Several dozen activists organised a protest action at the Ministry of Internal Affairs office over the death of Alexei Kuchapin, the head of the ”House of Mercy” organisation; Protesters demonstrate in support of troops; Journalist threatened after publishing article; Proposed amendments to law of trade unions undermine freedom of association
Protesters demand investigations into death of human rights volunteer
On 24th July 2020 when several dozen activists organised a protest action at the Ministry of Internal Affairs office over the death of Alexei Kuchapin, the head of the ”House of Mercy” organisation. His body was found on 22nd July in an apartment in the Dnieper district of Kyiv,ending a search which had been ongoing since 16th July 2020. According to the police, the preliminary examination did not reveal any signs of violent death, but the protesters demanded investigations be undertaken into what killed Kuchapin.
On the day of the protest, Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko announced that the death would be investigated as a case of premeditated murder.
Speaking to the press, volunteer priest Zakhariya Kerstyuk, who was a friend and associate of Kuchapin at the “House of Mercy”, referenced numerous threats Kuchapin had received for helping homeless people.
Peat workers stage protest
Workers in the peat factories of the Chernihiv region held a rally near the Chernihiv Regional State Administration demanding that the authorities dismiss the general director the Chernigovtorf state enterprise, Pyotr Slutsenko, appointed six months before.
The protesters accused Slutsenko’s management of destroying peat briquetting plants, and demanded that the head of the Regional State Administration, Andrey Prokopenko, write an open appeal to the Prime Minister of Ukraine requesting him to intervene in the situation, facilitate the dismissal of Slutsenko and appoint another candidate to the post of general director.
The protest action was organised by the trade union Chernigovtorf LLC and supported by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Chernihiv Region.
Protests against construction at public station
In a separate protest incident, on 27th July 2020, it was reported that residents of the Masany district in the city of Chernihiv had announced an indefinite protest against the construction of a gas filling station at a public transport station.
According to Ukrinform News Agency, about 100 people would set up tents next to the construction site and prevent the continuation of work there after the city authorities failed to respond to the first protest action held on 17th July and to petitions which had been submitted to the city mayor.
Construction work began despite the protests and findings by experts that the construction violates several existing standards.
Protesters demonstrate in support of troops
On 22nd July 2020, the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) agreed a complete and comprehensive ceasefire in Donbas region with effect from 27th July 2020. The Ukrainian military was forbidden from opening fire and using aircraft or conducting any reconnaissance activities. In this context, protests organised by activists of patriotic organisations and political parties in support of the troops were held in different cities in Ukraine. In Kyiv, a protest action dubbed "Our army is the guarantor of peace, and Russia is the occupier" took place near the Office of the President of Ukraine. One of the organisers was the European Solidarity party.
Protesters called on Ukrainians to protest as part of the all-Ukrainian action “Let's Defend the Army” over the ceasefire in Donbas. They accused President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of treason over the announced ceasefire. The protesters demanded that the disarming of the army in the conflict zone be cancelled, adding that the agreements endanger the Ukrainian military troops, who are forbidden to conduct reconnaissance missions and return fire.
The organisers of the protest announced that the event aimed to demonstrate disagreement with the decision to deprive the Ukrainian defenders of the right to open fire and conduct intelligence activities. After the protest action near the President's Office ended, participants went to a house in Mariinsky Park, where Vladimir Zelensky used to live. Later, they gathered in front of the Ukrainian Rada.
‘Hands off the language’ protest held in Kyiv
On 16th July 2020 representatives of various political parties and CSOs organised a protest dubbed "Hands off the language!” near the building of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, against a bill tabled by People's Deputy Maxim Buzhansky which proposes to postpone until 2023 the transition to Ukrainian of students who are currently studying in Russian. The bill also abolishes the rule that at least 80% of the educational process in the state must be held in the Ukrainian language.
Ukranian pro-opposition representatives in parliament criticised the proposals, calling them a resumption of Russification and "manipulation" in the run-up to the local elections. According to Radio Free Europe, deputies of the mono-majority also collected signatures against the adoption of the bill.
Proposed amendments to law of trade unions undermine freedom of association
On 27th December 2019, a group of 42 people's deputies registered a draft law № 2681, to amend laws relating to trade unions. According to lawyers of the NGO "Labor Initiatives", the amendments contain several provisions that violate international norms and national legislation, significantly affecting the rights of trade unions and their members. In particular, the intended law proposes to limit the number of trade unions in one enterprise to two primary trade unions, and proposes a minimum of ten members for each trade union, thus making it impossible for workers in small enterprises to unionise.
On 16th July 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent an open letter highlighting how the legislative amendments will affect workers' rights. On 29th July 2020, HRW further published an analysis explaining the possible negative impact of the law, and recommended that the Ukrainian Verkhovna withdraw the law in its current form.
In July 2020, Katerina Sergatskova, co-founder of media outlet Zaborona received threats after she
published an article on 3rd July 2020 accusing the Stop Fake project, a non-profit organisation that aims to stop the dissemination of false information about Ukraine, of compromising information to favour representatives of far-right organisations in Ukraine. In her article, Sergatskova mentioned alleged friendship between leaders of Stop Fake and leaders of these organisations. Stop Fake however responded by accusing Zaborona of orchestrating an attack on their reputation.
Katerina Sergatskova left the country after allegedly receiving threats from unknown people who warned her and her family to be vigilant. She was also targeted in Facebook posts in which people posted information including her home address, a photo of her home and photographs of her five-year-old son.
Responding to the threats, human rights groups called for investigations.
Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said:
“Journalists should not have to fear for their lives because of what they report… The Ukrainian authorities should immediately investigate these threats and ensure that Sergatskova and her family are safe.”
Europe and Central Asia Programme Coordinator Gulnoza of the Committee to Protect Journalists also said:
“Ukrainian authorities should conduct a swift and fair investigation into the threats against journalist Katerina Sergatskova and her family, and hold the perpetrators accountable… Sergatskova and her family’s safety should be ensured, and she should be able to continue her work as a journalist without fear for her life or the lives of her loved ones. Authorities must not ignore this journalist’s pleas for help.”