of the local television station 1TVKR) and Serhiy Dranov, a subsequent Chief of Petro Poroshenko’s election headquarters in Kryvyi Rih.

Despite the fact that he filed a report and recognised the perpetrators, the investigation has brought no results. Oleksiy Kryvenko testified that he had a "social meeting" with Maxim Demidov at that time. The police assigned guards to the victims, but only for a period of two weeks.

According to the activists’ accounts (confirming the account of events presented by M. Demidov), Kryvenko, Moskalchenko and Dranov form a close social and business circle. In Kryvyi Rih, residents call them "The 11-77 Gang" (due to the fact that all of them use the same numbers on the number plates of their cars).

Attacks and threats do not stop the activist from carrying out his activity, and he continues to screen the activities of Prosecutor Kryvenko and joined the organisation "Stop Drugs" that fights the problem of semi-public drug trafficking in the city.

The activist’s journalistic investigations and further civic activity have caused problems among the city authorities and the immediate entourage of Mayor Y. Vilkul.

One of the reports filed by Anton Kravchenko and Maxim Demidov with the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine concerned activities detrimental to the state company "Parking and Advertising", which manages parking spaces, outdoor advertising and municipal properties in Kryvyi Rih. According to the report of the activist, the director of the company Olga Shabliyan deliberately led to its bankruptcy, and then bought it out for a symbolic price, thus extorting forty million hryvnia worth of property.

The activists were to work to get the General Prosecutor's Office to bring criminal charges against the Deputy Mayor, Yevheniy Udot. The charges concerned the creation of a criminal organisation in order to abuse the position and appropriate property on a particularly large scale, as well as making death threats. He is accused of responsibility for the misappropriation of state funds. Udot hid from the law enforcement agencies by going to Poland, where – despite the investigation – he lives undisturbed by the law enforcement agencies. According to M. Demidov's account, he is not even listed in the register of wanted persons in Ukraine.

Anton Kravchenko and Maxim Demidov also filed a crime report (with the municipal and regional prosecutor's offices), which led to the initiation of an investigation into the suspicion in corruption in a tender for catering services for students of local schools. Cases of severely poisoned children led to the discovery that the company responsible for the supply of food to the schools was delivering out-of-date food, often with fake expiry dates. The sanitation services found, among other things, Staphylococcus and Clostridium botulinum bacteria.

The case, incriminating another Deputy Mayor, Nadia Podopleyova, who was responsible for education in the city, and Natalia Kasimova, was also presented to the City Council. Having listened to the statement in which N. Kasimova reported that she had no knowledge about the irregularities, the topic was closed. The prosecutor's investigation is formally in progress; however, the activists have no knowledge about its current stage and all facts indicate that no activities are being carried out within its framework.

Two days after Maxim Demidov opened his own café (on 5 July 2015), it was forcibly seized by people whom the activist links with a city criminal, the owner of a nightclub famous for his involvement in drug trafficking and extortion, Ilham Halilov. This was done by eight men who forcibly led the activist out of the premises. The police, notified by him, arrived at the scene but did not intervene. At the police station, the officers confronted him with documents that showed that the café was owned by Sewda Halilova; the name suggests that she was related to Ilham Halilov.

After losing the café, the activist settled permanently in Kiev, where, in addition to his professional work as an investigative journalist (with the help of the then head of the parliamentary Commission for Combating Corruption, Yehor Sobolev), he established cooperation with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU).

After months of preparation, in consultation with the NABU, he prepared an entrapment (consisting in the purchase of a large amount of amphetamine) in order to collect evidence against members of a drug gang linked to the prosecutor’s office. The entrapment was thwarted by leakage of information about NABU plans from the prosecutor's office, but it was possible to identify the source and bring about the arrest of Dmytro Sus, a prosecutor cooperating with criminals, in July 2017. However, earlier, on 22 December 2016, there was an attempt to kidnap the children of M. Demidov, accidentally thwarted by a passing police patrol.

On 5 May 2017, the activist gave his last testimony about the anti-drug action and the next day, on the advice of NABU officers warning him of the constant threat while on the territory of Ukraine, he left for Poland.

Upon his arrival in Poland, Mr. Demidov was detained (2 March 2018) and arrested on the basis of a so-called INTERPOL red notice – an international wanted notice. The basis for this was the allegations coming from the prosecutor's office of the city of Kryvyi Rih; in 2015, the activist allegedly stole the equipment of his own café, including a router and a CCTV camera, as well as items with a total value of approx. PLN 2,000. According to Ukrainian law, due to the low value of the ‘damage’, the maximum penalty is a fine.

On 23 August 2018, he filed an application for international protection with the Office for Foreigners (the proceedings have been pending until now; the Office has already scheduled another date for the consideration of the case – 23 June 2019).

On 10 September 2018, the activist left the detention facility on bail of PLN 50,000; the bail was paid by an unknown person due to the efforts of Polish human rights activists and journalists who accidentally learned about the case.

On 29 November 2018, M. Demidov won the case in the court of first instance. The District Court in Warsaw found the extradition of the journalist to Ukraine inadmissible. However, the appeal of the prosecutor's office resulted in the appointment of the next hearing, which is to take place on 7 June 2019 at the Appellate Court in Warsaw.

Meanwhile, following his release from custody, the activist took up a job as a journalist for Gazeta Wyborcza (Duży Format), where he published reports. He was also bestowed a special award at the Grand Press Gala 2018 [1], [2] for his steadfastness in journalistic and social activity.

Since his beating in Kryvyi Rih, which led to repeated concussions, the activist has suffered recurrent unconsciousness.

The case of Maxim Demidov has been repeatedly presented by Gazeta Wyborcza daily [1], [2], as well as the Oko.press online portal [1], [2].

Ludmila Denisova, Ukrainian Ombudsman (whom members of the mission met on 18 March 2019) is not aware of the cases of Maxim Demidov and other activists from Kryvyi Rih. She expressed scepticism about Ukrainian citizens defending themselves against extradition to their country of origin and is generally reluctant to address the growing number of attacks on activists in the country. In the opinion of the mission members, this seems to be due to fears about the image of the country abroad, which may, however, lead to depriving them of the possibility of obtaining effective assistance from her office.

While staying in Poland, Maxim Demidov continues his journalistic activity, presenting cases of abuse of power in Kryvyi Rih and other cities of Ukraine, thus constantly encountering threats directed at him through social media from his persecutors and people closely associated with them.

On 6 May 2019, Andrei Karpovich, a human rights defender, was attacked in Kryvyi Rih. The activist was stabbed several times and underwent surgery, but his condition remains severe. The person was in conflict with the same persons (including Prosecutor Oleksiy Kryvenko) whose activities were presented by M. Demidov.

3. Conclusions

The situation with civil society activists in Kryvyi Rih reflects a nationwide problem of dysfunctional law enforcement and justice systems. It is not improving; on the contrary, successive events bring information about further attacks and convictions of activists. Also in recent weeks, further attacks have been recorded; they constitute an increasingly serious and high-profile problem that the Ukrainian authorities are not able to deal with, as they are inclined to marginalise the problem.

Some activists put their hope in changes connected with the Ukrainian presidency being won by Volodymyr Zelensky, who comes from Kryvyi Rih, although those hopes are slight. There are still doubts not only about the policy and priorities of the new president, but also the shape of the political scene after the early parliamentary elections planned for July 2019.

In the Ukrainian political system, the President plays a key role in establishing the General Prosecutor's Office. After Maidan, the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine became known as a force which is reluctant towards, or even sabotaging, reforms of law enforcement agencies and chronically incapable of bringing corrupt politicians and civil servants to account. There has also been insufficient reform of police structures. The lack of real political will sanctioned these actions, leading local authorities to a sense of impunity and arbitrariness.

In this reality, it is the international community (on whose financial support Ukraine is dependent) and, primarily, civil society itself (periodically capable of incredible mobilisation and determination in defending the law and its own identity, protesting against violations and arbitrariness of power) who are perceived as the genuine driving force.

The mass social protests in Kryvyi Rih, following the rigging of local elections in 2015/2016 and the resumption of the post of Mayor by the discredited Yuriy Vilkul, disappointed the public; however, organisations and initiatives remained determined in their efforts to monitor the activities of the authorities. This has resulted in a series of attacks aimed at intimidating and demobilising activists who cannot count on the protection of the police and the prosecutor's office, which are not only passive, but are also an integral part of the oppression system.

In these conditions, the state of law enforcement agencies in Kryvyi Rih should become a point of interest to the public, and local activists should be supported by international and foreign institutions present in the territory of Ukraine – starting with the EU delegation, the official EU Advisory Mission for Civil Security Sector Reform (EUAM Ukraine) and diplomatic representations of leading EU, US and other countries of the Western world. What do activists need? The answer is not complicated:

- attention (e.g. by observing court trials and raising individual cases of attacked activists in conversations with Ukrainian authorities); in this aspect, it is important to constantly and carefully monitor the situation of the persecuted activists;

- availability of funds enabling them to conduct and develop their activities, in particular, in terms of building local media and effectiveness in reaching out to the general public;

- easily and quickly accessible pro bono legal aid.

The Ukrainian authorities should be aware, however, that the inability/lack of willingness to provide basic security for representatives of their own civil society will have a negative impact on the international arena and will evoke a strong reaction from foreign partners.

* * *

Kryvyi Rih (Ukr. Кривий Рiг): a city in eastern Ukraine, in Dnipropetrovsk region. Population: 652,800 (2013).

The city was founded in the 17th century. Its rapid development dates back to 1881, when iron ore mining began. Currently, it is an important centre of mining (exploitation of iron ore deposits) and metallurgical industry (iron metallurgy); it is the centre of the so-called Kryvyi Rih Basin. It is also a centre of food and machine industry, and an important rail junction.

The incumbent President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy was born in Kryvyi Rih.

See also: