While it is completely normal that states offer travel advisories in order that its citizens can make informed decisions regarding their chosen destination of travel, in order that they be adequately prepared for what they may encounter on their trip, who out there has ever issued such an advisory regarding Ukraine? Individuals who have traveled to Ukraine both before its independence and during the last twenty years will tell you without much hesitation, “It’s not what I expected it to be!” So what should travelers to Ukraine for the Euro-2012 be expecting and what kind of advisories should be going out to the fans of one of the world’s most watched sports?
Well before getting to the copy of those potential advisories, let’s get to the perception which all of Ukraine’s politicos are trying to create. Starting with the most basic and important feature, that of preparing the police for the onslaught of fans who neither speak Ukrainian nor Russian. Will this make any difference? I doubt it, and it’s not because that they will not be able to communicate with fans, but it is probably more due to their attitudes, than their ability to learn a foreign language.
Europeans have very different attitudes towards their police forces than those which Ukrainians have. A recent survey by the Razumkov Center in Kyiv showed that only received 6.4% of respondents supported the activities of the police, and 52.5% did not support them. While the question wasn’t on how much you trust the police, one gets the picture. In reviewing similar survey results for Western democracies, it is almost the exact inverse where the level of trust in the police is often higher than 55%, and this is where worlds collide.
So what are some of the factors which cause such a low level of trust in Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies? Examples abound, but I will simply provide two recent examples.
On September 16, 2011 the lawyer of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV reported that a young man by the name of Volodymyr died while in custody for the theft of a suit worth no more than one-hundred dollars. Volodymyr was HIV positive and while there were social workers who would visit him at the Lukiyanivsky jail to provide medication, there was only one time in which he actually received it. As his state of health deteriorated and without legal counsel, he was not even in a capable state of mind in order to formally draft an appeal – he was dying a slow and most likely agonizing death, handcuffed to his bed.
Eventually, he was transferred to Kyiv’s Hospital № 5 where he was once again handcuffed to his bed. Volodymyr lapsed into a coma though he was not transferred to the ICU because of the handcuffs. Apparently the inspector in the case of Volodymyr was expecting a bribe from the family, and because he didn’t receive one, he was left to die. The mother of the deceased is ready to speak with human rights organizations and journalists, she stated, “Maybe this will help save other people.”
The same in Kharkiv, one of the host cities for the Euro-2012 Football Championships a much greater action film type of event took place when the Alpha Special Tactical unit raided the police station in the Komintersky districted of the said city. The reason for the raid was quite simple. Those who were supposed be “serving and protecting” in fact sold twenty-five Makarov pistols, five thousand rounds of ammunition as well as Kalashnikov rifles to organized criminals in that city, which included five members of the local precinct. The equivalent of nearly a million dollars was also found in the precinct’s safe.
So is there any reason why you would trust the police in Ukraine? There are many ex-patriots and Ukrainian nationals who have had their experiences with the police in Ukraine and they will tell you it’s no fun.
So how would you word our Euro-2012 Travel Advisory after hearing of just the two simple events which happened last week?
Mine would be short and sweet:
Travel there with extreme caution – levels of barbarity and disrespect for human life by law enforcement officials is at intolerable levels by international standards. They claim that there will be law enforcement officials that speak your language by the time of EURO-2012, but there is no guarantee that you will understand one another.