Rape case shames EU-aspirant Ukraine
19.03.12 @ 09:19
BRUSSELS - Last week she was raped, choked, thrown into a pit on a construction site and set on fire. In order to save her life, doctors have amputated her feet and her right arm. She has also lost her kidneys and 55 percent of her skin.
The case of Oksana Makar, an 18-year-old girl from Mykolayiv, on the Black Sea coast, has caused a furore in Ukraine. Her family has set up a website for donations to help it seek justice and pay medical costs.
But the horror of the assault has taken back stage to the fact police let two of the suspects walk free, in all likelihood because their parents had good connections with local authorities.
President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukraine's general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka have now taken charge of the matter and all three suspects are in custody.
But their reaction, which came after street protests and an eruption of anger on social media, masks a grave problem in Ukrainian society and politics - contempt for the law by people in authority.
"If you are the son or the nephew of someone with power, you can basically go around acting with total impunity. Nepotism and lack of respect for rule of law is rife in Ukraine. If you look at Yanukovych's son [Oleksander] - he has become one of the 100 richest men in the country since his father came to power. This kind of thing doesn't happen in a normal country. This really is the borderland of Europe," a Kiev-based EU diplomat told this website.
The President's other son, Viktor junior, is an MP who rarely shows up in parliament and who has been filmed so drunk that he could not get into his own appartment. Neither issue has harmed his position.
The phenomenon of untouchable relatives has its own name in Ukraine - "mazhory" - and the list of disturbing cases is already a long one.
Serhiy Demishkan, the son of Volodymyr Demishkan, a Yanukovych associate and senior civil servant, in 2007 confessed to the murder of Vasyl Kryvozub, who was force-fed vodka and thrown into a river with bits of a radiator tied to his neck. Demishkan junior walked free in 2010, three months after Yanukovych came to power, on grounds that he suffers from skin cancer.
Dmytro Rud, the son of a prosecutor in the town of Dnipropetrovsk, in 2010 ran over and killed three women in his Toyota Prado, then drove away. He is free on bail.
Roman Landik, the son of a pro-Yanukovych MP, last July in a restaurant in the town of Luhansk approached a young woman, Maria Korshunova, threw a drink at her, punched her repeatedly and dragged her round the floor by her hair. She ended up in hospital. He walked free on a suspended sentence.
"People come to me and ask for help as if Ukraine was an EU member state and I was the European Commission. But there is very little I can do," another Kiev-based EU diplomat told this website.
When the EU ambassador in Ukraine, Jose Pinto Texeira, last month spoke out against corruption, the Ukrainian foreign ministry published a statement saying he is unfit to do his job, which is to promote good relations. A Ukrainian contact told EUobserver Texeira should shut up because Ukraine never got an EU membership perspective.
Meanwhile, the journalists who expose what is going on do not have an easy time.
Last year, Mohammad Zahoor, the Pakistani owner of Kyivpost, an English-language weekly, fired the editor after he ran a story which embarrassed a Yanukovych minister. The editor was reinstated after staff went on strike. EUobserver understands that Zahoor sacked him because the Ukrainian government threatened his other business interests in the country and that he backed down because foreign diplomats, who like the paper, intervened behind the scenes.
Ukrainska Pravda, an investigative online publication, is arguably the biggest thorn in Yanukovych's side. It recently ran a series of features on his multi-million-euro lakeside mansion (his official income is about €100,000 a year).
"The only reason they haven't been shut down is because they are protected by the legend of Gongadze," an EU diplomat said, referring to the murder of Ukrainska Pravda reporter Georgiy Gongadze in 2000, which caused a political storm that helped usher in the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Gongadze's severed head was never found and the person who ordered his killing remains at large.