News / Europe

Kyiv, Separatists Fret at Gun Law in Ukraine's Rebel Regions

Armed pro-Russian separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic pledge an oath during ceremony in the city of Donetsk, June 21, 2014.
Armed pro-Russian separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic pledge an oath during ceremony in the city of Donetsk, June 21, 2014.
Reuters

Firearms stores in the separatist-held city of Donetsk in east Ukraine stand empty, the guns that once lined the shelves now sold out or stolen at gunpoint.

"In a time of war, everyone wants a weapon. There are just none left to sell or even give away," said manager Alexander Lutsevich in the wood-paneled office of his downtown store.

The ousting of local authorities in east Ukraine by pro-Russian rebels, and a flood of weapons into the region, have led to a breakdown in law and order that further complicates Kyiv's efforts to reassert control.

The rebels, who oppose the pro-Western authorities in Kyiv, count on the local population for support but some residents and local businesses are angry that the power vacuum is allowing criminals to thrive.

German wholesaler Metro became the biggest victim in May when rioters broke into the store and looted it after fighting around a nearby airport.

Pictures were posted on the Internet of people wheeling goods away on shopping carts and stories spread that looters had emptied the store's liquor section in a matter of hours.

Metro spokeswoman Olesya Olenytska said security concerns had prevented the company assessing damage at the store, which has been closed since May 26.

The leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), which describes its armed uprising in terms of democracy and self-determination, is aware of the dangers of being associated with lawlessness in parts of the region.

The rebels' regional prime minister, Aleksander Borodai, has threatened to punish people who brought stolen goods from Metro to DNR headquarters as well as those extorting money from people and businesses in the name of the self-styled republic.

"In some residential areas of the Donetsk People's Republic, there are various gangs that are using the symbol of the DNR and my name to extort a 'tax' from individuals and businesses," he told reporters. "In fact, they haven't even the slightest thing to do with the DNR."

Days after the Metro incident, a group of heavily armed fighters arrived at rebel headquarters in Donetsk to clear the building of looters and stolen goods.

Ukraine's Interior Ministry has halted deliveries of commercial firearms to Donetsk, where the rebels have stripped police of their weapons. Deliveries have likewise been stopped to the neighboring rebellious region of Luhansk.

Lutsevich's Kyiv-based company, IBIS, had sent its rifles and handguns back to company stockpiles.

"We had to do it so the temptation didn't arise to come in and take them by force," he said.

Another weapons store owner, who declined to give his name, said he was held up at gunpoint by rebels asking for weapons in the name of their cause.

"I managed to hide the valuable guns but had to give away the rest," he said.

Power vacuum

The separatists rose up in east Ukraine in April following the overthrow of a president in Kyiv who was sympathetic to Moscow and after Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is pressing ahead with a military campaign against the rebels after a ceasefire intended to give peace talks a chance expired.

Outside the city of Donetsk, people in rural areas have lived in grinding poverty for decades - a motive for some to take up arms against Kyiv - but some fear crime now threatens to rob them of what little they have.

Manning a separatist checkpoint outside his hometown of Druzhkovka, former firefighter Stanislav, 52, rattles off a litany of lawlessness in recent weeks: a pharmacy robbed, a gas station held up, water pipes stolen.

"In times like these, criminals start coming out of the woodwork. We need someone to look out for security, some kind of order," he said.

In sleepy Druzhkovka, people say the new self-proclaimed leadership has brought with it the threat of increased crime, even though crime had long been a problem.

"These people, they're not just militants. Lots of people have got their hands on weapons and they act like they can do whatever they want," said Sarhan Avdev, a migrant from Azerbaijan working in a cobbler's store, as he hammered nails into a pair of women's sandals.

Inside a Unicredit bank branch, a woman who gave her name only as Tatyana said the violence had made it more difficult to restock cash machines, leaving long queues outside banks.

"If there is no authority, no one to answer to, people try to take advantage of the situation, steal, loot," she said standing next to a cash machine covered with a sheet of paper that read "No Money".

Criminal past

Donetsk has long had a reputation as a haven for criminals, especially in the first few years after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when organized crime was rampant and rival gangs fought for power and influence.

Donetsk province had more registered crimes than any other area of Ukraine, some 48,500 in 2012. It also had more people involved in organized crime than any other region and the murder rate far outstripped the rest of the country, according to the Ukrainian statistics office.

Slaviansk, a flashpoint for violence, was on one of the biggest drug-trafficking routes, said Albert Nikiforov, a former Donetsk police officer in charge of cracking organized crime.

The extreme wealth that came with the drug trade allowed crime bosses in eastern Ukraine to travel the globe in the 1990s buying up property and opening Swiss bank accounts, he said.

That was until Viktor Yanukovych, who ruled the region as governor from 1997 to 2002 and later became president, imposed order on the crime world, finding a delicate balance between business and political interests.

Nikiforov said recent violence had upset the balance, "Organized crime has been thrown into disarray by the events and all that's left are common criminals and looters."

The separatists accuse law enforcement officials of corruption and turning a blind eye to crime. One rebel commander who calls himself Vostok (East) has, like other leaders, disarmed the local police.

He set up joint night patrols grouping officers in uniform and fighters who wander the streets in camouflage fatigues carrying assault rifles.

Sitting in his spartan office, a portrait of Soviet-era secret police chief Felix Dzerzhinsky gazing from the wall, Vostok said crime had dropped in the city since he took command.

But he added "People have lost the understanding of what is permissible and what is not ... Some can't fight the temptation to take what is not theirs while they believe there is a lack of authority in the city."

You May Like

Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

'It is not possible that women can be at par with men' incoming African Union president declares on eve of summit More

Somali Terror Suspect's Light Sentence Raises Questions

Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, could have spent 15 years in prison but judge instead sentenced him to a halfway house, and a program to try to integrate him back into the community More

Video Kobani Ravaged Following Kurdish Ouster of IS Militants

Even so, hundreds of refugees sheltering in Turkey seek to return; Kurdish forces hold some back, saying fighting continues More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid