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Ukraine’s fired policemen protest police reform

A demonstration of the disbanded militsiya forces. Photo: Vakhtang Kipiani
Ukraine’s fired policemen protest police reform

Ukraine’s most well-known reform is the creation of a new, non-corrupt police service based on the Georgian model. However, the disbanded old militsiya forces are not taking it easy: last week, a few hundred of them came to protest in the streets of Kyiv. This is a unique case in the militsiya’s history: usually they stood on the opposite side of the barricades, defending the system of disgraced President Yanukovych from the people of the country. Now they claim to defend their own rights. Are their demands reasonable and will the society and authorities react to their requests?

What is this protest about

In the middle of 2015, Ukraine started implementing a law enforcement reform. Since July, the first patrol police in Ukraine started to work in Kyiv, later it appeared in several regions of the country. Replacing the militsiya, a new institution was created –  the National Police. The law on it was signed by the President Petro Poroshenko on 4 August 2015. Simultaneously with the appearance of new faces, old employees were carefully checked. In a result, many of them lost their jobs.

Read more: Spell our name with a ‘mi’: Ukrainian law enforcement and the new patrol police

According to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov, during 2015, 47 000 old militsiya officers had been fired because of different reasons. Those who wants to join the new service were offered to pass the test.

“First and foremost, the central office will have to pass a competency test. Next, the employees of operation units will have to pass a specialized test and IQ tests. If necessary, managers can be tested on a lie detector. Some of the candidates will be additionally interviewed on the decision of the commission,” said Hatiya Dekanoidze, the Chairwoman of the National Police of Ukraine.

She added that in some cases there will be a competition for senior positions in the Ministry of Internal affairs.

The tests had been launched for militsiya officers from Kyiv and Kyiv Oblast. According to the results, 37% (3386 people) did not pass. They will be fired and not allowed to become part of the new service.

On 13 December 2015, a few hundred of the representatives of the old system came to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kyiv to demand the cancellation of the decree on creating the test commissions. Their main complaints were employment layoffs and the fact that in the commissions there are too little people who have experienced in working for the law enforcement services.

“The test commissions were created before the relevant order came into effect. In addition, there are hardly competent people in these commissions, in particular, the radical wing of Automaidan, which was calling for reprisal towards law enforcement officers,” said Peter Vasiuk, the head of the local trade union organization representing Interior Affairs employees.

Automaidan, the “cavalry” of the Euromaidan protests, particularly suffered from the hands of militsiya, having undergone ambushes and kidnappings.

Read more: Why did AutoMaidan become the frontline of Ukraine’s civil protest?

The voice of the old militsiya has been heard, however the answer of society the authorities was not pleasant for them.

The harsh response to the protestants

No empathy and no desire to help – society answered then in the same way as the staff of the old services had been reacting to society’s requests during all the years of modern Ukraine.

Social media users are joking about the protest saying that “in the end the militsiya will use power against themselves and disperse themselves.” They also poked fun at the scarcity of national flags at the meeting (only one was noticed). However, the main message from society was: these people never protected us, why should we now care about their problems.

Mustafa Nayem, MP, Petro Poroshenko Bloc:

“They did not go to protests when their chiefs demanded bribes from them [that they gathered by molesting regular citizens – ed]. They did not protest when people were brutally beaten in the militsiya departments, they did not let lawyers visit them. They did not organize demonstrations when the traffic police service turned into into a profitable business. They had no courage to raise their voices even when they themselves were forced to pay bribes for ranks and positions. Militsiya now came to the streets to leave everything as it is. It is not a rally. It is the real resistance of the system and the fight against change. This is not a protest, it has another name – sabotage. And this is only Kyiv and Kyiv Oblast. The whole country is ahead and nobody said it would be easy.”

Vakhtang Kipiani, a journalist and historian:

“The old cops are protesting against the violation of their rights. During the times of Kuchma [ex-President of Ukraine – ed] and Yanukovych they never protested against the violation of our rights and have always served as hounds of the regime. Moral #1: go away to the dustbin of history and to the labor market (if someone wants to hire you). The funny thing is that it was the adviser of the Minister of Internal Affairs, MP Anton Gerashchenko, that came to them to “talk about reforms.” He about whom Ukraiinska Pravda wrote “drives by car [costs $30 000, is absent in the declaration], which he “leases” from a friend, and also has a “friend” as a personal driver. Moral #2: “plague be on both your houses.”

The Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov:

“Any protest of the militsiya officers who have not passed the test and certification will not change my determination: we will not have incompetent and dirty cops! Only those cops, in whom people have confidence! It is a principled position! It will not be any other way.

The beehive has been stirred up… Did your way of life collapse? Your large and small feeding troughs are gone? For you, people of yesterday, it will be this way. Do you want to be respected by people and to have decent wages? Accept the new ideology of the police! The “protest” against the police reform was organized by those whose dirty schemes we are destroying with the reform and personnel change. I’m glad it happened – an abscess was discovered – now we will act more quickly and decisively!”

Khatia Dekanoidze
, director of the National Police, also sees the protest as a good sign:

“When we started the reform, this protest was expected. Because no reform, and especially the reform of the police, can be conducted without the resistance of the system. Because this is a system which will fight back. But if somebody thinks that she is alone in this battle, this person is wrong. Because I am very grateful for the support of the Minister (Avakov), grateful for the support of the government and the President. These are people who today came out (to protest), did not wait for an appeal because they knew exactly that they will not win the appeal. I will say that we are proud that these people came to the streets. Why? Because it means that we are doing everything right. So we’re on the right way. The reform of the National Police is the most anticipated reform of the Ukrainian people. The only thing I want to say to society – trust us. We know what we’re doing. And believe us, we do not want to see in the new series of the National Police people who were involved in personal enrichment schemes for 20-25 years.”

