Back to black: New law that might kill democracy in Ukraine

«Imagine the situation: you are at the Agora, where many significant proposals should be discussed and voted upon. The opposition (a group of people not supporting such changes) is blocking the Chairperson from leading the plenary/discussion of the proposal. The solution:  the Vice-chair is leading the discussion from the middle of the plenary room, not giving any time for the discussion and adding some voting proposals which had never even been in the agenda. And by the way, the Chair and Vice-chair are from the group of people who are pushing changes to be approved.

So what happens next: the budget of the entire organisation is being approved after two minutes of presentation without ANY discussion allowed. Then, other proposals about limiting freedom of speech and more are put forward to vote  without any proper introduction and, of course, no discussion.  And then, seeing that proposals are not reaching a majority with the electronic system, the Vice-chair decides that the voting will be done by simply raising hands. And, oh what a miracle!, all the proposals are approved with a big majority! Ahh, I also forgot to mention that 250 hands were counted within maximum five seconds. » These words were written by Alla Resheten, former Chairperson and AEGEE-Kyiv member on her Facebook profile on 16th of January, describing the fraudulent actions of Ukrainian politicians. 

But first let’s go back to December 2013, when after three weeks of protests and gathering at Maidan, the main square of Ukraine, every Sunday for a march out of millions, Ukrainians started to lose their hope. (note: you can read the first review of events in Ukraine until the 14th December here).

The tactics of the government was quite clear – to ignore. To ignore the people lying in front of the buildings where they work, of the warnings made by the US and some other countries, of hundreds of people still staying at Maidan. Ignorance of the oaths to protect and work for the Ukrainian people they made. And after ignoring the marches and protests all around Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow will invest $15 billion  in Ukrainian government securities while cutting the price that Kiev pays for Russian gas imports by about one-third. The budget of our country was partly saved, but what was the price paid for that? There is also the question of what Russia wants in return for its help. “Russia is unlikely to simply become Ukraine’s benevolent rescuer”, said Lilit Gevorgyan, a CIS and Russia analyst based in London. Putin is likely to seek “tangible gains, such as lucrative Ukrainian assets”, as well as a bigger role in controlling the transit of Russian natural gas through Ukraine to the rest of Europe.

Is it enough to say that we are sold out? The situation in Maidan was critical and the opposition suggested protesters to block the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) to prevent the following agreements from beign passed. Several hundreds of people rushed there in the morning, mostly those who stayed in camps from 21st of November and active Kyivans on cars called AutoMaidan. However, they were ignored back again and had to return to the main square.

During the following days, the activity of the whole protest was much lower. Maidan was still the centre of the events, but there were no other signs in other districts. In many regions, people had no clue what was really happening there, mostly because of the media. Companies and businesses started to prepare for Christmas time, suggesting destinations to go, there were sales in every corner and Christmas movies on TV. From my side, we all had our working deadlines, clients and honestly thought about ourselves – so less people stayed on Maidan. Everyone was ready to rush there as soon as the messages appeared on Facebook, but life continued. The personal life of each Ukrainian, the daily routine.

The Government shows its real face

The Government kept silent but the real face appeared in their actions. They understood that they could not take the protesters from the streets, so they started to chase the leaders and punish them. Three cars owned by Maidan activists in Kharkiv were burned down on December 21st at night. The cars were owned by Maidan volunteers who had been helping out by making tea and sandwiches for Kharkiv Maidan protesters. Dorozhny control activist Volodymyr Moralov was fired by thugs. Dmytro Pylypets from Kharkiv received several knife wounds. Journalists, operators and many people who were famous among protesters and had the power to lead the people, were asked to come for «fa ew questions» meaning they might be invited to the Court and condemned to jail.

The horrible things happened when a well-known opposition journalist and Maidan rally activist, Tetyana Chornovil, was savagely beaten late on  December  24 by thugs on the way home. According to Tetyana, she was on her way home, in a village near Kyiv where her parents lived, from Maidan square late at night. When she left had Kyiv, she saw she was followed and forced to pull up after a jeep hit her car several times.There were two thugs who broke the window of her car. Tetyana tried to escape but the thugs caught her and started beating. Around midnight, she was taken to the hospital and treated for serious injuries in her head. Her nose was broken and doctors had to put stitches on some injuries.

Before and after

They found a video registrer on Tetyana’s car. You can watch it here.

One day before, Tetyana was busy video-shooting the posh houses of the Interior Minister Zakharchenko and the Prosecutor General Pshonka. Among Chornovol’s many investigative publications are those addressing alleged organized crime background of Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akhmetov and the current President Viktor Yanukovych, as well as lavish countryside property of the latter.

December, 25thEuroMaidan activists called for a picketing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs at 8 am, attended by hundreds who called for Zakharchenko’s resignation. The OSCE and the U.S. embassy in Ukraine condemned the attack. Opposition parties accused the authorities of being behind the attacks, while a statement from Olena Bondarenko of the Party of Regions (which is the party of the President) categorized the attack as spontaneous violence caused by EuroMaidan and blamed the opposition. 

December, 27th. The Church services and torchlight marches to commemorate the 105th birthday of WWII leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists were held in several cities in Western and Central Ukraine, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytsky, Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk. They were all initiated by the nationalist «Svoboda» (Freedom) party, the one of three from the opposition. In Kyiv, a two-thousand people strong column bearing torch lights marched from the Maidan square in the downtown along the capital’s central streets. They looked really aggressive and of course were judged by other people.

One more thing that people started to notice was the aggressive mood of the protesters. They had been standing for our rights for more than month, without proper sleep and neither showers, far away from home and comfort and received many help without any hesitation – they were offered free sleeping places, food, even money by Kyivans who couldn’t stay with them because of the job. Nevertheless, seeing no light in the end, many of them started to behave extremely aggressive. My dad’s friend, member of «BMW ClubUkraine» was taken out of his car and accused of being the one who bought the car for the bribes he got. The fight started from nothing. And situation like this happened sometimes. The mood has changed. Now only by wearing sport clothes you can be accused of being paid to come as provoker and not allowed to enter the protests.

However, protesters had invited everyone to spend New Year on Maidan all together and there were a lot of them during the 31st of December. However, a lot of people left to vacation. But even if Maidan reminded a Christmas Fair rather than a protest, some active people still fought.

January 5th. 45 cars driven by Maidan protesters came to the Zakarpatya residence of Viktor Medvedchuk, the grey eminence of Ukrainian politics and Putin’s stooge in Ukraine. As the gates of the residence were locked, protesters chanted slogans and honked cars. There were six police officers outside the residence. Road police patrols on the way to the residence took the number plates of protesters’ cars.

January, 6th. The authorities responded fast – and repeatedly cut supplies of electricity to the Maidan area, deliberately causing black-out and additional hardships for Maidan protesters staying in tents and two buildings near Maidan square. However, the activists were supported by Kyivans who brought wam clothes and got light by car engines.


“Do not throw the Christmas tree away – Maidan needs it!”

January, 12th, The activists of the AutoMaidan went into their cars to picket the posh Mezhyhirya residence of Viktor Yanukovych. The purpose of the picket was to hand in summons for Yanukovych to appear in the people’s court on Maidan square.

January, 13th.  During the stand-off when the police was blocked by AutoMaidan cars, Yuri Lutsenko (Ukrainian former Minister of Internal Affairs who was sentenced to four years in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office in 2012, but recently released from prison for health reasons) and his wife boarded one of the buses to try to ask the besieged police to leave the buses and take off their masks.  As Lutsenko failed, the protesters began to roll the bus. The police jumped out of the bus and began to beat up those close to its entrance. Yury Lutsenko was one of them trying to stop the police. Instead, the police beat him ruthlessly. One of the injuries to his head had to be sown up. On his way to hospital Yury Lutsenko lost conscience three times. 

There were a lot of rumors about the attack at night of 15th of December, so many people were ready to go out to support the protest. Everyone was happy in the morning, seeing posts on Facebook saying that nothing happened and the night was calm. If only we knew what would be following…
Back to black

The agenda of the day was only the budget – the painful and the most important document to ratify. However, as no one was allowed to discuss and the typical mess among Ukrainian politicians started, the opposition blocked the Rada electronic voting system and the majority was voting by raising hands.

The Vice-Speaker of the Rada, Ihor Kaletnyk, put the bills to the vote, addressing the legislature from the stalls as the rostrum was blocked by the opposition. The opposition says it was impossible to count the votes exactly. However, the majority just announced the results within seconds after the vote. You can see on this video that they raise their hands, a person asks «How many?» and three seconds later, the answer is ready «235!» (2/3 of the needed votes to ratify the document). Journalists say that the noises in the Rada were so loud, no one could actually hear which bill was put to the vote.

The draft bill “On amendments to the Law on the Judicial System and Status of Judges and procedural laws on additional measures for protecting citizens’ safety” has not been passed through any profile committees or parliamentary hearings. There have been no assessments or legal analysis, and it was voted on straight after the budget law, without any discussion. The bill was registered on January 14th by Party of the Regions’ members Volodymyr Oliynyk and Vadym Kolesnichenko. The latter is well-known for legislative initiatives which ape the worst offensives against democracy in the neighbouring Russia. I’ve downloaded it and it contains more than 50 pages written in Times New Roman, 11.

