November 13, 2018

Attacks on public activists as a factor of destabilization of the domestic political situation in Ukraine

Roman Kot

November 4, 2018, Kherson activist, Advisor to the Mayor of Kherson, Kateryna Handzyuk, died in one of Kyiv hospitals. July 31, in Kherson, acid was thrown over her, resulting in chemical burns of 40 % of K. Handzyuk's body.

These events are a continuation of a steady trend. According to human rights organizations, since the beginning of 2017, there have been at least 55 attacks on representatives of the “third sector”, more than 40 of them within the last 12 months.

Violence against activists is a manifestation of regional elites' attempts to maintain their local influence. At the same time, there are some cases when civic activists are an instrument for redistribution of spheres of influence and are on the side of one power group against another.

After the hospitalization, the activist had undergone 11 operations. The event caused a wide resonance, on the day of K. Handzyuk's death there were mass rallies in the largest cities of Ukraine. In particular, in Kyiv — near the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Given the public response, Handzyuk's case is under the state's leadership's personal control. November 5, the national police transferred the criminal proceedings to the SBU. On suspicion of the attack on the activist, 5 people were arrested. All of them are combat veterans in the East of Ukraine as members of volunteer groups.

Also, in the Ukrainian media there was information that the organizer of the attack on Kateryna Handzyuk received money to be passed over to the performers from the assistant to the member of Parliament of Ukraine. It is noted that the investigators suspect him of passing over the money to the possible organizer of the attack.

November 5, 73 public organizations demanded the resignation of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Minister of Internal Affairs, as well as the leadership of the Kherson police due to the ineffectiveness of the investigation into the attack on Handzyuk.

November 6, the Verkhovna Rada heard a report by the Interior Minister, the Head of the SBU and the Prosecutor General on the progress of the investigation in the case of Handzyuk. Protesting against the intentions of the Verkhovna Rada to interfere with the work of law enforcement agencies, Prosecutor General Yu. Lutsenko announced about his resignation. But it was not accepted by the President and Yu. Lutsenko remained in office.

In order to calm down the public outrage, on the same day, the Parliament created a temporary investigative commission, which would oversee the investigation of the case of Handzyuk and other activists. The activities of such commissions are not regulated by Ukrainian legislation, therefore, the probability that its work will be effective is low and its creation is a purely political step.

Apart from Handzyuk's case, the greatest resonance was the attack on a public activist, head of the Odessa branch of the “People's Power” Party Oleh Mykhaylyk.

September 22, as a result of the attack, he was shot and hospitalized in a bad condition.

Several hundreds of people gathered near the building of the Presidential Administration on 27 September with a demand to report on the progress of investigations. After the action, there is a in some cases, but prosecuted are mainly the performers, not instigators of the attacks.

Further aggravation of the situation will be used by the opposition forces during the presidential and parliamentary election campaigns, and, combined with problems of a socio-economic nature, may lead to internal political destabilization of the country.