The core of the problem

Ukraine inherited the system of law enforcement from the Soviet Union. In 1990, Ukrainian SSR passed the law “On militsiya” which was the legislative base for the activity of the forces until recent days, but the gap between theory and practice widened with each day. After claiming the Independence of Ukraine in 1991, year by year those who were in power tried to use this force in their interests. Of course, this isn’t true for all militsiya officers – positive stories about the institution  also exist. For instance, during the Orange Revolution in 2004, a part of the service chose the side of the people. During Euromaidan, the militsiya in Lviv refused to use force against the peaceful protesters. However, these are single examples, while the list of cases of violation of the law by the militsiya can be endless.

Women and militsiya during the Euromaidan protest at vul Hrushevskoho during winter of 2014

During Euromaidan protests, militsiya used to stand in front of the people whom they should have been defending. The militsiya served as a safety net for the notorious special unit “Berkut,” who treated people with special cruelty, beating and humiliating them. The old law enforcement forces arrested and persecuted Euromaidan activists throughout Ukraine, often kidnapping wounded protesters right out of hospitals.

The Berkut riot police strip protester in -10°C during the Euromadain protests in winter of 2014

A few weeks ago, the General Prosecutor’s office completed a pre-trial investigation of the case against the former militsiya officers who illegally issued weapons and ammunition for using it against participants of the Euromaidan Revolution, as a result of which over a hundred peole were killed. In March 2015, a report on these tragic events came out, released by the International Advisory Group by the Council of Europe. The Group emphasized that during the preparation of the report, the Ukrainian MIA employees did not cooperate and even hampered the investigation – they would have had to reveal their own actions.

Also, militsiya workers are accused in complicity to crimes committed by separatists during the tragic events in Odesa on 2 May 2014 when 48 people died during the clashes and fire in the House of Trade Unions.

The role of militsiya in conflict in eastern Ukraine which turned into war is ambivalent, as in some cities law enforcement officers supported the separatists movements or were indifferent to violation of order, which in the end let pro-Russian forces enter these cities.

In 2013, just a few month before Euromaidan, the country was shaken by the protests coming from the town Vradiivka, located in Mykolayiv Oblast. The protests were caused by gang rape and murderous assault of a citizen of Vradiyivka, Iryna Krashkova. The victim pointed out on to two militisiya officers and a local taxi driver. The court refused to detain one of the suspects. That caused protests with thousands of participants in the town and a storming of the building of the district office of militsiya. In the end, the district prosecutor was fired and the chief of regional law enforcement departments was discharged from the office.

Read more: This is for Vradyivka! Because only Dante could live up to describing the the social hell Ukrainians are living in

In 2012, TV-journalists conducted an investigation about the work of one of Kyiv’s predetention centers.

“The Kyiv predetention center holds the first place in the number of reports of brutality, tortures, inhuman conditions of detention and the strange deaths in prison cells, because that’s where the regime of Yanukovych sends their enemies. 6 months ago we set a goal – to find a way to show people the true Lukianivka [the name of the district of the city where the center is located]. The real one, not the one that the selected media show,” said the author of the film, Konstantin Usov, at the beginning of his story.

These are only single episodes in the situation with militsiya in Ukraine. Also there are hundreds of particular cases when representatives of the institution were violating human rights and the law, involved in corruption schemes or taking singular bribes, were collaborating with criminals. So it is no surprise that society has no trust in militsiya together with all other law enforcement institutions.

According to the research conducted by the Kucherev fund for Democratic Initiatives in July 2015, different law enforcement institutions are the third most mistrusted government institution in Ukraine: courts are mistrusted by 67% of Ukrainians, the prosecutor’s office – by 67%, militsiya – by 57%, Security Service – by 34%. By the way, Russian media is distrusted by even more (76%). The most trusted are volunteers.

Who is coming to replace the old militsiya

According to the law on the National Police, the level of public confidence in the police is the main evaluation criterion for assessing the effectiveness of the authorities and police forces. Estimation of the level of public confidence in the police is conducted by independent sociological services in the manner determined by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

The structure of the new police consists of:

  1. criminal police;
  2. patrol police;
  3. bodies of pre-trial investigation;
  4. security police;
  5. special police;
  6. special assignment police.

According to Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov, the process of creating the new police will take around 2 years.

Often the police reform is considered to be just a showcase

So far, the new patrol police working in 6 oblasts of Ukraine. The traffic police department has been liquidated. A few month after the newly prepared police started working, excitement within society has been replaced by more critical points of view. In fact, the patrol police in many cases serves only as an intermediary between the law offender and the investigation and unit. The new police are fast in reacting to calls, but have proven to be unable to solve cases by themselves. Since the beginning of the reform’s implementation, the police have shown signs of unprofessionalism: the amount of car accidents increased 1,5 times, dozens of protocols were filled in improperly, the reasons of car accidents are not analyzed, giving reason for some media to say that it is just a showcase reform. The cars of new department are visible, the policemen’s are polite, their uniform looks cool, however all of that does not replace the need of professionalism. Also, questions are voiced as to why the reform was not started from departments which serve as basis for the whole law enforcement system but are not so visible.

So just a demonstrative dismissals of the old staff and hiring a new one might be not such a good solution – these actions should be followed up by systematic quality work and positive results. Apart from that, the state will need to face another problem – it should think about the fate of the old staff which was fired. These people are quite familiar with corruption schemes and the criminal world, and some of them can chose the other side of the law.

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