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Ukraine: Grassroots Activism

On May 12, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on illegal construction in Kyiv, “an epidemic” that is causing much harm to the city – but is also stirring numerous grassroots protests. One of the activists interviewed for the story was Artem Chapaye – aka LiveJournal (LJ) user chapeye:

[…] Like many of his peers, Chapeye took to the streets in 2004 demonstrations that captivated international imagination and ushered President Viktor Yushchenko into power. Today, he and his friends use that experience, with the help of the Internet, to stage demonstrations against deals cut by people they helped elevate into office.

“The state itself is destroying the city, so we have to fight with our own fists,” Chapeye said. “The bulldozers come and we fight.” […]

Chapeye re-posted the LA Times’ story on his blog, adding this sarcastic remark (UKR):

Yes, yes, yes, these damn activists are now ruining Ukraine's international reputation.

This, of course, is an overstatement. Ukraine's image abroad, boosted by the 2004 Orange Revolution, remains largely intact, as the Western media rarely focus on purely domestic matters, such as the vehement public opposition to Kyiv's illegal construction – even though, according to Chapaye, “all foreign journalists working here are perfectly aware of the issue.”

The publication of the LA Times’ story is nevertheless a victory for the activists, as well as a reflection of the fact that many ordinary Ukrainians, fed up with a culture of lawlessness that is flourishing in their country, are becoming increasingly involved in grassroots activism.

One of the latest rallies – Velonayizd (“Bicycle Attack”) – took place in Kyiv on June 21, when nearly 500 cyclists, bikers and pedestrians gathered in front of the municipal police headquarters for a Critical Mass-type event, prompted by the recent deaths of at least two cyclists and the authorities’ failure to bring the perpetrators to justice.


Velonayizd (“Bicycle Attack”), Kyiv, June 21, 2008 – photo by Alex Kleimenov

On June 7, Anatoly Perepadya, a prominent Ukrainian literary translator, was hit by a car as he was riding to the Writers’ Union in Kyiv; he died at a hospital two days later. Born in 1935, Perepadya was held in high esteem for his translations of the works of Marcel Proust, Albert Camus, Francesco Petrarca, François Rabelais, Michel de Montaigne, Antoine de Saint Exupéry and many others. An avid cyclist, in one of his interviews (RUS) Perepadya mentioned that his bicycle was something of an alternative office for him:

Every day, I tried to translate two sonnets [of Petrarca]. […] When things weren't going smoothly, I'd get on my bike and ride around for a long time, and the verses would then come together in my mind.

LJ user dnistrovyj posted a note (UKR) on Perepadya's death in the literatura_ua LJ community, and here's one of the comments (UKR) he received:

terrykoo:

Judging by the statistics and publications on high-profile traffic accidents, what's taking place on Ukrainian roads today is a total nightmare! I don't know anything about the circumstances of Anatoly Perepadya's accident, but a high-ranking official has to be found who will not only “take control” of the investigation, but will also make sure that it results in something; otherwise, WE will have to self-organize and seek justice!.. Because if we don't, our “young” culture may literally not survive into adulthood…

On June 9, Oleksiy (Alesha) Bashkirtsev – LJ user alesha-kiev, a 22-year-old Kyiv musician and performance artist – was killed by a 20-year-old drunk driver.

The following text (RUS) by LJ user arizona_ – about the tragedy and the outrageously inadequate police response – has been re-posted by many bloggers and online media outlets, making it into the Top 30 at Yandex Blogs portal at some point:

[…] While everyone is recovering from the shock and saying good-bye to [Alesha], the man who caused the tragedy is doing all he can to escape justice

[…]

The tragedy took place near Lukyanivska metro station, by the “Sekunda” store. [Alesha] was riding his bicycle, and was hit by an absolutely drunk driver. [Alesha]'s friend Fedor, who was riding together with him, witnessed it all. According to him, he heard the screeching of the wheels behind him, and, as he turned around, he saw a car driving at full speed right at them. It was moving very fast [as it hit Alesha].

