While the parliament was considering a number of issues on its agenda on June 19, tumultuous events took place near the central entrance of the Verkhovna Rada building. That location hosted protests by miners, Chornobyl victims, and veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The protest would have most likely stayed little-noticed had its participants not broken through and reached the walls of the building in Konstytutsii Square. There was a clash between protesters and law-enforcement personnel. According to Andrii Kryshchenko, the Kyiv head of the National Police, three law-enforcement officers had suffered light injuries at the hands of the protesters. He also said that the police had detained a protester who attacked a law-enforcement officer.
“We did not know almost till the last moment that Chornobyl victims and anti-terrorist operation (ATO) veterans would join the protest as well. It was the police who informed us about it, as they tried to prevent any incidents,” chairman of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine Mykhailo Volynets commented for The Day. “To make our speeches heard, we took turns using the Afghanistan veterans’ sound equipment. The ATO veterans, like the Afghanistan veterans, demanded reinstatement of their benefits they had had unfairly taken away. Secondly, they demanded fairly calculated pensions. The government has been promising it for a long time. In turn, the miners have wage arrears going back to 2015. This problem could have been solved had the parliament voted to include on the agenda Mykhailo Bondar’s bill on the allocation of funds for wages, technical equipment and capital investment in the coal industry. We need it because at this time, a huge amount of coal is purchased abroad. The tempo of coal imports is increasing. Last year, our foreign coal purchases stood at 52 billion hryvnias.”
“When people began marching to the parliament building, head of the State Security Department Valerii Heletei approached me and said that his people would fight to the death in case of an assault on the building,” Volynets continued. “I explained that nobody was going to carry out an assault. If we wanted just to enter the parliament building, it would be no problem at all. The scuffles took place only after the riot police appeared. Then Iryna Herashchenko, the first vice-speaker of parliament, emerged from the building, and she obviously did not understand the miners’ issues. She said she would visit affected regions and figure out why there were arrears. I think that she ought to be more prepared.”
Herashchenko, meanwhile, explained to the media that she had invited an initiative group selected by the protesters to enter negotiations. She added that following a meeting between members of the initiative group and leaders of the largest parliamentary factions and individual MPs, their demands would be discussed at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada’s Committee on Veterans, Combatants, ATO Soldiers, and People with Disabilities. “We have to work out a plan outlining what can be done right now, what can be included into the budget for 2019, and what cannot be done, and we must honestly say that,” Herashchenko stated as quoted by ukrinform.ua.
“I have a lot of acquaintances among the organizations that joined these protests,” MP Viktor Chumak commented for The Day. “They sent me their demands, and these demands have nothing to do whatsoever with the powers of the Verkhovna Rada. They all belong to the cabinet’s responsibilities: benefits, monetization, and so on. Their demands are addressed primarily to leaders of the nation. Who are these national leaders? What do they have to do with the parliament? Therefore, all this protest, which took place outside the Verkhovna Rada building, had no direct relation to it. Social benefits are set by the Cabinet of Ministers. I have not found out who was the main driver of this event, but it seems to me that it was directed against serving Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman. This is a warning to him, even though it was made public not outside the cabinet offices, but rather outside the parliament building. With whom is Hroisman now in conflict? One person only, and his name is Petro Poroshenko. Hroisman is friends with numerous parties and factions, as well as MPs elected in single-member constituencies. Meanwhile, Poroshenko is greatly dissatisfied with Hroisman’s work. Therefore, it seems to me that the source of the protests should be sought in Bankova Street [where the Presidential Administration is housed. – Ed.]. Any demands, including those of purely social nature, are a priori political at this juncture.”
Any Ukrainian citizen enjoys the right to protest and to defend their social rights. It is another matter under what conditions all this is happening. Firstly, we must not forget that we have a war to deal with, although this is not a valid reason for the government to engage in speculations and ignore problems. Secondly, with the presidential election approaching, any social or economic issues can be used by politicians to their own ends. Therefore, citizens need to be particularly attentive and responsible given this reality.