The bill introduces Article 151 “Libel” to the Criminal Code. This establishes a criminal liability for “deliberately circulating knowingly false information which denigrates the honour and dignity of another person. A libel linked with accusations of committing a serious or particularly serious crime are punishable by corrective work from one to two years or restriction of liberty for up to two years.

While this bill does not, as it stands, propose imprisonment for libels, it is a clear offensive against freedom of speech. Its immediate targets are easily guessed, given the protests over the violent dispersing of peaceful protesters on November 30th, the savage attack on investigative journalist Tetyana Chornovol and others. With the Courts in Ukraine increasingly subservient, all it will take is for a Court ruling to formally absolve those widely suspected of liability for any public allegations against them to become criminally punishable “libel”.

These are the main points:


1. If there are more than 5 cars protesting, their driving license will be taken away for two years. The Article 122 is to be supplemented with a fifth paragraph which states: “a movement by a person driving a vehicle in a procession made up of more than five vehicles without agreeing the conditions and procedure of movement within the relevant division of the Interior Ministry in charge of traffic safety which creates obstructions to the traffic should be punishable by a fine from 40 to 50 times the minimum wage before tax, or the stripping of the person’s licence for a period of between one and two years with the paid confiscation of vehicle from its owner, or without this.” There are some seriously steep increases in fines. This means that any AutoMaidan car procession or similar, containing more than five cars, will automatically be in breach of this appallingly repressive law.
2. For not registered mass media, which is filming what is happening – seizal of their equipment + big fine.
3. Setting tents, scene, and even sound without police’s permission – to jail for 15 days.
4. Disrespect to court – to jail for 15 days.
5. Not executing demands of internet access restriction – fine 6,800 UAH (about 600 euro).
6. Not executing “lawful” demands of Security Service of Ukraine – fine more than 2 000 UAH (176 euro)
7. For violation of civic order rules – 10 days in jail.
8. Now it is not necessary to make a protocol/record for a person who might have violated a rule according to the police, it is enough to have the status of witnesses.
9. Blocking of access to dwelling – 6 years in jail.
10. For spreading of extremist materials – 3 years in jail. The law also suggests serious penalties for what is called “extremist activities”. This includes circulation of something called “extremist material” including at rallies, demonstrations, street processions, etc. Those accused of “extremist activities” will include those who provide information services, donations, property, educational, printing or material basis, telephone, fax or other forms of communications.
“Extremist material should be understood as documents in paper, electronic or other forms, intended for publication, which contain information of an extremist nature. That is, they call for, justify or argue in favour of the need to carry out activities to plan, organize, spur people to prepare or carry out actions aimed at a violent change or overthrow of the constitutional order, encroachment on the territorial integrity, inviolability, sovereignty of the state; the violent seizure or retention of power or authority;unlawful interference in the activities or obstruction of the legitimate activities of the authorities, bodies of local self-government , others in authority…”
11. Group violation of civic order – 2 years in jail.
12. Disorders – 10 and even 15 years in jail. Any Maidan participant can be judged!
13. Collecting information of Berkut (division of Ukrainian military force), judges, and other such people – 3 years in jail.
14. A threat to police – 7 years in jail.
15. NGOs who are receiving money from abroad now are ‘foreign agents’, and they have to pay a profit tax and officially called ‘foreign agents’. Such organizations will be obliged every quarter to post on the Internet or public in an official newspaper a report on their activities. An article will also be added to the Tax Code regarding such “foreign agents”.
16. NGOs and Churches cannot do the extremists actions.
17. The government can deny the Internet access. – Same happened in Egypt, Tunisia and many Arabic countries during the revolution.
18. A person can be judged (including going to jail) even without being present in the court.
19. Berkut and all others, who were guilty against Maidan activists, are free from the punishment and judgement.
20. You have to sign an agreement with telecommunication company to buy and use SIM, USIM cards.

When I started to write this article I had a tiny hope that the President would not sign this. I hoped he would be sly and would not do it to show people that he’s honest and get more votes on the elections in 2015. But now after a half of day news telling that most of «implementations» are signed, I can only hope for Ukrainian’s dignity and willingness to struggle for our freedom.

The president and his supporters are just brilliant in one thing – they gather the nation against them. Hoping for better future, that we have to fight for,


Written by Annie Smailikova, AEGEE-Kyiv