Automaidan’s anti-corruption campaign in Ukraine has cast light on institutionalised corruption and is pressuring the government into action.
In Odessa, Automaidan flew a drone (quadri-copter), bought with EED support, over the seafront to capture on camera the ‘castle’ of a government official. Officially registered as a “House of Reception and Recreation for Students”, the ‘house’ is clearly a private home –with sculpted gardens, a tennis court and a private beach. Automaidan’s drone also sighted a luxury motor cruiser, among other boats.
The house, which locals nickname “Harry Potter”, is owned by Serhiy Kivalov, a Ukrainian MP, suspected of controlling an entire corrupt system in Odessa and beyond. “The system spreads from the courts, to police, secret services and the prosecutor’s office. Its bribes and smuggling are a significant part of the shadow economy,” Automaidan board member, Sergiy Hadzhynov, described. Kivalov headed the Central Election Commission during the rigged 2004 presidential election, which triggered the Orange Revolution. Local activists also accuse him of financing the ‘titushki’ (paid thugs), who harassed activists and provoked violence during the Euromaidan protests.
The mismatch between Ukrainian officials' salaries and their lifestyles and property holdings was one of the factors spurring the Euromaidan mass public protests in Ukraine. Automaidan is keeping up the pressure on the new authorities to tackle institutional corruption.
With over 370,000 hits on YouTube to date, the video of the “Harry Potter House” has also been viewed by millions through its broadcast on Ukrainian news channels.
Illegal amber mining in the Zhitomir region has also been exposed by Automaidan. Such illegal mining is estimated to cost Ukraine’s budget billions of hryvna per year.
Hadzynov described their discovery: “Our attention was first drawn to this spot by journalists who were unable to access it, and sought our assistance.” “This amber mining was not only illegal, with suspected large scale illegal employment and corrupt protection schemes, but also an ecological disaster,” he highlighted. “It is good to put pressure on the authorities. We understand what they are afraid of. They are afraid when 10-20 cars suddenly turn-up and bring journalists and a drone.”
The video’s publicity put the government under pressure to react: After initial attempts of the authorities to distance themselves from the illegal mining, President Poroshenko requested the Interior Minister Avakov to propose solutions within two weeks.
“By helping us buy the drone, EED made these high impact actions possible,” said Hadzyhnov. “EED has also helped our success by supporting our meetings with local activists in the regions, in particular Odessa,” he added.
Automaidan emerged during the Euromaidan protests, with a number of highly-visible actions drawing attention to the luxurious residence of former President Yanukovich. EED has provided Automaidan support to consolidate its organisation and continue such activities.
Automaidan’s visibility and outreach have been essential for its continued success. Another Automaidan board member, Oleksiy Grytsenko, described how they receive more and more information and encouragement to investigate suspected corruption cases – from a range of different people. “Our actions also provide people opportunities to organise themselves in different regions and become active,” he noted.
EED’s Director of Programmes, Peter Sondergaard praised Automaidan’s work: “The investigation into illegal amber mining is an excellent example of civic engagement in corruption oversight. Automaidan has exposed this story to Ukraine and the world. EED is proud to have provided their first ever grant.”