Ukrainian Steelworkers Keep the Peace with Citizen Patrols

Pro-Russian insurgents have cleared government buildings in an east Ukrainian city, thanks to the work of citizen patrols that that gained the support of Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. 

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Pro-Russian insurgents have cleared government buildings in an east Ukrainian city, thanks to the work of citizen patrols that that gained the support of Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov. Akhmetov, who owns the mining and steel company Metinvest, urged workers at his steel factories to work with local police to restore order in the area, per the Associated Press

Akhmetov's Metinvest initiated Thursday's agreement with steel plant directors, local police and community leaders on improving security in the city and vacating separatist-occupied buildings. A representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, which declared independence on Monday, was also party to the deal.

This plan seems to be the first successful attempt to actually bring order to the restive east. Mariupol, a port city south of Donetsk — where separatists recently voted for independence from Ukraine in a controversial referendum — appears to be under the control of thousands of steelworkers, who have driven out the pro-Russia militias. The New York Times described the scene on Thursday:

The workers, who were wearing only their protective clothing and hard hats, said they were “outside politics” and were just trying to establish order. Faced with waves of steelworkers joined by the police, the pro-Russian protesters melted away, along with signs of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and its representatives. Backhoes and dump trucks from the steelworkers’ factory dismantled the barricades that separatists had erected.

On Friday, the workers continued to clear out barricades outside of previously held government buildings. And Russian separatists still in Mariupol told the AP that many of their fellows have abandoned their stakes. German Mandrakov, who led the attack on some government buildings, said that "everyone ran away," adding "someone is trying to sow discord among us, someone has signed something, but we will continue our fight." Another man said that "we were duped," adding "Akhmetov used to keep his eyes close (to what was happening), but now he decided to make a deal with Kiev authorities."

Meanwhile, U.N. monitors warn that human rights violations are on the rise in east Ukraine. In a report on the subject, U.N. officials write that journalists, especially, are under attack:

In eastern Ukraine, freedom of expression is under particular attack through the harassment of, and threats to, journalists and media outlets. The increasing prevalence of hate speech is further fueling tensions. Both these factors are deepening divisions between communities and exacerbating the crisis. All parties must take immediate steps to avoid incitement and radicalization. 

They add, all of those building occupations were also bad news:

Armed groups continue to illegally seize and occupy public and administrative buildings in cities and towns of the eastern regions and proclaim “self-declared regions.” Leaders and members of these armed groups commit an increasing number of human rights abuses, such as abductions, harassment, unlawful detentions, in particular of journalists. This is leading to a breakdown in law and order and a climate of intimidation and harassment. 

Hopefully, Akhmetov's influence and support of this new citizen army will help drive out insurgents in other cities in east Ukraine, as well, and return order to the country. If he hadn't been so close with ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, he might even had shot at public office in the upcoming Ukrainian elections, slated to take place on May 25.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.