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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs