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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Announce Breakthrough on Nuclear Deal

Deal resolves differences over liability of suppliers to India in event of a nuclear accident, U.S. demands on tracking whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

update Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

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