Students protest in Horlivka

3,160 peaceful actions take place in Donetsk oblast

On March 19, students of the Horlivka State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages held a meeting for students’ rights. On March 14, more than 350 students of the Horlivka Institute of Foreign Languages held a meeting in the central classroom building against corruption of the school administration and forcing students out of dorms.

First, the administration started collecting “voluntary donations” from Horlivka students to pay for the heating of the university buildings. On March 13 students published an open letter that described the situation at the Institute: “We have kept quiet long enough, but it has come to an end now. Things are not all that pretty and smooth at one of the most prestigious universities of Horlivka, as it may seem at a first glance, and they are not running in that wonderful way the administration wants them to look. November 2011, it is beastly cold in the classrooms. The heating is off, it was probably never turned on. The toilets are not working, though 70,000 hryvnias were allocated to repair them. Viktor Dokashenko, a spokesman for the school’s administration, maintains that the heating system is out of order, though the heating company staff insist that their equipment is working fine. It is just that the heating was not turned on, on the administration’s orders. This situation has lasted for five years now, but everyone is afraid to speak out, or when they do, they are being ignored and waved away.” The administration decided to solve the heating problems with the help of students. The administration of the institute appeals to the students with a demand to make an obligatory donation of 250 hryvnias per person to pay the Institute’s utilities debt. The money should be transferred to the Institute’s operating account, and a small statement should be written in the rector’s name, saying “Dear Mr. Rector, please accept my donation for utility payments. I am doing this voluntarily and do not have any claims,” the appeal says.

After the letter was published, students received information they were moved out of the dorms with a promise to turn the electricity off to speed up the process. The next day, on March 14, the unruly students skipped their classes and called a meeting in the main classroom building, where nearly 350 participants rallied. The administration had no other choice but to yield and accept the students’ demands. Students have won this particular battle, but is it the last one?On Monday, March 19, the students picketed the university again. This time the meeting was pre-planned. More than 300 students spoke for their rights.

Lately 3,160 peaceful protests were organized in Donetsk oblast, 154 of them caused by social and economic reasons. This information is given by the portal of non-political news ngo.donetsk.ua, with a reference to Andrii Anosov, the Head of Public Security Department of the Chief Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Donetsk oblast.

These are not political but social protests. People are not afraid to make their dissatisfaction known. The local authorities in Donetsk understand that the awakening of the public and its involvement in shaping the society can affect the pre-election process. That is why they realize it is better to be the activists’ friend, rather than their enemy, and show their openness to the public by offering an opportunity of a dialog. This is why, for example, on March 1 the Donetsk city government initiated a roundtable, at which human rights advocates, peaceful rallies activists, and representatives of the government and mass media were able to discuss the matters of peaceful rallies.

COMMENTARIES

Pavlo OSTROVSKY, student, the Donetsk National University, journalist, head of the Donetsk affiliation of the CHESNO civic movement:

“It is protests that slowly, but steadily help shape civic society. When people take to the street to stand up for their rights, they feel themselves citizens. Everyone must have already noticed that our government understands only one language, that of force. When the streets are flooded by thousand-strong crowds of angry citizens, who demand to stop infringements of their rights, government is well aware of their strength. So it has to take the protesters’ opinion into consideration and react accordingly.

“There have been not so many protests in our region recently. Perhaps it was the effect of the post-Soviet mentality, which bans you from arguing with the boss. Yet thanks to our fellow countryman in the top office, this tendency has radically changed. Over the recent two years, most protests have taken place in Donbas.”

Kateryna ZHEMCHUZHNYKOVA, blogger, activist, EcoFan movement, Donetsk:

“Peaceful protests provide people with an opportunity to highlight the government’s drawbacks and weaknesses. It is a kind of feedback, helping civil servants to revise and improve their activities. Protests are meant to get people, who face a certain problem on a daily basis, to draw attention of those who do not know of this problem, but can help solve it. In Europe, the usefulness of peaceful protests has long been obvious both to citizens and government officials. People unite to solve a problem, and thus defend their interests.

“Finally, when citizens start to realize the need to voice their discontent, or propose their alternative vision of how a problem can be solved, there is no room left in their minds to just wait idly: ‘Ok, let government improve my situation, since I cannot influence anything.’ In my opinion, the realization of the fact that everyone has the right, possibility, and capability to decide for themselves actually promotes the progress of society. Conscious and compassionate people can do anything – even change the world.”