In December a series of confrontations occurred at large street markets in the Kyiv area. Recently, the Kharkiv market in Kyiv was the site of violent clashes between market workers and, allegedly, thugs hired by raiders to attack and clear the market. On December 25, at Lisova market, also in Kyiv, a street vendor died and eleven more people were injured in an alleged arson attack on market stalls. According to market workers, raiders have repeatedly beaten workers, destroyed their goods and stalls, and made death threats against their leaders.
Led by the Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine (VPPU), market workers have organized self-defense groups, and called for help from Ukrainian military veterans and members of volunteer battalions.
The union alleges that police consistently failed to intervene in fights or facilitated the attacks on market stalls. Market workers and veterans claim to have detained some 40 titushki (paid thugs) after a fight at Kharkiv market. The workers detained the attackers and held them to turn over to the police. However, the workers allege that they found that a number of the thugs had police identification.
Attacks on street markets are not a new phenomenon in Ukraine. The markets, often privately managed but located on central publically owned real estate, are a frequent focus of struggles between different business interests and allied corrupt officials. In the past several years, however, market vendors are increasingly well organized. VPPU is active at dozens of large markets across the country, and has organized groups to negotiate with city officials and private landlords, to resist raiders and illegal pressure from landlords and corrupt officials.
It’s not clear what precipitated the current round of attempted raids on Kyiv area markets, and where the line between official and illicit action to remove the markets is. The VPPU claims it’s members at Kharkiv market received no eviction notices, but report that market management attempted to raise their rent from 1200 UAH a month to 2000 UAH a day on no notice. Whatever the cause, the clearly illegal violent attacks have been large scale, involving hundreds of individuals armed with clubs and in some cases traumatic guns, leading to serious violence and injuries. The market vendors have also turned out hundreds of supporters, including large numbers of organized volunteer battalion members. There are tens of thousands of market workers in the Kyiv area, and they appear to enjoy public support against these attacks. The violence of the raids and the credibly alleged inaction or complicity of authorities creates very dangerous and destabilizing situation.
VPPU is calling on the city and national officials to uphold the rule of law, protect life and property, and negotiate with the union concerning these attacks and broader allegations of the corruption underlying them.