This interview with the former member of the Ukrainian parliament, Elena Bondarenko, was published on the Czech news website, iDnes, in March. What is particularly curious about this publication is that iDnes is mainstream press in the Czech Republic. Bondarenko is not being usually featured in the mainstream media in Ukraine, or elsewhere with the exception of Russia, because of her stance…
Last week, (the interview was published on 3 March) five years have passed since the shootings at the Maidan. Deadly conflicts in central Kiev have taken dozens of lives. Elena Bondarenko, who was a member of parliament back then, offered her point of view to MF Dnes (iDnes is their internet representation). “The Maidan was a political Chernobyl”, says the woman, who leads an independent Center for Freedom of Speech, and who is invested in the issue of political prisoners.
What are your memories of the day when the shooting began at the Maidan?
[They are] terrible. I was in the government quarter, some 100 metres from the site of the shootings. I was talking to German journalists when it happened. At first we did not realise what is happening. Confusion has ensued, chaos among the policemen, who lacked commands what to do. Then buses have appeared and the commanders have boarded the policemen onto them, and drove them away. They wanted to protect their men. At that moment, a couple of policemen were already dead. I have only heard the news that the shooters aimed at the protesters too on TV, the second day.
Do you believe that the tragic events will ever be properly investigated?
Definitely not under the current regime.
Because it is being investigated by people, who have benefited the most [out of these events.] They are cynics. They pretend they are are investigating the deaths of the protesters but nobody investigates the deaths of the policemen! Meanwhile, in the last five years, several testimonies of armed men have appeared where they admit they have killed policemen. One of the is Yuriy Bubenchik. He walks free to this day.
I can’t believe somebody admitted to several murders of the policemen, and it was ignored by the state?
In Ukraine this is possible. The Maidan was a political Chernobyl. Right after the shooting, another crime occurred in the parliament. It was the adoption of the amnesty law, which the organisers of the putsch pushed through on the second day under threats to the parliamentarians. They have forever rid themselves of the responsibility for dozens of crimes, including those of the worst kind. They have exonerated themselves from crimes such as the overthrow of the government, illegal usurpation of power, murders, robberies, occupation of state buildings and institutions, kidnappings and illegal arrests of people -and several other crimes.
You have been a member of the parliament back then. Did you vote for this law?
No. I was afraid like I never was in my life. They threatened my life, they threatened to kill my children, you cannot imagine how brutal was the pressure. But I did not vote for the law.
Who, in your opinion, gave the order to shoot?
I don’t know. First we would need to know the truth about who was shooting. we don’t know these people, and will not know, particularly those that shot from the buildings, which were controlled by the Maidan rebels, that is from the Conservatory and from Hotel Ukraina. How objectively do you think would the identity of the shooters be investigated, when the current speaker of the parliament led the protesters in Hotel Ukraina? It was simply a brutal anti-government putsch. But I realise that west of Ukraine’s borders, this word is not popular in political circles.
How do you explain this?
Simply! The West played a very malevolent role in this putsch. They have approved it and helped it. Before the shooting at the Maidan, things have been getting out of hand for the protesters. After the shooting, the organisers have quickly amnestied themselves. An agreement between the government and the opposition, which three Western politicians have guaranteed. Polish, French and German (the ministers of foreign affairs of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski, France, Laurent Fabius, and Germany, Frank Steinmeier).
They gave guarantees to President Yanukovych that the agreement will be respected if he agrees to early elections. Yanukovych agreed. But the putschists immediately began ignoring the agreement, and the EU tolerated it. When Yanukovych realised that the guaranteed agreement was nothing but a piece of paper, he tried to contact all the mentioned guarantors and other European politicians. Nobody picked up the phone.
After which, he became afraid for his life. And the rest of the story is known -the East and Crimea did not accept the result of the unconstitutional coup. The betrayal of Yanukovych, the shootings, and the subsequent law of amnesty terrified them. The newly ascendant power made other grave mistakes, and thus provoked a civil war.
You have been the vice-president in the Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information in Ukraine. You were the author of two laws about the freedom of speech and free access to information. Today, you are leading a Centre for the Freedom of Speech. What is the freedom of speech like in Ukraine?
There practically isn’t any.
But your laws are still valid, Ukrainian journalists work on their basis.
Formally yes, however, everything otherwise has changed. At least 10 journalist have been killed, the most significant were Oleh Buzyna and Pavlo Sheremet. These murders were never investigated. Other journalists are imprisoned. The offices of the opposition media, which are inconvenient to the current government, are being blocked, banned, robbed, burned, the journalists are being kidnapped, beaten… We know of black lists of journalists, media, social media accounts, but also of books, films, and music.
