Evidence against oligarchs and politicians
With the Crimean crisis looming in the background, the Ukrainians are keen on starting the reckoning of the previous authorities. The evidence hunt is on.
Every day, starting 10 a.m. until midnight, volunteers under the protection of revolution soldiers restore and catalogue the damaged files, left behind by the toppled former authorities.
The scene I shall describe takes place at one of the more distant Kiev underground stations. At the end of a small alleyway, lined with detached houses, an inconspicuous building stands. The weather in Kiev is already warm and sunny for the time of year; some trees in the area have already started to sprout buds.
I approach a large gateway; behind it, a two-storey building, the tallest one in the vicinity. I press the intercom button, after a while, three armed Maidan Self-defence activists, batons in hand, lean against the top of the fence.
– You for the documents? Volunteer? Journalist? Come on in. – the gate swings open, and I enter the building, now the HQ for a number of Kiev-based NGOs.
Volunteers needed to solve puzzles
On the two floors, scores of volunteers standing at tables take hours to systematically fill coloured sheets of paper with long, thin tagliatelle of shredded documents. The majority are young, but there are many in their thirties and forties. Students; businesspeople; librarians; academics.
My interview partner is Irena Pogorzelska, a Polish woman born in Ukraine, Ukrainian citizen and resident of Kiev. I cannot but help looking at her necklace – red beads interwoven with Polish pre-war coins, embossed with the crowned eagle symbol.
Irena was one of the first to have answered the call by Denys Bihus, the journalist who was the one who asked people via the Internet to help process the documents found in the residence of the ex-president, Viktor Yanukovyvh in Mezihirya. A moment after she had arrived at the office she was appointed chief coordinator.
Systematic new arrivals began. 100 hundred of them rotate over the daily 14-hour cycle. They come to work here – after they leave their jobs, before classes, during time off. Only to add one more brick to the edifice of the toppled regime’s reckoning.
People bring in tea, coffee, biscuits and food for others. They meet, talk and laugh, when yet another chapter on the Mezihirya absurdities is recreated. Everything goes from grass-roots level upwards – so characteristic of the Euromaidan.
Now, the Ukrainians are hoping to discover evidence of the fraud and deceit that Yanukovych and his people would prolifically carry out in the past.
Plastic bags full of evidence
The material is abundant and rich. Although parts of the documents had been burnt, the vast majority were quick-shredded, some simply torn, many dumped into the river near the residence. Maidan activists took to boats to systematically recover the still-floating paper sheets. Divers also searched the riverbed, where a number of safes and crates were found.
Now all the damaged documents are restored and have been catalogued. Irena Pogorzelska explains the principles of volunteers’ operation:
– Their task is to attach all the pieces they find to a coloured sheet of paper. They scan the sheets, and by use of a computer program – basing its calculations on the contours of the paper and letters on it – it matches the edges of the scraps. It simply finds and matches the elements out of the millions in its database – and so, complete documents are recreated!
– It is indeed work that Benedictine monks would be proud of. – “Rzeczpospolita" is told by Denys Bihus, the organiser of the action. When he was launching it, he had no idea of the amount of time it would consume.
– I thought that would take two, three days maximum. I only realised my misjudgement when a truck arrived, filled with plastic bags full of paper scraps, each of them 1cm by 2cm. The first truck, mind you.
The work on recreating the damaged documents has been ongoing for a week now; the Mezihirya documents are now finished and the volunteers have got down to papers found in the office of Serhiy Kurchenkio, one of the Yanukovych-related oligarchs.
With the Crimean crisis in the background, the Ukrainians want a reckoning with the previous regime. The hunt for documents is on.
Any documents recovered are sent to the journalists of “Ukrainskaya Pravda“, an independent web-portal established by Heorhiy Gongadze, murdered in 2000.
The anti-corruption committee will also look into the documents, headed by one of the most defiant journalists of the Yanukovych era, Tatyana Chornovil. She herself had been brutally assaulted and battered by perpetrators unknown – and photographs of her, as well as other Ukrainskaya Pravda and Hromadske.tv journalists, were found hanging in the Mezihirya. Amongst the villa documents, notes were also found indicating that the decision on her assault may have been taken by Yanukovych’s people.
I asked Bihus whether he thinks the documents recovered may allow the brining of charges against the fraudulent politicians and businessmen of the Partya Regyonov, as well as Yanukovych himself.
– It will be certainly be enough just to take a glance at them to understand the actual scale of corruption and fraud. We must deal with it, as without an in-depth account we shall not be able to build a new state. It is our duty and an indispensable stage of the country’s evolution.
Governor in custody
The analysis of documents is but one of the many elements of the previous regime’s reckoning. Kiev has now seen the initiation of works by social committee under the lead of a well-known human rights activist, Volodymir Vasylenko, to examine the massacres of February 18th and 20th.
An investigation has also been launched by the Prosecutor general. The main requirement from the Euromaidan activists is that the process is absolutely transparent and fully public. Everyone wants just one thing – that the guilty be punished for their transgressions.
The first steps in order for the perpetrators to face justice have already been taken – Monday saw the arrest of one of the most prominent Partya Rergonov representatives, the ex-governor of Kharkivsk, Mikhail Dobkin. He was charged with separatist inclinations and actions; Dobkin is also (in) famous for his role as the fierce defender of the Berkut, one of the founders of the Ukrainian Front, that was supposed to be the counterweight against revolutionary Kiev.