[…]

The ambulance arrived 20 minutes later.

[Alesha] was still conscious for a while after being hit, he was in the state of pain shock. The car driver – Khomutovsky Stanislav Olegovych, b. 1988 – got out of the car and started yelling that he's gonna be killed for having ruined the car. According to witnesses, he was absolutely drunk. He never approached the victim of the crash.

The ambulance took [Alesha] to the Pechersk district hospital, where he died several hours later.

The car driver was also taken away by an ambulance, because he seemed to have something like a concussion. Under such circumstances, they usually do blood tests at hospitals, forcefully. It is known that the driver was given a paper ordering him to have a blood test, but, of course, he never did it. A medical conclusion certifying that the driver was drunk DOES NOT EXIST.

[…]

The driver was detained for three days, and then, in accordance with the prosecutor's decision, he was let go on bail. According to the investigator, they wanted to keep him longer, but they got orders from the prosecutor to let him out on bail for the time evidence is being gathered.

Also, according to the investigator, investigation will last for two months. And once they have the results of this investigation, they'll set a date for the trial.

Two months is enough time to prove that driver is not guilty and, moreover, is a victim himself. Knowing how the system works, it's not necessary to explain why it's so simple, right?

[…]

Omitted from the translation above are mentions of a video from the scene of the accident: it was made public somewhat later. Among other things, it features the driver of the BMW that killed Alesha Bashkirtsev. Taras of Ukrainiana, like many other Ukrainian bloggers, embedded the video (UKR) on his blog – and supplied it with a translated transcript:

In the comments section, Taras wrote about some of the recent deadly car accidents whose perpetrators have gone unpunished. One of the obvious conclusions:

[…] Riding a bike in a place where people who drive luxury cars kill with impunity can be very dangerous. […]

But this relative impunity of some inspires protest on the part of others.

Victor Zagreba (aka LJ user viktoza) wrote this (RUS) on his other, non-LJ, Russian-language Bicycle Blog:

[…] All this is forcing Kyiv residents to… no, not to take out their guns (not yet) – but to come out to protest rallies. […] Beginning this Saturday [June 21], we plan to hold street protests regularly, every week or every other week. Until complete victory. […]

Below are links to photo reports from the June 21 rally of Kyiv's cyclists:

- LJ user andriyko (20 photos)

- LJ user my-soul-rebel (14 photos)

- LJ user eagle_x (7 photos)

3 comments

  • […] Ukrainians are becoming “increasingly involved in grassroots activism.” […]

  • Thank you for doing a great job spreading the word, Neeka!

    In the absence of action, the lawlessness we face on our roads will become an international issue, provided Ukraine keeps its Euro 2012 hosting rights.

  • Anonymous

    The roads in Ukraine can be sometimes be like a scene out of Mad Max 1

    A friend of mine was recently driving in Kyiv when he had to pass a truck on the road. A big black or dark-blue 4wd, the kind driven by a government security agents came racing up behind and flashed his lights. My friend had little to no place to go until he passed the truck.

    When the 4WD caught up and passed, my friend decided to flash the driver back.

    The driver obviously annoyed but now not so much in a hurry began to slow down and swerve across the road forcing my friend to come to a stop.

    My friend got out of his car to find out what the drivers problem was and when he reached the 4WD vehicle the driver produced a pistol and shot him in the leg.

    He ended up spending the next month in hospital. The hospital surgeon removed a green rubber bullet from his leg.

    The incident was reported to the police and the English speaking media (Who did not report on the incident)

    Although there was an investigation of sorts one has to question the veracity of the investigation.

    The Green bullet that was removed from the lower leg where it was embedded having deflected off the shin bone, if by magic, transformed into a hard black plastic bullet.

    It was definitely not the bullet that was removed and had this bullet been the one used then my friends leg bone would have been severely shattered were as the green soft plastic bullets, the kind used by official security agents, just deflected off the bone causing less damage.

    The various authorities have just put it down to a case of road rage – sadly all too common in Kyiv

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