Who compiles these black lists?
The political section of the SBU. (the Ukrainian secret service) They monitor all the active and brave people, politicians, bloggers and journalists. They have the best equipment from the CIA, and receive training from the Americans in ways of monitoring the citizens. The servers, which store the information, including information gathered through wiretapping, are located in the US.
I see that you look incredulous, but that is not kept secret by anyone, the head of the SBU, Vasyl Hrytsak openly spoke about it. We don’t have any state secrets now, we share everything with the Americans. The government relinquished state sovereignty.
Do you talk about the murdered journalists with Western organisations?
Most of them are playing dead. Only Amnesty International and OSCE occasionally react. Two years ago, 13 illegal prisons were discovered in Ukraine, where the opponents of the current regime are held. All of them [are being held] illegally, they have been declared missing.
There will soon be elections in Ukraine. First presidential, and then parliamentary. Do you have a chance to change this?
Do you think so? Yes, dictator Poroshenko led the country so badly, he now has little chance to be reelected. But I am afraid that he may provoke some incident, create a situation, where he could declare a martial law and use the military.
Dictator? Dictators normally do not expose themselves to free and democratic elections.
And who told you the previous elections were free? And even the current elections will not be free. Already the now, the campaign is being led unequally. I spoke about murders, imprisonments, threats to journalists, looting and arsons of offices of the press. Oppositions are readily attacked, beaten, sprayed with acid.
All major media are controlled by the state. A ministry of propaganda was created, officially it is called Ministry of Information. They decide, which media are good and which are bad, who will lose his license. [Marina Poroshenko, the first lady, is the godmother to the minister’s daughter.] The members of the electoral committee are a joke. Two thirds are personally dependent on Poroshenko. There isn’t a single representative of the opposition in the commission. The president of the commission is Mrs. Slipachukova, who is a personal friend of Poroshenko, and visits him in his weekend home.
Can you imagine anything like that in the Czech Republic? The government now determines which god you ought to believe in. Our Orthodox Church is being persecuted. I think Poroshenko is doing it on purpose.
To pit the people against each other, to rock the boat, The people so far are prevailing over him, even though he is telling people to which church they should go and which faith to profess… We have 12,000 parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine. Only 300 were forced, through violence and threats, to switch to the new Church. And this is happening under life situation that could called terrible in every way.
There are plenty of things but just for example, [there is] a shocking fall in living standards. The price of gas has risen by 1200%, water by 1000%. Food prices, vegetables for instance, have risen by 500%. The Hryvnia devalued by three times. The growth of wages, of course, does not correspond to this increase in prices. Education and healthcare are literally falling apart. We have the highest unemployment rate since the declaration of independence in 1991. [The unemployment is high] even though 10 million people have fled the country, that is a fourth of the population.
You don’t believe the situation would change after the elections?
No, I don’t. For anything to change for the better, Ukraine would have to gain back sovereignty in her decision making. Today, the Ukrainian politicians are but mere puppets in the hands of United States and the IMF. Separatist sentiments are growing in Transcarpathia, Odessa, Kharkov…
What do you reckon would be the best solution?
If the political elites, agreed with the help of international bodies, on some free, federative arrangement. It could stop the worst, that is a break up and hate. There would be a chance to reintegrate Donbass. And in a more distant future, a closer cooperation with Crimea. But that is a fantasy.
Why a fantasy?
Because the Russians did not take Crimea from Ukrainians, they took [the peninsula] from Americans. Had the annexation by Russia not happened, a NATO base would already been built there. Did you know, in the Nikolayev region, in the town of Ochakov, such a base is being built? Don’t believe the American felt any pity over the Ukrainians losing Crimea. The Americans are angry the Russians overtook them [in grabbing it.]
Last question. Mr. Poroshenko gave members of Bandera’s groups the benefits of the War veterans. What do You say about that?
This decision is terrible in that it gives the right of the people who fought against Hitler to people, who fought for Hitler. The clean up of nazi collaborators. According to the government, there is no shame in being guard in a concentration camp. There is no shame in being part of the firing squad that shot the Jews.
These people the regime has justified and will even give them a veteran’s pension. It is a step away from declaring that naziism is ok and Hitler wanted good for Ukraine. And what’s even more frightening is the silence of Western countries. They are playing a dangerous game if they building an anti-Russian project in Ukraine.