Member of Parliament Vadym Kolesnichenko, of the ruling Party of Regions, arrived at Kyiv's Zhulyany Airport to take a plane to Sevastopol, Crimea on March 2, 2013. Yulia Pinizhanina, an employee of Air Onix, asked Kolesnichenko for his passport at check-in, but he gave her his MP's card instead. Since only the passenger's passport is considered an acceptable form of ID for air travel in Ukraine, Pinizhanina refused to register Kolesnichenko for the flight when he failed to produce the needed document. Her decision angered the politician.
Unaware of being filmed by a fellow traveller standing nearby, Kolesnichenko accused Pinizhanina of being rude to him and of violating the Constitution. He threatened her with dismissal and, among other things, said he would enjoy watching her prosecuted and cleaning streets afterwards.
Journalist Ivanna Kobernik, who happened to be at the airport at the time of Kolesnichenko's emotional outburst, wrote [uk] about it on her Facebook page very soon, around noon on Saturday. A bit later, the short anonymous video of the politician's conversation with the airline employee was posted on YouTube [ru, uk], receiving over 94,000 views in a week:
Ukrainian politicians are known to be a wild bunch, so hardly anyone following the airport scandal was surprised by the fact that a lawmaker was caught disregarding the laws he and his colleagues had produced.
On Facebook, user Olha Miroshnyk left this comment [uk], for example:
If only the MPs were flying without passports! My acquaintance, a local [elected official], has no idea where his driver's license is and has been driving with his deputy's ID card for ten years, with traffic police even saluting him!
User Oleksandr Spryahaylo wrote [uk]:
A representative of a legislative organ demanded that an airport employee violate a law in his favor… That's why we live the way we do.
This story would have remained just another thread in the ongoing public discussion of Ukrainian politicians’ consequence-free conduct, had Kolesnichenko limited himself to his spontaneous, early-morning verbal attack on Pinizhanina. But he chose to continue on the online battleground, via his Ukrainska Pravda blog.
In a lengthy post [ru], which appeared some 12 hours after the airport incident, Kolesnichenko wrote that this was the first time since 2006, when he got elected to Parliament, that he was asked for his passport at domestic flight check-in. He explained that he had acquired his economy class ticket, free of charge, using his MP's ID card, a routine procedure for Ukrainian lawmakers, and at first he thought Pinizhanina's request was a joke – especially since the Crimean Prosecutor Vyacheslav Pavlov had had no problem registering for the same flight with his work ID, not his passport, just ahead of Kolesnichenko.
On his blog, Kolesnichenko did not repeat his forecast as to Pinizhanina's potential future employment as a street cleaner, but elaborated on the legal action he intended to take against her, claiming that she had committed a criminal offense defined in Article 351 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine [en] (“Interference with activity of a National Deputy of Ukraine or a deputy of a local council”).
The online community's reaction was swift.
Journalist Olga Chervakova wrote [ru]:
A reminder: in order to get this person [Kolesnichenko] employed, we voted for him. And for him to receive his salary, we pay taxes.
User Anna Oshchypok wrote [uk]
[…] This case shows that this public figure – an MP and just a human being – completely lacks culture! Who elects these people? The majority of Ukrainians, it turns out. I hope we'll eventually grow mature enough to be more thoughtful when voting!!
User Tanya Husack wrote [ru]:
[…] A Ukrainian MP who has DARED TO THREATEN A UKRAINIAN CITIZEN!!!!…. MUST be held criminally responsible.
LJ user wetally came up with a few ideas [uk] on how to sue Kolesnichenko: according to him, the Criminal Code [en] Article 27.4 (“The abettor is a person who has induced any other accomplice to a criminal offense, by way of persuasion, subornation, threat, coercion or otherwise”), Article 365 (“Excess of authority or official powers”) and Article 383 (“Intended misreport of a criminal offense”) could prove useful – but only, of course, after Kolesnichenko is stripped of his parliamentary immunity.
In his blog post, which has been shared around 1,200 times on Facebook alone, Kolesnichenko also concluded that the airport incident must have been part of a political “provocation” carried out “on direct orders from the airline's management or other officials who oppose the Party of Regions.” Ukrainska Pravda journalist Serhiy Leshchenko promptly responded [ru] to this statement on his blog, posting documents and links that show that Air Onix actually belongs to an Austrian company allegedly owned by family members of the leader of the Party of Regions, PM Mykola Azarov.
Commenting on the connection between the Kolesnichenko episode and the disastrous state of Ukraine's infrastructure, journalist Andrey Chernikov described [ru] what happens when the Ukrainian politicians’ claustrophobic yet comfortable little planet crosses the orbit of the planet that ordinary Ukrainians live on:
[…] [the current ruling elite] has started devouring itself. […] 99.9% of the roads are ruined, there is garbage in cities and villages – and all this surrounds mansions of the people in power, too. It is well-known that the ubiquitous stench doesn't give a damn about 5-meter fences and 50 bodyguards. […] The paradox is that they aren't bothered by this, even though they should be.
[…] Neither the ruling elite, nor the oligarchs can enjoy the results of their work anymore, even [if they pay for it]. Next time an official feels like complaining about a power outage at home, there's a 100% chance that he will have to pour all his wrath on his fellow party member who owns some [local energy supplier]. Or if a large chocolate producer is no longer able to deliver its products throughout the country because the roads are ruined and expensive vehicles are breaking en masse – it will be somewhat awkward to complain to the PM, because the PM says that nearly 100% of the roads have already been repaired, and to ask him to repair a road is worse than a no-confidence vote and more like a suicide. […]
The general picture looks like this: the owners and consumers of all that exists in the country is a group of people who call themselves the power and the masters of life, and since they cannot file complaints against each other for low-quality goods and services, they are forced to quietly make use of whatever's available. And if the party tells them to, they'll be savoring the stench that has filled the country's air.
As for Kolesnichenko and his crusade against the Air Onix employee who was just doing her job, on Tuesday, March 5, the police said [uk] there appeared to be no reasons yet to open a criminal case against Pinizhanina. On Wednesday, March 6, Kolesnichenko was already busy with something else: he was making headlines [uk] for his low opinion of the Ukrainian anthem, which he considered not inspiring enough.